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Aliphine Tuliamuk is back, wins USATF 25K showdown

Aliphine Tuliamuk wins the 2022 USATF 25K title. (Photo: Mike Scott)

Saturday’s USATF 25K Championships marked the first time that Aliphine Tuliamuk left her 16-month-old daughter behind to go to a race, and she was feeling emotional about it. She told WOOD TV before the race, “I’m going to be gone for three days, and I want to make sure it counts.”

Tuliamuk did just that, winning her 11th national title, and her first since becoming a mom. She ran 1:23:19 (5:21/mile), only two seconds off Makena Morley’s women’s-only American record for the distance. Tuliamuk finished 45 seconds ahead of runner-up Keira D’Amato (1:24:04), after the two engaged in a close battle for the first 11 miles of the 15.53-mile race.

This wasn’t the first time Tuliamuk and D’Amato had raced. At the 2020 Houston Half Marathon, they finished 19th and 20th, respectively. And at the Olympic Marathon Trials the following month, Tuliamuk pulled off the win while D’Amato finished 15th. But it was the first time they had raced since D’Amato’s breakthrough in 2020.

The two runners have had very different paths over the past couple years, with D’Amato running her best times ever, including an American marathon record of 2:19:12 in January. Tuliamuk, on the other hand, gave birth in January 2021 and worked her way back to compete in the Olympic marathon, only to get injured during her final weeks of preparation. But as Tuliamuk showed on Saturday, after a long road, she’s back.

By the one-mile mark, which D’Amato and Tuliamuk hit in 5:17, they had already started to separate themselves from the rest of the field. D’Amato did much of the pacesetting during the first half of the race, with Tuliamuk tucked in right behind her. “It is terrifying to have her on your heels,” D’Amato told USATF TV after the race.

D’Amato said Tuliamuk’s breathing sounded kind of heavy early on, so she thought maybe if she set a quick pace, she could put Tuliamuk “in the pain cave” from the start. “It turns out that strategy did not work,” D’Amato said. “She’s such a strong runner that she kind of just hung with it.”

Around the halfway point, Tuliamuk started to do more of the leading, until she missed her bottle at the 15K and decided to go back to get it, because of the hot and humid conditions. (It was around 70 degrees at the start.) “I think if she had decided to make a move at that moment, she would have actually got it because it kind of got into my head a little bit,” Tuliamuk said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m running so hard to try to catch up to her,’ but she kept encouraging me.”

During the awards ceremony, D’Amato was credited with (1:55 mark) waiting for Tuliamuk to catch up, but D’Amato said in a message to Fast Women that she was being given too much credit.

“I hesitated for a moment and yelled, ‘Let’s go, Aliphine.’ But then I surged ahead knowing we were dangerously close to the American record. I turned around again and yelled, ‘You got this, catch back up,’ or something along those lines, but I honestly thought that might have been it for her so I surged ahead and tried to stay on pace. 

“Then she caught me! Holy s—, she caught me. I tried to stay on the pace and this woman caught back up. Then I thought, ‘Well, that was probably hard for her to catch back up—I’m going to try to pick it up and really wear out her legs.’ She covered that. Then a mile or two later, she went flying by me and decisively made the move. I saw it happening, I couldn’t cover it. In my head I kept saying, ‘This is the move. This is the f—ing move. If I want to win, I go with this move.’ But my legs couldn’t respond.”

Tuliamuk made the move, roughly 11 miles in, look easy, but she had her doubts. “When you’re running with the marathon American record holder, if you make a move, you have to be decisive,” Tuliamuk said. “I was actually freaking out, [thinking], ‘Did I do that too soon?’ I wasn’t so sure about it. But then I looked back and I was like, ‘I think I’ve got this.’ But you can never be too sure until you cross the finish line.”

Though they had exchanged messages, this race marked the first time Tuliamuk and D’Amato had met in person. “She’s hilarious and so sweet,” D’Amato told USATF TV. “It sucks losing, but it sucks a little less when you really admire the person.”

Tuliamuk, who was running only her second race back since recovering from her pre-Olympic injury, said she hopes this is the start of a new and even better chapter in her running. “A long-term goal for me would be to do my best to make the next Olympic team, but until then, I have short-term goals like, for example, do a fall marathon and kick ass in that,” Tuliamuk told USATF TV. 

Tuliamuk told WOOD TV that while her last five or six weeks of training have been great, and she’s running faster than she was pre-baby, she still hasn’t reached the point where workouts feel comfortable. According to this article, Tuliamuk will race the Bolder Boulder 10K on May 30 and the New York Mini 10K on June 11. 

D’Amato said she hasn’t done any long tempos since she set the American marathon record, so it doesn’t surprise her that she found her limit on Saturday. “It’s exactly where I should be at this time in the year,” she said. “I have work to do.” And she hopes that the next time she and Tuliamuk race, she can turn the tables. “Right now I think I am zero and three against her, but I hope that that doesn’t stay that way,” she told USATF TV. “I’d like to at least put a one on that tally.”

D’Amato said she and Tuliamuk had their eyes on Jordan Hasay’s American record of 1:22:19, set en route at the 2017 Chicago Marathon, so she’d like to return to this race some time and get the record. The unseasonably warm weather on Saturday wasn’t conducive to record setting, but both women held off men’s champion Leonard Korir in the “equalizer” race that saw the women get a 10:30 head start. Tuliamuk earned $10,000 for the win, plus the $2,500 equalizer bonus, while D’Amato earned $5,000 for her runner-up finish. Dakotah Lindwurm took third in 1:26:37, Sarah Pagano was fourth in 1:27:52, and Andrea Pomaranski was fifth in 1:28:20, one week after her runner-up finish at the USATF Half Marathon Championships. (Video highlights, no subscription required | Results)

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