The chance to repeat as champion in the annual Bluegrass 10,000 has enticed Lydia Kosgei to once again lace up her shoes and hit the pavement in the hope of celebrating another victorious Fourth of July.
Kosgei, a native of Eldoret, Kenya, finished the 6.2-mile race last year 89 seconds ahead of second-place finisher and then-defending champion Emily Frith.
Kosgei, a 29-year-old who starred at Eastern Kentucky, finished with an official time of 35:32.
"I love it," Kosgei said. "I just love running. That's one of the things that's helping me stress-wise. When I run, I feel good. Sometimes when I run I want to see if I can get back to where I was in college."
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She holds EKU records in the indoor 3,000 meters and indoor 5,000 meters, and was named the Ohio Valley Conference Female Athlete of the Year for 2011-12.
The Bluegrass, a race through the heart of downtown Lexington, has been a haven for repeat champions. Antonio Marchi has won the men's race the past two years in dominating fashion. He cut 44 seconds off his time in 2014, when he won with a time of 31:00.
As of Thursday afternoon, Marchi had yet to register for this year's event.
The relative flatness of the course has helped runners shave seconds — if not minutes — off past finishes. Though Frith was second last year, she cut eight seconds off her time in 2013. Kosgei would like to improve upon her time this year but says it's not imperative.
"If I can run the same time, I'll be really happy," she said. "But sometimes I would like to run faster."
But Kosgei hasn't ramped up her training this year.
"I've just been doing the regular training," she said. "Just easy runs, that's all. I'm not doing anything crazy."
She trains at the EKU facilities in Richmond, where she was a student from 2009-12 and is now a graduate assistant for the women's track and field team.
It was there that she met longtime EKU track and field coach Rick Erdmann. As her friend and mentor, he has pushed Kosgei to strive for more.
"Make sure you include Coach (Erdmann) in my story," Kosgei said. "He's my motivator. He trains so hard. I wish we could run together. He trains more than anybody else. He's always encouraging me, making fun of me, making a big deal out of every win I have."
She says he's trying to keep her around longer, which might be to no avail. Kosgei said she feels a pull to leave the small-town tranquility of Richmond to head back home to Kenya. She wants to work with organizations there that help empower women.
"I want to help them overcome all the struggles," Kosgei said. "When I lived there I saw women not being treated so well. It's changing now, but I would like them to be independent."
In the short-term, however, her focus remains on the Bluegrass 10,000, an event she witnessed for the first time in 2011. She initially balked at participating in the race because she had never run a 10K before.
"Coach was like 'go to Bluegrass 10K,'" she said. "And I (finally) was like 'Sure, I'll go.' I did last year and I loved the race so much. People were cheering and I was so happy."
Saturday's race, however, will be the last for Kosgei until later this year.
"I've ran a lot," she said. "I've run a lot of 10Ks and I'm kind of tired right now. This will be my last one."