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Ethiopian Woman First to Finish Marathon Under Sunny Skies

Fatuma Sado captures $100,000 for winning the Challenge Title ahead of the fastest man, Simon Njoroge, by an impressive 4 minutes, 4 seconds.

A 20-year-old Ethiopian woman was the first runner to cross the finish line of the 2012 Los Angeles Marathon under blue skies.

Wearing red, Fatuma Sado kneeled down to kiss the ground after completing the 26-mile, 385-yard course from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica's Ocean Avenue in 2 hours, 25 minutes and 39 seconds. She captured a $100,000 bonus for beating the fastest man in the challenge race, Simon Njoroge, 31, of Iten, Kenya.

Forecasters had predicted on-and-off showers through the day, and hail and thunderstorms. But the course was dry and temperatures were in the mid-40s. Race organizers described the weather as "near perfect."

"The race was good," Sado said, speaking softly through an interpreter at a news conference. "The weather was cold when I started, and at the end it was windy—that is why I did not get so good of a time."

Marathon Press Officer Rich Perelman initially projected Sado might shatter marathon records. With an injury to her left leg, she limped slightly in the beginning and final stretches.

As she rolled downhill toward the ocean, nearing the finish line at the Santa Monica Pier, Sado looked over her shoulder to find the elite men competitors at least four minutes behind.

"Doesn't she just look great?" Perelman said.

Njoroge finished today's race in 2 hours, 12 minutes and 12 seconds, with a pace of 5 miles and 2 second per mile. Last year—in spite of heavy rain—Markos Geneti ran the fastest marathon ever in Los Angeles with a time of 2 hours, 6 minutes and 35 seconds.  

Sado and Njoroge each received $25,000 and a 2012 Honda CR-V, valued at $29,795. Her prizes totaled $149,795.

Hers is the fifth best women's time in the race's 27-year history, just shy of the fourth-place record of 2 hours, 25 minutes and 38 seconds set in 2010 by Edna Kiplagat. Sado hasn't placed lower than second in the four marathons she has completed since 2011.

The elite women's field got a 17-minute, 31-second head start, based on
a formula involving the lifetime bests of the elite male and female runners.
The bonus has been won by male runners four times and women runners four times.

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Clouds loomed, but it was dry at dawn as more than 20,000 runners massed outside Dodger Stadium for start of what is traditionally one of the most grueling athletic events known to man. The starter's gun for the main pack fired about 7:25 a.m.

The clouds parted at the 10th mile. But the elite runners said that's when temperatures dropped and the wind picked up, hurting their times in the final stretch through Santa Monica.

Last year, a drenching 2.42 inches of rain fell over the marathon course, and dozens of runners got dangerously cold. Today, race organizers were equipped with about 5,000 plastic trash bags to keep racers warm and dry at the start. Some 23,000 Mylar blankets were also on hand to help runners guard against hypothermia, according to marathon Chief Operating Officer Nick Curl.

Heating buses were on stand-by at the medical stations and the finish line.

Last year, more than 300 marathon runners were evaluated for hypothermia and 20 were hospitalized. Rain has fallen on the race three other times in addition to last year. Trace amounts of rain fell twice in the 1990s, and 1.6 inches fell on the race in 2000, spokesman Perelman said.

The race has been held annually since 1986. For the third year in a row, the race will be run on the "Stadium to the Sea" course, billed by organizers as having a landmark every mile.

From Dodger Stadium, the course heads toward downtown, passing Chinatown, Olvera Street, City Hall, Little Tokyo, the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. After the downtown leg, the course heads west through Echo Park and Silver Lake into Hollywood, passing the Hollywood & Highland Center, home of the Academy Awards, and Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

The field then headed south onto Sunset Boulevard, entering West Hollywood, then Beverly Hills, where the runners swarmed Rodeo Drive. The latter parts of the race, officially known as the Honda LA Marathon, include Century City, the Veterans Administration grounds and Brentwood's broad San Vicente Boulevard, concluding near the Santa Monica Pier.

Changes to the race included allowing two-person relay teams, with each person running half the race, and an expansion of the race's charity program. About 200 relay teams have entered the race, with teams raising funds for the race's official charities. The relay hand-off point was on Sunset Boulevard, just before the Sunset Strip. The expansion of the race's charity fundraising efforts include the "I Run 4 Something" initiative, encouraging all the runners to raise money for their favorite causes.

Race organizers believe runners can raise $4 million for charitable causes, breaking last year's record. Since Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt purchased the operating rights to the race in 2008, the amount of money raised for charity has gone from just over $1.25 million in 2009 to $1.95 million in 2010 to just under $3 million in 2011, according to race officials. A field of about 23,000 runners is expected. The male and female winners will each receive $25,000 and a Honda CR-V, valued at $29,795.

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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