OCEAN AVE — The only time Markos Geneti doubted himself was just before the start of the Los Angeles Marathon.
The Ethiopian had never competed over the 26.2-mile distance and was up against a field of experienced Kenyans, including two-time defending champion Wesley Korir.
But Geneti quickly left those doubts behind Sunday, setting a Los Angeles Marathon record by winning in 2 hours, 6 minutes, 35 seconds, the second fastest marathon in the world this year.
“When I saw the course I was thinking it was hard, but when I ran, it was good,” Geneti said through an interpreter.
Buzunesh Deba won the women’s division in 2:26:34 to give Ethiopia a sweep.
Geneti and Nicolas Kamakya took the lead from the seventh through the 10th miles in heavy rain and Geneti pulled away by the halfway point.
He opened a big lead on Korir and Kamakya by the 17th mile and ran by himself over the final six miles.
Kamakya finished second in 2:09:26 and Laban Moiben was third in 2:13:12. Korir, attempting to become the race’s first three-time winner, was fourth in 2:13:23.
Geneti’s 2:06:35 shattered the race record of 2:08:24 set by Korir in 2009, and this year trails only the 2:06:13 run by Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich of Kenya in the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon in Japan on March 6.
"I’m surprised at the time,” Geneti said. “I hoped to run 2:07.”
He also won the $100,000 gender challenge prize when he made up a 17:03 head start given to the women’s elite field. He passed the women’s leaders on the 20th mile of the “Stadium to the Sea” course that begins at Dodger Stadium and passes through Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
Geneti looked behind him several times over the final miles, but was threatened only by stomach cramps.
Geneti, who has a track background and a personal best 13:00 at 5,000 meters, decided to switch to road racing as he trains with Gebre Gebremariam, the 2010 New York City Marathon champion.
He plans to put the $100,000 toward a school in his home city of Addis Ababa.
Deba broke free from Mare Dibaba and Amy Hastings on the 22nd mile. Hastings was second in 2:27:03 in her marathon debut, while Dibaba was third in 2:30:25.
Deba, who lives and trains in Bronx, N.Y., passed up Sunday’s NYC Half-Marathon to run in L.A. It was her fifth marathon victory over the past two years.
“I don’t like the rain, but I prepared very, very well, and I was not hurting,” Deba said. “My husband wanted me to run 2:24, but I don’t like running in the rain. My legs were tight and my stomach was cramping.”
It was the first time an Ethiopian, male or female, won the L.A. Marathon. Kenyans had won the previous 12 men’s races.
Hastings, from Mammoth Lakes, Calif., recorded the fourth fastest marathon debut by an American woman. She led from the 10th through 16th miles and went out front again late before fading.
“I tried to focus on them to try and come back to them,” Hastings said. “It worked pretty good until the last mile.”
Korir ran with the leaders early, but was not in contention after the halfway mark.
“I would like to thank God that I was able to finish the race and that I am still alive,” Korir said. “I thought it was the end of my life. It was tough.”
Krige Schabort won the men’s wheelchair race and Shirley Reilly won the women’s division.
Race time temperature was 54 degrees and dipped as the day progressed. Heavy rain fell in the early morning when the elite men were running the first half.
There were 23,542 registered runners, according to race officials.