Runners leave the start line for the 28th annual Gorham Savings Bank Maine Marathon, Half Marathon and Marathon Relay on Sunday in Portland. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

Five men and one woman, all from Ethiopia, who have been training together in New York City decided to visit Portland for this weekend’s 28th running of the Gorham Savings Bank Maine Marathon, Half Marathon and Marathon Relay.

Abdulmenan Kasim of Ethiopia won the Maine Marathon Sunday. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

On a cool Sunday morning, the Ethiopian contingent ran away with three of the four individual titles and broke two course records in the half marathon.

“I like it here,” said Abdulmenan Kasim, who made his first attempt at the marathon distance a successful one by winning the race in 2 hours, 23 minutes and 8 seconds.

Kasim, 23, grew up in southern Ethiopia’s highland region and hails from the same small town (Bekoji) that produced the Bekele brothers (Tariku and Kenenisa) and Dibaba sisters (Genzebe and Tirunesh) and three-time Boston Marathon champion Fatuma Roba.

As part of his training for the Philadelphia Marathon in November, Kasim projected a 2:18 marathon in Maine, but a strong headwind on the return journey to Portland protected the course record of 2:21:12 established by Dan Vassallo seven years ago.

“I got a little bit cold,” Kasim said. “But the course is very nice.”

Erica Jesseman of Scarborough won the women’s marathon Sunday in a time (2:59:33) well behind her best, but encouraging nonetheless after recovering from a spring hamstring injury. Jesseman, 30, has her sights set on the Houston Marathon in January in an attempt to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials in Atlanta in late February.

Erica Jesseman of Scarborough is greeted by her aunt, Cindy Jesseman, after winning the women’s division of the Maine Marathon on Sunday.  Joel Page/Staff Photographer

“I had no idea where I was at,” in terms of fitness, Jesseman said. “I feel blessed. That was the first time I’ve felt strong in a long time.”

With a temperature at 40 degrees for the start, Kasim embarked from Portland’s Back Cove and ran the first 18 miles of the up-and-back course alongside countryman Gishu Dida Maco. At that point on Route 88, Kasim surged ahead and remained in control the rest of the way.

Bryan Morseman, 34, of Bath, New York, rallied from a few hundred yards back in third to overtake Maco and finish second for the second year in a row. Morseman’s time was 2:25:45, a full minute ahead of Maco, who is 37.

Kedir Fikadu Kassa, 34, was fourth in 2:29:11 followed by Chris Harmon of Portland in 2:32:48. Harmon, who dropped out of last year’s race in Mile 3 because of a foot injury, had never run a faster marathon than he did on Sunday.

“I can’t believe it,” Harmon said. “I went out to be relaxed. I didn’t know if (his foot) would act up like it did last year.”

Harmon said he covered the early miles in a 5:45 pace and then, “I just started feeling 5:30s in the middle of it, on the tough hills. Just tried to come back as tough as I could. I died like usual, but I died and I wasn’t as slow as usual.”

Five years ago, Harmon ran Maine seven seconds slower, but finished three positions higher, as runner-up. On Sunday, he said he lost sight of the leaders early.

Emma Herrick, 9, hands out medals to finishers of the 28th annual Gorham Savings Bank Maine Marathon, Half Marathon and Marathon Relay on Sunday. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

Last year’s women’s champion, Christine Hein of North Yarmouth, was the female within 13 minutes of Jesseman. Hein, 44, placed second in 3:02:04 with Jennifer Moltz, 30, of Hyde Park, Vt., third in 3:12:37.

Hein ran sub-2:55 in her previous three marathons. She had to deal with stomach problems Sunday.

“I stopped three times to use nature’s woods,” she said. “But it was beautiful. The race support was awesome. There were tons of people in the crowd and volunteers. My family was out there. It was really wonderful.”

By noon, the temperature had risen to 60 degrees in Portland but overcast skies made for ideal running conditions. The medical tent was used only for minor maladies.

Each first-place marathon winner earned $1,000 and payouts through fifth place dropped by $200 apiece.

In the half marathon, Ethiopians Birhanu Kemal, 33, for men and Hirut Guangul, 27, for women each set a new course record worth $250 on top of their $500 prize money. Birhanu ran 1:05:59 and Guangul 1:15:32.

A total of 741 runners finished the full marathon, 1,829 the half and there were 181 relay teams. Race director Bob Dunfey said he expects to donate more than $140,000 to a variety of Maine charities from race proceeds, more than $34,000 above last year’s total.

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