Morley, Simbassa win 2021 Amway River Bank Run 25K

River Bank Run

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Makena Morley pulled away from the competition with plenty of time left to win the women’s 25K at the 2021 Amway River Bank Run. Shortly behind her was Biya Simbassa, who stepped past the competition nearing the finish line to win the men’s race.

The River Bank Run returned Saturday after 896 days. The massive event that takes over the streets of Grand Rapids includes a 5K run and walk, a 10K, handcycle and wheelchair races and the marquee 25K. More than 6,000 people participated across all the events.

The 25K runners hit the road around 9:20 a.m. It became apparent by the middle of the race that Morley, of Bozeman, Montana, was far and ahead of the women and easily winning the race within a race.

Her time was 1:23:16.94. That’s a new women’s record at the River Bank Run; the previous record of 1:23:50 was set by Emma Bates in 2019.

“Oh! Well, look at that! I didn’t know that,” a surprised Morley said when News 8 told her she had set a record.

It was especially surprising for two reasons: First, this was Morley’s first 25K race ever; and second, course changes put the runners in the Butterworth hills for longer, which was expected to slow overall times.

Morley said she loved the race and would be thrilled to be back next year.

Simbassa, of Flagstaff, Arizona, was in a pack of five men coming into the final stretch as he slipped past 2018 River Bank Run champion Sam Chelanga to win. His clocked a time of 1:14:26.95.

“That was fabulous,” Simbassa said. “I don’t know, I just relaxed the whole time, just wait for the last maybe 200 meters to go, so I just made a move.”

This was the fifth consecutive year in which the women won the “race within a race,” which gives women an 11-minute handicap and challenges the men to catch them. That means Morley will take home a $2,500 bonus.


John Elimlim, a Kenyan running out of Lansing, took first place in the first race of the day, the 5K at 8 a.m., with a time of 14:47.08. Mary Munanu finished first among women with a time of 15:36.91.

The 10K horn sounded at 8:40 a.m. Elimlim and Mananu ran that one, too, and both broke the tape again. Elimlim clocked a 30:01.87 time and Mananu 32:35.49.

“The weather here is very nice and it’s a flat course here in Grand Rapids,” Elimlim said. “I’ll come back next year.”

Matt Tingley won the 25K handcycle race with a time of 43:29.91. West Michigan’s Steve Chapman, who finished fourth in 2019, improved his placement and came in second with a time of 45:08.36. James Senbeta of Chicago won the wheelchair race with a time of 1:01:06.00.

The annual race, in its 44th year, was different this year. It was in October rather than May, which led the start time to be moved from the traditional 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. because sunrise is later in the fall.

Construction altered the race routes.

Allowances were made for the pandemic, with organizers limiting touch points.

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