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Passing Train Stalls Iowa Marathon Runners

The leaders in the Des Moines Marathon could see the finish line — they just had to wait a bit.

A passing freight train forced the two leaders in the 26.2-mile race to wait for about a minute Sunday just 400 meters, or about a quarter mile, from the finish line. When the train finally passed, Kenyan Simon Sawe sprinted to a win in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 50 seconds. He won $3,000.

Race director Chris Burch said Monday it was an unfortunate circumstance beyond the control of race organizers.

"It's one of those things, when I heard through our communications — what can you do at that time?" Burch asked.

Sawe said he was shocked when he made a turn onto the final stretch and saw the freight cars.

"Nobody is prepared for that scenario," Sawe told The Des Moines Register. "I couldn't believe it. It was a long train."

As he waited, fellow Kenyan David Tuwei caught up and the two could do nothing but wait before sprinting the final stretch. Sawe won by about 5 seconds.

Mick Burkhart, Iowa Interstate Railroad vice president, apologized via e-mail. He said the railroad was aware of the race and had agreed not to operate in the area during the marathon.

"Due to some miscommunication, a train was allowed into the race area before it was supposed to," he said. "There is no excuse for this happening."

Race organizers notify the railroad each year of the date of the marathon and the time runners will come through the area. Sundays are usually a slow day for the railroad in downtown Des Moines, Burch said, and he said the whole thing was a miscommunication.

There are no plans to change the route of the marathon.

"It would be hard to run a 26 mile run in Des Moines without going over tracks," he said. "We will try harder to work with (the railroad) so this doesn't happen again."