WASHINGTON -- Competing in his first Army Ten-Miler against 35,000 registered runners didn't faze Spc. Frankline Tonui. He and World Class Athlete Program teammate, Sgt. Evans Kirwa, led the pack for most of the race on a warm October Sunday morning.

Tonui actually trailed just behind Kirwa for much of the run, but as the pair reached the final stretch, he made a push and confidently raised his left hand in victory as he crossed the finish line. Tonui beat Kirwa by mere tenths of a second to finish at 50 minutes, 23 seconds.

"Always you have to run smart," said Tonui, a 25-year-old 91D tactical power generation specialist from Fort Carson, Colorado, "because my teammates are all the best, so I was waiting for them to wear out. So the last 100 meters I kicked and was able to win."

Tonui, a former Division I Track and Field runner for the University of Arkansas, placed second nationally in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 2016. He faced a different type of challenge though in the Army Ten-Miler, which features a winding course that begins at the Pentagon and moves along the streets of Washington, D.C.

"I just thought he was ready to run a really good race," said All-Army team coach Col. Liam Collins. "He's just always been a tough competitor, good hard worker and he just knows how to put it up on race day."

Kirwa humbly conceded victory to his WCAP teammate but feels confident he has made strides toward both runners' ultimate goal: qualifying for the 2020 Olympics at next year's World Trials. Kirwa made a significant leap from his 2017 finish of eighth place, when he admittedly struggled with the wet and muggy conditions last year.

This year Kirwa was in front for the majority of the race before Tonui's final kick.

"I had led probably 90 percent of the race," Kirwa said. "I knew that somebody was going to kick cause I hadn't seen him take the lead. We kicked with about 40 yards to go. He came ahead of me and I just had another gear and he had another gear."

Kirwa finished nearly a minute better than his last year's 50 minutes 13 seconds. The native of Eldoret, Kenya, has his eye on larger goals though: returning to his peak running form in college. A 12-time NAIA All-American, Kirwa gave up running after enlisting in the Army in 2014. For four years, the sergeant focused on his military career as a UH-60 Blackhawk mechanic. He stayed in shape by playing recreational soccer at Fort Carson, Colorado. Then he reconnected with old friends who happened to be WCAP athletes.

He got the itch to run again. And shortly after, he joined the WCAP program.

"These are the guys I ran against in college -- day in, day out," Kirwa said. "So when I came back, they motivated me."

Kirwa next plans to compete at the USA Track and Field National Club Cross Country Championships Dec. 8 in Spokane, Washington.

WOMEN

Spc. Susan Tanui ran so far ahead of the other female leaders Sunday that she found motivation by pacing herself with male runners. She finished with a personal-best 56:33 -- 17 seconds, better than her 2017 finish and 44 seconds ahead of the second-place female finisher, Julia Roman-Duval, of Columbia, Maryland.

Tanui placed first among female runners for the second straight year.

"It's like running on a treadmill -- it hooks you in a starting pace," said Tanui, a 31-year old 68E dental specialist. "And that helps keep you moving. Some males would pass me, but at least I would find a pace that I am consistent with."

Tanui, competing in her fourth Army Ten-Miler, has consistently improved in each race after finishing second in 2016. But she said she did not see the biggest jump until she joined the WCAP program 18 months ago. The Kenyan native hopes to qualify for her first Olympic games in 2020.

"She's made miraculous progress in the program," Collins said.

The race has served as a reunion of sorts for Maj. Kelly Brown-Calway, a master's candidate at the National Intelligence University in Washington. She completed her 10th Army Ten-Miler, finishing third overall among female runners. She said the race has reunited her with former cadets she trained while serving as former coach of the West Point marathon team. One of her former students, Cadet Third Class Chase Hogeboom, managed to finish ahead of her.

"I'm really proud of him," Brown-Calway said. "He wasn't sure if he wanted to come to West Point and I showed him around. I got to coach him on the team and it's been neat to see him grow."

Brown-Calway estimates as many as 50 of her former cadets competed Sunday.

This year, Brown-Calway's husband, Maj. Chris Calway, also competed in the race, as well as her brother-in-law, Capt. Matthew Buchanan, a Downing scholar at Duke University. And her father, Gen. Robert Brown, U.S. Army Pacific commander, cheered her on.

The Army Ten-Miler has grown into the third-largest 10-mile race in the world, featuring 650 running teams and both civilian and military competitors.

"I've gotten to see the evolution of the course," Brown-Calway said. "The course has changed so much. I think this was the best year. The extra two long miles going over the Key Bridge instead of the Memorial Bridge was nice. I thought the whole route was fantastic this year."

As expected, the WCAP athletes and All-Army team dominated the field Sunday.

The third-place overall finisher, Spc. Girma Mecheso, had just recently finished Initial Entry Training. The squad had to shuffle its lineup after three competitors were unable to compete in Washington due to injuries.

"What they wanted to do was come out here and run as a team, stay grouped together as long as possible," said Collins, who also competed in the race. "And it really just came down to the end -- who had the better kick and who had the guts to put it to the finish line first. We had a pack up front running together with a group of three for a while and there was a second pack running together, a group of four."