Chelimo, 27, finished Saturday's rainy Road Runner Akron Marathon in 2:27:21 just 10 days after moving to Toledo to train with the city's Davis Running Team. He plans to stay through the end of the year.
"I was surprised, because I thought the field was strong, and I was not that strong," Chelimo said.
"I thank everyone who supported me, who cheered me."
Chelimo held the lead for most of the race and bested second-place finisher Sergey Kaledin of Tacoma, Wash., by almost four minutes. Chelimo is running in the United States this fall to help send money back to Kenya to support his large family and said he hopes to compete in the Olympic marathon someday. He even shares the same full name as another Kenyan Olympic runner, the silver medalist in the 10,000 meters at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
"I know one time, I'll make it," Chelimo said.
Although the men's race was a runaway, the women's division saw a much more dramatic finish. Fellow first-timer Hirut Mandefro of Ethiopia and Elena Kaledina -- wife of men's runner-up Sergey -- were battling for the lead up until the final mile. Mandefro, who resides in Silver Spring, Md., finished at 2:51:59, one minute four seconds ahead of Kaledina, to win the race.
"At the end, I'm full of power," Mandefro said of her last-minute victory. She decided to compete in Akron just a day before the race and said she is using it as practice for the upcoming New York Marathon.
Aside from the competitive runners who came to Akron with the hopes of finishing at the top of their divisions, others participated to stay in shape, make a statement, or just have some fun. Nicole Camp of Wickliffe finished first in the women's half-marathon, but with Akron being just her second-ever half-marathon, she said she never expected winning would be possible.
"I competed a couple weeks ago at the [Cleveland Clinic Sports Health] River Run in Berea, and it was downhill and really easy with perfect weather," said Camp, who finished at 1:23:58. "This was more difficult than I imagined, but I said if I could run it in 1:25:00, I'd be happy, and I did."
Camp, 23, grew up outside Wooster and was on the cross country team at the University of Toledo. Her goal is to run a full marathon, but she didn't want to train too quickly and injure herself.
"I just wanted to take my time and get used to it, and do a couple half-marathons, and maybe next year I'll do a full one," she said. "I might try to qualify for Boston this year, I decided a couple weeks ago. But I'll have to wait and see."
Adam Rose of Macomb, Mich., also competed in Akron for the first time. He finished first in the inaugural year of the handcycle division; the marathon also hosted a wheelchair division for the first time.
Rose, 15, first discovered the sport three years ago after his father, a competitive runner, first took him to the annual Crim road race in Flint, Mich., where he saw handcycle and wheelchair racing for the first time.
"I saw the wheelchair start, and I thought it was pretty cool, so it just took off from there," Rose said. "Now I travel all over to race, and I'm doing a half-marathon coming up and the [Detroit] Free Press Marathon."
The high school sophomore, who is paralyzed from the waist down, said racing, schoolwork and his interest in wheelchair basketball keep his schedule busy.
"It's a lot of doing my homework in the car," Rose said. "But it's all worth it."
But for competitor Jeff Burke, completing the race wasn't about coming in first; in fact, he was one of the last runners to finish. Instead, he runs marathons to make sure his voice is heard.
The longtime runner completed the full marathon with what he has named a "tribute pack" on his shoulders. Weighing about 16 pounds when dry but 20 pounds after a rainy day in Akron, the camouflage device resembles a backpack, but is slung across the upper back to support five different symbolic flags. They include inspirational messages to American troops, Armed Forces decals, and, of course, the country's flag.
Burke, 48, of Stow, joined the Air Force in 1980 and has been deployed overseas three times since 2001. He said he first started running with the pack while serving in Kyrgyzstan two years ago.
"There's so many people that I've met in the races from wearing this: veterans, current servicemen and the families of people serving overseas," he said. "I spend a lot of time talking to them. I always stop to take pictures because I know if someone takes a picture, they'll show other people, and that's why it's out there -- for awareness."
Burke said he sometimes changes the flags for various races, but the message is always the same.
"It's a tribute to people who contribute so much to so many people across the country," Burke said. "For me, the marathon is about showing them, and their families, some appreciation."