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LRC: 2008 New Haven Road Race Recap
By: LetsRun.com
September 1, 2008

*Results (Top 20 Below)

The men's and women's races were polar opposites at the 2008 Stratton Faxon New Haven 20k Road Race.

On the men's side, James Carney led wire-to-wire. Carney gained an early lead, but between miles three and four, where he ran a 4:33 (see the interview below), the chase pack caught up to him. Carney was clear of the chasers by 10k (Carney hit 10k in 28:53 and the pack 28:58), just ahead of Ryan Hall's American Record pace (57:54). From there on in, Carney would only lengthen his lead, as he went on to a convincing 59:11 victory and the US 20k Crown.

Smooth Sailing for James Carney

Carney said the plan was to run hard from the gun and to "run them off their feet." The plan was executed to perfection, although Carney faded off of his American record pace. James has tried to put the extreme disappointment of missing the Olympic team behind him and run with a more relaxed aggressive style. He said, "I want to run as hard as I can. If I blow up, I blow up, it's not that big a deal. At the end of the day it's just running." Up next is an unnamed fall marathon, but no doubt he improved his stock with the NY and Chicago race directors.

Former NCAA XC champ Josh Rohatinsky held off 3-time New Haven champ Dan Browne for 2nd, and US 25k record holder Fernando Cabada prevailed over former Adams State star Celedonino Rodriguez for fourth.

Women's Race: Two New Faces Vs. Elva Dryer
On the women's side, 2004 Olympian Elva Dryer opened up an early lead. Dryer was expected to be the class of the field and many assumed it would be clear sailing for Dryer. At one point the closest pursuer to Dryer was former NCAA star Stephanie Herbst-Lucke (nice profile on the NCAA star who quit the sport for over a decade here), who is now 42 years old.

However, two younger runners, 19-year-old (that is not a typo), Jack Daniels-coached Ilsa Paulson, and former Georgia All-American Jill Steffens, would catch Dryer from behind and the three of them battled for the crown over the final 2 miles.

Elva Surges in the Last Mile

Paulson and Steffens both ran very smart races to catch Dryer. Paulson said, "Quite frankly my legs don't move faster than about 5:20 pace, so I always tell myself if you're going to win, keep a steady pace and they're going to come back to you."

Steffens, whose greatest achievement until this point in her career was being an All-American at Georgia and making the Olympic Trials at 10,000m, came from even further behind to catch Dryer. This was Steffens first race ever over 10k, so she took a conservative approach. She wasn't in the top 5 until the 10k mark, but continued to move up and could see Dryer with 5k to go and joined her the final two miles. Once with the leaders, Steffens said, "I wasn't going to play it safe and run for second or third."

The lead would change multiple times over the final mile and a half. As you can see in the photos, Dryer threw in a surge and opened up a ten-meter lead in the last mile (Steffens said, "With about a mile to go she surged and dropped me pretty quickly"), but Steffens and Paulson battled back. Steffens threw in one final push the final 400m and it was enough to give her her first national championship.

National Champ and Soon-To-Be-Married Jill Steffens and Her FiancÚ

It's going to be big a big week for Steffens as she's getting married on Saturday. This is her second year on the pro circuit, but she struggled with anemia last year,and this was a great way to kick off the next phase of her life (and get some spending money for the honeymoon in Tahoe thanks to the $8000 first place check). She said, "It's phenomenal, its very surreal. I'm so grateful to be here and am really looking forward to a career (as a pro runner)."

The path of the 19-year-old Paulson is very untraditional. Only 19, she is now a full-time pro coached by Jack Daniels. She went to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff (where she is now coached by Daniels) for a year, but then dropped out to run professionally so she could focus on the longer distances. As she said in her interview below, "To be honest with you, people can believe what they want, but it's the truth, God told me to go pro in running." She suffers from a learning disability that causes school work to take her 1.5 times longer than normal, so after some prayer she decided to go pro.

Steffens is prepping for her marathon debut in New York City this fall, while Paulson wants to continue doing shorter races but now will considering doing the World Half Marathon Champs in Brazil.

Ryan Shay Honored

New Haven Road Race Honors Ryan Shay
Perhaps the most important and impressive performance of the day was after the race when the race management and Joe Shay (Ryan's dad) presented the winners with the Ryan Shay award. Ryan was the Olympic Trials marathoner who tragically died during the Olympic Trials Marathon last year (Ryan Shay tribute on letsrun here). Ryan won the New Haven Road Race in 2004.

When being presented with the his first place award, James Carney gave a great brief speech where he said, "I want to thank the board of directors for being first class and bringing in Joe Shay." Joe Shay came up and embraced James and told him, "You represented his (Ryan's) spirit very well today." We agree. It was all a bit emotional and is shown in the third video below. (We hear Joe's speech at the pre-race technical meeting last night was even more emotional).

Top 20 below
*Full Results

Men's Winner James Carney (2:26)
James talks about the win, the disappointment of not making the Olympics, and running with less fear

Women's Winner Jill Steffens(3:47)
Jill talks about the come from behind surprise win, her career before this, and getting married on Saturday


Joe Shay and James Carney Talk About Ryan Shay and the Ryan Shay Award

Pretty moving

19-Year-Old 3rd-Placer Ilsa Paulson Talks About Turning Pro and Dropping out of School

(the video above is 2 clips combined as we recorded in a format that cut off after 3 minutes)


Top 20:


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