June 4, 2016
ALBANY, N.Y. — “This is a huge surprise to me,” Brianne Nelson, 33, from Golden, Colo. was commenting moments after taking the $10,000 first prize at the 38th annual Freihofer’s Run or Women. In taking the title from an all-American field in a time of 15:45, Nelson finished 10 seconds ahead of the more favored Sarah Hall from Redding, Calif., who finished in 15:55 and 25 seconds up on the emergent Maegan Krifchin from Silver Springs, Md. who crossed the line in 16:10.
“The 5K distance is a little out of my wheelhouse,” stated the newly-crowned champion, who has a 32:33 10K best and for whom this was her first ever 5K at sea-level. “I didn’t have any expectations. I think I’ll do another one!”
With a 5K best time at least 20 seconds faster than anybody else in the field of 3,709 runners, most of the pre-race attention focused on Hall, a four-time member of the US World Cross-Country team and the 12th place finisher in this year’s London Marathon. From the outset, however, Hall appeared sluggish, stating afterwards that she found the early going difficult. “The beginning was kind of tough, but I tend to like to work my way up in races.”
In the opening half mile, it was Serena Burla from Stafford, Va. who was the most aggressive, forcing her way to the front of a 12-woman pack. Nelson and a clutch of other favorites held close, but even at this stage Hall was dangerously adrift. As she avowed, though, the Californian forced her way through the pack, coming within three strides of the leaders as the mile marker in Washington Park drew near. Unfortunately for Hall, it was at that point that Nelson decided that it was time to go.
“The hills are where I feel comfortable and strongest, and Sara Hall is one tough girl,” explained Nelson. “So, I knew I had to push it. I made my decisive move a little before the one-mile mark. I really pushed that downhill.”
With the first mile passed in 5:14, it was evident that the race was on. With Nelson charging onward, Hall worked hard to give pursuit and the field quickly elongated into single-file. Although it was never over until it was over, and while Hall never stopped working hard to close the ground she was inexorably losing, Nelson’s move had done the trick. At the two- mile mark (10:21), her lead had stretched to 30 meters and it appeared that it would take a major crisis to prevent Nelson from taking this title. As she made the right hand turn to exit Washington Park and begin the half mile home stretch along Washington Avenue to the majestic New York State Capitol, the wave of support from the slower runners, still heading out along the course, was deafening. Nelson allowed herself – and them – a brief smile before re-focusing one last time to ensure that this one was not about to get away.
“I was hoping she would come back,” stated Hall. “I was charging hard, trying to use every bit of that last downhill to catch her. But she ran a great race!”
Smiling again, Nelson simply observed, “I’m super shocked to be here.”
The change to an all-American field this year was a topic of discussion among both race organizers and elite competitors. “It’s nice to compete against the best in the world,” observed the new Freihofer’s champion, “but it’s also nice to come to a race and know you have a chance to take home some prize money.”
The masters’ competition, for women over-40, was just as competitive as the open competition, albeit in a different manner. This race evolved into a three-way sprint between last year’s second place finisher, Marissa Sutera-Strange (52), Renee Tolan (41) of nearby Clifton Park and Sheri Piers (44). At the finish line, eight seconds covered all three, with Sutera-Strange taking the decision by three seconds over Tolan (17:41 to 17:44).
“We were together most of the race,” explained the winner. “We went through the first mile in about 5:40 then Renee took off and got about 20m. Approaching two miles, I made a surge; but, I could hear the crowd shouting, so I knew that she (Tolan) was still close. I’m very pleased. I feel really lucky.”
Sutera-Strange would turn 53 one week after the race. Notably, she previously won the Freihofer’s open 5K in 1986. At that time, race day comprised both a 5K and a 10K, the latter being the US championship.
Also competing in the Freihofer’s over-40 competition was racing legend, Joan Samuelson, winner of the Olympic Games women’s marathon in 1984. In Albany, Samuelson, now 59, finished as sixth master, 47th overall, in a time of 19:31.
“Just when I think this race can’t get any better, it does,” asserted Event Director George Regan. “Even after 38 editions, we still see spectacular competitions, amazing participation and an enthusiasm that you won’t see anywhere else. This was just a great day for Albany.”
Results: 38th Annual Freihofer’s Run for Women 5K
1 Brianne Nelson (Golden, Colo.) 15:46 ($10,000)
2 Sarah Hall (Redding, Calif.) 15:56 ($5,000)
3 Maegan Krifchin (Silver Spring Md.) 16:11 ($3,000)
4 Allie Kieffer (New York N.Y.) 16:18 ($2,000)
5 Serena Burla (Stafford, Va.) 16:21 ($1,000)
6 Megan Peyton (Bloomington, Minn.) 16:27 ($750)
7 Katy Moen (South St Paul, Minn.) 16:30 ($500)
8 Jessica Watychowicz (Silver Spring, Md.) 16:34 ($300)
9 Joanna Thompson (Blowing Rock, N.C.) 16:44 ($250)
10 Juliet Bottorff (Brighton, Mass.) 16:49 ($200)
11 Nicole Dimercurio (Blowing Rock, N.C.) 16:55
12 Dani Miller (Rochester Hills, Mich.) 17:17
13 Sinead Haughey (Blowing Rock, N.C.) 17:25
14 Tera Moody (Chicago, Ill.) 17:26*
15 Marisa Sutera Strange (Pleasant Valley, N.Y.) 17:41
16 Renee Tolan (Clifton Park, N.Y.) 17:44
17 Sheri Piers (Falmouth, ME) 17:49
18 Erin Lopez (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.) 17:49
19 Amelia Mahoney (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.) 17:55
20 Brittany Burns (Watertown, N.Y.) 17:57
Masters (Over 40)
1 Marisa Sutera Strange (Pleasant Valley, N.Y.) 17:41 ($750)
2 Renee Tolan (Clifton Park, N.Y.) 17:44 ($500)
3 Sheri Piers (Falmouth, ME) (17:49)