RRW: Sarah Pagano Wins Freihofer’s Run With Big Final Surge

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

ALBANY, N.Y. (02-Jun) — With one kilometer remaining in the 40th edition of the Freihofer’s Run For Women 5-K here this morning, Diane Nukuri of Flagstaff, Ariz., was in the process of putting the race away.  The three-time Olympian for Burundi, who obtained USA citizenship last year, had done all the work in the previous four kilometers, and had opened up a three-step lead on her two remaining chasers, Sarah Pagano of Brighton, Mass., and Stephanie Bruce, also from Flagstaff.  Nukuri had gently stepped on the gas, and in under three minutes she would be tasting victory and taking home the $10,000 winner’s check.

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The early leaders of the 2018 Freihofer's Run for Women (left to right): Sarah Pagano (10), Diane Nukuri (2), Steph Bruce (8), Jess Tonn (9), and Emma Bates (4). Photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly The early leaders of the 2018 Freihofer’s Run for Women (left to right): Sarah Pagano (10), Diane Nukuri (2), Steph Bruce (8), Jess Tonn (9), and Emma Bates (4). Photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly

But behind her, Pagano had a different idea.  She decided that the race wasn’t over, at least not yet.

“We rounded the corner,” Pagano said, referring to the right-hand turn onto Washington Avenue for the final kilometer to the finish.  “Diane was ahead, and I believe Steph was right in front of me.  I knew there was a big downhill, and from the looks of it on the way out we were going to have a tailwind.  So I was like, use everything you can.  I was hurting, we all were.”

Nukuri, whose form had looked so smooth up to that point –even up and down the hills in Washington Park– started to grimace and threw a few glances behind her.  An all-purpose road racer who stretches sometimes to the marathon distance, Nukuri knew she had to make that early move to keep the speedier Pagano, primarily a 5000m runner, at a safe distance.

“I went for it,” Nukuri told Race Results Weekly.  “I don’t know what the outcome would have been if I had waited.”

As all three women picked up the pace, Pagano first shook off Bruce before focusing on the tiring Nukuri.  As the downhill slope became even steeper, Pagano quickened her leg turnover and embraced the pain.  Nukuri was coming back to her.

“I was thinking, hey, I don’t have to settle for second or third,” Pagano said.  “I’m still in this.  So, I decided to give it one last push, and that got me up to Diane.”  She added: “I tried to fight until the end.”

With the race clock showing 14 minutes and 58 seconds, Pagano went past Nukuri, who had no answer.  Pagano pressed even harder, clocked a swift 2:53 for the final kilometer, and broke the tape next to the New York State Capitol in 15:48 to get the win.  It was her first road racing victory since December, 2016, when she won the NYRR Midnight Run in New York City.

“I’m really happy,” said Pagano, who competed for Syracuse University during her NCAA career.  “I just came in wanting to compete and not worry about anything else.  I’m really happy to come away with the win.”

Unfortunately for Nukuri, Bruce –also a marathoner– had something left, too, and passed Nukuri inside of the final 100 meters to take second in 15:53 and collect the $5000 runner-up prize.  Nukuri, clearly exhausted, had to settle for third in 15:56, worth $3000.

“That was so hard,” Bruce told Race Results Weekly, “(but) everyone can find another gear.”

Allie Kieffer of Buffalo, N.Y. (16:00/$2000)) and Jessica Tonn of Seattle, Wash. (16:04/$1000) rounded out the top-5.  Jen Rhines of San Diego, Calif., finished 9th overall in 16:44 and successfully defended her masters (40+) title.  Sixteen year-old high school student Kelsey Chmiel of Greenfield Center, N.Y., finished tenth in 16:45 and was the top under-20 finisher.

Over 3000 women ran today’s race including the mayor of Albany, Kathy Sheehan, who took part for the first time since becoming mayor in 2014.

“It really is a part of Albany that people get excited about,” Sheehan said here yesterday.  “It’s such a wonderful event.”  She added: “I was shamed into it.”

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