By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
NEW HAVEN (03-Sep) — Leonard Korir of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Sara Hall of Flagstaff, Ariz., captured the USA 20-K road running titles on a sweltering morning here at the 41st Faxon Law New Haven Road Race, each pocketing $9000 in prize money. For Korir, 31, a member of the U.S. Army team and a 2016 Olympian, it was his second win at these championships in three years; he also finished second last year. For Hall, 35, the reigning USA marathon champion who represents Asics, it was her first national title at this distance. She finished third last year.
With start-time temperatures about 78F/25C accompanied by soaking humidity, their winning times of 1:00:17 and 1:09:04, respectively, were predictably slow. Nonetheless, the races featured compelling head-to-head competition on an undulating, loop course through the Elm City.
From the start adjacent to the New Haven Green and Yale University, the men’s field ran cautiously. The first three miles went by in 4:49, 4:53 and 4:49, respectively, with 5-kilometers passing in 14:59. The lead pack was over 20-strong, reflecting the moderate pace. Martin Hehir and Ahmed Osman were the nominal leaders, and Korir was content to just run along with the pack.
Running directly into the sun through the 10-kilometer mark (30:14), the race finally began to take shape. The seventh mile passed in a swift 4:45, which whittled the podium contenders to just four: Aaron Braun (Hoka Northern Arizona Elite), Korir, Haron Lagat (U.S. Army) and Kiya Dandena (Under Armour). Hehir and Osman had fallen back, and Korir felt comfortable running with his teammate, Lagat.
“It’s encouraging,” Korir said. “We train together, we know each other. I think I helped him a little bit to push, and he helped me to push.”
The four held together through the eighth mile, but soon Braun would drop back, and would only finish ninth. Korir split 4:48 for the ninth mile, and began to prepare himself for the final battle for the win. In the up-and-down tenth mile in East Rock Park, Korir waited for the sharp downhill through 10-mile marker (16.1 km), then made one hard surge. Within seconds, both Lagat and Dandena were dropped. Korir said he didn’t want the race to devolve into a drag race at the end like it did last year when he was out-kicked by Galen Rupp at the line, losing by less than one second.
“That’s where I like,” Korir explained of his move in the park. “I knew it was not going to be possible to run, like, 4:30 (for the last mile). It was not possible because of the hot. I was, like, let me use the downhill to motivate myself that I’m running quick.” He added, waving his hand: “The finishing line is over there; try to open a lead.”
A 4:47 11th mile sealed the win, and Korir was able to cruise back to the Green to break the tape alone. He said that ultimately, the heat and humidity was his biggest rival today.
“This is the toughest one,” the sweat-soaked Korir told reporters, shaking his head. “It’s like an oven out there. Wow.”
Second place went to Lagat, a former steeplechaser, in 1:00:29, with Dandena holding on for third in 1:00:34. Osman managed to run a solid second half after falling off the pace mid-race, and finished fourth in 1:01:43. Marathoner Elkanah Kibet, a U.S. Army teammate of Korir’s was fifth in 1:01:44.
The women’s race quickly developed into a three-way battle between Hall, Allie Kieffer (Oiselle) and Emma Bates (Unattached). Bates fell back within the final five kilometers to get third (1:09:42), but Hall and Kieffer stayed together until the final 800 meters. Hall, the only American athlete to win national road running titles from one mile to the marathon, out-legged Kieffer in the final push to the line, beating her rival by 16 seconds, 1:09:04 to 1:09:20.
“A little before a half mile to go I just felt myself pulling away without tearing and I just kept going,” Hall explained. “Allie ran really strong, as well as Emma.”
Like Korir, Hall said that the heat and humidity were really tough to overcome.
“This was probably the most brutal conditions I’ve ever run in,” she said flatly, her long hair sticking to her head.
Hall, Keiffer and Bates are all building-up for fall marathons. Hall will run in Frankfurt on October 28; Kieffer in New York on November 4; and Bates in Sacramento, Calif., on December 2. Hall said she wasn’t sure what today’s effort told her about her marathon preparations, but that she would discuss it with her husband and coach, Ryan Hall.
“You know my motto for this marathon build up is be comfortable being uncomfortable,” Hall said. “So, usually that’s me up in Flagstaff doing everything, but today this is probably the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been.”
The Faxon Law New Haven Road Race is part of the USATF Running Circuit. The next event is the Medtronic TC 10 Mile scheduled for Sunday, October 7, in Minneapolis/St. Paul, followed by the Abbott Dash to the Finish 5-K in New York on November 3, and the California International Marathon on Sunday, December 2, in Sacramento, Calif. The series champion will be determined after the final race.