By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission.
MANCHESTER, CONN. (27-Nov) -- With freshly fallen snow covering lawns and trees around the course, Ben True and Diane Nukuri ran to strong victories here this morning at the 78th Manchester Road Race, the oldest and largest race in Connecticut. True was timed in 21:34 for the 4.748-mile distance, and Nukuri clocked 24:38.
True, the reigning USA 15-K road running champion, had the pleasure --and the challenge-- of running against his training partner, and last year's Manchester champion, Sam Chelanga. The two were side by side from the starter's gun, and worked together through the flat first mile (4:32), then up the race's big climb in the second mile on Highland Street. The pair managed to drop 2012 Manchester champion Aaron Braun when they went through two miles (9:25) and the crest of the hill where organizers offered a $1000 prime to the leader. Chelanga got the prime, a step ahead of True.
"Sam was pushing it and I knew he likes hills a lot," True told Race Results Weekly. "I always joke when we go running that I've got 50 more pounds to lug up the hill than he does." He added: "Near the crest I told him I wasn't going to contest him; let him have it and really focused on the finish."
As the pair turned left on to Porter Street just past the crest, True opened a slight gap and the duo pounded down the steep downhill. Behind them, Braun and Andrew Colley were trying to keep it close, and by the 3-mile mark (13:57), Colley had closed up on the leaders. Chelanga, his lips chattering against the cold, tried to stay relaxed.
"It was like, let's just have fun today," Chelanga said. "I know everything about Ben. I knew in my head everything was going to come down to a kick. He threw me off when he talked to me up the hill."
The trio was still together through four miles (18:23), and True was clearly trying to drop both his rivals. He picked up the pace slightly, and the three were running single file. Colley was forced to let go, and ultimately finished third in 21:43.
"It was a great day," Colley told Race Results Weekly. "They got me on the turn; they put a little surge in, and I wasn't ready for it."
It was on that final turn onto Main Street where the chess match between Chelanga and True began. True kept the pace high, but wanted to save something for the final 100 meters which are all uphill.
"It's a long straightaway so you can see for a while," said True. "I wanted to get over that first brick crosswalk; the bricks are a little slick today. Sam came up on my shoulder and I said, I've got to go now."
True got two steps on Chelanga, who soon looked over his shoulder for Colley. True crossed the finish line four seconds ahead of Chelanga, picking up the $4000 first place check like his training partner had done last year.
"I just wanted to emulate Sam," said True. "He got it last year."
For Nukuri, the finish was far less dramatic. Using her knowledge of the race --she's run this event five times-- and her strength as a marathoner (she's running the Honolulu Marathon next month), she upped the tempo and began to pull away from the field.
"After three miles I just started pushing," said Nukuri, wrapped in a mylar blanket. "I couldn't tell if I was running faster than everyone. I was like, I hope I don't die."
Her pace held firm, and by the time she hit the final uphill she had a big gap on miler Lauren Penny of the New Jersey-New York Track Club. Nukuri went on to win with an 8-second gap over Penney, who clocked 24:44. Nukuri was genuinely surprised to get the win.
"It's not a hard course once you get on top of the hill," she said. "Anybody can win it. So, I really didn't think, honestly, I was going for the win."
Penny was also happy, especially since she hasn't done any speed training yet in advance of the upcoming indoor season.
"Last year I was fourth and I was really excited with that," said Penney. "I was feeling a little tired in my training last week, so I just figured I'd come out here and see what I had. Wasn't expecting that, but very happy with it."