ALBANY, NY, May 31, 2014 – A blustery day with perfect racing temperatures greeted 4,112 women as they lined up downtown for the start of the 36th annual Freihofer’s Run for Women.
In the course of its illustrious history, the Freihofer’s race has seen some of the world’s most celebrated competitors going head to head on the streets of the New York state capital, including eight-time winner Lynn Jennings and Olympic legend Joan Samuelson. Jennings was not in Albany this year, but Benoit-Samuelson was (she won the over 55 division), offering some inspiring words to the runners before joining the assembled mass as Event Director George Regan sent the field underway.
Emily Chebet (KEN), the defending champion (who had set the course record at 15:12 in 2010) was not among the contenders this year, having been encouraged by her home country’s national federation to focus on the forthcoming Commonwealth Games. That did nothing to dilute the depth of the field, however, as even a cursory glance as the early race leaders affirmed. As the hoard charged up the opening hill, two-time winner (2011, 2012) Mamitu Daska (ETH) was already at the forefront, as were two-time Olympian Lucy Kabuu (KEN), Boston Marathon second placer Buzunesh Deba (ETH), 15:01 track runner Afera Godfay (ETH), 2008 Olympian Zemzem Ahmed (ETH) and a handful of others who were all capable of taking the prestigious crown and, with it, the first place prize of $10,000.
Melody Fairchild from the USA wins the Masters division at the 36th Freihofer’s Run for Women on May 31, 2014. As is invariably the case at Freihofer’s, where the opening hill encourages early-race caution, the first kilometer did little other than to allow all of the contenders to clear the runway. All who should have been there were, including local favorite Megan Hogan from Ballston Spa (9th here last year) and Amy Van Alstine from Arizona (4th in 2013). Passing that first kilometer marker a couple of ticks over 3:00 it was clear that the pace was going to be like the day: brisk with a certainty of increasing heat.
The first mile marker at Freihofer’s, adjacent to the Lakehouse in Washington Park, is the first true frame of reference. The ultimate winner is always prominent here and the split time often gives a strong indication of just how swift the time at the tape may be. This year was no different. The clock showed an opening mile of 5:06 – fast but not blistering – with Daska, Kabuu, Godfey, Ahmed, Kenya’s Alice Kamunya and a flotilla of others all contending for the pole position.
It is close to the one and a half mile mark that the Freihofer’s course presents a short sharp incline that serves as the first true test. It is at this point that the strong forge onward and those feeling the pace show the first cracks in their armor. With Daska and Kabuu still fronting the charge, the pace and the incline took their toll, quickly pruning those in contention to the two leaders plus Godfay and Kamunya. Leaving the park and heading towards the long open stretch of road along Western Avenue, Kamunya was the next to fall adrift, leaving just three in the hunt – Daska, Kabuu and Godfay – as the two mile mark swept by in 10:05.
4,112 runners start the 36th Freihofer’s Run for Women in Albany, NY on May 31, 2014. Photo by Steve Jacobs Those numbers explained much, detailing a 4:59 second mile through the rolling second half of the course; little wonder that only three remained. Approaching the final mile, there was no indication of which of the super-fast trio would prevail. Daska had won twice already; Kabuu was new but in superb form, as evidenced by her 31:48 win in the TCS World 10K in Bangalore in April; Godfay was….who knew? It was wide open.
It was only with 800m remaining that the answers were revealed. The leaders made the left hand turn onto Madison Avenue with the finish line tantalizingly over the horizon. Kabuu was the first to respond, increasing the tempo – not violently, but distinctly. Godfay was gone almost immediately. Daska hung close, but she lost a stride. At that stage of the race, that stride was crucial. Running flat out, spurred by the roars of the crowd, a stride lost at this juncture can be a race lost. Which it was. Kabuu flew down the expansive home straight, gaining precious inches with each meter and crossing the finish line in a time of 15:20. Daska crossed one second later, with Godfey holding on for third in 15:28.
“I’m so happy,” the winner exulted. Asked if it had always been her to plan to be at or close to the front of the field at all times, she responded, “When you run together, the race is very interesting. So I prefer to run my own pace. Keeping that up is tough, but I always prefer to run my own pace.” Kabuu further revealed that the marathon is her preferred distance and that the Freihofer’s race was a key component in her preparation for the Commonwealth Games, being held in Glasgow, Scotland this summer.
Daksa, the two-time winner, was succinct: “It was difficult at the end to catch Lucy,” she stated.
In the over 40 competition, the victory went to one-time teen prodigy Melody Fairchild (CO), now a master’s prodigy. She scored a powerful victory over Sheri Piers (ME), 17:13 to 17:42. “I’m so thankful that Sheri is here,” Fairchild stated. “This is the first time that I’ve been here in 16 years. I felt strong on the hills. I don’t have words for how thrilling it is to be back.”
In the 5K race walk for both men and women, held at the Empire State Plaza and doubling as the USATF Race Walk Championship, Maria Michta established a new American in the women’s event, while Michael Mannozzi won the men’s division. Michta, from Nesconset, NY, completed the course in 21:57, which clipped the old mark by 17 seconds (22:15). Mannozzi, from Youngstown, OH, finished with a personal record of 21:19.
With 36 successful editions behind him, Regan was in a good position to place this year’s Freihofer’s Run for Women in perspective. “The competition was amazing at every level,” he stated. “Lucy was spectacular. Melody is a wonderful new master’s champion. We saw a new US record in the race walk. All of our competitors here today make me so proud. This is a great day for Albany.”
36th Annual Freihofer’s Run for Women 5K Results:
1 Lucy Wangui Kabuu (Kenya) 15:21 ($10,000)
2 Mamitu Daska (Ethiopia) 15:22 ($5,000)
3 Afera Godfay Berha (Ethiopia) 15:28 ($3,000)
4 Zemzem Ahmed (Ethiopia) 15:45 ($2,000)
5 Agnes Cheserek (Kenya) 15:50 ($1,000)
6 Megan Hogan (USA) 15:50 ($750)
7 Buzunesh Deba (Ethiopia) 16:05 ($500)
8 Alice Kamunya (Kenya) 16:08 ($300)
9 Rene Kalmer (South Africa) 16:12 ($250)
10 Rkia El Moukim (Morocco) 16:17 ($200)
11 Genet Beyene (Ethiopia) 16:20
12 Amy Van Alstine (USA) 16:29
13 Christine Kalmer (South Africa) 16:38
14 Michelle Lilienthal (USA) 16:42
15 Nolene Conrad (South Africa) 16:53
16 Melody Fairchild (USA) 17:13
17 Sara Dunham (Plattsburgh NY) 17:31
18 Sheri Piers (USA) 17:42
19 Jennifer Mortimer (New London NH) 17:51
20 Brittany Burns (Watertown NY) 17:55
Masters (Over 40)
1 Melody Fairchild (USA) 17:13 $750
2 Sheri Piers(USA) 17:42 $500
3 Paula Wiltse (CAN) 18:00 $350
1. Marisa Sutera Strange (USA) 18:16
2. Joan Samuelson (USA) 19:02