Molly Huddle defended her B.A.A. 5K title on Saturday morning in grand fashion, breaking the tape and the American record in 14:50, slashing four seconds off the mark set by Deena Kastor in 2002.
In the back of her mind, Huddle had the vague notion that she might chase the 5K American record at some point. Maybe later this year. Certainly not today.
“But wow,” she said, looking stunned as the realization set in that she had not only broken the record but had also run a personal best by a whopping 20 seconds. “Wow.”
The 30-year-old Huddle, who lives and trains in Providence, R.I., already owned the American record at 5000 meters on the track and is a four-time 5K national champion. She earned $7,500 for the victory and a bonus of $5,000 for setting an event record on a fast course made even faster this year with the elimination of two 90-degree turns. The win also gives her the lead in the 2015 B.A.A. Distance Medley, the three race series that also includes the B.A.A. 5K, B.A.A. 10K. and B.A.A. Half Marathon.
Echoing her victory last year, Huddle trailed in the early going only work her way up to surprise her rivals on the homestretch between the Boston Common and Boston Public Garden. Coming around the final turn, she launched herself into the thick of a trio of Ethiopian stars, outkicking Mamita Daska, Sentayehu Ejigu, and Geleta Burka for the win.
“I was watching Mamitu ahead of me and overcame her,” said Ejigu, the 2010 IAAF World Indoor Championships bronze medalist at 3000 meters, believing that she was headed for the win. “Then the American was there. I didn’t see her coming.”
Ejigu finished as runner-up, in 14:51, with Daska—the 2014 B.A.A. Distance Medley winner—third in 14:52. Burka, the 2008 World Indoor Champion at 1500 meters and a late entrant in the race, was fourth, in 14:57. Not only did the first seven women all set personal bests, but the second- through-seventh place finishers all ran the fastest times for place in history for a 5K on the road.
Reminded that her winning time is only four seconds shy of the world record (Meseret Defar, 14:46, 2006), Huddle—every other fingernail painted blue or yellow, the B.A.A. colors—acknowledged that “this is kind of like new territory for me. The world 5K record probably will get chipped away in the future, and I think this is a good place to do it, but for me to be anywhere close to that is a lot to wrap my mind around.”
The race was taken out early by Daska, who went through the first mile in a blistering 4:38, leaving Huddle five or six women back. “At two miles I did the math and realized that even though I was in fifth or sixth place, I was on American record pace, so that gave me more momentum for the last mile.”
Trusting in her impressive kick, Huddle waited until the final turn to show her cards. “I knew that if I was going to push for it, that was when I had to do it. I didn’t know if I could pull off the win; I just went as hard as I could the last 100.
“The field was so good,” she said, “that I knew I just had to close my eyes and go.”