NEW HAVEN (01-Sep) -- Although the thunder storms that soaked this Connecticut city yesterday were gone, the air here was still thick with humidity, making fast running nearly impossible. To that end, Molly Huddle and Girma Mecheso forgot about time and simply ran for the win here today at the 37th annual Faxon Law New Haven Road Race which served as the USA 20-K championships.
For Huddle --who celebrated her 30th birthday yesterday-- today's race was more of a struggle than she anticipated. After an opening mile of 5:15 where she was joined only by the mercurial Lindsay Scherf, Huddle began to feel the heat and humidity quickly. She moderated her pace a little allowing her training partner Amy Hastings to come up on her shoulder by the 4-mile mark after Scherf had dropped back. The two immediately felt a sense of comfort.
"I felt like we were doing a tempo run," Huddle told Race Results Weekly. Looking at Hastings she added, "At the time I thought I hadn't done a tempo with you in a while since you started the marathon build-up. So, I kind of smiled."
The pair would run side by side through 10-K (33:24) without a thought to the rest of the women's field who were hundreds of meters back. They tried to settle into a rhythm, but Huddle started to feel some cramping in her abdomen.
"It was nice, but it started to hurt," lamented the sweat-soaked Huddle. Looking again at Hastings she said, "I was glad it was you and not someone else."
In the eighth mile, Huddle put in a gentle surge and achieved a five-second gap on Hastings. On the quieter section of the course where a man had just pulled a wriggling fish from a small tributary, Huddle just tried to manage her discomfort and keep Hastings at a safe distance.
"I was, like, trying to surge and never sag," explained Huddle. "It was like back to New York (where she won the Oakley New York Mini 10-K in June) where I really fell off a lot. But, I know that even though I'm going through rough patches, everyone is. So, I just tried to put my head down, stick with Amy as long as possible and use the guys ahead of his."
The gap between the two women closed slightly before the final long stretch to the finish on Whitney Avenue and then Temple Street, but Hastings eventually fell further back. Huddle broke the tape in 1:08:34 in her debut at the distance, beating her training partner by a comfortable 20 seconds. For Huddle, it was her third national title of the year (she also won at 5000m on the track and 7 miles on the road).
"I'm thrilled with the win," Huddle said. "I was worried and turning around a lot. So, to come away with a win in an event that I'm not comfortable with, I'm really happy with."
A resurgent Blake Russell, 39, took third place in 1:10:38, followed by Brianne Nelson (1:10:54) and Kelly Johnson (1:11:46).
For Mecheso, the former Oklahoma State star, the finish was much more thrilling. After a long, slow grind with key rivals Christo Landry, Luke Puskedra, Diego Estrada and Scott Bauhs, Mecheso put in a surge in the final mile which left Estrada and Bauhs off the back.
"At the end, with one mile to go, it was feeling so hard," Mecheso told Race Results Weekly. "But, I was just hoping to cross the line, as you know winning is just a great day for me because it's what we train for every day."
The race came down to a three-way battle between Mecheso, Luke Puskedra, and Christo Landry, who had already won three USA road racing titles this year. Landry, who had been fighting off a cramp on his right side, was trying to conserve himself for the final sprint, watching Mecheso and Puskedra slightly ahead of him."
"I'm out in Seattle now, where it's nice and clear," Landry said. "They think 80(F) is hot out there. I come here and it's 80 during race time, and it was very, very humid. I just tried to take it easy as long as possible, hanging out at the back of the group, not looking to push the pace at all." He continued: "I just tried to hang on to him... so I went for it."
Landry was able to get past Puskedra, but fell a second short on catching Mecheso who won in 1:01:26, the slowest winning time here in 34 years. Landry got second (1:01:27) and Puskedra third (1:01:32).
"I'm so happy to win this race," said Mecheso, who had just won his first USA title. "It was a great day for me."
PHOTO: Luke Puskedra, Girma Mecheso and Christo Landry fight for the win at the 37th annual Faxon Law New Haven Road Race (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly).