MANCHESTER, CONN. (26-Nov) -- There was something old and something new at this morning's 79th Manchester Road Race here, New England's most prestigious Thanksgiving Day race. Defending women's champion Diane Nukuri of Burundi prevailed once again in convincing fashion, while former University of Oregon star Will Geoghegan got his first victory on Main Street here in a close sprint finish in his first appearance. Some 12,000 runners competed on a seasonally mild and sunny day.
Bates Gives Nukuri Early Challenge
PHOTO: Diane Nukuri celebrating her second consecutive win at the 2015 Manchester Road Race (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Nukuri, who finish eighth in last month's Bank of America Chicago Marathon, may have come into today's race with more tired legs than her competitors, but with far more experience. Today marked the sixth appearance here for the 30 year-old athlete after first running the race back in 2008. She had finished on the podium three time before, and considers Manchester something of a second home.
"I love it here. I might move here," quipped Nukuri, who lives in Flagstaff, Az., after the race.
After the flat opening mile, the race moves steeply uphill on Highland Street for more than a mile. Organizers placed a stripe in the road just ahead of the two-mile mark, and the first male and female athletes to hit that mark collect an extra $1000. That's where Nukuri felt her first big challenge. Former Boise State star Emma Bates spurted ahead of Nukuri and Canadian 10,000m record holder Natasha Wodak to pick up the "Queen of the Hill" prime. Seeds of doubt crept into Nukuri's mind.
"I don't know what her name is, the girl who got the uphill challenge," Nukuri said of Bates. "She was strong, and I felt like the girls who were right behind me were still right there. And you know, when you get on top of the hill together, anything can happen."
But Nukuri knew the big downhill in the third mile was just ahead after the race turned left onto Porter Street. She hadn't redlined her heart on the climb, and was ready to take full advantage of the downhill. Experience pays.
"That's what I did last year, exactly the same strategy," Nukuri said of attacking on the downhill. "I just tried to finish that last two miles. I was thinking, if I could run 5 minutes (per mile) or under maybe they can match it, but that's pretty fast."
They couldn't. Nukuri came to the uphill finish on Main Street with a comfortable margin on both Wodak and Bates. Nukuri was timed in 24:25, her fastest time ever here in six attempts.
"I love it here," Nukuri said again. "This is one of my favorite races."
Wodak clinched second in 24:32 and Bates got third in 24:44. Maddie Van Beek (25:04) and Hannah Davidson (25:08) rounded out the top-5 finishers.
Geoghegan Upsets Local Olympian Cabral
PHOTO: Will Geoghegan (bib 17) starts his final sprint at the 2015 Manchester Road Race against Donn Cabral (bib 14) and Maverick Darline (bib 7). Geoghegan won in 21:34 in his first appearance at the race (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
The crowd lining the 4.748-mile course were only cheering for one athlete in the lead pack of four which had developed in the men's race by the three-mile mark: Donn Cabral. Cabral, an Olympic steeplechaser, grew up in nearby Glastonbury and has run the race since he was a child. He's never won here, and he saw today as his best chance.
"I was feeling pretty good today; it was a great opportunity," Cabral told reporters. "I felt like this was really the year to take the win at Manchester in front of my home crowd. Everyone was cheering along the way. It was really special."
Cabral asserted himself early. After a 4:22 opening mile led by 2012 Manchester champion Aaron Braun, Cabral pushed the pace up the Highland Street hill. He put in a little surge to collect the "King of the Hill" bonus, then hit the two-mile mark with a one-step lead in 9:26."
"The race was perfectly set-up for me," the 25 year-old Cabral explained. "The first mile was reasonable. This was the best I've ever felt on the hill."
But as the four men's leaders --Braun, Cabral, Geoghegan and Maverick Darling-- started to plunge down Porter Street, Braun used the tactic he used to win her before. Like Nukuri, he stepped on the gas down the hill, nearly putting Darling out of podium contention (he later caught up). When the four hit the three mile mark together in 13:51, Braun feared it would become a kicker's race."
"There's a group of four-minute milers in there," Braun later lamented.
The course has a valley finish: first it goes down, then there is a short but steep climb to the finish line. Geoghegan, 23, who indeed has a 3:57.53 mile to his credit, started his sprint from perhaps 400 meters out. Braun was out the back, and only Cabral tried to cover his move.
"Just that last 100, 150 (meters) when the downhill levels out I was trying to go stride-for-stride with Donn," Geoghegan told Race Results Weekly. "I knew I was making ground on him."
Cabral was pumping his arms furiously, trying to stay in the taller Geoghegan's slipstream. But the former Princeton athlete was clearly in pain, and couldn't hold Geoghegan's pace in the final push to the line. He was so close to winning, but it wasn't going to happen today.
"Honestly, the pain in my body was the last part I was feeling," said the downcast Cabral, shaking his head.
Geoghegan, who grew up in Brunswick, Me., and knew of Manchester's history, raised his hands and smiled as he broke the tape in 21:34, exactly the same time as last year's winner, Ben True, who did not compete this year. The win definitely had extra meaning for him given that he grew up in New England.
"It's great. This is a legendary race," said Geoghegan. "To be able to come in here and run well my first time is awesome."
Cabral got second in 21:36, and Darling held on for third in 21:42. Braun finished fourth (21:48) and Tim Ritchie got fifth (21:55).
Well behind the winners, former Runner's World editor Amby Burfoot, 69, finished the race for the 53rd consecutive time.