By Rich Sands, @sands
NEW YORK (07-Jun) -- Experience is usually an important factor in distance-running success, but that may not be the case in Saturday's NYRR New York Mini 10-K. The world's longest-running women's-only road race is doubling as the USATF championship for the first time this year and the field of 28 professional athletes includes 18 newcomers to the event. While there are several accomplished veterans in the field, youth will definitely be on display.
PHOTO: Erika Kemp is one of the new, young stars who will try to win the USA 10-K title at the NYRR New York Mini 10-K on Saturday (photo courtesy of the Boston Athletic Association)
The New York Road Runners-sponsored event began in 1972 and has seen some of history's greatest distance runners claim victory in Central Park, including Grete Waitz, Paula Radcliffe, Lorna Kiplagat and Mary Keitany. An empowering event for the women's running community, the race has had more than 200,000 finishers over the past 47 years.
The national championship designation guarantees an American victory in the event for only the third time in the last two decades, following wins by Deena Kastor in 2004 and Molly Huddle in 2014. Kastor --now 46 and twice the age of the youngest competitor-- is back in the field this year. She is one of three former USA 10-K champions in the field (having taken the title in 2007), along with Aliphine Tuliamuk (2017) and Stephanie Bruce (2018), who both triumphed in Atlanta, when the race was held as part of the Peachtree Road Race.
The professional athletes, who will start five minutes before the 8000-plus runners in the open race, are vying for a $20,000 first-pace prize, part of an impressive $75,000 purse. The race will be streamed for free at usatf.tv starting at 7:40 a.m./ET on Saturday, June 8.
Among the first-time New York Mini participants is Idaho-based Emma Bates, who has won USATF titles in the marathon and 25-K in the last six months. "I've always wanted to do this race, ever since I started road racing," said the 26-year-old Boise State grad in a telephone interview.
"I know that every woman who has won this race has gone on to accomplish huge things."
She also knows that an all-American field will change the dynamic of the competition. "It definitely makes it more strategic," said Bates, who finished sixth in last year's 10-K national championship in Atlanta.
"When we have international athletes it's more like a time trial and you're just running as fast as you can. A U.S. championship provides more of a sense of racing."
It also provides an opportunity for up-and-coming athletes. "There are names on the [start] list who I've never heard of, and they could go to this race and have a great experience or a breakout performance and really just snowball from there," Bates observed.
Mini newbie Shannon Malone will be making only her third professional start on Saturday. The 23-year-old Pittsburgh native finished out her eligibility at Syracuse University last fall after winning the NCAA Northeast Region Cross Country title, then joined her college coach Chris Fox with the new Reebok Boston Track Club in Charlottesville, Virginia. She was runner-up at the Ukrop's Monument Avenue 10-K in Richmond in April in 32:43, then placed fifth at the USATF Half-Marathon Championship in her hometown in May.
While the professional circuit is still new to Malone, she was familiar with the Mini's history. "I've followed this race for years, seeing Molly Huddle and all of those people just crushing it, so it's definitely a bit daunting," she admitted in a recent phone conversation.
"I have some nervous excitement based on my knowledge it being this huge, crazy race with all these fast people. I never expected myself to be racing something like this, but it's a really cool opportunity."
Another newcomer who has made an auspicious entrance to the professional ranks is Erika Kemp. The 24-year-old North Carolina State grad returns to New York after finishing second at last fall's USATF 5-K Championship (run as part of the Abbott Dash to the Finish Line) and collected her first national title, at 15-K, in Jacksonville, Fla., in March. A New Jersey native now training in Boston with the B.A.A. High Performance team, Kemp believes her previous race in Central Park will be an advantage. "The finish is about the same as the 5-K finish was," she said, speaking from her Amtrak train between Boston and New York yesterday. "So knowing what the last 2-K of the race is going to be like, with the rolling hills, and being able to visualize finishing well on that course is going to be huge."
Like the other first-time Mini competitors, Kemp is impressed with the lucrative prize purse. "It's phenomenal to have that kind of money for a women's only race," she marveled. "But it won't add any pressure as far as performance. Because whether it's $0 or $100,000 on the line, the competition is the same. You're still going to go for the win." That said, she admitted with a laugh, "after the fact it's a nice reward."
When it comes to familiarity with the Central Park roadways, nobody can top the resume of Diane Nukuri, who will be racing the New York Mini for the 10th year in a row. "It's not necessarily about how fast and fit you are, it's more about knowing the course," said the 34-year-old Burundi native, who became a U.S. citizen in 2017 and lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. "The rolling hills are tough and sometimes it can be very hot and humid. It's like a cross country race where you just have to run smart and grind the last two or three miles."
After representing Burundi at three Olympic Games, Nukuri, is excited to be racing her first USA championship. (Assuming her transfer of allegiance is approved by the IAAF in time, she hopes to run the U.S.
Olympic Trials marathon next February.) She has finished in the top-8 at the Mini every year since 2012, including some occasions when she wasn't at her best, dealing with various obstacles, including injuries, jet lag and food poisoning. This year Nukuri is recovering from a disappointing 10th-place finish at the Prague Marathon just five weeks ago, but she wouldn't miss the chance to be part of this event. "I love the energy and experience of racing in Central Park," she said. "And just to be a part of this event is special. Hopefully we'll inspire the next generation. I know they have kids races and there are mothers and daughters running the race together. After the race you meet all these women who've just started running and they're so excited and happy to be there. Everyone is always smiling."
The field also includes Jordan Hasay, who finished third at the Boston Marathon in April, Sally Kipyego, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist at 10,000 meters for her native Kenya, and tireless 36-year-old vet Sara Hall, who collected national titles at 10 miles and 20-K last year.
"There are so many good people in this race that you could get 15th and still have an amazing race," says Malone. "I can't wait to get on the line."