(17-Nov) -- Led by four Olympians, the Nike Bowerman Track Club dominated today's second annual Michigan Pro Ekiden at Stony Creek MetroPark in Shelby Township, Michigan. With Olympic 10,000m fifth-placer Grant Fisher running the 10-K anchor leg in 28:37, Bowerman clocked a course record 2:08:24 for the 42.2-kilometer, mixed-gender, six-stage race, defeating second place Hoka Northern Arizona Elite by nearly four minutes.
PHOTO: Grant Fisher of Nike Bowerman Track Club finishes the anchor leg of the second annual Michigan Pro Ekiden (photo by Chris Mengel)
"It feels great. It's good to be back in the home state," said Fisher who grew up in Grand Blanc, Michigan. In his post-race interview with RunnerSpace.com he continued: "Awesome to come away with the win. Really fun event. Normally we don't race much in the fall and winter, so this was a good time."
The six-athlete Bowerman squad didn't jump right to the lead, however. On the first leg marathoner Annie Frisbie of Minnesota Distance Elite took out the pace hard splitting that 6.1 km segment in 19:25. She put 18 seconds on Bowerman's Olympic steeplechase silver medalist Courtney Frerichs of the before handing her sash to teammate Colin Abert.
"She's really crunching it right now," said commentator Lee Troop of Frisbie's front-running on the broadcast.
But the Minnesota team's lead was short-lived. With 27:15 showing on the race clock, Bowerman's Thomas Ratcliffe rolled up Abert and gently pulled away. Ratcliffe ran his 5-kilometer segment in 14:10, and Bowerman had a 13-second lead going into the third leg.
"I just wanted to make sure I didn't go out too hard," said Ratcliffe. "Races always go better when I'm closing hard in the second half, and I just wanted to keep coming and progressing down.
Vanessa Fraser put the race out of reach for Bowerman in the third leg. Running alone, she ran 16:22 for 5-K setting up teammates Woody Kincaid, Elise Cranny, and then Fisher to also take solo runs on a gray and chilly day. The Bowerman lead increased with each leg, and they ran the fastest segments for each leg except the first. Kincaid ran 17:16 for the 6.1-kilometer fourth leg, Cranny ran 32:19 for the 10-kilometer fifth leg, and Fisher ran 28:36 on the anchor.
"It was actually really fun," said Cranny who had never run a road 10-K before. She said that while hers was a lonely run, she was committed to her teammates. "I think that's where it was helpful to focus on running for a team," she said.
The battle for second was compelling. In the third stage Dani Shanahan of Hoka NAZ Elite passed Emi Trost of Minnesota Distance Elite to put her Flagstaff-based team in second place. But in stage four, Frank Lara of Roots Running Project caught NAZ's Sid Vaughn and the pair came to the next exchange zone together in basically a dead heat.
In stage five, while Cranny was cruising along up front, Natosha Rogers of the Brooks-Hansons Original Distance Project overtook Maggie Montoya of Roots Running to get her team into third place, then set her sights on Lauren Paquette of NAZ Elite. She didn't catch her, but Paquette had to run 32:33 for 10-K to hold off Rogers who only ran 11 seconds slower. Hoka NAZ elite had a 26-second lead on Hansons going into the final segment.
In the sixth and final stage, Hauger and Hansons' Zach Panning ran the exact same time (29:38), so the 26-second gap held up to the finish . NAZ Elite, who won last year's event in 2:10:11, was clocked in 2:12:01 to Hansons' 2:12:27.
"Going in, we knew the Bowerman team would be tough to beat," said Hoka NAZ Elite coach Ben Rosario in a text message to Race Results Weekly. "We also knew there were teams like Hansons and Roots that would be giving us all we could handle, which they did. We were pumped up to come away with second place and happy we could once again be a part of such a great event."
Today's event offered $50,000 in prize money. Bowerman got $20,000 for the win, while NAZ Elite got $10,000 for second, and Hansons $5,000 for third. Also, the runners with the fastest stage times earned $2,000 ($500 for second-fastest). As such, Bowerman's total payday was $30,000.
Kevin Hanson, who created the event during 2020 to give pro athletes a chance to compete safely during the pandemic, told Race Results Weekly that the race had achieved its main objective of rewarding top training groups for their contribution to American athlete development and giving athletes a fun, team experience.
"It achieved what I'm hoping this event achieves," said Hanson in a telephone interview. "A way to say thank you to those other groups that are doing what we're doing. I appreciate them. That's the purpose of this event to have a fun." He added: "There are several people who are doing very good things for our sport."
Team Results: 2nd Annual Michigan Pro Ekiden
1. Nike Bowerman Track Club, 2:08:24 CR*
2. Hoka Northern Arizona Elite, 2:12:01
3. Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project, 2:12:27
4. Roots Running Project, 2:13:01
5. Minnesota Distance Elite, 2:14:36
6. Team Boulder, 2:17:29
*Course record; previous 2:10:11, Hoka NAZ Elite, 2020