NEW HAVEN (05-Sep) -- On a cloudy and warm morning with nearly 100% humidity, Keira D'Amato and Conner Mantz won the USA Track & Field 20-K road running titles at the 44th edition of the Faxon Law New Haven Road Race. D'Amato, 37, of Midlothian, Va., prevailed in a fast, two-woman battle with five-time national champion Emily Sisson where both athletes bettered Aliphine Tuliamuk's championships record of 1:05:47 (2016) and also Colleen De Reuck's event record of 1:05:11 (1998). Mantz, 25, of Provo, Utah, led nearly every step of the race and pulled away from three-time New Haven champion Leonard Korir and 2011 NCAA 10,000m champion Sam Chelanga in the final 800 meters of the race. D'Amato was clocked in 1:04:29 and Mantz in 59:08; both winners won $9,000 in prize money.
PHOTO: Keira D'Amato wins the 2022 USATF 20-K Championships in New Haven, Conn., in a course record 1:04:29 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Before today's start there was little doubt that D'Amato and Sisson were the favorites for victory in the women's contest. D'Amato, the American record holder for the marathon with a 2:19:12 personal best, showed top form at the Asics Falmouth Road Race just 15 days ago where she dominated the classic 7-mile race. Sisson, the American record holder for the half-marathon with a 1:07:11 personal best, ran a sizzling 25:08 for five miles at a small race in Rhode Island the same day that D'Amato won in Falmouth.
From the gun, D'Amato and Sisson scooted away from the rest of the elite women and immediately focused on racing each other. Both athletes are training for fall marathons --Berlin in September for D'Amato and Chicago in October for Sisson-- and today's race gave them the perfect chance to test their fitness and competitive instincts, and even support each other on their way to bigger goals.
"I think (it's) mentally a little more challenging racing in the middle of a marathon build-up," Sisson told Race Results Weekly. "It was actually kind of nice the first half having her there because we kind of switched off a bit."
Sisson did more of the leading in the first half than D'Amato, and the pace was fast. Unofficially, they split 3 miles (4.8 km) in 15:31 putting them well under course record pace. As the duo approached the 8-mile (13 km) mark Sisson began to tire. D'Amato noticed her rival looking down at her watch and sensed there was an opportunity to take the lead.
"If I want to win this race I have to stay right with Emily," D'Amato recalled thinking to herself. She continued: "At eight miles I saw her check her watch a little bit before the mile mark and I was like oh, she might be tired. At that point I felt like I was about to fall off the back. So I was like, I can either fall off the back or just put a move in and see what happens. Well, I'd rather win it than lose so I put a move in and I could feel her hesitate a little. That gave me a lot of energy."
Indeed, the fast pace combined with soaking humidity was getting to Sisson.
"I think I started hurting from about mile eight and she took over," Sisson explained. "And I was like, just hang on to her and try to out-kick her at the end. I couldn't quite catch her."
In the end, D'Amato had a six-second margin on Sisson when she broke the tape. Her time bettered De Reuck's event record by 42 seconds but was well outside of Molly Huddle's American record of 1:03:48. Nonetheless, D'Amato was delighted with her win, and running against Sisson was very motivating for her.
"I am, like, so impressed with Emily Sisson," D'Amato said. "She is, like, the toughest runner. I've seen her crush races in heat and humidity. So true to form, she took it out like the weather wasn't even an issue. I was like, well, if I want to win I've got to run that pace." She continued: "I can't believe I pulled that one off today, to be honest."
More than three minutes back, marathoners Nell Rojas and Annie Frisbie battled it out for third place with Rojas prevailing, 1:07:02 to 1:07:17. Fifth place went to defending champion Erika Kemp in 1:07:44.
In the men's race, Mantz immediately went off of his pre-race plan where he was going to wait until 15-K to make a move. Instead, he got on the front right from the gun and hammered the flat, first mile in 4:39 (about 2:53 through the first kilometer). That strung out the pack quickly, but other pre-race favorites like Leonard Korir, Biya Simbassa, Geoffrey Kipchumba, Clayton Young, Shadrack Kipchirchir, Sam Chelanga, Futsum Zienasellassie, and Diego Estrada stayed close behind him. Through 8-K (about 23:40) the pace was solid, but not overly fast.
PHOTO: Conner Mantz wins the 2022 USATF 20-K Championships in New Haven, Conn., in 59:08 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"It was brutal," Mantz said of doing all of the leading early in the race. "I didn't realize how bad the humidity would be. Miles three, four and five kind of really hit me."
Nine men were still in contention at 10-K (29:36), and it wasn't until the 7-mile (11.3 km) point that another athlete got in front. Chelanga, 37, put in a surge and only Mantz and Kipchumba immediately responded. The trio ran the eighth mile in 4:36 and it looked like they had left the rest of the field behind.
"At about mile-7 Sam Chelanga made a move," Mantz said. "According to my watch we ran 2:09 for the 800 meters from mile-7 to seven and a half. Again, it was downhill, but we were moving."
Remarkably, Simbassa, Kipchirchir and Korir quickly closed up on the three leaders and the lead pack was back to six. But in the ninth mile, Kipchumba fell back (he would finish tenth). Mantz took the other four men --Simbassa, Korir, Chelanga and Kipchirchir-- through 10 miles (16.1 km) in 47:59. That group stayed mostly together until the final kilometer on Temple Street where Mantz made his bid for victory, if a little too soon.
"It ended up being just the five of us fighting," Mantz told reporters. "I miscalculated the finish. I saw a police (car) and thought, that's where I've got to go, and that's about 400 (meters to go), but it was more like 800."
Mantz was able to maintain his sprint long enough to get through the line and beat Korir by five seconds. Chelanga got third in 59:15, and Kipchirchir and Simbassa were close behind in fourth and fifth, respectively, in 59:18 and 59:19.
"I was kind of worried about the kick of Biya and Shadrack," Mantz said, looking relieved. "I feel like I've raced them enough that I can gauge my kick with them. I was hoping they would make their move first, and I could kind of go late."
Mantz will make his marathon debut in Chicago on October 9. His performance today told him he's on the right track with his training, but has more work to do.
"(It) tells me I've got a little ways to go," Mantz said. "I did kind of hard training last week; I think I hit 100 miles which is pretty high for seven days before a race. This shows if I can do that off some hard training I can run a lot faster. I think I can run really well in Chicago when I start tapering."
The Faxon Law New Haven Road Race was the eighth stop of the 12-race USATF Running Circuit. The top finishers today earned valuable points toward the overall series title which concludes in December at the USATF Marathon Championships hosted by the California International Marathon in Sacramento, Calif., on December 4. The next stop is the USATF 10-K Championships hosted by the Great Cow Harbor 10-K in Northport, N.Y., on September 17.