By Jim Dandeneau
The story was all set, and it read: Ruben Sança, 28, a Lowell resident and 2012 Cape Verde Olympian, and Hilary Dionne, 29, of Cambridge and reigning New England Runner magazine female runner of the year, headline the elite fields for the 38th running of the New Bedford Half Marathon set for Sunday March 16 in downtown New Bedford. Only it wasn’t meant to be.
Sança, the 2011 & 2014 New Bedford champion, appeared to be rounding into fine form but still had to withdraw for precautionary reasons. Last Sunday, the Whirlaway runner won the Old Fashioned Ten Mile Road Race held in Foxboro winning in a time of 50:54. “My training has been very good. I’m really looking forward to being able to participate in New Bedford and hopefully contending for the win. I have been logging 110-120 miles a week while doing very challenging workouts. New Bedford is a stepping stone on the road to the Boston Marathon where I hope to meet my country’s Olympic Marathon standard and qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games,” explained the UMass Lowell graduate who works full time at his alma mater around his rigorous training schedule. It’s better to play it safe now rather than being sorry later, especially when Boston is the target race and it’s just around the corner. “New Bedford is a special place for me, there is a large Cape Verde population and I have family there,” added Sança who recently signed on to be part of the 2015 Brooks Running ID Elite Program to subsidize his training and travel expenses. It’s a tough call to make, especially with all the attention given to the race but ultimately it’s the right call.
We still get to watch Hilary though! Dionne, a 2007 Dartmouth College graduate and 2012 New Bedford champion who represents the Boston Athletic Association, has seen steady improvement over the last few years and is no stranger to the New Bedford course having finished 3rd last year in a then personal best 1:14:52. She improved upon that time in winning the ING Hartford Half Marathon last fall running 1:14:19. A true strength runner with a marathon best of 2:35:08 on the challenging Boston course, Hilary will be a force to be reckoned with (particularly with challenging conditions in the forecast). Dionne, a director of operations and analytics at Jobcase, has spent this winter honing her speed ahead of the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials to be held in Los Angeles next February. Recently, she set a new 5000 meter best in running 16:41 at the Boston University Terrier Classic.
With Sança out, things open up a bit on the men’s side. Top contenders include the 2012 men’s champion, Matt Pelletier (35, of West Greenwich, RI), and Central Mass Strider teammates Nate Jenkins (34, North Andover and the 2012 runner-up) and Dan Vassallo (29, of Peabody). Dan was the 2014 third place finisher and will no doubt be ready to go to work.
Pelletier, the 2014 ING Hartford Marathon champion in a personal best 2:17:02 recently finished fourth in the 5 College Realtors hilly 10 mile race in Amherst in a time of 51:23. “I had a knee issue flare up a few weeks ago (after the race) however MRI results came back negative for a tear. Probably just aggravated it from old age,” noted the health and physical education teacher. Pelletier also recently became a part of the 2015 Brooks Running ID Elite Program and with Sança out he’ll be the lone Brooks runner out there.
Jenkins, a training partner of Sança, has declared his intent to also run the 2015 Boston Marathon, which would be his first marathon in 6 years. Vassallo, a Colby alum, has participated in every New Bedford race since graduating. “I’m on a 20 month training mission leading up to the Olympic Marathon Trials on February 13th. It will be the culmination of a lifetime of work,” explained the 2014 Manchester City and Philadelphia marathon champion, the latter in a personal best time 2:17:28 who has been logging 100 mile weeks. “I know I don’t have as much talent as the top guys so I have to really outwork them. This winter has been challenging and recently much of my training has been on a treadmill at the gym, after work. I’m hoping to put in a solid effort.” Not to be left out of the sponsorship party, Nate recently became a Go Elite Ambassador for the Skechers Performance Division. It could come down to a battle between Skechers and Brooks. It’s great to see top talent here getting some love from the shoe companies.
On the women’s side, contenders are likely to include Kerri Leonhardt (25, Cambridge, MA), a Bates College graduate and Greater Boston Track Club athlete who finished second at the 5 College Realtors race. Kerri, the reigning USATF New England 5000 meter champion, ran 1:18:49 last year in New Bedford and is seeking to qualify for the Olympic marathon Trials. Laura Hagley (Millennium Running), who qualified for the Olympic Trials at the California International Marathon back on December 7th with a 2:39:51, could be a major factor despite a tough New England winter. Another Granite state native to watch will be Quinnipiac alum Sasha Varanka, 29, a New Balance Boston athlete who has run 2:45:07 for the marathon and just recently finished 3rd at the 5 College Realtors race.
The top two runners from last year’s race won’t be making it to the starting line this year. The 2014 champion, Kim Smith (a 3-time Olympian from New Zealand) will not compete as she is expecting her first child. Andrea Walkonen, the runner up, also will not be there. Sarah Bard (30, of Somerville), who on March 1st won the USATF 50K road national championship on Long Island in a time of 3:23, also unfortunately won’t be making it. Sarah was slated to run but unfortunately will not be competing due to illness. Sarah, who now competes for the newly formed Craft Concept Racing team, has really broken out as of late and it’s a shame we won’t be able to see her mix it up with the leaders on Sunday.
In the men’s masters race Chris Magill (42, Cumberland, RI), appears to be the favorite. In December, he finished 7th at USATF National Club Cross-Country championships and dominated the 5 College Realtors race, winning by almost 3 minutes. Last year’s New Bedford Masters champion, Mike Galoob (41, of Peacedale, RI and the reigning USATF national road 10K champion) is just rounding into race shape while Peter Hammer (48, runner up to Galoob at at the road 10k championship), and new master Alan Bernier (Braintree, MA and a former UNH track star), will likely contend for top 3 spots. Although Galoob and Hammer are BAA teammates now, that wasn’t the case when they went 1-2 in the masters national 10k championship. Galoob was rocking the Level singlet when he won that title. It’s important to remember vital information like that.
On the women’s master side, Cathi Campbell (47, representing the B.A.A.) and Christin Doneski (44, Hopkinton, MA and running for Whirlaway), appear to be the favorites. Christin is one of those well-rounded runners that, no matter the terrain or the distance, she’s in mix up front. Christin is the reigning champion in a couple of USATF-NE series: top master runner from the 2014 road Grand Prix, and the overall champ both the All Terrain Runner series and mountain series. For those last two, that’s OVERALL. She’s a masters runner winning those competitive series outright. Watch out for her.
Now we have a pretty good idea of who will be there and who won’t be. Some big names pulled out last minute and losing competitors of that level certainly hurts the depth of the field (for both men and women), but that just opens it up for someone else to step up and make their mark on this New England classic.
Just got word that Louis Serafini will be running on Sunday. “Goal for tomorrow is just to race for the win!” said Louis, who’s has a PB of 67:42 from the Wicked Half in Salem last September. Although he lost to Glarius Rop in a close one that time, he says New Bedford will be the first one that he’s really ‘in shape’ for. He’ll certainly have the strength to compete as he’s been putting in 90-100+ mile weeks as he builds up towards the Boston Marathon. Judging by the way he competed at the 5 College Realtors 10 Miler (third in 50:39, but only 5 seconds behind winner Ruben Sança), he just might be the pre-race favorite now. That says a lot about the shape the 23 yr old is in right now.