The half marathon that took place during the Hartford Marathon is a little easy to overlook due to the longer distance hogging all of the spotlight. But the half also had its share of New England’s Finest runners, some of whom had OTQ marathon qualifiers already.
Two guys we had our eyes on were Dan Vassallo and Eric Macknight: one already had his OTQ email confirmation and the other had that on his mind. But we also appreciate the strong social media game and occasional smack talk (especially from Macknight!) that helps keeps things interesting.
However, it was Harbert Okuti of New Paltz, NY who ended up stealing the show. Harbert ran a 1:05:17 for the win, and he ran much of that all alone up in front. As you may have heard by now, the wind was something of a factor that day so his time is that much more impressive.
Coming in 2nd and 3rd were Dan (1:07:13) and Eric (1:07:25), respectively. We started the conversation with a couple of questions:
When did Okuti put it away? Most importantly, how did things play out between the two of you? You both finished so close. Were you working together for a good portion of it?
Dan Vassallo: Answer to your first question: within the first ten seconds of the race. His first mile, I heard, was in the 4:30’s
Eric Macknight: What Dan said. He was like a minute ahead of us by mile 3 or 4.
Dan: I can’t speak for Eric, but I didn’t find it to be too windy. Regardless, those guys made it clear that the rest of us have our work cut out for us in February. As far as Okuti goes, it was like the scene in Gone in 60 Seconds. “140, 160, 180, he’s gone.”
I told Eric that I was planning on going out around 5:10 instead of going out too hard and having another experience as miserable as my last half (New Bedford), as my training was similar: I’ve done very little other than slow mileage and a few races. The two of us went out with a guy from Colorado whom we didn’t know – it was faster than my self-imposed speed limit (15:15 through 3) but felt better than expected and knew that sometimes you just have to race…
Eric: The 1st 5 miles had a bunch switching up. The guy from Colorado threw his arm up around 5.5 miles and just slowed down (out of the picture). This put me in hot pursuit of Dan and keep me focused. I knew I had my work cut out for me because Dan has raced really tough this year.
Dan: We all took turns leading and almost dropping off for three miles. At five I put some space on both of them because it was a downhill and I have longer legs than them. When I looked back at 7 or so, I saw that it was Eric in pursuit. We’ve raced each other a lot this year (Amherst, New Bedford, Blessing, Doyle) so I know what Eric can bring to the table. The last six miles was pretty much about holding him off and trying to put as much on him as I could because I know he can close really well. That definitely helped me, and I hope it helped him, too. My last four were exactly as fast as my first four, and that’s really encouraging, though I’d rather be fast in February than fast in October.
Eric: He was the reason I raced to a PR. My last 5k was 15:52 and overall negative split the race. I am fairly decent at downhill running, but it was no match for Dan’s long stride.
Dan: Finding out that Eric set a PR on Saturday was probably the highlight of my day. He’s had a great year, has put in a ton of work, and deserves it. We’ll be in Philadelphia together in November, and I hope he’ll be able to do this year what I did there last year.
Eric: It puts me in a good mindset for Philly, but I know I can’t settle and still have 6 (5 as of Sunday) weeks of quality work still to put in the books before the full.
In the women’s race, it was Sarah Hutchings of Boulder, CO who came into town and picked up the win. The youngster didn’t entirely run away with it though as Marie Davenport, the wily masters runner extraordinaire, was relatively close to her. Sarah finished in 1:17:09 and Marie was the next finisher across in 1:18:08. They finished 21st and 22nd overall, respectively.
In 6th place was Katie Edwards, who originally was on the NE’s Finest roster for the marathon but moved over to the half after a pretty rough year in which she wasn’t able to train up to her abilities. Still, Katie placed high and ran a 1:21:11. Katie’s already scanned the QR code on her entry to the Olympic Trials marathon using the mobile app on her smartphone, so the pressure wasn’t exactly on in this race. When asked about it, she shared these thoughts:
Katie Edwards: Not bad, but not first place ? First place was my half marathon time a year ago – so it definitely is motivating me to keep working hard. I’m indifferent to my finish this year – currently just getting my head back in the game, so I had no expectations and it was an untapered race, 2 mins faster than a month ago, so I’m just going to keep going! Running Philly half next month.
I was definitely envious of all the marathon runners – I want to win hartford one of these years – maybe next year. ?
We’ve heard that saying runners “punched their ticket” is cliche so we’re workshopping other ways of saying it here. Time to update the vernacular to reflect modern race entry technology, right? Not sure if any of them really worked well enough for future usage. Who knows? Maybe one of them will catch fire. Personally I’m rooting for the ‘scanning’ option.