By Jim Dandeneau
Eric Ashe, a Brighton resident, and Megan Hogan, Ballston Spa, NY, appear to be the favorites heading into the 37th running of the New Bedford Half Marathon set for Sunday March 16th at 11:00am. Ashe, 25, a 2010 Boston University graduate, who hails from Hanson, MA, is a member of the powerful men’s Boston Athletic Association team. On January 17, Ashe ran a spectacular 1:05:01 at the Aramco Houston Half Marathon, arriving an agonizing 1 second from automatic selection into the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials. On February 23, he followed up with a stellar 50:43 performance at the hilly DH Jones 10 mile race. Ashe, an assistant men’s track and field coach at his alma mater, who also works part-time at a running store, recently returned from an altitude stint in Montana. “It was a skiing vacation… a once in a lifetime opportunity….It was at 7000 feet and I was able to get in 7-10 miles a day running and my heart rate up to about 170,” stated the reigning USATF New England Cross-Country champion, who normally logs 90-100 miles a week, often with BAA teammates. “This is my first New Bedford 1/2 marathon, I hope to challenge for the win” added Ashe who is presently training for the Boston Marathon, his second marathon. He was victorious in his initial 26.2 trek, claiming the 2012 Cape Cod race. “I’m not dwelling on Houston, I’ll have other opportunities,” noted Ashe.
Hogan, 26, a 2011 George Washington University graduate, quickly regained fitness after leaving Team USA Minnesota, a professional running club, and taking some forced time off due to injury to jump start her career as an interior designer. “ I got a stress fracture before I left Minnesota which prompted me to move on from running and pursue a career in the field I studied in college, which is Interior Design. I was offered a great position at an Architecture Firm in my home town almost immediately after I started my search. I took a break from running, which I thought would be permanent, but after awhile I started to miss it and I slowly threw some runs in here and there….. About a year ago, Renee Tolan (one of my current teammates) approached me about joining Fleet Feet (racing team). At first, the thought of being on a team again was extremely unappealing and I told her I just I wanted to run for fun. She explained to me that the team would just be for fun, no pressure, and she asked me to think about it for a week. Long story short, she is very convincing, and I joined the team. It was the best decision I have made since I moved back to the area. My teammates have become some of my best friends and I have enjoyed every part of it.” On 09/15/2013, Hogan, who ran her debut at the distance at the Saratoga Palio half marathon in 1:16:35, followed that effort up with in 1:13:18 run at the Hartford half marathon in October. Hogan, who did not even begin running until her sophomore year at Mt Ida College (Newton, Ma) where she was playing basketball, eventually joined the cross-country team prior to transferring to GWU, becoming a 2-time cross country All-American. At DH Jones, she broke a 30 year old course record in running 55:28.
Top contenders on the men’s side include 2011 New Bedford Half Marathon winner Ruben Sanca, 27, a 2012 Cape Verde Olympian in the 5000 meters and Nate Jenkins, the 2012 runner up. Sanca, a University of Massachusetts Lowell graduate, has returned to fine form after knee surgery last year. “I’m finally healthy and training is coming along…I’ve learned I need constant maintenance and I visit a chiropractor 2 times a week for active release therapy…I know the New Bedford course having run there in 2011 and believe I can compete to win.”
Jenkins, 33, a 2:14 marathoner and 7th place finisher at the 2008 United States Olympic marathon trials stated, “ I don’t really know what to expect. Looking at some of the work I’ve done and if the conditions are good…I think a 1:04 (finishing time) may be in the cards. That said, I wouldn’t be shocked if the wind is bad and I’m not quite as fit as I’m thinking and I go out and run 1:06…All that said, if the weather conditions are good, I would not be disappointed to at least run in the 1:05’s.”
On the women’s side, 2012 champion, Hilary Dionne, 28, returns after missing last year’s event due to being in Washington, D.C. for a friend’s wedding. “I raced the Rock n Roll USA Half-Marathon in the morning before the wedding. I placed first among the women in 1:16:12, my current half marathon personal record”, noted the Cambridge resident and Dartmouth College graduate who is also prepping for the Boston marathon. . “I’m expecting to shed some time off of this after a strong training season. But, of course, it also depends on the competition and how the race plays out. “
Defending champions Kevin Johnson and Stephanie Reilly will not return. Johnson has been hampered by injuries during the last year and with increased responsibilities as a PH.D candidate at Dartmouth College. Reilly, a 2012 Olympian from Ireland, acknowledged she is simply not fit enough yet to compete. Top local athletes vying for the $250. cash prize for first New Bedford resident include, on the women’s side, Patricia Carreiro, 35, who ran 1:30:29 last year. She has claimed the top New Bedford resident the last 3 years. Among the men, Mark Amaral and Nathen Brito lead the pack.
In the men’s master’s division, Kevin Collins, 43, Liverpool, NY, who ran 1:09:23 last year to claim men’s master’s title, will return. Top challengers include Mike Galoob, 40, Peacedale, RI and last year’s second place finisher, Chris Magill, 41, Cumberland, RI. On the women’s side, Sheri Piers, who ran 1:20:42 last year, will not return. Mimi Fallon (Walpole, MA), Christin Doneski (Hopkinton, MA) and Cheryl Cleary (Rutland, MA) will likely lead the women’s master’s division.
The New Bedford Half Marathon, the second leg of the competitive New England Grand Prix series, has a prize purse of $9,900 which includes $1,000 to the first male/female across the finish line and $500 to the first place male/female open teams consisting of five members. Last year, on the men’s side, the Western Mass Distance Project, led by Kevin Johnson, upset the Boston Athletic Association, while in the women’s division, Dirigo Racing Club from Maine edged out Team Run.
BAA claimed both prizes. A course record bonus $2,000 will be paid to the male or female who can run under 1:01:58 (set by Great Britain’s Geoff Smith in 1985) or 1:08:32 (set by Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen in 1989).
Once again, there will also be plenty of blue courtesy of Team Owen. For the fourth year in a row, up to 200 local athletes will be donning the blue-and-white shirt in memory of Owen Simmons, raising money for the SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) and the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation. Since 2011, over $75,000 has been raised for this charity. Visit http://www.firstgiving.com/
Organized since 2010 by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick under Dan McCarthy’s direction, the New Bedford Half Marathon has seen an increase in participation. In 2013, there were 3120 finishers. A new kid’s day event this year will take placeMarch 15 which includes hula hoop contests, exercise stations, face painting and much more Registration is open thruMarch 15. Visit www.newbedfordhalfmarathon.com for more information.