By James O'Brien
The B.A.A. Invitational Mile races, held this year on the Saturday before Patriot's Day, are now as much a part of the Boston tradition as is the 26 miler. The events comprise races for middle school and scholastic athletes from the eight cities and towns along the Marathon course, followed by elite miles featuring some of the finest tracksters in the world. The B.A.A. Boston Marathon is all about excellence; that standard permeates all events, all weekend. The B.A.A. Relay Challenge allowed younger kids to participate as well.
Middle School Boys - While the older competitors raced over one mile, the middle school runners contested one kilometer, being two laps of the course starting and finishing in the shadow of the celebrated Marathon finish line. Gorgeous weather brought literally thousands of spectators onto the streets to roar their encouragement, and the talented field of 16 athletes responded in kind.
From the outset, Jovan Talavera and Joel Lara, both from Boston, decided that this was not going to be a race decided by tactics. They forged to the front of the field, opening an advantage along the Newbury St back straight that had extended to a full five seconds by the time they completed the first circuit. Fronting the chasing pack was Sean Lammerding from Ashland; but, even with half the distance still to go, it was clear that the gold and silver medalists had been decided. Remaining to be seen was who would claim which.
Along the back straight for the second time, it was the taller Talavera who possessed the strength to decide the outcome. Inexorably, he began to open daylight on Lara until, by the time the two swung onto the Boylston Street home straight, there were two seconds between them. The sight of the finish line banner was all the incentive that the 15 year-old Talavera needed to drive his advantage home. Accelerating to the line, he added an extra couple of seconds to his margin, breaking the tape in 2:51.6 with Lara finishing in 2:55.2. As Lammerding struggled around the second lap, third place was taken by the hard charging Duncan Grant from Brookline, who clocked 3:03.2.
"My legs were tight," revealed the winner after receiving the raucous applause of the crowd, "but, I was confident of my kick."
Adding to his gratification, with Talavera and Lara going one-two, Boston won the team race with a perfect 10 points, while Brookline took second (Grant and Lucas Aramburu in third and fourth) and Wellesley placed third (Max Perozek, sixth; Collin Sullivan, ninth).
- The scholastic event added a lap to the middle school distance, sending the competitors into battle over the classic distance - and they ran like seasoned veterans, with all the tactical acuity of the Olympians that some of them may become.
The field of 16 charged off the line, but immediately settled into a composed pace that asked little of any of them. A first lap of 1:42 saw the whole gang moving in tandem; Thomas Stephens (Newton), Mike Schlichting (Newton) and Matt Gramigna (Framingham) were near the front, but there was nothing to be gleaned. All were in contention with everything to run for.
A two lap split of 3:14 (1:32) illustrated that these guys weren't going to hang out forever. Stephens held the pole position; but, still, there was nothing definitive. Gramigna and Schlichting were still there, but so were Mike McDonald (Framingham), John Lara (Boston) and Ben Griswold. With just one circuit remaining, the fireworks were ready to explode.
Stephens and McDonald were aggressive along the back straight, but it was Schlichting, a senior, who had the telling combination of strength and speed. In the final quarter mile, he claimed decisive daylight, then compounded it with a blistering kick that took him to the line in 4:39.0, majorly shy of his 4:14 PR, set at this year's New Balance Indoor Invitational, but plenty fast enough to be a source of considerable satisfaction.
"I liked letting the race unfold," he stated, disarmingly eloquent. "I liked leaving it to the end, at least so early in the season; but I wasn't sure, this being my first big, challenging race (of the outdoor season). I don't mind running slowly, just so long as I can push it at the end. That makes the effort worthwhile. But my ultimate goal is winning all-state as a team. I don't care how I do as an individual so long as we do well as a team."
The portents are good. Schlichting and Stephens combined to take the team race for Newton. Griswold and seventh placed Chris Ulian earned second for Wellesley, while third place went to Framingham, courtesy of McDonald in fourth and Gramigna, eighth.
- With the age group events concluded, the stage was set for the stars to step into the spotlight. A $3000 first place prize and plenty of prestige meant that it wasn't a surprise to see a field that would not disgrace an Olympic final. Most attention focussed on 30 year old Nick Willis from New Zealand, a man with a 3:30.35 PR, an Olympic silver medal and the 2013 title all on his resumé. Experience, however, has taught Willis that the B.A.A. Invitational Mile medals are not handed out based on reputation; you have to earn them. With 2012 Olympic 1500m silver medalist Leo Manzano also on the line, plus Irish champion Paul Robinson, plus British champion Chris O'Hare, plus World Championships steeplechaser De'Sean Turner...well, you get the idea.
Turner was the early aggressor, towing the field around the first lap in 1:33. Consider that this was slower than the second lap of the high school race and you'll understand how taxing it was for this field of superstars. Tactics, then, was to be the determinant as the field headed off for the second circuit.
Willis has run this race enough times to understand the value of positioning. Along the second back straight, he maneuvered through the crowd to claim a place in the vanguard, not making any moves - yet - but sending the message to anybody paying attention that the moves were coming.
At the end of lap two, the clock read 2:59 (1:26), still a comparative dawdle, but one that was becoming downright interesting. Onto Newbury Street for the third and final time, Willis showed just how lethal a combination of speed, aggression and course knowledge can be. He charged ahead and hit the Boylston Street straightaway with the throttle wide open. As classy as the field was, nobody had any response and, as the Kiwi broke the tape in a time of 4:11.3, he looked for all the world like a man in total control. Robinson held on to a comfortable second in 4:12.0, while Manzano unleashed his trademark kick to edge O'Hare for the bronze medal position, 4:13.3 to 4:13.6. Times were slow - the course record stands to Willis at 4:03.3 from last year - but who cares when the race was so hot?
"It felt great to come across that finish line" exulted the now two-time winner. "It was more challenging than last year, as the pace was slow and there were some great kickers in there. I've only been doing mileage for the last five weeks, and I've only done two workouts...." Willis left the rest unsaid, but the inference for the coming season was obvious.
The third placed Manzano was far from chagrined - "I felt like I had that edge again. But the great man took it. I'm very proud of him" - so much so that he encapsulated a sentiment that pervaded the race and the event: "I just want to say thank you to all the people of Boston for their very warm welcome." Amidst the white hot competition, it was a thoughtful comment that, uttered just steps from the horror of 2013, resonated.
By Barbara Huebner
In the past, Morgan Uceny had to fly all the way from Mammoth Lakes, CA, to win the B.A.A. Invitational Mile.
This year, she just took the Green Line.
“I took the T from my house this morning, all dressed in my uniform,” said Uceny, who re-located to the Boston area along with her coach, Terrence Mahon, this winter. “That was pretty special.”
Special, too, was the 29-year-old’s third victory in the mile, following wins in 2010 and 2012. The win, in 4:44.0, was good for $3,000 and the honor of becoming the event’s first three-time winner, male or female.
Uceny’s experience on the three-lap course, which begins and ends on Boylston Street at the Boston Marathon finish line, is no small advantage.
“As soon as I was in the lead I felt comfortable there, and I knew how to take those corners,” she said.
A three-time U.S. champion and 2012 Olympian who in 2011 was ranked #1 in the world at 1500 meters, Uceny was joined by Kenya’s Violah Lagat in leading the pack of seven through the first two laps. Coming around the final turn, it was Uceny, Heather Kampf and Brie Felnagle in contention, and that’s how they would finish. After Uceny broke the tape in 4:44.0, she was quickly followed by Kampf in 4:44.3 and Felnagle in 4:44.8.
“It’s a little bit frustrating because I think I knew exactly what I needed to do to win and just didn’t quite have a big-enough move on the backstretch to get in the lead,” said Kampf, 27, who competed at the World Indoor Championships this winter and was the 2012 U.S. Road Mile Champion. “Because whoever’s in front on that curve is probably going to keep it as long as they have some sort of a kick.”
Last year, Uceny missed this race while recovering from injuries sustained after a dramatic fall in the 1500-meter final of the London Olympics. It wasn’t until late last season that the Indiana native, who competed for Cornell University, started coming around, with a win at the CityGames road mile in Great Britain and a runner-up finish at the Fifth Avenue Mile Presented by Nissan in New York City.
But this outdoor season, she is starting off with not only a win in front of her new hometown crowd, but also a chance to experience Marathon Monday like a native.
“I live right in Cleveland Circle, so I’ll be able to pop outside my door and hopefully cheer everybody on,” she said.
Uceny wasn’t the only three-time winner on Saturday. In the Girls’ Scholastic Mile, which consists of two athletes from each of the eight cities and towns along the Boston Marathon course—Hopkinton, Ashland, Natick, Framingham, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston—Hopkinton won the team title for the third consecutive year thanks to a one-two finish by Hopkinton High School junior Lauren Hazzard and senior Melissa Lodge.
Hazzard, whose personal best of 5:06.77 was set in winning the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association (MSTCA) mile this winter, broke the tape in 5:22.7 in a comfortable victory over the dueling Lodge (5:34.0) and Katie Collins of Newton (5:34.3).
“Our goal was to win again,” said Hazzard. “I was definitely nervous, but I felt good so I just went for it.”
Collins—a freshman who learned just two days before the race that she would be replacing a teammate—led Newton to the second-place team prize, with Framingham rounding out the podium.
For Lodge, it was the fourth time on this course: the last three years in the mile and, before that, once as a middle schooler in the 1000-meter race. She came here as the defending champion, but has only recently recovered from a stress reaction and was happy to take home with the silver medal.
Her sister, Kellie, competed in three Scholastic Miles before Melissa wrapped things up this year. “Sadly, it’s our last year, but it was a good way to end it.”
Or to end the tradition in the mile, at least: Another sister, Lauren, will run the Marathon on Monday.
In the Girls’ 1000-Meter Middle School Run, Keara Westover took the win in 3:21.8 to lead her Boston team to the team victory. Newton finished second, with Brookline third.Westover, the Massachusetts Middle School Cross-Country Champion, was in fourth place midway through the race but before surging as the group hit the final-lap backstretch on Newbury Street and winning handily. In second was Rose Teszler of Newton (3:28.7); third was Olivia Vernon of Wellesley (3:29.4).
The winner acknowledged that she was “terrified” coming into the race.
“It was so much fun!” she said.