The Stratton Faxon New Haven Road Race has long held a place of honor in U.S. distance running. In the 35 years of the event's history, Bill Rodgers has run past the weathered buildings of Yale University, as have Bill Reifsnyder and Paul Pilkington and Bob Kempainen and Dan Browne and Keith Brantly and Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezighi.
On Monday, Matt Tegenkamp and Luke Puskedra joined the historic parade in what has, since 1993, served as the men’s U.S. 20K Championships. Tegenkamp, a two-time Olympian on the track running his first road race of more than 5K, would prevail in a Championships record time of 58:30. In the women’s race, also the U.S. championships at the distance, Renee Metevier Baillie won in 1:07:08. Both earned $9,000 for their victories.
The 22-year-old Puskedra, mindful that he had let the leaders get away a few weeks before in the New Balance Falmouth Road Race and that Tegenkamp was coming off the Olympics and had dangerous track speed, took off at the starting horn, clocking in at 4:34 for the first mile on the way to building a lead of 17 seconds by the end of mile 4. Tegenkamp, running his first road race longer than 5K, looked around the large chase pack and—experience or no experience—thought, “we gotta start moving.”
So he started moving.
At first, so did some of his companions. At the 5-mile mark, Brent Vaughn was leading a splintering chase pack, but by 6 miles, Tegenkamp and Joseph Chirlee had broken away and cut the lead to 13 seconds. At 10K, Puskedra looked at the clock, which read 28:34, and knew he was in trouble. Too fast. As Tegenkamp edged away from Chirlee and toward Puskedra, the race leader glanced over his shoulder at every turn.
“I definitely didn’t want him to settle in,” said Tegenkamp later. “I wanted him to know I was coming.”
Puskedra was hammering the downhills, so Tegenkamp knew he would have to catch him before the next big one or risk losing ground. Just before mile 10, he came up alongside his young rival. The pair ran shoulder to shoulder under the canopy of trees in East Rock Park before emerging onto the long finish straightaway. With about 650 meters to go, Tegenkamp overcame a stitch and made his move. Puskedra had nothing left. The recent University of Oregon graduate, still wearing his school singlet, finished 18 seconds back, in 58:48.
“He made me work for it,” said Tegenkamp, describing his “fartlek” solo chase of the leader in which he would surge for 800 meters, then regroup for 400 meters, then push again. “I ran that race in the hardest way possible. I didn’t know what I was doing out there.”
Puskedra, whose 1:01:36 from the 2012 Aramco Houston Half-Marathon made him the fastest in the field at that distance, is expected to make his marathon debut in the next year or so, and Tegenkamp, 30, said yesterday that he would likely do the same.
“I’m certainly not done on the track,” he said, “but we’ll try to mix things up a little more, keep things fresher.”
Baillie, also 30 and a longtime track specialist, is planning to make her marathon debut this fall at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Coming off surgery to her right Achilles earlier this year, she continued her successful summer on the roads with her victory on Monday over Molly Pritz, the runner-up in 1:07:21, and Stephanie Rothstein, third in 1:07:59.
It was Rothstein who made the first move in the race, around mile 7, before coming back to Baillie and Pritz.
“I tried to be patient out there,” Baillie said. “I’m training for my first marathon, and it will be a lot longer.”
A five-time qualifier for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Baillie took home her first U.S. road title.
Photo: Puskedra, left, and Tegenkamp in the final miles.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg