Wild Finish Marks Litchfield Hills Road Race.
By, JOHN TORSIELLO
If it was a horse race they might have flagged Tadesse Yae Dabi for a foul for pushing into his buddy Senbeto Geneti Guteta as the two tore neck and neck down West Street toward the finish line at Sunday’s 40th Annual Litchfield Hills Road Race.
But Dabi’s “interference” was more a result of him mistaking where the finish line was rather than trying to shove Guteta into the cheering crowd, and Guteta took it all in stride.
“He’s a friend of mine,” said the 23-year-old Ethiopian, who trains with the West Side Runners Club of Manhattan and won the recent Buffalo (N.Y.) Marathon. “He pushed me a little to the outside, but I’m not mad.”
Said the 29-year-old winner, also from Ethiopia, who righted his wrong and found the proper finish line to win in a time of 34:32, a few seconds ahead of Guteta, “I couldn’t see the finish line and thought it was to the right, that’s why I pushed into him trying to get in front. He’s a good friend of mine and we train and run together at races. I had a good kick and was able to beat him today. The weather (70 degree and breezy with low humidity) was great and I felt good.”
The two men were part of a lead contingent of almost a dozen runners, a number of them from the West Side Runners Club, which stuck close for most of the race. Guteta held a slight advantage throughout most of the 7.1-mile race and looked in great shape as he headed up dreaded Gallows Lane Hill, just past the six-mile mark, splashing water on his head.
Guteta and Dabi separated themselves from the pack during the last mile and together rounded the top of the hill on West Street, both sprinting for the finish line before they became somewhat entangled. Dabi made a move back into the middle of the street, as Duteta looked somewhat confused after the jostling and dropped back about 10 yards by the time the winner crossed the line.
“The hill didn’t bother me at all,” said Dabi of Gallows Lane, adding that he is used to training on hilly terrain. Dabi has been on form during the last few weeks, winning the Retro Four-Mile Race in Central Park last weekend, and both the Fred D’Elia Ridgewood (N.J.) 5K and 10K races on the same day the week before that.
Dabi’s winning time was well back of the course record of 33:21 set by Godfrey Kiprotich in 1997. He picked up $1,000 for his efforts.
The women’s winner was 20-year-old Nancy Nzisa of Kenya with a time of 38:47, good enough to place her second among all-time fastest women winners, just back of record holder Patti Catalano, who clocked a 38:25 in 1981. She beat runner-up Gladys Kipsoi, a 30-year-old Kenyan, by almost 50 seconds. Kipsoi’s time tied her for the eighth quickest women’s run with 2015 winner Esther Erb, who wasn’t a factor in this year’s race.
Nzisa decided that this was going to be her day and she ran down Kipsoi starting around the five-mile mark. “I felt good and I was going to get ahead of her and win the race. This was my first time here and I liked the course, the hills didn’t bother me at all. I thought around the two-mile mark that this was my race to win.” She also picked $1,000 for the victory.
Scott Shaw of Norfolk, 20, a Northwestern Regional 7 High School graduate and winner of the Norfolk Memorial Day Road Race two weeks ago, was the first local male across the finish line, placing 20th in a tad under 40 minutes. Former state Class M cross-country champ Anne Marie Tuxbury, 22, another Regional 7 grad, was the first local female to finish, as she placed 48th overall in a time of 44:11.
The 40th anniversary of the race attracted several former winners to return to Litchfield, as well as other notable runners from the past. One, two-time Boston Marathon winner Geoffrey Smith, said he ran Sunday’s race to honor Joe Concannon, the late Boston Globe sportswriter and a founding force behind instituting and growing the Litchfield race.
A total of around 1,600 runners toed the line Sunday and several thousand watched from The Green and along the race route, which was also dotted with a number of bands playing to entertain the runners and fans per usual.