Course-record finishes light up the Big Apple streets on the day before the New York City Marathon.
NEW YORK — A miler’s kick does the trick.
Such was the case for New Zealand Olympic 1,500m silver medalist Nick Willis on Saturday morning’s NYRR Dash To The Finish Line 5K, which started in front of the United Nations headquarters and finished in Central Park under the traditional New York City Marathon finish line. The 30-year-old, who lives and trains in Ann Arbor, Mich., passed Sam Chelanga just meters before the tape to win in 13 minutes, 46 seconds — breaking the course record of 13:53 by Chris Thompson of Great Britain. Chelanga held on for second, less than a second back, while Colorado’s Aaron Braun took third in 13:49.
“We haven’t been doing specific training for this race,” said Willis, who won the Fifth Avenue Mile here in September. “It was a perfect pace and it was hard the whole way. Sam made a move with a mile to go when we entered Central Park and started hitting some of the rolling hills. At the end, I thought Sam was going to respond, and he did a little bit, but thankfully for me I was able to keep the momentum going which was a bit of a surprise to him and he wasn’t able to get his momentum in time to catch the move.”
A large pack of about 10, which also included David Torrence (4th, 13:54), Alistair Cragg (5th, 13:56) and Lopez Lomong (6th, 13:58), among others, remained together through about the 2-mile mark before the group began to separate heading into Central Park. With a mile to go, Chelanga, who ran a personal best 1:01:04 last month at the B.A.A. Half Marathon, made his way to the front, forcing the pace over the rolling hills in an effort to open a gap on the rest of the field.
“I just knew one thing: when you get to the park, it’s going to be hilly,” Chelanga explained. “I know that I don’t have a kick so I have to make these guys tired up those hills and it worked until the last 10 meters and this guy [Willis] passed me.”
Willis, who was battling with Braun and Torrence for position throughout the final mile, couldn’t respond to Chelanga’s hard surge with three quarters of a mile to go, but began to gain momentum with around 350 meters left.
“I felt really fast,” Willis said of his finish. “We’ve been doing a lot of sprint training over hills, which we do about 95 percent of the year, and I was confident that I had something left coming over the final rise before the finish line.”
In the elite women’s race, which started a few minutes before the men, Shalane Flanagan, Molly Huddle and Emily Infeld separated themselves from the rest of the group with a 4:55 opening mile. At 2 miles (9:54), all three women were still together, with Sally Kipyego (4th, 15:49), Kim Conley (6th, 15:55) and Julia Bleasdale (5th, 15:50) chasing a few meters behind.
The 32-year-old Flanagan, who is just resuming her training after taking some downtime following the summer track season, began to fade in the final mile as Huddle, who won the U.S. 5K road championship in September, and Infeld, runner up at last month’s Tufts 10K For Women, battled back and forth in Central Park. With around 300 meters to go Huddle found another gear and sprinted toward the finish, breaking the tape in 15:27 and shattering Sara Hall’s course record of 15:56. Infeld crossed in second less than a second later, while Flanagan held on for third in 15:40.
“I didn’t want to kick until I could see the finish,” said Huddle, 29, the U.S. record holder for 5,000m (14:44.76). “It was a pretty painful pace for me and I just waited to have that [the finish] in my sight before I used what I had left.”
Infeld, who trains with Flanagan under coach Jerry Schumacher in Portland, Ore., tried to cover Huddle’s move, but the 23-year-old couldn’t respond.
“Molly made a surge toward the end and I tried to go with her but I definitely crumbled,” Infeld said. “She had a really good kick.”