Brooker tops men's field; Bertasso repeats in women’s Bridge of Flowers Classic Road Race
Clark 1st wheelchair racer
By Nate Rosenthal
Special to the Shelburne Falls & West County Independent
SHELBURNE FALLS — The 37th running of the Baystate Franklin Medical Center Bridge of Flowers Classic 10K Road Race went off without a hitch on Saturday, Aug. 8 when almost 1,000 runners took part in both this and the preceding Steve Lewis Subaru 3K Run/Walk in nearly perfect weather.
This year’s Race differed from others in a couple of ways. For the first time, wheelchair competition was added to the event with one entry, Naomi Clark of Ashfield.
"It feels awesome to be the first to do this at this great race,” said Clark. “I like the idea of being the first. And it was all I could have hoped it to be. I was nervous, but having done other 10Ks made it a bit easier. Going up Crittenden Hill was unbelievably tough. I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest. But the ride, down was a lot of fun."
In fact, Clark could be heard shouting “whee!" as she sped by the press vehicle.
It was 10 years ago that Clark, now 30, suffered a spinal injury while riding an ATV. She is paralyzed from the chest down and will not walk again, but that has not stopped her. Clark works at her family’s apple farm in Ashfield.
Another clear difference between this year’s and many previous races was the absence of some of the world-class male runners from other countries who have run in past years. The top two from 2013 and 2014, Amos Sang and Glarius Rop, both from Kenya, did not compete. In addition, the third-place finisher of those two years, Justin Freeman of New Hampshire, also did not participate. That brought a new dynamic to the field.
Taking top honors in the men's race was a newcomer, Matthew Brooker of Albany, NY, who won handily over local favorite Dan Smith of Shelburne Falls. Brooke broke the tape with a time of 33:50, while Smith came in at 33:32. Exactly a minute behind Brooker was the third-place finisher, Jon Korhonen of Somerville, MA. Brooker and Smith took off from the field almost immediately and separated. Brooker held off a bid by Smith as they climbed Crittenden Hill and then Brooker took charge to win the race going away.
On the women's side, Karen Bertasso returned this year after winning in her Bridge of Flowers debut in 2014. Her time of 37.46 beat Hannah Brooker, who, with husband Matthew, was also making her first appearance at the Classic. Third place went to Apryl Sabadosa of Westfield, MA. Bertasso was a full minute faster than a year ago, when she beat Sabadosa, while Sabadosa was nearly a minute faster than a year ago. The great finishes by the Brookers was another highlight to this year's event.
Once again, Race founder and Director Mike McCusker served as master of ceremonies. He started the racers after some small talk during opening festivities. After the race, he awarded prizes and introduced the top finishers.
McCusker got this event underway in 1979 as part of the Buckland Bicentennial.
The 10K course starts in the center of the village on the Iron Bridge,
which is next to the world-famous Bridge of Flowers, once a trolley bridge and now an acclaimed garden.
At the beginning, the race course is relatively flat with some small hills as the runners circle around come into the center — where everything changes. At about the 3K mark, runners approach Crittenden Hill, an ascent of about 300 feet. Separation usually begins there. Crittenden Hill has a reputation that rivals that of Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon. The difference is that Crittenden is at the beginning of the Bridge of Flowers Race, but can be just as heartbreaking, only earlier.
After a steady descent from a high point of 750 feet, the last 4K of the race is run on fairly level ground. Runners finish the race after crossing the Iron Bridge.
Encouraging residents gather along the race route, handing out water, spraying runners as they run by, and cheering them on. Once again, kilted bagpiper Eric Godchild played the pipes at the beginning of the race. The Race is a true spectator event, as the community reaches out to the runners in every way.
Then there are the volunteers who help the event run so smoothly. They come from all over the West County area and could again be seen at the start, along the course, and at the finish. Steve Lewis Subaru of Hadley again provided vehicles to lead the way in front of the runners with lead cars for the men's and women's races and a truck from which the press has a great vantage point to observe the race.
The 3K Walk/Run
The festivities began at 8:15 a.m. with the Steve Lewis 3K Classic Walk/Run, formerly the Nathan Hale Classic. This is a shorter race for those who want to take part, but are not quite ready for the big race that is more than triple the distance. There is also nothing like the daunting incline that is Crittenden Hill. Of the nearly 1,000 runners this year, more than a quarter of them took part in the 3K.
Taking top honors in the 3K was Glen Meisenhelder of Feeding Hills, who after winning in 2013 dropped to second a year ago. Meisenhelder's time this year was 10:46, some 30 seconds faster than his time in 2014. He beat out a couple of family members from Cambridge, MA. Second was Jeremy Astesano at 10:57, and in third was Thierry Astesano at 11:49. Rounding out the top five were Barry Auskern of Bernardston, MA and Brian St. Jean of Russell MA.
The first woman to finish was Julie Dragon of Sturbridge. Her time of 12:49 was sixth overall and almost two minutes faster than that of runner-up Agnes Browne of Greenfield, who came in at 14:46. Third was Deborah Zukowski, 14:59 from Shelburne Falls. Colleen Fry of Holden, MA and Melissa Kline-Struhl of Somerville, MA were fourth and fifth.
The 3K race featured the youngest and oldest competitors. Once again, it was Ray Willis of Charlemont, who is now 86 years old, at one end of the spectrum while on the other, two-year-old Josephine Cross of Heath. Audrey Brown of Colrain, 82, was the oldest woman racer. The youngest boys were a couple of four year olds from Shelburne Falls, Cobra Buchanan and Oliver Ferris.
The 10K challenge
The last runners returned from the 3K and, 15 minutes later, it was time to send off the 10K runners. At 9 a.m. on the dot, the bell tolled and the runners were off. As they broke, the lead runners took their places quickly with Brooker and Smith jumping to the front. As they headed into the first left turn, Aaron Stone joined them and he would remain in the top tier until they were halfway along Pleasant Street. The twosome quickly separated themselves from the rest of the field.
As they moved along Pleasant Street, they were a good 50 yards ahead of that second tier, and then Brooker started to pull away from Smith and, at the one-mile mark, led him by 30 yards. Brooker's time was 5:09. At this point, trying to stay with Brooker at the beginning was having some effect on Smith and the field started to gain on him, but he managed to pick it up again and once again separated himself from the pack. Meanwhile Brooker just kept adding space; when they got back to the village, his lead was by nearly 100 yards. He was all by himself as they started up the hill, and his second mile was nearly identical to his first at 5:11.
But Crittenden Hill was a challenge for Brooker. He said later that he has never seen anything like it and, as they were climbing, it was quite clear that he was having difficulty. While Brooker's head was down through the climb, Smith was upright and closing. As someone who knows the hill, he looked a lot more comfortable. What gap was once about 100 yards was now down to about 30, and it appeared as though Smith might catch him, but just before he reached the crest, Brooker started picking up the pace and he doubled his lead on Smith in short order. By the time they got to mile three on the downward slope, Brooker was ahead by 100 yards again. That was the halfway point, and it appeared it was going to be Brooker's race to lose.
When they reached Rand Road, which is about a mile from the finish, Brooker still led by 100 over Smith. Some 75 yards behind him was Korhonen and, 50 yards back from there was Shelburne native David Burnham, currently of West Hartford, CT. That order would hold for the rest of the race.
When Brooker came into view into the final turn before the Iron Bridge, the crowd greeted him heartily. He breezed past them and broke the tape at 33:50. It was another 43 seconds before Smith came in and the local favorite crossed the finish line in 34:33. Korhonen was not far behind at 34:50. Burnham did 35:14 and Alex Kramer, a teammate of Korhonen from Somerville, MA, went 35:26.
Placements six through 13 went like this: Paul Norton of Jamaica Plain, NY, 36:07; Chris Brown of Malden, MA 36:18; Ben Jarrett of Andover, MA 36:23; Stone, 36:31; Neal Graves of St. Paul, MN, 36:34; Mark Mayall of Maynard, MA 37:19; Steve Dowsett of Newburyport, MA 37:28; Jose Rivera of Springfield, MA 37:34. Next was Bertasso.
As the first woman to finish the 10K, Bertasso was 14th overall, 12 seconds behind Rivera, with a time of 37:46. Hannah Brooker, her Albany teammate, got second at 38:20 and Sabadosa placed third at 39:01. Fourth was Erin Lopez of Saratoga Springs, NY at 40:16 and fifth was Tammy Richards of Williamsville, NY, 41:01. Following them were: Shelburne native Helen Dole, currently of New York City, 42:38; Biliana Mihaylova, of Ayer, MA 42:44; Sara Graves of Stowe, VT, 42:48; Emily Bryans of Delanson, NY, 42.54; Dana McClelland of Vernon, VT 43:41; Lauren Murray of Methuen, MA, 43:43; Samantha Presnal of New York City, 43:50; Sherry Golden of Ithaca, NY 4:15. The next woman to cross the line, Meghan Davis of Plainfield, was the first currently abiding resident of the hilltowns to finish the race with a time of 44:17.
Brooker admitted to being taken aback by Crittenden, when he first saw it.
"I'm from Pennsylvania and we don't have anything like this in that part of the state. Hannah, my wife, is from the New York in the Adirondacks and she was able to calm me down. As I was running it, I tried to stay relaxed. I used a technique called cresting as I approached the top. That allowed me to pick up the pace and I was able to pull away.”
Brooker ran cross-country in central PA and then went to Cedarville University in Dayton, OH and continued to run. He also met Hannah there and they are still running together.
Smith recalled trying to catch Brooker.
"He got away from after the start, but I was hoping that I could make it up on the hill, being familiar with it. I had gone to Mexico to train some and I was confident that the hill might make the difference for me. I saw that I was gaining as we climbed and I got to within 10 seconds of him, but then just as started to get to the top, he sped up and pulled away. I did not have that quick gear today."
Bertasso was happy with her win.
"I was able to go faster this year and I am very happy with that. Having run with Hannah, I was able to gauge what she was going to do. I got an early lead and when I got to the hill I was able to stay with the plan. Hannah is a great runner and I had to work hard to beat her.”
The 31-year-old used to play soccer, but has found her niche as a runner.
"Karen took off at the beginning and that was pretty much it," said Brooker of her battle with Bertasso. I had a notion to catch her at the hill, but she kept up a steady pace and I was not able to close the gap. She opened up her lead and, at that point, I realized I would not catch her, so I settled in for the rest of the race."
Brooker has a great story as well. Sixteen months ago, she had a baby and started running again nine days after the birth. After six months, she was back to her old self as a runner.
Able to complete in the 10K were a number of three octogenarians who are deserving of mention. Wade and Anny Stockman again traveled from Rensselaer, NY to run. Anny is 83 years old and Wade has finally hit the big 80 to join the crowd. But the man to whom even these youngsters look up to is Ed Doucette, who ran it at 85 years old.
In the women's team competition, Bertasso and Brooker led the Willow Street AC from Albany to a commanding win over Sugarloaf Mountain AC. Willow Street was second a year ago to the Western Mass. Distance Project and Sugarloaf was third. The Sugarloaf men edged out Empire One this year, having come in first and third a year ago.
Hilltown runners are the an integral part of this race. Leading the way overall for the women was Meghan Davis, 14, of Plainfield. She finished in 44.26, four minutes ahead of Liliana Wells, also 14, of Shelburne Falls. Four of the five top finishers for the women were teenagers, with Molly Cantor, 48, of Shelburne Falls breaking it up with a third place finish. In fourth and fifth were Madison Boucias, 18, of Buckland and Kesheal Henderson, 19, of Heath. Cantor was the top Masters’ runner for the women, followed by Andrea Griswold, 50, also of Shelburne Falls, and Cathy Wilkins, 56, of Heath. That was the top three a year ago.
Smith, with his second, was far and away the leader of the hilltown men. John Herron, 32, of Shelburne Falls was five seconds back from him. Then came two teens, Sam Rode, 17, of Colrain and Seth Hoynoski, 15, of Shelburne Falls. Fifth was the old master of Colrain, Al Ladd, 56, in his 25th running of the race. He led the Master’s group with Sean Dacus, 44, of Conway and Brian O’Neill, 46, of Ashfield in second and third. Dacus was third in 2014.
Mark your calendars for the 38th Annual
Bridge of Flowers 10K Classic & 3K Charity Race
Saturday, August 13, 2016
The course is located in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.
Race day registration opens at 7 AM.
8:15 AM Steve Lewis Subaru 3k Charity Run Walk
9:00 AM Bridge of Flowers 10K Classic
10K Course Description:
The initial 3k loop begins with a gradual climb from the village center's historic 1890 iron bridge, where everyone lines up for the start. It then wends through neighborhood streets. The 10k race is a figure 8 loop, and the second loop passes over the same iron bridge, followed by the renowned 1k Crittenden Hill. The well-earned descent that follows is a gravel shaded mile, followed by flats and downhills to the finish under the great balloon arch on Bridge Street. The sixth mile is downhill, and the whole course is very spectator friendly.
3K Course Description:
The 3k loop begins with a gradual climb from the village center's historic 1890 iron bridge, where everyone lines up for the start. The rest of the run/walk is through neighborhood streets and finishes under the great balloon arch on Bridge Street almost 2 miles later.