On the Sidelines of the 2017 Utica Boilermaker
BY BOB KOPAC
UTICA, NY--July 9, 2017--the 40th Utica Boilermaker! Since my wife Lynne, previously had run four 15K Boilermakers including the 30th, I was interested in what changes were in store for the 40th.
The 2017 Boilermaker featured an increase in prize money to over $100,000. The wheelchair prize money more than doubled to $37,600. In an effort to attract more American elite runners, the Boilermaker increased the prize money for the first American male and the first American female from $3,250 to $7,250 each.
Mile 2, formerly the International Mile, has been renamed the Unity Mile. According to the Boilermaker race brochure, the Unity Mile has ... a broader and more powerful mission: To showcase, via the city's largest event, the cultural diversity, accepting attitudes, general awesomeness and of course, unity, that makes Utica such a special and unique place.
One noticeable change was increased security. I was unable to obtain press credentials as a freelance writer, unlike previous years when I had written articles and even gotten a cover article published in Marathon & Beyond magazine. Instead of taking photos at the finish line, I had to find another location. I considered the Unity Mile, but I did not want to drive. Instead I walked from our hotel towards the finish line area hoping to find a good position.
A scant 15 minutes before the 8am 15K start, I saw a few stragglers boarding a school bus to go to the starting line, even though the time for the bus service was 5:30am to 7am. Some runners never change.
Due to the security restrictions, I had to walk a circuitous route, eventually ending up on Court Street at Lenox Street on the downhill right before the finish line. I was within spitting distance of the finish line; knowing runners and their proclivities, that may not have been a good thing.
As I waited, I listened to Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer broadcasting on 950 AM radio station WIBX. This year is the 50th anniversary of Kathrine breaking the sex barrier at the 1967 Boston Marathon. Born in England, Roger ran for England and New Zealand at the world-class level and set Masters marathon records at the Boston and New York Marathons. They now live in the Hudson Valley region of NY for part of the year, and the day before the race Roger told me, They ask me year after year to broadcast here. It must be because of my upstate New York accent.
The women started out running a tactical race with an incredible 25 women in the lead pack. The time at three miles was 16:44, well behind the course record pace. Paskalia Chepkorir of Kenya then did a breakaway and surged away from the pack, followed by eight other women.
Chepkorir led the pack through 10K in 33:09 before her pace
slowed, and she was passed by Ruti Aga Sora, and 2012 Boilermaker
winner Mamitu Daska, both of Ethiopia, and 2014 and 2015 Boilermaker
winner Mary Wacera of Kenya. For the rest of the race there were
surges and counter surges, but no runner could take a commanding
lead. This continued to the downhill on Court Street in front
of my position, where I watched Mary Wacera hold onto the lead
through the finish line in 49:18 becoming a three-time Boilermaker
winner, followed by Ruti Aga Sora in 49:20, Paskalia Chepkorir
in 49:23, and Mamitu Daska in 49:33. Allie Kieffer of Buffalo,
NY was the first American woman finisher in 51:03.
On the men's side, there was an early surprise with American Timothy Ritchie of Brighton, MA leading the men's race through the halfway point. After that he struggled and slipped to 10th place as runners from Kenya, Ethiopia, and Eritrea overtook him. Silas Kipruto of Kenya then surged and took such a commanding lead that no other male runner was in sight of the press truck.
Kipruto could not hold the hot pace and eventually faded. Teshome Mekonen of Ethiopia and Tsegay Tuemay of Eritrea steadily gained on Kipruto and by my position on the course threatened to overtake Kipruto. However, Kipruto hung to win in 43:55, winning by two seconds over Mekonen, followed by Tuemay in 43:59. Timothy Ritchie surprised again by getting a second wind and surging to 4th place in 44:14, the best American finish in years at the Boilermaker.
Another surprise was that by being banished to my sideline position, I was able to take much better photographs of the leaders than if I had been in the scrum of photographers at the finish line, including photographs of wheelchair winner Daniel Romanchuk of Urbana, IL who finished in 33:05. I also was able to have an enjoyable conversation with Jerome Donovan of New Hartford, NY, who had run the 5K and was waiting to see family members running the 15K.
I did have one unfortunate event when a course-control person walked in front of me and blocked my view of the runners. That was right when the legendary Bill Rodgers ran past. I was able to photograph Bill while I knelt on the ground. Now I can I say I look up to Bill Rodgers, figuratively and also literally.