The NE Distance Elite Team officially began their fall racing season yesterday morning in Acushnet, MA, and did so in spectacular fashion. The team’s impressive individual finishes of 1-2-3-5 and 1-2-3 on the Men’s and Women’s sides, respectively, propelled them to two convincing team victories. In fact, the team placed all seven of its competitors (both men and women) in the top 11 places overall in the field of just under 200 runners!
With a number of big team competitions on the schedule for this fall – including the prestigious Boston Mayor’s Cup Cross Country Race in October and the USATF Club Cross Country Championships in December – the squad was excited to get out and compete together as a team for the first time. For most team members, this race also marked their first of the fall season, so the Acushnet Road Race provided the perfect low-key setting to get back into the swing of things.
Despite this year’s race being the 37th iteration of the now locally iconic Labor Day event, the race still maintained a great small-town, community-oriented atmosphere. The race organizers were incredibly welcoming to the team – race director John Braun personally welcomed them when they arrived at check-in – and the local newspaper also provided some great coverage of the team with featured articles both before and after the race. Adding on top of that the beautiful, scenic course and the perfect sunny, 70-degree weather made the day a truly ideal way to kick off the season.
NE Distance makes history with its first official Women’s Elite Team apperance
Yesterday morning, for the first time since the team’s inception in 2012, the name “NE Distance” appeared in the official women’s team results of a race. For the last few years, veteran team member Katie Spratford has held down the fort as the team’s sole female competitor, but this summer’s addition of three new ladies to the Elite Team roster drastically changed that. Although new team member Obsie Birru was off in New Haven, Connecticut competing at the USATF 20k Championships, the squad of Katie Spratford, Dylan Hassett, and Rachel Schilkowsky was enough to meet the required three-person minimum for a scoring team and make NE Distance history.
Katie, who cruised to a 3rd place finish in a time of 24:31 for her first hard effort in almost 4 months, had the following to say to commemorate the special occasion, “Today was a momentous day in particular for the lady squad of NEDistance! Although the race was just meant to be run as a workout, it was the first time we had a scoring team on the women’s side!” After beginning 2017 with a bang by representing the United States not once, but twice at international cross country competitions, Katie has been carefully gearing up for what will surely be an equally outstanding end of the year, “It is still very early in our season and there is a lot of work yet to be done, but the race was a fun way to kick off fall racing at a beautiful course with the team.”
New team member Dylan Hassett also remarked about the added significance of her first official appearance as a member of NE Distance, “It was so exciting to be part of NE Distance’s first race featuring a women’s team! Today was all about working together to get in a solid effort as most of us are getting back to fitness. I am really looking forward to many more group efforts in upcoming workouts and races as we begin our season as a team this fall.” Dylan, who finished side by side with Katie to take 2nd in an identical time of 24:31, was also quick to show her appreciation for both the race organizers as well as the opportunity to go out and be a part of the New England community, “Acushnet did a great job of organizing the race and welcoming our elite team to their event. We were able to complete our goal of getting in a tempo effort, winning some team prize money, and positively representing the NE Distance team.”
After opening up her season by herself last weekend at the NH 10 Miler, Rachel Schilkowsky was also thrilled to have competed alongside teammates yesterday. “Although I had a lot of fun last weekend at the race, I have to admit it was a little lonely competing by myself. Being able to warmup with the team and stand on the starting line next to Katie and Dylan yesterday made me so much more relaxed and confident and made the whole day that much more enjoyable.” Having had the chance to ‘shake out the cobwebs’ last weekend, Rachel was a bit more aggressive throughout the race, and ultimately held on for the win in 23:22, “I wanted to push things a bit more than last weekend, to re-familiarize myself with that 5:40ish tempo pace I’ll be working out at a lot this fall. It was definitely a harder effort than last week, but I think I got a lot out of it.”
Men’s Elite Team employs pack running to secure team title
Although the NE Distance Elite Team has fielded a full Men’s squad multiple times in the last few years, yesterday marked the first time that this particular group of gentlemen lined up and competed together. Veteran Henry Sterling helped set a solid opening pace while Elite Team newcomers, John Schilkowsky, Brian Crimmins, and Ian Steller tucked right in behind him. For the first mile and a half the NE Distance Men had company in the form of three local runners (one of which was five-time Acushnet Road Race winner Jason Eddy of East Bridgewater), but by working together to keep the pace honest, they were eventually able to shake their challengers, effectively securing the 1-2-3 sweep.
John Schilkowsky, who has been slowly building all summer since ending his track season back in June, came away with the win yesterday in a time of 21:15. He attributed both his individual success as well as the team’s success to their pack-style racing tactic, “Right from the start we packed up and worked together. We were vibing off of one another. Overall, it was a really great team effort today” John, a miler who does not often race distances over 5k, was pleased to see that the last few months of focusing on strength and mileage have begun to pay off, ” I moved up to the front of our group in the third mile to help set the pace, and was surprised with how relaxed and easy I felt. Henry and I worked together at the front of the pack through the 3rd and 4th miles, and then with around 500m to go I picked up the pace again and ultimately broke the tape. .”
Henry Sterling, fresh off a bit of down time after closing out his summer racing season a month ago with a solid 20th place finish at the 2017 TD Beach to Beacon 10k, finished a few strides back in 2nd place with a time of 21:23. “The race was a great start to our season, both individually and as a team! It was a ton of fun to run together as a pack, and I think it showed how smoothly we all are working together already.” Henry, who has been strong presence on the New England Cross Country scene the last few years – most notably winning the 2015 USATF-NE Cross Country Championship title – shared his enthusiasm for the team’s future races, “We are just getting into the swing of training, trying to stay healthy and get fit, but I’m really excited for all the cross country races we will have this fall!”
Brian Crimmins, who officially joined NE Distance just a few short weeks ago, finished strong to nab 3rd place overall and the final scoring place for the team in his first race for NE Distance. Just like his teammates, Brian enjoyed the pack-style of running the men employed, “I am glad we chose Acushnet to open up the season and to work together in a tempo effort. This race reminded me how nice it is to run with a team as a pack. I was very pleased to feel strong going through 5K of the course.” Brian also noted what a great day it was overall, something that served to only reassure him that his choice to join NE Distance was the right one, “It was a beautiful day to race. I was feeling very healthy and ready to run. It was a very well organized event. The team and the atmosphere has just been great.”