Given the opportunity to “double-dip” from the $97,200 purse set aside for the elite competitors in Sunday’s 2009 Lilac Bloomday Run, Dan Browne decided to get a bit greedy.
The 33-year-old runner from the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista, Calif., not only pocketed the $5,000 check awarded – for the first time in the 33-year history of the event – to the top finisher among United States citizens, but dipped deeply into the prize pot of the Open Men’s division, as well, pocketing another $1,800 for finishing fifth overall in the 12-kilometer event.
“It was pretty much what I was hoping for,” said Browne, whose time of 35 minutes, 7 seconds was 31 seconds slower than that turned in by Men’s Open champion John Yuda, but 30 seconds faster than the 35:37 turned in by Seth Pilkington, a resident of Harrisville, Utah, and the second-fastest American finisher. “I’ve been training real hard – plowing the field, so to speak – for the past month, and now it’s time to reap the harvest.”
In past years, Bloomsday officials have doubled whatever prize money U.S. citizens might earn in the Open and Masters divisions of the 7.46-mile race. But this year, special divisions were added for the top American finishers, with the fastest man and woman each pocketing $5,000, plus any money earned in the open competitions.
Sally Meyerhoff, of Tempe, Ariz., was the top American female finisher and 10th overall in 40:15.
“It was really challenging, but I tried to push myself early – where all the hills were – so I didn’t have to wait until the last minute,” explained Meyerhoff, who admitted the American prize money was “definitely” on her mind throughout the race.
“I just kept pushing and pretending in my mind that I can’t let anyone catch me,” she added.
Pilkington earned $2,500 for finishing second among American men and another $600 for finishing 10th overall, while local resident Forest Braden picked up $1,250 for his third-place finish among his countrymen and another $400 for his 12th-place overall finish.
“It felt pretty good, actually,” said the 26-year-old Braden, an assistant track and cross country coach at Gonzaga University, who was making his first Bloomsday start in 13 years. “I went out pretty aggressive. That’s just the way I race, because I gain confidence from running up there with the big dogs.”
Braden was hanging with lead pack through the first half of the race, but started suffering stomach pains at about the four-mile mark and momentarily lowered his pre-race expectations.
“I tried to regulate my breathing a little bit when I felt it coming on,” Braden explained. “But then it really hit me, and I thought, ‘Oh, God. Here I am in my first Bloomsday since the fourth grade and its going to end like this.’ ”
But about half way up Doomsday Hill, Braden’s stomach abated he was able to finish strong.
“I felt really good with how I finished,” he said. “I want to hit it hard next year and improve on this. I feel like getting in the top five – or even winning it – is conceivable.”
Krige Schabort, a South African native now living in Georgia, claimed his first men’s Wheelchair Open division title at Bloomday. Schabort, 45, took command early and won in a time of 27:06, nearly a minute ahead of second-place finisher and 2008 champion Aaron Gordian.
“I was lucky,” said Schabort, who won $2,000 in prize money. “It was really perfect because I could get away a little early.”
Saul Mendoza, who won 10 straight Bloomsday titles before finishing second to Gordian a year ago, was third. Mendoza raced in the London Marathon a week ago and took fifth.
“I put in my time in a few other projects,” Mendoza said. “I’m just trying to get in shape, and this is one of the races I love to do for that. It gives me a good perspective of where I am and what I should be working on.”
Mendoza said he’s raced against Schabort for “at least 10 years,” adding, “He’s a tough competitor.”
Despite the colder temperatures and stiffer winds that greeted her Sunday morning, Amanda McGrory decided to stick with the same game plan she used to win the Open Women’s championship in the Wheelchair Division of last year’s Lilac Bloomsday Run.
Her decision paid off in a successful defense of her title as the 22-year-old from Champaign, Ill., once again blew away her competition on the hills of Bloomsday’s 7.46-mile course and posted a lopsided win with a time of 33:04.
“It was a little bit harder this year, because of the cold and the stronger head winds,” she said after picking up her $2,000 winner’s check. “My time was about 20 seconds off last year, but my strategy seemed to work again.
“This course is pretty well suited to my strength. I’m pretty confident in my ability to climb, so I went hard on the hills and tried to make my break there.”
McGrory made her biggest move about two miles into the race, opening up a big lead over Shirley Reilly, a resident of Tucson, Ariz., who finished second in 34:38. Adriadne Hernandez, from Puebla, Mexico, finished third, more than four minutes behind Reilly.
Rest of the stories
Simon Sawe, from Santa Fe, N.M., turned in a time of 36 minutes, 53 seconds to win the Masters Men’s Division of this year’s Bloomsday run and finish 21st overall. The win was worth $1,500. … The Masters Women’s Division winner was Russia’s Albina Gallyamova, who finished 32nd overall in a time of 44:37, and also earned $1,500. … Along with his third-place finish among U.S. citizens, Braden also finished first among competitors from the state of Washington, while Lakewood’s Joe Gray took second with a time of 36:49 and finished 19th overall. … Vanessa Hunter, from Seattle, was the top in-state female finisher with a time of 44:15 that placed her 29th overall.