Testing Manchester Mile seen as a battle of the best
A week after he posted his personal best time by almost a full second in the 800 meters at the USA Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, Brian Gagnon of Lowell, Mass., is hoping to rewrite the record book in the Queen City.
Gagnon will be the favorite to win and break his own course record Wednesday in the third annual Hinckley Allen Manchester Mile, billed as the "fastest mile in America." The mile run is set for 8 p.m., following the companion 5-kilometer race, which is scheduled to start at 7.
Both race courses start near Derryfield Park on Bridge Street and finish at the base of the hill, next to Pulaski Park. The 5K includes a loop through a local neighborhood and the park.
The starting times were set to lead into the city's annual Fourth of July fireworks, scheduled to begin at 9:30 p.m.
The mile course has a sloping 188-foot drop in elevation at the start, producing some sub-4-minute times by a field of elite runners such as Gagnon. In 2011, Gagnon, a former University of Connecticut All-American, set the Manchester Mile course record of 3 hours 43.99 seconds.
That was a fraction of a second slower than the world record for the mile -- 3:43.13, set by Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj in 1999 -- though, it must be noted, the Manchester Mile is ineligible for world or national record status due to its course downgrade.
Still, Gagnon will have a new course record in his sights.
"Brian will be in Manchester Tuesday, a day ahead of the race," John Mortimer, owner and founder of Millennium Running, manager of the event, said on Monday. "He just ran a 1:45.45 time in the 800 meters, and he's going to be well-rested for our race on Wednesday. Any returning runner has the advantage of knowing what's in front of them. They know how to pace themselves and when to start kicking it home. Brian has done it, and he absolutely can break his own record Wednesday."
Mortimer explained there are two phases to tackle in the Manchester Mile.
"The first 800 meters is all about adrenaline," he said. "You're breathing hard, you feel your heart is going through your chest and your legs are hurting and feel 10 pounds heavier. The second 800 meters is all about heart and guts. That's when the course starts to flatten out a bit, and that's when it becomes mind over matter for the runner. It's at that point when a runner has to begin pushing harder than the body wants to go. For elite runners like Brian Gagnon who train to push themselves beyond their limits on a daily basis, they will know whether they're going to post a good time when they reach the 800-meter mark."
Gagnon should get tested by former Boston University All-American Phil Shaw of Manchester. Shaw won the RibFest 5-miler (26:16.28) last month.
Former Rutgers University All-American Julie Culley holds the women's course record of 4:13.7.
Nicol Traynor, an All-American from Richmond University who recently finished fifth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, is the favorite to win the women's race.
"There's a deeper field of runners on the women's side," said Mortimer. "In addition to Nicol, you have Heidi (Westerling) Westover, Tammie Robie, Kara Haas, Christine Shaw, Jennifer Mortimer and Keely Maguire."
Westover, a Walpole resident, is a two-time participant in the U.S. Olympic Trials marathon and former World Mountain Running champion. Robie is the defending Manchester Mile champ. Haas, a former St. Anselm College standout, is a two-time winner of the Millennium Mile, the less-steep Londonderry race that takes place on New Year's Day. Shaw (Boston University) and Jennifer Mortimer (Boston College), John's wife, are former NCAA Division I All-Americans, and Maguire is a former America East cross country champion out of the University of New Hampshire.
"I give the edge to Nicol to win this race because she's done more track training to prepare for the U.S. Championships," John Mortimer said. "That's not to say the other women can't win."
Noting the 5K and mile form the fourth event in the nine-event Millennium Running Series of races, Mortimer added there's a possibility someone could win both the 5K and 1-mile race Wednesday.
"There's about a 40-minute break between races, and we've given our Millennium runners incentive to do it. We currently have a point-rating system in place where runners accumulate points based on their times," he said.
Mortimer admitted to being uncertain whether the chances of winning both races would increase if the mile were run before the 5K.
"I'm going back and forth with that one in my mind," he said.
Mortimer is expecting 1,300 race entrants for Wednesday's Manchester Mile. Runners still can register today at the Executive Health Club from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Pre-registered runners also can pick up their bib numbers today.
Race-day registration at Derryfield Park will begin at 5 p.m. and take place until 15 minutes before race time for each race. Children 11-years-old and younger can participate in either event for free.
Proceeds will go to youth and family outreach programs at the Manchester YMCA.