MANCHESTER — New Hampshire’s largest road race continues to grow.
“It’s a race which offers something for everybody,” said race director Susanna Whitcher of today’s 21st annual Cigna/Elliot Corporate 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) race.
Whitcher said when Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas pulls the trigger of the starter’s pistol on the corner of Elm and Amherst streets at 6:20 p.m., more than 6,000 participants will challenge the course.
Top New Hampshire runners who are registered include Justin Freeman of New Hampton, who was the top Granite State runner at the Mount Washington Road Race this year and the first New Hampshire finisher in the 2011 Cigna race.
Heidi Westover of Walpole, who ran in the Olympic marathon trials in 2008 and 2012, is in the field. She won the Bill Luti 5-Miler in Concord in July. Abby Wood of Laconia, the 2012 and 2013 Capital Area Series female champion, is another runner to watch. She was the top New Hampshire runner in the 2011 Cigna race.
Former University of New Hampshire runners, twin brothers Wes and Tyler Dinnan of Bedford will be competing along with Christine Shaw of Manchester and former Boston College standout Jennifer Mortimer of Goffstown. Mortimer’s husband, John, the overall Cigna winner in 1997 and the top New Hampshire male runner in the 2004 race, will also be in the field.
In addition to regularly fielding more timed finishers than any other New Hampshire road race (Concord’s Rock ‘N Race rivals it for overall field size, including walkers), the Cigna/Elliot Corporate 5K also attracts some of the fleetest of foot.
In 2009, the Cigna/Elliot field included 10 runners who finished under 15 minutes, including one, Ethiopia’s Alene Reta, who ran one of only two sub-14-minute 5Ks in New Hampshire history.
He still holds the men’s Cigna course record of 13:52.65 set in 2009.
Reta returned to Manchester for the Cigna/Elliot last year, but his time of 14:13 was second to countryman Abiyot Warku’s 14:06. Andrea Sorgato of Medford, Mass., who placed sixth overall in last year’s race (14;49), is registered to run today along with Medford, Mass.’ Caitlin Malloy, who finished fifth in the female field last year in 18:30.
Stephanie Reilly of Dublin, Ireland, who competed in the 2012 Olympics in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, will be a top contender who could break the women’s record.
Marie Davenport of Goffstown is still the women’s Cigna record holder, setting her 15:38.41 time in 2004.
Muliye Gurmu of the Bronx, N.Y., was the 2012 women’s winner, in 17:18. The top New Hampshire woman was Denis Sandahl of Rochester, in 18:06 (fourth in the women’s field).
The top New Hampshire finisher last year was former Keene State College standout Mark Miller of Marlborough, in 15:09 (10th overall).
The first place winners will receive $600 and, if they break the course record, they will received an additional $1,000. A bonus of $500 will be awarded to any non-winning individual who tops the current course records.Prize money is offered to both genders who finish second ($500), third ($400), fourth ($300) and fifth ($200).
There’s also prize money ($250) for any individual, not among the top five finishers, who records a time better than 14:50 for men and 17:20 for women. The top male and female Masters (40 and over) winners will receive $400.
A total 273 corporate teams will compete today.
The course continues down Elm Street before winding left on Thayer Street, five blocks north of Webster Street. The course continues on River Road (off Thayer) and heads south onto Canal Street. The last turn onto West Merrimack Street becomes the final leg toward the finish line at the corner of Elm and Merrimack near Veterans Park.
Whitcher noted that runners can register for the race today from noon to 5:30 p.m. at Veterans Park near the stage. The fee is $30 per person and the event is open to wheelchair entrants.
Parking will be available at five lots (Pearl Street, Hartnett, Arms, Middle Street, Pine Street), three parking garages (Center of New Hampshire, Canal Street, Victory) and three leased lots (Bedford, Arms, Granite Street).
“The Fisher Cats are in town (7 p.m. start against Bowie) and I strongly suggest people arrive early to park their cars,” said Whitcher. “The later you come, the chance you won’t get a spot close to the course.”