UTICA — For the first time in 30 years an American won the Boilermaker 15K road race when Syracuse native Stephen Rathbun crossed the finish line in first Sunday. And Savannah Boucher, a Remsen native who won the women’s race as the first American to do so since 1989 said she doesn’t care if it has an asterisk.
The race was not only pushed back three months from its usual spot in mid-July, but it had no elite division and no prize purse this year. The participation was down due to COVID-19 for the race that was held virtually last year. It was also run the day before the Boston Marathon. But none of that mattered to the victors.
Rathbun, age 29, of Springfield, N.J., crossed the finish line in 47:32. “I feel the fittest I’ve ever felt,” he said after the win, a wide smile still on his face. He ran the race in under 50 minutes a few years ago and almost broke 49 minutes last year when he ran the virtual race. Going into this run, he said, he thought “sub 48 (minutes) is in the cards.”
“It’s really so humbling, it’s such a special day to do this,” said the runner who bested 3,479 others on a cool October day. “A phenominal honor.”
Rathbun got through one of the toughest challenges of the race then took the lead. “(Miles) three and four are just so challenging,” he said. It was right after that when he grabbed the lead. “I just pushed hard.” He said he was able to keep a comfortable pace. “I kind of ran my own race. I like being out ahead.” He said mile two “felt really good,” and he felt strong going downhill. “You go in waves in this thing.”
One of the biggest boosts, said Rathbun, was seeing his family at the mile nine marker. It also helped that it was a cool day, almost 60 degrees, the top end of what is considered optimal temperatures for top distance running times. “It’s a massive difference,” he said of the temperature compared to running the race in July. “This is prime weather.”
Boucher, also 29, said the win was “incredible.” Now a resident of San Antonio, Texas, she grew up in Remsen before moving to New Hartford, where she graduated from high school. She was a national champion runner at Mohawk Valley Community College and said Sunday that she’s always loved the running community in Utica. “Coming back and being able to do this even with the big asterisk,” she said, “I’m happy with it.”
Boucher took over the lead about three-and-a-half miles into the race, but it wasn’t until almost the finish line itself before she let herself think a win was within her grasp. “Ten feet away from the finish line I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I might win this.’”
Her winning time was 56:24. Eve Glasergreen was two seconds behind her. For Boucher, the toughest part was the end. “That last mile-and-a-half,” she said, but she noted that at the time she has a 50-yard cushion on Glasergreen. In the home stretch, “I pulled a little bit of juice out.”
“I never feel like I’ve trained enough,” Boucher said. She has been “running and hoping for the best.” Being the leader for much of the race, she said, was “a little bit of a throwback to my younger self.” In college, she said, she learned to be more tactical and have more patience. “I tried to stay calm,” and was aiming to be first at mile six, where her family was set up to cheer her on.
Sam Morse of Camden made a late charge to finish second in 47:45, 13 seconds behind Rathbun and four seconds ahead of Syracuse’s Abshir Yerow.
“I’m pretty happy with the time. It was one of my best. It sucks to be so close and not get the win,” said the 38-year-old. “It’s a tough race all around. About a half mile in they were going a little quicker than I wanted. I was hoping to save some for the end.” He said he was able to run “the last 5K pretty well,” but added that the head wind of mile nine was a challenge. “It always helps when you’re chasing someone.”
Morse said that with no elite runners, if he could run his race, “I figured there might be a chance (to win), but I had no idea.”
Roman Jordon Hoffman, age 29, was 10th in 51:06. A teammate of Boucher’s at MVCC, he said preparation this time was not what he’d hoped for.
“It wasn’t what I was going for but I’m 100% happy with it. For the training I did I have no room to complain.” He said a recent move to Binghamton and his full-time job limited him to about 45-50 miles a week with few workouts, compared to a typical training of at least 70 miles a week and several workouts. That was his preparation level when he ran his best Boilermaker time of 50:39 in 2015, he noted.
“When I found out there wasn’t going to be elite people I thought I could do really well because of that,” Hoffman said. Whether he could win the whole thing was going to depend on his competition. There were, he said, some runners at the starting line he knew he couldn’t catch. His plan at that point was: “Let me focus on my own race, which is most important.”
Around the 5K mark, he said, he was happy but it wasn’t his best time. He’d hoped to break 50 minutes Sunday but at that point he knew that wasn’t going to happen. “I’m very happy with my place. And the main thing was that I enjoyed it.” He said it was a great crowd that he interacted with throughout the course. His mother and sister were at the finish line, “so coming down the hill just past the nine-mile mark I heard screaming and I saw these two people jumping up and down. That’s them,” he laughed.
The 2021 race, he said, “felt different for sure.” He said he loves that it’s “such a big event,” but it was nice to focus on the people who run it because they want to run it not for the prize purse. “I love that we get the elite people there. It’s inspiration.” But, he admitted, it made it more nerve-wracking because his name was out there as a contender.
Utican wins wheelchair race
Utican Herman Garic, age 31, won the men’s wheelchair title with a time of 35:35. After the race, Garic departed to Massachusetts to compete in Monday’s 125th Boston Marathon, where he finished eighth.
Stephanie Woodward, age 33, of Rochester, won the women’s wheelchair race.
Also in the wheelchair division, Erin Schick of Chester, NY, completed the 2021 Sitrin Wheelchair Challenge. By finishing her race in a standard wheelchair, Schick has earned a custom-built racing wheelchair.