When Amy Rudolph arrived in Manchester in November 1995, she was a relative unknown in road racing.
Rudolph's college credentials were impeccable. She was the NCAA indoor mile champ and she won the 1,500 meter outdoor national title at Providence College. But she didn't have a lot of experience on the roads. Her coach Ray Treacy steered her toward the Manchester Road Race. And she won in her first crack at the 4.748-mile course.
``I think I was hooked then,'' Rudolph said. ``It's become my focal point in the fall, every year.''
Since then, Rudolph has competed in two Olympic Games and has become a well-known runner on both the track and the roads. But she still comes back to Manchester every year. And she is still successful.
Thursday, she won the Manchester Road Race for a record fifth time, in 24 minutes, 25 seconds. She finished 22nd overall.
Judi St. Hilaire won the race four times from 1985-92.
``It was cold, but it was awesome,'' said Rudolph, 29, of Providence. ``I felt so good. I'm just really glad to win. And now it's over and I'm going to Florida.''
Rudolph pulled away after the first mile on the Highland Street hill and no one challenged her. She beat runner-up Elva Dryer of Albuquerque, N.M., by 36 seconds.
The men's race was a lot closer. Australian Andrew Letherby outkicked 19-year-old Kenyan Shadrack Kosgei in the last 100 meters to win his first Manchester title in 22:03. Kosgei finished two seconds behind.
About 11,000 runners braved temperatures in the teens Thursday. Some wore shorts, some went shirtless and some wore reindeer antlers, but most bundled up with hats, gloves and running tights.
Some, like Kosgei, were affected by the cold. He dropped his gloves at 2 miles and then missed them about a mile down the road when his hands started to freeze. His whole body was cold. It caught up to him at the end when he tried to sprint.
``I tried to kick, but I was cold,'' said Kosgei, who ran a 13:32 5,000-meters this summer. ``Everything was cold.''
Letherby, 29, wasn't fazed. He is from Brisbane, Australia, but lives and trains in Boulder, Colo.
``I actually enjoyed the weather,'' he said.
Letherby ran the course like a veteran, even though it was his first time at Manchester. He was given a thorough pre-race tour by his host, Peter Boucher, who lives on the course.
He knew about the Highland Street hill and knew he had to be in the lead pack at the top. He knew he couldn't kick too early. He knew about the slight uphill grade at the finish.
That was where he figured he would kick, if it came down to it. Of course, being the Manchester Road Race, it did.
``I actually don't have a lot of speed, but I have a lot of strength,'' Letherby said. ``At the end of a race, that's what it comes down to sometimes. It's who wants it the most and having that strength left in your legs. I think [Kosgei] really found the weather hard.''
The two swung onto Main Street together. Kosgei had thrown in some earlier surges to try to break up the pack, but Letherby hung with him. Letherby looked back, looked at his watch, then went. They ran elbow-to-elbow down the street toward the finish, with Letherby pulling away right at the end.
It was the second time this year he had done well in a town called Manchester (he won a bronze medal at the Goodwill Games marathon this summer in Manchester, England). And it was the second race in two years he had won on Thanksgiving.
``Maybe Thanksgiving is a good day for me to race,'' Letherby said.
Last year, it wasn't so good for Rudolph. Her bid for a fifth victory was spoiled by Russian Svetlana Zakharova, who beat her by a second. A flag bearer who ran beside the women to indicate the winner ran in front of Rudolph at the end of the race and caused her to break stride.
``I'm not saying that's why I lost,'' she said. ``The reason why I didn't protest was that I couldn't say that if he hadn't done that, I would have won, but ... ''
There were no flag-bearers this year. Rudolph almost made it across the finish line anonymously (the announcer saw her at the last minute), even though she made road race history, winning her fifth in eight appearances.
``So,'' she said, ``I just have two more and that's 10 in a row and then I can take a break.''
She laughed. How about going for men's record holder Amby Burfoot's mark of nine victories?
``That'll be hard,'' Rudolph said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun