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Firecracker 10K winners took different paths to victory

Approaching the halfway point of the 34th edition of the Arbutus Firecracker 10K on July 4, Dave Berdan decided it was time to make his move.

Having run stride for stride with eventual runner-up Eric Schuler, 23, for the first 3 miles on the hilly 6.2-mile course, the 35-year-old Berdan reasoned that a five-minute pace on the fourth mile might be just what he needed to defend his 2015 Firecracker 10K title.

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It worked.

Berdan went on to post a final time of 32:55, shaving a second off his winning time last year as the top overall finisher among 315 entrants.

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He topped Schuler by 14 seconds while Catonsville High grad Ty Stump was third (34:43), followed by Catonsville residents Andrew Madison (fourth, 35:04) and Adam Driscoll (fifth, 35:28) in the process.

"I noticed that he [Schuler] was breathing heavily, and I wanted to see if I could run a five-minute mile," said Berdan, the men's and women's cross country coach at Stevenson University.

The female winner, Megan DiGregorio, never really had to make a such an on-the-fly tactical decision, considering that her 39:57 on the same course — 31 seconds slower than her fifth-place showing last Independence Day — made her route to victory over 129 fellow women competitors relatively free from stress.

Sarah Peterson was second and Denise Knickman third.

Laura Saxton (eighth, 46:52) was the first female finisher from Catonsville.

"I was pretty tired from a long cycle ride on Sunday," DiGregorio, the former Towson University cross country, indoor track and track and field standout, said. "My main goal was to finish in under 40 minutes."

The wins for both Berdan and DiGregorio burnished their already stellar reputations as top-notch local runners.

Berdan is the defending Baltimore Marathon champ while DiGregorio is only a month removed from claiming the Baltimore 10 Miler crown before taking the Baltimore Women's Classic 5K title on June 26.

DiGregorio said that she has "gotten better as I have older" after a solid running career at Perry Hall High that evolved into even better results in her college days, including the school record for the 3,000-meter steeplechase, with the Tigers.

Now, she competes in ultra marathons, having run six 50-milers and is training for the JFK 50-miler in November.

DiGregorio said that at the Firecracker she didn't see many local runners that she knew, so she tried to keep pace with the best male runners. That ploy helped her finish 20th overall.

Berdan, on the other hand, is just getting back into the swing of things, training-wise, after surgery for a labral tear sustained while playing baseball with his sons shut down his running for four months.

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"I was trying to make a diving catch," he said.
In fact, the Firecracker was the first time since the procedure that he "really let it go."

He said that Schuler had beaten him in the Baltimore 10 miler, so a little bit of pay-back was warranted at the Firecracker.

"I'm finally able to say that I beat a kid," said Berdan, noting the 12-year difference between their ages. "When I told him that while we were cooling down, he just laughed."

The weather — cool for July and overcast — was helpful to all the participants.

"Ideally, you'd like it to be about 55 [degrees], but for July, it was great."

He also received as much of a boost from the atmosphere as he did from Mother Nature.

"It's just such a great community event," he said. "Everybody is out on there cheering you on. I love running in it."

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