By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
CONCORD, Mass. (05-Jun) -- With heavy rains coming to a halt mere minutes before the elites took to the track, the Adrian Martinez Classic rose to new heights here 15 miles northwest of Boston, playing host to a pair of especially exciting miles. With support from shoe company Hoka One One and athletics initiative Bring Back The Mile, the event featured professional fields for the first time, giving way to a world leading mark and exhilarating finishes.
Kenya's Violah Lagat set a world leader of 4:29.43 in the women's mile, while Team USA Minnesota's Eric Finan was the surprise men's mile winner, setting a six-second personal best and breaking four minutes for the first time. Also in the men's contest, Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano finished fourth in 3:59.31, while high school senior Garrett O'Toole ran a New England record of 4:01.89.
For Lagat, 25, it took a finely-timed finishing kick to track down Morgan Uceny and claim top honors. After going out in roughly 67 seconds for the opening lap, it was Uceny, the top-ranked 1500m runner in the world for 2011, and Oiselle's Amanda Winslow trailing the pace setter out front. Passing 800m in 2:14, a lead group of Uceny, Winslow, Amanda Eccleston, Lagat, Lauren Johnson, and collegian Katrina Coogan had emerged, strung out little by little.
With 200 meters remaining, Uceny held on tight for first, hoping to pull away around the final bend. But, Lagat would not be shaken.
Coming down the homestretch, it was Lagat overtaking Uceny in the final 20 meters, going on to win in a world leading 4:29.43. With her time, Lagat became the first woman to dip under 4:30 this season.
"I just trusted my fitness and I know I was ready to run fast," said Lagat, sister of four-time Olympian Bernard Lagat. "The past few weeks and past few races I've been having a good kick at the end and so I trusted myself that I was going to do well and I just went for it."
Uceny's runner-up mark of 4:29.89 was encouraging, said the 29-year-old, though she wanted badly to hold on for first.
"The race kind of went how I expected, really even [splits]," she said. "I made a decent move with 200m to go to get to the lead then just kind of ran out of gas. The straightaways are so long and the last 50 I was just really hurting, trying to keep my legs moving. Violah had a great race and props to her for having a good kick."
The most exciting race of the day turned out to be the men's mile, headlined by Olympic silver medalist Manzano. Debuting the first ever pair of Hoka One One racing spikes, Manzano went right toward the front, taking prime position behind the rabbit. There he would stay through 400 meters in about 61 seconds and 800m in roughly two minutes. Trailing Manzano was a large group, all with eyes on the clock and hopes of breaking four minutes.
Among them were Finan and New Zealand's Hamish Carson and Julian Oakley. Neither Finan nor Oakley had broken four minutes for the mile before.
With determination on their side, all three hung tight until 200 meters remained. By that time, Manzano was starting to falter, and the win was up for grabs.
"I saw the clock with three minutes on it and I knew I had at least a 59 in me," said Finan. "Out of my peripheral vision I could see that I had passed Leo, but then Hamish pulled up. All I could think was I'm beating Leo."
Hitting the tape, Finan, Carson, and Oakley were neck and neck. No one was quite sure who had won the contest.
"Did I win? Did I do it?" Finan could be heard asking, awaiting any sign of confirmation. Within a few moments, Finan got the answer he wanted to hear. He had won with a time of 3:58.73
"I'm so excited. It's something I've been dreaming about since high school. For it to finally come to fruition, it is so exciting. The last full mile I ran was in 2010 and so four years later, I finally got my chance and tonight was a perfect night for it," said Finan, who attended the University of Cincinnati. "Everything came together, I'm just so excited."
Finan told Race Results Weekly that his recent training under coach Dennis Barker with Team USA Minnesota gave him the confidence that he could break four minutes. That he did, improving more than six seconds from his previous personal best mile -- a 4:04.94 showing indoors.
Following Carson in second (3:58.74) and Oakley in third (3:58.89), Manzano crossed the line in 3:59.31. The 29-year-old said the race was good until the final lap.
"After that I kind of lost it a little bit. But hey, it was a great race," he said. When asked if his legs felt heavy because of last weekend's Prefontaine Classic --where he ran 3:52.41-- Manzano said no. "Every race has to have a purpose and I think today definitely served what I needed out of it."
Perhaps the biggest finish of all came from Middlesex School's Garrett O'Toole, a high school senior. On the 50th anniversary of Jim Ryun becoming the first high schooler to break four minutes for the mile, O'Toole took a stab at becoming the sixth prep to join that exclusive club. He'd come up just 1.89 seconds shy, finishing in 4:01.89. The time, fastest ever by a prep in New England, ranks 14th all-time for high schoolers and first in the nation this year, according to Dyestat.com's Doug Binder.
"I'm really excited. You know, it was just such a great opportunity to come here," said O'Toole, who will take another shot at the mark at the adidas Grand Prix's High School Dream Mile. O'Toole will run for Princeton University next year. "I was able to come out here, work hard, and get a good time. It was really exciting for me."
Also part of the Adrian Martinez Classic were elite 800m and 5000m contests.
Casimir Loxsom of the Brooks Beasts won the men's 800m in 1:46.31, a season best. Executing his pre-race strategy to perfection, Loxsom set himself right up behind the rabbit early and never looked back. He'd finish ahead of Ryan Martin (1:46.58) and Brian Gagnon (1:46.62).
Dana Mecke, formerly of the University of Texas at San Antonio and now competing unattached, nipped New Jersey/New York Track Club's Stephanie Charnigo and Canadian Olympian Nicole Sifuentes at the line for the women's 800m crown. Her time was 2:02.85.
Amy Hastings won the women's 5000m with ease, going on to time 15:25.94. Hastings plans to race the NYRR Oakley Mini 10-K a week from Saturday on June 14, in New York City.
Behind her were Alexi Pappas (15:43.72), Emily Sisson (15:45.64) and Angela Bizzarri (15:54.55).
Travis Mahoney of the New Jersey/New York Track Club passed former Iona Gael Mitch Goose and charged home with a fast final 400 meters, crossing the line in 13:59.13 to Goose's 14:04.63.
The Adrian Martinez Classic was held in honor of Adrian Martinez, a former miler at Concord-Carlisle High School who passed away from sudden cardiac arrest after graduating from Williams College.
PHOTO: Garrett O'Toole of the Middlesex School poses with Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano after running a New England high school record of 4:01.89 for the mile at the Adrian Martinez Classic in Concord, Mass. (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)