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Molly Huddle, David Torrence Win U.S. 5K Road Championship

(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In a highly anticipated battle between New England stars, Providence’s own Molly Huddle defended her home turf over Marblehead, Mass., native Shalane Flanagan here at the CVS Health Downtown 5K, the U.S. national championships for 3.1 miles on the road. Huddle’s 15:12 win is her fifth title in six years here, a record that is unmatched in race history, and represented her 17th career national title on all surfaces. For the men, David Torrence made a furious move with under 400 meters to go to capture the title in 13:56 over Dan Huling and Dathan Ritzenhein.

Entering today’s race, Huddle had added motivation and a little bit of pressure on her shoulders. The 31-year-old had won here three years in a row, and also lives in Rhode Island’s state capitol city. Familiar with the twisting nature of the 5K course, Huddle was determined to take home another victory.

“This is an important race for me to do well at and I feel like there’s definitely some pride and a little bit of a streak going on,” she would tell Race Results Weekly on the awards podium.

After opening up the race with a quick 4:43 mile, Huddle and Flanagan found themselves right where everyone figured they’d be: at the front of the field. Also towards the head were New Balance’s Emily Sisson, who trains with Huddle, and Brooks’s Gabe Grunewald.

Trading the lead through the second mile, Huddle and Flanagan battled, working with sub-elite men in their vicinity to keep the pace up. Neither would create enough separation to feel comfortable, though inside Flanagan thought Huddle had the edge as they made their way back towards the finish.

“This is definitely Molly’s distance,” said Flanagan. “I probably felt sorry for myself a little bit [getting ready for the charge to the finish].”

As so often is the case at these championships, the title would come down to who had the best sprint in the final 400 meters—up and over a quick but steep hill on Francis Street leading to the finish. Today, it would be Huddle who kept just enough gas in the tank to kick away from the newly minted U.S. 10K road running record holder in Flanagan.

“It was hard telling myself to wait, to hold on tight. My legs were buckling a little bit at the 3 mile mark so I just think I had it really timed right,” said Huddle, whose time of 15:12 was just two seconds shy of the event record (shared by Huddle’s 2014 race and Elana Meyer’s 1994 performance). “To come away with a win is something special for me.”

While on the awards stand, Huddle looked out over the finish area and allowed herself to smile a bit. Less than a month removed from a heartbreaking finish at the IAAF World Championships 10,000m—where she was nipped at the line for the bronze medal by American teammate Emily Infeld—Huddle is trying her best to look forward and be positive.

“I feel like I’m still trying to figure out what that race is going to do for me as far as motivation, or a learning [moment], or just trying to forget,” she told Race Results Weekly, paying close attention to her word choice while at the same time speaking from the heart. It was clear that the memory still is like a wound, still open but beginning to heal. “I’m not sure yet. I do know I’m in good shape, and I’m just trying to put as many races between me and that day as possible. It’s kind of difficult.”

In second was Flanagan (15:17), who also spoke about that fateful day at the World Championships, but in a positive light. This is Flanagan’s last race of the season, and she will now take time off before gearing up for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February.

“I’ve had two really emotional highs this season, between my teammate [Infeld] winning a bronze medal at worlds,” Flanagan began. “That was like an emotional high for me; it’s almost as if like I feel like I was a big part of that, and our team did great. A lot of emotion at Worlds. And then coming off that and running that 10K [American record of 31:03 in the Netherlands], that was a super special race for me. This was kind of like the afterthought after those two big performances. I just did the best I could the last two weeks to maintain form.”

Rounding out the top three was Providence College graduate Sisson, crossing in 15:48. She improved upon her fifth place showing from a year ago.

Fourth went to Grunewald in 15:55, three seconds up on Kim Conley who was competing in her first race after dealing with a debilitating case of plantar fasciitis.

“Stuck my neck out & paid for it—still a very valuable 5k experience! #ouch,” tweeted Grunewald after the race, reflecting on going out hard near Huddle and Flanagan.

Torrence Kicks to First USA 5K National Title

Miler David Torrence’s strategy was plain and simple: sit and wait until the very last moment to make the winning move. That he did, overtaking Dan Huling and Dathan Ritzenhein for the win over the last hill.

“I knew it was going to be a sprint to the finish, and I was just able to catch them off guard,” said Torrence, gold medal around his neck. “I just stayed strong, mentally tough, and was able to stick with them today.”

From the gun, Ritzenhein took control of the pace. The 32-year-old Olympian passed the mile in 4:30 and two miles in 8:55, leading while a large group formed in his slipstream. The pack would gradually thin and string out by halfway, but no one wanted to take control from the veteran. Among those behind were Torrence, Huling, Sam Chelanga, reigning champion Diego Estrada, and ZAP Fitness team member Tyler Pennel.

“I could tell right from the start everybody was going to prefer for me to take it. With so many track guys in it, I didn’t want it to sit around for too long. I just pressed it as much as possible,” said Ritzenhein.

It was down to three as the leaders made the final turn just shy of three miles, with Huling taking the inside lane and gaining a step’s advantage on Ritzenhein and Torrence. Up the incline, though, Torrence put his head down and surged. By far the best miler of the bunch (his personal best is 3:52.01), Torrence knew he could put the nail in the coffin if his move was defiant.

“I’m a miler you know, that’s my strength. I wanted to make it decisive and not give them any hope, you know. That was my strategy,” said Torrence as he cooled down among spectators adjacent to the finish. Grimacing, Torrence went to his arms as he made the final sprint home.

Torrence was surprised to find he had created a gap of five meters coming to the line, crossing with arms raised to the heavens in 13:56. Huling came through second in 13:59, followed by Ritzenhein in 14:03.

“I got to savor the finish a little bit. You know, it’s not always that you can come home and be like ‘Yeah I got this!’ That was a fun experience!” said Torrence, sporting bright blue Hoka One One racing flats.

Reflecting on his performance, Torrence said it couldn’t have played out any better. “That’s my strength. I’m the kicker. I thought with the hill, people would make a move earlier… I just put my head down and got the win.”

Torrence joins a distinctive list of American winners at this event, including Meb Keflezighi, Adam Goucher, Matt Tegenkamp, and Ben True.

Aware he acted as a rabbit to his younger counterparts, Ritzenhein was still very happy with the podium spot. He’s eagerly awaiting the build-up phase leading to the Olympic Marathon Trials.

“I kind of thought they’d take off a little bit more, but I kind of maintained contact up the hill,” he said. “I wanted to come out here and feel good today, and I was really happy with it. I wish that I could have one more gear… But all in all, this is a great spot for me and I’m in a really good place.”

Completing the top five were Chelanga and Jason Witt, finishing in 14:07 and 14:12. Last year’s winner Estrada wound up tenth in 14:22.

The next USATF Running Circuit event is the USA 10-Mile Championships, to be held in Minneapolis, Minn., on October 4 as part of the Medtronic TC 10 Mile. The grand finale of the series comes on November 15, in Alexandria, Virginia, with the U.S. Road Running Championships over the 12K distance.