ALBANY — Once again, the Madison Avenue hill was the turning point at the GHI Team Workforce Challenge.
Chuck Terry won going up it, Dana Peterson won on the way down.
Terry, a 25-year-old recreational therapist at New Visions of Albany, took it out quickly to get some cushion between himself and two Willow Street AC teammates he knew would be coming hard late in the 3.5-mile race. The strategy worked, as he was never threatened by Andy Allstadt and Nick Conway, and won in 17:31 on Thursday.
Peterson, a 37-year-old professor of criminal justice at the University at Albany, waited behind Diane Matthews and finally made a move with about a half-mile to go, kicking down the fast, straight hill on Madison past Matthews to win the women’s race in 21:47.
It was the second victory for both in the Team Workforce Challenge, which again broke a record for participation with 7,200 registered runners and walkers on a warm, sunny and mildly humid day.
Terry doesn’t have a big finishing kick, at least not to match Allstadt’s and Conway’s, but there’s more than one way to win a race, so he tried to ensure that the Workforce Challenge wouldn’t come down to that by cranking it up Madison Avenue at the start.
“I was real nervous in the first half-mile of the race,” Terry said. “Andy Allstadt was right with me, and I knew Nick Conway was right behind us. Both of them have better speed than I have, so I really pushed the first mile and tried to gap them.”
Terry got through the first mile in 4:52 with about a 10-meter lead over Allstadt and Conway. The second mile went a little slower, and Terry hit the split in 10:00 and still had the upper hand over his teammates.
Still, they lurked.
By the time Terry got through Washington Park and back to Madison Avenue, the temptation to look back never occurred, because the mobs of cheering spectators told him everything he needed to know.
“I was still nervous at that point [two miles],” Terry said. “I didn’t feel like I had the race won until I got back on to Madison Avenue. I was trying to listen to the reaction of people, clapping their hands and cheering, and I could gauge by that that I had maybe 10 seconds on him.”
Terry won for the second year in a row, although it was more difficult this time. Conway got up for second in 17:42.
“I think it was a bit slower than last year, I guess, but that’s because I went out a little bit harder this year,” he said. “I tried to just get a gap on the field.”
Terry got the jump on Allstadt in more ways than one.
After the race, he graciously pointed out that Allstadt, who won the Gazette Stockade-athon last November, was coming off stress fractures in his shins and was a little behind in his training this spring.
Terry, meanwhile, is in terrific shape and has one more big race on his spring calendar, the Vermont City Marathon a week from Sunday, in which he ran a 2:28 last year.
“He had to take some time off this winter,” Terry said. “He had some stress fractures in his shins that he was worried about, so I was a little bit fitter coming into the race.
“And I really try to peak for this race. It’s my hometown, Albany, it’s the biggest race around, and it’s at the capital. I feel like this race means the most in Albany.”
Terry said he didn’t mind the fact that everyone would view him, the defending champion, as the one to beat on Thursday. He had plenty of reminders leading up to the race.
“Nothing serious. Some co-workers joked around with me, and some of my running buddies joked around, but it was mainly pressure I put on myself,” he said. “I really wanted to perform today.
“Andy’s going to be joking around with me for awhile. He thinks I’m a big running dork. That’s what it comes down to.”
Peterson, who won the women’s race two years ago in 21:40, used to find newspaper articles of her running exploits taped to her office door when she showed up the next morning, but the professor who performed this ritual retired, so someone else at UAlbany is going to have to pick up the slack.
It says here she won it on Thursday by using a classic wait-and-kick strategy, which is always tempting on this course, but can be a trap if you don’t stay close enough to the leaders to make it work.
During the second mile in the park, Peterson was told by friends how far ahead Matthews was, and it might have been bad information, but either way, Peterson was still in striking range.
“I saw some of my teammates in the park just as we were coming around past the lakehouse, and they said she was 15 seconds ahead of me,” Peterson said. “Unless they were wrong. Or they don’t know how to count.
“We went out, and there were some very good women runners in front of me going up the hill and through the park. We were kind of running together for the first mile or so. Diane Matthews was leading the race through the whole thing.” Well, almost the whole thing.
Peterson caught up to Matthews at the top of Madison after coming out of the park and turned on the jets. She finished 10 seconds ahead of Matthews (21:57).
“I had thought that she would be today’s winner,” Peterson said. “It was one of those where I thought, well, I’ve just got to go for it. I might die a horrible death coming down the hill, but I’ve got to try. I just had to put my head down and keep going. She’s a real good runner. She’s coming back from some injuries, and it looks like she’s coming back strong.”
Peterson has kept a light racing schedule this spring, running the Delmar Dash in April and the Runnin’ of the Green in March, so she didn’t know what to expect on Thursday.
She’d like to use the Team Workforce Challenge as a steppingstone to a strong performance at the Freihofer’s Run for Women on May 31. She finished 50th in that 5k race, which draws Olympians and covers essentially the same course, two years ago.
“I was a little slower than I wanted to be in the last two races, so I didn’t know going into this race,” she said. “I was just hoping to gauge where I’m at. It’s a good tuneup for Freihofer’s.”