Will 26 Seconds Be Enough For Merrie Mile Women?

Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly Nicole Sifuentes.jpg

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2017 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

HONOLULU (07-Dec) -- The second annual Kalakaua Merrie Mile, scheduled for Saturday morning here on Kalakaua Avenue adjacent to Waikiki Beach, features a gender challenge with a twist.  The elite women will receive a 26-second head start over the elite men, then prize money will be paid by the overall order of finish, regardless of gender: USD 3500-1500-1000.

At last year's inaugural race, the women received a 27-second head start, and were overtaken by just one man, Kenya's Edwin Kiptoo, who clocked 3:57.4 to claim the overall title (he is not racing this year).  That mark put Kiptoo ahead of the nearest woman by nearly five seconds, Canada's Nicole Sifuentes, who clocked 4:29.4 running all-out from gun to tape with training partner and former University of Michigan alum Shannon Osika.

"We just went out hard from the gun, so the whole thing was hard," said Sifuentes, who is also running this year's race.  "I didn't necessarily feel like I could speed up at any point because I was gunning it."

This year, race director Dr. Jim Barahal has decided that a 26-second gap will work best with the elite field he has assembled, which includes double Olympic medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand, 2014 NYRR Wanamaker Mile champion Will Leer, 17-time NCAA champion Edward Cheserek of Kenya, African junior cross country champion Mirriam Cherop of Kenya, University of Michigan All-Americans Jamie Morrissey and Gina Sereno, and Jamaican Olympian Aisha Praught-Leer among others.  Will that be enough for the women to get away this time?  The athletes don't agree.

"I was appalled when I heard it was going to be 26 seconds," Sereno deadpanned over a plate of sushi last night, causing her teammate Morrissey to burst out laughing.  The 2017 Big-10 5000m and 10,000m champion added: "I was anticipating closer to 30, actually 40."

Morrissey was a bit more optimistic.  The 2:05 800-meter runner, who had an sparkling cross country season this fall culminating in a 22nd place finish at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, thought she could work with the 26-second gap.

"I think it's fair," Morrissey said hesitantly.  "I don't know if we need much of a huge handicap to beat the guys.  So, I think last year Nicole and Shannon did a good job with 28 seconds (actually 27).  So, I'm hoping for similar results."

Morrissey may be more focused on a race within the race.  Her boyfriend, 2016 NCAA steeplechase champion Mason Ferlic, is also in the Merrie Mile and beating him would bring special satisfaction.  Ferlic thinks most of the men have learned from their mistakes last year where they didn't follow Kiptoo and settled for racing each other, instead.

"I have a suspicion that the men learned from last year, and so we're going to be tough this year," said Ferlic.  "We're going to blow by them on the homestretch."  He added: "I think it's going to be interesting because the men are always going to be chasing.  There is a race dynamic going on between the women and the men.  Last year they were running to not get caught, and we ran too slow and weren't able to catch them.  So, I think the 26 seconds will make it a much more exciting race."

Morrissey had more faith in the women's field.  She pointed out that Nicole Sifuentes is one of her coaches and that she, Sifuentes and Sereno could work together and put the men in their place.

"Nicole is our coach, we're teammates, and we workout together all the time," said Morrissey, taunting Ferlic playfully.  "So, we'll have a little girl pack ready to attack from the beginning."

About 1800 athletes will race the second annual Kalakaua Merrie Mile on Saturday.  Race director Barahal said that adding this event --plus the new Start to Park 10-K on Sunday, run contemporaneously with the Honolulu Marathon-- gave runners and their traveling companions more choices for their visit to Oahu.

"People just don't want to sit on the beach anymore," Barahal observed.

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