ALBANY — The only reason Aisling Cuffe didn’t get lonely during the 43rd Freihofer’s Run for Women 5k on Saturday is that the race course doubles back on itself.
As she turned right off Sprague Place onto Washington Avenue just before the 4k mark, she allowed herself a smile as she was greeted warmly by a long line of walkers headed in the other direction, having just passed the 1k mark.
By the time the 28-year-old Cuffe passed Henry Johnson Boulevard a long city block later, no runner had appeared turning the corner on Sprague, and that was that. Cuffe polished off the downhill on Washington to the finish and won the Freihofer’s Run in 16:34, a whopping 40 seconds ahead of runner-up Cara Sherman.
A two-time New York State high school champion in cross country for Cornwall Central in 2009 and 2010 who went on to run for Stanford University, Cuffe has raced pretty much everywhere in the state except for the Capital Region, and she made her Freihofer’s Run debut a smashing success by putting the field away early.
“I have a tendency to not start fast enough, so by a half-mile in, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t think I’m starting fast enough for the pace I want to do,’” she said. “Normally I rely on the field to drag it out of me, and I didn’t feel like the field was doing that, so I thought, ‘I’m going to have to go.’
“And I was super-nervous somebody was going to come back and start kicking it in, so I kept looking and probably shouldn’t have been looking as much as I did.”
The Freihofer’s Run usually is held in early June, but was moved to September for this edition after being contested as a virtual race last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A total of 1,024 runners finished the in-person 5k in comfortably cool, sunny conditions on Saturday, after a thick fog lifted an hour or so before the 9 a.m. start.
The clear conditions didn’t help the elite field find Cuffe, as she got 10 meters of separation by Lark Street a half-mile in and pretty much put the race away with a 5:32 first mile shortly after entering Washington Park.
Cuffe ran the second mile in 5:27 for a 10:59 split and spent as much time watching her step through the rolling hills and twisting turns in the park as anything else.
“It got quieter all of a sudden when I started pushing, and I thought, ‘Oh, did I make a gap already?’” she said. “You can tell sometimes how many people are around you just by hearing, but it wasn’t what I thought. So I was like, ‘What?’ And it thinned out so much … ‘Wow. OK.’ I kept having to press at that point.
“I fell asleep a little bit in the second mile, but that’s also where the course is at its hilliest, so it’s tough to say. But I do think I fell asleep a little in that middle mile. When I’m a little more relaxed, I start looking at potholes a lot more and getting a little picky about my steps.”
“I thought about it [making a push to close the gap], but I was already pressing a little bit early, so I figured I should stay within myself and be patient,” Sherman said.
A two-time runner-up in the 5,000 meters at the NCAA Championships while at Stanford, Cuffe has been training for longer distances this year and said she felt “a little rusty at the 5k distance.”
Besides winning two cross country state meets for Cornwall, she also won the state Federation meet and Foot Locker National Championship in 2010.
At Stanford, she was coached by former Section II star Liz Maloy of Holy Names, who hosted Cuffe at her Loudonville home this weekend. Among their shared memories is having run in the state meet, where runners compete in t-shirts color-coded to their section.
“We used to get cotton t-shirts at the state meet, so she had maroon, and I had royal blue, and we were talking about running one of your biggest meets in high school in a cotton t-shirt. We love that,” Cuffe said.
“Oh, my God, they’re my favorite t-shirts. I can’t wear them too much because they’re starting to wear a little thin, so I have to preserve them for my children and grandchildren.”
Sherman, who has run in the colors of Mohonasen High School and the University at Albany, wanted to use the Freihofer’s Run as a stepping-stone to the MVP Stockade-athon 15k, another popular road race that will return to in-person competition on Nov. 14.
The 2019 Stockade-athon winner completed the Freihofer’s Run 10 seconds ahead of third-place finisher Annika Sisson.
“I was a little surprised to finish so far up, but I hit the time I was shooting for. I thought I’d be around 17:15,” Sherman said. “I’m training for the Stockade-athon right now, so I was using this as my first test effort, sort of. So I just wanted to see where I was at.”
It wasn’t long ago that Sisson was running in the Capital Region, as she was second to another former UAlbany standout, Hannah Reinhardt, at the 2018 America East Conference cross country championship meet, while Sisson was at Stony Brook.
“My coach Kurt Benninger, Molly Huddle’s husband, he knew of this race and thought it would be a good opportunity to test my fitness, see where we’re at heading into the fall,” Sisson said. “And it was great, I had so much fun. I knew Aisling was coming in, so that was fun. We were like, we’re probably going to have to let her go.”
Sascha Scott of Syracuse won the masters division while finishing 10th overall in 18:17.
Under a reconfigured prize structure that offered a deeper distribution, Cuffe earned $3,000 for the victory.
She said she especially appreciated the women-only race, though, for some of its other touches, like running into the walkers on the way back and the fact that race director Kristen Hislop announced to the field before the start that the age range in the race ran from 9 to 93.
“I love races like this, especially when you get to see other people in the race doing it as well,” she said. “Even at the start, when Kristen was announcing the race and the oldest person and the youngest. I love that stuff, I could listen to that all day long, the number of people that come out and share in the sport of running and racing having fun together. It’s so motivating and inspiring.”
1. Aisling Cuffe (28, Concord, Mass.), 16:34; 2. Cara Sherman (24, Schenectady), 17:14; 3. Annika Sisson (25, Pawtucket, R.I.), 17:24; 4. Caitie Meyer (30, Albany), 17:34; 5. Kerry Allen (33, Washington, D.C.), 17:39; 6. Karen Bertasso Hughes (37, Selkirk), 17:42; 7. Tricia Longo (31, Waterford), 17:50; 8. Sarah Danner (28, Gowanda), 17:57; 9. Elizabeth Debole (36, Albany), 18:02; 10. Sascha Scott (46, Syracuse), 18:17.
11. Suzie Clinchy (32, Brooklyn), 18:26; 12. Nicole Moslander (34, Rotterdam), 18:28; 13. Abbi Wright (24, Delmar), 18:31; 14. Leonni Griffin (14, Watervliet), 18:37; 15. Meghan Mortensen (36, Glenville), 18:50; 16. Marisa Sutera Strange (58, Millbrook), 18:56; 17. Renee Tolan (46, Clifton Park), 18:57; 18. Laura Kline (44, Syracuse), 18:59; 19. Erin Lopez (40, Ivoryton, Conn.), 19:01; 20. Kaleigh Higgins (15, Watervliet), 19:08.
21. Gina Pardi (23, Falmouth, Me.), 19:21; 22. Charlotte Dunkel (14, Latham), 19:43; 23. Kaitlyn Phillips (24, Rome), 19:51; 24. Brina Seguine (32, Rensselaer), 20:00; 25. Ciara Bullington (17, Cohoes), 20:02; 26. Lauren Scarupa (30, Clifton Park), 20:03; 27. Marta Dauphinee (43, Glenville), 20:13; 28. Kirsten McMichael (24, Clifton Park), 20:13; 29. Diana Tobon-Knobloch (40, Schenectady), 20:26; 30. Birtu Diefenderfer (16, Albany), 20:33.
31. Kaitlin Bogucki (14, Rensselaer), 20:31; 32. Jennifer Richardson (41, Albany), 20:48; 33. Sarah Harris (46, Sunderland, Vt.), 20:50; 34. Elizabeth Koa (15, Watervliet), 20:53; 35. Katie Johnson (40, Delmar), 20:55; 36. Lilla Korniss (16, Watervliet), 21:00; 37. Aroline Hanson (41, Sunderland, Vt.), 21:03; 38. Alyssa Caiano (14, Cohoes), 21:04; 39. Lori Kingsley (55, Wysox, Pa.), 21:03; 40. Julianne McCarthy (39, Albany), 21:06.
41. Anne Benson (56, Clifton Park), 21:08; 42. Natalie Bennett (16, Latham), 21:10; 43. Alyssa Risko (55, Schenectady), 21:14; 44. Rebecca Miceli (24, Troy), 21:15; 45. Colleen Brackett (60, Albany), 21:17; 46. Katherine Durrant (47, Ithaca), 21:17; 47. Shannon Church (40, Watervliet), 21:19; 48. Kim Lagasse (27, North Attleboro, Mass.), 21:25; 49. Lauren Williams (31, Troy), 21:32; 50. Judy Guzzo (54, Niskayuna), 21:34.
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