ALBANY — It was like building a house, then looking at the blueprint.
Tristin Van Ord arrived from North Carolina in time to jog through a nearby park that had some winding, rolling hills, a so-called shakeout run designed simply to get some blood and air flowing the day before a race.
On Saturday morning, she took a look at the map of the race course for the Freihofer’s Run for Women 5k and realized that the park she had visited the day before was, in fact, an integral part of the race.
The house — foundation, walls and roof — stood.
In a chilly drizzle, the 28-year-old from Blowing Rock, North Carolina, gained a little bit of separation from her rivals in the elite field during the middle portion in Washington Park and relied on her preparation to maintain the lead on the way to a victory in 15:54, the only sub-16:00 on Saturday.
A former runner at Appalachian State who was the top American female finisher at the Houston Marathon in January, Van Ord was running Freihofer’s for the first time, but all the pieces, including just enough course knowledge, came together.
“I didn’t know that it was part of the course,” she said. “Then today, when I looked at the map, I was like, ‘OK, I’ve run here a couple times.’ My first two runs, when I flew up here, I ran around the park, so I was a little bit familiar with that.
“I knew where the hills were.”
Besides the rolling hills in the park, the Freihofer’s course features a long, straight incline up Washington Avenue from the vicinity of City Hall at the start, then the runners come back down that hill to the finish.
Marielle Hall, a 2016 U.S. Olympian in the 10,000 meters, led the field up to Washington Park, then she and Van Ord ran together for a short stretch in front of a pack 10 that eventually dwindled and became strung out in single file.
Van Ord made a little move at a buttonhook turn around the west end of Washington Park Lake and kept a meter or two between herself and Jessie Cardin, who had moved up to second, as they turned left in the park just past the 3k mark.
“When I hit the 3k point, I thought, OK, I’m more than halfway done, and I have a lot left in the tank,’ so I picked it up a little bit,” Van Ord said. “Before that, in training, the sharp turns, we do a lot of intervals on greenways and stuff, so I always use the sharp turns as a space to pick it up a little bit. ‘Alright, turn … speed up into the turns.’ That’s where I made that move a little bit, then when I hit 3k, ‘Alright, I’ve got this. I feel good.’”
She did experience a wee bit of doubt after hitting the long, final straightaway down Washington Avenue, but was able to stay clear of Cardin to win by six seconds.
Anne-Marie Blaney (16:02), Hall (16:08) and Olivia Pratt (16:09) rounded out the top five.
Cleo Boyd (16:17) and Allie Kieffer (16:32), who were third and second, respectively, at Freihofer’s last year, were seventh and eighth, respectively, on Saturday.
“She [Hall] was in the lead for all of the uphill, and I was feeling it a little bit and thinking maybe I should back off,” Van Ord said. “Once we hit the downhill, I recovered very quickly. I figured I could just roll down it.
“I’m not the best downhill runner, so I was a little bit scared that I was going to get caught. But I’m from Boone, North Carolina, and we’re in the mountains, so we do a lot of hills. Ups and downs. We do tempos up the hill, and then down the hill doing a tempo, too.”
Van Ord is scheduled to run in the U.S. Olympic Trials for the marathon next year, on the heels of the 2:27:07 she posted at Houston.
She’ll only run one more marathon until then, in the fall, so her spring and summer will be devoted to shorter races like Freihofer’s.
“That [Houston] was a really big turning point for me, with my confidence, especially,” she said. “I had run 2:29 before that, in Rotterdam last year, and going into Houston I knew I was in good shape and knew I could PR, but maybe not by as much as I did.
“That marathon, putting me up into the top U.S. rankings with that time, I’ve gotten so much more confident in my racing and coming into a field like this and thinking, ‘OK, I can stay with these people.’
“My goal was to be in the top three. I know a lot of the women, and they’re just so good. Like, Marielle is amazing, and if I can be near her, that would be so cool, with how good she is, and a lot of the Brooks girls, too, who just ran Boston. I knew this would be their first race back, so this’ll be a rust-buster for them. So, hopefully, I was going to be around them and at least have a little bit left at the end.”
TOP 50 FINISHERS
Tristin Van Ord (28, Blowing Rock, N.C.), 15:54; Jessie Cardin (27, Rochester Hills, Mich.),16:00; Anne-Marie Blaney (29, Rochester, Mich.), 16:02; Marielle Hall (31, Providence, R.I.), 16:08; Olivia Pratt (29, Auburn Hills, Mich.), 16:09; Lydiah Njeri Mathathi (37, Columbia, S.C.), 16:16; Cleo Boyd (29, Charlottesville, Va.), 16:17; Allie Kieffer (35, Austin, Tex.), 16:32; Melissa Lodge (26, Providence, R.I.), 16:43; Sheridan Wheeler (18, Greenfield Center), 16:48.
Maegan Krifchin (35, Cambridge, Mass.), 16:51; Amanda Chambers (23, Schenectady), 16:59; Emily Bush (16, Saratoga Springs), 17:12; Olivia Lomascolo (22, Ballston Lake), 17:20; Cara Udvadia (26, Clifton Park), 17:30; Abbi Raghubar (25, Voorheesville), 17:33; Purity Munene (36, Columbia, S.C.), 17:57; Anna Steinman (33, Springfield, Mass.), 17:58; Emily Taft (33, Albany), 17:58; Olivia Beltrani (29, Troy), 18:01.
Emily Burns (26, Slingerlands), 18:02; Diane Ryan (41, Ballston Spa), 18:03; Tricia Longo (33, Halfmoon), 18:10; Karen Bertasso Hughes (38, Selkirk), 18:14; Alycia Hart (17, Gansevoort), 18:19; Nicole Moslander (35, Schenectady), 18:20; Hayley Flemming (32, Ghent), 18:31; Lizzie Predmore (29, Ballston Spa), 18:33; Stephanie Popovitch (26, Medford), 18:50; Heidi Berglund (14, Gansevoort), 18:52.
Alyssa Connors (14, Saratoga Springs), 18:58; Jessica Charles (41, Oriskany), 18:59; Katherine Bannigan (16, Slingerlands), 19:03; Amanda Aussems (29, Slingerlands), 19:02; Kate Turner (16, Porter Corners), 19:09; Meghan Mortensen (37, Glenville), 19:08; Yue Tong Ang (14, Gansevoort), 19:10; Meg Champagne (25, Saratoga Springs), 19:11; Iley Centea (13, Gansevoort), 19:12; Cora Conley (13, Saratoga Springs), 19:12.
Meg Versteegen (44, Schenectady), 19:14; Amelia Kokernak (23, Schenectady), 19:16; Reagan Owen (12, Gansevoort), 19:25; Jazz Roberts (23, Latham), 19:26; Miranda Bona (32, North Adams, Mass.), 19:35; Katie Guilbo (26, Rensselaer), 19:41; Marta Dauphinee (45, Glenville), 19:41; Lisa Chase (37, Albany), 19:43; Margaret McMahon (56, New York), 19:46; Charlotte Kokernak (21, Schenectady), 19:51.