Five weeks ago, Maegan Krifchin was dipping her toe in the Black Sea.
On Sunday, she practically tiptoed around Iroquois Lake.
The 24-year-old from Long Island, now running with the Syracuse-based Stotan Racing team, nearly snuck up on Lori Hewig’s 19-year-old record, but settled for the second-fastest women’s time in the 37-year history of the Gazette Stockade-athon 15k.
On the heels of some breakout performances, including the top American finish at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Kavarna, Bulgaria, Krifchin cruised home in 51:59, 25 seconds off the record set by Hewig in 1993.
Missing the record did nothing to diminish the promise Krifchin exudes.
On the contrary, the fact that she threatened the record during a period when she and her teammates have backed off speed training only reinforces the belief by many that her burgeoning distance career has the hallmarks of a future Olympic marathoner for Team USA.
“It [Hewig’s record] was in the back of my mind,” she said. “I was feeling decent, and I wasn’t quite sure of my pace, if I was on it or not. Then when I heard my nine-mile split, I thought, ‘Oof, I’m not going to get it.’ I still pushed it in and tried to get a nice finish and a nice time.”
Krifchin, a former middle distance runner at Syracuse University, joined the Stotan Racing team while attending graduate school at Ithaca College and will make her marathon career debut next year, most likely at New York or Chicago.
She has skyrocketed up the ranks of half marathoners in the U.S., posting a 1:10:56 to finish second at the U.S. Championships in Duluth, Minn., on June 16, and testing the deep international waters at the worlds in Bulgaria on Oct. 6.
She ran a 1:12:29 for 13th overall, finishing ahead of such U.S. teammates as Shalane Flanagan, the 2008 10k Olympic bronze medalist and 2010 New York City Marathon runner-up.
Krifchin has reached the point where she tags along with the men on her Stotan Racing team during training runs, such as Fred Joslyn, the 2006 Stockade-athon champion who was second to Christian Thompson on Sunday.
“She can do a lot of workouts, basically, at the tail end of our guys, which is fantastic, because there are no women who can keep up with her, anyway,” Joslyn said. “Some people are like, isn’t it weird for you having a woman there?
“But I’m honored to train with somebody who can go and compete at world championships. It doesn’t matter that she’s a woman. She’s faster than everybody else, so it doesn’t matter.”
In fact, Krifchin latched on to a group of men near the front of the field on Sunday, and they stayed in lockstep for much of the race.
Defending champion Jodie Robertson of Melville came across the finish in second, a little over three minutes after Krifchin had arrived.
Sara Dunham, who won the
Mohawk Hudson River Marathon last year, was third in 55:57.
“I closed in on a group of guys and kind of stuck with them the whole way through,” Krifchin said. “I felt like they were running my pace and my rhythm, and they were a good pack. I sat in, tucked in and we all worked together without actually verbalizing it.
“I felt pretty good. It was a lot of rolling downhills, so that was nice. Bunch of turns, though. By five miles, it was a little tough there, I was feeling the hills. The guys were a little stronger than me, but I closed back the gap. I started cruising around that loop toward the finish, and then around the pond.”
Krifchin knew the record wasn’t going to fall when she got through nine miles in about 50:15.
Still, she said the loop around Iroquois Lake to the finish was invigorating.
“I think some people are familiar with our team, so some people were cheering for Stotan and even knew who I was,” she said. “That was fun and unexpected, and just makes it more fun and exciting and motivates you.”
“It’s amazing that the race is drawing people of that caliber,” said Dana Bush (nee Ostrander), who was the fourth woman in 56:31. “I think they do a great job organizing it. [Race director] Vince [Juliano] accommodates everyone, and it’s a great thing for Schenectady.”
The Stockade-athon provided Krifchin and the Stotan runners a chance to get some competition during what will be about five months of a light racing schedule as they build up foundational strength without devoting time to speed work, which will wait until the spring.
Krifchin’s performance at the worlds indicates that she’s on a steady track to a 2016 Olympic berth; the Stockade-athon gave everyone a glimpse as she races in that direction.
“Bulgaria was a great experience. It’s very rural, but I got to see the Black Sea,” she said. “Our hotel was right there, so we took a walk down there and stepped in the water and collected some seashells, which I brought back for my teammates
“It’s [Olympics] definitely a goal of mine. I want to be there. That’s any athlete’s goal to do. It’s on my mind, that’s something we’ll be working for, and I’ll try my best to do it.”