Earlier in his career, 23-year-old Mike Fout was a surprise winner at the prestigious Foot Locker Cross Country Nationals.
He can’t sneak up on anybody these days.
The former All-American at Florida State, who is now a member of the Nike-sponsored Stotan running team in Syracuse, cruised to victory in the 38th annual Gazette Stockade-athon Sunday in a blistering 45:48, a comfortable 47 seconds ahead of Josh Simpson, who drove eight hours from Morgantown, W.Va., to test out what he called a “unique” 15k course beginning and ending at Central Park.
Former Saratoga Springs High School standout Hannah Davidson, also a member of the Stotan team and making her race debut, edged former champion Laurel Leone to win the women’s division in 54:12.
The race drew a record number of entries, about 2,100, and there were a record 1,863 finishers, but a bomb scare almost cut the race short. Fortunately, police and race officials acted quickly to check out a suspicious bag with wires protruding from it. Spectators were steered away from the finish line until the bag was checked out, and there was some thought about shortening the race to avoid the spot where the bag was left near the finish line. Turns out it was left by one of the runners to store his belongings.
“The police took it seriously,” said race director Vince Juliano about the scare. “Everbody took all the precautions we could. In this day and age, people can’t leave their bags unattended like that.”
Fout turned in a dominating performance, clocking the first sub-46 minute performance in this race since 1994.
“I just ran a pretty good race with a nice tempo to it,” said Fout. “It falls in line with my training. It’s a strong transition to the higher distances I’m looking at, like the half-marathon.
“I just tried to stay focused on my pace, but the second half of the race got a lot tougher,” he said. “The hills were tough.”
By the time Fout reached the intersection of Nott Street and Seward Place, he was already 16 seconds ahead of Simpson, but he still had some work to do.
“It’s a long race,” he said. “I knew the second half of the race was where it got real challenging. I wanted to go out hard and use that as an advantage. You really have to focus on the second half. I had a hard effort today, but I’ll take it in stride as a training tool for the future.”
Fout said he eventually lost track of Simpson about the two-mile mark.
“It was a pretty even pace,” he said. “I knew that around the 10k mark it really tested you. I tried to run even through the first two 5ks as part of the plan.
“We [he and Simpson] were there at the mile together. I didn’t know about the two-mile, but after the first mile, I kind of took control, and I didn’t really feel him as close. But it was a great race for him. He’s a pretty accomplished runner himself, and it was nice to have somebody to go out with.”
Fout, a native of LaPorte, Ind., has built a tremendous resume ever since he upset the field at the Foot Locker nationals in high school. He helped Florida State to a runner-up performance in the 2012 outdoor national championship meet, and finished fourth in the 10,000-meters at the NCAA outdoors national championship meet back in June.
He recently moved to New York to join the Stotan team.
“I just got here at the end of the summer. We loaded up a huge box truck from Florida, and we drove up from Tallahasee with my old roommate from Florida. There’s been a lot of changes coming out of college and getting used to the new area. But John Aris, my coach, was the reason I came here.”
Although Simpson, 29, didn’t provide the challenge to Fout that he was hoping for, the former baseball standout enjoyed his trip to New York from West Virginia.
“Definitely worth it — for sure,” said Simpson, who won the Gate River 15k National Championship in March and was also sixth at the Papa John’s 10-miler in April.
“This is such a diverse course. I really like the park, the roads around Schenectady and even racing through the cemetary. That’s a heck of a hill late in the race.”
“This was a test to see what kind of shape I’m in. It’s just a fantastic race. I love New York. When I told my friends down in West Virginia that I was going to race in New York, they thought I was going to New York City. When I told them it was near Albany, they didn’t have any idea of what I was talking about, but upstate New York is a great place. I once ran in a high school invitational in Rochester.
“I’m pretty happy with the time I ran, but I just wish I gave Mike a little more competition,” he said.
Sam Morse, 30, of Camden finished third for the second consecutive year in 47:36, while Patrick Geoghegan, 23, the two-time defending Firecracker four-mile champion from Syracuse, was fourth in 48:08. Former Amsterdam High School standout and current assistant coach Jaime Julia, 29, (48:22) finished fifth.