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Challenge winners have lofty long-term goals

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Challenge winners have lofty long-term goals

Let’s face it, there are runners in Thursday’s CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge who will look forward
Challenge winners have lofty long-term goals
Kiernan O'Connor, running for Tyler Technologies, wins Thursday's CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge at the Empire State Plaza in Albany.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
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Let’s face it, there are runners in Thursday’s CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge who will look forward to getting back to a routine that includes the office donut cart today.

And that’s OK.

The race is as much an exercise in bonding among co-workers as it is anything else.

The respective men’s and women’s winners, however, are aiming a little higher than that.

Kieran O’Connor, 28, won the men’s race in 17:02, and Karen Bertasso, 30, was the first woman across the finish line, in 20:22.

They’re both from Scotia, but also have this in common: the long-term goal for each is to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

They’ll have to shave a few more minutes off their personal best times, but in the meantime, the 3.5-mile Workforce Team Challenge provided an opportunity to fold a short race into their marathon training.

Bertasso is coming off a 2:48 at the London Marathon on April 22 in which she was the first American finisher and 37th overall.

O’Connor is pointing toward the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn., on June 20 and, based on his 65-minute half marathon PR, believes he’ll be in good position to take a swing at the sub-2:18 he needs to make the Trials standard.

“It’s going to be close,” he said. “I’m in great shape. But the marathon isn’t just about what kind of shape you’re in. There are a million other things, and some of them are in your control, and some of them are beyond your control. It has to just all come together on one day. And you only get that one shot.”

While Bertasso is in a recovery stage, O’Connor, a Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School and University of Notre Dame graduate, is about ready to peak.

With that in mind, he tore away from the record Workforce Team Challenge field up the Madison Avenue hill to gain some separation, and it was the right move.

He finished 19 seconds ahead of runner-up Craig Coon and another 21 seconds ahead of Alexander Benway.

“I’m in marathon training right now, so I wanted to use my strength,” O’Connor said. “I didn’t want to turn this into a half-mile sprint at the end, so I went out really aggressively on the uphill.

“Even with the uphill, I came through the mile in about 4:44 and had a pretty good gap at that point. Then I just settled in and maintained the gap through the finish.”

O’Connor studied Arabic and Political Science at Notre Dame and received his Master’s in Near Eastern Studies from New York University in 2012. He recently returned from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he managed a school bus routing project for the Albany division of the software company Tyler Technologies.

Bertasso, a Scotia-Glenville High School and Union College graduate, employed the same attacking strategy on the Workforce Team Challenge as did O’Connor, for a different reason.

“I just came off a marathon, so I had no idea,” she said. “I knew my legs were going to hurt. So I went out pretty hard and tried to hold it through the park, because it’s pretty tough on the hills out there.”

A former soccer and track and field athlete at Union who now works as a physican assistant at Albany Medical Center, Bertasso finished 13 seconds ahead of Nicole Soblosky (20:35) and another six seconds ahead of Erin Corcoran (20:43).

She plans to shoot for her Olympic Trials standard of 2:42 in the fall, perhaps at the Hartford Marathon, where she ran 2:45 last year.

“This is definitely a good starting point before building back up,” she said.

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