SCHENECTADY -- Sean O'Connor, an aeronautical engineering major who graduated from RPI this spring, designs jet engines for a living.
He generated just enough extra thrust in Central Park to get away from John Busque and Daniel Lennon to win the 44th annual MVP Health Care Stockade-athon 15k on Sunday.
After breaking formation with Busque and Lennon as they got to the loop around Iroquois Lake about 6 1/2 miles into the 9.3-mile race, O'Connor (46:01) just missed becoming the third winner to finish in under 46 minutes in the last 24 years.
UAlbany graduate student Cara Sherman took the women's race in 54:24, completing an interesting and winning seven-day stretch for her family, as her sister Kate won the Section II Class B championship last Monday, the first-ever cross country sectional champ for Mohonasen High School.
Although Cara Sherman ran the Stockade-athon years ago when she was attending Mohonasen, the race distance was uncharted territory for her, based on her current training; for O'Connor, the course layout was the biggest mystery.
A walk-on runner at RPI who grew up in Stamford, near Oneonta, O'Connor walked on to the Stockade-athon starting line and eventually outdueled Busque and Lennon, a former Syracuse University runner who had said last week that he was trying to beat the fastest time (44:39) in Stockade-athon history.
"It's pretty big to win this," O'Connor said. "I feel like I've come a long way since my college days. This kind of makes a name for myself at the sub-elite level.
"I'd rather just show up and run. I don't want to overthink it. I don't care what the course is, I'm going to run it no matter what, right?"
"I guess I'm eating my own words," Lennon said, laughing after having finished third in 46:39. Busque (46:11) was 10 seconds behind O'Connor in second.
O'Connor, Busque and Lennon formed a tight triangle through the first 10k.
The 22-year-old O'Connor, who lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, got in front of a short single-file in the early stages of Central Park, then Lennon moved into the lead to see what would happen.
O'Connor and Busque still had plenty in reserve, and Lennon's lead was short-lived.
By the time they reached the final hill down Franklin Street toward the finish line, Busque and Lennon were content to hold position. O'Connor and Busque, a former University of Hartford runner, were both representing Hartbeat Track Club of Hartford.
"I talked to some people I knew, and they said it was a hard course, a hilly course," O'Connor said. "So I tried to stay conservative in the beginning and open it up at the end.
"I just wanted to be in the 46's, 46:30, I hit that, so I was happy. The hills got me. I wasn't really expecting it to be as hilly as it was. I haven't run hills in a while, but it was good."
"The last two miles it seemed like he was getting a little bit further away," said Busque, who is still working his way back from a sports hernia. "I tried to catch him with about a mile to go, but I realized it was kind of out of reach, so I did damage control just to make sure Lennon didn't sneak up behind me. I know he's got some speed. The last half-mile, instead of trying to catch him [O'Connor], I was just making sure I didn't get caught."
"Around 4 to 6, I was think, 'OK, now I'm starting to realize how not fit I am,' " Lennon said. "And I was like, just hold on for dear life.
"Sub-45? I realized that wasn't going to happen at 5k. Then around 10k, I was like, 'Maybe not even 46 here.' Then it was, let's just see what I can do today. I'm a competitor, so I wanted to compete with myself for the most part when I got dropped a little bit. On that big hill at the end, I was thinking I could try to kick it in a bit, but I already got dropped today, I've got to get better, so I pushed and pushed and took it as some motivation to get better."
Sherman watched her sister win the Section II Class B championship last week in Saratoga Spa State Park, then jumped into the Stockade-athon with a solid game plan that she may not have executed to perfection, but close enough.
She was through 5k in 18:20, ran the second 5k in 18:17 and the third in 17:47.
"I wanted to take it out a little bit conservatively. I don't know if I did," she said with a chuckle. "I kind of went harder than I thought I would. So, yeah, I was a little bit nervous about the distance, but I've been putting in a ton of miles, so I knew I had a good base.
"I've been training more for a 5k, so I wasn't sure how I would do at this distance. But I'm pretty happy. I'm pleasantly surprised."
Sherman used the long hill up Nott Street to gain separation from Myers and Hughes, who were 10-12 seconds behind.
She pretty much put the race away in the second 5k, when Myers and Hughes each ran 18:57 splits.
"I started making a bit of a gap around mile 2, where that big uphill is," Sherman said. "I felt really strong, so I decided to go for it on the uphill. After that, I just tried to keep a hard pace and stay steady until the end. The last 5k is mostly downhill, which was nice, so I used that to my advantage.
"It's pretty cool. I ran this probably nine or 10 years ago when I was in high school, maybe. So it was cool to come back. I know the area well, so it was fun, it was a fun race."
Sherman, a math and biology double major as a UAlbany undergrad, is studying conservation and biodiversity there.
She still has a spring season of eligibility with the Great Danes.
Unfortunately for her high school alma mater, despite her sister's victory last week, the Mighty Warriors finished second to Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in the team standings.
"Oh, my god, I'm so proud of them," Cara Sherman said. "I was there watching my sister. I was very, very proud of them. They've come a long way."
Full results from Albany Running Exchange Event Production are here.