6:15 PM EST, November 22, 2012
— Thousands of bystanders stood there curbside, yelling and holding up signs and cups of ale and playing electric guitars. In other words, they were doing what they do every Thanksgiving at the Manchester Road Race.
Except for one imbecile, they were having a good, clean blast. And this time those thousands of bystanders also had a hometown boy to cheer on among the elite runners.
"Every 100 meters someone was shouting, 'Go Donnie! Go Donn!'" Donn Cabral said after finishing third behind Aaron Braun and Haron Lagat in the wickedly fast 76th running of the annual 4.748-mile race. "Only my last name was printed on my bib. I'm not wearing a Glastonbury jersey. But everyone knew me.
"I passed one of those ZAP [Fitness] guys and he says, 'You're the hometown favorite! Go get 'em! Go make me proud.' It was like 4 miles into the race. It was something special."
Such is the power of the five rings Cabral has tattooed on the back of his shoulder. When he qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in late June as an NCAA champion, he was well known in Glastonbury and in elite-running circles. By the time he took eighth in the 3000-meter steeplechase at the London Games, Cabral was something more. He was our guy.
"It was," Cabral said, "a whole different level of awareness today."
For Cabral, who grew up one town over and a few minutes away, it is more than the Manchester Road Race. It is the Down-The-Road-From-My-House Race.
"I wanted to win this year," said Cabral, at 22, the youngest among the top 20 finishers. "And I'm going to go for it next year and the year after that. Maybe with a little more aggressive of a race plan it would have happened today.
"I started running this race when I was 6 or 7. I don't think I registered. I just showed up and ran the course. I think it was the first distance running event I ever did. I've probably done it eight times, only registered five times."
Just a guess, Donn, but race organizers will probably let you slide.
Cabral remembers when he was young his mom put him back in the pack so he wouldn't be discouraged by runners buzzing past him. The young guy had a question: "How am I supposed to win from back here?"
He still hadn't answered that question after turning in a 21:33 that would have tied the winning time last year by Brian Olinger. With terrific conditions, Braun took an early lead in his first Manchester, set a withering pace and tied the race record of 21:19 that has stood since 1995.
"My race plan was 21:30, [which] is in contention to win most years," said Cabral, who finished sixth with much less fanfare in 2011. "My coach [Peter Oviatt] told me my workouts indicated I could. I did everything I thought I needed to do."
Lagat, the free-spirited Kenyan, and Cabral, the thoughtful, precise Princeton graduate, are buddies. They have traded beating each other in races this year. Cabral teased him for saying he wouldn't be in very good shape for Manchester. Lagat ran 21:31.
"I only met Aaron [Wednesday] at the spaghetti dinner," Cabral said. "He just blew us all away. If I want to win next year, I've got to make sure I have a little bit more training under my belt and I'm ready to cover moves on the hill."
At the top of the hill near the midpoint of the race, Cabral found himself between 10th and 12th. He would reel in probably eight runners, including four in the final mile.
"I just couldn't close in on Aaron and Haron," Cabral said. "I want to talk to my coach about staying on the leader, staying with the pack up the hill. I'm great at downhills, but every year people put down on me on the uphill.
"I went out more aggressively than I expected. My second mile was a little slower. I was still way off the front. Maybe I just need to get out really hard and run the rest of the race dealing with the hurt. Take a little more risk."
A half a mile into the race a bystander, with a blood-level alcohol higher than his IQ, jumped onto the course, brushed Cabral's shoulder and ran to the lead for 150 yards before oxygen debt claimed his sorry butt.
"Aside from that one guy at the bar who almost knocked me over everybody was amazing," Cabral said. "He didn't mess up my race. Worse things have happened. I've been punched in races, spat on, had things thrown at me. If that early in the race, you've got this testosterone-raging attitude where something like that will set you off, you're not going to make it 5 miles. You've got to be in sort of a Zen state."
After the Olympics, Cabral went into a much-needed state of mental relaxation. He ran some days and not others. He ate what he wanted. He slept as long as he wanted. Then one day, he got in his car and drove across country.
One of Cabral's coaches at Glastonbury, Oviatt moved to Bellingham, Wash., after Cabral's junior year. They remained in contact.
"He has read every workout I've ever done in 8 1/2 years," Cabral said. "I was considering one of the elite groups in Portland or training centers. I told Peter I'd like to run with him first and foremost."
Cabral arrived in Bellingham on Oct. 7 and began running Oct. 8. The first week he did 111 miles. Six weeks later, he was home for his only race of the fall. He will resume training in Bellingham next week for the indoor season. Under contract with Nike, running is his full-time job.
"I'm extremely fortunate," Cabral said.
And judging by people walking into the middle of his interview to wish him well, extremely popular. Kidded he was the mayor of Manchester, Cabral answered, "I met the mayor [Leo Diana] yesterday."
"A lot of people from town asked me what my next race was and I said Manchester," Cabral said. "They're like that'll be a piece of cake after the Olympics. I don't think people who aren't exposed to the elite running world realize how good these guys are."
Asked where his conditioning was on a scale of 1 to 10, Cabral answered 5 or 6.
"No excuse," he said, "a lot of the people in the race at this point in the season would say something similar. I was ready. I focused more on it than if I went to Minneapolis to race. I have a little something to prove here."
For the rest of this day all he had to prove were some increased domestic skills. Cabral planned to hang with friends who arrived from around the country to run the race. Some stayed at the family home. He was psyched to spend time with his brother and sister and his mom and dad.
"There'll be a big feast," Cabral said. "On Thanksgiving, we all do different parts. I've done mashed potatoes for a few years, but now that I have a college degree I might work on something a little more difficult."
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