Essex's Chris Zablocki Wins Hartford Marathon; New Haven's Tim Ritchie Sets Half Marathon Record

When a few of the lead runners at the Eversource Hartford Marathon took the first mile out at a too-fast pace, Chris Zablocki wasn't quite sure how the race would end up.

"They made me go in the pain box to win this one," he said. "They went under 5 minutes in the first mile. I've gone with it a couple times and it never turns out well. I went as slow as I could and still kept them in sight. It was a tough one."

But Zablocki, a 2006 Xavier High graduate from Essex, was patient and took the lead at Mile 19. One of the early leaders, Birhanu Dare Kemal of Ethiopia, went with him. Zablocki managed to shake him after a few more miles and won his first Hartford Marathon in 2:17:59 Saturday morning.

"I didn't know what kind of shape I was in," said Zablocki, 29, who set the world indoor marathon record (2:21:48) in March in New York City. "I just give it my best shot and don't think too much.

"It went better than I expected it to go. That usually doesn't happen."

Last year's winner, Brian Harvey of Cambridge, Mass., was second (2:19:13) and Jason Ayr of Brighton, Mass., was third (2:20:37). Kemal finished fourth (2:21).

Meseret Gebre Dekebo of Ethiopia won the women's race in 2:37:27, with Samantha Roecker of Ballston Lake, N.Y., finishing second (2:38:13) and last year's winner Liz Place-Ryan, who grew up in Farmington, third (2:44:02). Both Roecker and Place-Ryan qualified for the 2020 Olympic Trials, running under the "B" standard time of 2:45.

Tim Ritchie of New Haven broke the course record for the half marathon by almost a minute, finishing in 1:02:41. The old course record (1:03:38) was set by Benedict Akoi in 1999. Grace Kahura of Boulder, Colo., won the women's title for the second consecutive year (1:14:41), edging out runner-up Kaitlin Goodman of Providence by a second.

There were almost 8,000 finishers in all the races, including a marathon relay and a 5K, won by Nick Migani of Higganum in 15:40. Pascaline Jerotich of Kenya won the women's 5K (18:17).

It was a cloudy day with temperatures in the high 50s and a little humidity at the start of the 24th annual race.

Zablocki ran two marathons after the indoor record but didn't fare well in Boston and then tried to run one in Norway, but his hamstring started seizing up at Mile 18. A medical student who is doing a gastroenterology rotation at Danbury Hospital, he scaled back his training after the second marathon and then picked it up again in September. He hadn't run a hard 20-miler, though, and was concerned about his leg. But it was OK Saturday.

"I was thinking, 'Two miles to go, don't seize up,'" he said.

"Chris looked really strong," Harvey said. "He's one of the toughest runners I know.

"I was in second place in the first half. It was faster than I was trained for but I knew I had to keep [the leader] in sight. We got halfway in 67:40, which is about a minute faster than I've ever gone for the first half of a marathon. I felt good, considering. But around 16, I could tell the wheels were coming off. At 18, Chris passed me. He went with the guy who was ahead of me from the start. I kept second place in sight. I caught him around [Mile] 21. I think I did the best I could after going out that hard."

Dekebo went out hard, too, on the women's side.

"I have confidence because I was ready and I did my training," she said through an interpreter. It was her second marathon win.

"I didn't see the winner in the race at all," said Place-Ryan, 27, a 2008 Farmington High graduate who is now getting her doctorate in San Diego. "I didn't even know she was there until halfway. Then the turnaround, I saw she was minutes and minutes ahead."

But Place-Ryan was happy with a two-minute PR, as well as qualifying for the trials for the first time, considering she fell 30 seconds short of the qualifying time for the 2016 trials.

So was Roecker, who was emotional as she crossed the finish line. She ran a seven-minute personal best.

"I've been dreaming of getting this time for so long and I can't believe it finally happened," said Roecker, who is a graduate student in Philadelphia and turned 26 Sunday. It was her fifth marathon.

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