Exclusive Interview: New Bedford’s USATF-NE Champions
An update on our USATF-NE Grand Prix Road Racing series is coming soon. In the meantime, we caught up with dissertation or thesis the USATF-NE winners of our most recent Grand Prix race, the New Bedford Half Marathon: Ruben Sanca of the Whirlaway Racing Team and Andrea Walkonen, currently unattached.
Hear what they had to say about their latest wins, current training and what the future holds for each in the world of racing.
Strategy for New Bedford
For Andrea, the approach going into the race was just to relax through the first seven miles and really start to grind it out the
last six or so. “I felt really good in the first few miles, despite the faster than goal pace my coach and I had thought about, so I went with it and felt good the whole way through,” she reported. While the race went out fast, and the strong winds blew, Andrea still managed to demolish her goal of 1:17 with an impressive 1:13.12! Her coach’s advice to trust her training certainly proved to be successful.
In the men’s field, Ruben was hoping to run “a respectable race,” he said, knowing he was much fitter than he was at the previous Grand Prix race, the Jones 10 miler. “I tried to remain as patient as possible in the opening miles” Ruben recalled, “then float the quick middle miles and really make my move when we encountered the head winds at the beach.” Fortunately, he was able to pull away from the lead pack and execute his race strategy as planned, coming in first at 1:05:52.
Both athletes have their eyes set on the Boston Marathon. Andrea’s training has consisted of many hard and long workouts/runs with a focus on being smart about recovery. Emphasizing the quality of her long runs and hard workouts, she said “the mileage at the end of the week is just a number after all.”
For Ruben, he was skeptical about increasing training load and intensity following his knee surgery, but is now at a point where he’s confident enough to start doing the type of training the marathon demands – which for him includes everything from high mileage, long tempos, hills, hurdle mobility and weight training. “I feel that I have a lot of unfinished business in the marathon,” Ruben said. Come race day, he’ll be looking to shave 43 seconds off of his personal best to hit the Olympic “B” standard of 2:18:00, in hopes of aiding his selection to the Cape Verdean Olympic Team. Besides the marathon, Ruben anticipates running other races here or there “to spice things up.”
While Ruben proudly sports the Whirlaway singlet, Andrea is flying solo for the time being. “I actually hadn’t given it much thought up to this point and am not thinking about anything but Boston right now,” she said, noting that she trusts her coach and will ultimately do whatever is best for her. If that ends up being training with a group, then that’s what she’ll do. But no foreseeable changes for the near future are planned.
Ruben on the other hand, claims the camaraderie and leadership seen in a team environment appeals to him. With many of his former UMass Lowell teammates on the Whirlaway team, it made it an easy transition for him. “Team owner Dave Kazanjian and team manager Chris Spinney have developed a very welcoming environment,” he said. “Having done most of my training in the Merrimack Valley, I really look up to the knowledge and wisdom from guys like Paul Hammond, Craig Fram, Reno Stirrat, Mike Cooney and many others.” He also called out the annual team party, where George, the team chef, puts on a great display!
Spotting Them on the Race Course
On Marathon Monday, we’ll be watching from the sidelines for both Andrea and Ruben, and hope to spot them at upcoming Grand Prix races as well. Ruben in particular – the current leader in the men’s open Grand Prix – commended the series, noting that it provides athletes and teams solid, local competition, while also being able to count on great, organized races “because of USATF-NE’s stamp of approval.”