By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2016 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

BOSTON (10-Oct) — Emily Sisson won her first U.S. road racing national title on a crystal clear day here at the 40th annual Tufts Health Plan 10-K for Women, serving as the U.S. 10-K Championships. The 24-year-old Providence resident kept her head down and found herself all alone by the second mile, yet would not let up until breaking the tape in a personal best of 31:47.

PHOTO: Emily Sisson on her way to victory at the 2016 Tufts Health Plan 10-K for Women (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)
PHOTO: Emily Sisson on her way to victory at the 2016 Tufts Health Plan 10-K for Women (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)

“I’m really, really happy to have my first title. It’s so exciting!” said Sisson, steps from the finish line.

Leaving no question as to who would be the champion today, Sisson promptly took the lead from the gun and pressed the pace. Sisson knew the flat course well, having run in the wake of training partner Molly Huddle when Huddle established the 31:20.4 event record last Columbus Day. With no Huddle to chase this time around, Sisson wanted to see what she could do from the gun.

Like Huddle, Sisson looked like a metronome from the opening mile (5:02). Crossing the famed Massachusetts Avenue Bridge over the Charles River, a strong headwind hit Sisson full force. While Northern Arizona Elite’s Rochelle Kanuho and the B.A.A.’s Sarah Pagano stuck with Sisson early, only Pagano remained alongside when they reached the northern banks of the Charles.

Eyes glued on the pavement ahead, Sisson’s tempo proved to be just a tad strong for Pagano’s liking. By two miles, Pagano had five steps on the Bostonian, and the gap would steadily grow by 5-K (15:49).

“She was really strong the whole time and consistent. I tried to stay with her but I knew to stay a bit conservative to save a little bit for the end,” said Pagano.

Though Sisson didn’t have much experience leading a U.S. championships race, she felt comfortable with the roads all to herself. Referencing knowledge gained from her 2015 runner-up showing, Sisson raced as if she’d been a seasoned veteran. Her mindset was buffered by words of encouragement from coach Ray Treacy prior to the race.

“This year I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to be leading it, I’m not afraid’. I was excited. I wanted to run my race and make it a strong solid pace from the start,” she described. “I remember Ray saying before the race that if you find you have a gap, don’t panic and don’t feel like you need to keep pushing. Just keep running strong and be confident, be comfortable and don’t go over the edge. That’s what I tried to do.”

Sisson’s gap was more than 20 seconds by halfway and would only continue to grow on the return run towards Boston Common. Sisson could have taken a moment to savor the glistening city skyline had she wanted; after mile five (reached in 25:32) her lead was greater than a full city block.

Sisson cruised through the tape in 31:47, raising her hands in celebration before a wreath of olive leaves was placed atop her head. The wreath quickly was blown off by a gusty wind, the only hiccup to Sisson’s day.

Sisson hopes today’s victory is just a precursor to a busy fall racing season that includes the EQT Pittsburgh 10 Miler on November 6 and the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving Day in Connecticut.

“Running from the front was different but I just kept telling myself it’s a good opportunity and its good practice to keep challenging myself. I’m glad it went well!” Sisson said. For her efforts, Sisson earned $7650. She plans to celebrate with her father Mark and boyfriend Shane Quinn, both of whom were in town to support her.

“I really wanted the title. I hadn’t got one yet, and that was motivating me so much. It’s really nice to have one, I’m very happy,” she said. Later she’d add “I’m just really motivated to keep improving on the roads. I love running road races and I’ll be doing plenty of that.”

Sisson gave credit to both Huddle and New Zealand’s Kim Smith, both training partners who have taken her under their wing and helped ease the transition into professional running. Smith wound up finishing seventh in 33:17.

Forty-four seconds behind Sisson was Pagano, her time of 32:31 a new personal best. Pagano took pride in her highest finish ever at a U.S. Championships, especially considering it came at home in Boston. Her finish also helped the B.A.A. secure the national team title for the third straight year. The B.A.A. (made up of Pagano, Jen Rhines [8th/33:30], and Margo Malone [26th/35:46]) defeated the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project,1:41:47 to 1:42:56.

“I was just trying to finish as high as I could,” Pagano said. Reflecting on the year as a whole –one that’s been a breakthrough with PB’s at 5000m, 10,000m, 15-K and in the half-marathon– Pagano was motivated. “I think I’ve made some progress forward and I just want to keep that momentum, try to be a competitor in these races, get top three. I’m really happy I was able to do that today.”

Pagano and her B.A.A. teammates will now travel to Mammoth Lakes, Calif., for a training camp at high altitude led by coach Terrence Mahon.

Placing third, and running in the open division, was Kenya’s Monicah Ngige in 32:36, followed by Lauren Paquette in 32:52. Becky Wade out-sprinted Lindsey Scherf for fifth, each timing 33:03. Scherf pulled off a rare USA Championships double, having placed eighth at the USA 10 Mile Championships yesterday.

The Tufts Health Plan 10-K was the final race of the 2016 USATF Running Circuit.