By Mike MacAdam
SCHENECTADY — The streets belonged to Lou Serafini on Sunday.
Facing a deep field of strong, young runners from various corners of New England, the former Niskayuna High School star showed everyone the way around his old neighborhood to win the 41st annual MVP Health Care Stockade-athon 15k.
Not only did the 25-year-old Serafini claim ownership of his first Stockade-athon, but he did so in a sharp time of 45:23 in the third year since the course was altered to a faster configuration.
The Boston College graduate emerged from what was a tight pack of four to outduel former University of North Carolina runner and Connecticut native John Raneri, who flew in from Flagstaff, Ariz. for the race, by seven seconds.
“I really wanted to win this race because I grew up running it in high school just for fun,” Serafini said. “This is only the second time I’ve [seriously] raced it, but it’s always been one that I’ve really aspired to win. It definitely helped knowing the course.”
Two years ago, Serafini finished fifth after clipping heels and suffering a nice patch of road rash, then he missed the Stockade-athon last year because of a wedding.
He showed up on Sunday with not only a strong desire to win, but also an excellent level of fitness after having recovered from a personal-record 2:17:52 for second place in the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon in October and a 30:23 for fifth at the USATF New England 10k Cross Country Championships in Boston last weekend.
He needed all of that, and more, to get away from what was one of the deepest elite men’s fields in the history of the Stockade-athon.
Armed with course knowledge, Serafini mapped out a plan to make his move late, when the race twists through Vale Cemetery in the ninth and final mile. He shook off Raneri just enough that it was impossible for his closest competitor to make up ground once they hit the long downhill finish on Franklin Street to City Hall.
“I knew every single tangent, I knew every single turn and I had plenty of people out there cheering for me,” Serafini said. “Those three things combined worked to my advantage, especially at the end.
“I made my final move before the cemetery, because I knew going in, it’s really winding and there’s a lot of turns. I felt it would be tough to separate once we were in there.”
“He put a pretty big gap on me at maybe eight miles, and I tried to make it up, but in the cemetery, I don’t really know the course and it was winding this way and winding that way,” Raneri said.
“I thought I was making up some ground, and then we got on that really steep downhill in the park, I thought I could make up more, but he had too much on me. It was an excellent performance by him and a fun race.”
Dan Lennon, a recently graduated member of Syracuse University’s first men’s cross country national championship team in 64 years last fall, took it upon himself to force the issue at the start.
He zipped through the first mile in 4:39, but by the time the leaders reached 5k on the corner of Parkwood Boulevard and Waverly Place, he was just another face in the pack of four that included Serafini, Raneri and Jake Sienko from Rhode Island.
Which of these guys is not like the other?
It was Lennon, a fresh-faced 22-year-old who was racing longer than 10k for just the second time and who had rolled the dice at the start.
His three counterparts, meanwhile, are interchangeable in the half marathon, each having posted a sub-1:05, which is fast enough to get you qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
Lennon did well to hang on for fourth in 46:20, but the other three each cracked 46 minutes. Sienko finished third in 45:50.
“I kind of paid the price in the latter half of the race,” Lennon said. “It was worth it to get out there and be aggressive and learn a little bit more about myself as a racer. Building toughness, I guess.
“I didn’t come away with the win, which is disheartening a bit, but fourth place in a really good field was fairly nice to see. I think this is the deepest field this race has ever had.”
“He was just pushing,” Serafini said. “He was up front with his foot on the gas pedal. Those first couple miles are uphill . . . not easy.
“For the first 10k or so, I tried to just hang back. I knew I knew the course better than everyone else, so I tried to run the tangents, stay tucked in, stay out of trouble and let the race unfold.”
“Lou made a joke like, ‘Oh, only the marathoners are left,’ ” Raneri said. “He was also extremely helpful, because he knew the course, so he was telling us, ‘There’s a sharp turn here,’ and I was thinking he must be feeling pretty good if he’s giving us directions.”
The top three left Lennon at five miles, and Sienko dropped back a bit at about 10k.
As generous as Serafini was with information during the race, his pre-race planning paid off, and he timed his move perfectly to gain just enough separation from Raneri.
Finally, the Stockade-athon, which he ran in high school, like many Section II distance stars, as a fun, traditional leg-stretcher on the day after the state meet, was his.
“I’m just glad I had another gear at the end to take it,” Serafini said. “It could’ve gone to any one of us, to be honest. They’re all great runners.
“I made a couple of looks back when we made the turn out of the cemetery, and John was still right there. So I was thankful that I had some nice downhill momentum to finish.”