Henry O'Connell, competing for only the third time in eight months and at a distance he prefers not to run, nevertheless won the second annual Home Town Run through the streets of Washington yesterday.
The former all-America distance runner from tiny Wabash (Ind.) College took an early lead and easily captured the Mayor's Cup in 45:48, bettering the 47:55 recorded by Wil Albers last year.
"I've never run a 15K (9.3 miles) race because I don't like them," said O'Connell, a graduate student at Maryland. "I'm really surprised I won this race. I hadn't run for awhile before entering two shorter races the last three weeks. I won both of those, so I decided to try this one.
"I knew there were some good runners entered and I didn't know what to expect. I don't go into any race looking to beat a person, I just try to do the best I can. Winning wasn't that important and I wanted to cross the line with my (Washington Running Club) teammate, Tim Gavin."
Throughout the race, Gavin ran just behind O'Connell, who admitted he slowed at times because he didn't want to run alone. With just under a mile left, O'Connell looked back, saw Tom Kelley (who finished third) closing and said he told Gavin, "We have to kick this thing in."
"Tim told me he didn't have it, so I moved out a little bit," O'Connell said. "I wouldn't have minded sharing honors with Tim because we're teammates, but I wasn't going to share with Kelley. This was a good, competitive field so I have to be happy with the race."
Gavin finished second in 45:50, 12 yards behind O'Connell. Kelley was clocked in 46:04, about 20 yards behind Gavin.
Mary Ellen Williams, from Darnestown, Md., was the top woman finisher, completing the course in 57:11.
"My mother is in serious condition in the hospital and I told her I would win this race for her," said Williams. "It hurt at times, but not as much as my mother is hurting. I was second here last year, but I wanted to win so badly. Jennifer (Rood, who finished second in 57:29) pushed me all the way. It was a good race for me."
Despite a slight drizzle at times, the first 10 men finishers tied or bettered last year's time. Albers, the race favorite, said he wasn't in the best of shape, but still managed to finish seventh in 47:32.
"I was called the race favorite because I won last year," Albers said. "I know these runners and I know what they can do. I didn't figure I'd win. I ran better than I thought, but I was never in it. I have to be satisfied because I ran faster this time than I did last year."
More than 1,500 runners, race walkers and wheelchair participants started in the race, sponsored by the Washington Urban League. While the throng jogged through downtown Washington, Adams Morgan and Capitol Hill, hundreds of spectators waited at the finish line near the District Building.
While O'Connell sprinted the final 300 yards, wheelchair racer Ken Archer of Bowie was being applauded as he crossed the line in 48:40 to win that competition.
"Congratulations," O'Connell told Archer, who had a five-minute head start on the field. "I was chasing you as hard as I could. You did a good job."