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Defending champion Rose-Anna Hoey expects another tough women’s race

Women runners share a special bond, as seen here with Rose-Anna Hoey, centre, celebrating her 2019 victory with fellow podium finishers Deon Breary, left, and Martina Olcheski-Bell, who was second. Breary, a former winner, is sitting out this year's race over a lack of preparation (Photograph by Lawrence Trott)

Ashley Couper’s recent prediction that Rose-Anna Hoey will be the one to beat in the women’s field was a compliment to the defending champion, but comes with a bit of added pressure, too.

Hoey won in 2019 when she led the women from St George’s to Bernard Park to add a second title to the one she won in 2013.. Now, in the absence of Deon Breary who was third last year, Hoey has previous winner, Couper, returning to boost the women’s field.

“I know that six-times champion Ashley Couper did say that she favoured me to win it but we really have no idea who is going to be better than the other person on the day because none of us have had the chance to show the effects of our training just yet,” Hoey said.

“It does put a bit of pressure on me, but I feel reassured by the fact that I have won it twice before, from the east and from the west. If I hadn’t won it before I think I would feel a little bit more pressure. But because I’ve won this race in the past I feel that’s off my back.

“There’s a saying among Bermuda road runners — it doesn’t matter what race you win, if you don’t win May 24, the Bermuda Day race, then you haven’t won anything at all. It’s the most prestigious road race in Bermuda and there’s always a big focus on this.”

Couper dethroned Hoey in 2014 as Hoey finished third as Estwanik claimed the first of three straight wins, including setting new record over the courses from Somerset and St George’s in 2014 and 2015 with times of 1:21.24 and 1:22.43.

“I’m taking it reasonably seriously,” Hoey said. “To be honest, I wouldn’t be shocked if Ashley beat me. I want to try to run the best time I can and if it gets me a win then it gets me a win.

“If somebody is way better than that — and we don’t know how people have been training — then it’s not much I can do about it. I’ll just put my best foot forward and hope for the best.”

Many admit that it is more challenging coming from the east than the west, with the inclines at Blue Hole Hill, Bay Corner to Claytown, Francis Patton School to Aubrey Road, Flatts Hill and the long incline from Christ Church in Devonshire to Fort Hill proving the ultimate challenge.

“Both ways are equally challenging, usually the case with the Bermuda Day Half-Marathon you just pick your poison,” the women’s champion said.

“We have a beautiful start in St George’s to get the legs going, then you’re really climbing all the way to Bermuda Broadcasting with constant hills. I think the hills are probably steeper from the west but longer from the east. That’s going to be a huge challenge.”

Hoey has been paying attention to the weather the last few days, which has clear skies in the forecast for Friday. “But then the humidity might be the challenge,” she stated.

“We needed it to be hotter and more humid a few weeks ago to have the chance to train in those temperatures,” she said. “But everybody is in the same situation.”

She relishes the Flatts Hill area where she gets an extra lift at the top of the hill.

“I live near the top of Flatts Hill so I tend to get a lot of support there,” she said. “It’s really nice, when people in the neighbourhood see me training they’re shouting out ’we’ll look out for you on Friday’.

“I don’t know them in person but see them out walking or jogging. There’s a lovely community there. We joked last time that Lamont [Marshall’s] family had Cedar Avenue as ‛Monty Avenue’, and they were calling Flatts Hill, ‛Rosie Hill’.

“The crowd in Bermuda are wonderful and I just hope everybody sensibly distances.”

Despite the competitive nature of the 112-year-old race, there is noticeably a special bond among the women competitors. “I think we all recognise the effort that we have to put in to be able to finish our training and partake in these races,” Hoey said.

“I think there is a collective support there, Martina [Olcheski-Bell] and I are really good friends and train together. I ride bikes with Ashley, we’re on the same cycling team.

“We all see each other quite regularly, and know how hard it is to get there and keep going and we try to encourage each other. Christine Dailey is a new mom and every time I see her it’s like, ‛you can do it’. We try to support each other.

“It goes around in circles. I remember Ashley gave me advice when I had my son, Matthew. And I know she’s probably passed on that same advice to Christine Dailey who had a little boy about seven months ago.

“It’s really nice to have that from each other and I think women tend to be quite good at that. There’s not much recognition for women in sports in general, but it is getting so much better. We all try to recognise each other’s achievements, and we keep each other going.”

For the first time, and because of Covid restrictions, runners will go off in waves at one minute intervals, with the top 20 male and top five women starting in the first group at 8.30am.

This year there will be no Heritage Day Junior Classic for the second straight year because of Covid restrictions. The two-mile race, which provides an exciting build-up to the half-marathon, was started in 1997.

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Published May 26, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated May 27, 2021 at 8:12 am)

Defending champion Rose-Anna Hoey expects another tough women’s race

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