Seventh heaven for triumphant Chris Estwanik
Chris Estwanik made a winning return to the Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby, claiming a seventh title when he led home the field from St George’s to Bernard Park in a time of 1hr 10min 28sec.
Estwanik, who last competed in 2015 when he picked up his sixth win, shrugged off the challenge of Lamont Marshall yesterday to finish 2½ minutes ahead of the defending champion, who clocked 1:13:01.
Sammy Degraff was third for the second straight time, finishing in 1:16:10, as Seamus Fearon (1:16:42) and Sean Trott (1:17:23) completed the top five in hot and humid conditions.
“I’m very grateful to be just lining up to start out, regardless of victory or not,” said the 41-year-old Estwanik, who clocked a winning time of 1:07:46 on the same course six years ago.
“My strategy was to run as hard as I could, at a pace that I knew would feel comfortable. I’ve been doing more speed and less of the longer-distance stuff, so I knew the last couple of miles were going to jump out on me.
“I wanted the first couple of miles to feel comfortable so I tried to run within myself, knowing it was going to hurt in the back half of the race. And it did; mile nine to ten was the toughest part, but fortunately things held together and the crowds were outrageously amazing in the best of ways.”
Estwanik waited at the finish line to applaud Marshall for his effort, after the dethroned champion and Degraff pushed him in the opening miles. “He’s such a competitor, a multiple-time champion, and he knows this race well,” Estwanik said of Marshall.
“As he said leading up to the race, and I agree with him, all of us were a bit rusty and nobody got to push themselves to the degree that we have in previous years.”
Estwanik gradually began opening his lead on Marshall as he went through Mile 7 in 37 minutes, with Degraff losing ground in third place.
He was so comfortably ahead in Hamilton that he was even able to acknowledge his children on Front Street. “I saw them out of the corner of my eye at the Birdcage when I was turning on to Queen Street,” he said.
“The fun thing as I’m getting older is I’m grateful for every chance to do it because from one year to the next things change. It’s been a long time, six years since I last did it. The legs are a little older, but they hung in there and I’m very grateful.”
Marshall was upbeat despite not pulling off a third straight victory that would have put him in unique company with the likes of Estwanik, Ed Sherlock, Kavin Smith and Terrance Armstrong.
“I don’t view it as a bad race, it was my first race back,” Marshall said. “Congrats to Chris who maintained a good, steady pace.
“You can’t win them all, congrats to him, he did what he had to do. I’m not disappointed.
“Sean and Sammy were on us, Sammy especially, up until two or three miles before he faded. Sammy is in good shape; it’s good for the sport to see everybody continuing to train.”
Degraff had another third-place finish in what will be his last race before relocating to the United States in the next few months. “As I saw myself falling back from those guys, I knew there were other guys behind who were pretty strong, so I just wanted to keep it together,” said the 41-year-old.
“I knew the shape I was in terms of time and wanted to see if I could stay with those guys. I saw them just after Dub City but after that on the downhill they accelerated and I didn’t see too much of them after that.”
Degraff was able to knock three seconds off the 1:16:13 time he ran in 2019, from St George’s.
“That was close to one of my last races,” he pointed out, referring to the impact the pandemic had on running last year. “Overall it felt good. Third is good, although I wasn’t thinking about placement, per se.
“My goal is to encourage people to run the race they’re in, not just a physical race, but the race of dealing with this pandemic or trying to make ends meet. If I can be an encouragement to somebody, then it is a blessing.”
Trott, who finished second the previous two races, had to settle for fifth this time as he was more than two minutes slower than his 2019 time of 1:14.58.
“I tried to give it a go early on, but just wasn’t feeling up to it today,” he said. “The crowds were pretty good and they carried me through.
“I’ll be ready for the next one. I’m not going to stop because of a bad day. I’ll keep on putting my head down.
“It was really hot, I don’t think we were prepared for this all year because it hasn’t gotten hot like this too much. I was very impressed by the people coming out today.”
Kavin Smith, a nine-times winner of the race, blessed the event with his presence and he was given the honour of starting in the main wave. The 54-year-old did not disappoint the crowd, running strong enough to finish sixteenth in 1:28:50. It was the first appearance in the Derby for Smith since 2011.
“I’m so appreciative for [race organiser] Gina Tucker, who called me up early in the year to say she had a plan to acknowledge people like myself and different runners by bringing them out,” Smith said of his surprise return.
“Things flipped and flopped, we were not sure if the race was on or off, but she still wanted to bring me out and I appreciate that acknowledgement.”
Fortunately for Smith, he has kept in some type of shape. “I’ve been doing a crazy amount of cycling — I love it,” he said.
“I started throwing in a couple of runs here and there, a maximum of three runs a week. I knew I was fit and could do the distance.
“I came out today and ran much faster than I thought I would. I broke 1:30, which is a big deal!
“I knew I could run the last part hard, the last three miles. I caught a few people on the last two miles and came out with a sub 1:30, which I’m excited about ”
Smith added: “I really appreciate the crowds, who were wonderful. I guess I still look a little young. People were saying, ‛Is that Kavin? Is that Kavin?’
“I was like, ‛yes, it’s me’. It was nice to have people appreciate me for what I did.”