By Dan Guttenplan
---- — NEWBURYPORT – Trav’s Trail Run continues to bring out the top runners in the area after 13 years, as was evidenced by yesterday’s male and female champions.
Andover resident Nate Jenkins, 32, defended his title roughly five years after he placed seventh in the marathon (2:14.56) at the 2008 United States Olympic Trials. The female champion was a familiar face in Newburyport native Betsy Suda, 31, who took home for her first Trav’s Trail Run title after competing in the race every year since its inception.
Jenkins finished a second slower than last year in 14:55 -- good for a 4.59 per mile pace on the 3.0-mile course at Maudslay State Park. Suda, who ran at Newburyport High in the late 1990s before coaching the Clippers as an assistant after graduating from college, set a personal record in a time of 17:40 -- a 5:54 pace.
Proceeds from the race go to the Travis Landreth Scholarship Fund, which is earmarked for a Newburyport High cross-country/track athlete each year who plans to continue his athletic pursuits in college. Landreth, a former Newburyport High and UConn standout, died on a training run at the age of 24 in 2001 due to a pre-existing heart condition.
Per his annual tradition, race director Don Hennigar started yesterday’s race by encouraging runners to model their race strategies after Landreth: “Go out hard, and pick it up from there.”
Jenkins attributed his victory to following that very strategy.
“I got to the bottom of the of the first downhill just across the bridge, and I opened it up pretty well,” Jenkins said of the half-mile mark of the race. “I didn’t really hear anyone behind me after that. I think I just had a more aggressive race style than anyone else today.”
Jenkins’ talent certainly doesn’t hurt. A 2004 graduate of UMass Lowell, he was a three-time member of the Riverhawks’ NCAA Northeast champion teams. He finished 1 minutes, 8 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Gregory Putnam of Stoneham, who crossed in 16:03. Mark Larosa of Newbury was the third finisher in 16:10.
For those who have aspirations of winning Trav’s Trail Run in future years, Jenkins offered some bad news. He will be back every year until he loses -- if for no other reason than one of the winning prizes of a mug.
“I’m here because of the mug,” Jenkins said. “If I don’t win, I’m in trouble with my wife because she loves the mug. You definitely have to try to defend a title. If you can string a few together, then you start thinking you’re going back until somebody beats you, no matter what.”
Suda delivered her top performance at Maudslay roughly 18 years after she race her first race at the state park. She is pursuing a doctorate degree at the University of Florida and training with the Florida Track Club. She is an annual staple among the top three women, although she had never finished in the top spot before yesterday.
“This is my best time here by 11 or 12 seconds,” Suda said. “I take most of the winter off for health reasons, I’m anemic. I always try to be kind of fit for this one, but it doesn’t always work out.”
In past years, Suda has held the lead in the women’s race, even as late as the last 800 meters, before turning it over to a late-breaking competitor. This year, she made an effort to take the race out slower, and it resulted in a top finish.
East Boston resident Victoria Barnaby finished 12 seconds behind Suda (17:52) for a second-place finish among the women. Andover’s Caroline Bjune was third in 17:54. A surprising five women finished in a time of 18:47 or faster.
“I tend to go out really hard,” Suda said. “This year, I felt like I controlled it a little bit better. I had more of a kick at the end, and I needed it because the other girls were closing in on me.”