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Michigan Pro Ekiden & Half-Marathon Born Out of Necessity

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2020 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

(09-Oct) -- With the cancellation of nearly every important American road or cross country race this fall because of the pandemic, coach Kevin Hanson of the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project took stock of the competitive situation for his team.  He didn't like what he saw.  Speaking regularly to other coaches, like Amy Begley at the Atlanta Track Club, Ben Rosario at Hoka Northern Arizona Elite in Flagstaff, and Lee Troop at the T.E.A.M Boulder, he knew something had to be done.  The coaches arranged a conference call to talk about it.

"They called and said... we're trying to create something for our athletes," Hanson told Race Results Weekly by telephone earlier this week.  "We all know that Club Cross is going to be cancelled, and (we need) something for team camaraderie for our teams as well as perhaps creating, maybe, a half-marathon as well.  What do you think about running an ekiden or cross country?"

The other coaches knew that Hanson would jump at the chance to get involved, and might even be willing to host an event near the Hanson's Rochester Hills, Michigan, home since there weren't good fast-running options in parks in Atlanta (too hilly), Boulder (high altitude) and Flagstaff (even higher altitude).  Rosario, who competed for the Hansons team before moving into coaching, threw out an idea.

"Ben says, 'Hey Kevin, what about Stony Creek?'" Hanson recounted.

Stony Creek MetroPark in Shelby Township, Michigan, is the go-to training location for the Hansons team.  The 4400 acre park has a flat, 6-mile loop road around a lake which would be perfect for a criterium-style road racing course.  Rosario had run that loop many times.

"From there, we just talked about things and said, I think an ekiden would be better than cross country," Hanson said.  "The idea was how can we do it in a safe fashion?  We bring people in, create the two events a week apart."

Thus, the Michigan Pro Ekiden and Michigan Pro Half-Marathon were born.  The events will take place on consecutive Wednesdays, October 21 and 28.  The ekiden will have a six-athlete, co-ed format with the following running order: 10-K men, 6.1-K women, 5-K men, 10-K women, 6.1-K men, and 5-K women.  The half-marathon will be limited to elite athletes, only, and men and women will run in separate races.  Pacemakers will be used to help athletes achieve fast times.  Both events will be broadcast via Facebook Live so they will be free to view for all, Hanson said.

In addition to Atlanta Track Club, Hansons-Brooks, Hoka NAZ Elite and T.E.A.M Boulder, Hanson confirmed that Roots Running Project, Minnesota Distance Elite and the Nike Bowerman Track Club would also be competing in the ekiden.  Additional athletes from other groups, like the Boston Athletic Association, Reebok Boston Track Club, Idaho Distance Project, and On/ZAP Endurance, will compete in the half-marathon.  Coach Jerry Schumacher of the Nike Bowerman Track Club was particularly enthusiastic.

"Jerry said not only am I for it, but I'd like to run two teams," Hanson said.  "We said, yeah, no problem.  Then I realized that I had enough numbers, so we're going to run two teams (also).  We're going to run two teams, Jerry's going to run two teams, and everyone else will run a team."

Athletes who will run both the ekiden and half-marathon will spend more than a week in Michigan, and Hanson said teams will use their own travel budgets to cover those costs.  Hansons will pay for executing and timing the race and has contracted a broadcast team.  The park has a building at their boat launch which will serve as the event's staging area.

To make the event COVID-safe, each athlete will need to enter Michigan with one negative test in the seven days prior to leaving home.  Masks are required in public but not to run. To stay for the half-marathon, ekiden athletes will get two additional COVID tests, one on Thursday, October 22, and one on Friday, October 23.  Hanson will organize the testing on behalf of the athletes.  For athletes running only the half-marathon, they will need two negative COVID tests in the seven days prior to the race.

Unlike in Japan, where competing in ekidens are the most important events in the schedules of professional runners, opportunities for team competition in professional running in the United States are very limited.  The USATF Club Cross Country Championships, typically held in mid-December, is really the only serious professional team running competition in the USA.  Hanson laments the lack of team running competitions and hopes the Michigan Pro Ekiden can fill that void.  He hinted that the event could also take place in future years.

"You can be proud when a team runs a major marathon and says things like, yeah, we had three in the top ten and five in the top 20, or whatever," Hanson said.  "But it's not the same as actually having something that the team is working for.  I just think that it really kind of is something that all of these athletes lose after college.  In college it's so important.  Then it's gone.  That aspect is just gone from our sport."

- - - - - -

Yesterday, Hanson announced the fields for the half-marathon.  The entry list is impressive, including the half-marathon debuts by Olympians Emily Infeld and Marielle Hall of the Nike Bowerman Track Club.  Here are the full fields:

Breanna Sieracki, Minnesota Distance Elite
Annie Frisbie, Minnesota Distance Elite
Dakotah Lindwurm, Minnesota Distance Elite
Katy Jermann, Minnesota Distance Elite
Alia Gray, Roots Running Project
Maggie Montoya, Roots Running Project
Lexi Zeis, Roots Running Project
Carrie Verdon, T.E.A.M Boulder
Melissa Dock, T.E.A.M Boulder
Elaina Tabb, Boston Athletic Association
Emma Bates, Asics/Idaho Distance Project
Megan Lacy, Idaho Distance Project
Abbie McNulty, Reebok Boston TC
Lanni Marchant, Canada
Bethany Sachtleben, Unattached
Tristin Van Ord, On/ZAP Endurance
Emily Infeld, Nike Bowerman TC
Marielle Hall, Nike Bowerman TC
Eden Meyer, Atlanta Track Club Elite
Janel Blancett, Atlanta Track Club Elite
Joanna Stephens, Gazelle Sports Elite
Julia Kohnen, Hoka Northern Arizona Elite
Paige Stoner, Reebok Boston TC,
Makena Morley, Asics
Keira D'Amato, Unattached
Pacers for 10k to 8 miles @ 5:20–5:30–5:40 & 6:00
Natosha Rogers, Hansons-Brooks
Olivia Pratt, Hansons-Brooks
Anne-Marie Blaney, Hansons-Brooks
Chelsea Blaase, Hansons-Brooks
Megan O'Neil, Hansons-Brooks
Dot McMahon, Hansons-Brooks

Kevin Lewis, Minnesota Distance Elite
Joel Reichow, Minnesota Distance Elite
Tyler Jermann, Minnesota Distance Elite
Frank Lara, Roots Running Project
Austen Dalquist, Roots Running Project
Ryan Root, Roots Running Project
Will Cross, Roots Running Project
Willie Milam, Roots Running Project
Noah Droddy, Saucony/Roots Running Project
Jake Riley, T.E.A.M Boulder
Tim Rackers, T.E.A.M Boulder
Jonas Hampton, Boston Athletic Association
Ryan Forsyth, Newcastle and District A.C.
Chris Derrick, Nike Bowerman Track Club
Wilkerson Given, Atlanta Track Club Elite
Matt McDonald, Atlanta Track Club Elite
Rory Linkletter, Hoka Northern Arizona Elite/Canada
Tyler Day, Hoka Northern Arizona Elite
Scott Fauble, Hoka Northern Arizona Elite
Nick Hauger, Hoka Northern Arizona Elite
Scott Smith, Hoka Northern Arizona Elite
Sid Vaughn, Hoka Northern Arizona Elite
Brendan Gregg, Hansons Brooks
Shadrack Biwott, Hansons Brooks
Colin Bennie, Reebok Boston Track Club
Joe Stilin, On/ZAP Endurance
Josh Izewski, On/ZAP Endurance
Matt McClintock, On/ZAP Endurance
Pardon Ndhlovu, On/ZAP Endurance/Zimbabwe
Pacers 10k to 8 mile 4:45–4:50–4:55–5:00
Zach Panning, Hansons Brooks
Hassan Abdi, Hansons Brooks
Ian Lamere, Hansons Brooks
Ben Kendell, Hansons Brooks

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