Michigan Pro Ekiden — HOKA NAZ Elite Cruises

Autumn was in the air as Dani Shanahan anchored her team to a comfortable margin of victory. (MICHIGAN PRO EKIDEN SCREENSHOT)

SHELBY TOWNSHIP, MICHIGAN, October 21—Not since Fred Lebow brought an Ekiden race to New York City in the late ’80s have we seen a top-level version of the Japanese-inspired road relay in the United States.

With many pro running groups short on competitive opportunities nearly all year, this fall seemed an ideal time to try an Ekiden again figured Kevin Hanson, one of the coaches of Michigan’s Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project.

The invites went out for the marathon-distance event to be staged on a bike path at Stoney Creek Metropark, a regular training ground of the Hansons team. Each squad had 6 runners, with a men’s 10K starting off, followed by a women’s 6.1K, men’s 5K, women’s 10K and men’s 6.1K before a 5K women’s anchor.

The Atlanta TC, HOKA NAZ Elite, Minnesota Distance Elite, Team Boulder and Roots Running all made it to the starting line. A team from the Nike Bowerman TC—featuring Shelby Houlihan among others—had to pull out several days before the event after a reported COVID exposure.

A rainy night before the competition put plenty of damp in the air and the athletes were greeted with a pesky wind that they had to face on about half of each 6M loop of the lake.

Coach Ben Rosario’s NAZ Elite team wasted little time in asserting its dominance. Leadoff runner Tyler Day—in his first pro race for the Flagstaff group—opened up daylight on a downhill portion 4M into the opening 10K leg and finished his 28:44 leg with a 14-second lead over Hansons leadoff Zach Panning. “It was definitely windy out there,” said Panning.

The second leg—a 6.1K segment—saw women battle it out, with NAZ’s Lauren Paquette stretching the lead out another 10 seconds over Hansons Anne-Marie Blaney.

The men were up next, for a 5K segment into the teeth of the wind. Rory Linkletter padded the lead a bit more with his 14:47. That yielded a halfway split of 1:03:08—not quite Jacob Kiplimo territory, but on a course much hillier and windier.

Marathoner Kellyn Taylor produced a 10K of 33:05 for the leaders, though Iowa State alum Annie Frisbie of the Minnesota team surprised with a 32:35 to win the $500 prize given to the fastest on each leg. Frisbie brought her team within hailing distance of the Hansons squad, but there they stayed.

“Having taken it with a lead, I was kind of staring at the bike guy’s back the whole way,” said Taylor, who still finished with an 84-second margin. “But it was fun.”

Scott Fauble covered the 6.1K leg for the HOKA group and handed the sash (which an Ekiden uses instead of a baton) to Dani Shanahan, who closed out the team’s winning 2:10:11 with her 16:17 for 5K.


MICHIGAN PRO EKIDEN RESULTS

1. HOKA NAZ Elite 2:10:11 (Tyler Day 28:46, Lauren Paquette 19:19, Rory Linkletter 14:53, Kellyn Taylor 33:07, Scott Fauble 17:41, Dani Shanahan 16:18); 2. Hansons-Brooks 2:12:08; 3. Minnesota Distance Elite 2:12:51; 4. Roots Running 2:13:03; 5. Team Boulder 2:14:20 (Jake Riley 17:23); 6. Hansons-Brooks B 2:15:06 (Shadrack Biwott 14:41);… dnf—Atlanta TC.

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