SCOTSMAN GOURLEY TAKES TOP PRIZE AT KALAKAUA MERRIE MILEBy Rich Sands, @sands (c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
HONOLULU (10-Dec) — Neil Gourley used a strong closing sprint to win a unique battle of the sexes race in the Kalakaua Merrie Mile here this morning. In warm, but blustery, conditions the Scottish runner prevailed in a mixed-sex pursuit format, with the women receiving a 29-second head start over the men and prize money awarded based on overall finish, regardless of sex. The race –contested just steps away from Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach– was a warm-up for Sunday’s 50th running of the Honolulu Marathon.
“It felt weird passing a whole different field, but this event is just really fun,” said Gourley, who ran the 1500 meters for Great Britain at the World, European and Commonwealth Championships this past summer. “I enjoyed that. It’s a whole different thing than what I’m used to.”
Neil Gourley wins the 2022 Kalakaua Merrie Mile in 3:56.1 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
In this sixth edition of the race, run on a flat, out-and-back course on Honolulu’s upscale Kalakaua Avenue, the women set off first with two more seconds than in past years, in an attempt to even their odds. Alas, the men were committed to earning bragging rights and were able to catch the women with less than 200 meters to go.
The women’s field didn’t make it easy, however, courtesy of the strong pace set by Sage Hurta and Nikki Hiltz. But by the turnaround point, roughly 900 meters into the race, the men had made up more than half of the time gap and were closing fast.
“At the turn I was counting and I could tell they were getting close,” said Katie Snowden of Great Britain. “I know that we needed to get rolling on the way back.”
Kieran Lumb of Canada had set an aggressive early tempo, with Gourley just off his shoulder and Craig Engels and Drew Hunter on their heels. “It’s a good job he did, otherwise we might not have caught them,” Gourley said of Lumb, a senior at the University of Washington. “There was no strategy really, just trying to gun them down in the last half.”
By the time the finish line was in sight, the men’s pack was about to swallow up the women.
“I felt bad doing it; it didn’t feel right, if I’m honest,” Gourley said with a laugh. “But it’s good fun. Maybe the gap needs to be a bit bigger or maybe that’s just how the strategy played out today.”
The gap was based on the respective course records which are 29.3 seconds apart (3:53.3 vs. 4:22.6).
Gourley now had the lead and it became a matter of holding on to claim the $4,000 first-place prize. “At that point I was just trying not to look behind, because I could feel that they were right there,” he said. “I knew there were a lot of people there.”
Sam Prakel had swung to the right of the women while most of the other men went to the left, a move he says may have cost him momentum. He was closing hard in the final strides, but Gourley had established too much of a cushion by that point and won the race decisively, 3:56.1 to 3:56.4. “I still made a good move and closed well for second,” Prakel said of his $3,000 payday. “I think Neil just ran a smarter race today.”
Hobbs Kessler (3:57.0) and Lumb (3:57.1) grabbed the remaining prize money, $2,000 and $1,000, respectively. Matthew Centrowitz, the 2016 Olympic 1500m champion, finished ninth (4:03.6) in his first race in 13 months. He underwent ACL surgery back in May.
Snowden (4:27.3) maintained her composure despite the chaos of the rapidly passing men, and held off Hiltz (4:27.5) for the top spot in the women’s division and sixth-place overall. “Once the guys came past they were coming at such speed it was impossible to get past them again,” said Snowden, who also did triple-international duty for Great Britain over the summer, highlighted by a fourth-place finish in the 1500 at the European Athletics Championships.
Both Gourley and Snowden are part of the Under Armour Mission Run Dark Sky Distance training group based on Flagstaff, Arizona, under the direction of Stephan Haas. Their performances today capped an incredible fall season for the squad, which included a TCS New York City Marathon championship for Sharon Lokedi, a USATF 5-K title for Weini Kelati, and a runner-up finish at last week’s USATF marathon championship for Jacob Thomson. Kelati also ran here today finishing fifth among the women in 4:30.1.
“We’ve got a really good feel about the group right now,” Snowden said. “When one of us does well it spreads throughout the team.”