PROVIDENCE — The training has been going well, but the weekly mileage is about a third of what he’s accustomed to.
Nursing a knee injury for the better part of the year, a stress fracture that has derailed his training targeted towards a possible trip to the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, Roland Lavallee wasn’t looking at setting any kind of PRs at the CVS Caremark Downtown 5K. He was just at Sunday’s race to help his teammates and test his legs on the five-kilometer course.
The results were satisfying.
The former Mount St. Charles star and current boys’ cross-country coach cracked five minutes after the first mile and held on for a respectable time of 15:59.9, good for 50th overall among the more than 5,000 participants.
“It was far from an elite time,” Lavallee said. “It was far from my best. But I am happy.”
In one of the more exciting finishes in the race’s history, Dartmouth College grad Ben True made one final surge with about 30 yards remaining to hold off pre-race favorite Sam Chelanga of Oregon and Arizona’s Aaron Braun, winning with a time of 13:43.74. Chelanga was the runner-up in 13:44.7, a time matched by Braun in third. New Jersey’s Julie Culley, a former All American from Rutgers University, claimed the women’s crown in a near wire-to-wire victory, breaking the tape at 15:39.7. Kim Conley of California was second at 15:47.4. Placing sixth in the field was former Ponaganset standout Stephanie Pezzullo, who crossed the line with an excellent 16:05.9 clocking. Besides taking home the overall title, True and Culley also captured the USATF 5K crown.
Lavallee never intended on running the CVS race. It was only recently that he was able to get any quality running since recovering from his injury. But his teammates at New Balance-Boston needed an extra runner in their quest to win the team competition and Lavallee didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to get in that racing mode again.
“It may have been against my better judgment but the excitement of being in downtown Providence and racing again, I wanted to test myself and see where I was at,” he said. “I ran an hour last weekend, the first time in three months. I told (my teammates) I don’t know what I can give you but I’ll give you what I can. They said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about how fast you run. All we need is you to finish so we have five because we think our average time will be good enough (to win) anyways.’”
Lavallee opened up with a 4:58 for his first mile.
“I was really encouraged by that because I was running it smooth,” he said. “I didn’t try to run above myself. It would probably be crazy to do that anyway. It was a fast first mile and I wanted to test it. Reality set in probably about a mile and a quarter, a mile and a half. My condition from being out with a stress fracture; no matter how much biking you do it doesn’t replace running. But it didn’t feel that bad. The (right) leg doesn’t feel that bad at all. I think now this is a sign that I can run hard again. We’ll see.”
Still setting his sights on possibly qualifying for the U.S. Trials by running a half marathon at 1:05:00 or better, Lavallee is slowly getting back into form. The CVS race was an encouraging sign of his progress.
“I am gradually trying to pick it up but I have only been doing about 35 miles a week which is 70 miles less than I should be doing right now or what I normally should be doing if I was healthy,” he said. “It’s a building process. I didn’t want to do any speed workouts on the track. I like going out and doing something like this. It’s kind of like a tempo run to see how much you can handle. Can you handle the distance? Now I know I can.”
While the overall women’s race was easy to predict with Culley comfortably ahead after the first half mile, the men’s competition was a different story. At least seven runners were still in the mix the final mile. True, who took the lead at the midway point of the race on South Main Street, dropped to third with a half-mile left. Braun forged the pace at the tail end of Memorial Boulevard with Chelanga and True just a stride behind. As the runners made the right-hand turn onto Francis Street for the 200-meter uphill climb before the finish, Chelanga tried to break free. But Braun and True wouldn’t let it happen.
Just after the crest at three miles, Braun went to the front. Chelanga switched back to the lead with about 100 meters remaining and then True made his final decisive surge to hold on to the win.
“I knew the hill was going to take a lot out of a lot of people,” said True, who recently finished sixth at the prestigious Falmouth Road Race and won the 10K national championship at the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta this past July. “I knew you still had time after you crested the hill. I wasn’t afraid to let them get a few strides on me as long as I could stay in contact with them. I knew that once I came over the hill, I would be able to get my legs moving pretty quickly.”
Culley, who competes for the New York Athletic Club and owns a best of 15:21 for the 5K distance, took charge quickly in her race.
“I kind of ended up running 2 ½ miles by myself,” she said. “I was just trying to chase the guys in front of me.”
The 29-year-old runner felt she was ready for a fast time and possible title.
“I came in here feeling pretty fit,” she said. “The time before when I did this race, I came in and just was trying to get back into shape. This is the first year I am actually trying to run a few road races in the fall and experience running on the roads. This is kind of a nice way to start the fall season.”