Pair of former champs win Liberty Mile in record time
Neither Jordan McNamara nor Heather Kampf are from Pittsburgh, but after four years of running in the Liberty Mile road race downtown, they have come to regard the city as an adopted hometown.
On Friday night, both former champions were victorious once more in their home away from home with McNamara, 28, defending his title with a time of 3 minutes, 58.50 seconds, and Kampf, 28, winning for the third time in four years and taking the crown back from second-place finisher Gabriele Grunewald.
Kampf finished in 4:32.59, tying her own course record set in 2013, and McNamara tied the men’s course record set by Craig Miller in 2012.
“With 400 meters to go, I knew I was going to win,” said McNamara, who is from Auburn, Wash., and trains with the Oregon Track Club. “The way the race played out, I could see the guys, and I knew how good I felt. I knew I had three more gears to go, one with 200 to go, one with 100 to go and one for the last 50 if I really needed it. At that point, I was just having fun, looking at the finish line and trying to time it right.”
McNamara, who finished second in 2012 and ’13, went to the front with 120 meters remaining. His Oregon teammate, Mac Fleet, finished just behind him with a time of 3:58.93 in his road mile debut.
“The city of Pittsburgh and the staff here have just embraced me, and every time I come here, I want to put on a great show and pay it back because they’ve given me such a great opportunity to make a name for myself,” McNamara said.
Kampf said that before races she always makes a checklist of “whys” to get her ready to kick it into high gear at the end.
“One of them was because Pittsburgh is my home,” said Kampf, who hails from Inver Grove, Minn. “It’s so great to be back here and do it for these fans and everyone who supports me back home in Minnesota. It was a really special win.”
Kampf beat Grunewald, her teammate on Team USA Minnesota, by 2 seconds but said at no time did she feel like she had it in the bag. Last year, she was leading the race coming down the stretch, but Grunewald overtook her for the win just before the finish line.
“I thought I had it last year, and I didn’t,” she said. “My plan was to match strides with whoever was leading at the homestretch, and when it came to that point where I thought I could go, I had to go hard and never look back. I never felt safe, even when I heard the announcer say, ‘Here comes Heather Kampf and Gabriele Grunewald will be second.’ I was like, ‘She might be second, but you never know.’ ”
A total of 1,500 runners participated in the race, which included a wave for all ages and abilities plus several competitive heats, including the masters and Unstoppable heats in addition to the pro heats. The race features $25,000 in prize money, one of the top three largest prize purses in the country for a one-mile road race.
Former Hampton track and cross country standout Elaina Balouris, who now runs professionally for the Boston Athletic Association, finished seventh with a time of 4:41.51 in her first road mile race.
Two-time defending Pittsburgh Marathon champion Clara Santucci ran in the Unstoppable heat and ended up winning the heat with a time of 4:56.90.
“It was my first road mile, so it was a lot of fun,” she said. “I hadn’t run a mile race in five years, so it was definitely a change from the marathon but a really fun and awesome event. It’s over before you know it.”