Grand Slam Central


APRIL 26, 2007

Downin to defend title in miniMarathon


When the Indiana Invaders marched south to conquer the Louisville Triple Crown of Running in March, the record crowds on the road beat them right back to the Hoosier State.

A smaller force from farther north will be more difficult to repel in the 34th annual Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon on Saturday, even for yet another record crowd.

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Matt Downin is returning to Louisville for the miniMarathon, which he won last year, and Wisconsin Runner Racing Team mates Henry Dennis and Matt Hooley are joining him.

Downin and Hooley both have qualified for the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials in New York City on Nov. 3, and Dennis is targeting the 2008 Olympic 10K Trials next year. Downin’s career-best time at 13.1 miles is 1 hour, 4 minutes, 53 seconds, and he won the miniMarathon in 1:05.44 last year. Hooley and Dennis have run half-marathons in 1:05:25 and 1:05:28, respectively.

“We’ll see who can hang,” Dennis said.

He was referring as much to his friends as to the locals, who will include Bowling Green, Ky., resident Jef Scott and Louisville residents Justin Banks and Tim Kaiser.

But rest assured that Downin wants to do more than hang.

“I’d just like to win,” he said. “As a runner, you don’t get to win a lot of races. I won last year, and it would be nice to come back and compete for it again.”

Downin expected to win when he last ran in Louisville in the Anthem 5K Fitness Classic, the first leg of the Triple Crown, on March 3. He was the highest-profile athlete in the race and lost to 24-year-old Chris Swisher in a sprint to the finish line. That hasn’t sat well with him.

“For someone to out-kick me, that was tough,” said the 30-year-old Downin, who was an All-American at the University of Wisconsin. “I felt like I should have won it.”

Downin is not the only one in the Wisconsin contingent with experience on Louisville roads. All three ran in the USA Men’s 10 Mile Championship when it was part of the Papa John’s 10 Miler. Dennis was ninth in 2003 and sixth in 2004. Downin was fifth in 2005; he and Hooley also ran last year but wilted in the heat and finished 30th and 32nd, respectively.

“I love Louisville. I absolutely love it,” said the 32-year-old Dennis, a Cincinnati native and former Wisconsin star now based in Fond du Lac, Wis. “Every time I’ve raced down there, I’ve had success.”

Hooley is recovering from a knee injury, which he incurred when he returned to training too soon after he placed 12th in the Houston Marathon on Jan. 14.

“I did a 10K and an 8K in March, and those went well,” said the 24-year-old Hooley, who ran at Carleton College and now is a graduate student at Wisconsin. “Hopefully that trend will continue.”

The women’s field in the miniMarathon lacks marquee names, but recent Triple Crown champion Jamie King-O’Shea will run in the sixth annual Marathon in her Kentucky Derby Festival debut. Highland, Mich., resident Sarah Plaxton, who won the Marathon in 2004, also is in the field. Charles (Njeru) Kamindo, who has won the Marathon each of the last four years, is the clear favorite among the men.

The 31-year-old King-O’Shea, who was a four-time All-American at Eastern Kentucky University and still lives in Richmond, didn’t decide to run in the Marathon until after she won the Papa John’s 10 Miler, the last leg of the Triple Crown, on March 31.

“I had it in the back of my mind when I started (the Triple Crown), but I didn’t know where I was,” said King-O’Shea, who broke her right big toe in December and wore a cast for six weeks. “I waited to see how my last long runs went, and they felt good.”

The two races established a record with 8,751 entries last year, and that mark was shattered during the early registration period that was shut down last week when the number hit 10,000.

Registration was reopened during the Bluegrass Family Health Running Wild Expo at the Kentucky International Convention Center on Thursday and is scheduled to continue from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, although only 800 slots for the miniMarathon and 200 slots for the Marathon were available.

“By the end of registration, we’ll probably have 2,000 more runners than we did last year,” said Mark Shallcross, one of the Kentucky Derby Festival’s communications managers. “That’s pretty significant.”

Shallcross attributed that to the work of Kentucky Derby Festival staffers who promoted the races during running expos at marathons in Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit; Memphis; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C.

“Looking at where people are coming from geographically, it’s obvious that those efforts have paid off,” he said.

Race organizers will consider further expanding the field next year, he added.