ONEONTA — Michael Hamilton called Pit Run day his favorite day of the year - and that was independent of him winning its premier race.
Hamilton, of Oneonta, and Heather Bailey, of Otego, won the men’s and women’s 10-kilometer races Sunday, Oct. 6, at the 26th annual Pit Run, bringing the winners’ plaques back to the local area after several years of domination from visiting competition
“It’s always been the thing to do the first weekend in October,” Hamilton said, noting his first time at the event was in 2005 as a freshman on the SUNY Oneonta wrestling team. “It’s a special thing to win it. It’s pretty cool thing, something I’ll never forget.”
Hamilton’s victory brings the men’s title back to the area for the first time since 2015 when then-Hartwick cross country coach Matthew Pohren won it. He became just the fourth Oneonta resident to win the men’s race, the first since Pohren and the second since Gary Toombs won the second iteration in 1995.
Many of the race’s past winners have been elite athletes that registered the day of the event after coming west from New York or the Hudson Valley. In their absence, Hamilton ran 35:32, averaging 5:43 per mile.
His time was 4:29 slower than that of 2018 winner Girma Gebre, and 5:40 slower than the course record of 29:53 set by Haile Mengesha in 2013. But it was his best time in the event since 2010, when he took seventh with a mark of 35:10.
“I’ve been running pretty good all summer,” Hamilton said. “I had a good day, and I guess I’m lucky nobody faster than me showed up today.”
Hamilton is no stranger to the event as 2019 was his 15th consecutive year competing. He is a perennial top-10 finisher, previously placing as high as third, in 2017.
Bailey became the first local winner in the women’s race since Amanda LoPiccolo of Oneonta in 2011. Bailey finished in 44:55, averaging 7:14 per mile to take 19th overall.
“My husband and I were actually at a wedding until late last night, and I was like ‘I don’t think I’m going to do well today.’ I’m surprised,” Bailey said.
Bailey’s surprise is somewhat unfounded as she has finished in the top five each of the last four years and in the top 10 each of the last five. Her victory came in her seventh attempt at the event.
She bested her 2018 time by 1:38, bumping her from fifth to first. She credited the temperatures in the 50s and the slight breeze throughout the race for producing ideal conditions.
“It was pretty cold once you got up Bugbee. It was pretty windy, but it felt good,” Bailey said of the race’s notorious hill leading up to SUNY Oneonta.
The local connections went deeper than the top of the podium. Second-place finisher Joseph Redmond, now a resident of Far Rockaway, grew up in Oneonta and went to SUNY Oneonta. He credited Ricky “Pit” Parisian, the state trooper and Oneonta High School graduate in whose memory the event is held, for shaping his career.
“This is my favorite race, I try to get back here every year. I was very close with Rick growing up, and he had a really significant impact on my life and my career choices and where I am today,” Redmond said.
Parisian was killed in 1994 while attempting to stop an armed robbery in Oneonta. Redmond, 38, is a police officer, and earned distinction as the highest-finishing law enforcement officer. The highest finish among State Police was Anthony Bluman in 45:24.
Redmond crossed the line in 35:55, 23 seconds behind Hamilton.
“This is a really challenging and unique course given that it is some rolling hills,” Redmond said. “Mike had a great lead. I had a look at his back the whole time. I just wanted to keep him in sight and give 100 percent all the way through the line.”
Tom Slicer of Oneonta took third, followed by Sumner Elwood of Maryland, New York in fourth and 14-year-old Brandon Gardner of Oneonta in fifth. The top 16 finishers hailed from within the state.
The trend held on the women’s side. Second-place finisher Karin Lehr resides in Belmont, Massachusetts, but grew up in Oneonta. Heather Ellis of Oneonta took third and Lindsay Larose, also of Oneonta, took fourth.
Abigail Williams of Highland rounded out the women’s top five.
“It’s great, it’s really fun coming back every year,” Karin Lehr said. “We see all of these people we know, it’s just a great tradition for us.”
It was a family affair for Lehr as her daughter, 12-year-old Dana Lehr, took first place in the women’s five-kilometer race for the second consecutive year, taking 10th overall among 5K runners. Dana Lehr also noted helpful conditions as she finished in 22:12, 1:10 faster than her winning time in 2018.
Alexia Liu of Oneonta took second and Meron Cash, also of Oneonta, took third in the women’s 5K.
Charles Hollister of Oneonta, 31, won the men’s 5K with a time of 18:44. The Cooperstown duo of Justin Stephens and Alex Herold took second and third, respectively.
“I ran a 10K yesterday so I was up in the air about running this today,” Hollister said. “But the weather was perfect so I couldn’t resist and it’s pretty awesome to come away with first place.”
Asked about winning the men’s 5K as a local racer, Hollister jumped right to complimenting Hamilton for ending the area’s drought in the men’s 10K. Hamilton coaches several sports at Unatego, and by all accounts seemed like a fitting face for the Pit Run’s return to local winners in 2019.
“I’m mainly excited for Hamilton. He’s an impressive runner and the fact that he took first this year, a lot of us are pumped for him,” Hollister said. “The race has been stacked for a while because of the cash award, and for him to take it is just awesome.”
Hamilton and Bailey each pocketed $500 for taking first place. Second-place finishes earned $300, and third place was good for $100. But Redmond said local competitors tend to view the event with different priorities.
“Beyond the money, the opportunity to come back and run and compete and do well is really what it’s all about,” Redmond said. “I couldn’t ask for anything else today.”