Johnson, Walkonen lead NH contingent
Kevin Johnson and Andrea Walkonen lived up to the billings.
The twenty-somethings from Lebanon, who met two weeks ago and now think they may do some training runs together, entered Monday's Boston Marathon as the top qualifiers from New Hampshire.
They turned in impressive efforts in the 118th running of the 26.2-mile classic to finish as the fastest male and female from the state this year.
Johnson got to the finish line in two hours, 26 minutes and 14 seconds, six minutes ahead of Josh Steffen, 33, of New London.
Walkonen finished in 2:37:06, the best time of a New Hampshire woman in three decades, and a little better than seven minutes in front of Larisa Dannis, 26, of Strafford, who had her own eye-opening day by beating her personal best by nearly 11 minutes.
"It was fantastic, it went exactly as planned," said Walkonen, a rehab technician in physical therapy at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. She is working with Upper Valley running coach Jeff Johnson.
Walkonen fell just short of one of her targets for the race: The 'A' standard for the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials is 2:37:00.
"You know what, it's a little bit of a bummer, but I do already have the 'B' standard and I'm happy about that," Walkonen said. "Six seconds is insignificant. I couldn't have asked for a better day. I'm very, very happy."
Reaching the 'A' standard provides some travel funding to the Trials.
The race was only the second marathon for Walkonen, 27, who was a standout in cross country and track at Conant High School in Jaffrey and then at Boston University.
She qualified for Boston with a 2:43:47 in the Houston Marathon in January of 2013. She met the 'B' standard for the marathon trials with a 1:13:13 in the New Bedford Half Marathon in March.
Two marathons in, she's liking the distance.
"The longer you give me, the more chance I have to catch you," she said. "I think it will definitely be my distance."
Johnson, who did his running at the University of Massachusetts and is in a doctoral degree program at Dartmouth College, was happy with his day, too.
He met his goal of getting under 2:30 and wasn't far off his personal best of 25:34.
"It went real well," he said. "It was a great atmosphere out there and I was running with my brother and my teammates. I kind of surprised myself. I didn't feel good toward the end, but for the most part I felt great."
Johnson's twin brother, David, who is a graduate student at UMass, dealt with stomach cramps and fell off the pace a bit.
Walkonen's time was the best by a New Hampshire woman in more than 30 years. Karen Dunn was the last to break 2:38 when she went 2:33:35 in 1983.
Maine's legendary Joan Benoit Samuelson, who was running out of Exeter at the time, owns the fastest time by a New Hampshire woman at 2:30:16 in 1981.
Dannis clocked a time of 2:44:14 and was 10 minutes ahead of Denise Sandahl, 33, of Bow, who finished in 2:54:13.
Dannis, a hiker before she was a runner, came to the Marathon from a different route than most.
"I was kind of unconventional," she said. "I started as an ultra-marathoner and did a lot of 50-milers and 100-milers."
The Manchester Marathon in 2012 was her first road marathon.
"I surprised myself and found I have a little bit of road speed," she said. "That put me on a path of seeing if I could break three hours.
Now I have a goal of trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials. I have to run a 2:43 and was at 2:44 today and that was after a tough start and having to start a little farther back."
Dannis was excited to be the first female in the race to cross the finish line who was not wearing a bib marking her as one of the elite runners.
Amy Bernard, 36, of Hampstead was the fourth New Hampshire woman in 3:03:54; Colleen Harrison, 31, of Hanover finished in 3:07:19; Christin Doneski, 43, of Hopkinton in 3:07:33; and Julia Huffman, 29, of Manchester checked in at 3:08:19.
Doneski was first among New Hampshire women in 2012 in 3:12:06.
Steffen finished in 2:32:15. Joshua Andrew, 25, of Portsmouth was 44 seconds behind Steffen as the third New Hampshire male. Alex Hall, 27, of Hanover was next at 2:39:54 and Tim Perry, 30, of Manchester rounded out the top five in 2:41:25.