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May 31. 2014 6:26PM

Millennium Running women's team hoping to break through

IN 1985, the New England chapter of USA Track and Field started the New England Grand Prix series, a seven-event series of road races of varying distances, ranging from 5K (3.1 miles) to marathon (26.2 miles). Since then, the series has matched various New England running clubs, and runners, against each other.

USATF-NE does not include Maine or Connecticut (they have their own USATF chapters), so the competition mostly has been among runners from New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Vermont, with some participation by Maine runners. Not surprisingly, the state with the largest population, Massachusetts, has dominated the competition.

In the fastest divisions in the series, the male and female open and masters divisions, only Massachusetts teams have finished first. That's 112 first-place finishes out of 112 competitions in a 28-year stretch.

That could change in 2014.

After three races in this year's series, the New Hampshire-based Millennium Running women's team is first in the open division. The team has a chance to increase its lead in two weeks, on June 15, when a New Hampshire race, the Ribfest Five Miler in Merrimack, will serve as the fourth event on the 2014 NE Grand Prix schedule.

The Millennium Running women's team is the brainchild of John and Jennifer Mortimer. John was an accomplished runner in his day, earning high school All-America status at Londonderry High School and college All-America status at Michigan. After coaching at Boston College and Kentucky, he returned to New Hampshire and started Millennium Running, the race management company that produces many of the state's largest running events. With his own competitive days behind him, Mortimer focused on his wife, whom he met at Boston College.

Jen Mortimer was a two-time All-America at BC and has a 5K personal best of 15 minutes 47 seconds.

While his company emphasizes participation by runners of all levels in its races, Mortimer retains his competitive instincts, and that led him to start one of New England's top female teams.

"My boys have one fast mommy," John Mortimer -- who along with Jen is the parent of two sons -- said. "Adding a highly competitive team to Millennium Running seemed only natural.''

The team the Mortimers put together includes some of the fastest women in the region, including several with long-standing ties to New Hampshire. Keeley Maguire of Dover, Denise Sandahl or Rochester, Mary Klene of Manchester and Taryn Sleger of Westford, Mass., all ran for the University of New Hampshire. In addition to Mortimer, other women running under the MR banner include Christine Shaw of Manchester, Tammie Robie of Nashua and Laura Hagley of Lebanon. Until the Millennium Running team was founded, some of these women only had the option of training and racing for Massachusetts clubs, which made for difficult travel.

"We typically do workouts on Tuesday evenings, except during the winter months, and Sunday long runs," Jen Mortimer explained. "The group is different each time based on personal schedules. Every person chooses their own races including Millennium Running events in addition to the USATF events."

The MR team got its feet wet, literally and figuratively, in 2013 by competing in the USATF-NE cross-country series. The women ran three of the five races in that series and finished third in their age group, the open division. The commitment was made early that 2014 would be a big one for MR. In February, the team finished second at the Jones Group 10 Miler in Amherst, Mass. That was followed by a fourth-place finish at the New Bedford (Mass.) Half Marathon on March 16 and a second-place showing at the An Ras Mor 5K in Cambridge, Mass., on March 30.

The consistency of two second-place finishes and three in the top five has been enough to vault the team into the lead during the first half of the schedule. And the chances of holding the lead for the next four races are good.

After taking time off at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, Maguire posted wins at two New Hampshire events in the past few weeks, the Chief Maloney Unity 10K and Cinco De Miles 5K. Ribfest will be her first MR competition this year.

Other members of the team appear to have strong performances ahead of them. After finishing third in 17:49 at An Ras Mor, Mortimer finished the NHTI/Northeast Delta Dental 5K in Concord in 16:48 then won two other Granite State races, the Fisher Cats 3K and Rock 'N Race 5K. Last weekend, Sandahl claimed a personal best for 5K with a 17:50 at the Runner's Alley/Redhook 5K in Portsmouth, and Hagley won the Buffalo (N.Y.) Half Marathon in 1:18:02.

Perhaps it is fitting that the next race in the series is Ribfest, one of Millennium Running's signature events. For company founder and Millennium Running women's team co-founder John Mortimer, two forces are about to come together for what he hopes is a big day.

"In the elite world of running, shoe companies spend millions of dollars to put their brand or logo on the uniform and shoes on the feet of the best athletes in hopes they win nationally and internationally prestigious road races," he said. "I look at our team along those same lines. It not only give us great pride to see one of the Millennium Running runners excelling at an event wearing our uniform, it may also in some way just increase our brand visibility."

It may also be a step toward bringing a title to New Hampshire.

"It would really mean a lot to us to win the series," Jen Mortimer said. "We really have so much positive energy around this newly formed team. Many of us have seen some dramatic fitness improvements since the fall and really enjoy having the camaraderie and friendly competition of a team to keep us motivated."

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Running shorts: Joining Sandahl in the winner's circle at the Runner's Alley/Redhook 5K was Northwood's Derek Hamel. ...The Rochester Runner's Club recently announced award winners for 2013. Congratulations to the club's runners of the year, Dover's Nathan Huppe and Farmington's Christine Sorenson ... In 2013, the Spirit of Recovery 5K in Dover had 102 finishers. This year, the Dover race had 521 finishers and provided more proof that the first year of the Dover Race Series is a big success.

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Andy Schachat's column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at schachat44@gmail.com.


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