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Seeds for Millennium Running title were planted early in year

USA Track and Field-New England will hold its annual LDR (Long Distance Running) banquet on Saturday and honor outstanding athletes from the previous year.

This year's honorees will include Bow's Denise Sandahl and her team, Millennium Running. Sandahl was the 2014 individual women's winner of the USATF-NE Grand Prix Series while Millennium Running won the 2014 women's title, the first New Hampshire based club to win a NE Grand Prix championship.

In honor of Sandahl and the MR's honor, I look back at how they won their 2014 titles. Call it an anatomy of a championship.

Feb. 23, Jones Realtor Ten Miler, Amherst, Mass.: Thirteen women's teams competed in the open division and the Millennium Running women finished second. The winning team was the Dirigo Running Club of Maine, led by former UNH runner Erica Jesseman. Scoring for Millennium Running were Sandahl, New London's Jennifer Mortimer, and Taryn Slager of Westford, Mass.

The Dirigo women would have been a formidable opponent in 2014 but this is the only race in the New England series they ran.

March 16, New Bedford Half Marathon, New Bedford, Mass.: The most popular race on the 2014 schedule as 15 teams competed. Millennium Running finished fourth with Slager, Mortimer, and Milford's Tammie Robie scoring. The winning team was the Boston Athletic Association. Similar to Dirigo RC, the BAA women didn't appear at many Grand Prix events and didn't offer the MR women a challenge.

After two races, the Millennium Running women were tied for first with the Somerville Road Runners. March 30, An Ras Mor 5K, Cambridge, Mass.: The shortest distance in the series saw 10 teams compete and Millennium Running finish second behind the Greater Boston Track Club. Five women scored for MR: Mortimer, Manchester's Christine Shaw, Lebanon's Laura Hagley, Slager and Manchester's Mary Klene.

The Somerville Road Runners finished third, giving the MR's a one-point lead in the series. Sandahl missed the last two races and was in eighth place in the individual standings.

June 15, St. Joseph Healthcare Ribfest Five Miler, Merrimack: The series made its first of two stops in the Granite State. The organizer of the race was Millennium Running, giving the MR team a "home court" feeling that paid off. Sandahl returned to the series with a vengeance, winning the race and leading MR to a dominant performance. Hagley finished second, Shaw third, Mortimer sixth, and Robie, the other scoring member of the team, was 12th. While the MR women finished first, the Somerville Road Runners finished fourth, giving MR a four--point lead with three races to go. Sandahl's win vaulted her into third place.

Aug. 31, GMAA (Green Mountain Athletic Association) 15K, Burlington, Vt.: The longest road trip in the series brought runners to northern Vermont on Labor Day weekend. For the second race in a row, the Millennium Running women finished first. The Whirlaway Racing Team, based out of Massachusetts but led by a New Hampshire runner, Hopkinton's Christen Doneski, finished second. The Somerville Road Runners finished seventh. Millennium Running increased its lead to 10 points with Whirlaway and Somerville tied for second.

Sandahl finished second with Mortimer, Hagley and Shaw also scoring. Sandahl was now in first place in the standings but not alone. Mortimer's consistency put her in a tie with Sandahl atop the standings.

Sept. 14, Lone Gull 10K, Gloucester, Mass.: Officially unofficial or unofficially official. That was how it was described in this column last September after the Lone Gull race. For the third race in a row, the Millennium Running women finished first, Whirlaway finished sixth, and Somerville finished outside the top 10. MR increased its lead to 15 points over Whirlaway and over 20 points over Somerville. With only one race left on the schedule. it appeared virtually impossible for any team to catch Millennium Running. In the individual competition, Sandahl finished third but picked up five points on Mortimer and takes over the lead in the individual standings.

Ironically, it is the race that almost cost MR the title. Due to extenuating circumstances the team had to recruit Contoocook's Emily Cousens as its fifth runner. Cousens scored for the team as did Hagley, Mortimer, and Slager. Had the team only fielded four runners, it would not have scored any points and possibly would have fallen out of contention.

Nov. 2, Anthem Manchester City Marathon, Manchester: Perhaps it is fitting that the final race of the series was in New Hampshire, where a Granite State club won the title. It was a bit anti-climatic because the lead was so large, the Millennium Running women didn't field a team. The only way they could lose is for 16 teams to compete and the Whirlaway Racing Team to win. Historically no more than nine teams have competed in the marathon and this year, only eight showed up. It was over when registration closed.

The Millennium Running team may not have competed in Manchester but that didn't stop one of them from a special moment. Sandahl, who clinched the individual title, ran the race and finished first. Some of her teammates were at the finish to congratulate her and were then introduced to the spectators as the first New Hampshire based club to win a New England championship.

Running shorts ... With so few road races taking place this time of year, attention will turn to the snowshoe circuit. The leading proponents of this type of racing are Acidotic Racing. Check them out at ... Winners of New Year's Day races: Dover's Nathan Huppe and Newfield's Melissa Murray at the Resolution Run 5K in Portsmouth, Sean Hyland of Andover, Mass., and Mortimer at the Millennium Mile in Londonderry, and Gilsun's George Adams and Peterborough's Kristen Ramey at the Peanut Butter Chip Chase 5K in Temple.

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

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