Richard Larsen was less than one kilometer from the finish line of the USA Track & Field Men’s Master 5K Championships when he began to close in on the man he thought was leading the 60-64-year-old division of the race on Oct. 6 in Syracuse, N.Y. As the 61-year-old began to sprint toward the unsuspecting man in front of him, he suddenly noticed another runner from his division in front of them both. That left Larsen with an even bigger obstacle between him and the title, but the Shelburne painter managed to pass both men and win his age group to claim the national crown.
The Masters 5K Championships is held annually for men ages 40 & older, and runners are broken down into age groups of five-year intervals. Larsen entered the race as a relative unknown on the national stage despite competing in the New England Grand Prix all season, and he won his age group in each of those first five races. The success got him thinking about attending the National 5K competition, which was being held in Syracuse. Larsen had previously competed in National Masters Cross-Country Championships, winning the 2006 5K event in Saratoga, N.Y., while finishing second in the 5K in 2005, and taking third in a 10K held in Ohio before that. He had never run in a national road race championship, but given the times he was running in the New England events in comparison to those entered into the national race, he felt like he had a chance.
“I thought, well I might have a shot at winning this thing, I’m running the best for my age for my career right now,” Larsen said.
Larsen had his sights set on Peter Mullin, from Houston, Texas, a man he said was the No. 1 ranked runner going into the event, according to online sites. He located Mullin at the starting line on race day and kept track of him as the race got under way. Larsen was able to keep track of all of the runners in the 60-64 division, because each runner wears a bib that includes their division. When the race started, Larsen watched Mullin race out front and by the second kilometer could no longer see him. Despite that, Larsen was still happy with the race he was running.
“The race sort of has an out-and-back, and by the 2-kilometer mark, I can’t even see the guy,” Larsen said. “But I was feeling really good about how I was running. My splits were better than anything I’d run all year. So I’m feeling pretty good about myself.”
Larsen did not even notice Mullin on the turn-around at about the 2.5-kilometer mark, but as he approached the 3K mark, he suddenly saw Mullin about eight seconds in front of him.
“I’m starting to get excited,” Larsen said. “I think, ‘Well, maybe I have an opportunity here.’ But I just keep running steady.”
Larsen said that when researching Mullin prior to the race, he noticed that the runner liked to run fast early but tended to slow down lare. As he approached the 4K mark, he closed to within four seconds.
“I felt like I was going to make contact with him,” said Larsen, “so I try to decide in my little brain, which is not working too well when you get that tired: ‘Do I wait until the finish line and try to surprise him and try to sprint him out because he doesn’t even know who I am, or do I just go for it now.’”
Larsen decided to go for it right then and there, and somewhere in the final kilometer it became clear that he was going to catch Mullin. Just as he did this, he noticed another runner in front of them both with a 60 on his back. Larsen just kept going and passed them both. He then set in to run the final 500 yards or so and hold off both competitors. As he closed to within 200 yards of the finish line, he got a brief scare.
“I have no idea where those guys are behind me, and about 200 yards from the finish, I hear these footsteps coming quickly and this guy whizzes by me,” Larsen said. “But he had a 40 on his back.”
Larsen crossed the finish line without any more issues and spoke to Mullin, who finished second in the age group, two seconds back of Larsen.
“He said he was well aware of (third-place finisher Dale Campbell from Huntington Beach, Calif.) and had been stalking him, but he knew nothing of this little bald guy that had just passed him,” Larsen joked. “It was rather amusing and I think he was kind of shocked.”
Larsen had one more scare. After going back to his hotel room to get ready for the awards ceremony and post-race luncheon, Larsen called a friend to talk about his feat, and the friend brought up one more good point. How did Larsen know for sure he had won? Could there have been another runner in the pack in front of him? Larsen said there were no results posted yet, so he had to wait two more hours to ensure that he was the champion. He was.
Larsen will now go to the final race in the New England Grand Prix on Nov. 3 in Manchester, N.H. Larsen said he only needs to show up and complete the race in order to win his age division in the Grand Prix. Until then, he will savor his national title.
“I’ve won the national cross country championship but I don’t think it included all the best runners,” he explained. “To win this race was very exciting for me.”
Athol High School’s Brad Bousquet was named the MIAA Student-Athlete of the Month Award for the month of September.
The award is presented on a monthly basis to one male and one female student-athlete who display excellence in the areas of academics, athletics and community service.
Bousquet is a three-sport athlete, playing soccer, basketball and baseball, and is currently serving as the captain of the soccer team for the second consecutive season. He has led the soccer team in scoring since his sophomore year, has started at shortstop for the baseball team since his freshman season, and has started on the basketball team since his sophomore year.
The senior is just as strong in the classroom, where he has earned a 3.82 grade point average, and currently ranks third in the senior class. He is a member of multiple academic groups, including the Math Team, National Honor Society, Student Council, and Peer Mediator. And the list goes on.
“Brad has always represented himself, his family and his school with the highest level of sportsmanship and character,” he said. “He leads by example in everything he does; from his work ethic in the classroom and on the field, to his character in the school and community, he models the belief that he will never let anyone outwork him.”
Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is email@example.com.