NAZ Elite This Week: 6 to take on ekiden relay in Michigan Wednesday
Ekiden relays, a famous long-distance event in Japan, are not very popular in the United States, but NAZ Elite head coach Ben Rosario wouldn’t be surprised if it catches on after six of his runners will compete in one against some of the top clubs from across the nation.
NAZ Elite is sending three men and three women to compete in an ekiden on Wednesday in Michigan, where they will toe the line against athletes from clubs such as T.E.A.M. Boulder, Bowerman Track Club, Minnesota Distance Elite and Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. The groups will compete as teams, another rarity in the sport outside of the cross country format that’s popular among college and high school runners, as they take on legs that add up to the distance of a marathon.
“It’s very rare what we are doing next week,” Rosario said Wednesday during a phone interview.
The idea of competing as a team brings another enticing aspect to the race, which will be broken up into two 10Ks, two 5Ks and two 6.1Ks, and will take place on a bike path that circles a lake in Stony Creek Metropark.
“They grew up, all these folks, running high school cross country, running cross country in college, and that’s always their favorite season. To be able to have that same sort of environment and to be running against some of the other top clubs in the country, I think we are super jazzed,” Rosario said.
Rosario is sending for the men’s group veteran Scott Fauble, second-year pro Rory Linkletter and rookie Tyler Day, who only a little more than a week ago signed with NAZ Elite. Meanwhile, the women who will represent NAZ Elite are Kellyn Taylor, Lauren Paquette and Danielle Shanahan.
They will alternate by gender each leg of the relay, with Shanahan set to close out the final 5K and Day assigned to start the relay with the 10K. Paquette will run the 6.1K after Day finishes his 10K, and Linkletter will take the ekiden sash — as opposed to a relay baton stick — to take on the 5K leg. Taylor will run the second 10K and Fauble will look to get Shanahan in a good position after taking on the second 6.1K.
Rosario assembled his team, which could take home $2,000 if they win, based on who’s ready to race at this point of the year and who’s available. He said Fauble and Day started their training for the fall pretty early and are ready to show their fitness, adding that Linkletter was a good choice because he “gets into shape pretty quickly.” Rosario selected Taylor because she’s always been a quality veteran leader and stellar athlete for the team, and went with Paquette based on her stellar summer outings she produced not long after joining the team. He chose Shanahan, who takes a 5,000-meter PR of 15:26.91 set in 2019, for the race to take the anchor spot.
It’s a speedy group for NAZ Elite, as a handful of those names hold team records in at least one distance. And the fastest athlete for each leg Wednesday will receive $500 in prize money.
Rosario expects the men to stay in the area and compete a week after the ekiden in a half marathon. That doesn’t mean he expects the men representing the team to take it slow when it comes to the relay.
“We are not going to hold anything back; this is a race,” Rosario said. “We’re all systems go for that relay, and I don’t think we’ll have a problem coming back and running a half marathon a week later.”
The ekiden is scheduled to start at 7 a.m. and will be streamed live on the Hansons Run Shop Facebook page.
Considering the course, which Rosario has been on many times before his days coaching NAZ Elite, fast times could be clocked.
“It’s mostly flat, with a few little inclines and declines, but nothing that really slows you down or speeds you up too much,” Rosario said.
The NAZ Elite athletes just have to make sure they don’t drop the sash.
Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.