American football season is still weeks away, but thousands filed into MetLife Stadium, the home of NY Giants, on Sunday morning (20) for the New York Giants Run of Champions 5K.
The third edition of this annual race in East Rutherford, New Jersey saw more participants, more Giants legends, and more speed than ever before.
Ethiopia’s Yonas Mebrahtu (below) led the way in a course record of 14:10, followed by team-mate Abiyot Endale and Travis Mahoney, a New Jersey native running on his home turf.
All three completed the 3.1-mile dash around the Meadowlands Sports Complex and down the MetLife Stadium sidelines, averaging faster than 4:40 per mile.
The first woman across the finish line was Tigist Tufa Demisse, another Ethiopian who lives and trains in New York, who took the spoils in 15:50.
It wasn’t just the top finishers who had a chance to feel like an MVP, though.
All 3,532 finishers completed their 5K with a 100-yard sprint down the sideline into the end zone, where they were greeted by former NY Giants players including Keith Elias, Brian Saxton, Bart Oates, Eric Dorsey, Mark Bavaro, and Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson.
“We may take this for granted as former players, but I applaud everyone who comes out on a Sunday morning to finish a 5K. It’s inspiring,” said the latter, in between giving high-fives to the wave of finishers.
“The runners here are having the same experience I did,” said Elias, who has lived every fan’s dream of joining his hometown team professionally. “You’re a little overwhelmed at first. You’re here, you’re in it, and you think, ‘Wow. Is this real?’”
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated finisher among the assembled ex-Giants was Stephen Baker “The Touchdown Maker,” a key member of the Giants team that won Super Bowl XXV in 1991.
Baker was inspired to take part last year, after seeing fellow Giants alum Joe Morris complete the 2013 race. Following his 34:29 finish this year, Baker gave credit to NYRR coach John Honerkamp for helping him train and mentally prepare.
“It’s tough out there: it’s just you. I didn’t want to let my team-mates down when I was playing, but in the 5K it’s about not letting myself down. You have to hold yourself accountable,” he said.
As he joined his team-mates for breakfast, Baker immediately laid down the challenge for next year.
“You guys are all talking,” Baker told Carson and company, “but I’m gonna talk you all into doing it next year. How great would that be? The Run of Champions for real!”
New York Road Runners for worldrunning.com