Fifth annual Steel Rail Half Marathon set for Sunday

As the Berkshire Running Center prepares to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Steel Rail Half Marathon, one thing seems certain: The race is now well-established in the Berkshire County pantheon of road racing.

The fifth edition of the 13.1-mile race begins Sunday at the back of the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough, then follows the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail into Adams and finishes at the Adams Visitors Center.

There will also be an 8-kilometer race that begins in Cheshire and follows the rail trail to Adams.

"We're on schedule," race co-director Kent Lemme said with a laugh earlier in the week. "We're getting there."

The half-marathon starts at 9:30 a.m., while the 8-kilometer race is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. While online registration has closed, anyone interested can sign up at the Berkshire Running Center on Saturday. There will be no race-day registration.

The half-marathon course consists of a full lap around the Berkshire Mall loop road, and a second loop back to the connector road that leads to the Ashuwillticook, where the runners will take the trail to the finish line.

Lemme said that through Monday, there were 612 runners who have pre-registered for the event. That's down from last year, where there were 750 registered for the half-marathon. Some 700 of those runners completed the 13.1 miles. The number of runners competing makes it the second-biggest running event in Berkshire County, behind the Independence Day Race.

"It's still a strong turnout. The reasons why, who really knows? Now that there are two [half-marathons], are people choosing between one or the other or both.

"We're still at over 500 for the half. That's a pretty strong half-marathon."

The Berkshire Running Center also puts on the Ramblefest half-marathon and 8-k race in the fall.

Lemme says that the three-time Steel Rail champion could possibly make it four straight.

"I think it's just that Eric Ashe is looking like the man to beat in the men's race," Lemme said.

Ashe beat Jake Sienko by four seconds last year, with Craig Coon taking third. On the list of returning runners, Sienko, Coon and fourth-place finisher Chris Mahoney, had not registered as of Monday. With registration still open on Saturday, it is still possible for any one of them, or all three, to show up.

The top returning runner, behind Ashe, is Pittsfield's Mark Rabasco. Rabasco finished fifth last year. Ashe's winning time was 1 hour, 9 minutes, 43 seconds, while Rabasco finished in 1:15.38.

Both Ashe and Rabasco competed in the 2017 Boston Marathon. Ashe was 28th overall in Boston, running 2:23:26, while Rabasco's time of 2:49:17 was good for 532nd.

"Unless somebody else is signed up who I'm not aware of," said Lemme. "There's always those, like last year, the guy who got second was somebody who I wasn't familiar with."

Apryl Sabadosa, who won the Steel Rail and then came back to win the Ramblefest half-marathon had not registered as of Monday. Sabadosa, who set a course record last year in 1:21.31, and the runners who finished second and third had not registered. The top returning racer, as of the beginning of the week, was Kate Sanders of Dalton, who was the fourth-place women's finisher in 1:33:26. Heather Williams of Pittsfield, who was seventh in 1:35:20, is also back, as is last year's eighth-place finisher, Megan Anello of Windsor. Anello, who won the last two Women's Running Races in Pittsfield, ran last year in 1:35:58.

Reach sports writer Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 or @howardherman.


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