BANGOR — Knowing what Riley Masters was trying to accomplish, a throng of Independence Day parade-goers lining Main Street erupted once the homegrown University of Maine running star blasted down the long, gradual hill toward West Market Square.
Fashioning a yellow Oregon Track Club singlet, the Black Bears’ star and Bangor native fed off that energy – even waving to the crowd at one point – as he gunned for a two-decade-old course record in Sunday’s Walter Hunt Memorial 3,000-meter road race.
Although Masters fell three seconds short of his goal of eclipsing the longstanding mark set three years before he was born, his strong 8-minute, 13-second run from upper Wilson Street in Brewer to Pickering Square in Bangor, finishing with a last-gasp kick over the Kenduskeag Stream footbridge, was plenty satisfying.
“Going across the [Pickering Square] bridge I was working [hard], I figured if I closed pretty hard I might get it,” he said.
Gerry Clapper and Tim Wakeland share the course record of 8:10.
Runner-up and two-time champ Mike Bunker of Rockland came in 17 seconds behind Masters at 8:30, while Bangor’s Adam Goode was third in 8:40.
Rounding out the top five were Rich Tremain at 8:46 and Ryan Walling of Cary, N.C., in 8:51.
The women’s race featured a first-time champion in Elizabeth Brunton of Birch Harbor, making her debut at the 3,000-meter distance.
Brunton completed the course in 10:10, while Jennifer Dagan and Jennie Lucy, both of Bangor, were 20 seconds back, running 10:30.
Kristine Guaraldo of South Portland’s 10:33 and Maggie Moss’ 10:44 comprised of the top five women.
The stage was set for a storybook ending to a remarkable season for Masters, who has re-written the University of Maine record books left and right while running in two NCAA Championship races, but he simply ran out of gas after turning onto Exchange Street, mainly attributed to the quick start on the downhills.
“I tried to go out hard so I had some room for error in the last half, but it didn’t work out,” he said.
“I was thinking maybe I’ll go out a little bit slower this year, but once the gun went off I just said to myself, I want to go for it,” added Masters who sliced three seconds off his 2009 winning time (8:16).
Masters was never seriously threatened, breaking away from the pack right from the gun and hammering the first mile in 4:07, but the 80-degree temperatures, bright sunshine and high humidity made keeping that pace a challenge.
“The heat was really tough, so it took a lot out of me, especially going out that quick,” Masters said.
Even though he just missed breaking the record shared by two of Maine’s top road runners of all time, ending his season with a convincing win in the Queen City was plenty for the 20-year-old Masters to smile about.
“This is a race I’ve run since I was younger, it’s always fun to do this,” said Masters, who is ready for a break from running and is looking forward to resting up for his junior cross-country season and playing some golf with his dad.
While this type of race catered perfectly to a track standout in Masters, Brunton, who specializes in the 5K and 10K distances, had to alter her workouts slightly for her first Hunt race.
“I did 200s and 400s [on the track] instead of 800s and mile repeats, which is what I normally do because I was training for the longer distances,” Brunton said, “but I knew this was coming so I switched it in the last three weeks.”
Brunton’s quickly emerging into one of Eastern Maine’s top female road racers, a fact that was further enhanced by her winning one of the state’s top races.
“I definitely wanted to win it, that’s usually my goal for all the races [I do] this year,” she said.
Like Masters, Brunton wasn’t really seriously threatened, and she looked strong and fresh as she blistered through the finish line.
“This is my ninth race this season and it’s probably the best one that I’ve had this year,” said Brunton.
The race featured 467 finishers, a bit down from last year’s record throng of 511, but participants came from in and out of state.
Walling, who was fifth overall, was part of a high school cross country team from Cary, N.C., which made the trek to Bangor from the Tar Heel State, with both the boys’ and girls’ teams participating.
The girls’ team wound up winning the female team award.