-from GoHatters.com special correspondent Ralph Epifanio-
This Thanksgiving Day, while most of Stetson's student-athletes were on the road towards home, a number of Hatter Harriers could best be described as "at home on the roads."
Several of these Hatters, past and present, were at Deland's Sperling Sports Complex (Stetson's home cross country course) for the 25th Annual Deland Thanksgiving Run. Started in 1986 by John Boyle, this event has grown to become one of Florida's most popular holiday celebrations of family fitness. The 2011 race set an event record with over 1000 pre-registered runners. For the somewhat serious, there was a 5K (3.1 miles), and for those with true dedication, a ten mile run.
The ten miler, with 386 finishers, proved to be a Hatter headliner. Taking an early lead in the race was Stetson sophomore Andrew Epifanio. He had planned to use the race as a hard training run, in preparation for the spring race season, but circumstances determined that it would be much more.
"I was leading for a mile, a mile and a half-it wasn't by much, maybe five seconds--and Joe (Matusczak) caught up," explained Epifanio.
Andrew later decided that Matusczak, a Stetson graduate and his current coach, was just running smart.
"We ran together until the turnaround, at five miles, and he surged on me, building up about a 20 second lead," Epifanio added. "I made up about five or ten seconds, but when he hit eight, he surged again."
"I was going to just run between 5:40 and 5:45 miles," Joe explained, "whether or not I was with someone. Because of my training, I was locked into that pace. That 5:45 pace is pretty comfortable. If I were to run any faster, I'd probably start feeling fatigued.
"But at eight (miles), I was planning to throw in a surge. If someone was with me then, I would do whatever I could to separate myself."
And that--despite a strong challenge in the last half mile by his protégé--was that.
"I'm training for the December 18th Jacksonville Bank Marathon," Matusczak said. "My ultimate goal is to run a 2:50. Everything I've done so far indicates the possibility of a sub-2:40."
"Right now he's the guy to beat," John Boyle said of Matusczak, "the guy who is expected to win any of the local races, as he's already done several times this fall."
"He runs (and works) just as hard--if not harder--than any of us at practice," Epifanio asserted. "He's always out there, running right with us and encouraging us every step of the way."
Still, it was not a distance that either was familiar with.
"This is not a typical race distance for either of us. (It was only Andrew's second 10 miler.) We went out in 28:30 (for five miles), and I know that he (Epifanio) normally runs that for a five mile race. But we came back, running a second five miles, in about the same time."
The coach won in 57:18, and the 2011 Stetson team co-captain was second in 57:29. Both set a PR, the latter by a HUGE 3:29. While presenting each with his award, race director John Boyle had to laugh at the irony. First is the fact that he recruited Epifanio for the Stetson cross country team. And when he retired in 2010-after 19 years as head coach-his position was filled by the male and female winners of the 10 Mile Race.
"Joe is running just about the same times as I did, 'back in the day.' And not only did he follow me as a coach at Stetson, but we share the same birthday, December 29th."
Winning the women's side of the ten mile race, in 63:41, was Mallory Dunn. Mallory is a former University of Florida cross country and track star (and captain). She was Stetson's head coach in 2010-2011, and according to Boyle--who is probably the most experienced race official in Florida--she is considered to be one of the top female triathletes in the state.
In addition to Andrew Epifanio winning his age group in the ten miler, first-year Stetson cross country runner Sabrina Guzsvany was the first female in the 18-29 5K age category, just missing her road PR (19:55). She finished in 20:04, 21st of 671 finishers.
Elsewhere on Turkey Day: Stephanie Bird placed 13th of 458 women in the Space Coast Art Festival/Turkey Trot in 23:09; Matthew Ady ran a 22:44 5K in the Franklin, Tennessee Turkey Trot for Graceworks (22:44); Deryck Greene (2:01:03; 643 of 1047) and Christine Iseley (2:01:05; 353 of 1011) both ran the Half Marathon (13.1 miles) at the Subaru Distance Classic in Jacksonville.