LAUREL RUN — Maybe it was a good thing Sean Luzzi didn’t need to worry much about his time.
Luzzi, the winner of the first two stages of the Valley’s Fastest Man/Woman Mile Series, had a comfortable 36-second lead heading into the final race of the 2018 event hosted by the Susquehanna River Runners Club. With the rest of the competition more or less taken care of, all that was left was to conquer another tall task: a one-mile climb up the Giants Despair hill to take the men’s championship.
The series newcomer had only ran up the hill once before, and doing so in a race setting was a new experience. He knew enough to throw times out the window, though.
“You kind of have to realize, the beginning isn’t as steep as the end,” Luzzi said. “I think a big part of running a little bit quicker than I thought (I did) was just being careful, and saving a little bit for when it gets steep.
“Just breaking it up into segments, trying not to look at the watch too much.”
In the end, all that mattered was Luzzi crossing the finish line first for the third straight race. Taking Mile 3 in 7 minutes, 3 seconds, the 21-year-old captured the Valley’s Fastest men’s title Wednesday in a cumulative time of 16:17.
He’s the newest men’s champion, while Marina Martino once again defended her women’s title with an aggregate time of 20:47. Keith Austin and Traci Strungis were the men’s and women’s masters champions.
“I’m super happy and really honored to do it. I love being up here, and I love the Wyoming Valley,” said Luzzi, who recently completed his collegiate career with Misericordia. “So to get that cool little title means a lot to me.”
Luzzi and Martino had plenty of time to spare entering Wednesday’s final mile.
Luzzi still didn’t take it too easy, though, and set the pace from the starting gun despite being “careful” over the first quarter-mile. He topped race runner-up Matt Burne by 24 seconds (7:27), while series runner-up Kyle Suponcic took third this race 39 seconds behind (7:42).
Martino, a former Misericordia runner herself, also had plenty in her to take another women’s title despite winning only the middle leg (a two-loop, paved mile) of this summer’s series.
She was fast enough to take second place in the women’s division in Mile 1 (at Misericordia’s track) and on Wednesday. The winners of the other stages — Clare Schoen of Scranton in Mile 1, and Caitlin Gaughan of Dalton in Mile 3 — didn’t compete in the entire series, so Martino edged Bree Riley for the series title.
Gaughan, a 2004 graduate of Scranton, earned first place out of the women Wednesday in 8:49, sixth overall. Like Luzzi, this was her first time racing in the Valley’s Fastest series.
Though she’s experienced a handful of marathons and half marathons, this was a whole other experience. She also took after Luzzi by avoiding checking her progress in real time while making the climb.
“I never expected to win it. I kind of just went into it thinking, ‘Just try to hang on the best you can. Push yourself up the hill.’” Gaughan said. “It was just kind of a cool experience because I’ve been trying to run more hills, so it was sort of a challenge against my own self.”
Topping a runner like Martino, even for one race, added an extra level of pride to the win.
“I have so much respect for Marina,” Gaughan said. “I know her entire resume of running, and it was completely unexpected. I just felt honored to be able to run with Marina in a race.”
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Mile 3 top finishers
1. Sean Luzzi, Dallas, 7:03
2. Matt Burne, Scranton, 7:27
3. Kyle Suponcic, 7:42
4. John Martino, Dallas, 8:18
5. Jacob Tazik, Scranton, 8:44
6. Caitlin Gaughan, Dalton, 8:49
7. Jason Hull, Kingston, 9:04
8. Brandon Hampton, Exeter, 9:05
9. Jerry Steward, 9:06
10. Kyle Franceski, Dalton, 9:06.