Conner Mantz wins the Manchester Road Race in record time; Weini Kelati defends women’s title

It doesn’t seem like it but it’s a long way from the corner of Main Street and East Center Street to the finish line of the Manchester Road Race, but when Wesley Kiptoo started to kick, Conner Mantz knew he had to go with him.

“You kind of have to bet on yourself in those last few hundred meters and take a risk,” Mantz said. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to run him down or hold off the rest of the field, but you have to go out and risk it.”

Mantz, who ran a 2:08:16 in his debut marathon six weeks ago, went for it. He pulled ahead of the surging Kiptoo and with the rest of the lead pack trailing behind him, willed his tired, cramping legs to keep going fast.

And the gamble paid off. Mantz, 25, of Mapleton, Utah, held on to break the course record set in 2019 by Edward Cheserek, finishing in 21 minutes, 4 seconds. He wasn’t the only one – runner-up Morgan Beadlescomb (21:05), Kiptoo (21:06), Andrew Colley (21:07) and Hillary Bor (21:15) all broke Cheserek’s record of 21:16.

“It means a lot,” Mantz said. “It’s pretty special.”

Weini Kelati, who broke the women’s course record last year by over a minute, defended her title, winning the 4.748-mile race in 23:39. Jessa Hanson was second (24:41) and Taylor Werner third (24:27).

“It was a little slower than last year,” said Kelati, 25, of Flagstaff, Ariz., who won in 22:55 last year. “But it just feels amazing to come here on Thanksgiving and celebrate with these people.”

It was a perfect day for running, sunny and brisk, and 10,000 runners took to the streets of Manchester for the 86th annual Thanksgiving Day race.

It was Mantz’ first time in Manchester. On Oct. 9, he ran the fastest debut marathon by a native-born American, finishing Chicago in 2:08:16. He said he was at about 80 percent, recovery-wise, before the race.

But he had been in Connecticut earlier in the fall, winning the Faxon Law New Haven 20K national championship, so he was looking forward to returning to the state.

There was a large lead pack that didn’t break up until that final turn onto Main Street. The leaders went through the first mile in 4:20:29, then climbed the Highland Street hill in 4:51. Kiptoo surged ahead and won King of the Hill, an extra $1,000 in prize money.

There were about 10 in the pack flying down the Porter Street hill. It had shrunk to seven when they hit the fourth mile marker but with that many left, it was shaping up to be a brawl to the finish.

“Wesley, every time you’re in a race with him, it’s going to be a fast race,” Mantz said. “We were trying to whittle down that pack but it didn’t seem to do much because everybody is so fit right now. We had 20 or so world class runners in that field; it’s really tough to have to push the pace against some of those guys.”

When they turned the corner, Kiptoo started to go.

“I saw Wesley start to pick it up and I was like, ‘OK, I know Wesley’s moving strong. Sometimes I can outkick him, sometimes I can’t, but if I go with him, I know I’ll have a good finish,’” Mantz said.

They went. Beadlescomb, the fastest miler (3:52) of the group, was sixth coming around the corner. He had run the course the day before and knew how deceptively long the Main Street stretch was.

“I knew when Conner went to the front, he was going to keep it and it was going to be him and Kiptoo,” said Beadlescomb, 24, of Boston. “I kind of keyed off them and tried not to let them go.

“I noticed that yesterday, you get around that corner and it’s real easy to get antsy, especially with that downhill. As soon as you hit that uphill, the last surge starts for the last 100-120 meters.”

Mantz was in front, glancing over his shoulder to see where Kiptoo was. He didn’t even see Beadlescomb coming up.

“I went too early,” said Kiptoo, 23, of Flagstaff, Ariz. “After the downhill, I ran out of gas.”

Beadlescomb passed Kiptoo but he couldn’t catch Mantz.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Mantz, who won $7,000 for first and $2,000 for breaking the course record. “It was a grind out there; I didn’t expect it to be that much of a battle. But with this field, there’s a lot of Olympians and world championship competitors.”

Lori Riley can be reached at lriley@courant.com.