Ranging from Olympians to Yale residential college deans, nearly 5,000 runners flooded city streets yesterday morning for the annual New Haven Road Race.

Radio DJs and bagpipers blasted music as spectators watched the half-mile, 5-kilometer and 20-kilometer races. They also watched as U.S. Olympian Abdi Abdiraham set a national record, completing the USA 20K championship course in 58 minutes and 42 seconds. But Olympians are commonplace in the annual event, race director John Bysiewicz said.

“It was started 28 years ago as a signature event to have on Labor Day weekend,” he said. “Since [then], they’ve had Olympic gold medalists; Greg Myers, who won the Boston Marathon; and many New York City Marathon winners. I thought that there could be an American record this year. It has been used as a tune-up for some of the world’s top runners.”

While some families and friends ran together, others relied on the spirit of the packed crowd to complete the course.

“It was bananas,” said Southern Connecticut State University student Gary Titus, who energized the crowd by pumping his arms, dancing through the finish line and wearing two flowers in his hair. “I was feeling sluggish, and I saw some shrubbery, so I put it in my headband as if I was grabbing energy from the earth … Without the crowd, I don’t think I’d be able to finish.”

Race leaders agreed that the many fans and participants were beneficial for the city.

“There are nearly 1,000 participants who come from out of state,” said Bysiewicz. “It has a positive economic impact, because people do have to stay in the city and spend a weekend in New Haven.”

Although Yale College held classes for Labor Day, some students and faculty members added to the large turnout.

“I don’t think I’ve seen that many people at one place in New Haven besides for maybe the Yale-Harvard football game,” said Law School student Reeves Anderson LAW ’07.

Those who crossed the finish line for Yale included Jonathan Edwards College Dean John Mangan, who finished the 20-kilometer race in 1:30:16, and Branford College Dean Thomas McDow.

“The great thing about the race is that it brings out the whole community,” said McDow, who ran the five-kilometer race at 25:45 in spite of a sore knee. “It seems like everyone is downtown. I think it would be great to have big groups from all the residential colleges come out and all wear t-shirts … it would be great for college spirit.”

Kaveh Khoshnood, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health, was one of many participants who ran without prior training.

“I’m not a runner, but I do this once a year,” he said. “It started as a bit of a personal challenge, and I also really wanted to run with my son.”

Khoshnood said the Yale community could be more engaged with Labor Day festivities in the future.

“It’s a bit surprising that Yale has classes on Labor Day,” he said. “At a minimum, they should start at noon. It would be great if Yale could be a part of this race more so than it is now … I know other faculty members who couldn’t come because they were teaching.”

For many participants, like women’s 20-kilometer race winner and Olympic contender Blake Russell, the experience was one worth repeating next Labor Day.

“It seemed like a really fun place and the weather was great,” Russell said. “I enjoyed it and I really look forward to coming next year.”

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