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County Champions Led the Dock Race

Wed, 11/15/2023 - 18:37
Erik Engstrom, the runner-up, James Burke, the winner, and Neil Falkenhan, the third-place finisher, were the 3.3-mile Dock Race’s top three in Montauk Sunday.
Jack Graves

It was a good thing that George Watson, who at Sunday’s 3.3-mile Dock Race in Montauk was celebrating 50 years of the races, had the Elitefeats timers at the finish line in front of his dockside restaurant and bar, for this year’s turnout of more than 400 was double that of last year and the year before that.

Up until last year, the race director, who often used to win his running, biking, and anything-that-floats races, and who is known for his acerbic sense of humor, gave out numbered tongue depressors to finishers as they crossed the line. So, having Elitefeats there was a first for him.

At the starting line in front of the post office, with legions of runners, walkers, strollers, skateboarders, bikers, and dogs facing him, Watson told them that a) no dogs would be allowed this time, b) bikers would have to take their bibs off before crossing the line, c) those wanting to have lunch at his restaurant should, rather than dawdle, as in the past, eat and leave so others could sit down, and d) if he saw anyone running on the right side of the road, rather than on the  left, he would run them over.

Appropriately, given that it was a 50th-anniversary race, the top of the field was swift. James Burke, a 26-year-old Port Jefferson High and Georgetown graduate who farms and works with wood and lives in Springs, won it in 17 minutes and 17.45 seconds. No surprise there inasmuch as Burke still holds Suffolk County’s indoor mile record at 4.09, according to Kevin Barry, East Hampton High’s boys cross-country coach.

Erik Engstrom, 25, also of Springs, who was the high school Class B cross-country champion in 2016, the same year that Burke was the county’s Class C champion, was the runner-up, in 17:36.48. Engstrom said he and Burke ran together for the first two miles, after which, he said, Burke took over.

Neil Falkenhan, 39, of East Hampton, was the third-place finisher, in 18:18.42. “They got me in the first mile — I had their backsides the rest of the way,” Falkenhan said as a growing crowd of finishers milled about in the sun outside the Dock bar and restaurant, which was closing for the season after Sunday.

There were three county champions in the field that day, the 63-year-old Paul Hamilton, another Springs resident, who was a miler at Longwood High School, being the other. Rather, there were four: Jasper Samuelson, a 13-year-old who also lives in Springs, and who led that school’s cross-country team to its second consecutive undefeated season, recently won at Sunken Meadow a countywide 1.5-mile race for junior high school boys in 8:33, besting 467 other competitors.

Samuelson’s time, said Barry, was the sixth-fastest registered by local runners when they were middle schoolers here, a list that comprises Ryan Fowkes (8:04), Logan Gurney (8:20), Evan Masi (8:25), Joshua Vasquez (8:26), and Geo Espinoza (8:30).

The Springs eighth grader was Sunday’s seventh-place finisher — behind Burke, Engstrom, Falkenhan, Rebeka Stowe, 33, the women’s winner, Eric Perez, and Travis Lutz, who outleaned him at the line.

Barry said before the race began that he was very much looking forward to having Samuelson and Watts Comly, the Springs number-two runner, with him on the varsity cross-country team next year. “We’ll have a good young team,” he said. “I’m only losing two seniors, Brayan Rivera and Liam Fowkes.” As for the team he had this fall, “We made the counties, finishing eighth among eight teams,” said Barry, who added, “I liked it, though, that they came and competed.”

Mike Avallone, one of Sunday’s 414 listed participants, said that his son, Noah, a champion snowboarder, has been invited to compete in the Youth Olympic Games that are to take place in Korea in January.

And another participant, Angelika Cruz, said that the 100-strong Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter Hurricane youth swim team has had four meets thus far, and is to have its fifth, with the Cross Island Y, at the RECenter on Saturday. The team, which has “a lot of 8-and-unders,” she added, was gearing up for the Holiday Invitational at the Nassau Aquatic Center in East Meadow that’s to be held over the Dec. 8 to Dec. 10 weekend.

Asked, in parting, if he had run anyone over who was running on the right side of the road, Watson shook his head and, with a slight smile, said, “I tried.”

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