By Mark Will-Weber
(with photos by Clay Shaw and Karen Mitchell)
With about a mile to go, Matt Gillette was enjoying a solid, no-pressure lead in the historical “Run for the Diamonds” 9-mile footrace. With just a whisper of a light breeze and more than reasonable (40-ish) temps, spectators were out in force—-blasting rock n roll, firing up bonfires and barbecues, and, yes, some of the more spirited even hoisting a pre-noon brew or two.
As Gillette powered on with smooth, road-eating strides, a trio of young women dressed in autumnal attire of jeans, sweaters, and leather boots, cheered him on from a sidewalk, one of them enthusiastically belted out: “Hey! I bet on you!”
Apparently betting on the footrace—once a highlight of many of the races early in the last century—is still a thing with some of Berwick’s locals.
And not a bad wager at all, as Gillette—former Shippensburg University standout from Allentown, PA.—nailed down his fifth all-time victory in Berwick, Pennsylvania’s Turkey Day classic (dating back to 1908!) race. He also notched his career best time—44 minutes, 49.95 seconds—over the rugged route (more than a mile “up” from 2-miles to 5K or a bit beyond), cracking 45-minutes and joining a rather elite corp of runners (several dozen) who have been able to crank sub-5 minute miles around the lasso-shaped layout. (Former U.S. Olympian Pete Pfitzinger still holds the formidable men’s mark of 43 minutes, 21 seconds, established when he won Berwick in 1981.)
The baseball-capped Gillette shook out his arms occasionally (“I was cold!”) and even glanced back several times to verify that he was holding on to—or expanding—his lead on his closest pursuers (David Haines and Alex Price), but he never felt particularly pressured after pushing to about a 50-meter lead at 5K and at least double that on the sweeping downhill and sharp left turn just past the halfway mark.
The lanky Gillette—once coached by U.S. Olympian Steve Spence (former Diamonds champ in 1987) at “Ship”—tabulated four straight victories at Berwick from 2015 through 2018, with a previous best time of 45:02. He was out with an injury in 2019 and finished second in 2020. But Matt in the Hat was certainly back and in fast form this Thanksgiving morning.
“I felt good,” confirmed Gillette. And as if to offer some proof, he added: “I clocked my last mile in about 4:48….”
Gillette’s five victories puts him with some legendary company, as he’s now tied in the all-time Berwick win circle with Canadian Olympian Robert “Scotty” Rankine (1933 through 1937) and past Boston Marathon star Johnny Kelley (four wins, 1942 through 1945). Still at the top, in case Gillette wants something truly challenging to shoot for, is the late U.S. Olympian and Villanova star Browning Ross with TEN victories at Berwick.
Price and Haines battled through the rollercoaster miles (4 to 6) of Kashinka Hollow Road, with Price eventually emerging to secure runner-up honors in 45:24. Haines (3rd, 45:47), was almost a minute ahead of Navy runner Mitchell Rome (4th, 46:40), who held off a late kick from former Princeton standout Trevor Conde (5th, 46:45).
Rounding out the men’s top ten were Greg Jaindl (6th, 47:15), Rob Ahrens (7th, 47:18), Chris McCabe (8th, 47:34), Nick Cardamone (9th, 47:46) and Alex Fitch (10th, 48:17).
Meanwhile, one of America’s most promising young marathoners—-Paige Stoner—was sculpting a monumental performance in the women’s race. All Stoner did was totally rock the Berwick course and post the first sub-50 minute women’s performance ever, clocking 49 minutes, 5.29 seconds. As an interesting historical footnote, Stoner’s time was slightly faster than the winning effort of Finnish Olympian Ville Ritola (49:24 in 1921) a full century before— though admittedly most of the course was unpaved and sometimes muddy back in “those days” and running shoe “technology” was not yet a phrase in a runner’s vocabulary.
More proof of Stoner’s astounding performance certainly was reflected in Regan Rome’s solid runner-up effort. The former William & Mary and Providence College five-time All-American distance runner clocked 51:38, a time that wins more often than not on the Berwick course. In fact, until Stoner dramatically upped the ante in the 2021 edition, only Karleigh Foster (50:33, 2014), Heidi Wolfsberger Peoples (50:35 in 2009), and Katy Schilly (50:54, 1981) had dipped under 51 minutes en route to a victory.
Although Stoner’s clocking was eye-opening and/or jaw-dropping to some Diamond Run aficionados, the former Pottsville High School and Syracuse University star seemed to take it all in stride, with little demonstrative fanfare. Asked if she was surprised to break 50 minutes, Stoner replied: “Well, that was sort of the plan…”
Mission accomplished! But given that Stoner debuted with a 2:28 marathon (the fastest ever from an American woman under the age of 25), perhaps it all makes sense. Stoner is capable of incredible performances and perhaps the best is yet to come. [Note: Annie Frisbie, 24, Minneapolis, surpassed Paige’s mark with a 2:26:18 on November 7, 2021 at NYC Marathon.]
Following Stoner and Rome in the women’s field were: Bria Edwards (3rd, 55:10). Kara Foster (4th, 55:59), Maizy Aikey (5th, 56:19), Katie Sick (6th, 56:35), Carly Danoski (7th, 57:11), Laurel Moyer (8th, 58:30), Eryn Milius (9th, 58:39) and Anna Weissenberg (10th, 59:43).
While the top seven finishers in both the men’s and women’s fields are presented with diamond rings and pendants respectively, the Berwick race also recognizes certain age group winners. On the men’s side, Reza Manavi (Masters, 54:16), Sean Robbins (Veterans, 54:29), Phil Garland (Seniors, 58:23) and Mark Sherlock (Super Seniors, 1:09). Women’s winners included Christy Peterson (Masters, 1:03), Tanya Navarro (Veterans, 1:04.56), Katie Fisher (Seniors, 1:10:27) and Debbie Alunni (Super Seniors, 1:29.53).
In addition to the fantastic racing performances, perhaps the “Run for the Diamonds” event was the most impressive winner of all—nearly 900 runners completed the challenging course, an impressive comeback as distance races everywhere attempt to rebound despite lingering COVID-19 concerns.
Mark Will-Weber—a former senior editor/writer at Runner’s World magazine—is the author of “Run for the Diamonds: 100 Years of Footracing in Berwick, Pennsylvania” and the creator of “The Quotable Runner.” He has coached at Moravian College and Lehigh University, with high school stints at Palmerton, Freedom, and Liberty.
- 49:06 Paige Stoner, 25, Charlottesville, VA
- 51:38 Regan Rome, 25, Providence, RI
- 55:10 Bria Edwards, 28, Lancaster, PA
- 56:00 Kara Foster, 31, State College, PA
- 56:15 Maizy Aikey, 17, Bloomsburg, PA
- 56:36 Katie Sick, 30, Millville, PA
- 57:12 Carly Danoski, 23, Clarks Summit, PA
- 58:31 Laurel Moyer, 25, Lock Haven, PA
- 58:40 Eryn Milius, 36, Dallas, PA
- 59:34 Anna Weissenberg, 20, Shelton, CT
- 59:44 Alison Schwalm, 43, Line Lexington, PA
- 1:00:08 Natasha Fedkina, 23, State College, PA
- 1:00:56 Samantha Snead, 33, Blakely, PA
- 1:01:07 Lacey Danilovitz, 16, Moosic, PA
- 1:01:13 Marie Lemay, 33, Rochester, NY
- 1:01:25 Grace Petrick, 18, Danville, PA
- 1:01:50 Marina Martino, 30, Dallas, PA
- 1:02:28 Jenn Swiderski-Yonick, 35, Camp Hill, PA
- 1:02:31 Maggie Kozich, 16, Mountaintop, PA
- 1:02:39 Whitney Heydenreich, 33, Danville, PA
- 44:50 Matt Gillette, 30, Allentown, PA
- 45:25 Alex Price, 28, Bethlehem, PA
- 45:48 David Haines, 22, Madison, WI
- 46:41 Mitchell Rome, 21, Dallas, PA
- 46:46 Trevor Conde, 32, Bethlehem, PA
- 47:16 Gregory Jaindl, 24, Macungie, PA
- 47:19 Rob Ahrens, 33, Dunmore, PA
- 47:35 Chris McCabe, 32, Boiling Springs, PA
- 47:47 Nick Cardamone, 22, Ambler, PA
- 48:18 Alex Fitch, 24, Bethlehem, PA
- 48:41 Christian Schaaf, 22, Phoenixville, PA
- 49:02 Colin Kelly, 22, Scranton, PA
- 49:03 Robbie Romano, 23, Great Mills, MD
- 49:15 Daniel Danilovitz, 15, Moosic, PA
- 49:32 Rory Lieberman, 16, Danville, PA
- 50:12 Devon Harris, 25, Bethlehem, PA
- 50:12 Matthew Martino, 28, Hanover, PA
- 50:19 C Fred Joslyn, 37, Boiling Springs, PA
- 50:27 Christopher Wadas, 39, Kingston, PA
- 51:12 Bryce Phillips, 16, Dallas, PA
Categories: Race Coverage