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First-time Cap 10K entrants might be headed to first-place finishes

Two first-time Statesman Capitol 10,000 entrants will be favorites for first-place finishes this Sunday when the 40th version of the road race winds through central Austin.

J.T. Sullivan and Jennifer Hall share a number of other similarities besides being first-time Cap 10K runners. The two 28 year olds both moved to Austin in 2013, competed as distance runners in college and now train together under Ryan Ponsonby, who helped ready Leo Manzano for his silver medal-winning effort in the 1,500 meters at the 2012 Olympics.

Sullivan, a three-time track and cross country All-American while at Stanford, clearly has the speed to win the Cap 10K. He has a sizzling 5K personal best of 13 minutes, 52 seconds. That’s 4:27 a mile, folks, and while Sullivan hasn’t raced much since moving to Austin, he placed second in the five-mile Thundercloud Turkey Trot in both 2014 and 2015.

Sullivan, a real estate appraiser, initially moved to Austin to train with Rogue Athletic Club before shifting to Ponsonby, a former distance runner for the Texas Longhorns and a co-founder of Flotrack. Since recovering from some Achilles’ tendon ailments, Sullivan has been ramping up his mileage to 60 miles a week and focusing on building greater strength. To prepare for the Cap 10K, he’s run sections of the course that starts and finishes downtown.

“I’ve always had any eye on the Cap 10,” he said. “It’s a big race on the Texas scene. It’s a tough course — the first three miles are all uphill, basically. It will be a challenge getting up that (section) and still finishing strong.”

Sullivan usually competes in track events this time of year, but decided to opt for a road race.

“I’ve never really run the 10K so this will be my debut,” he said. “I think road racing will be a good fit for me. If I’m in the right shape, I think I can win any race in Austin. Of course, there are plenty of good runners in Austin so it all depends on the day.”

Hall had a stellar running career at Lawrence North High in her hometown of Indianapolis, helping her school’s cross country team to third- and fifth-place finishes at state meets. She competed in track and cross country for Purdue, and after graduating in 2012 with a degree in health and kinesiology, she moved to Colorado Springs, Colo. While there, she met former Adams State runner Drew Soucy — her soon-to-be boyfriend — who told her she would love the running scene in Austin, and the couple eventually relocated here.

At Purdue, Hall focused on the 1,500 meters, but endured a series of stress fractures and only raced a handful of times as a collegian. Upon moving to Austin, though, she switched to running on the softer surface of the Butler Trail at Lady Bird Lake and her training progressed. In 2014, she won the Schlotzsky’s Bun Run 5K in a sterling 16:44, and two years later, she placed first at the Silicon Labs Sunshine 10K in 37:48.

“I really like Austin. I like the climate, and it has the best running community of any place I’ve ever been,” said Hall, who manages Ready to Run, a local shoe and running apparel store. “The trail system here is unique to a city this size. It’s perfect for training.”

When Ponsonby suggested that Hall try something different as opposed to a shorter-distance track race, the Cap 10K was the choice.

“I really have no idea what I can run right now for a 10K. I’d be happy to run under 37 minutes,” Hall said. “I’ve never run the course before — it’s somewhat of an experiment — but I’m running to win it.”

Considering that both Sullivan and Hall had been plagued by injuries, Ponsonby said, “My goal for them was to figure out what I could do to help to keep them healthy so they can sustain consistent training. Now they’re getting to line up on for the Capitol 10,000, which is an awesome race, the largest 10K in Texas.

“For them, it’s special because they get to run right here in their hometown and showcase their fitness. That’s already a victory for both.”

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