Friday, December 2, 2016

USATF Club Cross Country Championships—Preview No. 1

[Note: Based on registrations through Friday, December 2 at 6:00 pm EST]

It’s time to start looking forward to the largest gathering of Elite Masters Long Distance and Cross Country Runners in the country, the USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee Florida on December 10th. We already have over 400 runners registered. The Women's 6 km race goes off at 8 am, followed by the Men's 60+ 8km race at 8:45 am and then the Men's 40+ 10km race at 9:45 am.
Chase pack with Peter Hammer and Christophr Magill (yellow BAA singlets) vying with Christian Cushing-Murray (blue Cal Coast singlet) and Ahrlin Baumann (dark red Bowerman singlet) in the 2015 Club XC Championships [photo by Michael Scott]

The Weather Almanac suggests that morning temperatures somewhere between 40’s and 60’s are most likely, although on this date in 2013, the temps were in the 70’s with high humidity. That would likely be the ‘worst case’ scenario. Rain is possible but fairly unlikely. Winds could kick up as well but in the last 6 years, the strongest winds have been high single digit, and some years the winds have been calm. The 8 day ahead forecast calls for a much cooler day than usual; clear skies with temperatures starting off at 30 degrees for the Women's race with 5 mph winds and with both temperatures and wind rising from 30 to 40 degrees and winds from 5 mph to 7 mph for the start of the Men's 40+ race. But conditions could soften as the forecast for the Thursday before and the Sunday after are both 15-20 degrees warmer. Stay tuned.

With the exception of $100 each to the top Age-Grading Man and Woman, prize money goes to teams by age division. Individual medals go to the 3 podium finishers for each age division and of course to the top teams. This is also the final chance to score points for the Individual and Club Grand Prix races. And for the very top runners, a first chance to impress those who decide on next year's Harrier of the Year.

This preview will focus on the individual runners 40-49. I will gradually move up through the age divisions and then include a write-up on teams, if time permits. I will provide updates as new entrants appear in the ‘Status of Entries.’ Let's start with a look at the 40-44 year old division.


40-44Normally the overall winner of this race would come out of this group but with Sonja Friend-Uhl and Marisa Sutera Strange in older age groups, it is not certain. The top age division runners entered so far include Club Northwest’s Janet McDevitt, Heather Webster of the Genesee Valley Harriers, Nancy Ellis of the Tacoma City Running Club, and Alexandra Bigelow of the Bull City Track Club. McDevitt is the favorite; she took 2nd overall at Club XC last year in San Francisco in 22:06. Sixth in this division in 2014 Club XC, and with a 2nd place Masters finish in the 2014 USATF 12K Championship in 46:24, Bigelow is probably the second pick. Ellis could well push her for 2nd; she has run her 5K's this year in times ranging from 17:33 to 18:59. Her 48:03 in the Sound to Narrows 12K this summer suggests she has pretty good staying power as well. But it would be a mistake to count Webster out as she is quite tenacious. She was just off the age division podium at the 5K Championship in Syracuse in 18:04, close to the middle of Ellis's 5K range.
12/2/16 Prediction:    McDevitt   Bigelow   Ellis 
Janet McDevitt leading Sonja Friend-Uhl (491), Marisa Sutera Strange (on Friend-Uhl's right shoulder) and Fiona Bayly (white singlet) in the 2016 USATF 5K Road Championship in Syracuse NY  [photo by Gavin Liddell]

45-49. Sonja Friend-Uhl is the defending overall and division champion in 21:59 and is strongly favored to repeat within the division. Although injured in the middle of the year, she was able to post a 2nd place finish in the USATF 10K Championships in late April in 36:48. After rehab, she finished 3rd in the USATF 5K Championship in Syracuse in October in 17:46. It does not appear anyone else registered as of now can stay close to Friend-Uhl. The battle for 2nd place should be between Nancy Kaiser and Nancy Thomas. Kaiser had a 5-second edge on Thomas at Club XC last year in San Francisco, 23:52 to 23:57. Kaiser has had some good outings this year with a 40:01 10K and a 26:03 4 miler. Thomas has no recent results I can find which makes her prediction a bit iffier. Other runners who could be in the mix if any of those three falter include Deborah Fletcher and Angela Longworth, who were only separated by 5 seconds at Club XC last year in 25:49 and 25:54 respectively. Longworth ran the Twin Cities 10-miler in 1:14:13 while Fletcher was running the TC Marathon in 3:15:06.
12/2/16 Prediction:      Friend-Uhl   Kaiser   Thomas
Sonja Friend-Uhl opens up a huge gap over the competition at the 2016 USATF 5 km Masters XC Championship in Tallahassee [photo by Dave Allen]


40-44. There is, as always, a host of strong runners entered in this division. The strongest of all is defending champion, Kevin Castille, who took the overall race and the division crown last year in 31:00, winning by a half minute. He is in superb form again after battling injuries from 2015 through the first half of 2016. Castille won the USATF 5K in Syracuse in a smoking 14:46 and was the 1st Masters runner in the AJ Peachtree 10K in 31:17. 

Favored for 2nd is Gregory Mitchell who finished a half minute back from Castille last year in 2nd place. Injured for the middle portion of 2016, he bounced back to run 15:54 in a 5K XC race in Portland and then to finish 2nd in the USATF 15K Championship in Tulsa in 50:47 after leading most of the race. Mitchell's difficulties there were related to heat which should not be a problem in Tallahassee. Three others who will be right there with Mitchell are Neville Davey, John Gardiner and Mike Galoob. Davey finished 3rd last year, 11 seconds behind Mitchell and will surely be part of the pack chasing Castille. Davey has not had a challenge this fall; he won his last race, the Garin Park XC Challenge by a half minute in September. That could mean he is well rested or it could mean he is not race-sharp. It will be fascinating to see which it is. Gardiner is having one of his best season's in years, winning the USATF 1 Mile Road and 15K road championships and finishing 2nd to Castille in the 5K Championship. Last year he ran 12th at Club XC but should improve on that finish this year. Galoob appears to be running better than ever and, like Gardiner, will be looking to improve on his most recent Club XC race. For Galoob, that is the 2014 edition in Bethlehem PA where he came in 14th overall. That was a bit surprising as earlier that year he had won the USATF 10K Championship with a fine 32:47 run. This year Galoob took the title at both the Mayor's Cup 5K XC in 16:41 and the USATF-NE XC 8K Championships in 26:25.  Other strong runners in the field for this division include: Oscar Baumann, John Howell, David Mabe, Christopher Magill, Ryan McCalmon, Ethan Nedeau, Phillippe Rolly, Aaron Totten-Lancaster, David Wertz and Brandon Wingate.  It would take terrific running for any of those to break through past some of the top 5 to snatch a place on the divisional podium.
12/2/16 Prediction:      Castille   Mitchell   Galoob
Kevin Castille builds his lead in the 2015 Club XC Championship in San Francisco [photo by Michael Scott]

45-49. The main contenders for this divisional podium appear to be Steve Bell, Matthew Farley, Kevin O'Neil, Greg Putnam and Tim Van Orden. O'Neil and Farley ran Club XC last year with O'Neil having the upper hand by 13 seconds. O'Neil has been off a bit this year as his time in the Mayor's Cup and USATF NE XC races was slower than Putnam and Van Orden. Farley ran a 16:22 5K and a 22:37 5-miler. Bell was not in the race last year but has been running strongly this fall with a 2nd divisional place in the USATF 5KM Masters XC in 16:51. But Bell ran 15 seconds slower than a fellow that Van Orden edged in the USATF 5K road Championship in Syracuse. Putnam has had a good year, finishing 3rd in the USATF 10K in 33:08, and made a good showing in the recent XC races in New England, the Mayor's Cup 5K and the USATF NE 8K race. He was 16 seconds out of first in the former and only 15 seconds out of first in the latter. Van Orden has also been running strongly this year, especially this fall. He took 3rd with a 15:57 despite a strong age group in the USATF 5K Championship.

Gregory Mitchell powering his way to a 2nd place finish at the 2015 Club XC Championships in San Francisco [photo by Michael Scott]

As one might expect there are a number of other contenders who might break through for the podium. These include: Derek Fenton, Derrick Jones, Raymond Pugsley, Joe Shairs, Eric Stabb, and Steve Wilcox.

12/2/16 Prediction:       Putnam   Van Orden   Bell 

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