We are seeing a resurgence in large Road Races as we head into the second half of 2022. See my earlier report on Grandma’s Marathon on March 21, 2021. The way was paved by two early road races that navigated Covid protocols with mid-sized fields.
NAPLES DAILY NEWS HALF MARATHON—January 17, 2021
The Naples Half Marathon is not one of the most prominent road races for either Open or everyday runners, but it is well known among top Masters runners for having a generous prize structure for Masters athletes. With a $5500 Prize Purse for the top Male and Female Masters, Grandmasters and Senior Grandmasters, they attract many top runners in the 40+, 50+, and 60+ groups from out of state, at least in non-Covid years. There are also $100 cash prizes for Age Group winners which can help make the trip less costly and more enjoyable for those escaping from northern winters. In 2020, they had 1,398 runners finish the race. In 2021, only 736 runners finished. Still, it was one of the larger in-person races since the Pandemic interrupted road racing, and the first in 2021. The race utilized limited capacity start chutes, delineated with traffic cones to keep athletes separated, with masks required except during the race.
|Runners at Naples Daily News Half Marathon await the signal to move forward toward the start, one row at a time Photo Credit: Naple Daily News|
|Runners could remove their masks once across the Starting Line Photo Credit: Andrea Melendez, The News-Press/USA Today/Florida Network|
Only pre-packaged treats and water bottles were offered after the race, and there was no awards ceremony, just a table where athletes could pick up awards.
Masters 40+. Naples runner, Aubrey Aldy 40, and Miami’s Bryan Huberty 42 went stride for stride in the early part of the race. By the time they crossed the 3-mile mark they were only a few seconds apart. As the race progressed, Aldy gradually pulled away, gaining a half minute lead by the 6-mile mark. In the end Aldy had the Masters win in 1:13:21 81.57%, crossing the finish line a minute and 6 seconds ahead of Huberty [81.64%] who kept the pressure on throughout the race. In the Women’s race Vicki Duepner 41, of St. Peters MO, employed the classic strategy of strongly negative splits to capture the Masters win with a 5 minute margin of victory. In running 1:24:38 79.26%, she lowered her pace consistently from an initial 7:27 pace down to a final overall pace of 6:46 per mile.
Grandmasters 50+. Making the trip from Fort Collins, CO, 59-year-old Michelle Mueller made it worthwhile in taking the Grandmasters win in 1:36:59 84.22%. After the gun sounded, 3:36 went by before Mueller crossed the starting line. Six seconds later, Denise Pulling 53, Painesville OH, who would turn out to be Mueller’s chief rival for the Grandmasters award, crossed the starting line. Pulling ran strongly over the first quarter of the race, taking back 2 seconds from Mueller’s lead by the 6th mile. From that point forward, Mueller ran a little bit faster, pulling away from Pulling, winning in the end by 17 seconds. On the Men’s side it was Chris Taylor 50, from Saugatuck MI, challenging the Ft. Myers FL runner, Glen Button 53. Button left Taylor behind when the gun sounded, piling up a 4-minute advantage before they hit the 4-mile mark. At the 9-mile mark, Button still had a 5-minute lead. Between there and the end, disaster struck. Button’s pace jumped from 5:54 per mile at 9 miles to 6:15 per mile by the finish. During that period, Taylor continued plugging, and took 3 and a half minutes out of Button’s lead. Button held on though, clocking 1:18:21 85.22% to Taylor’s 1:19:55 81.38%.
Senior Grandmasters 60+. No one who knew about Gene Dykes’s sub-3-hour marathons in Toronto and Jacksonville in 2019 would have been surprised that the 71-year-old (at that time) took the Award with 48 minutes to spare in 2020. It was a spirited battle with Dennis Wallach 62 of Chanhassen MN forging a half minute lead in the first 6 miles. But Dykes started pulling back a few seconds of Wallach’s lead every mile until the gap was down to 5 seconds when they crossed the mat at Mile 9. Dykes captured the win 4 miles later in 1:25:10, with a 48 second cushion. Folks wondered, when they saw Dykes’s name on the entry list this year, if it would just be a repeat of 2020. But not this time. David Lynn 60, from Abilene TX, clocked a 1:25:45, a half minute slower than Dykes’s 2020 time. But Dykes experienced an up and down six months of training prior to the event. From early October to late November, no running workouts were posted on Strava, and Dykes referred to two separate injuries that interfered with training. With just six weeks of serious training leading up to the race, Dykes, 72 now, nonetheless clocked a 1:28:50, a testimony to his overall fitness and powers of recovery. Dykes also gives lots of credit to his Coach who apparently knows how to push Dykes to take on hard workouts.
|Gene Dykes breaking the M70 American 10 Km Road Record at the James Joyce Ramble in Dedham MA in 2018 Photo Credit: Michael Scott|
Perhaps Wallach 63 also lost some training time as he again finished over a half minute behind Dykes at 1:29:26 82.0%. Dolores Doman 64, of Huntington Station NY, had no trouble with the Women’s Sr. Grandmaster Award. Her closest rival, as it turned out, Romain Seguin 60, started about 12 minutes behind Doman. Though she could not see her, Seguin was a worthy rival. Nonetheless, Doman was able to establish a 45 second lead in the first 4 miles and gradually add to it during the reminder of the race. Doman took the win in 1:45:14 83.09% to Seguin’s 1:48:44.
In the Age Division races, top performances were turned in by: Ellen Gerth 59 of Lutz FL 1:40:32 81.16%; Angie Dudman 58 of Geneva IL 1:41:26 79.48%; Steve Wilcox 50 of Palm Harbor FL 1:21:02 80.26%; Francis Burdett 55 of Worcester MA 1:20:14 84.73%; Dale Flanders 55 of Allegany NY 1:20:47 84.16%; Al Weiringa 74 of St. Petersburg FL 1:38:45 83.92%; Franco Dossena 75 of Miami Beach FL 1:38:38 85.35%; and Don Owens 77 of Naples FL 1:49:19 79.75%. Burdett and Flanders, are old friends and rivals, from the Greater Springfield Harriers and Genesee Valley Harriers, respectively.
|Francis Burdett finishing the 2018 USATF Masters 10 Km Championships in Dedham MA Photo Credit: Michael Scott|
|Dale Flanders finishing the 2018 USATF Masters 10 Km Championships in Dedham MA Photo Credit: Michael Scott|
Veterans of many spirited team and individual competitions at National Masters Championships, they took advantage of the opportunity to get an early start on the 2021 season. Both lost most of their first year in a new age division, so this trip to the south was a sweet way to celebrate the ending months of their first year in M55. And how about those two Florida veterans, Weiringa and Dossena? Perhaps unaware of each other, Dossena crossed the starting line about 17 seconds before Weiringa. Somewhere in Miles 3 or 4, Wieringa had made up the 17 seconds. Did he give Dossena a hard look to figure out if he was a rival for the M70 crown? Or did he know that Dossena was in M75? Either way, Wieringa must have gone by strongly. By mile 7, Wieringa’s advantage was up to 21 seconds. But Dossena took 5 seconds out of the lead in the next 2 miles and then finished strongly to finish with a time 7 seconds faster than Wieringa.
|Albert Weiringa (L) and Joe Burgasser(R) Photo Credit: Tampabay.com|
Wieringa took the M70 crown in 1:38:45 83.92% and Dossena won M75 in 1:38:38 85.35. Next year they will be in the same age division. We can hope for a replay of this spirited competition, with the M75 title up for grabs!
ATLANTA MARATHON—February 27-28, 2021. The Olympic Marathon Trials were held on Leap Day in Atlanta in 2020. The following day saw the Publix Atlanta Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K run on the streets of Atlanta. With the pull of viewing the Trials and running yourself the following day, Atlanta attracted over 10,000 runners between the Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5K in 2020. One of the last events before Covid decimated the road racing schedule, the Atlanta Track Club was determined to play their part in leading the way out of the Pandemic. They hosted a Covid-safe, socially distanced, race-by-appointment event on the last weekend of February 27, 2021. Their big innovation was to move the event from the roads of Atlanta to the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
|The Atlanta Speedway was the site of the 2021 Atlanta Marathon, allowing social distancing for a large field of runners in the Marathon and Half Marathon Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Track Club|
That, plus no gear check; no pace teams; refill and fuel stations with only complete, full bottles, and no cups, were concessions to what everyone hoped would be the last few months of major covid restrictions. Entrants were either in Start Line A or Start Line B for social distancing purposes. It was possible, in principle, for those who wished to compete with one another to sign up for times very close to one another, but the notion of a general competition was somewhat diminished. Nonetheless, the timing was accurate and the racecourse the same under each runner’s feet; this was no virtual race.
|2021 Atlanta Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5K participants crossed the Finish Line at the Atlanta Motor Speedway Photo courtesy of Atlanta Track Club|
Without the Olympic Marathon Trials, the race would likely have been smaller in 2021 regardless. In the end, they still had almost 3,000 runners finish one of those three distances, the largest road racing event at that point in 2021—Running City USA had another big day!
Nancy Jurgens 43 Apex NC 2:52:51 took first place among Masters women and finished 2nd overall among women runners in the Marathon.
|Nancy Jurgens with BOA Chicago Bib #516 -She ran 2:51:15 in 2019 Photo posted on Jurgens FB page|
Jin Chen 50 Johns Creek GA took the Female Grandmasters 50+ title with a 3:21:47 74.89%. Laurie Wharton 55 Marietta GA, one of the mainstays of the Atlanta Track Club W50+ team, finished 2nd in the Grandmasters competition while claiming top honors in W55-59, running 3:35:51 74.66%.
|Laurie Wharton, masked during Warmup at the 2021 Atlanta Marathon at the Atlanta Motor Speedway Photo posted by L Wharton on FB|
|Laurie Wharton, like other competitors, took off her mask once across the starting line. Waving to friends/spectators at the 2021 Atlanta Marathon Photo posted by L Wharton on FB|
Jim Miller 62 Bluffton SC 2:51:12 88.94%, of 6DS3 six decades of sub-3 hour marathons fame, took top Masters honors by outlasting the Atlanta Track Club’s George Darden 46 Marietta GA 2:55:53 75.04%; each was fastest in his age division.
The Grandmasters title went to Hong Gao 56 Alpharetta GA 3:01:51 79.11%.
Lily Ye 43 Atlanta GA 1:38:09 claimed the Half Marathon Masters title while the Grandmasters crown went to Barbara Danak 53 Social Circle GA 1:46:30. Scott Douglas 45 Miami Lakes FL 1:24:16 73.95% took the Masters title for the Men, with Eli Dickerson 47 Atlanta GA 1:25:17 74.3% and Chris Ngo 45 Atlanta GA 1:25:43 hot on his heels. It was even closer in the race for Grandmaster with another Atlanta Track Club stalwart, Lester Dragstedt 58 Atlanta GA clocking 1:24:57 82.28% to the 1:25:22 78.93% for Christopher Wise 54 Dunwoody GA.
Casey Hannan 61 Atlanta GA 1:25:39 83.97% was not far back, finishing as 3rd Grandmaster and M60 first. Mike Anderson 63 Tucker GA, lynchpin of Atlanta Track Club’s M60 back-to-back Masters National Grand Prix wins, ran 1:32:56 78.91% to claim his M60 2nd place.
Greg Maclin 65 Tucker GA 1:37:56 76.4% was the M65 winner.
Those races led the way with Covid-safe protocols for larger events, adhering to CDC and USATF Covid guidelines. You can bet the athletes appreciated the efforts!
Article to appear in the August/September issue of National Masters News, posted with the permission and encouragement of Amanda Scotti, Publisher/Editor.