November 12, 2021. After March of 2020 all the big, prestigious road races were cancelled. They started returning in Spring 2021, but many opted to switch from a spring to a fall race to ensure they could be held safely and with hopes of a better turnout. As a result, the fall calendar of road races was very full. I cover two of the early ones, the Faxon Law 20K in New Haven CT and the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, just 6 days apart this year. The 20K was, as usual, on Labor Day. A prestigious race, but not a large one, with typically between 550 and 650 finishers, there were only 378 this year. The Pandemic continues to cast a shadow on participation in road races. There were no cherry trees blooming six days later when the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler sounded its gun. That race had the same challenges as New Haven. A much larger race, they saw their finishers drop from 17,448 in 2019 to 5,893 in 2021. If the pandemic fades, as we all hope, these races look forward to much larger fields in 2022. Both are USATF Open Championships and so attract not only top open athletes but many elite Masters athletes, both national and regional, to test their fitness. Except for the Oldest athletes, I restrict coverage to those achieving national class times, as judged by 2020 age grading standards, Performance Level Percentage PLP 80% or above.
Faxon Law 20K
Monday, September 6 was a typical New Haven Labor Day. Race time was 8:30 AM and the temperatures were already in the low 70’s, under cloudy skies with humidity at 87% and a dew point of 68, with winds moderate at 3-5 mph. With that much humidity, anyone who set a PR or a record, could be proud of a fine effort.
The course itself is mostly flat with a rise in the 2nd mile and then some rolling hills about ten miles into the race, along English Drive through East Rock Park. When the runners come out of the park, there is a long, gradual downhill for the final mile and a half of the race.
The standout performance from this race belonged to Brian Pilcher 65 Kentfield. CA. Pilcher is already in the Masters Hall of Fame and is, arguably, the top male Masters runner of this era. On October 2, 2016, Pilcher set the M60 5K record and one week later took down records from the Half Marathon to the Marathon at the BOA Chicago Marathon.
Shortly thereafter, Pilcher was injured and, except for brief appearances, had been unable to race at the level he requires. The 2013 Masters Athlete of the Year is now primarily motivated by the challenge of breaking records. Injury free during the latter stage of the Pandemic, it was time for him to make his debut. The 1:20:05 that Doug Goodhue set in 2010 on this same course seemed ripe for picking. Pilcher’s training convinced him that breaking 1:20 was within his grasp. A 20K race is about 12.44 miles long. He would need to average under 6:27 per mile and so hit the 3-mile splits around 19:21 or below. Some might think that means hitting 6:26 consistently, but Pilcher, either by plan or by feel, ran faster than that for the early stages of the race; that way he could give back some in the later stages if he needed to. It is crucial to not go out too fast in the first mile. Pilcher’s natural exuberance carried him to a 6:00, but the hill in Mile 2 helped to slow him down with a 6:16. The next mile was downhill, but he held it to a 6:05. That gave him 18:41 for the first three miles. Feeling good, Pilcher had 40 seconds in the bank for later in the race. The next 3 miles were in 18:49 and the three after that in 19:06. The pace, and the humidity, was taking some toll, but Pilcher hit mile 8 at 50:06. He had 90 seconds in the bank for the toughest two-mile stretch of the race. He did not need it all, but he did need some of it. Mile 9 was 6:30 and Mile 10, with the steepest uphill on the course, was 6:36. He had given back 12 seconds from the bank. That was all that was needed. Mile 11 is, overall, downhill and Pilcher was rolling again with a 6:25, followed by 6:18 in Mile 12. Pilcher was across the finish line with the win and a time of 1:18:26. He had pulverized the record with that 90.35 PLP. Pilcher was back!
Eric Blake 42 West Hartford CT, also ran well. He was the Overall Winner of the 2019 USATF Masters 10 km Championships in Dedham MA and snagged a 2nd place Overall Masters at the 2020 USATF Cross Country Championships.
Eric Blake with David Angell in the background, heading for the Finish Line where they would go 1-2 Overall in the 2019 USATF Masters 10 km Championships hosted by the James Joyce Ramble Photo courtesy of Michael Scott
At New Haven, Blake took the 40-44 crown in 1:06:59, a PLP of 86.02%. David Guzik 50 Fairfield CT and Andre Bennatan 62 Mansfield CT won their divisions with national class times. Guzik clocked 1:14:58 for an 82.19 PLP and Bennatan a 1:24:27 for an 81.49. Had they run those times at a USATF Masters Championship they would both have walked away with a handsome Bronze Age-Grading Performance medal. Charles Mozzachi 81 Glastonbury, CT, the oldest male competitor, won his division unopposed in 3:23:30. Janet Voelpert 74 Shelton CT was not only the oldest competitor on the Women’s side, but she also had the highest PLP, winning her division in 1:50:31 for an 87.69 %. Shannon Siragusa 46 West Simsbury CT and Stephanie Hodge 56 Long Island City, NY claimed their division titles with a 1:18::39 and a 1:32:39 for an 84.72 and 80.82 PLP respectively.
Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Miler This race enjoys an enviable spring slot when the Cherry Trees are typically in bloom in Washington, DC. One of the fastest record eligible 10 Mile courses, many PR’s and records are set here.
No cherry blossoms, but weather conditions at race time, 7:30 AM on September 12th, were good; temperatures were in the upper 60’s with fair skies and dew points in the lower 60’s. Though not ideal, the winds were manageable at 8-9 mph. Though there were no records set, there were many national class performances. Two of the top efforts on the Women’s side were by Cindy Conant 60 Kensington MD winner of W60 at 1:10:47 for an 88.67 PLP, and the 2nd place finisher in that division, Erica Rubenstein 63 Potomac MD with a 1:14:54 and an 87.25.
The W65 division had the strongest performances beyond the top 2. Amy Subar 65 Potomac MD won the division in 1:18:50 for 85.20%, followed by Geri Clifford 68 Rye NH at 1:20:12 for 87.43% and Lee Catella 69 Oneonta NY in 3rd, with 1:21:18 for 87.54%. Carol Poenisch came all the way from Northville, Michigan and ran 1:21:56 for an 84.36 PLP; she could not get on the podium—What a strong division!
Judy Phelps 70 Myrtle Beach SC took the W70 division with a 1:24:37 for 85.37%. Jane Serues 73 N. Myrtle Beach SC could not match Phelps’s time, so took 2nd in 1:28:20. Because of the three-year age difference, Serues edged Phelps in age-grading with an 85.66%.
Brock Butler 44 West Chester PA claimed the M40 win at 54:15 for an 86.08 PLP. He pulled away from Tom Dichiara 44 Garrett Park MD to claim the win by 18 seconds; Dichiara ran 54:33 for 85.61%. Colin Fishwick 44 Silver Spring MD finished 3rd in 55:20, good for an 84.40 PLP. In a Strava post after the race, Butler felt he had gone out too fast, the exuberance of feeling good! He did not feel great in the 4th mile.
That he recovered and still took first Overall Masters was a signof gthe quality of his current fitness. Shane Anthony 53 Palmerton PA and Akintunde Morakinyo 57 Columbia MD took their division titles in impressive fashion, with 57:37 and an 87.50 PLP for Anthony and 1:02:22 and 83.81 for Morakinyo. David Haaga 60 Rockville MD won his division in 1:03:15 for an 84.95 PLP. The division was also marked by the closest race among top finishers. Atlanta Track Club stalwart, Michael Anderson 63 Tucker GA, had a ten second advantage at the 5k split. But Scott Brown 63 Ashburn VA was able to claw his way back, claiming a 2-second advantage by the 10K mark, and coming in 8 seconds ahead of Anderson for 2nd with a 1:07:04 and 82.48 PLP to 1:07:12 and 82.32 PLP.
Scott Brown and Mike Anderson matching stride for stride over the final bridge before the last dash to the finish --2021 Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run-Photo posted on Facebook by Mike Anderson
Gerald Graf 67 N. Myrtle Beach SC won his division in 1:07:40 for an 85.05 PLP. Who would have guessed there would have been three runners out of Myrtle Beach and N. Myrtle Beach on this list of very strong Masters runners at a race in Washington DC?! Other age division winners with National Class times included: Lindsay Wilkins 43 Arlington VA 1:03:32 81.51; Hassetou Wandaogo 51 Silver Spring MD 1:06:19 84.67; Christina Morganti 56 Severna Park MD 1:14:11 80.39; Mario Cardoso 48 Sayreville NJ 1:00:05 80.36. The oldest finishers were Karen Cox 77 Pagosa Springs CO 1:49:42 and Harold Rosen 78 Potomac MD 1:30:21.
It was an impressive week, kicking off a unique and crowded fall calendar for national class Masters Long Distance Runners.