Saturday, February 28, 2015

Recap of USATF Masters 8 KM Championship at Brea CA on February 22 2015

February 24 2015. We came to Southern California for warmth and sunshine and those of us from parts of the country with cold, snow, and ice were not disappointed. Race day was almost perfect for running. We had been told to expect drizzle or possibly even a light rain. But we lucked out; it did rain later in the day but during the race it was partly cloudy with temperatures in the mid to upper 50's. And for a bit of the race it was sunny enough that a number of runners wished they had worn sunglasses.
Getting organized before the race in the team tents at the 2015 USATF 8K Masters Championships in Brea CA on Feb 22 2015 [photo: Thuc Tran]
 One rules footnote. This was the first race to experiment with the new freedom allowed by a rule change adopted at the 2014 USATF Annual Meeting. The Local Organizing Committee [LOC] opted to use net time (chip time) to determine place finishes rather than the traditional gun time. The LOC felt the start was too restricted in width to allow a reasonably fair and safe gun start to all, so opted for chip timing.

It was a very eventful day! There was one record-breaking performance, by Christine Kennedy; a number of very close 1-2 finishes; rising stars; and some veteran elite runners coming back all the way from their injuries. There was $7000 in prize money at stake for the individual overall, age group and age grading winners, not to mention another $3500 for team prizes. 

American Record. It was no surprise. Christine Kennedy (Los Gatos CA) ran 31:10 here last year as a 59 year old and has indicated her intent to go after as many records as possible this year. She is also focusing on becoming the first woman 60 years or over to break 3 hours in the marathon; that will reduce the number of opportunities for record-breaking competitions. So she had best take advantage of every chance she gets. She started her season off perfectly with a 31:27 time, breaking Kathryn Martin's (Northport NY) record. Martin lowered the record twice last year, to 32:34 in August and then to 32:20 in November. Now the record goes to Kennedy.
[Note: All times reported in this recap are based on preliminary results provided by Time Management; these are not yet official.]
Christine Kennedy, being congratulated at the Awards Ceremony on her New American Record by Don Lein, USATF Masters LDR Chair. At the 2015 USATF 8K Masters Championships in Brea CA on Feb 22 2015 [photo: Thuc Tran]


Overall Race. At the start I thought this was a race between former Olympic triathlete, Julie Ertel (Irvine CA), third place finisher from last year and Tania Fischer (Santa Monica CA), coming off of 2 strong cross country results at Club Cross Country in Bethlehem PA in December and USA Cross Country Championships at Boulder CO  in early February. I thought the outcome at Club Cross where Fischer beat Cassandra Henkiel (Austin TX) by a half minute meant Henkiel would be unlikely to challenge. I did think Sharon Lemberger (Menlo Park CA) might be a wild card. In the end, Henkiel was the big surprise, shooting to victory and claiming the $300 1st prize by over 15 seconds in 29:17. Lemberger just nipped Fischer for 2nd place by a single second. [Henkiel, Lemberger, Fischer].

Cassandra Henkiel (L), Overall Masters Winner at the 2015 USATF 8K Masters Championships in Brea CA on Feb 22 2015 .[photo: Thuc Tran]

Women's 40-44. Henkiel and Lemberger were 1-2. Fischer is in the 45-49 age group so 3rd place went to Ertel in 29:53.                  [Henkiel, Lemberger, Ertel]

Women's 45-49. This was an all-California affair as Fischer took the age group crown, with Molly Friel [Fresno CA] zipping across the line 14 seconds later in 29:47. Cindy Abrami [Santa Barbara CA], pegged as a contender, did not disappoint as she made the podium with a 30:40 time.
[Fischer, Friel, Abrami]
Tania Fischer (L}, 3rd place overall Masters and 1st in 45-49 age division at the 2015 USATF 8K Masters Championships in Brea CA on Feb 22 2015. [photo: Thuc Tran]

Women's 50-54. This was a group where I was grasping at straws in my preview, only identifying one of the final podium performers. Kathleen Phair [Seal Beach CA] took a productive break from seal watching and sped across the finish line in 32:29 to capture 1st place. Trailing her by about 20 seconds was Louise Davis [Irvine CA]. Mary Thane [Missoula MT] broke up the California monopoly as she zipped into the Brea Mall finishing area  9 seconds back with a nifty 32:57.
[Phair, Davis, Thane]

Women's 55-59. Last year Debbie Lee (Trabuco Canyon CA) finished a half minute ahead of Suzanne Morris [Long Beach CA], to take 2nd behind Christine Kennedy [Los Gatos CA]. This year,  with Kennedy moving up to the next age group, the 55-59 crown was at stake. Morris left no doubt this year, running a minute and a half faster than in 2014, taking 1st place by a wide margin, in 32:24. Whether Lee just had an off day or had injuries, she slowed relative to last year and left the door open for Meredith Mills (Aptos CA) to take 2nd place in 34:06.
[Morris, Mills, Lee]

Women's 60-64. Kennedy took this age group by the widest of margins, in her record-breaking 31:27.It is not easy running in the same age group as a legend in the making, but Honor Fetherston [also Los Gatos CA] joined her neighbor and took second smartly in 35:29. Sandy Robbins-Sydner [Apple Valley CA] took third.           [Kennedy, Fetherston, Robbins-Sydner]

Women's 65-69. No big surprises here. JoAnne Rowland [Concord CA] was favored to win handily and she did, finishing in 38:57. Three and a half minutes later, Irene Herman [San Francisco] claimed 2nd. Bunny McDowell [Middletown NJ] made her trip from the East Coast count for more than a break from the winter weather, finishing 4 minutes later to take the 3rd place medal.
[Rowland, Herman, McDowell]

Women's 70-74. Norma Thomas [Moreno Valley CA] defended her 2014 title with ease, waltzing across the finish line in 43:35. That was a fine time, especially considering the lack of competitors to push her.  [Thomas]

Pat Herr (L), Norma Thomas (C) and Dorothy Strand (R) and their winning medals, all affiliated with A Snail's Pace Running Club at the 2015 USATF 8K Masters Championships in Brea CA on Feb 22 2015. [photo: Thuc Tran]

Women's 75-79. Pat Herr [Mission Viejo CA] and Dorothy Strand [Orange CA] both ran for the local running club (and store), A Snail's Pace. We salute them; it is great to have another age group contested. In this case, Herr was able to pull away and establish a winning gap of 2 minutes, winning the group in 57:42.  [Herr, Strand]


Overall. In Boulder Colorado at the USA Masters Cross Country Championships on February 7th, Jacques Sallberg [Pasadena CA] upset favorite, Greg Mitchell [McMinnville OR], by hanging with the lead pack for the first 8 miles or so and then surging away from Mitchell over the last kilometer. Based on that race, I predicted a tight finish this time, only 2 weeks later. I could hardly have been more mistaken. Mitchell clearly came with a mission and a focus. If he could not be King of the Mountains this year, he would at least be King of the Coast. Mitchell made sure it would not come down to a finishing kick, opening up a gap over the field and winning by over a minute in 24:27. Forty minutes faster than last year, Mitchell was cooking along at a 4:55 pace (yahoo!) on a challenging course--no pancakes here. Mitchell got the 1st place medal and the $300 prize. Although Sallberg could not pull in a second win in two tries at national masters championships this year, he defended his second place on the podium, holding off John Gardiner [Rancho Santa Margarita CA] by a mere 5 seconds! Gardiner, too, bested his 2014 time, although only by ten seconds, in 25:53. And he needed all ten seconds; it was a rush to the finish line with Andrew Duncan [Las Vegas NV] netting the same time and Jaime Heilpern [San Francisco CA] finishing 1 second back in 25:54. What a dash! It was sweet revenge for Gardiner as last year it was Heilpern edging Gardiner off the podium. No doubt this rivalry will be played out over  the years!
[Mitchell, Sallberg, Gardiner]

Jacques Sallberg (L), Greg Mitchell (C), and John Gardiner (R), with their medals,  the Overall Masters Race Podium at the 2015 USATF 8K Masters Championships in Brea CA on Feb 22 2015. [photo: Thuc Tran]
Men 40-44. The top 3 overall finishers were all from the yougest age group this year; hence they take these age group prizes as well.       [Mitchell, Sallberg, Gardiner]

Men 45-49. Denied the overall podium by a fraction of a second and a second respectively, Duncan and Heilpern took 1-2 in this age group, with Carl Combs [Cheney WA] 13 seconds back in 3rd. And although they finished just off the 45-49 podium, it is noteworthy that Rusty Snow [Santa Barbara CA] and Rob  Arsenault [Riverside CA]had a killer race over the last half mile or so, stride for stride until Snow was able to edge Arsenault at the tape by a second in gun time and a fraction of a second in net time.                       [Duncan, Heilpern, Combs] 

Men 50-54. This was billed as Francis Burdett [Worcester MA], the man of the hour after his victory in Boulder 2 weeks earlier, vs. Pete Magill [South Pasadena CA], the legendary runner and journalist. Magill could not keep up with Burdett in Boulder but has historically raced relatively poorly at altitude. So it looked like a real showdown. Unfortunately we will have to wait for a sea level sequel to this rivalry. Magill's training took a hit when he developed an upper respiratory infection after coming back from Boulder. That left his race fitness questionable and certainly with the whole season left in front of him, Magill did not want to take a chance with his health turning sour. It was our loss but it did not seem to bother Burdett who flew around the course, nearly matching last year's winning time and taking first place in 26:50, twenty-two seconds ahead of 2nd place finisher, David Olds [Los Angeles CA], with 3rd place finisher, Ricardo Maldonado [Scottsdale AZ] another 9 seconds back.
[Burdett, Olds, Maldonado]

Francis Burdett (L), David Olds (C), and Ricardo Maldonado (R) with their medals in the 50-54 age division at the 2015 USATF 8K Masters Championships in Brea CA on Feb 22 2015. [photo: Thuc Tran]
Men 55-59. This was the race so many were waiting for. Which Brian Pilcher [Ross CA] would appear, the one who was recovering from an injury in the fall of 2014, the runner who made mincemeat out of the Kaiser Permanente Half on February 1st, or the runner who struggled to a 2nd place age group finish at Bolder, perhaps because of the altitude? The answer screamed out to us..."Pilcher is all the way b-a-a-a-ck!" Not only did he beat a very tough 55-59 field, he had the best performance (Age Grading) by a male across all of the age groups. Last year John Loftus [Laguna Beach CA] toasted the competition in 27:54; Pilcher beat that time by a half minute! Joe Sheeran [Ellensburg WA], and Pilcher's chief rival, also came in ahead of last year's winning time in 27:40. Disappointing for him, no doubt, but a terrific effort! And it was less than a half minute more back to Adam Weiner [San Diego CA] who claimed the last spot on the podium.
[Pilcher, Sheeran, Weiner]

Adam Weiner (L), Joe Sheeran (C), and Brian Pilcher (R) with their medals for the 55-59 age division at the 2015 USATF 8K Masters Championships in Brea CA on Feb 22 2015. [photo: Thuc Tran]

Men 60-64. Another killer age group, arguably the toughest at these championships. Last year Peter Mullin [Houston TX] won this age group in 29:39; that time would not even have gotten him onto the podium this year. Certainly it was the closest battle for 1st in these championships. Tom McCormack [Jonesborough TN], the record breaking Irish expatriate, led the race all the way, thinking that he had generated a gap over his pursuer, Rick Becker [Selah WA]. After all, that was the story the last time they met at Alexandria, Virginia at the .US National 12K Championship. But Becker had pursued his training with vigor in the interim and came with a mission and a plan. He would keep McCormack in sight for the whole race, pull close over the last half mile and then try to sprint past him. It worked like a charm, as McCormack was caught unawares and had no time to respond. Becker took the crown by a fraction of a second! This is a rivalry we will be watching the rest of this year and probably for many years to come. Both may enter the 10K championships at Dedham. If so, everyone will be waiting to see how it unfolds! And that was just the 1-2 race. Although the race for the third spot on the podium was not quite as close, it was still a heck of a battle. Tom Bernhard [Castro Valley CA] gradually pulled away from Dale Campbell [Huntington Beach CA], who was doing double duty as Race Director and competitor. Last year, Bernhard had his first injury-free race in a while; this year he could train full out, and it showed as he improved his time by more than a minute and a half, to take 3rd in 29:10. All three of these gentlemen had world class performances (> 90% AG).
[Becker, McCormack, Bernhard]

Rick Becker (L) and Tom McCormack (R) with their medals for the 60-64 age division at the 2015 USATF 8K Masters Championships in Brea CA on Feb 22 2015. [photo: Thuc Tran]
Men 65-69. Last year Lloyd Hansen [Salt Lake City UT] won this age group by over a minute but there was a new addition this year. Ignacio Jimenez [Goleta CA] ran 17 seconds faster than Hansen last year but was in the 55-59 age group. Now he is in the 60-64 group. But the two of them finished neck and neck in the USA Masters Cross Country Championships in Boulder so there was certainly uncertainty about how the race would come out. In the event, it was very tight for the first 4 kilometers but then there is a long hill and on that hill, a gap appeared, as Jimenez pulled away. Hansen was not able to respond on the hill but hoped that he could close the gap once the course peaked and turned down again. Alas it was a forlorn hope; depsite his best efforts the gap did not shrink and Jimenez won the race by 24 seconds. Hansen claimed second in 31:24 and a minute later Donald Porteous [Alameda CA] came across the line to take third.
[Jimenez, Hansen, Porteous]

Donald Porteous (L), Ignacio Jimenez (C), and Lloyd Hansen (R), with their medals from the 65-69 age division at the 2015 USATF 8K Masters Championships in Brea CA on Feb 22 2015. [photo: Thuc Tran]
Men 70-74. I was anticipating a terrific duel between Doug Goodhue [Milford MI] and Jan Frisby [Grand Junction CO]. Goodhue has had things pretty much his way in this age group and in his previous age groups. He has been Runner of the Year in his age group for the last nine years. He has been hoping for more competitive races and it looked like he would get his wish. Frisby, who was a dominant runner in his 50's and extremely strong through his 60's, when healthy and injury free, appeared to be back on track. He appeared in a few races at the end of 2014 but entered the year as a question mark. He changed the question mark to a 'period', or maybe even an exclamation point, in the USA Cross Country Championships when he won the age group in a fine time.
Still this would be the first meeting of the year between Frisby and Goodhue. Surely sparks would fly as they lit out over the pavement? What I had not realized is that Goodhue was coming in with a bit of a knee issue. Things were okay at the start but during the race, Goodhue's knee acted up and he did the sensible thing by dropping from the race. Better to ensure that you can run another day. But with Goodhue out, Frisby could waltz home and he did. But his time was excellent and perhaps he was thinking all along that Goodhue might be closing in on him. In any case, Frisby came home first in 32:24, winning his 2nd national championship of 2015, with a winning margin of 46 seconds. Len Goldman [Oakland CA], the perpetually strong runner from the Bay area, took second by an even wider margin. Hans Schmid [Greenbrae CA], who usually runs ultra marathons, found enough speed to claim the third spot on the podium.
[Frisby, Goldman, Schmid]
Len Goldman (L), Jan Frisby (C), and Hans Schmid (R) with their medals from the 70-74 age division at the 2015 USATF 8K Masters Championships in Brea CA on Feb 22 2015. [photo: Thuc Tran]
Men 75-79. Joe Razo [Alhambra CA], who won this age group last year was entered but was not able to run. That left things wide open for three newcomers. Neal Chappell [Stateline NV] won the race in a fine time of 38:59, essentially the same as Razo's winning time last year. Had he been able to show up they would have had a heck of a race. Roland Cormier [Jackson NJ] claimed 2nd a minute and a half back. The third spot on the podium was claimed a minute later when David Norlander [Los Altos CA] sped across the line.
[Chappell, Cormier, Norlander]

Men 80-84. Bob Rice [Long Beach CA] was unchallenged but ran a fine time anyway, winning in 48:06, averaging under 10 minutes per mile.    [Rice]

Men 85-89. One of the biggest cheers of the day at the awards ceremony was for Gunnar Linde [Venice CA], the sole competitor in this age group and the oldest athlete in the race. Despite his 86 years, Linde cracked the one hour barrier, stepping along at better than 12 minutes per mile to take the title.

[100% = 'Fastest possible time'; 90%+ = 'World Class'; 80% + = National Class]

1st ($500). Christine Kennedy [Los Gatos CA]....age 60....31:27....AG = 97.30%
2nd ($400). Suzanne Morris [Long Beach CA]...age 57...32:24...AG=90.90%
3rd ($350). Tania Fischer [Santa Monics CA]...age 48...29:33...AG=89.57%
4th ($300). Molly Friel [Fresno CA]...age 47...29:47...AG = 87.86%
5th ($200). Kathleen Phair [Seal Beach CA]...age 54...32:29...AG = 87.38%

1st. ($500). Brian Pilcher [Ross CA]...age 58...27:24...AG = 93.43%
2nd. ($400). Tom McCormack [Jonesborough TN]...age 61...28:20...AG=92.82%
3rd. ($350). Rick Becker [Selah WA]...age 60...28:19...AG=92.05%
4th. ($300). Joe Sheeran [Ellensburg WA]...age 57...27:38...AG = 91.86%
5th. ($200). Tom Bernhard [Castro Valley CA]...age 63...29:10...AG = 91.77%]
Brian Pilcher (L) and Chris Kennedy (C), top age grading performances at the 2015 USATF 8K Masters Championships in Brea CA on Feb 22 2015. [photo: Thuc Tran]

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Letter from Brea-A Personal Recap

Hi, all

This is a personal reflection on today, February 22 2015, at the USATF 8K Masters Championship race in Brea, California. For my usual detailed recap, check back in a few days.

If you are a strong Masters runner, I urge you to put this race on your calendar for next year, February 28, 2016.

Last year I ran 32:12 and finished 2nd in my age group. This year I ran 34:05 and finished off the podium. So why am I extremely happy? Many reasons--
  • At race time it was about 60 degrees under partly cloudy skies rather than single digits (positive or negative) with much snow.
  • I've been battling a hamstring injury since last August. I made progress up through early November when I ripped it again. Physical therapy sessions, lots of exercises at the gym and a new, adaptive approach to training runs later, I finally figured I could try another race. Based on my workouts, I figured I could break 37 minutes and hoped that I might break 35 (roughly 7 minutes per  mile). So the 34:05 exceeded my expectations and realized my hopes. It shows me that I am making slow but steady progress and, with reasonable luck and perseverance, should be able to run a reasonable race at the Gate River Run in 3 weeks time and, I hope, at the Boston Marathon, in a couple of months.
  • My wife and daughter accompanied me and we all enjoyed the break from the winter [see 1st bullet]
  • They awarded performance medals for everyone who age graded at 80% or better that are just like the usual USATF medal on the front and on the back it says, "Elite/Age-Grade/Performance/80%+/Regional Class" or "...85%+/National Class" or "...90%+/World Class"--See me showing off my classy medal below. 
    Nifty Age-Grade Performance Medal Awarded at Brea 8K --at the Award Ceremony
  • This is a new development that came as a suggestion from the Athlete's Advisory Committee; it was enthusiastically adopted by the Executive Committee. This is a great incentive for really strong runners who happen to be in an age group with three or more virtually unbeatable elite runners at the top...and almost all of the age groups seem to be stacked these days--very competitive! It's also great for those runners who might be coming back from injury and not quite up to their game who want to get in a fitness check and if they run a good race, get recognized for that achievement. The goal is to have these performance medals at every USATF Masters LDR event from now on.
  • I picked up some Individual Grand Prix points. This is another change from years past; if you finish the race you are guaranteed at least 5 points to count toward the Individual Grand Prix contest, and if you finish in the top ten, you get at least 55 points. 
  • [See--] 
  • It was great to be part of a race with so many top performances and strong rivalries--an American Record was set and there were a lot of races determined by just a few seconds between 1st and 2nd. Come back to see my recap in a few days.
  • It's a great field; the SoCal and Pacific Association runners and teams turn out for this and a fair number of runners come from across the country. There were 280 Masters runners who toed the line today!
  • It's a real pleasure to see my racing buddies and hear their stories--from Atlanta to Grand Junction, Colorado to Salt Lake City to Ann Arbor to East Tennessee--The camaraderie of these amazing athletes is what makes USATF racing so special.
  • Did I mention that the race is really well run and that the course, although no pancake, has a nice rhythm to it so the times are still pretty good. There's one steep, short hill in the first half mile that doesn't cause much of a problem, and a somewhat longer hill just before the 3 mile mark that is a bit more of a challenge. But you have the reward of a long downhill shortly after you crest the hill.
  • And there is a very extensive food court after the race--Yes they have water and bananas, but they also have coffee, subway sandwiches, pizza, burgers, cake, cookies and yes, even mac and cheese...not to mention tacos and pasta!
  • This was the second year of a three year contract. It is not guaranteed that the hosts will submit a bid for another 3-year contract. So that's an added reason to come next year. It's either your last chance or it's a chance to increase the registration by so much that the USATF SoCal has no choice but to negotiate another contract with USATF to host the national 8K championship.
So think about the possibilities next year and plan to be in Southern California in late February. It's good to have something to look forward to if you expect to be in the midst of another rough winter, which seems to be the norm these days-- Let's see if we can't break the 300 barrier for total race registrations next year-That would be something!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Preview of 2015 USATF Masters 8 Kilometer Championship at Brea CA

January 19 2015.

Brea CA – Last year marked the inaugural year of the USATF Masters 8 Kilometer championships being held in Brea California in February. They return on Sunday February 22 2015. This is the second stop on the Masters Grand Prix and the first road race of the year. The race also constitutes a stop on the USATF Southern California Grand Prix circuit. Not only are bragging rights at stake, but there are points towards the Grand Prix championships, individual and team, $10,000 in prize money, medals for the winners and, for the first time, performance medals to all finishers who crack the 80% age-grading barrier to get a ‘national class’ time or better. Detailed information on the race can be found at:
Online registrations are accepted through February 19 at midnight; on-site registration is offered Friday evening [2/20] and on Saturday [2/21] during the day.
To enter the race, either online or on site, please see:

Despite a late designation as the new 8 K Championship site, the 2014 race attracted over 200 Masters runners to the USATF starting line. This year the list of entrants has already surpassed last year’s total and they are headed toward 275. Included among those are some renowned runners; there are likely to be some dandy races to start the road racing season and Christine Kennedy should have a good shot at the American 8K record for women 60-64.

Some of the more illustrious Masters runners participating include:

Doug Goodhue. Milford Michigan, Ann Arbor Track Club
National Masters Champion, and US Masters Record Holder  
9 times USATF age group Masters Runner of the Year, including the last 8 years in succession.
US 10K record for Men 70-74--40:22; US 12K record for Men 70-74--48:38

Christine Kennedy. Los Gatos California, Team Runcoach
National Masters Champion, Masters Runner of the Year, and US Masters Record Holder
USATF Women’s Masters Runner of the Year in 2011 & 2012, USATF age group Masters Runner of the Year in 2013 & 2014
US 15K record for Women 55-59—59:51

Pete Magill. South Pasadena California, Cal Coast Track Club
National Masters Champion, Masters Harrier of the Year, and US Masters Record Holder
USATF Masters Harrier of the Year 2007, 2008, 2011, 2013; USATF 2-time age group Masters Runner of the Year
US 5K road record for Men 50-54--15:05; US 10K record for men 50-54--31:11

Tom McCormack Jonesborough Tennessee, Unattached
National Masters Champion, Masters Runner of the Year, and US Masters Record Holder
USATF Masters Runner of the Year in 2014;
US 5K road record for Men 60-64—16:58; US 12K record for men 60-64—42:55

Brian Pilcher Ross California, Tamalpa Runners
National Masters Champion, Masters Runner of the Year, and US Masters Record Holder
USATF Masters Runner of the Year 2012, 2013; USATF age group Masters Runner of the Year 2009-2011

Record-breaking Attempt? Christine Kennedy appears to have no close challengers. Her announced goal this year is to become the first woman 60 years or older to run a sub-3 hour marathon. She will make her first attempt on April 20th in Boston; she ran 2:47:44 last April. This should be an easy fitness check for her. Last year she ran the Gate River Run (mid-March) as one of her fitness tests and broke the master’s record for women 55-59. The course at Brea is challenging so one would not ordinarily line it up for a record-breaking attempt, but Kennedy must at least have it at the back of her mind. She fully intends to break the Women's 60-64 records at as many distances as possible this year. The Women’s 60-64 US record for 8K is 32:20. Last year Kennedy ran 31:10 on this course so the record is well within her grasp.
Christine Kennedy in 2012 Carlsbad 5000
Christine Kennedy [Image by Victor Sailer/Photo Run] Running Times October 29 2014


Overall. There should be a dandy of a race for the Men’s 40-44 age group and the overall championship. Gregory Mitchell, from McMinnville Oregon and the Bowerman Track Club has a rematch with unattached runner and former Olympic caliber steeplechaser, Jacques Sallberg. They met on February 7th at the USA Cross Country Championships over the same distance, although with different terrain and altitude. Sallberg took the measure of Mitchell by surging in the last mile of the race to win the championship by 15 seconds. Christian Cushing-Murray, from Santa Ana and the Cal Coast TC, was the 2nd place finisher last year, despite his elder statesman status in the 45-49 age group. If his fitness is where it was last year, he should be a good bet for the podium again.
Jacques Sallberg (#225) tracking a few yards off of Greg Mitchell's pace as they lead the pack toward the finish line at the USA Masters Cross Country Championships at Boulder Colorado on February 7, 2015

Men's 40-44. Last year it was Mitchell, Jaime Heilpern from San Francisco and the Asics Aggies, and John Gardiner from Rancho Santa Margarita and the Cal Coast TC, on the Men's 40-44 podium. But Heilpern has moved up to the next age group, Men's 45-49 so the way should be clear for Gardiner to land on the podium again. Gardiner has a solid USA Cross Country Championship race under his belt already; he finished 20 seconds closer to Mitchell at Boulder than he did last year here at Brea. Mitchell and Sallberg should battle for this age group win.

Men's 45-49. Last year it was Christian Cushing-Murray winning by 25 seconds over Andrew Duncan, from Las Vegas, followed by Carl Combs, of Chaney WA. The gold and bronze medalists are back but as of today, not Duncan. But the wild card is Heilpern. Cushing-Murray was on fire last year, finishing 2nd overall and beating Heilpern by a half minute. Heilpern came in just 11 seconds ahead of Combs last year so it could be a real thriller in this class as well in the battle for 2nd and 3rd. If Cushing-Murray is fit, the age group race is no contest.
Christian Cushing-Murray, winning another Masters title at the Carlsbad 5000

Men's 50-54. In 2014 it was Jeff Ambos, Iain Mickle, and Kevin Broady, with only 19 seconds between first and third. It should be noted too that the 2nd place finisher, Mickle, was the 2014 age group Runner of the Year. So far only Broady is entered but there are two other worthy contestants who did not enter last year. One is mentioned above, Pete Magill, of South Pasadena and the Cal Coast TC; the other is Francis Burdett, all the way from Worcester, Massachusetts. 
Rusty Snow, #239, Francis Burdett, #104 (M50), and Paul Thompson, #250, leading the chase pack right behind the overall leaders at the USA Masters Cross Country Championships at Boulder Colorado on February 7, 2015
Burdett has just moved up to this age group and he ran like the wind to take the age group win at the USA Cross Country Championships two weeks ago. He finished in the top 15 overall and bested Magill by nearly a minute. But Magill has a history of difficulty at altitude and he should be way stronger on his home turf. Even if Ambos and Mickle stay away it should be a hotly contested race.

 Men's 55-59. Brian Pilcher would ordinarily be the heavy favorite in this group, but he was hampered by an injury for most of 2014 and is just coming out of comeback mode. Pilcher ran an incredible 1:14:45 at the Kaiser Half Marathon on February 1st, age-grading at over 96%. But then at the USA Cross Country Championships a week later, the altitude at Boulder apparently held him back. So he is looking for his first national championship of the year. 
Brian Pilcher (#5232) on his way to a 1:14:45 at the Kaiser Half Marathon on February 1 2015 [photo: Facebook]

And he has a worthy challenger in Joe Sheeran, who burst onto the USATF Masters scene last fall with strong wins in this age group at the national championships at Tulsa (15K), Carmel Indiana (5K Cross Country), and Bethlehem Pennsylvania (USA Club Cross Country 10K). 
Joe Sheeran, Club Northwest, in the orange singlet, right behind the lead pack at the USA Masters 5 km Cross Country Championships at Carmel IN on Nov 8 2014 [photo: Andy Martin, Exclamation Services]

Last year John Loftus of Laguna Beach CA had his way in this group winning by a minute and a half, but is not signed up this year. Keith Witthauer from Apple Valley and the Cal Coast TC nailed third last year and may be as good a bet as any to ease onto the podium this year as well. Although Bill Enicks from Signal Mountain TN, just moved into this age group and may give Witthauer a real fight. But the race is a bit short for Enicks who  took 4th last year in the half marathon championship (1:19:14) for men 50-54 and won the marathon championship for men 55-59 in the Twin Cities .

Men's 60-64. Rick Becker of Selah Washington and Club Northwest is back to challenge Tom McCormack in the Men’s 60-64 contest. Fresh off a victory at the USA Cross Country Championships in Boulder, Becker will try to stay with McCormack longer than he did at the 12K championships last November when he finished a strong second to McCormack’s record-breaking performance.  

Men's Age-Grading Medalists at the .US Nationals 12 K Championship in Alexandria, Virginia on  November 16 2014-Tom McCormack, far right, 1st and Rick Becker, 2nd from left, 4th--joined by from left, Eric Stuber 5th, Ken Youngers 3rd, and Doug Goodhue 2nd.  [photo: USATF, Marlene Van den Neste]
McCormack ran a local 5K tune-up race on Valentines Day, winning the overall race into a stiff wind in 17:50. So it appears he is ready to race. The only one of last year's top three who is currently entered is Dale Campbell, from Huntington Beach and Cal Coast TC. Campbell, by the way, is also the Race Director at Brea and Chair of the USATF Masters LDR Athlete's Advisory Committee, a very busy guy! He is a favorite to make the podium. Tom Bernhard, from Castro Valley CA,who was 4th last year and Reno Stirrat, a Jersey Boy, running for the Shore Athletic Club, who took 3rd at the 5K road championships last October and 2nd at the National Club Cross Country Championships in December will both offer strong challenges

Men's 65-69. Last year's podium included Lloyd Hansen, from Salt Lake City and the Ann Arbor Track Club, Paul Carlin, from Indianapolis, and Gary Patton from Rock Rapids Iowa. Patton is not entered but the other two are. Carlin, however, is still coming back from a hamstring tear and not fully fit; he is using this as a fitness test on the way to the Boston Marathon in 2 months time. That would seemingly leave it wide open for Hansen, the 2014 age group Masters Runner of the Year. 

Lloyd Hansen (#150) leading the male 65-69 runners, with John Roeske (#223) a few strides back in orange at the USA Masters Cross Country Championships at Boulder Colorado  on February 7, 2015
But there are two worthy challengers. One is Ignacio Jiminez, from Goleta CA, just moved up from the 55-59 age group. Last year his time was 17 seconds faster than Hansen's at this race, finishing 2nd in the 60-64 group. At the USA Cross Country Championships 2 weeks ago, Hernandez surged past Hansen just before the finish for a 1 second victory. 
Ignacio Jimenez in hot pursuit of Lloyd Hansen and John Roeske early in the race at the  USA Masters Cross Country Championships at Boulder Colorado  on February 7, 2015

So it appears they are really close in fitness right now. Another athlete may also factor into the rush for the podium. Ronald Wells, of the San Diego TC. Last year he ran several 5K's in under 20 minutes and one in 18:57! In 2012 he was third in his age group in the Masters LDR rankings. He appears to excel at  the shorter races, like 5K, which may mean Hansen and Jiminez have a slight edge in this 8K race, but Wells is definitely a wild card.

Men's 70-74. Doug Goodhue has not been challenged in his age group for years but an outstanding runner from an earlier era, Jan Frisby, Grand Junction Colorado and the Boulder Road Runners appears to be ready.  
Doug Goodhue, sprinting to the tape for another win! At the USA Masters 5 km Cross Country Championships at Carmel IN on Nov 8 2014 [photo: Facebook]

Frisby has been fighting lower leg and foot injuries over the last few years. But he was a regular age group Runner of the Year 20 years ago and garnered several national championships in 2012 and early February 2013 before another injury set in. He now appears to be recovered from his latest injury that kept him out for most of 2014. He won his age group handily at the USA Cross Country race in Boulder a couple of weeks ago. 
Jan Frisby, #134, establishing the early lead on his Men's 70-74 competitors, running easily along with Wally Hayes of the Ann Arbor Track Club , #153 - at the USA Masters Cross Country Championships at Boulder Colorado  on February 7, 2015
 It will be fun to watch and see if he can challenge Goodhue in a race closer to sea level. This will be Goodhue’s first race of the year and the winter snow and cold of Michigan can make early fitness a real challenge. Goodhue has been looking forward to more competitive races and may finally get his wish. 

Dick Chimenti of Twain Harte CA, and Monte Piliawsky from Southfield MI and the Ann Arbor Track Club duked it out for 2nd and3rd last year, with Chimenti running 5 seconds faster than Piliawsky. They should be back at it again but perhaps the winner makes the podium and the loser not this time; there's a little more on the line.

Men's 75-79. Last year it was Joe Razo from Alhambra CA winning handily. Bu tthen the next thrfee runners finished within 17 seconds of each other. In the end it was William Thompson of L.A., followed by John Brennand from Santa Barbara, with Bill Dodson of Mountain Veiw CA finishing just off the podium. Razo and Thompson are back.  Razo should repeat at the top but will anyone battle Thompson for second?

Men's 80-84.  In 2014, Allen Warren of Newport Beach CA took first by a country mile, defeating Al Ray of Diamond Bar CA, in a time of 46:07. This year Warren has a new challenger, Bob Rice of Team Runners High (Long Beach CA). With a couple of sub-30 minute 5K's last year it appears Rice is the one to beat this year.

 Overall. Last year's podium was Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, of Oakland CA, Melody Fairchild, from Boulder CO, and former Olympic triathlete, Julie Ertel from Irvine CA. last year only six seconds separated the first two with Ertel coming in about a minute back. Ertel is the only one of the three to return, making her the initial favorite. 
julie ertel
Julie Ertel competing for Team USA in the 2008 Olympic triathlon in Beijing [photo: Delly Carr/ITU]

Tania Fischer, running easily in the early stages of the USA Cross Country Championships at Boulder CO in early February.
Who else from last year's race is back who might challenge? Cindy Abrami, from Santa Barbara, finished 4th overall last year in winning the 45-49 age group, and finishing 11 seconds back from Ertel. After Abrami would be Kristen Leetch, from Redondo Beach CA and the Jane's Elite Racing, who finished 6th overall. So, at first glance it looks like Ertel, Abrami, and Leetch. But we know that this year Leetch brings along teammate, Tania Fischer, from Santa Monica, who beat Abrami by 46 seconds at the 2014 Club Cross Country championships in December and by over a minute and a half at the USA Cross Country Championships two weeks ago. 

That should put her in contention with Ertel for the win. Finally, Kathleen Cushing-Murray, from Santa Ana CA, finished midway between Leetch and Fischer two weeks ago. So it looks good for Fischer and Ertel to be battling for the gold. It should be a tight race between Abrami and Cushing-Murray for third but if either Fischer or Ertel falter, they could be challenged.

Women's 40-44. Given that Lewy-Boulet and Fairchild are not back, it appears the age group is wide open for Ertel. The only possible challenger would be a newcomer; the other strong runners returning are in the 45-49 age group. Cassandra Henkiel who ran for Team Rogue, from Texas, in the 2014 Club Cross Country Championships, finished only a half minute behind Fischer in that race.

Cassandra Henkiel, 2nd runner in for the triumphant Team Rogue, winner of the Women's 40+ Masters national Club Championship in Bethlehem, PA December 2014.
So Henkiel provides a challenge but if  Ertel  has the same fitness as last year, she should be up to that challenge. An unattached runner, Tere Zacher, has run a 1:20 half marathon and a sub-38 minute 10K so she could be in the hunt as well. 
Tere Zacher striding with purpose [photo at]

A final newcomer is Sharon Lemburger, running unattached. A 39 year old Sharon Lemburger, from Stamford CT  ran a 1:20 half marathon in Philadelphia in 2012, passing the 10K mark in 36:16. If that is the same Lemburger, she too could be a factor. 

Women's 45-49. The preview for the Overall race above pretty much previews the 45-49 age group as well. It should be: Fischer, Abrami, and Cushing-Murray in that order, at least among the return runners.  There appears to be at least one newcomer who may be in the mix. One of the unattached runners is Monica Ross. If this is the Monica Ross from Anchorage AK, she would be a threat. That Ross ran a sub-29 minute 5 mile race a couple of years ago and ran 1:24 in the Rock n Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.

Women's 50-54. Kelle Taylor, from Los Angeles, ran a strong race last year to take this age group crown by almost 30 seconds. But Debbie Richardson and Carmen Ayala-Troncoso had a real battle for second,with a mere 4 seconds separating them at the finishing tape.But the only one entered from last year's podium at this time is Richardson. That leaves it open for Sue Davis, Costa Mesa CA, who finished 4th last year just 17 seconds off the podium. Another possible threat comes from Mary Thane, who took her age group in the Lilac Bloomsday (12K0 run last year in 51:52.
Mary Thane, 2nd from left, entrants in the USATF Master's 1500 Meter Run at the Outdoor T & F Championships[photo: USATF]

Women's 55-59. Last year the group was dominated by Christine Kennedy who won by more than 2 minutes. That overshadowed a fine performance by Debbie Lee of Trabuco Canyon CA who came in a half minute ahead of the 3rd place finisher, Suzanne Morris, of Long Beach.  
Debbie Lee competing at nationals in Sacramento [Photo: Socal Track Club]

Kennedy has moved up to the next group but Lee and Morris are both back to vie for the championship of this age division. Elizabeth Sponagle, of Laguna Niguel CA, has moved up to the next age group. It appears to be a wide open race for the third spot on the podium this year.

Women's 60-64. This is Christine Kennedy's show. If she is anywhere near her typical fitness level, the Master's 8 kilometer record of 32:20, just set last year by the renowned Master's runner, Kathy Martin of Northport NY, will be under siege. As noted above, Kennedy ran 31:10 on this challenging course last year. In fact, if Kennedy breaks the national road record and sets the course record at the same time, the course record might last longer than the national record. Sponagle, who moved up from the 55-59 division should have a clear shot at the 2nd place medal.  Suzanne Ray, from Jacksonville OR, who won the division last year is not entered but Donna Chan, from San Francisco's Impala Racing team, is, and should have a very good shot at landing on the podium.

Women's 65-69. JoAnne Rowland destroyed the competition in this division last year, winning by a margin of nearly 7 minutes, and she is back to try to repeat. The 2nd and 3rd place finishers from last year have not entered but two new challengers are in the mix. Irene Herman, of the Impala Racing Team of San Francisco raced in the 60-64 division last year. She should push Rowland  a bit more than last year's group but Rowland still has a large gap to play with. Of the racers entered so far, Herman should take second and the favorite for a third place medal is the Shore AC's Bunny McDonnell.

Women's 70-74. Last year Norma Thomas, Moreno Valley CA, had this age group all to herself and so far this year it is the same. Thomas is a strong runner; her time last year age graded as world class. And she received an age group Honorable Mention in the end of the year rankings appearing in Running Times. Maybe her presence is scaring off the competition? I hope this group gets a few more competitors; it would be a shame for the 2nd and 3rd place medals to go unclaimed.

Women's 75-79. Last year there were no entrants in this age division but this year the local club, A Snail's Pace, has two of their members entered--Hooray for the Snail's Pace! Pat Herr and Dorothy Strand will compete for the Championship! They ran the race last year but had not entered the USATF National Championship part of the race. They finished 1 second apart and both won their age group. But the world turns, people grow one year older, and now they are in the same age group. So that final 50 meters may determine the winner this year!