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]


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