Friday, February 5, 2016

Masters Harriers Converge on Bend Oregon to Vie for Crown of 2016 Individual Cross Country Champion

February 5 2016. BEND OREGON -- Tomorrow the USATF Masters Cross Country Championships kick off the 2016 season for Elite Masters Athletes, inaugurating the USATF Masters LDR Grand Prix circuit, with both Team and Individual GP points at stake, as well as $3000 in prize money.

The Masters Athletes race in the morning, with the Women racing over 6 kilometers at 10 and the Men over 8 kilometers at 10:45. After their race, they can enjoy cheering on the Junior and Open Elite runners who are competing for spots on Team USA for the 2nd Pan American Cross Country Cup (NACAC Cross Country Championships) to be held in Caraballeda, Venezuela, on March 5 2016.

[All of the previews below are based on runners known to be entered before the on site registration this afternoon. Occasionally top runners will show up at the last minute and upset the preview apple cart. Pictures are complements of Mike Scott whose excellent cross country pictures grace this blog frequently and gladden the heart of many a runner. See his shutterfly url given on the photos or find him on Facebook.]

Some of the top runners expected to compete for the title of fastest Masters XC Runner include 2014 USATF Masters XC winner and 2015 runner-up, Gregory Mitchell, and the runner who surprised him at Boulder last year, defending champion, Jacques Salberg. Mitchell had the upper hand a few weeks later on the roads at sea level and then enjoyed the satisfaction of besting Salberg at the Club Cross Country Championships in San Francisco at the end of the year. Who will gain the early edge this year? 
Mitchell leading Salberg before the final push in 2015
Does altitude make a difference? If so, Bend is not as high up as Boulder but at about 3400 feet above sea level there could be some altitude effects. Others with their sights on the podium include the Baumann brothers, Ahrlin and Oscar, John Gardiner, John Howell, and Rusty Snow. At
last year’s race it was A. Baumann followed by Gardiner, O. Bauman, and Snow. 
Lead Pack Early in 2015 Race [Mitchell (leading), A. Baumann (#84) & Gardiner (dark blue singlet) in the Picture]
But then at December’s Club Cross, Howell took 6th, 6 seconds ahead of O. Baumann’s 9th place with Gardiner next in 10th. No doubt it will be another terrific tussle on the turf. Mitchell, Salberg, Howell.

None of the top finishers from the last few years is registered for the Women’s race. Unless this changes with a last minute registration, Grace Padilla, with her 18:15 at the Carlsbad 5000 last year, has the inside track for the Women’s crown.  
Grace Padilla chasing Betsy Russakoff at the 2015 Club XC Championships
Cindy Abrami, with her 18:43 from Carlsbad and 30:40 at the Brea 8K should claim 2nd. Desa Mandarino’s sub-20 5K’s and 1:31 Half marathon appear to be credentials making her the favorite for the third podium spot. Padilla, Abrami, Mandarino.

Age Grading: On the Men's side, Rick Becker is the strong favorite with many other hopefuls in close contention. In addition to Mitchell and Salberg, Jeff Ambos, Ahrlin and Oscar Baumann, Mike Blackmore, Carl Combs, Christian Cushing-Murray, and Rusty Snow are all threats for the podium. Throwing the dart toward the Age-Grading Bull's Eye, I will pick: Becker, Combs, Snow.

For the Women, Jo Anne Rowland is the favorite, with Grace Padilla and Jill Miller-Robinett likely to be the closest contenders. Rowland, Padilla, Miler-Robinett.

Age Divisions:
40-44. Men. This is largely a repeat of the race to be top runner overall, with the exception of Snow. I am going with Mitchell to continue his recent dominance over Salberg but am a little concerned that there might be an altitude factor at work. Mitchell can put that to rest with a strong race on Saturday. Among the rest it should be a tussle between Howell 6th at Cl X and O Baumann, 9th but only 6 seconds back. If Gardiner has a better day than in San Francisco, he could mix it up with those two for 3rd. Last year in Boulder he bested O. Baumann by 9 seconds. Mitchell, Salberg, O. Baumann

Women. Padilla should dominate. Ellen Kramer, with a 1:37 half marathon to her credit looks a good bet for 2nd. That leaves third place for Jennifer Anderson. Padilla, Kramer, Anderson

45-49. Men. Rusty Snow who took 2nd last year in the race at Boulder is the favorite. Christian Cushing-Murray may be able to challenge based on his recent 3rd at Club Cross. 
2015 Chase Pack Featuring Cushing-Murray and a Cal Coast Teammate not far back
'Cush', in turn, will be challenged by Todd Booth who finished 7th Boulder last year. Chris Knorzer could be in the mix as well. Snow, Cushing-Murray, Booth.

Women. It should be Abrami and Mandarino 1-2 for the reasons noted above. Sonya Wilkerson ran 2:15 at Club Cross in San Francisco and should finish 3rd here. Abrami, Mandarino, Wilkerson.
2015 Club Cross Chase Pack featuring Wilkerson (#1431)

50-54. Men. The favorite appears to be Carl Combs who took 2nd at Club Cross behind Mike McManus who is not making the trip from New York. Combs will have to contend with Rob Arsenault and one of the Bowerman crew, Mike Blackmore. Combs took the measure of Blackmore and Arsenault by over 40 seconds so should repeat. But only 6 seconds separated the other two. Last time, Blackmore got out quicker and Arsenault surged to catch him in the middle stages with Blackmore pulling away at the end.  Combs, Blackmore, Arsenault

Women. Carol Daubeny takes this title by default. Daubeny.
Combs, chugging up the hill at 2015 Club Cross Championships
55-59. Men. I expected to see Club Northwest’s Joe Sheeran and Michael Smith. They are very strong runners, who finished 2-3 behind Boulder’s Dan King at Club Cross and this national championship race is practically in their backyard. I hope this does not mean injury. The top finisher from Club Cross who is entered here is Steven Kollars who finished 20th. That makes him the favorite among those entered. Michael Gorriaran and Gary Radford finished 32nd and 33rd at Club Cross so should battle for a podium spot. John Abrami ran 18:49 at Carlsbad and also had a 1:08 10 miler and a 1:27 marathon. That’s enough for me to favor him for 2nd place behind Kollars. Kollars, Abrami, Gorriaran.

Women.  The Pacific Northwest’s W55 Cross Country Champion, Kelly Kruell, should take this title. Joanna Harper has strong credentials in her 36:14 6th place at the Brea 8K last year. But Lynelle Paulick, with a 1:37 half marathon, a sub-46 minute 10K and sub-23 second 5K will certainly challenge her. Kruell, Harper, Paulick.
Harper at 2015 Club Cross Championships
 60-64. Men. As long as Tom McCormack’s injury keeps him off the race course, whenever Rick Becker steps on, he becomes the favorite. John Barbour did a great job of shadowing him at Club Cross but in the end Becker had too much for him and kicked away for an inspiring wire-to-wire victory. Barbour is not here nor are others who typically contend for the podium such as John Victoria who sustained a hamstring strain (at least) at Club Cross nor Tom Bernhard who will make his USATF debut at the Brea 8K. Reno Stirrat also had hamstring issues last year and it flared up again at a recent indoor track meet. Mark Rybinski is one of the handful of runners from east of the Mississippi who will make the trip. His strong 3rd place finish in Club Cross in December  means that Becker will need to take it out strong. Keith Witthauer and Heath Hibbard will duke it out for 3rd. Witthauer had the edge at Club Cross by 26 seconds which is a pretty good margin. Still every day is different and Hibbard will certainly give it everything he has. Becker, Rybinski, Witthauer.
Becker running clear of the field at 2015 Club XC Championships
 Women. Two Impala teammates, Donna Chan and Jill Miller-Robinett will go head-to-head in this contest. It is no insult to Chan to say that Miller-Robinett should win handily. She finished 3rd at Club Cross behind the legendary Kathy Martin and her highly accomplished Impala teammate, Mo Bartley. As of now, neither is entered. Miller-Robinett, Chan.
Chan (blue singlet) keeping pace with the pack at 2015 Club XC
65-69. Men. Despite the small number of runners entered, this is a high quality field. Doug Winn and Peter Mullin have recently moved into this division. At Club Cross Winn took the measure of perennial top contender, Bill Dixon, no small feat. And Mullins appears to be over an injury that plagued his last year or so in the M60 group. Mullins was a terror in his first couple of years in M60 and shows promise that will be the case with M65 as well. The 2nd and 3rd finishers behind Doc Rappole last year are both registered. Unfortunately Lloyd Hansen’s wife caught a severe case fo strep throat the evening before their trip to Bend was due to start so he is a late scratch. That’s a shame because Hansen was looking forward to kick starting his 2016 season at Bend. The other podium finisher from last year, Ignacio Jiminez, looks good for the podium certainly and will give Mullins and Winn something to think about. Jerry Learned who has finished 3rd in the M65 Grand Prix the last 2 years is a very tough, consistent runner who will be there to challenge for the podium if any of the top 3 falter. Winn, Mullins, Jiminez.
Jiminez leading a chase pack at 2015 Race
Women. Jo Anne Rowland gets this one by default but she would be a strong contender for the podium no matter who showed up. She finished 2nd at the 2015 Club Cross race at San Francisco. Rowland.
Rowland (left) keeping pace with teammate Ruth Rainero
70-74. Normally one would type in the name of Doug Goodhue or Jan Frisby for the favorite in this division. Despite being banged up most f the year, Goodhue was able to emerge from rehab in mid-year and put forth two gutsy first place efforts at the USATF 1 Mile  championship at Flit and the K at Syracuse. But he ended the year on a down note with an unhappy performance at Alexandria and a realization that he could not continue to put off some needed surgery. Knowing Doug, he will be back but we do not know exactly when. Frisby tore up the cross country paths and the roads in the first half of the year, winning national championships and breaking the M70 10K record. But years of performing at the top of his age group have taken their toll and an old injury reasserted itself mid year. Nicked up at Flint, Frisby’s Achilles gave way at Syracuse and he grittily finished the race. Here’s hoping that their absence is temporary. In the absence of those worthy gentlemen, at the end of 2015, Przemyslaw Nowicki and newcomer to the age division, Paul Carlin (yours truly) had a couple of epic battles for the top two spots, finishing within 8 seconds of each other at the 12K championships at Alexandria and within 4 seconds, after 3 lead changes at the15K champs at Tulsa. I am in Bend but not Nowicki. The other leading contestant is track whiz and recent inductee into his Iowa high school’s Hall of Fame, Gary Patton. Two years ago I had the edge at the Brea 8K, our only meeting, but based on recent injuries and the quality of recent performances, I have to give Patton the nod here (but hope my fitness is closer to February 2014 than February 2015). Two teammates for the Atlanta Track Club, Ed Bligh and Morris Williams should battle for third. Based on their performances in Club Cross, Bligh is favored. Patton, Carlin, Bligh
Bligh (94) leading teammate Mastin (194) at last year's race

75-79. Ron Mastin should have the edge over his Atlanta teammate, Andrew Sherwood. Mastin, Sherwood.
Women. This division goes to Kathy Kusner by default but she proved at Club Cross last December that she can compete with the best. She finished 3rd in that race, edging the 2015 GP winner. Kusner.


Men. 40+: With the Boulder runners staying home, the Bowerman Track Club is a heavy favorite to repeat. They will again be pressed by Santa Barbara Running and Racing and Cal Coast but Bowerman appears to have too many quality runners to be headed. Bowerman Track Club, Santa Barbara Running and Racing, Cal Coast Track Club.

Women. 40+: It is California’s Santa Barbara Running and Racing vs. Oregon’s Team Red Lizard. If Chris Kimbrough were running with Red Lizard, as she did at Club Cross, that would give the Lizards an edge. In her absence, it should be Abrami and Mandarino 1-2 in the Team competition.Wilkerson might break up the Santa Barbara parade but  If Paulick is on top of her game, she will finish close enough to the front  to close the door on Team Red Lizard. Santa Barbara Running and Racing, Team Red Lizard.

Men 50+: In this race too it Bowerman vs. Cal Coast. Bowerman has the full complement of 9 declared runners so have more room for off days that Cal Coast with their 6 declared. It appears that Cal Coast has enough top quality runners to hold off Bowerman but it should be close. For Bowerman to win it looks like Blackmore has to best all of the Cal Coast top runners, as he did at Club Cross and Franek and one of the trio of Gonzalez, Engstrom and Clifford, who finished within 2 seconds of each other in ‘Frisco, needs to elevate their game to break up Cal Coast’s top 3 of R. Arsenault, Ambos and Olds.  And Cal Coast has to not let that happen. Also Schumann, D. Arsenault and DiConti have to try to stay tight with their Cal Coast leaders Should be another great dust-up! Cal Coast, Bowerman.

R. Arsenault giving the hills a pounding at 2015 Club XC
Men’s 60+. This is the only division with more than a West Coast flavor. The Genesee Valley Harriers made the trip from upstate New York and the Boulder Road Runners headed northwest from the Colorado Rockies. They will take on the West coast representatives from Southern California, the Cal Coast TC. If Cal Coast can get performances from Perry Forester, John Holcomb and Keith Witthauer similar to their recent club Cross outing, they have what it takes to get the gold. Boulder’s team is not as strong as last year because their two top runners, John Victoria and Doug Bell, are home nursing injuries so they can be fresh to start the year at Brea. They may still have enough for 2nd place with stalwarts, Heath Hibbard, Devin Croft and Bruce Kirschner. A lot of that rides on GVH’s Bruce Wilkins. Something was slowing him down in ‘Frisco as he ran on GVH’s C team and took it easy. But in last year’s race at Boulder he was right there with Croft and Kirschner. If Wilkins is still being slowed by an injury, GVH is ‘toast.’ Even with Mark Rybinski leading the way and Tim McMullen finishing between croft and Kirschner, they would not have quite enough to keep Boulder out of 2nd. Cal Coast, Boulder RR, GVH.

Women 60+. This is the only other Women’s division with a team entrant.  Impala Racing was, no doubt, hoping for some challengers but they will repeat their Club Cross win with ease  as Chan, Miller-Robinett and Rowland can step across the finish line at any pace they wish. Impala

Bend, Oregon will host this race again next year. It would be a shame if we do not get a fuller turnout of Masters runners next year to compete for the title of 2017 Individual Masters Cross Country Champion.

Course [added 02-05-165 pm]. After directly observing the course, I have a few comments. The course has a lot of elevation change and is generally steeper than the pictures below suggest. [These pics by me with trusty iphone.] After a gradual grassy slope up from the start you cross a track and a short rough bit and then go up a steeper grassy bit and then across the slope so that they can drop you down and then across and up again, just for the fun of it. [Well, it is Cross Country, isn't it?] Both that down and that up involve crossing a rough track that may make a snatch or a grab at  a spike so take care. Then the loop goes up to the top of the course and across with gentle ups and downs, rounds a corner then there is a sharp drop down a short hill before it eases into a long, more gradual down-slope before turning at the bottom of the golf course so runners can close the loop. Masters Women do 3 loops and Masters Men 4. A narrated video of the course like the one they did for the Bethlehem Club X in 2014 would have been useful for runners. Here are some pics of the course. Like I say, there is a foreshortening problem that hides the steepness of the grade.
View from the start--You cross a rough bit about where the fencing ends; after the rough bit you angle up towards the right treeline on a steeper slant.

Same view but from about 100 yards up from the start, showing in the mid-ground a gravel road you cross and then hit the rough bit pictured in the next photo.

Bit of rough, uneven ground runners will cross before heading uphill and to the right for a swing across the grain of the hill, where, if your right leg is longer than your left you fit the slope perfectly.
Let's assume this is not your finishing loop. If so, rumor has it (please ask at the tech meeting for corroboration) that you head up the left-hand of these two chutes to begin your next loop.

Now let's assume you are on your final loop [Masters Women 3rd; Masters Men 4th]; you head up the right hand chute to the 'FINISH' banner and then enjoy a well-earned after-race recovery.


  1. Paul: Unfortunately I have had to scratch from the race as my mother suddenly passed away and I have had to fly to Ireland this weekend. But I should be in Brea .. Peter

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