Thursday, September 29, 2016

USATF 2016 Masters 5K Championships Preview-Part II- Overall Race and Age-Grading Contest

September 29 2016. [Part II] As of today there are 260 [9-29 10:30 PM] Elite Masters Athletes entered for the USATF 5K Masters Championships at the Syracuse Festival of Races this coming Sunday. We could be headed to a record number of entrants! Dave Oja and his dedicated staff put on a terrific athlete-centered race. As a result, this could be one of the best in recent years, both in terms of depth and quality. The weather forecast is still patchy. No difficulty with temperature or wind but the chance of (light) rain is 40%. Let's look first at the contest to be first Masters Runner across the finish line, and then at the Age-Grading contest.

Overall Races.

Men. It is an impressive field. The 2015 champion, Greg Mitchell could not make it back this year but even if he could, the clear favorite would be Kevin Castille. He set the Men's Masters record of 14:25 when he ran in this race in 2012. He focuses mostly on the 10K to Half Marathon races these days, and qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon. But he does occasionally run a 5K; in 2015 Castille ran a 14:18, a 14:42 and a 15:04. He runs the Peachtree 10K every year and, if it is any consolation to his rivals, Castille's time has been getting a tad slower recently. But he still won the 2016 Masters crown in 31:17. The 2nd place finisher was 2 and a half minutes back. The big question is whether Castille can break 15:00 again.
Kevin Castille claiming a Masters win at the Rock n Roll New Orleans Half Marathon [Photo Credit: Victor Sailer/PhotoRun]
The race for 2nd should be a doozy! A number of runners could well break 15:30. Mark Andrews, who won the USATF 10K in Dedham in 32:45 should be a factor.
Mark Andrews gritting his teeth as he strives to maintain the gap heading to the finish line at the 2016 USATF Masters 10K Championship [photo crdit: Scott Mason]

Earlier this month he ran a 15:36. David Angell turns 40 the day of the race. He ran a 15:29 5K and a 34:05 10K earlier this year. Plus he has some staying power as evidenced by his 54:43 at the 2016 Cherry Blossom 10 Miler. John Gardiner was working his way back from injury at the beginning of the year but was still able to run 15:21 at Carlsbad. More recently he took his first overall Masters Championship over a tough course at the USATF 1 Mile Road race in Flint in 4:30.

John Gardiner heading for another podium finish at the 2015 USATF Masters 8K Championship [Photo Credit: Thuc Tran]
Two others who could contest for the podium if any of those above falter are Brent Fields and Aaron Totten-Lancaster, both of the Atlanta Track Club. Fields was a little off his usual pace at the USATF 10K where he could only muster a 36:17 but he ran the Macon Labor Day 5K this year 40 seconds faster than in 2015, cooking it in 15:34. Totten-Lancaster was a top finisher in the USATF 10K at 33:22 and nearly matched it at Peachtree with a 33:43. He does not have a fast 5K this summer but he may prefer the cooler weather in Syracuse. Ordinarily I would mention Kristian Blaich as a contender but he has been out with an injury all year and it is unlikely he has recovered full race fitness. 
Castille, Gardiner, Andrews. 

Women. Although smaller in quantity there is plenty of quality in the Women's race. Marisa Sutera Strange is back to defend her 2015 crown; she captured it all last year in 17:38. She won the USATF Masters 10K crown earlier this year in a thrilling duel with Sonja Friend-Uhl, winning by a single second in 36:48. She  appears to be ready and, despite being on the long side of 50, is the favorite. Strange finished a very close second a month ago in the USATF 1 Mile Road Championships at Flint in 5:27 and ran 17:41 at the Freihofer's 5K in June.
Marisa Sutera Strange drives for the finish line and the win at the USATF Masters 10K Championships [photo credit: Scott Mason]
 The main challenger appears to be Janet McDevitt, with Holly Ortlund and Sascha Scott also possibly in the mix. McDevitt finished 2nd at the Carlsbad 5000 in 17:33 this spring, so that puts her in the ballpark. She won a local 5K in Washington this summer in 17:52 but there was no competition to push her. It will be interesting to see how she does when she is back in a competitive race.
Janet McDevitt finishing second at the 2015 USATF Masters Club Cross Country Championships in San Francisco [Photo credit: Michael Scott]

In her first race since February, Ortlund's  17:27 in the Macon Labor Day race means she cannot be ignored. That may be a fast course but so is Syracuse. Others who might be in the mix include the 4th and 5th place finishers from last year in 18:14 and 18:16, Cassandra Henkiel and Heather Webster. They will need to raise their game a bit to get on the podium. Henkiel ran 18:07 at Carlsbad but I can find no results since. Webster has been running her 5K's this summer in the mid 18's. Another name to keep in mind is Sascha Scott who ran this race in 2014 as a 39 year old in 17:59. last November she hoisted a trophy at a local 5K in 17:35. She has not run a flat 5K since and has recently been experimenting with triathlons. Perhaps the added strength and core fitness will help her this weekend. Friend-Uhl would usually be considered a crack contender for the podium. But she has been out injured since her 2nd place finish to Strange in the 10K championship. Even though she has a cross country race in the books, Friend-Uhl is probably not ready to contend yet. Her current efforts in the mid-18's would be outstanding for most athletes but not for someone used to running in the mid 17's. But it should not be long before we see her back at the front of the pack at national championship races.
Strange, McDevitt, Scott.

Age-Grading Competition.

Men. The top contenders are Tom Bernhard, 65, Kevin Castille, 44, Brian Pilcher, 60, and Nat Larson, 54. Before a couple of injury filled years it would have been easy to go with Castille as the likely winner. Although he is still the fastest of the masters runners apart from Meb Keflezighi and Bernard Lagat, his recent age-grades have been within the reach of the others. His Peachtree age grade this year was 91.4 and his USATF Half Marathon championship age graded at 91.8. It is hard to know if those 'mere mortal' age grades were due to lower fitness and how much to a lack of being pressed. The last time Castille broke 15 minutes in a 5K was in April 2015; if he can crack 15 on Sunday, he will age grade above 94.0%. That may well be required to take the Age-Grading crown. Bernhard captured the 8K age-grading crown with a 91.7% and finished 3rd at the USATF 1 Mile with a 91.6%. If he can run around 17:40, as he did last year and earlier this year, he too could age grade above 94.0%. As noted above, Pilcher missed the second half of the 2015 season and was rounding into shape over the first half of this year. Nonetheless, in his first serious outing in February, he managed an 89.6% at the 8K Championships, and followed that with a winning 92.9% at the 10K Championships in late April. His 16:52 when 59 earlier this year age grades at 93.9%. Were he to break McCormack's 16:58 record, he would come in just over 94%. Larson finished second to Pilcher at the 10K championships with a 91.0% and finished 2nd to Jerome Vermeulen in the 1 Mile Road Championship by .02% in 91.75%.
Nat Larson claims the second Age-Grading spot at the 2016 USATF Masters 10K Championships [Photo Credit: Scott Mason]

He needs to run 16:10 or better to crack the 94.0% barrier. That's what he ran here last year when he finished 8th overall. And running just behind this group is Carl Combs, 51, who nailed a 90.9% at the Masters 8K Championships in February, just off the podium. I cannot imagine he would be making the cross country trip from the state of Washington unless he is primed for a good run. This is a tough, tough race to pick; all of these times and age grades are amazing! I will do Pilcher the favor of picking against him because of his Marathon training. If that gives him a little extra incentive to run a great race and take down McCormack's record, that would be excellent. Records are there to be broken.
Bernhard, Castille, Larson.

Women. The top contenders appear to be Libby James, 80, Kathy Martin, 65, Edie Stevenson, 67, and Marisa Sutera Strange, 53. Stevenson was the top age-grader at the 8K Championship with 92.7% and the Half Marathon at 92.6%. She achieved a mark of 93.7% to finish second to Strange's top age grade of 95.4% at the 10K Championship. Strange also finished atop the leader board at the 1 Mile Road Championship with 91.3%.
Edie Stevenson capturing 2nd place in the Age Grading competition at the USATF 2016 Masters 10K Championship [Photo Credit: Scott Mason]

If Strange can match the 17:41 she ran at the Freihofer's race, she will age grade at 96.6%. Stevenson would need too crack 21 minutes to achieve that level which seems a lot to ask. She won the W65 group here last year in 21:34. If she can manage a 21:30 she would age grade at 94.3%. James and Martin are renowned for age grading above 100% but that may be a tall order with the new age grading tables. James's 25:28 at Freihofer's this year when she was 79 age graded at 94.8%. If she can match that on Sunday at age 80, the age grade rises to 96.4%.

Kathy Martin crossing the finish line, breaking the W60 record and winning the Age-Grading Championship at the 2014 USATF Masters 12K Championship [Photo by USATF-Marlene Van den Neste]
What about Martin? If she can just break Harvey's record by a second or two, she would age grade at 96.7%. But if she can run down around 20 minutes, or below, as we would normally expect, she can elevate that to 98.7%. How does one pick among such outstanding World Class runners?
Martin, Strange, James.

What an amazing group of runners! We are in for a real treat this Sunday when they toe the line to compete head to head.

The next installment, part III, will consist of the Individual Age Group contests.

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