Sunday, October 9, 2016

Recap of USATF 5K Masters Championships-Overall and Age-Grading Contests

October 8 2016. It was a perfect day for fast running at the USATF Masters 5K Road Championships at the Syracuse Festival of Races on Sunday October 2nd. After struggling with injuries over the last two years, Kevin Castille is finally back close to the top of his form. Castille went out right from the start and quickly established a gap over the other Masters Athletes. The only runner who could  compete with Castille was 22 year old Omar Boulama who was able to pull away from Castille in the last half mile to win the Open portion of the race in 14:42. Castille is the only Masters Athlete I know, apart from Bernard Lagat and Meb Keflezighi, who can regularly break 15:00 for a 5K. His kilometer splits were: 2:53, 2:53, 3:07, 2:57,and 2:56. He hit the first mile in 4:44, precision pacing for a 44 year old, and crossed the mat at the halfway point in 7:21.
Kevin Castille [401] running stride for stride with the Open Leader with a 20 second gap on the Masters field at the 2016 USATF Masters 5K Championship [Photo Credit:Christopher Patruno/]

There was not much of a slowdown after that as Castille cruised across the finish line in 14:46! The race for the other podium spots was much tighter. Cal Coast's John Gardiner, winner of the Masters1 Mile Road Championship a month earlier, and David Angell, celebrating his 40th birthday with his first national championship race as a Master, led a pack as they settled in a few meters back from Castille. 
John Gardiner has a couple of strides on David Angell just after the 2K mark at the 2016 USATF Masters 5K Championships [Photo Credit::Gavin Liddell]

Others in the pack included the Atlanta Track Club's Aaron Totten-Lancaster and Kristian Blaich, as well as Central Mass Striders Greg Putnam and Tim Van Orden, along with Mark Andrews, winner of the Masters 10K Championship in April.  
Mark Andrews leading Craig Greenslit  at the 2K mark of the 2016 USATF 5K Championship [Photo Credit: Gavin Liddell]

Craig Greenslit, down from the Rocky Mountains, and Christopher Shaw, Jr. were also right there. 
Kristian Blaich, Tim Van Orden, and Greg Putnam [r to l] stride past the 2K sign with Age-Grading Aces Carl Combs (orange) and Nat Larson a stride behind Putnam at the 2016 USATF Masters 5K Championships [Photo Credit: Gavin Liddell]

Gardiner hit the turn around and crossed the half way mat in 7:27 with Angell a second behind and the rest in a chase pack 15 seconds back. As they headed into the final kilometer, Gardiner pulled away, claiming the Silver Medal in 15:13, with Angell 7 seconds back and a National Championship Bronze medal for the birthday cake.

The Masters Women's Championship was competitive up front as local phenom, Sascha Scott, led out the field, with the Pacific Northwest's Janet McDevitt,a few strides back, closely followed by Sonja Friend-Uhl, Marisa Sutera Strange, and Fiona Bayly.

Sascha Scott, leading the Women's Open Winner 9#1) with Janet McDevitt (orange singlet) leading the chase pack at the USATF 5K Masters Championships [Photo Credit: Gavin Liddell]

The runners swing a 180 degree turn at Euclid Avenue onto the other side of Meadowbrook Drive and after 50 meters or so pass over the halfway mat. By that point McDevitt had pulled even with Scott and had a very slight edge, although both were recorded at 8:45. Despite this being only her second race back since being out 4 months with an injury, Friend-Uhl was only 3 seconds back, followed with Strange and Bayly right on her heels. Holly Ortlund was now only 4 seconds back from Bayly.
Janet McDevitt with Sascha Scott on her shoulder, followed by Fiona Bayly (413) and Marisa Sutera Strange (453) and Sonja Friend-Uhl out of the picture to the left-at the USATF 5K Masters Championships [Photo Credit: Christopher Patruno/]
From there the gap just got a little bit bigger. as McDevitt pulled away from Scott at the end, edging her by 4 seconds in 17:41. Friend-Uhl, as usual, closed strongly to finish only 2 seconds back in 3rd place. That bronze medal certainly felt good after being out of national competition since April. Strange who had edged Friend-Uhl by a single second for the 10K Masters Championship in April was 4th in 18:55 and Bayly was nipped at the line by Holly Ortlund's strong finish as they both clocked 18:02. 
Janet McDevitt pulls away to win the 2016 USATF Masters Women's 5K Championship [Photo Credit: Bob Brock Images/]
Age-Grading Championship

Men. Three men crested 95% in Age Grading and at the top was a familiar name. After battling another hamstring injury over the second half of last year, two-time Long Distance Runner of the Year, Brian Pilcher, 60, is finally back at the top of his game. Even though in deep preparation for his try at a US record in the Marathon on October 9th, Pilcher still scored the highest age grade. The last time he was healthy for this race, in 2013, he age graded at 95.54%. This year, despite the tables being somewhat harder since being recalibrated a year and a half ago, Pilcher scored 95.90%. Welcome back to the top, Mr. Pilcher!
Brian Pilcher cranking out his Age-Grading Win as he approaches the turn-around at the USATF Masters 5K Championships [Photo Credit: Gavin Liddell]

And he needed every last ounce of speed as the overall winner, Kevin Castille, 44, kicked in with his best 5K time since April 2015. Castille's focus on training for the Olympic Trials Marathon and successfully qualifying despite substantial injuries kept him from running fast 5K's over the past year. It must have felt good to let it out again; it was certainly a treat for the spectators. His score of 95.54% was good for 2nd place. 
Kevin Castille cruises across the Finish Line at the USATF Masters 5K Championships, winning the Masters Race and achieving the second highest Age-Grading score [Photo Credit: Bob Brock Images/]

Had it not been for Castille's excellent effort, we would have had a Pilcher-Larson 1-2 finish in Age Grading just as we did at Dedham for the 10K Masters Championship.So far this year, Nat Larson, 54, has competed in 3 National Championship events. In terms of Age-Grading which is viewed within the Masters Community as measuring the best performance across competitors of all ages, Larson achieved 2nd place at the 10K and 1 Mile events and has now added a bronze medal to his total with an Age Grading score of 95.39%. He is the only male runner this year with 3 Age-Grading podium finishes. Larson is definitely cooking it this year!
Nat Larson [#454], pushed by top runners like Scott Weeks [Syracuse Chargers] Matthew Marcini [Black singlet] and Carl Combs [451], achieves the Bronze Age-Grading Medal at the USATF 5K Masters Championships [Photo Credit: Gavin Liddell]
Rounding out the top 5 were Tom Bernhard, 65, at 94.98% and Carl Combs, 51, at 93.39%. It was somewhat ironic; this was Bernhard's most stellar age-grading score at a National Championship race this year and yet the first time in 3 tries that he finished off the Age Grading out of the top 3. He also broke the US record; there must have been some smoking international times to render a US record-breaking performance only a 94.98%! This is Combs's 2nd top 5 finish this year along with his 8K race at Brea CA.

Women. As with the men, three athletes crested the 95% mark. But the two US record-breakers on the women's side scored even higher, with Libby James, 80, at 97.32% and Kathryn Martin, 65, at 98.95%.
Kathy Martin, flying over the 5K course at the USATF 5K Masters Championships, takes the Age-Grading Gold Medal in 19:57/98.95% [Photo Credit: Bob Brock Images/]
Both Martin and James broke US Records and, according to the Association or Road Racing Statistician's website, established new World Best's for the 5K as well.Martin now holds the US record for Women 60-64 at 19:04 and the record for 65-69 at 19:57. James holds the 5K record for Women 75-79 at 23:34 (women only) and for 80-84 at 25:11 (women only).
Libby James (480) finishing with a younger competitor while establishing the new US record for Women 80-84 and scoring a 97.32% Age-Grade [Photo Credit: Bob Brock Images/]
Rounding out the top 5 Age Grading winners were Nancy Stewart, 60, at 92.45 and Edie Stevenson, 67, at 92. 40. Stewart was also in the top 5 at the 10K Championships; this is Stevenson's 4th top 5 finish this year. Now that is consistent excellence.

Congratulations to all of these super fast runners. We can hardly wait until next year to see a few more age group records go down and experience top age-grading 5K performances for the 2017 USATF 5K Championships at the Syracuse Festival of Races!

Guest Photographer. 

Christopher Patruno, age 8, perfecting his craft on the bed of the Lead Truck-at the USATF 5K Masters Championships!


  1. Paul: Regarding Tom B's result, I checked the ARRS single age records, and note that under the new age-grading, only the half-marathon (among the more common events) has a grading at 100 for the fastest recorded time in the 65-69 age group. The others range from 95.39 to 98.85. The best age-graded 5K is Ed Whitlock's 17:34 at 69 - age grading at 98.39. The old age grading gives 99.24. Is it possible that the new age-grading is too 'severe' for this age group? Tom's result might support this .. Peter

    1. Interesting question. If we take the average age grading of the ARRS single age records in each 5 year band for the 5k from M40 to M80, they are 99.61%, 97.61%, 98.34%, 95.97%, 98.58%, 97.00%, 94.87%, 92.78%, 89.31% so the average is 96% and the M65 is 97% so there isn't much of a difference. It's hard to say whether the new age-grading is "severe" but it seems like the age bands are not very inconsistent. The good news is that the the age-grading starts to decrease quite a bit after M65 so Tom has a bright future ahead of him!

  2. One other point, the ARRS/Ken Young only records times which are gun time. Hence there may be a fast time for a Masters Runner in a big race where the only time reported is a chip or net time. Ken Young will not report that. On the other hand there are other differences between what Ken Young is willing to recognize and what USATF considers record-eligible. As a result, there are some ARRS top times for Americans which are not US records and there are some US records which do not show up in the list of World's Best times for veterans. So I can only conjecture that there are some outstanding times in other countries which are net time only times not recorded by ARRS but recognized by Alan Jones and used as input in his statistical procedure that generates the Age-Grading tables. I will seek some feedback on your question from Alan Jones.