Friday, May 19, 2017

Drenched But Undaunted--Recap of the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championship-Part I

Sunday May 7 2017. The Masters Half Marathon Championship took place under the auspices of the Orange County Marathon/Half Marathon [OCHM]. It is a gorgeous setting for a point-to-point HM, with terrific views of the sea, seaside villages and yachts and then a run up through gorgeous plantings along the rim of the Upper Newport Bay Estuary Reserve. It was scheduled to begin at 6:15 AM to avoid any possibilities of the day getting too hot. There is a net elevation drop but the first half drops to the lowest point on the course and the second half of the race sees a significant rise with two challenging hills. So it is not as fast a course as one might think at first glance.

No one expected the weather to be much of a factor. Forecasts a week before the event indicated 50 degrees and overcast at race time, with a chance of showers the day before. But even when the forecast changed to chance of showers on the day, it was unclear if it would finish before the race started or not. And they were forecasting .01 inch per hour which would be more of a mist or light drizzle with little impact. Imagine our surprise when at about 5:55 am the rain started to come down lightly and then heavier and heavier and pretty soon it was a downpour. Anyone out trying to do their warmup and/or just find the gear check, like me, got totally soaked. I was luckily staying near the starting line so I could rush back into the Headquarters Hotel, change running shoes and socks quickly and head back out. Everything else was soaked but at least I had dry socks--for about 17 seconds!.
A Few Minutes Before Race Time at the USATF Masters HM Championship hosted by the OC HM

A few runners who were in the hotel near the finishing area took shuttles which either got lost or delayed. As far as I know, though, all runners made it to the starting line. I got there with at least 35 seconds to spare so no worries. As we were standing there waiting for the horn to sound the rain did start to lighten up. Irony of ironies, the weather we had during the race was actually pretty close to what was forecast. If the runners had not started out totally drenched, it would have been just fine. The wind was reported as being 9-10 mph but it did not seem that strong, perhaps because much of the course is somewhat sheltered from the wind.  And it was still a great day; the times were perhaps a little slower than many of us hoped, but that happens. The competition was still fantastic!
A Hundred Meters into the Race-David Angell (white cap-left foreground) and John Gardiner (green singlet with blue) start side by side on their trek. The 3 entrants from the Bowerman Track Club, including Orin Schumacher (no cap), are just behind to their left. Jose Merino (blue singlet) is off to their left. In the spirit of 'Where's Waldo?', see if you can find your reporter in the gray cap and white Ann Arbor singlet, about 30 meters back from Gardiner.

Overall Masters Championship. The primary contenders who entered the Men's Championship included  John Gardiner who finished 2nd last year in 1:09:57 and David Angell who finished right behind John Gardiner at the 5K and 15K Championships last year but won both the 8K and 10K Championships this spring. He also ran a 1:09:37 HM earlier in the year. But would the after effects of the 10K Championship that Angell won 7 days earlier slow him down at all this week? Greg Mitchell, who took the measure of Gardiner at the Club Cross Country Championships last December, had to withdraw due to an injury. A newcomer, Jose Merino, ran a 1:12:31 Half Marathon earlier this spring in a race where he was not pushed. So he also figured to factor in the race. Even though Mitchell could not make it, three other members of his Bowerman Track Club team were present. One of those, Orin Schumacher, could well factor into the race for the podium. His 1:11:40 in the Corvallis HM in early April showed he has the endurance needed.

When the horn sounded, Gardiner and Angell moved to the front side-by-side, with Merino off to their left and Schumacher just behind with his teammates.By the time the runners had descended to the village of Corona Del Mar, overlooking the Harbor, and passed the 5K mark, Gardiner had the lead with a 16:45 time, with Merino right on his shoulder and Angell just a stride and a half back; Schumacher was biding his time 14 seconds back from Angell. The next 5K included a long gradual downhill to the lowest point on the course, with no significant uphills, Gardiner made a significant move in that stretch, covering the 2nd 5K in 16:27 and opening up a gap of 41 seconds to Angell. Merino struggled with the faster pace but was still only 7 seconds back from Angell. Schumacher was now 35 seconds back; if the gap he faced grew much larger on the next uphill portion he would probably be out of the podium race. The portion between 10K and 10 Miles had the longest hill in the race and it showed in the times as Gardiner slowed his 5K pace to 16:49 but extended his lead to 1:15, as the others struggled more. Merino found the uphill more to his liking than Angell did, maintaining a 17:11 5K pace to Angell's 17:18, as he closed the gap and became the aggressor, with Angell hanging on a couple of seconds back at ten miles. Schumacher kept pace with Merino and that meant he narrowed the gap to Angell by about 8 seconds.That stretch had the last significant climb although there were still a few minor ups and downs. Merino was barreling home now but found the race was not long enough to close the significant gap Gardiner had established. Gardiner brought it home in 1:10:48 to take the Gold Medal.
Cal Coast's John Gardiner captures the Overall Masters Win at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

Merino's charge over the last 5K lowered the final gap to less than a minute as he claimed the Silver Medal.
Jose Merino claims 2nd place Overall in the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

Angell definitely struggled over the last 5K, in part perhaps due to trying two challenging races only 7 days apart. It took him 17:12 to cover the last 5K; Schumacher was chasing hard, and seeing Angell come back to him. Schumacher covered the last 5K in 16:48.

David Angell captures the Overall Masters Bronze Medal at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships
But Angell had just enough left  to keep it going and just enough grit to claim the Bronze Medal with Schumacher only ten seconds back and closing!
Top Four Overall Men-[L to R: Orin Schumacher, David Angell, Jose Merino, and John Gardiner] -Competition Over-Let the Camaraderie Begin at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships
John Gardiner 1:10:48     Jose Merino 1:11:44     David Angell 1:12:18

Primary contenders in the Women's Overall race included: Amy Halseth, Donna Mills-Honarvar, and Ingrid Walters. Keri Olson and Tania Fischer were potential threats if any of the others faltered. Halseth ran a 1:23:12 in her hometown race, the San Diego HM earlier in the year. Walters was the closest to a defending champion as she finished 5th last year at the Championship in 1:24:33. Mills-Honarvar's best time was a recent 1:24:59 HM but she has also fared well in shorter races, with a recent 17:40 to her credit. If she could stay close to the leaders, she might do some damage over the final 5K. Olson had a 1:26:01 HM and a 58:40 15K to her credit. Fischer has shown herself to be a tough Cross Country runner over past years but I was worried that she had no long distance race results. She showed that I need not have fretted. Halseth was leaving nothing to chance, covering the first 5K in 19:10 and opening up a lead of 50 seconds back to Mills-Honarvar and well over a minute to Olson and Fischer. Unfortunately Walters's chip was only recording intermittently so the only split reported is at 10K. Luckily , for the report, I learned after the race that Cal Coast's John Holcomb had been running fairly close to Walters over the course of the race so I will fill in with his splits. If that's accurate, Walters was about 20 seconds back from Halseth in second place. Halseth hit the 10K mark in 38:51 with a 50 second lead on  her closest pursuer, Walters, whose chip registered 39:41. Mills-Honarvar was  24 seconds back in third. Olson and Fischer, along with Fischer's teammate, Kathleen Cushing-Murray formed a chase pack 90 seconds back from Mills-Honarvar. Halseth was the only one of the leaders who could maintain a sub-20 5K pace on the third 3.8 mile stretch from 10K to 10 Miles. But Mills-Honarvar was cruising at a pretty good clip and only lost 9 seconds to Halseth while cutting Walters's lead to 20 seconds or perhaps a bit less. Halseth covered the last 5K at a 19:49 clip to claim the Gold Medal by almost a minute and a half.
Prado RC's Amy Halseth Captures the Overall Masters Gold Medal at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

Mills-Honarvar almost matched her with a 19:53 that allowed her to catch and pass Walters for the Silver Medal.
Donna Mills-Honarvar, running for A Snail's Pace, beams as she brings it home for the Overall Masters Silver Medal in the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

Olson was also cracking now, hitting 19:55 over the final stretch. But Walters had too much of a lead and had too much staying power as she crossed the finish line with a two minute lead and the Bronze Medal in her grasp.
After Claiming 3rd Place Overall, Ingrid Walters, of the Jane's Elite,  is all smiles at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

Olson was next in 4th with Fischer only a half minute back-pretty impressive long distance running for a short road and cross country specialist.

Amy Halseth 1:23:05     Donna Mills-Honarvar 1:24:32     Ingrid Walters 1:24:57

Age-Grading Championship. The athletes who finished 3rd, 4th and 5th among the women last year were back to contend for the Age-Grading crown: Honor Fetherston, Kelle Taylor, and Kathleen Cushing-Murray. Challengers included Doreen McCoubrie who took 3rd place in age-grading at Virginia Beach, as well as Tania Fischer and Jeanette Groesz who claimed the 3rd and 4th place age-grading places at the USA Cross Country Championships in Bend OR in February. Groesz, 67, ran even stronger here than at Bend, with a 1:45:03 that age-grades at 88.58%.
Jeanettte Groesz, 67, of Portland's Team Red Lizard captured the Women's Age-Grading Crown at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

McCoubrie, 55, only three weeks away from her excellent Boston Marathon race, found she had enough left to move up one slot from Virginia Beach and claim the 2nd spot. Her 1:29:33 scored an 88.07%. Fetherston, 62, matched her third place finish from last year with a 1:38:59 and 87.45%. 
Honor Fetherston [right] captures 3rd place in the Age-Grading contest for the second straight year at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

Cushing-Murray took 4th at 86.60% with Halseth, 47, the Overall Winner, in 5th at 86.29%. Fischer finished less than 0.4% back from Halseth in 6th.

Jeanette Groesz 88.58%     Doreen McCoubrie 88.07%     Honor Fetherston 87.45%

The main contenders among the men included those who finished 3rd, 4th, and 6th in Age-Grading last year, Fred Zalokar, Kevin Broady, and John Gardiner. Mike McManus, whom I had thought of as primarily a short-distance road and cross country runner, was also entered. He finished 4th in Age Grading at the 8K in Virginia Beach among a very competitive group. Would he be able to move up in distance and maintain that edge? I was skeptical, but clearly I underestimated McManus; he is a complete distance runner who can navigate the roads and the cross country paths at distances from 5K to a Half Marathon. He not only held his edge, he took the Age-Grading crown; at 51 his 1:14:03 scored an 88.75%. 
Hoka NJNY TC's Mike McManus drives to a 1:14:03 and the top Age-Grading Score at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

After McManus it was 2 of the three favorites from last year. Broady, 55, clocked 1:17:19 for 88.12% and 2nd place; Gardiner's 1:10:48 for a 44 year old, age-graded to 87.54% and 3rd place.  
Kevin Broady, 55, running for A Snail's Pace Running Club, captured the Silver Age-Grading medal at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

Greg Wilson, 64, ran 1:26:09 for 86.11% and John Holcomb, 62, hit the finish line in 1:24:53 for 85.68%. 
Greg Wilson captures 4th place in the Age-Grading contest at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

Zalokar, on an off day, was just out of the top 5 at 85.49% with Orin Schumacher .01% back in 7th.

Mike McManus 88.75%     Kevin Broady 88.12%     John Gardiner 87.54%

Age-Division Championships  

Men 40-44. A recap of this division would be a rehash of the coverage of the Overall Championships as all of the key contenders came from that division.
David Angell captures the Bronze Medal overall and for the Men's 40-44 Division at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

John Gardiner 1:10:48     Jose Merino 1:11:44     David Angell 1:12:18

Women 40-44.  Amy Halseth and Ingrid Walters are in the Women's 45-49 group so the battle in the Overall Championship between Donna Mills-Honarvar and Keri Olson carries over to this division with Mills-Honarvar taking 1st. Erika Aklufi gave Olson quite a run for her money over the first half of the course but then ran out of steam just when Olson was kicking up her pace. Aklufi hit the 10K mark in 40:42, 53 seconds ahead of Olson. But the third, uphill portion of the course slowed Aklufi more than Olson as the latter narrowed the gap to 27 seconds. As noted in the earlier coverage, once the hills were conquered, Olson was able to run her fastest 5K split of the race with a 19:55. 
Keri Olson claims the Silver medal in the Women's 40-44 Division at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

At the same time, Aklufi had her slowest 5K split. That was enough to flip their positions, with Olson getting the Age Division Silver and Aklufi settling for the Bronze Medal.

Donna Mills-Honarvar 1:24:32     Keri Olson 1:26:58     Erika Aklufi 1:27:26 

Men 45-49. The top returning runners from last year were Tony Torres who finished 2nd and M.J. Stanley who came home 5th. They would be tested by Steven Frisone and Stephen Johnson. Frisone, like several others in this race, does not run outside of his sweet spot of 5K to 10K very often but he has plenty of speed at those distances, a bit ahead of Torres; a Half Marathon does not seem too much of a stretch in distance. Johnson ran 16:14 at Carlsbad last year and had a couple of 1:16+ HM's in 2015. By the time they were down in Corona Del Mar, Torres hit the 5K mark in 17:51 and had created a ten second gap back to a chase group of Johnson, Frisone, Mark Steyvers and Gregory Keyes. It is  guesswork on Steyvers; his chip was not registering at the timing mats so there were no splits for him. Between the 5K and the 10K Johnson caught and passed Torres, creating an 8 second gap when they crossed the timing mat. Frisone was biding his time another 6 seconds back from Torres.Like many other runners, Torres and Keyes found their pace slowing over the steepest portion of the course form 10K to 10 Miles. But Frisone threw in a sharp acceleration which carried him up even and then past Johnson despite no slowing on Johnson's part. Twelve seconds back at 10K, Frisone was 20 seconds ahead at 10 Miles. Torres kept on gamely but found himself now over half a minute back. There was no stopping Frisone once he topped the last climb as he covered the last 5K in 17:28, pulling away to win the division by nearly a minute in 1:15:31. 
Cal Coast's Gregory Keyes celebrates his final year in the 45-49 division with a fine 5th place finish in the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

Torres recovered somewhat over the last 5K but could only knock a few seconds off of Johnson's lead. Steyvers was about a minute back, with Keyes a half minute behind him in 5th and Stanley 10 seconds back from Keyes..

Steven Frisone 1:15:31     Stephen Johnson 1:16:29     Tony Torres 1:16:57  

Women 45-49.  Only three of the 5 athletes entered made it to the race. The contest between the two leaders, Amy Halseth and Ingrid Walters was chronicled in the Overall Race section. Diana Keyes joined them and took home the Bronze Medal.

Amy Halseth 1:23:05     Ingrid Walters 1:24:57     Diana Keyes 2:10:47

Men 50-54. It was East vs. West as the Hoka NJNYTC's Mike McManus made the trip across the country to try his hand [should that be foot in this case?😉] at the Half Marathon. No doubt he has run this far in the past but I could not find any results for a race longer than a 10K in the past 5 years. McManus is a 'beast' at the shorter distances, especially on the XC paths but the lack of recent experience at longer distances put just a bit of doubt into my mind. I should not have listened to the doubts. He was taking on very accomplished runners like Kevin Zimmer and Jeff Creighton of San Diego's Prado Running Team and Matthew Underwood of Cal Coast. It is harder to piece the story of this division together as  none of Underwood's splits were reported and for Zimmer only the 10 Mile split, and for Creighton and McManus only the 10K and 10 Mile. Still it seems reasonable to project that McManus set the pace for the Division right from the start. He hit the 10K mark in 35:13, over 3 minutes ahead of Creighton. By the 10 Mile mark that had grown to well over 5 minutes. We get the first split for Zimmer at 10 Miles; he was closer but still nearly 4 minutes back. McManus hit the finish line and it was well over 6 minutes before Underwood came across in 2nd place. Zimmer was only 27 seconds behind Underwood at the end so that race within a race must have been pretty heated at some point before Underwood pulled away. 
Cal Coast's Matthew Underwood just starting to enjoy his Silver Medal in the Men's 50-54 Division at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

Creighton narrowed the gap between him and Zimmer to a minute and 5 seconds  by the end, but Zimmer held onto the Bronze Medal. 
Prado RC's Kevin Zimmer in a pensive moment after capturing the Men's 50-54 Bronze medal at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

This is the 2nd National Masters Championship Road Race for McManus this year. In the past he has only joined us for the Cross Country Championships; perhaps this year he is going for the Individual Grand Prix title. Up until this race I would have said Kristian Blaich and/or Kent Lemme was the division favorite, as Nat Larson is aging up to 55-59. If McManus has decided to challenge for the M50 Individual GP title, we should see some great races between Blaich, Lemme and McManus this fall. Both Blaich and Lemme took his  measure in the 8K at Virginia Beach, but McManus has been a terror in Cross Country and will especially look for revenge in Boston MA and Lexington KY.

Mike McManus 1:14:03     Matthew Underwood 1:20:50     Kevin Zimmer 1:21:18

Women 50-54. Last year Kathleen Cushing-Murray and Kelle Taylor, of the Jane's Elite, went 1 and 3, sandwiching Cal Coast's Mary Lynch  in 2nd between them. It was a very tight race with only 53 seconds between 1st and third. All three are back and joined by Tania Fischer. If you read the Overall Race synopsis, you know that Fischer and Cushing-Murray were in the mix for the win. In the process they finished 1-2 in the division, with Cushing-Murray only 25 seconds back from Fischer. 
Tania Fischer [right] Celebrates her big day--5th Overall, 6th in Age-Grading and 1st in Women 50-54--with her Jane's Elite teammate, Erika Aklufi

Lynch and Taylor could not keep pace this year but had a good tussle for the Bronze Medal. 
Kathleen Cushing-Murray[left] about to celebrate with her Jane's Elite teammates. She took 7th Overall, 4th in age-Grading and finished 2nd in Women's 50-54--at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

Taylor crossed the 5K mat in 21:31, with a 37 second lead on Lynch, and maintained that gap throughout the next 5K. Climbing back up from the seaside, Lynch started to make inroads, cutting the gap to 17 seconds by the 10 Mile mark. After that it was all Lynch as she passed Taylor and opened up a half minute gap of her own by the finish line.

Tania Fischer 1:27:25     Kathleen Cushing-Murray 1:27:50     Mary Lynch 1:32:46

Men 55-59. Fred Zalokar, of Major Marathon fame, is the Defending Champion but Kevin Broady, who won the M50-54 division last year in a faster time, aged up to the 55-59 division and became the favorite. James Zoldy, who finished 5th in the M50 division last year also aged up but he ran a couple of minutes slower than Zalokar in 2016 so something would have to change for Zoldy to move up from 3rd place. As expected, Broady took it out hard, with Zalokar going with him and Zoldy starting more moderately. Still, by the 5K mat, Broady had 6 seconds on Zalokar, as he hit it in 18:19, with Zoldy nearly a minute back. After that first 5K it was pretty much more of the same as Broady's gap back to Zalokar grew steadily and the gap between 2nd and 3rd place also grew. Broady hit the 10K in 36:33 with 1:11 on Zalokar and 2:20 to Zoldy. Broady's 5K pace slowed only from 18:16.5 to 18:21 on the uphill portion from 10K to 10 Miles, allowing him to stretch the gap, 2:37 to Zalokar and 4:00 to Zoldy at the 10 Mile mark. Broady brought it home in 1:17:22 to take the Gold Medal; it was a fine example of superb pacing as he varied only from 18:14 to 18:21 5K pace for each of the four portions of the race. Zalokar had, no doubt, hoped to stay close to Broady for more of the race but it was not his day as he lagged over the middle parts of the race. 
Fred Zalokar [Center] after taking 6th in Age-Grading and 2nd in the Men's 55-59 Division at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

He recovered nicely, however, covering the final 5K  in 18:47 to finish 3 minutes after Broady but two minutes ahead of Zoldy.

Kevin Broady 1:17:22     Fred Zalokar 1:20:27     James Zoldy 1:22:37

Women 55-59. Janet Smith and Teresa Quan, Impala teammates who finished 2nd and 3rd last year, were back but not the defending Champion, Mary Sweeney. They would have to fend off three swift athletes from the Athena Track Club if they were to grace the podium again. Athena was led by Doreen McCoubrie, who captured the division at the 8K in Virginia Beach, and ran 3:13:56 at the Boston Marathon 3 weeks ago to take 2nd place in her division. The only question was whether three weeks was enough recovery time. On the basis of a 1:04:52 time in a 15K earlier this year, Mary Swan was favored to be the second Athena across the line; that 15K time is age-grade equivalent to a 1:32:06. Their teammate Margaret Sloan does not have any recent results over 10K that I could find, but her 43:38 at the masters 10K Championships on April 30 is age-grading equivalent to 1:34:26. Even if one allows some slippage for the longer distance, Sloan should still be able to come in well under 1:40 and it seemed unlikely that Smith and Quan would hit that standard. 
The Athena TC's Doreen McCoubrie enjoyed the race so much she apparently did not want to stop-2nd place in the Age-Grading competition and winner of the women's 55-59 Division at the 2017 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships

The race unfolded pretty much as expected with McCoubrie setting the pace, crossing the 5K timing mat in 21:27 with almost a half minute lead on Swan, who had, in turn, 18 seconds on Sloan. Diana Theron of the Cal Coast TC was the closest other runner, already two and a half minutes back. McCoubrie kept the hammer down, adding nearly a minute to her lead by the 10K mark. And Swan did the same to her teammate, Sloan. But something happened between 10K and 10 Miles that threw Swan for a loop; her pace slowed radically. Sloan only slowed by a couple of seconds per mile, and that was enough to narrow the gap with her teammate to a mere 5 seconds. Whatever had Swan in the 'hurt locker' from 10K to the 10 Mile mark, cleared up. She found her stride and  her pace again, making her last 5K the fastest of her race at 21:21. McCoubrie, even though her pace did not slacken much over the third portion of the race, was also able to kick it into high gear, covering the final 5K in 20:29! Sloan accelerated modestly for the last portion, bringing the race home in under 1:40, giving her the Bronze medal by 7 minutes over Theron.

Doreen McCoubrie 1:29:37     Mary Swan 1:36:17     Margaret Sloan 1:38:37

That winds up the first part of the recap of the USATF Half Marathon Championships--Overall, Age-Grading, and Age Divisions 40-44 through 55-59. Next up will be the Age Division contests for 60-64 through 80-85, the Team Championships, Elite Performance Medals and my Overall and Age-Grading 'Grand Prix' tabulations.

Photos courtesy of the OC Marathon. Photos by Paksit Photos. 

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