Friday, September 1, 2017

Masters Runners Win National Road Mile Championships in Flint Michigan-Recap 1-Overall and Age Grading

August 30 2017. On a clear evening in Flint Michigan last Friday, August 25th, over 130 swift Masters runners lined up to try their chances for national individual and team championships. It is great to run in one of the many Road Miles around the country but only one race allows the winner to say, "I am the National Road Mile Champion," and it is this one. The Crim Foundation’s Michigan Mile was the host for the 2017 USATF Masters 1 Mile Championships. Construction on the University of Michigan-Flint campus necessitated some slight changes to the traditional course. Many of us thought it might be a faster course but it does not seem to have turned out that way. Both versions contain some elevation changes and several turns. Certainly the weather was about as favorable as possible, with temperatures in the upper 60’s, not much humidity and only a mild breeze.


The Women's race went off at 6:45 pm and it was a humdinger!  

Melissa Gacek, who won the Masters Division of the TC Medtronic Mile in the Twin Cities in early May with a time of 5:29, and Renee Tolan, who won the Masters Division GNC Live Well Liberty Mile in Pittsburgh in mid-August in a time of 5:21, were squaring off. At first glance, that seemed to make Tolan an overwhelming favorite but the course, as noted above, has more challenges than the course in Pittsburgh which is flat, with just one 180 degree turn. Gacek finished 3rd last year and so had the experience of running an elevation varying course with a number of turns. And they could not ignore Tammy Nowik, who won this race the last two years running. Even though there were rumors Nowik had a plantar fascitis problem, one never knows. If the runner shows up to race, we have to assume they are ready to go. One other runner might factor into the race as a long shot. Alisa Harvey excelled on the track at the University of Tennessee and had a 1500 meter PR of 4:08.3 at the 1992 US Olympic Trials. Now 51 it would be a challenge to win this race but no one would count her out.

The horn sounded with Gacek and Tolan rapidly moving to the front of the pack with Nowik tucked in behind.

After a slight rise before the quarter mile mark, there is a slight downhill and Tolan threw in a surge there and opened up a small gap over Gacek who fought to stay close. Nowik had now been passed by Alice Kassens and Harvey, lending credence to the plantar fascitis story.

Tolan establishing a small gap over Gacek

 Gacek was able to close the gap but once they hit the final straightaway with less than a quarter mile to go, it was all Tolan as she pulled away to win the Gold Medal by 5 seconds over Gacek.
Renee Tolan, powering away from Melissa Gacek for the win.

Gacek kept all pursuers at a distance, taking the Silver Medal, on eplace up from the Bronze medal she won last year. The unheralded Alice Kassens, who finished 13th at Club Cross Country Nationals last year and had an Indoor Track 5:41 mile in early 2016, ran a splendid race to claim the bronze medal!

 Alice Kassens pushed herself to the limit and was rewarded with the Bronze Medal at the 2017 USATF Masters Road Mile Championship

She was 5 seconds back from Gacek and, more importantly, 2 seconds ahead of Harvey,

Alisa Harvey, in contention for the podium just after the quarter mile mark

with Nowik another three seconds back.
Tammy Nowik holding off Heather Webster heading for the finish line

Renee Tolan 5:25     Melissa Gacek 5:30     Alice Kassens 5:35

The Men's Race followed at 7 pm. Kevin Castille was a heavy favorite in the Men's race; he turned 45 this year and he has broken the 10K and 15K American records for Men 45-49 already. Castille has also won prestigious Masters titles at prominent road races from the Crescent City 10K to the Utica Boilermaker 15K. Other contenders included the defending champion from last year in 4:31, John Gardiner, who also won the Masters Half Marathon Championship this year. David Angell, who won the 8K and the 10K Masters Championships earlier this year, was trying to find a way to beat Gardiner who owns a 3-0 mark against him going into this championship. It would be a tall order in this race as it does not appear Angell has run a race shorter than a 5K in the last decade or so while Gardiner has run a number of Road Miles as well as 1500 Meter runs on the track. Additional long shots for the podium included Christian 'Cush' Cushing-Murray, Todd Straka, and Jerome Vermeulen. When Cushing-Murray is 'on', he is a real threat, as in April of 2016 when he won the Masters 5000 meter run at Carlsbad in 15:11. This year he is coming off a 4 month injury break from racing. The podium seems unlikely but with someone who competed in a US Olympic Trials 1500 Meters final, you never know. Two years ago at this race, Todd Straka finished 5th in 4:35.Earlier this year he ran a 4:26 mile on the track and a 4:19 in a downhill road mile in Colorado. He was primed for a good race.Vermeulen was a wild card; two years ago he nearly won it all, losing in a photo finish to Greg Mitchell in a time of 4:30. Last year he finished 2nd again, albeit in 4:39. This year he was the mystery man, with no recent races. I do not know if he was injured or just too busy to race, but he was not race sharp.

The main question was whether Castille could dominate a short road race like this as thoroughly as he has dominated  longer races. We did not have to wait long to find out; by the time he flashed past the first quarter mile marker, he already had a large gap, perhaps 20 yards, on the field.
Kevin Castille opened a large lead on the field by the quarter mile mark [Photo by Melissa Gacek]
As it turned out, Castille just grew that gap larger and larger, winning in the end by 13 seconds in 4:24. Right now Castille is pretty much unstoppable by any Masters Runner at distances from 1 Mile to a Half Marathon. Castille is already registered fo rthe 5K at Syracuse and will, no doubt, on that flat, fast course, be gunning for the 14:45 Men's 45-49 record established by Dennis Simonaitis at the Carlsbad 5000 in 2010. Last year Castille ran 14:46 so it is by no means certain but Castille has been running a bit faster than last year at longer, and now, shorter races.

Castille wins by 70 yards

Just because the win was one-sided does not mean there was not plenty of racing going on. Straka and Gardiner were running stride for stride at the quarter mile mark, with Angell and Philip Potvin tucked in behind.
Todd Straka (L) and John Gardiner (R) leading Philip Popvin and David Angell (white singlet) as they hit the quarter mile mark [Photo by Melissa Gacek] 
The next half mile would be critical. Gardiner threw in a surge and Angell went with him but Straka and Potvin could not. By the time they hit the 3/4 mark on the way back over the freeway, it was Gardiner in 2nd with Angell tucked in right behind.
Gardner leads Angell at the 3/4ths mark of the Masters Road Mile Championship [Photo by Melissa Gacek]
Even though Straka was not able to go with Gardiner and Angell, he now had a gap of his own on
Todd Straka in No Man's Land chasing Gardiner and Angell [Photo by Melissa Gacek]
Potvin who, in turn had a gap on the rest of the field,
Philip Potvin fighting to keep the 15 meter lead he worked so hard for --at the 3/4ths mile [Photo by Melissa Gacek]

but a 3-man chase pack was coming hard, led by Cushing-Murray.
Chase Pack of Christian Cushing-Murray, followed by Nat Larson with Thomas Knowles tucked in and a quarter mile to go [Photo by Melissa Gacek]
 Once they turned onto the final straightaway, Angell tried to overtake Gardiner but Gardiner had too much left and was able to kick away to claim 2nd in 4:37 with a 2 second margin over Angell.
Gardiner taking 2nd, 2 seconds ahead of Angell

Although Cushing-Murray closed with authority, Straka held on to nail down 4th by a single second, an improvement by 1 position from his 2015 finish. Nat Larson  had aged up to the 55-59 division this year and was not expected to figure into the overall race but there he was pushing stride for stride just behind Cushing-Murray. Cush got the 5th place but Larson was close enough to get the same 4:49 time.
Todd Straka (R) with Cushing-Murray and Larson giving chase

Kevin Castille 4:24     John Gardiner 4:37     David Angell 4:39


In my preview I pegged Kevin Castille Nat Larson, and Todd Straka as the favorites for the Men's Age Grading, with Tom Bernhard, John Gardiner, Doug Goodhue, and Jerome Vermeulen mentioned as others who might be in the mix. Castille, 45, and Larson, 55, made my preview look good as they actually went 1-2 with scores of 92.67% and 91.75% on times of 4:24 and 4:49. Straka, 50, ran great, clocking a 4:48 for a 88.36%. As Tom Bernhard had knee surgery over the winter and then got off to a slow start, I thought there was no chance he could match his 5:18 of 2016 and was not sure he would be able to break 5:30, but he did. His 5:28 at age 66 earned a 89.06% to edge Straka by 0.7 percentage points. But I failed to list Dave Bussard, 57, who beat them both to snatch the Age-Grading Bronze Medal. I had forgotten what a beast Bussard is at the mile distance. I recalled him finishing just inside the top ten age -graders at the 5K in Syracuse in both 2015 and 2016 well behind Bernhard and Larson. Had I looked back at the 2015 Masters Road Mile Championships, I would have seen that Bussard claimed the Bronze Medal that year, behind Vermeulen and Straka but ahead of Bernhard. So this is Bussard's 2nd age-Grading Bronze Medal at these championships in two tries. His 5:01 resulted in an 89.60% score for a half percentage point edge over Bernhard.

Dave Bussard, foreground, Nat Larson (white singlet), on their way to Bronze and Silver Age-Grading Medals respectively at the USATF National Road Mile Championships

I  thought Goodhue had no chance at age-grading due to being early on the comeback trail, with only one race in this year, But I had to mention him because he has so often been on the Age Grading podium.

Doug Goodhue leading his teammate, Paul Carlin just after the quarter mile mark

To be frank, he astonished me; I was not sure he would be in the top 50 age-grading, but Goodhue finished 12th with an 86.73%.

Kevin Castille 92.67%     Nat Larson 91.75%     Dave Bussard 89.60%

In the Women's contest I made Sabra Harvey  the overwhelming favorite, with Marisa Sutera Strange, the defending champion in 2nd and Lynn Cooke, 3rd. Among others who could factor I listed Lorraine Jasper and Jill Miller-Robinett. Strange had to withdraw due to a hamstring injury but Harvey was there and how! She ran a 6:07 at age 68 to age-grade 105.63%, her second age grade above 100% this year-Impressive!

Pre-Race Warmups Completed, Sabra Harvey, who would win the Age-Grading Gold medal, heads for the Starting Line

Second place went to another 65-69 competitor, Jeannie Rice of Ohio. A relatively late entrant, she came in under the radar. A 1:42 Half Marathoner, a 3:30 Marathoner and with several 5K's under 22:30 this year, she should clearly have been considered a contender. She ran 6:39 to take 2nd in the age grading easily, by over 7 percentage points, with a 98.79%.

Jeannie Rice on her way to the Age-Grading Silver Medal 

Lynn Cooke, as I predicted, took her first Age-Grading Bronze medal; she had finished in the top 5 at the 8K and a mile race is closer to her sweet spot. It will be interesting to see how she can do once her Achilles tendon is back completely under control.

Sabra Harvey (L) and Lynn Cooke (R) on their way to a 1-3 Age-Grading Finish

Another Ohioan from the 65-69 bracket, Barbara Broad, 66, finished just 0.2 percentage points off the podium in 6:50 for a 91.54%. Jasper, 55, was not far off with a 5:51 for 90.95%.

Sabra Harvey 105.63%     Jeannie Rice 98.79%     Susan 'Lynn' Cooke 91.68%

Terrific performances on a challenging Road Mile Circuit.

Your 2017 U.S. National Road Mile Champions are:

Overall-- Kevin Castille  and Renee Tolan

Age-Grading-- Kevin Castille and  Sabra Harvey

The next installment will be Recap 2- Age Divisions and Team Outcomes.

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