Saturday, October 14, 2017

XC Season is Here-Preview of the 2017 USATF National 5 km Masters Cross Country Champiionships--Overall and Age-Grading

October 13 2017. Cross Country season has rolled around again as sure as the Maple trees are turning color. Over 350 speedy runners from all over the USA are converging on Franklin Park in Boston for the 5 km national cross country championships. Franklin Park has been home to cross country championships for decades. In the ancient days (1960's) when I was a high school XC kid in Massachusetts, the State Championships were held there, and when I was a cross country runner for Tufts, so were many of our meets and, of course, the Greater Boston Collegiate XC Championship. The course is not the same. When asked to describe it, my old Tufts pal, Steve Viegas, wrote the following: "The course was created for the World Cross-Country Championships in 1992.  It is a mixture of rolling grass fields, woody trails and a big hill (Bear Cage Hill).  I haven’t run it since the masters nationals were last run there. It is very challenging." So runners be warned, although by the time you read this, many of you will have already jogged the course. And, of course, the huge contingent from New England will already be familiar with it. Steve, by the way, is tapering for his Marathon on the 22nd so is not running.

Although Sunday is forecast to be cloudy with temps in the low 60's, there are some showers in the forecast for Saturday and even occasional showers overnight. But by race time the skies should be cloudy. The forecast is for small amounts, perhaps no more than a tenth of an inch overall. Still, forecasts are sometimes off and runners are advised to look to the turf conditions. Winds are moderate early but could kick up. They are forecast to be blowing at 12 mph by the time of the Men's 60+ race at 10:30 am and should intensify a little for the Men's 40-59 race at 11:15 am and the Women's race at high noon. It is not really proper conditions for a New England cross country meet; you need all 3, windy, wet, and cold for that! But at least the runners will have 1 of the 3 to curse as they head past the 1 mile mark and start thinking about Bear Cage Hill!

By the way, the Technical Instructions indicate: "There will be a Technical Meeting scheduled for Saturday, October 14, 2017 Hilton Boston/Dedham – Headquarters Hotel, 25 Allied Dr., Dedham, MA 02026 at 6:30 p.m. Athletes, Coaches, Officials and Team Managers are welcome to attend. Punch and Pie." They do not say if you have to be willing to get punched before you get your slice of pie! [😉].

This preview will be somewhat free-flowing and will rely more on memory that research; I have been caught short by having only two weeks between Championships. I do not have time to research results for entrants whose names I do not recognize. And no doubt, a few of those will turn out to be very strong runners who will have an impact.
The field sprints off at the start of the Men's 10K race at the 2016 USATF National Club XC Championships [Kevin Castille out of picture ahead of the field]

Overall Race. There is no overall race; there are two races on the Men's side and one Women's race. Hence there are neither prizes nor awards for an overall winner. Nonetheless, the starter shoots the gun, runners take off, everyone runs as fast as they can and, in the end. someone crosses the line first, second, and third. Who are we likely to see?
Men 60+. John Barbour must be the favorite. He battled Rick Becker all the way to the finish at Club XC 2015 and last year he battled all the way to the line with Brian Pilcher. He wa soutkicked both those times but it appears that neither of his rivals will be in the field on Sunday. Pilcher is dealing with a hamstring and Becker is far away in Washington tending to Cross Country duties. So Barbour it is. Can anyone run with him? None of the guys who were close at Tallahassee will be challenging him. The Boulder Road runners are not here, so no Dan Spale, Kye Hubbart, nor Greg Bell . Mark Rybinski and Gary Radford, GVH teammates are entered but Rybinski has been rehabbing all year and Radford has been dinged up since the summer. Both were entered in the 5K at Syracuse but neither ran,--not a good sign. It looks like it will be up to Ken Youngers to give battle. Off for the first part of the year after surgery, Youngers is most of the way back to form. At Bethlehem in 2014 he finished 4th in the 55-59 division behind Joe Sheeran, Mark Reeder and Michael Smith. And now three years later he is in the 60+ division. He ran 17:48 to finish 3rd in the packed field at the 5K road championships in Syracuse on the 1st of this month. Tom Ryan finished just 16 seconds back in 4th at Syracuse. Who is the better XC runner; it is not always the one who is faster on the roads. Bear Cage Hill may be a separator. Reno Stirrat has been up there in the past but he has been just a little off this year after dealing with various issues in late 2016. He was 6th at Syracuse in 18:59 so will need a good day on Sunday to be in contention. [That's the way it looks from memory (mostly)-If I have a chance for some broader research, I may add another contender.]
Doug Bell, Mark Rchtman, and Mark Rybinski competing at the 2016 USATF National Club XC Championships

John Barbour          Ken Youngers          Tom Ryan

Men 40-59.  Let me pull out the following names from recent history: (40-44) David Angell, Alan Black, Mike Galoob, Ryan McCalmon, Ethan Nedeau; (45-49) Jonathan Frieder, Derrick Jones, Greg Putnam; (50-54) Andy Gardiner, Peter Hammer, Kent Lemme; (55-59) Nat Larson. These names jump out at me from the list as individuals who have had remarkable performances over the last few years. The top 3 finishers should come from this list.Angell has been tearing up the roads this year; he has national (overall) championships at 8K and 10K and has been on the podium at every road championship this year. He cannot run with Kevin Castille and John Gardiner has his number so far but no one else. Cross Country may be another matter; it is hard to tell. Angell did not compete at Club XC last December but he was at bend oR for the USATF (Individual) XC Championships. He finished 4th behind Jacques Salberg, John Howell, and J. Gardiner. That's a tough crew and it is hard to draw too many conclusions from that as the course is odd; you are running up, down, or across a hillside for 80% of the course, and this year's race was plagued by slippery conditions due to snow melt. Suffice to say that Angell can run a tough XC course and still do well. Black has been tough on XC courses. Black finished 3rd overall, behind Gregory Mitchell and Alan Jackson in 2014 when Club XC was at Bethlehem PA. From his recent results I would guess his fitness is not quite where it was in late 2014. But he will be a tough customer no doubt. Galoob finished 7th at Club XC last year, using a kiler last 200 meters to separate himself from a pack of a dozen runners who all finished within a few seconds. He will need that kick again, no doubt. He has good fitness; he ran 15:58 at the CVS Downtown 5K a month ago, beating Jonathan Frieder by 10 seconds and losing only to Nat Larson, who was in a zone, and ran 15:54. Larson is a strong XC runner but it would be asking a lot for him to keep up with Galoob's pack on Sunday. At Club XC last December, Larson hung with that group for the first 2 kilometers but started to lose contact in the 3rd kilometer. At the CVS Downtown, Ethan Nedeau and Greg Putnam were 4th and 5th Masters. Frieder beat both Nedeau and Putnam at the 5K Championships in Syracuse, running 15:49, and Putnam reversed the order with Nedeau, coming in 13 seconds ahead in 16:03. That race within a race can clearly go either way on Sunday. Ryan McCalmon and Peter Hammer were part of the pack that Galoob was able to kick away from, with McCalmon finishing 5 seconds back and Hammer 6. No doubt both will be in the hunt on Sunday. McCalmon finished 2nd to David Angell at the national 10K Championships in Dedham and Hammer finished 2nd to Mark Andrews at the same course in 2016, 8 seconds faster than McCalmon's time. McCalmon took first Masters prize at the Beach 2 Beacon 10K in the summer so he is on his game. Hammer took first Masters at the Lone Gull 10K last month, beating Greg Putnam in the process. So Hammer appears primed for a good effort.

The Main Chase Pack heads into the final stretch of the course at the 2016 USATF National Club XC Championships

Andy Gardiner finished 4th in that race behind Hammer and Greg Putnam. A. Gardiner finished 2nd to Galoob at the recent Greater Boston TC XC 5K event, finishing 15 seconds back but 50 seconds ahead of Mark Reeder. Kent lemme always seems to be up near the top; he beat Larson by ten seconds at Syracuse on the 1st of oOctober after losing to him by a few seconds at the 10K in Dedham in April. Lemme came in 26 seconds behind Larson at Club XC last December but came in ahead of Greg Putnam and Jonathan Frieder. Derrick Jones is the only one I have not mentioned yet. He is a bit of a puzzle. Jones finished 5th at the 10K Championships in Dedham this year but only after throwing surge after surge at the leader, Angell, in an effort to win the race. By the last kilometer he was spent and three runners sped past. But although he has run well since then, he has not hit that level again. In the national 5K Championship at Syracuse, he finished behind Frieder and Putnam.

Mike Galoob          David Angell          Ryan McCalmon

Women. I recognize these names as being prominent overall in recent National Championships,   Janet McDevitt, Ginger Reiner, Marisa Sutera Strange, and Renee Tolan. Of these, McDevitt has the most impressive resume for Cross Country. She has finished just behind Sonja Friend-Uhl at the 2014, 2015, and 2016 National Club Cross Country Championships in Bethlehem, San Francisco, and Tallahassee, finishing 3rd overall, followed by two 2nd place finishes. She has not raced a lot but has a 47 minute 12K from the spring and a low 18's 5K in the summer. McDevitt is the favorite to win. Strange was within two seconds of McDevitt at the 8K National Championship in Virginia Beach. But Strange is just a tick off her normal fitness. A hamstring issue slowed her down at the end of the summer and she wisely skipped the Road Mile Championship at Flint Michigan. She came back to finish 6th at the 5K Championshps but ran almost 30 seonds slower than her 2016 time. And when she ran that faster time, McDevitt still came in 20 seconds ahead of her at Club Cross at the end of the season.. So even if Strange's comeback continues on schedule, it will be tough for her to stay with McDevitt.  

Sonja Friend-Uhl (L) and Janet McDevitt (R) going 1-2 at the 2016 USATF National Club XC Championships

Renee Tolan came in 7 seconds ahead of Strange in Syracuse and is coming off impressive Road Mile wins at the Pittsburgh Liberty Mile and the Masters National Championship at the Crim's Michigan Mile in Flint. She also clocked 1:06:51 in one of her less favorite distances, the Crim 10 miler. It does show that she has endurance as well as speed though. And before that she ran a credible 38:50 at the Beach 2 Beacon 10K. Tolan mostly sticks to the roads. The one exception was the National Masters 5K XC Championship at Saratoga Springs two years ago. At that race, McDevitt, Tolan, and Strange went head to head, with McDevitt carving out a 3 second win over Tolan, with Strange another 7 seconds back. So far I have McDevitt, Tolan, Strange in that order. 
Chase Pack at the 2016 USATF National Club XC Championships--Marisa Sutera Strange (#1002), with Heather Webster, Liisa Miller, and Kathleen Cushing-Murray

What about Reiner? I only know her performances from her win in 37:09 at the 10K Masters national championships at Dedham. At the New England XC Championships last year she would have taken 2nd masters behind Kara Haas except that she was 39 at the time. She had a better result at the Mayor's Cup where she was the first woman over the age of 37 to finish. What those two races say is that sh is no stranger to XC. Her recent road efforts show she is primed for a good run. She has recent Masters wins, clocking 17:56 at the CVS Downtown 5K and 37:44 at the Lone Gull 10K. That seems strong enough to make her a co-favorite with McDevitt. Reiner also has 'home course' advantage. But McDevitt has the national XC experience; it should be a great matchup. 

If any of those falter, the runners I can identify with the most chance to move up are Trish Butler, Alice Kassens, and Wakenda Tyler. Most likely they will be on the outside looking in at podium time. But they are all strong runners who have been on many a podium. Butler is celebrating a new age group, 55-59, with this championship. She missed much of the year with injury and is just rounding back into shape. Last year Butler took 11th at Syracuse in 19:02, with Tyler a few places back at 19:32. This year they finished dead even on times, 19:15, with Tyler getting the nod at the line.  

Kassens took 3rd overall at the National Road Mile Championships but fell back a bit at Syracuse, finishing in 10th with a 19:10. This Championship was held in Tallahassee last year and Kassens took 5th, finishing 5 seconds behind Butler and 42 behind strange. On the same course for Club XC Championships, Kassens ran similarly finishing 9 seconds behind Butler, 36 seconds behind Strange, and a minute back from McDevitt. If I mention Tyler, I should also mention Kathleen Hayden who is in this race and finished  one second ahead of her at Club XC. 

Late news flash! My earlier preview missed Kara Parker, from Minnesota, who will also contend for the overall victory. She came in just ahead of Melissa Gacek in the Masters portion of the Medtronic TC 10 Mile run this year and has a sub-19 minute 5K to her credit as well. I stick with my prediction for top 3 but no doubt Parker will be in the hunt for a podium finish.

Janet McDevitt          Ginger Reiner          Renee Tolan

AGE-GRADING. Less visually interesting as the final details are only known fo rsure when the computer spits out the calculations, age-grading is the best tool we currently have for comparing performances of runenrs across the ages. It is the technical substitute for 'Wow, look how fast that old-timer ran!" Who are the favorites. Again I am relying on name recognition to pull out the favorites. I only identify the podium but the prizes go 5 deep so those mentioned below who are not among the favorites for the podium are still favorites to take an extra check home with them. [Or as Steve Vvaitones will no doubt say, "The check will be in the mail."

Women. Jan Holmquist and Marisa Sutera Strange are often on the Age-Grading podium. Holmquist was 2nd, Marisa Sutera Strange 4th, Trish Butler 8th and Susa 'Lynn' Cooke 11th, with Jo Anne Rowland 12th at Syracuse this year. At Club XC last year Strange was 3rd, Butler 4th, and Cooke 6th.

Jan Holmquist          Marisa Sutera Strange          Trish Butler

Men. At Club XC last year, for Men 40-59, Nat Larson finished 2nd (91.21), Peter Hammer 4th (89.77), Kent Lemme 13th (87.04). John Barbour topped the list for the 60 and ups at 89.38. No one else who is entered this year from that group scored above 85. At the national masters 5K Champs earlier in the month it was Larson 2nd and Lemme 6th, with Jonathan Frieder in 13th, and Ken Youngers (60 and up) in 15th. At the 10K Championships in Dedham, Larson took 1st and Lemme 5th, with John Barbour (60 and up) 6th, and Greg Putnam 8th among the men. Mike Nier is a tough XC runner and is never too far from the top of age-grading. Brent Fields got 9th age-grading at the Masters 5km XC Championships last year in Tallahassee. Tom Ryan and Reno Stirrat can also produce a high quality age-grade score on a good day.

Nat Larson          Peter Hammer          John Barbour

That is it for the early look. My apologies to the any contenders that I have missed. I will try to get age divisons up before the end of the day but it may not happen. Life goes on apace.

The Club XC photos are, of course, from Michael Scott.


  1. Paul, Kathryn Martin showed up at FP this afternoon. So will be a battle for 1st A-G between Kathy & Jan.
    I think Nat can go 94% while Peter and John will be 89-90 like last year. Grass was a bit tall and wet today which may add a few seconds.
    Great job on immersive coverage with such short time constraint.

  2. Adding that Andrew Gardiner should score 91%