Monday, April 23, 2018

Preview 2--2017 USATF Masters 10K Championships--Age Grading and Overall Competitions

April 23 2018. The weather forecast is still favorable, upper 50’s, partly cloudy and single digit winds were the forecast as of Monday morning, April 23. Looks like a super day for a race over the rolling hills of Dedham. This is an early preview that will get updated. Current registration is about 175 but we anticipate at least another 50 entrants, and likely more, by the time packet pickup ends Saturday at 5 pm. Let’s begin with a look at the top overall favorites for age grading and then consider the race to be first over the finish line.

Age Grading. The Age Grade score addresses the question of how athletes are performing relative to their age. For each single year age, a statistically constructed ‘best possible performance’ is generated from data on the World’s Best marks for every age and several set distances. The Age grade score for a given performance represents how fast in percentage terms the time in question is relative to that ‘best possible performance.’ So if the ‘best possible performance’ is 20:00 for a given age and gender and the individual actually runs 24:00, an inverse percentage is calculated as 20/24 * 100 or 83.33%. The closer an athlete is to their ‘best possible performance’, the closer the score is to 100. An athlete can exceed the ‘best possible performance’ by running 19:48, for example; that would merit a 101.01%. Once more than just a few of those occur, the standards are reviewed and adjusted statistically if necessary. The last such adjustment was in 2015. Recent history tends to be a good guide for predicting who is likely to excel in Age-Grading. Two relevant benchmarks are the most recent road championship, the 8K, and last year’s age-grading on this same course and distance.

Four of the top 7 age-grade women from Virginia Beach are entered here as of April 23 at 5 pm. Marisa Sutera Strange heads the list at 92.57%, followed by Jeanette Groesz (91.82%), Suzanne Ray (90.21), and Michelle Simonaitis (87.41). Top age graders from last year’s 10K Championship who are returning include Jan Holmquist (96.59), Sutera Strange (93.73), and Mimi Fallon (88.56). Even if Holmquist is not at the very top of her game, she should take the Age-Grading contest, with Sutera Strange favored for 2nd and Groesz to claim the last podium spot. Update: Karen Durante could well make her way onto the podium. Her recent efforts at the Tune-Up 15K and the Half Marathon would age grade at 90.85 and 91.90 respectively for a 67 year old, her current age.
Jeanette Groesz finishing the 2017 USATF Masters 15K Championship at the Tulsa Run where she had a top 5 Age Grading finish under tough conditions [Photo courtesy of Tulsa Sports Commission] 

Easy for me to say; they’ve got to do the racing!

Jan Holmquist     Marisa Sutera Strange     Jeanette Groesz

Six of the top 8 age-grade men from Virginia Beach are already entered: Nat Larson, at 92.90%, heads the list, followed by Brian Pilcher (91.74) [Update-Scratched due to injury issues.], Gene Dykes (91.72), Ken Youngers (91.48), Tom Bernhard (91.19), and Kent Lemme (90.31). Top returners from last year’s 10K Championship include many of the same athletes: Nat Larson (92.80%), Derrick Staley (89.84), Bernhard (89.80), and Lemme (89.59). It should be a tight battle between Larson and Pilcher as Pilcher should be on an upward trend. Still, the Champ’s the Champ until he’s beaten. I will pick Larson, who has been scorching the roads for the past year, for 1st and go with Pilcher for 2nd. It should be quite a battle for 3rd. In principle Dykes should get it; he should improve with distance being the only Marathon record holder in the subgroup vying for the 3rd podium spot. But he should also have heavy legs from Rotterdam and Boston so that argues for Youngers or Bernhard who are both still coming back from late 2016/early 2017 surgeries. And Lemme keeps running better and better too. Despite the utmost respect for all of these runners, I have to pick someone! I will go with Youngers to stay ahead of Bernhard and Lemme to move ahead of Dykes, just because Dykes had a tough 2 weeks in mid-April. If Dykes can make the age-grading podium at the end of a month in which he crushed the American 70-74 Marathon mark and won his age division in Boston in some of the worst weather ever, we will have to conclude he has found an unanticipated niche at the very top of the Masters Road Racing game. 4/28/18 update. Pilcher will not be able to run after all; he will be missed. But Kristian Blaich and Bill Dixon are now in the field. Both will need to be factored in. Blaich has graced the Age-Grading podium on occasion at these championships and Dixon, if he can make a run at the 70-74 record, could be in the hunt as well. Blaich had some good age grades last year, including a 91% on this course last year. But he has not competed in a Championship yet this year; in fact I can find no recent results for him. I will go with Bernhard after Larson and Youngers but either Blaich or Lemme could prove me wrong. I have underestimated both at one time or another in the past.
Nat Larson heading to his 2nd place finish in the Age-Grading Competition at the 2017 USATF Masters 15K Championship, hosted by the Tulsa Run [Photo courtesy of Tulsa Sports Commission] 

Nat Larson     Brian Pilcher     Ken Youngers      Tom Bernhard

Overall Race. The horn sounds! The runners take off! Who will be the first Masters Athletes to cross the finish line!?

Marisa Sutera Strange finished 3rd last year in 37:55, after winning the 2016 race in 36:49. Mimi Fallon also had a top 10 finish in 2017 in 39:10. Sutera Strange won the 8K in Virginia Beach in 30:40, with Michelle Simonaitis in 2nd place at 31:20. None of the other top 10 from Virginia Beach are entered. Jennifer Bayliss, who finished a minute ahead of Sutera Strange in taking the USATF Cross Country Masters title in early February, is entered. Since then she also finished 3rd Masters runner in the Sactown 10 Miler in 1:03:01. Jennifer St. Jean ran 38:17 here in 2015 but recently ran an 18:36 5K, suggesting she may be fitter this year. On the other hand, that race advertises itself as a ‘PR factory’ with a certified and net downhill course. A frequent competitor on the track, St. Jean ran a 5:26 in the Brooklyn [Road] Mile last year. That compares favorably with Renee Tolan’s 5:24 that took the USATF Road Mile title in Flint. Sutera Strange was a little off her best in Tallahassee and came back strong in Virginia Beach so based on current entries, I will go with Sutera Strange to win,
Marisa Sutera Strange heading to victory at the 2016 edition of the USATF Masters 10K Championships, hosted by the James Joyce Ramble

Bayliss to take 2nd and St. Jean to edge Simonaitis for 3rd. But none of it will be easy! [Update: Ginger Reiner, last year's Champion and also the overall victor at the 5km Masters XC Championship in Boston, is a late entry. I cannot ignore the reigning Champion. Her 1:25:46 recently in the New Bedford Half Marathon shows that current fitness is not in question. I will put Reiner ahead of Strange but she will have to earn the win.

Ginger Reiner      Marisa Sutera Strange     Jennifer Bayliss     Jennifer St. Jean

Jennifer Bayliss striding to victory at the 2018 USATF Cross Country Masters Championship at Tallahassee. [Photo by Mike Scott]

David Angell is the defending Masters 10K Champion and also took the 8K title in Virginia Beach. That makes him a strong favorite. Who will challenge? The strongest challenge last year came from Derrick Jones who threw in a couple of surges to try to break Angell. But Angell withstood each surge and, in the end, Jones was spent, despite clocking a 33:04, and several runners passed him in the final 400 meters. Since then Jones has competed in several Championship races using more standard strategies and has finished well, but not in the top ten. By the end of the 10K race last year, Greg Putnam was only 8 seconds back from Jones and the trio of Larson, Lemme, and Jonathan Frieder were only another 20 seconds back. And Frieder has had the edge over Putnam in their recent meetings on the roads. Frieder came in 14 seconds ahead of Putnam at the 5K Masters Championships, with Larson and Lemme not too far behind them. Frieder did not fare as well on  the Cross Country turf in Lexington and Tallahassee but came back strong at Virginia Beach to take 5th overall, with a half minute on Lemme and Larson; Putnam did not run Virginia Beach. Two others who ran Virginia Beach certainly need to be considered. Philippe Rolly finished 3rd, 18 seconds behind Angell and 12 seconds ahead of Frieder. As the reigning Bank of America Chicago Marathon Masters Champion, we would have to assume he improves with distance. The other contender, Sam Teigen, Frieder’s teammate, finished in 4th, four seconds ahead of Frieder. And Teigen has some long distance credibility as well with a 1:15:18 finish in the 2017 NYC Half Marathon. It seems fair, barring any further entries (I will update as necessary), to pick Angell and Rolly to go 1-2. Will Giovanni Pippia who finished 2nd in Virginia Beach, be a late entry for the Atlanta Track Club? If so, he will likely contend here as well.  Frieder, Jones, Putnam and Teigen will surely have a battle for honors. Teigen took the most recent honors so I will go for him to take 3rd. [Update: Pippia never did enter but two of the BAA;s finest, David Bedoya and Ryan McCalmon and Kristian Blaich have entered. McCalmon finished second here last year but Blaich was only 3 seconds back. Bedoya got the better of Blaich at Club XC this year in Lexington but it is never a sure thing that Cross Country dominance will carry over to the roads. But Bedoya has cometed recently on the roads. His 1:12:30 in the New Bedford Half Marathon is age grade equivalent to 33:33 for a 10K, about a half minute slower than Blaich was last year on this course. His 50:29 on the Tune-Up 15K is equivalent to  10K time a little faster.

David Angell     Ryan McCalmon      Kristian Blaich     Philippe Rolly     Sam Teigen

David Angell kicking away from everyone except Derrick Jones in the early going at the 2017 USATF Masters 10K Championship

Those are my picks based on entries through Monday morning April 23. I expect a healthy number of added entries, possibly as many as 50-75 in these last two days of online registration and Saturday for on site registration. If someone enters who upsets the apple cart of predictions, I will try to post an update. 4/25/18. As expected there have been a number of entries that need to be factored in, including Kristian Blaich, who had a terrific duel with Kent Lemme for the win in 2015, and two of the B.A.A.'s finest, Ryan McCalmon who was on the podium here last year and the always dangerous David Bedoya.

The next posting will be the Age Division races though!

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