Wednesday, October 31, 2018

USATF Masters 15K Championships at Tulsa Run-Recap No. 1 Overall and Age-Grading

October 30, 2018. The day dawned on the 27th of October with near perfect weather for a 15K jaunt over the hills of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Temperatures were in the mid 50's with plenty of sunshine and light winds. A new course greeted the Masters Runners--a course that wound through cool neighborhoods with taverns and restaurants, and old, established residential neighborhoods. The course certainly showed off Tulsa to great advantage. 

Overall Masters Championship. In the race to be first across the finish line, it appeared there were four main contenders, although there can always be surprises. David Angell has been tearing up the roads at National Championships the last two years but he has enjoyed more wins this year, taking the titles at the 8K in March at Virginia Beach, then the 10K in late April at Dedham, and the 5K in mid-August in Atlanta. John Gardiner has been his nemesis though. Angell had not beaten him on the roads at Championships until the 5K in Atlanta. At this 15K Championship in Tulsa, Gardiner had the best of their duels in both 2016 and 2017. Would this be Angell's year at the 15K? Sean Wade threw his entry onto the pile on the last day of registration. The renowned runner from Houston and current holder of the Men's 50-54 American 5K Record of 15:02 is a force to be reckoned with, even if 15K is not his best distance. And then there is Philippe Rolly. Rolly has been behind Gardiner and Angell for the last few years, at the front of the chase pack by the end of each race. Arguably his better distances are outside the 5K to 10K races where he has met them. Rolly won the Masters Division overall at the Chicago Marathon last year. We learned after the race that he is in training now for the California International Marathon (CIM) to be held the first weekend in December.

The Announcer sent the runners off with a voice command and the runners headed down 3rd street. The advice circulating among runners before the start had been to restrain yourself in the first mile for pacing purposes. But advice is one thing and actually doing it in a competitive situation is a different challenge. 
'Get Set, Go!' The Start of the 2018 USATF 15K Masters Championship  hosted by the Tulsa Federal Credit Union Tulsa Run [L to R across the front: Brent Fields, George Darden, Giovanni Pipia, John Gardiner, David Angell, Nat Larson, Francis Burdett, and  Mark Hixson] 

A lead pack of Angell, Gardiner, Rolly, and Wade quickly formed, with a chase pack consisting primarily of the Atlanta Track Club's contingent of Alan Black, George Darden, Brent Fields, and Giovanni Pipia. Black won the National 1 Mile Road Championship this year in Flint. At the 5K, Darden, Black and Fields finished 8-9-10, almost a minute behind Angell and Gardiner in 1st and 2nd. Pipia did not run the 5K but earlier in the year had surprised many by finishing 2nd to Angell ahead of Rolly. Would Pipia be able to spring another surprise? The Greater Springfield Harriers duo, Mark Hixson and Nat Larson took a more measured pace. By the 5K mat just after the first uphill, there was essentially no separation among the first 4 as they all clocked between 16:35 and 16:37. The Atlanta chase pack went past in 16:55 to 16:58 with Pipia trying to maintain contact 5 seconds back. Shortly after the 5K mark, there is a long hill and Gardiner fell back a bit. In that stretch Angell was the one pushing the pace but whenever they would hit a downhill section, Wade would push the pace. Rolly was content to hang with them, assuming he would have to try to match a killer surge at some point. In the stretch through the park after mile 5, Angell and Wade started to pull away from Rolly. In the next section through a residential neighborhood with speed bumps, Angell gained a few steps but by Mile 6, he heard someone closing, assuming it was Wade. To Angell's surprise, it was Rolly. They ran together until the turn around on the far side of the 23rd Street Bridge. 
Philippe Rolly starts his surge on the 23rd Street Bridge as Angell stays on his heels at the 2018 USATF Masters 15K Championship 

With just under 2 miles to go Rolly discovered, to his surprise, that Angell was starting to struggle with the pace. Rolly gained a few steps over the next half mile and then powered away up the last 1.5 miles of uphill grind before the course finally flattens right before the finish. It was a great and surprising victory for Rolly; his time was 50:40. As Angell turned onto the final hill he caught a glimpse of Gardiner who had recovered and was closing. Angell found the strength to hold off Gardiner for 2nd but could not catch Rolly. 

Philippe Rolly captures the 2018 USATF Masters 15K Overall National Championship in downtown Tulsa Oklahoma 

Angell was second in 50:53, with Gardiner third 8 seconds back and, closing even harder, Darden in 4th another 3 seconds back, followed by Wade. Rolly said after the race, "I have never beaten Angell or Gardiner in 6 tries before this. I am really surprised that I won. Perhaps it is the Marathon training. I am a little disappointed with the time, as I felt I have the conditioning to break 50 minutes. But it is a very hilly course. My goal was to run with the leaders at 5:20 pace for as long as possible. When we were on the bridge just after 7 miles, I saw Angell slowing down from our previous pace. At first I was confused, but waited until after the turnaround and made my move. I finished hard over the last mile and no one caught me. It was a great confidence builder in my training for the CIM."
Philippe Rolly 50:40   David Angell 50:53   John Gardiner 51:04

In the Women's Overall Race it was the third duel between Melissa Gacek and Fiona Bayly. Gacek won in 2016, with Fiona Bayly 2nd and in 2017 Bayly was the winner with Gacek 2nd. Who would win the rubber match? Both have had strong seasons. Bayly has been on the Masters podium or just off at several very competitive road races in the New York City area from the Fifth Avenue Mile to the Brooklyn Half Marathon. Perhaps her best predictor from those efforts was her 1:23:19 in the United Airlines New York City Half Marathon, which is age grade equivalent to a 58:40 15K. But she had a time in the Brooklyn HM that was a minute faster.  Gacek had two impressive 2nd place Masters finishes to polish her resume. She ran 1:41:21 at the 25K in Grand Rapids in May and 1:03:03 at the challenging 10 Mile Run in the Twin Cities in early October. Michelle Paxton who finished 3rd last ear had to scratch due to injury. Jennifer Malavolta has won two 5K's this season in 18:54 and 18:41. If she has the distance fitness for a 15K, those times suggest a time under an hour is within reach. Shannon Mauser-Suing ran a 1:24:34 half marathon in 2017 but in 2016 in that same race she ran 3 minutes faster. If she is in shape to run a 1:24 Half Marathon, she can break an hour in a 15K, but she has no races this year. Is that due to injury or something else preventing her from training? In either case, she is not race sharp. When the race started, Gacek's plan was to take it out hard, establish herself at the front and stay there if possible. She and Malavolta covered the first mile in 5:59. Gacek tried to drop her over the next mile, pushing on the tangents. Then right at three miles, Bayly came past both of them at speed. By the 5K mark, which Gacek hit in 19:27 she had left Malavolta 8 seconds back. But by then Bayly was 15 seconds ahead and pulling away. And that was pretty much the story the rest of the way as Bayly kept tripping off the miles and Gacek could only hold her in sight 1-2 blocks on the straightaways. Gacek seemed to close a bit on a downhill stretch around 10K, but then at the next uphill Bayly pulled away again. In the end Bayly had a fine victory, her second consecutive in 58:09, over half a minute faster than last year. 
Fiona Bayly captures her second consecutive USATF Masters 15K National Championship on the streets of downtown Tulsa Oklahoma 

Gacek finished gamely up the final hill to claim 2nd in 59:33, holding off Malavolta who claimed third 26 seconds later, 
Melissa Gacek 208 helping Jennifer Malavolta to walk off post-race fatigue at the 2018 USATF Masters 15K Championship in Tulsa OK 

with Mauser-Suing coming across the finish line in 4th a minute and a half later.
Fiona Bayly 58:09   Melissa Gacek 59:33   Jennifer Malavolta 59:59

Age Grading Championships
On the Men's side of the competition, Nat Larson, 56, was the favorite. He took the Gold Medal in Age Grading, symbolic of the best overall performance relative to age across all age divisions. Larson took the gold at the 5K in Atlanta, winning out over a formidable field with a 94.26%. He added that to age grade victories this year at 8K (92.90%) and the 10K (93.90). But he would have a challenger he has not faced before to my knowledge, Sean Wade, 52, the aforementioned 5K American M50 Record holder. Also in the field were Rick Becker, 63, who came in ahead of Larson in Age Grading at the USATF Cross Country National Championships in Tallahassee and also took 1st at the Half Marathon in Ann Arbor, Doug Goodhue, 76, a ten-time USATF Age Division Runner of the Year, and Roger Sayre, 60, who finished 2nd to Larson at the 8K. Tom Bernhard, 67, who has been on his share of age grading podiums, is always a threat. Medals go three deep and prize money five deep. Larson, ran 52:33, finishing 9th overall and grading at 91.94%. 
Nat Larson crosses the finish line in 52:33 to claim Age-Grading Gold at the 2018 USATF Masters 15K National Championship in Tulsa OK

Wade, 4th Overall, took 2nd in the Age Grading competition from his 51:32, grading at 90.48.
Sean Wade speeds to the Finish Line in 4th place Overall to claim a a Silver Age Grading Medal at the 2018 USATF Masters 15K National Championship

 Larson's teammate, Mark Hixson, 53, had a good day at the office, covering the hills and dales of Tulsa in 52:26 to grade at 89.72% and make his first age-grading podium at a National Championship! Sayre made his mark again, clocking 55:59 for 89.53% with Goodhue in 5th at 1:08:00 and 88.58. Becker was less than a half percentage point back, followed by Bernhard.

Five years ago the Age-Grading podium for the 15K Masters Championship in Tulsa consisted of Brian Pilcher, who is currently rehabbing a hamstring injury, Goodhue, successfully back from leg injuries and 5th place finisher in Tulsa this year, and yours truly, Paul Carlin, hoping to finish my comeback from off and on hamstring injuries since April 2016, and have a good 2019. The only one of those three who is close to the fitness of that day, in the context of age-grading, is Goodhue. He is an inspiration to all of us who have struggled with injuries and fitness. Hurray for the Silver Bullet and his remarkable comeback! 
Nat Larson 56 91.94   Sean Wade 52 90.48   Mark Hixson 53 89.72

The top returning age-grading scorers from last year on the Women's side of the competition were: Suzanne Ray, 67, Fiona Bayly, 51, Andriette Wickstrom, 63, and Doreen McCoubrie, 56. Their Age grades ranged from 87.87 to 92.22. McCoubrie and Ray were both on the Age-Grading podium for the Half Marathon and for the 8K McCoubrie was on th epodium and Ray was top 5. They have kept up their strong running this year. This is the first National Championship race of 2018 for Bayly and Wickstrom, but Bayly's Brooklyn Half Marathon of 1:22:19 age graded well over 90 and Wickstrom's City of Lakes Half Marathon of 1:37:08 graded just over 90%. I had a hot tip from one of my West Coast correspondents to watch out for Jennifer Teppo who was very fit and had just turned 60. As it turned out the top two returning from last year were the top two this year but in reverse order. Bayly was on fire on Saturday and everything fell into  place; her 58:09 age graded at 90.89%, over two percentage points higher than last year. Most folks who were repeat runners from last year went the other way on Age-Grading. Ray moved up from 4th to 2nd this year based on her 1:11:06 and 90.80%. Hixson and Sayre were close in the Men's competition but these two were even closer, a narrow win for Bayly!
Doreen McCoubrie keeping her pace cracking over the 23rd Street Bridge after mile 7--Good enough for a Bronze Age-Grading Medal at the 2018 USATF Masters 15K National Championship

McCoubrie's 1:03:18 closed off the podium with an 88.87. But two more went home with virtual cash jingling in their pockets. Teppo hit 1:08:01 to grade at 87.19 [my 'hot tip' was on the money!] in 4th
Jennifer Teppo approaches the Finish Line where she will claim the Women's 60-64 crown and a 4th Place Age-Grading Finish Overall in the 2018 USATF Masters 15K National Championship in Tulsa OK [Photo courtesy of Tulsa Sports Commission]

and Wickstrom's 1:11:20 scored 86.66 to land in 5th, one percentage point ahead of Suzanne Cordes.
Fiona Bayly 51 90.89   Suzanne Ray 67 90.80   Doreen McCoubrie 56 88.87

The next post will focus on Age Divisions and Teams. The spirited competition celebrated above permeated the event.

Photo Credits: Except for the one photo with the Tulsa Sports Commission watermark and the photo of Jennifer Teppo immediately above, all photos are by Shane Bevel Photography, LLC and Heckenkemper.


  1. Paul Carlin, another highly-detailed report which really paints the picture of us as individual runners with relatively fleeting and different stories. Thank you! I love reading y our take on things, and about the men's race -- because the guys are out there with us, doing their own thing -- but also doing the women's thing because we're all doing the same course! What an adventure. And for you to be participating, as well?! You are a renaissance man. Your devotion to the sport blows me away. ~ Fiona

  2. Thanks for the great report. Good luck finishing up your comeback! I hope to race with you in 2019.

  3. You are both very kind! I appreciate the kudos, especially when they come from top runners like both of you, Fiona and George. I look forward to 2019 and more excitement with Masters LDR!