Wednesday, December 12, 2018

USATF Club Cross Country Championships Settled in the Cold Air of Spokane

December 10, 2018. The Plantes Ferry Sports Complex in Spokane provided near blizzard conditions for the 2008 Championships; this time conditions were much better--sub-freezing temperatures were the rule under cloudy skies. With little wind and no precipitation the only concerns were whether to layer up a bit or to go with singlets, arm-sleeves, and shorts. The most common choices were a long-sleeved shirt under t-shirt or singlet, sleeves and gloves, with shorts winning out over tights. How did the races come out?

Women. The Women’s race started at 10 am with 28 degree temperatures. The main contestants to be first across the finish line included Meriah Earle San Diego Track Club,, Gretchen Hurlbutt Boisie Bettie's and Billie's, Nancy James-Klinger Jane's Elite RacingKate Landau Tacoma City Running Club, Kimberly Mueller San Diego Track Club, Kaela O’Neil Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.), Maggie Shearer TeaMosqueda Elite, all from the 40-44 age division and one stellar veteran, Grace Padilla Jane's Elite Racing. Earle is a speedster with a Carlsbad 5000 17:05 Masters win this year. A 19:55 5K along with cycling and a 6th place finish overall in a 50K Race helped Hurlbutt prepare to defend the home turf. With an 18:44 at the Carlsbad 5000, James-Klinger lacks the speed that her teammate, Earle displayed. But her win at the Pasadena Triathlon suggests reserves of strength which can help in XC. Landau took the Masters title and 8th overall at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in early October, and the Masters title, and 2nd overall at the Northwest Regional XC Championships in late November. Padilla won the Masters Championship at the 2016 USATF Masters XC Championship in Bend so she knows how to race Cross Country.

A lead pack of the those eight formed early, with O'Neil being just a bit more cautious toward the back. The lead pack held together through the first loop of the course.
Lead Pack with [L to R] Nancy James Klinger, Gretchen Hurlbutt, Grace Padilla, Meriah Earle, Maggie Shearer, and Kate Landau on loop 2 of 3 at the 2018 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships [Photo Credit: FB post by G. Hurlbutt]

But then Landau pushed the pace. Shearer and Hurlbutt tried to stay with her as James-Klinger, Earle, Mueller and Padilla had to let that trio go. O'Neil, meanwhile, was starting to pick off runners and move up. Landau showed that Marathon preparation can be a great foundation for cross country success, pulling away and building her lead to over half a minute by the finish line. Hurlbutt beat everyone else to defend the honor of the Inland Northwest. Shearer collected third place honors. O’Neil kept moving up and finally took 4th in 22:27 They were followed by the quartet who sorted themselves out over the final kilometer with only 9 seconds separating  James-Klinger 5th across the line, followed by Earle, Padilla, and Mueller.
Kate Landau 21:29 5:46 pace   Gretchen Hurlbutt 22:05     Maggie Shearer 22:10
Kate Landau breaks the tape, victorious in the Women's Masters Race at the 2018 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships [Photo Credit USATF]

Men 60+. The gun for the 60 and Over Men’s race went off at 11 am; temps had warmed to 29 degrees. Everyone knew it would be a classic smash up between Joe Sheeran and Rick Becker, both Club Northwest, and Roger Sayre Boulder Road Runners. A number of West Coast guys had also told me to watch out for Jacob Nur River City Rebels, who ran a 'lights out' race at the Pacific Association XC Championships. Of course I also learned that he had run the California International Marathon the week before this race. Maybe that would affect his staying power? Sheeran and Becker who run Cross Country like they were born to it went 1-2 last year, with Sheeran enjoying almost a minute on the field. Sayre, who was 59 then, ran in the 40 and over 10K race. He aged up to 60-64 over the winter and bested Sheeran first at the 8K (Road) Championship in Virginia Beach in March and at the 5K (Road) Championship in Atlanta in August. Would that dominance carry over to the turf? And what about Becker, two-time USATF Harrier of the Year. Last year he was on the comeback trail; this year he had been running strong all year. Maybe he could win it all? Possibly, but it is tough to win a big race like Club Cross Country at the age of 64; Sayre, 60, and Sheeran, 61, had age on their side.

The lead pack formed with Sheeran pushing the pace and Sayre, Becker, Michael Smith both Club Northwest, Daniel Johnson and Doug Keller, both Run-N-Fun, out of Minnesota, Jacob Nur, James Miller Green Mountain Athletic Association and Ken Youngers Atlanta Track Club, who took 3rd last year in Lexington, falling in behind. At that point Sheeran is reported to have voiced, "It looks like this is going to be a barn burner!' After the short extra loop on the first big loop, Sheeran pushed a bit more and Nur went with him, building a small gap on the rest. Soon Becker, Sayre and Smith forged a gap on the rest of the chase pack but could not close on the first two. Youngers was being pushed by Johnson and Keller, with Miller right behind. Johnson and Keller first passed Youngers and then Miller, between the first and 2nd mile. Youngers tucked in and did not allow a gap. Sheeran was relentless and Nur eventually started to fall back. Sayre, at about that same time, was building a gap on Becker and Smith. Sheeran poured in on all the way to the finish line, his 28:55 providing a winning margin of 33 seconds. Sayre, Becker and Smith all passed Nur on the final loop with Sayre running 29:28 and 9 seconds later Becker, outkicking his teammate, Smith, by a single second. Nur claimed 5th in 29:58. Johnson had pulled away from the others to take 6th in 30:17. With a half-kilometer to go, Youngers made a strong move past Keller and Miller, but Keller had one final kick which took him past Youngers to claim 7th by 2 seconds over Youngers and 5 over Miller.
Joe Sheeran 28:55 5:49 pace   Roger Sayre 29:28   Rick Becker 29:37
Joe Sheeran captures his 2nd consecutive Masters 60+ Win at the 2018 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships [Photo Credit USATF]

Men 40-59 +. By 11:45 AM, this race was set to go off with balmy 30 degree temperatures. The main contenders were David Angell Roanoke Valley Elite, Neville Davey West Valley Track Club, John Gardiner Cal Coast Track Club, Jamie Heilpern HOKA Aggies Running Club, John Howell Bowerman Track Club, Eric Loeffler Run Minnesota, Jorge Maravilla West Valley Track Club, Greg Mitchell Bowerman Track Club, Jacques Sallberg Cal Coast Track Club, and Steven Short Team Red Lizard.

Angell was 4th last year in this race in Lexington KY, and won the 2018 40-44 Masters Grand Prix title. Davey is the defending Champion and then won the Masters division of the Carlsbad 5000 in 15:20. Unlike last year when he took 1st and Maravilla 3rd in the National Championship, Davey finished behind Maravilla in the Pacific Association (PA)  Cross Country Championship. Seventh last year and 3rd the year before, Gardiner is always in the hunt. This year he also took 2nd behind Angell at the USATF Masters 5Km National Road Championship. Heilpern ran 16:01 at the fast Morgan Hill 5K road race and, perhaps more importantly, was only 15 seconds back from Davey in the PA XC Championships. Howell was the only one to stay with Davey last year when he surged, leaving Howell to claim 2nd place in Lexington. This year Howell has focused on Spartan Beast and Mudder events. Loeffler is one of the top Masters Marathoners, running 2:26:00 in Boston last year and 2:17:34 in the California International Marathon. Loeffler has focused on shorter distances this year, winning the Fargo Half Marathon in 1:07:46, the Jeff Winter City of Lakes Half Marathon in 1:08:53. and the Masters title at the tough Medtronic TC 10 Miler in 50:24. Maravilla finished 3rd this year, ran 1:08:54 to take the Masters title at the San Diego HM and 2:27:56 for the Overall and Masters title at the Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon. He displayed his Marathon fitness by defeating his teammate, Davey, at the PA XC Championship. On the post-injury comeback trail last year, Mitchell took 6th after finishing 2nd behind Kevin Castille the year before. Earlier this year he was 2nd Masters at Carlsbad in 15:30 and he won the USATF Masters Half Marathon Championship in Ann Arbor in 1:10:36. Sallberg has taken titles in the Masters Division at the USATF Cross Country Championships in Boulder, and twice at Bend. He finished 4th at Club XC in San Francisco. Short' road times are not spectacular, with a 16:23 in the Bowerman Track Club 5K and 34:28 at the Bear creek 10K, but he comes alive on the XC turf. He was within a half minute of Bowerman's  Joshua Gordon and Howell who went 1-2 in the Masters Division at the Stumptown Races #4 8K XC race.
Two Minutes into the Men's 40-59 10K Race with [L to R across the front] David Angell, Christian Cushing-Murray, Olivier Vrambout, Eric Loeffler, Jorge Maravilla, and Ahrlin Baumann at the 2018 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships [Photo Credit-Robyn Doloughan]

A large pack formed early with Angell, Loeffler, Maravilla and Sallberg leading. Sallberg pushed the pace occasionally in the first loop but Maravilla was dictating the pace more often, even in the first loop. Midway through the second loop, the trio of Angell, Loeffler and Maravilla opened up a gap on the field with the chase pack including all of the above plus the B.A.A.'s  David Bedoya and Matthew Carter, as well as Loeffler's teammate, Eric Hartmark, who was determined to stay as close as possible as long as possible. Heilpern was actually behind the chase pack for a while, biding his time.
David Angell [far L.], Jorge Maravilla [C.], and Eric Loeffler [R] dictating the pace in the Lead Pack early days in the Masters Men's 10K Race at the 2018 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships [Photo Credit: Strava post-D. Angell]

Maravilla continued to push the pace up front, with Loeffler hanging right with him. Angell would occasionally lose a stride or two but was able to close it each time. By the third loop, there was a big gap between the fist three and the chase pack, which was now stringing out.
Chase Pack - Loop 3 [L. to R.  front-John Howell, John Gardiner, Greg Mitchell, followed by L to R, Eric Hartmark, David Bedoya, and Jacques Sallberg (obscured behind Gardiner) and Neville Davey (red shorts)] of the Masters Men's 10K Race at the 2018 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships [Photo Credit: Strava post-J. Gardiner]

When they headed into the final loop, Loeffler and Maravilla started to pull away from Angell; that was the first time he had no answer.
As they passed the 500 meter to go mark, Maravilla poured it on and dropped Loeffler. Maravilla was all alone as he approached the finish line and could savor the win in 32:53! Fourteen seconds later Loeffler crossed the line, followed 7 seconds later by Angell in 3rd. Davey had created a small gap on the rest of the chase pack but had to dig hard to hold off the fast-closing Howell and Sallberg. The defending Champion took 4th this year in 33:39 with Howell 2 seconds back, one second ahead of Sallberg. Mitchell, Short, Heilpern, and Gardiner rounded out the top 10. Heilpern's strategy worked for him as he passed a number of top runners on the final loop. Gardiner kept his top-10 streak alive--from Lexington in 2012 through to Spokane 2018-remarkable consistency!
Jorge Maravilla 32:53 5:18 pace   Eric Loeffler 33:07   David Angell 33:14
Jorge Maravilla takes the tape at the 2018 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships, winning the gold medal in the Men's 40-59 division [Photo Credit: Michael Scott]

The overall results were good advertising for Marathon training as a base for Cross Country. Marathoners took the Women's Masters title and went 1-2 in the Men's 40-59.  Joe Sheeran showed that if you attack the course with abandon, it does not matter if you are  a Marathoner or not!


Not only is Age-Grading the way to compare relative performances across runners of different ages, it is the basis for selecting the Men's and Women's Masters Cross Country Harrier of the Year. The runners who had the best age-grading scores today have their feet on the first rung of the ladder to being selected 2019 Masters Harrier of the Year. The scores are not to be compared across courses because Cross Country courses vary greatly depending on the layout, the terrain, the composition, and the conditions on the day. It is place that counts.

Hall-of-Famer and 4-time Masters Harrier of the Year, Carmen Ayala-Troncoso 59 ran 25:00 to register an 89.02%. She was followed by two Team Red Lizard teammates, Jennifer Teppo 60 who ran 25:32 for 88.25%, and Jeanette Groesz 69 whose 29:00 earned an 87.56%.
Masters Hall of Fame Runner, Carmen Ayala-Troncoso 1068, age 59, running with the 40's pack on her way to the Age-Grading victory at the 2018 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships [Photo Credit:Michael Scott]

40-59 Nat Larson 56 who shared the Harrier of the Year Award last year, got a good start with his 35:01 over 10K for 90.36%. He was followed by the two B.A.A. teammates, Peter Hammer 52 whose 34:09 earned a 89.48 score, and Andy Gardiner 53 who ran 34:43 for 88.77.
Nat Larson white singlet, age 56, strides to the finish right behind 43 year old, Paul Jones, claiming the Age-Grading title at the 2018 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships [Photo Credit:Michael Scott]

60+ Rick Becker 64 2-time Harrier of the Year, and his Club Northwest teammate, Joe Sheeran, went 1-2. Becker's 29:37 scored at 91.23 with Sheeran's 28:55 earning a 90.93. Jacob Nur 63 took 3rd with a 29:58 for 89.35
Rick Becker age 64 grinds all the way to the finish and takes the Age-Grading Crown for the Men's 60+ Race at the 2018 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships [Photo Credit: Michael Scott]

That is it for the Top Guns in each of the three Masters Races. Next recap will cover Teams and Age Divisions.

[Apologies for the quality of the images I appropriated from With Michael Scott's photos unavailable and unable to find  FB or Strava photo posts for Age Grading winners, I tried the experiment of freezing a frame, downloading to a pdf and then Photoshopping it. Once Mike's photos become available, I will substitute if possible. I especially apologize if the photo I have identified of Carmen Ayala-Troncoso is not of her. The bib number seems plausible but it is a bit fuzzy so not certain.]

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