Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Preview 1-2019 USATF Masters 5 Km Cross Country Championship-The Meelee at Mission Bay

October 9, 2019. In the tradition of Howard Cosell's rhyme about one of Muhammed Ali's bouts,  'The Thrilla in Manilla' I utilize a sporting rhyme on the forthcoming Masters 5 Km Cross Country contest in San Diego, dubbing it 'The Melee at Mission Bay.' Everyone will bring their best and try to 'float like a butterfly' for 4500 meters and then 'sting like a bee'! West Coast speed will be on display as those teams are turning out in force. But there are quite a few from East of the Rockies, not to mention some coming down from high altitude in Colorado! They will all meet on the course at Mission Bay and slug it out for 5 Km XC supremacy!
[Based on registrations as of Oct. 8, 2019-8:45 PM Eastern time. It will be updated for later registrations if time.]]

The Women's Championship goes off at 7:45 am on Saturday, October 12, with the Men to follow at 8:30 am. The week ahead forecast shows race time temperatures at 63 degrees with 56% humidity, light winds from the East, and sunny skies--does it get any better?! Cross Country is something special! Almost everyone loves the spirit of Cross Country, evident with runners and spectators all over the course, cheering on the athletes as they complete their three tours around Mission Bay Park. It should be a terrific day for racing! There will be stirring competition as nearly 300 Masters Runners, combined, toe the lines for Women's and Men's races. Let's look first at the Overall and Age Grading; the next installment will be the Age Division and finally Team contests, where the races in the trenches are so critical in determining the final standings.


Women.   The top runners in the field appear to be Lorilynn Bloomer, Jill Braley, Hilary Corno, Kelly Couch, Meriah Earle, Amy Halseth,  Donna Mills-Honarva, and Kara Parker. Bloomer has been running her 5K's from just under, to a little over, 18 minutes and finished 4th Overall at the Stumptown 5 km XC race in 18:28 in September. She is poised for a good effort. Braley finished 2nd Overall at the USATF Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, clocking 23:41over the 6 Km course. More recently she finished 10th at the Masters 5 Km Championships over a tough Atlanta course in 19:22, and capped that with an 8th place finish Overall at the Masters Road Mile Championships in 5:44. That course, too, is more technical than most road mile courses. 
Jill Braley in red runs in the lead pack at the 2019 Cross Country Nationals at Tallahassee, with L to R, Marisa Sutera Strange, Laura Bosley, and Sarah Barber [Photo-Mike Scott]

Corno finished 2nd Overall at Carlsbad in April in 17:19 and took 1st place Overall recently at the Balboa Park 4 mile Cross Country course in 24:59. Earle topped Corno at Carlsbad with a 16:57. On the other hand, Earle was only able to manage a 22:53 at Club XC in Spokane last December. She finished 5 seconds ahead of her San Diego TC teammate, Mueller. Yet Mueller ran 18:58 at Carlsbad, in line with her time the year before. It may be that Mueller's running style is relatively more suited to XC than is Earle's. Or it may be that Earle ran into trouble for Spokane, either in her training or during the race. Couch has plenty of XC and road cred. She did not run in Spokane, but at Club XC in Lexington in 2017, Couch finished 5th Overall in 22:33. In the Pacific Association's 4 Mile XC race at Golden Gate Park in early September, Couch took Masters honors, winning handily in 26:04. She has performed well on the roads portion of the Masters Grand Prix this year, taking 4th in the 10K Championships in Dedham with a 37:27. She showed that was no fluke by claiming 3rd in the USATF 5K Championship over a challenging course in Atlanta. Halseth 's credentials include an 18:16 at Carlsbad; she finished 4th in the Balboa Park XC race in 27:45. Mills-Honarvar ran 18:31 at the Surf City 5K and 18:52 at the Tustin Hangar 5K. Parker, along with Braley, will try to prevent a parade of West Coast finishers taking all the top spots. Parker, from Minnesota, has a 38:16 in the MDRA 10K and a 31:08 at O'Gara's Irish Run 8K. Although both courses are flat and fast, they are both out and back, and are USATF certified, so legit courses. Parker ran in the 2016 USATF  Masters 5 Km XC Championships, finishing 6th, a little over a minute back from the winner, Sonja Friend-Uhl. It is hard to go against Earle; she exhibited so much speed at Carlsbad this spring with her sub-17. I am guessing she was slightly off her game last December in Spokane, or perhaps she simply runs better when the mercury is above freezing?! With home field advantage also working in her favor, she is the athlete to beat. 
Lead Pack at 2018 Club XC Championships in Spokane, WA L to R across the front Meriah Earle 991, Maggie Shearer 1056, Kate Landau 1041 [Photo by Mike Scott]

Corno appears to be almost as fast as Earle with her 2nd place finish at Carlsbad. Like Earle, she also enjoys 'home field' advantage. She bested Halseth by over a minute at the Balboa Park 4 Mile XC race. No one else in the field has the speed those two have exhibited. Bloomer has run fast over the Stumptown #4 XC course though, showing she has XC chops too. Parker has run great on the roads recently, but her effort in Tallahassee in 2016 raises some questions about XC abilities. I notice, however, that she may have been slightly off her game that fall as her Medtronic TC 10 Mile time was about a minute slower than her norm since then, including this past weekend when she clocked 1:02:37. Couch has strong results nationally this year, and a top 5 finish at Club XC in 2017. Tough call, but  Bloomer and Couch have clocked faster 5K's on the road than Parker. I will give Couch the edge on her more extensive experience on the Masters Grand Prix circuit of National Championships. Angel Moll is another hometown athlete who could factor into the podium race on a good day. She ran 18:04 at Carlsbad this year and finished 2nd to Corno at the 4 Mile Balboa Park XC race, albeit nearly a minute and a half back in 26:23.

Meriah Earl      Hilary Corno      Kelly Couch

Men. Favorites at the top of the field include: Roosevelt Cook, Jr., Adam Dailey, Neville Davey, John Gardiner, Jacques Sallberg. Will West Valley's Jorge Maravilla, join his teammates for this race? Maravilla won the Overall Masters title at Club XC last December at the Club Cross race in early September. Even without Maravilla, there is plenty of speed up front. Cook finished 191st at Club Cross last December, but that was in the Open race. A newly minted Masters runner, Cook's time of 33:02 would have landed him in 2nd place in last December's race, only 9 seconds back from Maravilla. Earlier this year he clocked 14:56 in the Open race at Carlsbad, 22 seconds faster than the winning time in the Masters race. But on the other side of the coin, at the Mark Covert Classic 8K at the end of August, Cook's 26:04 saw him cross the finish line a half minute after Sallberg. Dailey was 4th at Carlsbad this year in 15:35. A comfortable 22:13 win at the 4 Mile Cross Country Championships at Balboa Park in early September shows he is ready for the turf! Davey won the 2017 Club XC contest in Lexington KY but had to settle for 4th last year in Spokane. Will he rise back to the top in San Diego? He has been running well lately, taking 1st place honors at the Pacific Association's Garin Park 5K XC Challenge in 16:41. Earlier in September he finished 2nd to Maravilla in the PA's opening XC race, a 4 miler at Golden Gate Park in 21:46. 
Neville Davey pulls the lead pack through the 2nd loop at the 2017 Club XC Championships in Lexington KY, with David Angell 1635, John Gardiner 1470, and John Howell red singlet.
 Alongside Cook, Gardiner and Sallberg will lead the charge for Cal Coast. Now approaching 'Elder Statesman' status at the front of the XC pack, Gardiner is always a threat. This past weekend he clocked 16:10 at the So Cal Association's Central Park 3 Mi XC Invitational. The USATF National Club XC Championships bring out the best XC runners in the country. Gardiner ran in his first one in 2012. He has never finished outside the top ten and landed on the podium with his 32:54 effort at Tallahassee in 2016. Sallberg has been at it almost as long as Gardiner and has enjoyed even more success. A former Olympic Trials Steeplechaser, Sallberg enjoys finding the rhythm of a cross country course and then riding with it. He broke onto the Masters scene with a stirring win at the 2015 USATF XC Championships in Boulder CO in 26:29 over an 8 Km course.  He finished 6th, just 3 seconds behind Davey at Club XC in Spokane. More recently he took the Overall title at the USATF XC Championships in Tallahassee this past February in 26:33. 
Jacques Sallberg 423 and John Gardiner 235 keep pace with David Angell as they finish off the 2nd of three loops. Sallberg took the win in the end at the 2019 USATF Cross Country Nationals in Tallahassee [Photo; Mike Scott]

Sallberg is prepped for Cross Country! He finished 16th Overall at the Mark Covert Classic 8K XC in 25:33 in late August. Two weeks later he finished 5th Overall at the UC Riverside Cross Country race in 25:47; Cook finished 14th in 26:12.  No doubt Sallberg will be in the mix at the front. In the absence of Maravilla in the entry list, I have to go with Davey until Sallberg shows he can beat him. Dailey vs. Gardiner is a tough call but I will go with Dailey as he came in 10 seconds ahead of Gardiner at Carlsbad and he again has 'home field' advantage.
Neville Davey     Jacques Sallberg     Adam Dailey

Men. Joe Sheeran is the favorite for Age-Grading. His 89.74% took 3rd at Tallahassee this past February behind Rick Becker and Nat Larson; neither is entered for San Diego. At the 2017 Club XC Championships, there were separate contests for 40+ and 60+ Men's races. Sheeran won the 60+ age-gading with an 88.39%. None of the other 60+ Lexington contenders who are also entered in San Diego scored above 82%.

Joe Sheeran pulling away from Jacob Nur, Roger Sayre, Rick Becker, and Michael Smith at the 2018 Club XC 60+ Championship Race in Spokane WA [Photo by Mike Scott]

John Gardiner, who finished 15th in the 40+ race at 86.40 and Jacques Sallberg, who finished 17th at 86.05, can hope to push Sheeran for the Age Grade crown. Sheeran took 2nd in the Men's 60+ race at Spokane behind Becker with a 90.93%. Doug Goodhue finished 7th at 86.59%. Gardiner, who scored 85.86% in the 40+ race and his teammates, Christian Cushing-Murray, 13th at 85.75, and Sallberg, 20th at 84.86%, also provide evidence they can be in contention. The one runner who could upset all those considerations is local hero, Tony Marshall, who ran 20:02 at Carlsbad at the age of 74 to grade at 92.10%. Cross Country age grade scores are typically lower than on the roads, so a score over 90% is probably unlikely. Nonetheless Marshall should be a factor. He is likely to do well at Cross Country as he comes out of a triathlon background. Nolan Shaheed, the Track legend, is also entered. If his 11:35 3000M speed can handle the turf, he could make some noise in the age-grading.
Joe Sheeran     Tony Marshall     John Gardiner

Women. The top contenders include Hall of Famer,  Carmen Ayala-Troncoso, and likely future Hall of Famers, Jeanette Groesz and Marisa Sutera Strange. Examining the Age-Grading outcomes at recent Cross Country races should be instructive.  In 2017, Strange took the honors among those three with her 2nd place finish to Sabra Harvey at Club XC in Lexington with a 90.34% score; Groesz was 3rd with 89.53, and  Ayala-Troncoso 4th at 89.41. In Spokane last December, Ayala-Troncoso flipped positions with Groesz, winning with 89.02%, while Groesz finished 3rd with 87.56. Strange did not compete at the 2018 Club XC Championships. 
Marisa Sutera Strange took the Overall win and finished 2nd in Age-Grading at the 2019 USATF Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee FL [Photo by Mike Scott]

Who else might upset the apple cart? Suzanne Ray is a top age-grader who took 6th in 2017 in Lexington KY at 85.8%. Sharon Gerl, the Red Lizard teammate of Groesz and Ray, finished 5th at the USATF XC Championships in Tallahassee earlier this year, behind Strange and Groesz. Strange is almost always on the podium and sometimes takes the title. Only when she goes up against a Hall of Famer,  like Harvey in XC, or Jan Holmquist or Jeannie Rice on the roads, does she wind up 2nd or 3rd. The last time Strange and Ayala-Troncoso met, Strange took the honors. I will go with Strange as the favorite for the age-grading title. Groesz only edged Ayala-Troncoso by 0.12% points in 2017 at Lexington and Ayala-Troncoso took the honors by 1.46% points at their most recent meeting in Spokane. I give Ayala-Troncoso the edge for 2nd. Mo Bartley and Laura Bruess, could also factor into the race for the Age-Grading podium. At the 2015 Club XC Championships in San Francisco, they finished 7th and 8th with 87.39 and 87.26 scores respectively.
Marisa Sutera Strange     Carmen Ayala-Troncoso     Jeanette Groesz

As always, these 'picks' are made for fun, and to let folks know about the tremendous accomplishments of our stellar Masters athletes!. There is always much uncertainty; I rarely know much about injuries or current fitness and have to go by recent and long-time records. And some outstanding runners who have not been active in recent Championships sometimes sneak in under the radar. I hope to have Age Division and Team previews up by tomorrow evening but that may prove too ambitious.

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