Monday, December 30, 2019

Masters Runners Conquer Muddy Course for 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championships-Part 2:TEAMS-Masters Men 40+

December 30, 2019. BETHLEHEM, PA-Lehigh University. The 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championships were held on the Lehigh University Cross Country course, which is also the site for the annual Paul Short Run. Scheduled for Saturday, December 14th, Club Cross was returning to Lehigh after a successful race held there in 2014. The course was damp from an inch of rain earlier in the week; light rain Friday afternoon and overnight added to the problem. The footing over most of the course was good; there were a few troublesome spots. Most runners agreed that it could have been worse and was, in many respects, a perfectly normal cross-country challenge. Admittedly the problem got worse with each batch of runners who traversed the course. A few runners did slip, slide and go down, but most were able to navigate the entire course in an upright position. The Masters athletes proved they were up to the challenge; the level of competition was outstanding.

Team Competition In keeping with the name of this Championship, teams are the primary focus. Consistent with that, let us look first at the Team Competition and who wound up with bragging rights for the next year. Scoring, for Men 40-59, is by the usual Cross Country standard; the finishing places for the top 5 on each team are totaled, but any declared runner on the team may displace runners on other teams and so contribute to their team's final standing.[In recaps below,when mentioning a runners place, I am trying to net out runners who are unattached, runners who are on incomplete teams, and, when relevant, runners who are running outside  of their ten year age division.  So I do not count Peter Hammer's position [#1] in the 50+ race because he was running the 40+ race even though he could have been entered in the 50+ race. That is why the places should be taken as 'rough' not exact.]

Masters Men 40+ The Masters Men 40+ race went off at noon over a 10 Km course layout; their route carried them over a section of the Lehigh XC layout the earlier races did not traverse. That had the advantage of not being as roiled as the other sections, but the disadvantage that it added an extra uphill, and had its own sloppy bits. Forty-one teams contested for supremacy. The Bowerman Track Club [Bowerman] enjoyed a two-year run at the top of Club Cross in 2015 and 2016 at San Francisco [SFXC] and Tallahassee [TallahasseeCXC]. [Note 1: Apologies to Bowerman if their string started before 2015, results earlier than the past year or two are not currently available on the new USATF website. Note 2: In the 10 Km race, splits were at 3.5 and 7.6 km] In Lexington in 2017 [LexingtonXC], Bowerman finished 3rd behind the Boston Athletic Association [B.A.A.] in 2nd and the West Valley Track Club [West Valley] in 1st. Last year Bowerman returned to the top in defending their regional turf; the B.A.A. took 2nd, followed by West Valley, Run Minnesota [Minnesota], Club Northwest [Northwest], and Cal Coast Track Club [Cal Coast]. Both West Valley and Cal Coast added top runners to their team. Based on results at the 5 Km Masters Cross Country Championship in San Diego [SDXC], West Valley was still well ahead of Cal Coast. Bowerman and the BAA were still the top teams out of their associations, but did not compete at SDXC. The top 3 runners for the BAA at SpokaneXC, David Bedoya, Matthew Carter, and Brendan Prindiville, did not make the trip; the B.A.A. would need amazing performances to land on the podium. Others who would compete for the podium included the Central Mass Striders [Central Mass], Garden State Track Club New Balance [Garden State], Greater Philadelphia Track Club [Greater Philly]and Team Red Lizard [Red Lizard].
The Gun Sounded and the Race Was On! At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

At the first split, the lead pack consisted of West Valley's Peter Gilmore and Jorge Maravilla, Minnesota's Eric Loeffler, Dirigo RC's Michael Gordon, with Cal Coast's Jacques Sallberg and Roosevelt Cook in the second row. If the first split was a good indicator, West Valley was headed for the Gold again. 
Lead Pack Negotiating a Muddy Turn-Front L to R: Peter Gilmore, Eric Loeffler, Jorge Maravilla Back L to R: Paul Cook, Michael Gordon, and Jacques Sallberg. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

They had 4 added runners in the top 25, including Brad Poore, Neville Davey, Todd Rose, and Mark Yuen.  
David Angell #1740 leads a Chase Group consisting of Jaime Heilpern Blue T, Dave Slavinski dark cap, and Lance Thompson #1336. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

Cal Coast was doing well but their only other runner in the top 25 was John Gardiner
Greater Philly's Brock Butler  #1496 leads Run MN's Tim Hardy #1747, Philadelphia Runner's Steve Gourley #1638, and the West Valley tandem of Neville Davey #1889 and Julian Marsh #1894. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.
 Minnesota had Tim Hardy in 16th and Kelly Mortenson in 40th. Bowerman was laying back; their top runner, John Howell, was tied for 16th but at least had company close by with Greg Mitchell in 25th and Craig Godwin in 31st. The B.A.A. had Peter Hammer and Christopher

Christopher Magill #1215 and B.A.A. teammate, Peter Hammer, round a muddy bend as they and Greg Mitchell sunglasses, Sandu Rebencuic, and John Gardiner #1257 chase the 40+ leaders. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

Magill in the group from 20th to 25th, but then it was Donal O'Sullivan in 40th, with Daniel Smith 8 seconds back in 50th. Greater Philly had Brock Butler in the top 15 but then it was down to the low 40's where Mike Padilla was battling, and to the 60's to see David Scholl hard at work. 

Red Lizard had Steven Short in 15th, and then Torrey Lindbo just inside the top 40. Benjamin Flaata and Daniel Bartosz were just a second apart in the high 50's to low 60's. As noted, West Valley would try to keep ahead of the fray, and Cal Coast was looking good; after that, the next 4 kilometers would be a battle royal!

At 7.6 Km, West Valley still looked dominant; Gilmore and Maravilla were still in the top 4, with teammate,  Brad Poore, in 10th. Davey, Yuen and Rose were in 16th, 20th and 21st; three other teammates were in the top 30. 
Lead Pack of Cal Coast's Jacques Sallberg, the West Valley Duo of Peter Gilmore #1906 and Jorge Maravilla #1892 takes that same muddy turn for the 2nd time, with Run MN's Eric Loeffler close background-center and  Dirigo RC's Michael Gordon. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

For Cal Coast, Sallberg was in the top 4 and Cook was a solid 6th. 
Cal Coast's Paul Cook running tough in 'No Man's Land' between the 5-Runner Lead Group and the Main Chase Pack. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

Gardiner in 25th, with Matt Yacoub and Christian Cushing-Murray running within a second of each other in 39th and 40th. Cal Coast was still solid for 2nd place! 
Cal Coast's Matt Yacoub Far Left leads a host of mostly 40+ athletes around the muddy bend for the 2nd time, including: Red Lizard's Benjamin Flaata #1852, Springfield's 50+ Nat Larson right behind Yacoub, Greater Philly's Mike Padilla #1510, Springfield's 40+ Ethan Nedeau #1556, Cal Coast's Christian Cushing-Murray behind Flaata, Atlanta's Brian Sydow #1157 and Garden State's Todd Wiley #1422. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

Minnesota still had Loeffler in the top 4, but now Hardy had moved up from 16th to 11th. Mortensen had moved just insdie the top 40, all welcome developments. Bowerman was in about the same position; a couple of runners had passed Howell, but Godwin had passed a couple to leave them in the same position overall. 

Gordon was steady in the mid-40's, and Duncan Roberts, their 5th runner, was just outside the top 50. Those two teams would battle for the last podium spot over the last 2.4 Km. 

As they approached the finish line, Gilmore and Sallberg had left the others behind, but which had the most left? The two had moved in tandem for most of the last 2 kilometers. Either Gilmore or Sallberg would have to make a move. One of Sallberg's former athletes and a friend, cheered him on with a '400 to go!' shout. Maybe he would have gone anyway, but that shout activated him and he really went for it and pulled a few steps away from Gilmore to nail the victory in 32:55. 
Jacques Sallberg sprints away from West Valley's Peter Gilmore to take first for Cal Coast in the 40+ Race. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

Gilmore crossed the line in 2nd 5 seconds later. But Gilmore had the satisfaction, as soon as he turned around to look for his teammates, that he had led them to the team victory. Maravilla, last year's winner, claimed 4th, and then Poore in 7th, Rose in 14th, Yuen in 16th, and they hardly needed the 17th from Davey, the winner at LexingtonXC. 
Jorge Maravilla, 2018 Overall Champion, was happy to take 4th and help his West Valley team to their 2nd straight Club Cross win. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

At 43 points, it was the lowest M40+ winning score at Club Cross for at least the last 5 years. With 5 consecutive podium finishes and two wins in the last two years, West Valley is starting to look like a 'dynasty!' 

Sallberg could also feel good about helping his Cal Coast team to their best showing in recent years. They claimed 2nd place with a substantial margin, thanks to Cook's 5th place, and Gardiner's 17th; he moved up smartly over the last 2.4 Km. Yacoub contributed a 32nd place finish and Mr. 'Sub-Four' himself, Cushing-Murray, brought it home in 52nd place to close Cal Coast out under 100 points. From 5th at SFXC, Cal Coast had slipped out of the top 10 at LexingtonXC in 2017. They moved up to 6th last year in SpokaneXC. To claim 2nd in 2019 capped an amazing turnaround! As Sallberg noted after the race, "It was especially fulfilling for our team to make it on the podium this year. I've known most of these guys or have raced them since my college days and it's great to be a part of such a supportive and competitive group." 

What of the final podium spot? Minnesota's Loeffler ran tough, finishing 3rd and Hardy was up to the challenge as well, contributing a nice 7th place finish. But then they had to wait. It took a while before the first Bowerman athlete crossed the line. Howell, who has typically been a top 5 finisher at Club Cross, was either off his game or the competition was just that much tougher this year. Thirty seconds passed after Hardy crossed and ten athletes crossed the line before Howell. But once Howell came in at #18, Loeffler and Hardy would have seen the Bowerman train right behind. Mitchell crossed 3 seconds later in 19th, with just another ten seconds back to Godwin in 21st. 
Cal Coast's John Gardiner chased to the wire by 3 Bowerman athletes, John Howell on Gardiner's heels, Gregory Mitchell middle background, and Craig Godwin far background, and Tim Wilcox of Movin' Shoes. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

Another half minute ticked off and there was Minnesota's Mortenson in 28th. At that point Minnesota led Bowerman 38 to 58, but things changed quickly. Fourteen seconds later Joshua Gordon claimed 36th, and another 20 seconds saw Duncan Roberts close out Bowerman's scoring with his 45th place. That gave Bowerman 139 points. The only podium hope left for Minnesota was if their 4th and 5th runners could both come in the top 50. But despite great efforts by Daniel Vega and Dan Feda, it was not to be. Bowerman's Matt Farley led them in with a 52nd place effort; Vega and Feda brought home a 58th and 68th. Though they could not get onto the podium, they had the satisfaction of edging the B.A.A. for 4th place, 164 to 192. Central Mass, Greater Philly, Red Lizard, Garden State, and the Philadelphia Runner Track Club rounded out the top ten. Red Lizard had the satisfaction of a second straight top ten performance and Garden State enjoyed moving up form 10th last year to 9th this year. Central Mass did not match their 4th place at LexingtonXC but they were not far off.
West Valley Track Club Eric Aldrich, Jonah Backstrom, Neville Davey, Peter Gilmore, Konrad Knutsen, Jorge Maravilla, Brad Poore, Todd Rose, Mark Yuen 31 [2:49:11/33:51] Cal Coast Track Club Dan Arsenault, Kevin Carr, Roosevelt Cook, Christian Cushing-Murray, Juan Morales, John Moss, Matthew Yacoub 97 [2:53:17/34:40] Bowerman Track Club Matthew Farley, Craig Godwin, Joshua Gordon, John Howell, Gregory Mitchell, Wesley Sealand, Paul Smith 139 [2:57:14/35:27]

Masters Men 50+ In that same race over the 10 km circuit, 24 M50+ teams vied for the coveted podium spots. The Greater Springfield Harriers [Springfield] had an enviable Club Cross record. Last year at Spokane [SpokaneXC] they had notched their 'three-peat!' After the Cal Coast Track Club won at San Francisco in 2015, Springfield reeled off three straight Club Cross wins. at Tallhassee in 2016 [TallahasseeCXC], Lexington in 2017 [LexingtonXC], and SpokaneXC last year. Could they make it four? The team had struggled more with injuries this year. Their top three runners, Nat Larson, Kent Lemme, and Mark Hixson were all glad for some time off this year. Larson had returned to take a victory at Atlanta in the 5K road Championship, but he lost to Garden City's  Mark Zamek in the 1 Mile [road] championship in Flint. His time this year at November's Manchester Road Race was only a few seconds slower than last year but was quite a bit slower than his 2017 performance. Francis Burdett, who has typically been in their top 5, was rehabbing injuries, and would run, as is his practice, but not at his usual pace. On the other hand, Sandu Rebencuic, who had finished 8th overall as a Non-Citizen runner for Springfield at TallahasseeCXC, had since aged up and gotten his US citizenship. He would likely add strength at the front. At Spokane last year, the Bowerman Track Club [Bowerman] was only ten points back in 2nd and were followed by Club Northwest [Northwest], Run Minnesota [Minnesota], and Cal Coast Track Club [Cal Coast]. Cal Coast, the Prado Running Club [Prado], Northwest, and the Twin Cities Running Company [Twin Cities] had finished 2nd through 5th at LexingtonXC. This year Cal Coast threw everything they had into the 40+ race; they had no team in 50+. But the others were all back.  The Garden State Track Club New Balance [Garden State], Genesee Valley Harriers [GVH], and the Greater Philadelphia Track Club [Philly] were bringing strong teams that could break onto the podium if things went their way.

At the 3.5K mark, it was clear that Rebencuic would be a difference maker this day; he crossed the mat in 11:44; Larson was 20 seconds back but well ahead of the rest of the field, except for Zamek, who was right on his heels.
Nat Larson #1552 uses the straw for traction as he turns the muddy corner; Garden State's Mark Zamek follows in his footsteps while Peter Brady, Central Park Track Club's middle distance specialist, swings out a bit, while Bowerman's Joshua Gordon swings way wide. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

1-2 was a great start for Springfeld! But nothing was guaranteed; not only was Zamek right on Larson's heels, but only four seconds later, Philly's Tim Harte was 4th. Two seconds later saw Northwest's Emmet Hogan in 5th, followed 4 seconds later by Springfield #3, Hixson. Two seconds more saw Kenneth Barbee come across in 7th, followed a second later by Douglas Cross of the Chattanooga Track Club [Chattanooga] and William Lindell of Twin Cities. In addition to Rebencuic and Larson, Springfield had Hixson tied for 6th, Lemme in 22nd and Michael Nahom in 26th. Having three in the top 10 takes some of the pressure off of Lemme and Nahom. Both have had excellent races for their teams, Lemme winning the M50+ at the 2018 Cross Country Nationals in Tallahassee, and Nahom taking 2nd in Springfield's winning effort last year in Spokane. Both are nicked up but giving their all for the team. 
Central Park's Gerry O'Hara #1287 leads a group including Springfield's Michael Nahom white singlet-left, Athletics East's Hasan Hobbs #1174, Triple Cities' Jordan Varano #1862 and GVH's Jay Hubisz #1450. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

And it looked like they would be able to repeat. Northwest would press them though. Besides Hogan, Northwest had Todd Poremba 13th and Mark Bloudek 17th. Then there was a gap before John Greengo and Mark Weissman came across in 19th and 23rd. They were ahead of their #4 and #5 counterparts but not by much. Springfield had something like a 20 point lead. But Northwest appeared to be well ahead of the other two main contenders, Twin Cities and Philly. In addition to Harte and Barbee in 4th and 7th, Philly had Paul Vandegrift in 26th, and, after a bit of a gap, Kevin Cooke and Daniel Mazo in, roughly, 39th and 43rd. That gave Philly about 119 points. Twin Cities had only one runner among the first ten, Lindell in 9th. Matthew Waite came across 20th, followed 4 seconds later by Allan Severude in 25th. Ten seconds later Patrick Billig and Jim Holovnia came across in 28th and 29th. That gave Twin Cities about 111 points. The final podium spot was in play. Garden State had Zamek in 3rd and Joseph Hegge in 19th. Rudi Trivigno was around 36th, with Rich Byrne tied for 43rd, and in about 70th David Lacouture, for something like 170 points. GVH was also in the hunt; Mike Nier was in 13th with his long-time running comrade, Alan Evans in 16th, Dale Flanders around 36th, and David Bischoff in the low 40's. Joseph Mora  contributed another 50 points or so, for a total between 150 and 160. As they slogged over the course, the battles in the trenches would determine the final outcomes. Changes at the front, from the 3.5 to the 7.6K splits were small. It was still Rebencuic and Larson in front, but Hogan had passed Zamek to move into 3rd. 
By the second approach to the muddy turn, Club Northwest's Emmet Hogan had moved ahead of Garden State's Mark Zamek #1420 in the 50+ race. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

Harte had fallen back from 4th to 7th, giving way to Springfield's Hixson and Lindell of Twin Cities. Both Poremba and Cossey were able to move up a few spots for Northwest. Nier and Evans moved up a couple of spots for GVH, but it was tough to make much headway; no one was giving an inch!

After traversing the upper field they were on their way to the finish line. 
On the seond approach to the muddy turn, Mark Hixson, Springfield's 50+ seasoned veteran, takes the firmer outside path while Torrey Lindbo #1854, and Daniel Bartosz #1851, of Red Lizard's 40+ team, try to power down the main track. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.
 Rebencuic was the fastest 50-year old in the 50+ team race, finishing just 8 seconds back from Peter Hammer who was in the 40+ race. That 1st place was important. Hogan was able to catch and move past Larson for 2nd. But Hixson had a good final 2.4K and was right on Larson's heels for 4th. That gave Springfield 1-3-4 and made a win almost certain. 
Sprinting for the Finish Line! -Springfield's Nat Larson and Mark Hixson white singlets bringing it home in 2nd and 3rd 50+, along with 40+ competitors, Red Lizard's Benjamin Flaata #1852, Bowerman's Joshua Gordon #1228, Bull City's Marc Jeuland behind Larson's right arm, and Willow Street's Jake Stookey #1913-green singlet. At the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

Any doubt was erased when Nahom and Lemme finished up right with Northwest's #'s 4 and 5, John Greengo and Glen Weissman. Springfield took their 4th straight Club Cross victory with 51 points. Northwest had to be satisfied with giving Springfield a challenge. With Hogan, Poremba and Cossey netting 2nd, 8th and 10th, Northwest had 67 points and a big margin over the rest of the field. Philly mantained their upfront edge over Twin Cities as Harte and Barbee had 19 points to the 25 from Lindell and Waite. But Philly's Vandegrift, Cooke and Mazo were unable to make headway against TC's Sevenrude, Holovnia and Billig. Twin Cities won the battle of the trenches this time, 104 to 142. And Garden State almost caught Philly, falling two points short. GVH was 30 points back in 6th, followed by Chattanooga and the Central Park Track Club New Balance.
Greater Springfield Harriers Francis Burdett, Alejandro Heuck, Mark Hixson, Nat Larson, Kent Lemme, Robert Murray, Michael Nahom, Sandu Rebencuic 51 [3:02:05/36:25] Club Northwest Ben Cossey, John Greengo, Emmet Hogan, Todd Poremba, Glen Weissman, David White-Spin 67 [3:05:22/37:05] Twin Cities Running Patrick Billig, Jim Holovnia, Jim Larranaga, William Lindell, John Mirth, Allan Severude, Matthew Waite 104 [3:08:34/37:43]

There were 444 finishers in Men 40-59, 247 in the Men 60 and up, and 288 in the Women's race--for a total of 979 finishers; over a thousand Masters athletes were entered. That was announced as a record field. And the level of competition was equally compelling. Impressive! 

It will be a hard act to follow, but San Francisco will provide the perfect counterpoint in December of 2020. In the meantime, there is more Cross Country action coming up. The 2020 USATF Masters Grand Prix series next heads to the Mission Bay course at San Diego, CA, site of the 2010 USATF Cross Country Championships and the 2019 Masters 5 Km Cross Country Championships. Athlete Information is here:

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