Who knew that the 2020 Gate River Run would be the last such major road race (at least for months)? Saturday, March 7th, was race day. The UA NYC HM scheduled for March 15, cancelled; the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run, scheduled for April 5, cancelled; the Broad Street Run, scheduled for May 3rd, postponed until October 4; Amway River Bank Run, scheduled for May 9, postponed until October 24; Grandma's Marathon, scheduled for June 20, cancelled. The AJC Peachtree Road Race, scheduled for July 4th, is still on, but who knows if it will happen.
When I set out for my road trip on the 5th of March, Corona virus was something happening in China, but just on the periphery of my awareness. I wasn't much concerned about running in the race, as I had done on two occasions before. I would drive to Valdosta in South Georgia, about 11 hours of road time the first day. After an overnight stay, I would have just an easy 2 hours into Jacksonville. That approach has worked well for me at many races over the last few years.
The Gate River Run is not the oldest 15K in the country but it has been the USATF 15K Championship for decades. Some of the great battles for that Championship, have implanted the race on the psyche of America's road runners and their fans. Equally famous, perhaps, is the infamous Hart Bridge, a half mile climb 7.8 miles into the race. Shalane Flanagan had a great 47:00 win in 2014 and Ben True won three straight duels from 2013 through 2015, kicking away down the Hart Bridge off ramp, defeating the likes of Chris Derrick, Bobby Curtis, and the King of USATF's Road Racing circuit, Christo Landry. And last year it was Stanley Kebenei edging Sharack Kipchirchir and Leonard Korir by a single second. Korir had been going for his third straight win! Jordan Hasay took the Women's crown in 2017 and the next year it was Molly Huddle with the win and Hasay 2nd! Tremendous stuff, the meeting place of 5000 meter track stars and major Marathoners.
|Gate River Run logo [posted on Gate River Run Facebook page]
What is slightly less well known is the Masters athletes who have excelled on the course. Unlike most other races, Gate River keeps track of, and posts, its single age records. It reads like a Who's Who of Masters LDR. Bill Rodgers still owns the records for 49, 49:33; 51, 50:07; 53, 52:24; and 55, 54:02. That mark for 51-year-olds also allows him to claim the distinction of being the youngest runner on that list to crack his age in minutes. On a course like Gate River, that is a major accomplishment! A fellow named Antonio Villanueva gets the nod for youngest to run the Gate River course in his age or under in minutes, with a 46:17 at age 46. But there are lots of other well-known names on the Men's side. Hall of Famer, Gary Romesser for 47 and 50, when he ran 50:11. Jan Frisby holds the record for age 52, and Terry McCluskey for 61, 62, and 64; his 56:38 at age 62 was a humdinger! Heading into the 2020 event, my 2016 time of 1:08:34 was still the 70-year-old record, although I knew it would be unlikely to last long. It was set when I was on the comeback trail from my second major hamstring injury and was 7 minutes slower than I had run 2 years earlier in Tulsa. Still, a record is a record! Robert Hendrick holds the record for 75-77, and John 'Johnny-O' Ouweleen holds it for 78 at 1:11:15. Romesser mentored me when I was gearing up for the national circuit in 2013 and 2014, and I have gotten to know Frisby, Hendrick, and McCluskey as competitors and, in McCluskey's case, as a teammate. Its a tremendous group; it has been a privilege to get to know them as we have competed on the circuit. Colleen DeReuck is the superstar on the Women's side with course records at 41, 45, and 46; her 50:51 at age 45 is something! Less well known is Priscilla Welch, who ran as a Masters athlete in the mid-1980's. She has the 40-year old record at 49:35. Two years later, at the age of 42, running out of Boulder CO [like DeReuck], she was 4th overall at the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in 53:51; took the Masters title at the AJC Peachtree Road Race in 33:38; and won the NYC Marathon in 2:30:17--some year! Shirley Matson holds the 50-year-old record at 54:34 and S, Rae Baymiller the 51-year-old record at 57:37. One thing that surprises me, considering all of the other records they have broken, is that neither Jeannie Rice nor Gene Dykes have any of those records. Maybe that will change in the next year or two?
The Olympic Trials Marathon contest in Atlanta on Leap Day meant that no elite marathoners would be competing for the USATF 15K Championship. That left the Elite field open to track stars in the process of finishing off their mileage buildups in preparation for the track season and the expected Olympic Trials in Eugene (although we know now they will not happen as scheduled). The Marathon Trials also knocked out a few 40-something Masters runners, like Kate Landau, who finished 4th Overall here last year in 51:35, and Kelly Griffin, who was the second Masters finisher last year in 55:53.
My Age Division 70-74. I will focus on my M70 Age Division first, as that is the one I am best acquainted with, and then move to the others. [If you are mainly interested in a quick run through on the other divisions, please scroll down.] I hadn't run in Jacksonville the last 3 years because it conflicted (by a week) with the USATF Masters 8 Km Championships in Virginia Beach. Duty to my team persuaded me not to run such a grueling race just one week before the Championships. But I had run in 2015 and 2016, neither a great success. I had torn my right hamstring in late summer of 2014 and was in the process of trying to come back too soon, resulting in a 1:10:40 and a 5th place plaque. A month later I doomed the rest of the 2015 season by insisting on running and finishing the Boston Marathon despite having a gimpy right hamstring. On the comeback trail again, 2016 resulted in the 1:08:34 referenced above and a 2nd place finish. I had no illusions about winning the division this year, my last in the 70-74.
I felt like I was fit for my age, but I am in my last 8 months of the age division, which makes a difference. I had won the 70-74 division at the Double Bridge Run in Pensacola, also a 15K, a month earlier in 1:11:16. But I knew it would be a strong field. A fellow named Page Ramezani has been taking down the records the last 4 years as he has marched from a 1:02:03 at age 66 through a 1:05:24 at age 69. He was entered and breaking 1:10 by that much seemed a stretch way too far for me. Another barrier to success was Robert McConnell who has run 1:08:43, 1:07:42, and 1:09:59 the last three years. If McConnell's 2019 time was the beginning of a slowing trend, I had an outside chance at 2nd. Making the podium seemed likely, at least on paper. Liam Finnigan, who runs for the Genesee Valley Harriers, would likely be my competition for the final podium spot. Except for the possibility that I may have met him along with some others on GVH that I know better, like Doc Rappole, Jim May and Tony Gingello, I do not really know Liam. I could see that his races at Gate in 2018 and 2019 were well within my reach, at 1:15:32 and 1:17:08. I knew his fitness was not the same as mine in 2018 as I ran a 36:38 at the 8K Championships to his 38:29. I figured I could run faster than 1:15 even if I had an off day.
All went smoothly on the road and I found TIAA Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. I headed into the Expo,
|Expo for 2020 Gate River Run [photo by author]
my packet and headed off to tour the course to refresh my memory.
I remembered it as being fairly flat except for the first, Main Street Bridge, which wasn't too tough, and then the 'Green Monster', as they have come to call it, the Hart Bridge, starting up a half mile before mile 8.3. It checked out as remembered but good to refresh my memory on the layout, slightly different this year because they now start you off headed north instead of to the West. After the first mile, which is all flat through the city's downtown, the rest of the course is unchanged except for the final flat quarter of a mile, finishing on the north side instead of the south side of the stadium. 'Recon' done, it was off to Starbucks for a coffee and some laptop time and then to Motel, with a side trip to Whole Foods to get my bagel, milk, granola and banana for pre-race breakfast. As usual, the free breakfast at the motel was starting too late for me to enjoy. But with a microwave and a fridge in the room, I am pretty self-sufficient.
Maybe familiarity breeds lack of discipline, certainly not contempt, because I did not get as early a start in the morning as would have been ideal. Luckily with the map utility on my i-phone, a little bit of knowledge from 2015, and a large dollop of luck, I navigated to a free parking garage that was just two blocks from the Starting Line.
|View of the New Starting Line on Duval Street--7 AM-1 Hour to Race Time! [Photo by me, PC the Running Prof]
After that I was set. I could start my warm-up in the adjacent surface lot, jog to the 'porta potties' by the start and then back to my lot to warm up a bit more.
|Where to go sign to help folks find the right corral for their wave [photo by author]
I moved to the starting corrals in time to hear the Start Line announcer indicate that they were happy to welcome the 'Running Professor, Paul Carlin, from Indianapolis, who was the current holder of the 70 -year old Gate River Run record! I did a little tour of the first corral and tipped my hat for anyone who was noticing! That was cool, a little frosting on the cake!
[The announcer, tipped off by Elite Athlete Coordinator, Jim Van Cleve, had contacted me for a bit of information the week before the race.]
But before long it was time to line up and wait for the gun. In a tradition honored the last few years, the Elite Women get a head start and then whoever is the first across the line, female or male, gets an extra cash bonus. They went off at 7:54 and then it was time for the Elite Men, with the rest of us in the first corral lined up right behind them.....four...three...two...one...GO! The nice thing about starting toward the front is that you don't have to weave around slower runners. The downside, at age 74, is that you get passed by a lot of people. With a 15K, no one behind me is going so fast that I am a big problem for them [I hope]! During the first mile, I could tell that it was not going to be one of my faster days. I was hoping my first mile would be around 7:30 but my legs were giving me a 7:56! The 2nd mile, which included the small bridge over the St. Johns River, was a little better at 7:46 but this was not going to be a sub-7:40 pace day and so not a sub 1:12 effort. I would have to hope that a 1:13 or 1:14 would be enough to make the podium. As it turned out, I had not spotted any of my rivals, or even anyone who might be a potential rival. With a big race like Gate, it is harder than in a smaller race like Pensacola. And, unlike USATF Masters National Championships, there are no gender-age back bibs. Basically my race unfolded as expected for the first 10K or so. I slowed a bit for miles 4-6, running around 8/mile pace. It was not really crowded around me but with a race this big, there are always people around; you are either passing or being passed frequently. As I edged close to the 7 mile mark, I was feeling like picking up my pace a little and there was an opening in front between two runners, but just as I was starting to move into that area, one of the runners drifted over, so I tried to cut my stride a bit so I wouldn't be forcing my way in. At the same time, there was a slight undulation in the pavement. The next thing I knew, my momentum had carried me forward and down; I almost caught myself but was too far forward-down I went, landing on my right palm and right knee--ouch! I hopped up quickly as a couple of runners behind me, reached out to steady me and ask, "You alright?" To which I replied--I'm good, let's go! Don't just stand here--thousands of runners are coming!" Adrenaline took over and off I went. Nothing felt like it was anything more than surface problems.
My 7th mile was actually faster than my 6th mile. Then it was back out onto Atlantic Blvd and the run on up towards the Bridge. You go up a ramp and then it flattens out and then you have a half mile to the top as it climbs, and climbs, and climbs. With the wind roaring out of the north at 20 mph, gusting to 30, it was the toughest climb in three tries. Starting out at just under 8 per mile, my pace flagged to 9 and then 9:30 and was over ten before I crested the bridge at 8.3. I passed a number of runners who stopped to catch their breath, but none appeared to be over the age of 40, much less 70. I knew the last mile would be sweet and it was--on the steepest part of the down ramp, I got down to 6:30 pace. Of course, 6 years ago, I was running entire 10K races at that pace, but gotta live in the present! Eventually we hit the flat, into the parking lot and the finish just outside the stadium. So how did I do? Once I downloaded the official results, I saw my 5K-10K-8.3 mi-Finish splits as 24:39/24:56/17:53/7:21 for a final official time of 1:14:48. That was disappointing but, given the times form last year, I hoped I had still landed on the age division podium. I looked up my expected rivals. The persistent Ramezani had taken down another single-age record, going out in 21:52, followed by 21:51. He slowed substantially over the last 5K; he must have been suffering going up the bridge. Still, he had a very nice 1:07:04, shattering my record by a minute and a half. McConnell also had a good day. Although he was never seriously challenging Ramezani, he went out in 22:44 and put more distance between him and me with every passing mile. McConnell ran a little faster this year, 1:09:30. And then came the real disappointment. Finnigan had not only reversed his slowing trend, he did it in spades. He ran 1:11:41, six minutes faster than last year and 4 minutes faster than the year before. I wondered if he were now wearing Vaporfly's and if so, had they made a difference? Or had he merely come out of a two-year period of dealing with injury? Although I came in ahead of him at Club XC this past December, I know he has bested me at Dedham at least once in the past so this is an ongoing rivalry. I consoled myself that, at least, the age division awards go 5-deep.
After ingesting the post-race bananas, chocolate milk, muffins and so forth, I wandered to the area near the Awards stage where they were distributing the Age Division plaques. To my surprise, the fellow handing out the awards said, "Sorry, I do not have an award for you. In the past they gave out awards for the top 5, but I only have awards for the top 3." I am still uncertain if there was just a glitch and the box with 4th and 5th place plaques did not arrive or if it was a decision by the race to reduce the awards. Perhaps an award will arrive by mail? If so, it has not happened yet.
Shortly after, I ran into McConnell, who finished 2nd in the division, and learned that he is from Michigan, but spends a few weeks in Florida each year before running Gate and then returns to Michigan. As I was leaving, he took a look at my wounds and advised, "Better get some antiseptic on that-Don't want it to get infected!" I thanked him for the advice and assured him I would. On the way back to the hotel I found a CVS Pharmacy, and got advice from the pharmacist about which brand to buy and how to be careful with it. [At the time, I was much more worried about getting infection in this surface wound than I was about contracting a corona virus from any of the other thousands of runners, or the many volunteers I interacted with, from those giving out finisher medals to those serving the post-race food and beverages. Two weeks later, the surface wounds were all but vanished and concerns about the covid-19 virus were at the forefront of my mind and that of most Americans too.]
|Post-race Photo of Surface Damage [Photo by Paul Carlin]
The first two times I ran Gate, I covered the course in a fast enough time to earn a top 10% cap, but this year they were all gone. So I would return to Indy with a 2020 GRR Finisher Medal and nothing more to show for the trip.
On the way home, I wondered if perhaps my strategy of driving down just before these races, which works well enough when traveling east or west, is maybe not the best for trips down to the Gulf. But it is hard to figure out. My two trips to the Double Bridge Run in Pensacola have both gone well. Some have said the higher humidity could be a problem. But for this run, the temps were in the upper 40's and humidity under 50%. So it would be hard to blame the humidity. The wind was tough, but it was tough for everyone. Ah well, it was still an experience.
|All Good-Thumbs up outside the parking garage after the race! [Photo by author]
And it gives me a reason to try again next year! Next year I will be in a new age division. In 2018 my good friend, Robert Hendrick, set the age 75 record at 1:09:45. But he largely retired from road racing at the end of 2018. The winning times in 2019, 1:30:00, and this year, 1:26:56, do not seem too daunting. Of course, it all depends on who shows up. None of the three 70-74 rivals who bettered my time this year will be 75 by next March. But there could always be someone else faster showing up; there are lots of strong runners in the USA! It is the nature of road racing.
And here's my 2020 Gate River Run finisher medal pictured below--nice! It makes me think that soon we are all hoping to get Covid-19 Finisher Medals! Let's help make it happen by washing hands, wearing masks when appropriate, social distancing and following self-quarantine instructions. The sooner we get those Corona Virus finisher medals the sooner we will all be racing again!
Using Age-Grading as a measure, the strongest performance was turned in by Judith Daniel, 78, who ran 1:27:02 for a 90.33%. It was nip and tuck for top age-grade honors between her and 60 year old Darien Andreu, who took the Women's 60-64 crown in 1:05:46 for a 90.17. No other woman scored over 85%, but Michelle Fredette, 62, was close; her 1:12:06 graded out at 84.54%.
Brian Shrout, 46, ran 51:30, to score an 86.02%. Shrout and Neil Chandler, 47, were Jacksonville bookends to St. Augustine's Bill Phillips, 65, whose 1:02:01 netted an 84.79%. Chandler's score for his 53:34, came in at 83.42%.
Overall Masters Podiums
Shrout not only had the best age grade, he took the overall Masters prize in 51:30. Shrout hit the 5K mark in 16:40 with a half minute lead and never looked back; he padded his lead by 11 seconds in the second 5K, and added another 23 seconds heading up the Hart Bridge. Sean Nagorny, 40, took 2nd for the Men in 53:12 and Neil Chandler, 47, third in 53:34.
On the Women's side, it was much closer for the win. Julie Stackhouse built a 22 second lead over Jolene Young in the first 5K, and held it at that through the 2nd 10K. But once they headed to the Hart Bridge, it was another story as Young took 14 seconds out of that lead by the time they crested the Hart Bridge. Young continued to close down the off ramp but could never quite get there, as Stackhouse held tough for a 5 second victory! Stackhouse, 41, took the Overall title in 58:52 for an 81.23% age grade. Young, 42, in 2nd, clocked 58:57 for an 81.71%, with Kim Pawelek Brantly, 46, in 3rd at 1:00:43 for 82.19%.
Other Age Divisions
As with many other road races, double dipping is not standard. If a runner earns a Mastes Overall Award, then the 2nd fastest runner in that division becomes the age division winner.
40-44 Laura Dibella, 41, took the 40-44 honors in 1:01:24, winning by well over a minute.
45-49 Alice Kassens, 45, the Overall Bronze Medalist at the 2019 USATF Masters National 15K Championships in Tulsa, celebrated her new age division with a win in 1:02:06 for a 79.58%.
50-54 April Flynn, 50, took the division title with 4 minutes to spare in 1:04:11 for 81.36%. There was a tight battle for 2nd place between two Jacksonville residents, who must compete against each other in many races, Sally Hendricks, 54, and Karen Camerlengo, 51. Hendricks hit the 5 Km mat in 22:34, with an 11 second gap back to Camerlengo. Hendricks grew the lead to 14 seconds by the 10K mat, but it was all for nought. By the time they were on top of the Hart Bridge, Camerlengo had moved from 14 seconds down to 30 seconds ahead. Camerlengo took no prisoners the rest of the way, speeding to a 6:54 last mile and a 46 second victory.
55-59 Mary Menton, 56, took the win with a minute to spare in 1:11:40. The race for 2nd was a humdinger! Lisa Cottrell, 57, crossed the 5 Km mat in 24:01 with a gap of more than 40 seconds back to Lynne Pope, 59. Cottrell was clicking along right on pace, hitting the 10K mark in 48:02, but Pope was accelerating, covering her second 5K in 24:09. Of course she was still losing ground to Cottrell who now had 48 seconds on her. But there is that small barrier int he way between 10 and 15K. The Hart Bridge gave Pope an opportunity. Cottrell did not slow down any more than most others, about a half minute per mile between the 10K and the top of the bridge. But Pope was flying, by comparison, losing only 18 seconds per mile toiling up the bridge into the headwind! She had already clawed back a half minute of Cottrell's lead when she soared over the apex and roared down the off ramp toward the stadium. Could she get that last 18 seconds? You bet, and with a second to spare. Pope took second in 1:12:54 for an 80.25%, while Cottrell wound up third in 1:12:55 for 78.15%. [Although both are from Florida, they live almost two hours apart. Most likely they only found out how close their battle was after the race.]
60-64 This was the strongest division. Not only did Andreu and Fredette land top-3 age-grading finishes, with Andreu running a 'world class' time, there were two other 'national class' times. Lanier Drew, 61, ran 1:13:40 for an 81.61%, and Denise Dailey, 62, clocked 1:15:19 for an 80.92%. Elisabeth Diamond, 60, who finished 4th in the division with a 1:14:45, just missed at 79.33%.
65-69 Stephanie Griffith, 65, enjoyed a nice win in 1:16:40 for an 82.98% age grade. Rhonda Fosser, 68, was 4 minutes back in 2nd but had a slightly better time for her age, grading at 83.08!
70-74 Molly Gray, 72, came down from the gateway to the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg Tennessee, and went home with the win in 1:27:05 for an 81.34% age grade score.
75-79 As noted above, Judith Daniel , 78, ran a terrific race, finishing in 1:27:02 for 90.33%.
80+ Patsy Blanton, 83, took the honors in 2:35:18 for a 57.50%; with Pat McEvers, 80, 2nd in 2:41:28; and Shaina Jones, 89, 3rd in 2:51:12, for a 66.62%.
At 89, Shaina Jones, was the oldest runner to make an age division podium, and the oldest runner to finish.
40-44 Jeff Tomaszewski, from Coronado CA, took the honors in a tight battle with Floridians, Jeremy Caudill, Brian Yates, and Rich Smith. Yates's listed splits were clearly wrong, so I merely note that he is listed for 3rd place, in 53:25. Smith hit the 5k mat first, in 17:26, with Tomaszewski 11 seconds back, with a further 9 seconds elapsing before Caudill sped by. Tomaszewski pushed the pace in the second 5K, crossing the 10K mat in 35:30, with Smith 7 seconds back and another 11 to Caudill. Tomaszewski and Smith toiled up the Hart Bridge at the same pace, at 6:15 per mile, while Caudill accelerated, his 6:08/mile pace taking huge chunks of yardage out of the leaders. By the top of the bridge, Caudil had pased Smith and was only 3 seconds behind Tomaszewski. But Tomaszewski had saved enough as he kicked away from Caudill down the off ramp, and sped to the finish line, capturing the division in 54:12, with Caudill 11 seconds back at 54:23. Smith, despite a strong finish could not recapture 2nd from Caudill, taking 3rd in 54:25, the same time as Yates.
45-49 The winner of this division, Per Karlsson had the same split problems as Yates. Both, for example, have a recorded 5K split of 11:01. His finishing time of 54:33 is a minute and a half faster than that of the 2nd place finisher, Gary Myers, who ran 55:44.
50-54 Julian Rozo crossed the 5K mat in 18:30 with a 9 second lead over Dan Holland, 50. But that was as close as Holland would get. Rozo padded his lead with each passing mile, winning the 50-54 division in 55:33, for a nifty 83.20% age grade. Holland took 2nd in 56:53 for 80.54, with Michael Rhodes, 51 3rd in 57:30 for 80.38%. Peter Kotchen, one of the Atlanta Track Club M50 stalwarts, took 4th in 58:17 for 79.30%.
55-59 Jim Fullerton, 55, took the honors with over two minutes to spare, clocking 58:47 for an 81.43%. David Scott and Brendan Vasher, both 59, had a dandy duel for 2nd place. Vasher crossed the 5K mat in 19:46 with almost 40 seconds on Scott. But Scott took back 31 seconds of that lead in the next 5. With the Hart Bridge looming, Scott sped past Vasher and put a full 24 seconds on him by the top of the bridge. In the end, Scott had a 36 second gap, as he crossed the finish in the classy time of 1:01:01 for an 81.37; Vasher hit 1:01:37 for 80.58.
60-64 Andy Nicol won the division by well over three minutes, in 1:00:49 for 82.41. David Farraday, 63, led Andrew Knott, 60, for 2nd place, the entire way, slowly building a 5 second lead at the 5K into a 23-second lead at the top of the Hart Bridge. But Knott came flying down the bridge and the off ramp to close the final gap to 8 seconds, Farraday in 1:04:02 for 80.53%, and Knott at 1:04:10 for 78.10%.
65-69 As noted above, Bill Phillips was one of the top 3 age grade scorers on the Men's side at 84.79%. His 1:02:01 won the division by over 4 minutes! Danny West took 2nd in 1:06:34 for a national class age grade of 81.37. William Costello, 65, took 3rd in 1:11:06.
70-74 Covered above. Age grade scores were: Page Ramezani 81.05%; Robert McConnell 82.61%; Liam Finnigan 80.10; and me 77.90.
75-79 Tony Swebilius, 75, hit the 5K mark in 29:07, with 13 seconds on Hubert Keen, 75, and another 18 seconds on Roger Tuttle, 75. Each runner kept their pace so the gaps grew slightly bigger over time. In the end it was Swebilius with the win in 1:26:56, for 68.10%; Keen second in 1:28:28; and Tuttle third in 1:29:40.
80+ It was the same story in 80+ as Irwin Adams, led wire to wire, winning in 1:52:14 for a 58.3%. He was followed by Wally McLean, 84, in 1:56:57 in 2nd for 62.45; and James Howell, 84, in 2:09:39 for 56.33.
Wally McLean and James Howell tied in being the oldest runner, at age 84, to make an Age Division podium. August Leone, 90, who finished 6th of 10 in the division in a time of 2:24:22, for a 64.05%, was the oldest finisher!
That one is in the history books. What will next year be like? Will there be a vaccine by then? Will thousands of runners turn out? Maybe the absence of races now will make folks want to do it even more when they are back? If things go as we all hope, maybe we will start to get an idea on Independence Day on the streets of Atlanta along Peachtree Street.