Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Sean Wade Takes Down Three American Road Records in Houston: DIY at its Best!

February 14, 2021. HOUSTON, Texas. February 6. – Conditions were perfect for Sean Wade’s attempts to pick off three American Records in a single 10 Mile Race. Wade was inducted into the Masters Hall of Fame in 2019, and still holds the Men's 50-54 American Record for the 5 Km at 15:02! He sped to that record in April 2016. A couple of months ago, with his 55th birthday, Feb. 3, 2021, on the horizon, Wade took stock of his fitness. Injured in the summer of 2020, he had started to recover by the fall and his fitness had improved to the point where he thought a record attempt at the 12K or 15K would be within his range. He was not sure about the Ten Mile, which was definitely at the long end of his range. Known for his track work at the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, Wade was no stranger to the longer races. In October 2018 Wade entered the USATF Masters 15 Km Championship in Tulsa. The course has many challenging hills; Wade, nonetheless, not only won his 50-54 age division, he finished 5th Masters Overall in 51:32, less than a minute off the winning time!

Sean Wade, at age 49, capturing the 40-49 division win at the 2015 Fifth Avenue Mile

The next question was where he could find a race to run in. He ruled out a track race as there were no upcoming Indoor Track races for Masters athletes. The Masters Outdoor Track Championship were scheduled for the summer but even those were not definite. And Covid had decimated the Masters LDR Championship schedule. There, too, the earliest possible date was in June and that was listed as highly likely to be cancelled. Given the difficulty top Masters athletes, who train at the upper edge of fitness have in staying healthy, he did not want to wait that long. He wanted to run as soon as possible after his 55th birthday as he could. Wade explained, "I wanted to make sure I got something on the board; I have been injured so often." With no races anticipated in the month of February or even March, Wade started to wonder if he could organize a road race on his own. He spoke with Jay Hendrickson, a local Race Director in Houston; the two have known each other a long time, and Hendrickson said he would be happy to help. Wade knew that a number of small races for Elite athletes had been arranged, both on the track and on the road. Perhaps he could do something similar, but for a Masters event, and raise the spirits of competitive Masters runners by taking down a record in the 2nd year of Covid!

Wade needed to know the details of what would be required for the race to be legitimate for an American Record, should he be able to run fast enough. He turned to Andy Carr, who is in charge of validating American Records for USATF. In addition to learning about the form that had to be filed, Wade learned that if the following conditions were met, a record could be validated and sent to the USATF Masters LDR Committee for ratification: 

  • the course had to be record eligible (no more than a 1-meter drop per kilometer and no more than 50% separation of the start and finish);
  • the course had to have a USATF certification that the course has been accurately measured. If the course is pre-verified by an IAAF 'A' measurer, that removes any question about the distance being accurately measured.
  • the course must be sanctioned by USATF, which requires, among other things, that all local and USATF Covid guidelines have to be observed;
  • the race could be an Invitational, and does not have to be large, but it does have to have at least three competitors

Certain technical details about the timing system would also have to be checked but Hendrickson, an IAAF 'B' measurer himself, assured Wade that he was quite familiar with the requirements and his timing system would pass those requirements with flying colors. He also assured Wade that he could arrange to have an 'A' measurer do the pre-verification.

All that was done in advance. Wade and Hendrickson laid out a 1.537 kilometer closed loop course for the River Oaks Invitational Ten Mile Road Race, not far from Wade's home. There would be no spectators and participation would be limited so that social distancing could be easily maintained during the race. The sanction was obtained, the technical details were sent in advance to Carr so he was assured everything was set if the times were fast enough. Hendrickson made sure there were timing mats not only at the start and finish, but also at the 12K and 15K marks; these two were certified and pre-verified.

The table was set; now Wade had to deliver! At 5:13 am on Saturday, February 6th, less than a week after wade's 55th birthday, the following email went out to Carr and his two USATF associates responsible for accurate course measurement, Andy Katz, and Mike Wickiser:

"The River Oaks Invitational with certified splits (TX21001JH) is pre-verified. It was measured by Jay Henderson  (B) and Logan Burgess (A).  An age group record attempt will be made today on the course at a variety of distances."

At 7 am, Wade and the other competitors had finished their warmups and were stepping to the line. 

Sean Wade, middle, along with two competitors and Race Officials, at the start of his Record-Breaking Trifecta in Houston [Photo Credit: Sean Wade]

The weather was perfect: 50 degrees, low humidity, and little to no wind. The course was flat, with a maximum height above sea level of 18 meters and a minimum height of 17 meters. Wade had an ambitious goal, but was well prepared for the effort, and focused exclusively on setting records. Wade aimed to take records from three Hall of Famers, Brian Pilcher 12K in 41:09 on May 6, 2012; Norm Green 15K in 50:45:09 on March 27, 1988; and Jim O’Neil 10 Miles in 54:25 on April 10, 1994. The most recent record has stood for almost 9 years; the other two even longer, 26 and 32 years, respectively.

Although the task was daunting, the plan was straightforward. The toughest of the three records was the 10 Miler, which required a 5:26 pace. A 5:27 pace was needed to break the 15K (9.32 miles), and a 5:31 pace to break the 12K (7.45 miles). Wade determined to maintain a 5:25 pace for as long as he could. If he could keep that up for 12 kilometers, he had that record in his pocket. Keep it up another couple of miles and pocket the 15k, and then hold on for all you are worth to get the 10 Miler. A simple strategy perhaps, but not easy to execute at age 55! Wade's pace at the 15K Masters Championship in 2018, when he was 52, was 5:32 per mile. That course was far from flat though.

Wade and the other competitors toed the line, but only Wade had his eye on such a big prize. Knowing that he might fade a bit over the last part of the course, Wade determined to hold to a 5:24 pace if he could. He was dead on for the first 12K, crossing the timing mat in 40:14. His average pace for the first 12K was 5:23.7, and the record was broken by 56 seconds. Through the 15K he was at 5:24.2 per mile, for a 50:22 15K, breaking that record by 23 seconds! If he did not break down in the final two-thirds of a mile, the 3rd record was his. He crossed the finish line at 10 Miles in 54:06, with 20 seconds to spare, the third American record pocketed! 

A job well done, Wade and his fellow competitors took off on a 3-mile cool down run, while Hendrickson took care of getting the paperwork filled out and sent to Carr. By that evening, Carr had verified the records and notified the USATF Masters LDR Committee. Three evenings later, the Committee unanimously ratified the Records, establishing, as far as anyone knew, a record for the shortest time period between an American Record attempt and its ratification! Tom Bernhard, after the ratification, referred to the records as the first 'DIY Records' he knew of. He praised Wade for finding what needed to be done, recruiting the help he needed, and organizing the whole affair. Bernhard added that "In the time of Covid, that may be the only approach that will work for getting a new American Age Division record!

Andy Carr now has the records listed on his website at:

Carr also tipped me off that two of the three marks are World Bests. The list of World Best Age Division Records is maintained by the Association of Road Racing Statisticians at: Wade dislodged Belgium's Mark Vanderhoeven from the top spot on the M55 list for 12 Km, lowering his mark by 46 seconds. Aart Stigter of the Netherlands no longer has the top time for 15 Km; Wade took that one with half a minute to spare. Martin Rees of Wales, another of the truly outstanding Masters runners of the early 21st century, retains his 2008 10 Mile World Best by 45 seconds!

Sean Wade setting a new M50 American Indoor Mile Record of 4:33 at Boston University in 2016 [photo courtesy of Sean Wade]

Wade said, “I want to thank Jay Hendrickson for all his hard work, and everyone else who contributed to this effort.” Wade was injured last summer but worked his way into shape. Covid continued to eliminate high-quality races for Masters athletes but Wade did not want to waste his fitness. He wanted to get some records broken early on so he could try for more later. “ If I can stay healthy, I will go for the 10K and 8K records in a few weeks, and then the 5K and the 1 Mile after that. If I am somehow able to stay healthy for that whole period, I should have the fitness to go after the M55 World Best in the 5K. I need to beat 15:31. A 15:30 requires a 4:59.3 per mile pace; it is a challenge I look forward to.” Sub-5 pace for a 5K at 55. If anyone is up to it, it is Wade!

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations to Sean on a truly masterful (pun intended) achievement. However, I do have strong misgivings about the ability to essentially set up your own race with two other competitors and claim it as a record when the previous marks were done in traditional races having less than ideal weather, wind, multiple competitors which can help or hinder performance and all the variables such as travel that go along with it. Covid-19 has put a pause on racing and the effort is certainly understandable and laudable. But in my mind it is not an equivalent performance. It is like the breaking 2 marathon but without pacers. Hopefully Sean will break his own records in a "normal" race because I think this could set a bad precedent. It also raises the questions, to what extent does USATF Masters LDR have a responsibility to provide "custom" record setting events to other worthy runners wish to attempt one?