September 23 2021.It had been almost two years since the last USATF Masters National Championship on the roads. And it was a new distance to many. The last National Championships over a 12 km course were run from 2013 to 2015 in Alexandria VA. The athletes were eager to compete. Some had been injured prior to the Covid pandemic and recovered. Others dealt with injury or had surgery over that period. A few entered and exited healthy. But it was hard to know who was who until the gun went off and the athletes competed!
From reviewing performances prior to April 2020, when Covid stopped all racing, and reviewing more recent performances when available, I made educated guesses at the main contenders for Overall and Age-Grading Champions. Below are my initial thoughts and how the races actually turned out.
WOMEN When I wrote my first preview on September 16th, I identified Fiona Bayly, Roberta Groner, Dawn Grunnagle, and Maggie Shearer as the primary contenders. When Perry Shoemaker entered on September 18th, I mentioned her as a competitor of Bayly's for the 50-54 division. I also indicated that the competition would, of course, extend to the overall contest. Grunnagle decided, when it got closer to the date, that her injuries had limited her training time too much; she decided not to make the trip. Bayly has been the Overall winner three times at the most recent Masters 15 km National Championships in Tulsa so a 12 km race is certainly in her wheelhouse. The question, though, was whether this wasn't more of a tuneup race for a fall Marathon, Even so, if Bayly's fitness was good, a podium spot would be possibly and maybe even likely. Groner needs no introduction. The top Amerian finisher in the Marathon at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, and the owner of a 2:29:06 Marathon at Rotterdam, she has also won the only Masters National Championship, the 2019 8 km, she has entered. Shearer has two podium finishes at Masters National Cross Country Championships, both in 2018. She clocked a 51:56 15k at the Gate River Run in March of this year. That equates to a 44:23 12k, suggesting she might be ready to challenge for the win.
Shoemaker won the Overall title at the last 12 km Masters National Championship held in Alexandria VA in 2015. Her time was 42:03, but that was 6 years ago when she was 44. Age-Grading suggests that the 50 year old version of Shoemaker, if everything else was equal, would be 44:38. I found no recent races but in 2019 Shoemaker came in ahead of Deena Kastor a the Credit Union Cherry Blossom ten miler, with a 57:29. Accounting for both the difference in distance and the 2 years suggests an even faster time might be possible, as that works out to 43:14. The lack of any 2021 times, however, makes everything a bit speculative.
With the loss of Grunnagle and the addition of Shoemaker, my adjusted preview suggested Groner for the win with Shoemaker, Bayly, and Shearer following in that order. I added that if any of those 4 have an off day, there are plenty of others who could move up, including Karen dos Santos Shore AC, Karen Dunn Greater Philadelphia TC, Sara Girotto Philadelphia Masters, Gwendolen Twist The Janes Elite Racing, and Heather Webster Genesee Valley Harriers.
Race When the gun sounded, Groner left little doubt that she was the runner to beat. After 400 meters, Groner was a few meters in front of a large pack and her closest pursuer, Shoemaker, was just maintaining contact with the tail end of the pack, and Shearer was a bit behind that pack. Shearer
|Roberta Groner far right opens up a big lead. Photo Credit Jason Timochko for all race photos
explained after the race that she and her coach had decided to go out at a pace she could easily handle so as to negative split the race. They knew she was not in good shape, but not in A+ shape. Twenty meters back from Shearer was another pack and 15 meters back from them was Lisa Veneziano, followed about 5-10 meters back by Karen dos Santos, Karen Dunn, Sara Girotto, Caoimhe Kilroy, and Flora Lai, 5 across, at the head of the next pack.
|Lisa Veneziano far right leading left to right Karen dos Santos, Sara Girotto, Karen Dunn, Flora Lai, and Caiomhe Kilroy
Ten meters behind them were Lauren Jackson, and Bayly, furiously trying to gain speed and join Veneziano. I learned later from Bayly that, despite a slow start and having to work around a number of runners, she was able to move up through the pack and tuck in behind Veneziano.
Groner went from strength to strength, winning eventually in 42:14 with over 2 minutes to spare.
|Roberta Groner takes the Overall Win at the 2021 USATF Masters National 12 km Championship
Shearer's plan worked perfectly as she ran 17:57 for her first three miles and 17:44 for miles 5 through 7. She was able to work her way up past Shoemaker to take 2nd in 44:34. Shoemaker held on to 3rd place, just ahead of a fast closing Veneziano.
|Maggie Shearer grinds it out as she closes strong to take 2nd place Overall
Shoemaker clocked 46:09 to Veneziano's 46:13--Close! My biggest error here was underestimating Veneziano as a threat for the Overall podium.
Bayly apparently stayed right behind Veneziano for the first 5 miles but then took a walk break for her knee. She indicated she did not want to push too hard with a bone bruise that is healing. Dunn, Kilroy and Lai held it together as dos Santos and Girotto fell back. Once they got past Bayly, Dunn moved to the lead position; Dunn, Lai and Kilroy finished 5th through 7th with times between 47:04 and 47:24.
Roberta Groner 42:14 Maggie Shearer 44:34 Perry Shoemaker 46:09
|Overseeing all of the Technical Details of the Race was Perry Jenkins, the Referee for the 2021 USATF Masters 12 km National Championship
MEN I figured the favorites going into the race were: David Angell, Brock Butler, Chris Naimoli, Judson Cake, Brian Sydow, and Nick Thompson. Sydow decided not to make the trip. In a Strava post he noted that there was a lot going on and that he did not feel ready to race at a national championship, either physically or mentally. He is planning on Tallahassee as his first MLDR Championship.
It could have been argued that Angell should have been viewed as the favorite; I picked him for 2nd. He won several Masters National Championships from 2018-2019. He also had a quality outing at the AJC Peachtree race this year. The 33:06 he ran at that 10K equates to a 40:07. I was not certain a 40+ time would be fast enough to win it, but Angell ran a 5K time this year in a race little known outside the Roanoke Valley that suggested he might have the firepower to break 40! Butler had a good 5K in March but I could find nothing more recent. Not as fast, comparatively, as the 5 km that Angell ran, and nothing as long as Angell's 10K at Peachtree, but pretty likely to be low 40's, with a shot at breaking 40! Despite his recent devotion to triathlons, I picked Naimoli for the win. He had a quality 10 km run at the end of one Ironman and a quality half marathon at the other. On paper it looked like Angell should win, but Naimoli had beaten him in Tulsa and came in ahead of him at Lehigh. Until Angell beats him, I should pick Naimoli to outrun Angell. Cake's to 5-milers in July and August suggested he had a 42 and change 12 km possibility. If so, that would likely not be fast enough for the podium. Thompson had quality races in 2019 and 2020 suggesting he might be able to handle a 12 km in the low 40's; in the only 2021 race I found for him he finished 7 seconds behind Cake in one of his 5-milers. Naimoli, Angell, Butler for 1-2-3 was how I had it figured. I added that others who could figure in included Dickson Mercer, James Osborn, and Matthew Wagoner. Good thing I did! Somehow I missed Christopher Shaw for the overall competition, but at least I previewed him for M45. How did it actually unfold?
A pack quickly formed at the front, with Naimoli, Butler, Angell, Osborn and Mercer leading the way and Thompson and Cake tucked in behind. To everyone's surprise there were some Open runners in there too. Originally the Open runners were supposed to start after the Masters race was well under way. But when they only had 24 Open runners entered, it seemed odd to make them run separately. They caused no trouble per se, but no one remembered to announce that change at the start, and it took the Masters runners a while to figure it out.
|Early Lead Pack at 12 km Masters Championships-Chris Naimoli blue singlet and David Angell far right with Open Runners #'s 366 & 370 on either side and a mix of Open and Masters athletes tucking in behind
They hit the first mile at 5:19, Splits based on Strava posts. and the 2 mile at 10:40, with Cake and Thompson 50 meters back. The lead pack's third mile was another 5:20 but Osborn and Angell started to struggle during that 3rd mile, and were now 50 meters back, with Thompson and Cake another 25 meters back. They ere running into a pretty solid wind on the way out but it did help keep them cool. Naimoli reported later that he felt he needed to surge in the 4th mile to see if he could drop some of his competitors, not realizing that three of the guys tucked in behind him were Open runners. He hit 5:16 for that 4th mile split, with Butler the only Masters guy going with him; Mercer was now 40 meters back. Right after the 4th mile, the Open runners kicked past and Naimoli saw they had no back bibs, and wished he had not injected pace just to try and drop runners he was not competing with. As he said later, "... it didn't change anything, but I just wish I hadn't done it." Of course he also dropped Mercer and perhaps Shaw. I have no splits for Shaw. Their Greater Philadelphia teammate, Wagoner, was the only Masters athlete that went with them when they surged. Naimoli and Butler backed it off a bit once they realized the Open runners were gone and they had dropped their rivals for the Overall Masters win. But the surge had taken more out of Wagoner, who had to slow up for recovery; by the end of the 5th mile he was almost 40 meters back from the two leaders. By now the athletes could not feel the wind, but they did feel the sun, as the temps climbed up into the lower 70's with hardly a cloud in the sky. Butler had saved a bit more or was dealing with the heat better. For whatever reason, he had carved out a 20 meter lead over Naimoli by the end of the 5th mile, and doubled the gap over the 6th mile. That was it, as Butler kicked in strong with a 5:14 pace over the 7th mile and slightly faster for the final half mile. He had the win in 39:52!
|Brock Butler claims the Overall Championship at the 12 km Masters National Championship!
|Chris Naimoli cruises in toward the finish line, secure in his Silver Medal finish at the 12 km Masters National Championships
|Matthew Wagoner closes with a furious kick to hold Christopher Shaw at bay and give the Greater Philadelphia TC an unprecedented 1-2-3 finish
Naimoli hung tough, closing it out with a 5:28 7th mile and kicking in at 5:18 pace; he took the Silver Medal in the Overall Championship at 40:19. To my surprise it was a 1-2-3 sweep for the Greater Philadelphia TC as Matthew Wagoner nailed a Bronze ten seconds behind Naimoli, outkicking Shaw by just 5 seconds! Forty-five seconds later Mercer, Osborn and Thompson finished in 5th through 7th just 6 seconds apart. Mercer not only finished 5th but it was a homecoming for him. He noted after the race, "Special day getting to run Masters National Champs with my Dad where I grew up!" Craig Godwin finished 8th in 41:24, with Angell 7 seconds back on an off day. Angell summarized the race on Strava, probably capturing the feelings of all who had an off day at Sandy Hook, "No gas, windy going out, hot coming back!" Godwin had special reason to celebrate a top 10 Overall finish at a National Championship. Godwin had a heart attack on a run 7 months earlier; this
race signals an impressive recovery. Thank goodness for the cardiology
advances in the modern era. Butler echoed Angell on the wind and the lack of shade, adding, "Got the win and GPTC went 1-2-3." He added what I heard from many athletes, "It was really fun racing with everyone again!"
Brock Butler 39:52 Chris Naimoli 40:19 Matthew Wagoner 40:29
Here is a video of the start of the race, courtesy of Lloyd Hansen--It was great to be racing again!!!
OVERALL AGE GRADED CHAMPIONSHIPS
WOMEN Had I previewed the Age Graded contest, I would have put Fiona Bayly, Nora Cary, Roberta Groner, Doreen McCoubrie, Perry Shoemaker, and Lisa Veneziano. I would probably have mentioned Suzanne Cordes, Suzanne LaBurt, Nancy Simmons, and, possibly, Stella Gibbs as having the potential to land on the podium if any of the others had an off day. Six runners had World Class times, with PLP's Performance Level Percentages over 90%, and there were another 5, McCoubrie 89.04, Lorraine Jasper 88.87, Bayly 88.52, Shoemaker 88.39, and Cordes 87.61, within 3 percentage points! Jasper really surprised me. I think of her as one of our top Track athletes and a strong presence on the Cross Country turf. But I never expected such a strong age graded performance from her in a road race over 7 miles long! Some of the others were a little disappointed with their PLP and vowed to work a little harder or race a little smarter next time...or just be healthier and more free of injury!
At age 69, Cary's new American Record stood out; her 51:09 merited a 97.53. Runners sometimes wonder, how can you set an American Record and not score 100% in age grading. The answer is that the standard is global, not just American. It is a sign that the World's fastest recorded time is faster than the American Record.
|Nora Cary heads confidently to the finish line and a big Age-Grading win at the Masters 12 km National Championships at Sandy Hook, NJ
Veneziano, though a newcomer to the national MLDR circuit, was really close in 2nd place. At 57, her 46:13 soared over 95% to 95.92.
|Lisa Veneziano races to the finish line and a Silver medal in Overall age Grading at the 2021 USATF Masters National 12 km Championships
|Nancy Simmons finishing stride for stride with Mimi Fallon. Simmons closed out the race and claimed the final spot ont he Age Grading podium
The Bronze Age-Grading medal went to Simmons, 62, who clocked 51:14 to earn a 92.24. I should have thought of Simmons for the Age Grading podium, but would have been thinking of her, like Jasper as a middle distance runner. My only previous knowledge of her was as the W60 winner of the 2019 USATF Masters 1 Mile Championships in Flint.
Though they just missed the podium, Gibbs, 62, and La Burt, 58, in finishing 4th and 5th, took home some prize money. Gibbs ran 52:11 for 90.56 and La Burt sped to a 49:38 for a 90.43. Groner's 42:14 for 90.29 left her just out of the Age Graded prize money in 6th place.
Nora Cary 51:09 97.53% Lisa Veneziano 46:13 95.92% Nancy Simmons 51:14 92.24%
MEN Ahead of time the athletes most likely to contend for the age grading prize money included: Nat Larson, Brian Pilcher, Roger Sayre, Ken Youngers and, before I learned he was running with an injury just to help his team, Gene Dykes. Others with a shot at prize money would have included: Kenneth Barbee, Brian Crowley, Craig Godwin, and Rick Lee. Larson, Pilcher and Sayre regularly take age grading prizes when they are healthy. Youngers has had some up and down years but appears to be at the top of his form; he ran very strong at the AJC Peachtree run this year, clocking 36:47 at age 65. Larson has won lots of age grading titles, both on the roads and on the turf. He was injured in 2019, had surgery early during the pandemic and was now on his way back. His fitness seemed pretty good, but this would be his 'rust-buster.' If Pilcher is healthy enough to show up and run, he is healthy enough to run a World Class time. As Youngers and Pilcher are both 65, Youngers' 45:05 earned a 91.62 to Pilcher's 91.12 for a 45:20.
|Ken Youngers high-stepping it toward the finish line and a big Age-Grading win at the 2021 USATF Masters 12 km National Championship
They took 1-2. After the race, Pilcher noted, "Ken ran really strong. I made him bear a lot of the wind in miles 2-3 and he was still stronger on the way home. He's a great champion."
|Btrian Pilcher was firing on all cylinders but couldn't match Youngers this day, finishing 2nd in the Age-Grading contest at the 2021 Masters National 12 km Championship
not quite at the top of his game, but his 43:14 at age 59 merited a
90.26. He summed up his feelings ont he day, "I was just happy to get over 90% age graded--that was my main goal. It's still early in my training so I wasn't sure I was ready for that. I guess I have to give credit to the flat, fast course, and the Frieder brothers for good pacemaking, event though I could not hang with Elliott all the way!"
Crowley, 56, and Godwin, 54, took 4th and 5th age grading prize money, with 42:07 for 90.16 and 41:24 for 90.10%. All ran World Class times-terrific performances to be very proud of! The next three hit within 3 percentage points of World Class: Lee 88.97, Sayre 88.36, and Barbee 87.11.
Ken Youngers 45:05 91.62% Brian Pilcher 45:20 91.12% Nat Larson 43:14 90.26
All of these runners had the top results across all age divisions at the National Championship. By the standards of the USATF Masters LDR Committee, these were the best performers at the 12 km Championships.
ELITE PERFORMANCE MEDALS In addition to devoting prize money to the top age grading performances, the Committee also awards Elite Performance Medals to all runners earning PLP's at 80% and above. It is a visible signal of being a National Class runner; these handsome medals are only available at USATF Masters LDR Road Championships. All of the runners above earned either Gold Medals for World Class performances, 90% and above, or Silver Medals for National Class performances at 85% and above. Others who earned Silver and Bronze medals, marking a National Class performance at 80% PLP or above, included, first women, then men, in order from highest down:
SILVER Jo Anne Rowland, Barbara Donelik, Maggie Shearer, Mimi Fallon, Heide Moebius; Gregory Putnam, Brock Butler, Christopher Shaw, Alan Evans, Joseph Reda, Terry Davidson, Mike Nier, Keith Guilfoyle, Harold Porcher, Dale Flanders
BRONZE Mary Swan, Genevieve Clavier, Mimi Newcomer, Kimberly Aspholm, Karen Dunn, Sandra Folzer, Joann Coffee, Candace Stanton, Laura Delea, Caoimhe Kilroy, Kathleen Beebe, Gwendolen Twist; Matthew Wagoner, Matt Ebiner, Nicholas Thompson, Elliott Frieder, Joseph Hegge, Michael Salamone, Christopher Naimoli, Robert Reynolds, Matthew Farley, Jonathan Frieder, George Buchanan, John Hogan, David Angell, Dave Glass, Jack Pottle, David Guzik, Gary Rosenberg, James Linn, James Osborn, Timothy Conheady, Jeffrey Conston, Ezequiel Garcia, Daniel Mazo, David Harkin, Kevin Dollard, Jerry Learned, Dickson Mercer, David Ferrugia, Marco Cardoso, Eugene Myers, Gary Leaman, Don Morrison