Thursday, September 23, 2021

Masters LDR Runners Gone Wild! Three American Records Set at USATF Masters 12 km National Championships

September 21 2021. Nearly 300 Masters athletes toed the line near Parking Lot E on the Sandy Hook spit that is a National Gateway Recreation Park on the Jersey Shore. The USATF-New Jersey Association made the bid so that USATF MLDR could put on their Championship at the By Hook Or By Crook 12K. The runners were eager to race against top rivals from around the country for the first time in 22 months! Who weathered the long layoff between Championships the best? From the talk beforehand, some had been injured heading into mid 2020, healed up or had surgery and gradually returned to fitness. Others had run well during the layoff but had developed an injury that slowed them down in their prep or had them worried. The weather cooperated, not too hot and not too windy for  record attempts. The course would be into the wind on the way out and with the wind on the way back; everyone hoped the wind would blow soft early and harder late. Some knew they were ready to roll and were thinking record thoughts!

The 12 km is not a common distance. Most runners with a 12 km record on their mind have headed toward Lilac Bloomsday in Spokane. But many of those have returned disappointed; the race is iconic but that course is challenging. With that in mind, Jim Estes, currently USATF-Colorado President, when he was with the USATF National Office, mounted a 12 km race in Alexandria VA, called the .US National 12K that was both an Open and a Masters Championship. The course was a bit technical the first year, 2013, but they altered it for the 2nd and 3rd years so it was just as flat but had fewer turns. Most of the records the athletes on this Sandy Hook course were chasing were set either in Spokane or Alexandria.

Women 65-69 I was first alerted to Nora Cary by Madeline Bost a couple of years ago prior to her competing at the April 2019 10 km Masters Championships in Dedham in the 60-64 division. She had some pretty tough competition that day, finishing 3rd behind Team Red Lizard's Jennifer Teppo and Patrice Combs of the Atlanta Track Club. Unlike those two, she was in the last year of that age division. She had them in age grading; she finished 3rd with a 94.13 PLP Performance Level Percentage. That World Class performance got my attention for sure! In September 2019, Cary ran in the By Hook Or By Crook 12 km over the same course, clocking 52:29. That was more than a minute faster than Edie Stevenson's 53:46 American Record set in Alexandria in 2015. But it is two years since that time. If we use the age grade tables to adjust, the effect of two years on average on top competitors like Cary is almost a minute and a half slowing, leaving Cary with a predicted time of 53:57, 11 seconds slower than the record. Cary is one of those athletes who came through the long layoff in high form. With a 43:06 10K and a 1:08:21 15K to her credit it was clear she had an excellent shot at the record.

Nora Cary finishes off her American Record with a Bounce in Her Step All Race Photos Here and Below By Jason Timochko

The 10K was age-grade equivalent to a 52:19, and the 15K to a 53:51, bracketing the record time. Cary did not disappoint; she ran far better than any of those predictions, 51:09! Smashing the record by 2:37, Cary acquired a 97.53 PLP, World Class! 

That is now the 12 km target; Cary has moved the target out of the range of all but the fastest. Cary will get a shot at lowering her record next year. Will another challenger turn up? 

Men 65-69 I have been watching Brian Pilcher's posts for a while. When the 2013 Masters Athlete of the Year has a substantial spell of time where he is not sidelined by injury, it's 'Watch out world, here I come!'. After all, he still holds M60 American Records for the 5K and every distance from the Half Marathon through the Marathon. Earlier this summer I saw he had a workout with substantial elevation change and an average pace of 7 minutes/mile. That looked to me like he was ready for some good races. He made that feeling manifest by racing in New Haven CT on Labor Day. The Faxon Law 20K  is a USATF Open Championship, hence sanctioned and the course pre-verified and well established for record performances. Lo and behold when the dust settled, there was Pilcher with a new American M65 20 km record. The old record was 1:20:05, set 11 years earlier by Masters Hall of Famer, Doug Goodhue. Pilcher blew that out of the water with a 1:18:24! The current 12 km record is 46:58, held by Terry McCluskey since the 2013 (more technical) Alexandria race. If Pilcher could just run the 12 km at the same pace he ran the 20K race, he would be within 4 seconds of the record. I was writing in Pilcher's name as the 12 km winner in my head when Pilcher reminded me that nothing is ever automatic in Masters National Championships. Pilcher described the 20K as a 'rust buster' and that he would need to get faster if he were to beat Ken Youngers, who had run a ridiculously fast 10K at the AJC Peachtree run, 36:47! For a 65-year-old guy, a 1:18:24 20K is age grade equivalent to a 45:41, but a 36:47 10K is equivalent to a 44:39!

Youngers has been gradually coming back since surgery a few years back. In 2019 he was one of the top runners in his cohort, but now he may be the best. The weather was good for the Peachtree race, not very hot and humid, but the course is still hilly. Running a 36:47 10K at age 65 on that course sends a serious message to the world! 

On 12 km race day, Youngers and Pilcher both got off the starting line quickly. By a quarter mile or so, Youngers had passed Pilcher; and Pilcher was on his heels, where he stayed for the next 4 miles. They ran at the back of a pack of younger guys for the first 2+ miles, with a 1st mile in 5:46 and a 2nd mile in 5:52, but then lost contact. Youngers knew he could not hold that pace, especially into the wind! Mile 3 was at 6:09 so they had a chance to recover and regroup. They ran alone for the 4th mile at 6:02 pace, and then were pulled along through the turn and heading back to the finish by Francis Burdett. They were able to get past Burdett and shortly after that Youngers noticed that Pilcher was no longer right with him. Youngers held a very steady 6:04 pace over the final three and a half miles. 

Ken Youngers finishes with focus on the win and the record!


Pilcher finished strong though, surprising Youngers by how close he was! Pilcher got in well under the record, as he did at New Haven. 

Brian Pilcher closing hard to finish under the old American Record, 2nd in M65


But Youngers had the win and the new record, lowering it to 45:05! What a great race--this is a rivalry that will be fun to watch!

Women 55-59 I first heard of Michigan's Lisa Veneziano in 2015 when, except for 2019 Masters Athlete of the Year, Sabra Harvey, she ran 5:45 as a 50-year old to lead the field in age grade score at the USATF 1 Mile Championships in Flint MI. Her PLP was 83.78. She was among the top age graders each year, even in 2017 when clearly not at her best. In 2019 as a 54-year-old, she ran ten seconds faster than she had at 50, finished 5th overall and had a 90.13 PLP. I knew she was great at that classic distance but I was unaware of other distances; it was the only national championship she was running. This summer I did some write-ups on the 2021 USATF Masters Outdoor Championships and was surprised to see her listed among the top prospects in the 10,000 meters. I also saw that she had run two 5K's in the spring in 18:07 and 18:22. Those are two short to put too much confidence in them in terms of equivalencies with a 12 km effort, but they are quality runs for a 57 year old! Her 38:42 winning time on the track, had it been on the roads, would be equivalent to a 46:54 12K. Most track records are faster than road records, at least for Open athletes. That may not always be the case with Masters athletes. Often the faster runners may have no one to run with and may have to worry about lapping much slower runners many times during an event. When the current holder of the 55-59 record is a legendary distance runner like Joan Benoit Samuelson, it may have seemed daunting to even imagine breaking that record. In 2014, Samuelson ran 46:27 at the 12 km Championships in Alexandria.

When the time came, Veneziano showed no fear; she pushed out hard from the start. Fiona Bayly, in her last year in the 50-54 division, tucked in behind her and stayed there for 5 miles. She says Venziano looked over her shoulder and asked Bayly, 'What age group are you?' When Bayly replied 50, Veneziano must have breather a sigh of relief. It turned out that Bayly dropped back shortly after that for fear of aggravating a prior bone bruise. With 2 big races coming up for her, Bayly did not want to chance a bigger injury. 

Lisa Veneziano kicking it home for a new American Record!

Veneziano cruised the rest of the way, crossing the finish line with 14 seconds to spare, clocking 46:13 for the new record. What an honor to break a record held by an American icon like Samuelson!

In a chance conversation at Rory's after the race, I learned that Veneziano has recently retired and decided to put more energy into training and competing nationally. It will be fun to watch out for her performances over the next few years!

Women 40-44 This was always going to be a tough record to break. In 2015, Jen Rhines was still competing in Open Championships; she ran a strong race, setting a time that will stand for a while, 40:04, at least in Masters competitions. Roberta Groner, the top American finisher in the Women's Marathon at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, was entered for her Shore AC team. If anyone would have a good shot, it would be Groner. Groner's 2:29:06 at the 2019 Rotterdam Marathon, when she was 41, converts to a 12 km equivalent predicted time of 41:09 for the 43-year-old Groner in 2021. That is still a minute off of Rhines's time. Groner was then in the best shape of her life. Her most recent effort competing with Open runners was the Gate River Run -15K--in March. She ran 51:56 which equates to a 41:05, even faster than her Marathon equivalence. 

Roberta Groner opening up a big lead early in the race


Groner had no trouble dominating the race, winning the Overall Championship by two minutes. But her 42:14 was a good bit off what she needed for a record. To be frank, I doubt she had her eyes on the record; she was primarily running for her team. Knowing Groner I would expect her to be pointing to a fall Marathon which precluded targeting this race for a peak effort. A 12 km in September is, on the other hand, a very nice tune up race for an October or November Marathon.

Women 80-84 Heide Moebius is a celebrated athlete. She won this division at the 2019 Club Cross Country Championships at Lehigh and was the Women's 10K World Champion at the 2019 WMA Championships in Torun Poland. She wins whatever she enters at the Senior Games. In 2017 she was the Women's 75-79 Champion at the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in 1:39:28. June Machala set the W80 record of 1:13:14 nine years ago at Lilac Bloomsday. Moebius ran a 48:42 5-Miler on July 3rd, equating to a 1:15:18 12K effort. A month later, though, Moebius ran a 1:05:05 10K, equating to a 1:19:11 12K. Was the course tougher or was that a sign that Moebius had a niggling injury or an interruption in training? For whatever reason, Moebius had a fine outing this past Sunday, finishing first in the 80-84 division with a winning margin of over two minutes. 

Heide Moebius on her way to her win at the 12 km Masters Championships


Her 1:17:38 was four minutes shy of the record. Unsuccessful this time, Moebius can give it another shot next year.

Other Divisions  In 2018 Roger Sayre came within a few seconds of Norm Green's 28:07 M60 8 km record. He was injured in late 2019 and worked his way back over the pandemic. I thought he had a chance at the record but it may be too soon. 

Roger Sayre #316 heads off from the start in the company of two Masters Championship competitors in their 40's and 50's


He ran a fine race, clocking 45:51 to take 2nd. Neither he nor the winner, a newcomer named Rick Lee, threatened Tom McCormack's fine 42:50 M60 record. Gene Dykes is typically a threat for an M70 record whenever he runs. He tipped me off beforehand, though, that he had strained his hamstring on the Hood to Coast Relay that he ran a couple of weeks ago. There would certainly be no record assault from him. Doug Goodhue's  48:13 from 2014 will likely stand now for at least another year. Dykes was focused on running gently so as to not aggravate the injury; he wanted to finish the race for his Greater Philadelphia team so they could score in a national championship. 

Gene Dykes #234 trying to run slow and gentle like he does in his 100 mile trail runs


They wanted to earn points toward the 2021 Masters National Grand Prix. In one of life's ironies, Dykes ran at an easy pace so as to be sure to finish, but no third runner for the team finished so they got no points toward the 2021 Masters National Grand Prix despite the efforts of Dykes. I hope that Dykes did not aggravate the hamstring; that would be  too much of an irony. Everett Luoma, the oldest competitor of the day at 90, was announced as having established a new American Record. He ran 1:56:44 and, although the oldest, was not the last finisher.

Everett Luoma, 90, approches the finish line as he earns a National Championship


But we forgot about Roy Englert, who ran the 12 km Championships in 2013 when he was 91; he ran 1:33:34 and that is the current American Record for men 90 and up.

From Packet pickup, mingling before the race, lining up for a National Championship, hearing the gun, dashing off and competing, finishing up with Awards--how could it be better?! Three American Records better! What a way to kick off the post-Covid Masters National Championship racing era!

Top Photo-Packet Pickup-Pam Fales, Jan Hansen & Jackie Bloom happily giving out bibs and pins; Middle Photo-Lloyd Hansen making his remarks before the race [last time Lloyd ran in a 12 km national championship, he missed the M65 American Record by a whisker]; Lower Photo-Pam Fales giving final instructions before she fires the gun! Photos By Paul Carlin

Yours truly announcing the Award Winners After the Race Photo courtesy of Anabelle Broadbent

NOTE: None of these record performances are actually new records until they are  ratified. Andy Carr, USATF Records Chair, noting that they were run at a USATF sanctioned road race over a 'pre-certified' record eligible course, has already submitted the records to the Masters LDR Committee for approval at their next meeting.

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