Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Races for Overall Championships at the USATF Masters 12 km Championships in Highlands NJ

 September 12 2021. In the first preview, posted on September 11, I considered the possibilities for athletes to set American Records at the upcoming Masters 12 km Championships. Now let's look at the main contenders for Overall National Champion.

Note: In this article I use the concept of age grade equivalency. If a 40 year old man runs a 33:00 10K, that is an age grade score of 83.03; the 12 km time that generates the same age grade score is 40:00. So a 33:00 10K for a 40 year old guy is age grade equivalent or, in this article, just 'equivalent' to a 40:00 12K.



From past performance, the main contenders look to be: Fiona Bayly Urban Athletics, Roberta Groner Shore AC, Dawn Grunagle Unattached, and Maggie Shearer Cal Coast TC.  

Bayly is the reigning Masters Overall 15 km Champion, having won the title in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 editions. Her time on the challenging course in Tulsa is not fully indicative of her strength. Still, her 57:58 in the 2019 Championships is age grade equivalent to a 45:48 12 km. 


Fiona Bayly heading for the final turn and a 4th place finish in 18:21 at the 2019 USATF Masters 5 km National Championships in Atlanta Photo by Michael Scott

Two years removed from that performance and concentrating more on Marathons this year, her chances of grabbing this overall title are diminished. She ran a 3:11:37 marathon this past March in Louisiana and followed that with a 3:08:20 in upstate NY in May. Neither suggests she is ready this year to run close to 46 minutes. The faster of those two is equivalent to a 50:40. Bayly also has an early August 19:20 in the Harlem 5K run though, equivalent to a 47:56. Bayly is getting faster! And Bayly rarely misses the podium; with the exception of Groner, everyone needs to be on the lookout for Bayly!

Groner has both past and recent performances to back up writing her in as the favorite for the Overall win. Groner became a running celebrity when she was the top American performer in the Marathon at the 2019 World Championships in Doha. Given the horrific conditions for racing, her time in that race is not indicative of her ability, but her earlier 2:29:06 at Rotterdam and 2:30:12 at the TCS NYC Marathon in 2019 are. The Rotterdam time is equivalent to a 40:34 12 km, which would be unbeatable! Those performances suggests she should dominate this 12 km race. Like other runners, however, she had to navigate the Pandemic. She apparently did a good job; she demonstrated her current fitness by clocking a 51:56 15K for a top twenty finish in the Open 15K National Championships at the Gate River Run in March. 


Roberta Groner celebrating her 6th place Marathon finish overall at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, the top American Photo by Alexander Hassenstine/Getty Images

That equates to a 41:05! The one ray of hope for her rivals is that her most recent performance, a 1:18:24 at the Presque Isle Half Marathon, equates to a 43:56. Which version of Groner will show up at the Sandy Hook 12 km course? It may not matter; either way it will be tough for her rivals to deny her the top spot.

In March 2019, Grunnagle ran a 34:24 10K to take the Women's 40-44 title at the World Championships in Poland; she was the first woman 40 and over to finish. That time is age grade equivalent to a 41:37 12K! She finished 2nd to Kate Landau among American Masters women at the 2019 Utica Boilermaker in 55:09, equivalent to a 43:39 12K. She ran 2:33:14 in the Berlin Marathon, equivalent to a 41:42 12K. 

Dawn Grunnagle Team USATF on the way to a 10K victory at the 2019 World Championships in Torun, Poland Photo by Roger Sayre


If Grunnagle were at her best, she would push Groner for the top spot. The lack of any races in 2021 suggests she is at least not race tested, so it may be a bit much to expect her to contend for the top spot. A podium finish is possible though.

Shearer finished 3rd overall in the Masters 6 km race at the 2018 USATF Club XC Championships in Spokane, and finished 2nd at 2018 Cross Country Nationals in Tallahassee. 

Maggie Shearer #248 battles with Sonja Friend-Uhl #95 and Jennifer Bayliss #10 for the win at the 2018 USATF Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee FL Photo by Michael Scott


Shearer ran 56:07 at Gate River, equivalent to a 44:23 12K. A 2:47:23 Marathon at Houston in January 2020 and a 17:47 in the Newport-Mesa Spirit Run 5K in March 2020 provides the most recent evidence of race fitness. The 5K equates to a 43:57 and the marathon, arguably more relevant for a 12k, to a 45:32. As with Grunnagle, the lack of any recent reported performances makes it impossible to assess current fitness. It may be that Grunnagle and Shearer are both pointing to a race down the road and using this as a 'rust-buster' as Brian Pilcher used the 20K in New Haven as his rust-buster reported in my September 11 post. We shall see.

Both Grunnagle and Shearer have faster Marathon times and faster 12K equivalencies, but those are 18 months to two years ago. My guess is that they will show up prepared to race for the podium. Should any of those 4 falter, 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.

Roberta Groner            Fiona Bayly            Maggie Shearer



The main contenders include David Angell Roanoke Elite,  Brock Butler Greater Philadelphia TC and his teammate, Chris Naimoli, along with Maine’s Judson Cake Dirigo RC., Brian Sydow Atlanta Track Club and Nicholas Thompson Brooklyn TC. Someone else could surprise, but those appear to be the strongest runners based on past performance.

Angell has already won National Championships at distances shorter and longer than 10 km. With each added year past 40, the overall wins become a little more challenging. Is it time we refer to Angell as a wily veteran of Masters Championships? In any case, Angell notched wins in 2019 at the 8K Championships in Virginia Beach 25:40 and the 5K Championships in Atlanta 15:41 He claimed the 2018 10K Championships at Dedham MA 32:33


David Angell breaks the tape, winning the 2018 USATF Masters 10 km Championship Overall in 32:33 Photo by Michael Scott

When Angell does not win outright, he is almost always on the podium. What is the evidence fo current fitness? He ran 33:06 at Peachtree and 15:43 at the Fab 5K. The 33:06 equates to a 40:07 12K. The Peachtree course is known for its hills; it is Atlanta after all. Apparently the heat and humidity were not as bad as in some years, with temps in the low 70's and humidity in the upper 60's. The 5K, though less relevant for a 12K, equates to a 38:37!. Those two results taken together suggest sa sub-40 on the flat and fast course at Highlands is a real possibility for Angell, and a sub-39 not out of the question if everything goes his way..

Butler has not competed at Masters National Championships apart from Cross Country. At the 2019 Club Cross Championships at Lehigh, Butler clocked 34:49. Cross Country time and position do not always signal road results because the terrain and footing affects runners differently. Suffice to say that among runners entered in this road Championship, Butler trailed Angell by 6 seconds, who trailed Naimoli by 5 seconds. 

Brock Butler #1496 takes a muddy turn at the 2019 USATF Club Cross Country Championships at Lehigh University Photo by Michael Scott


That is close enough to suggest we will be looking at a tight race on Sunday! Still, that was almost 2 years ago. What is Butler’s current fitness? He has a 'poetic' 9 miler 49:49 from November 2020, equivalent to a 40:52, and a 15:57 5K Butterfly Run in March, equivalent to a 39:12.  Angell seems a bit closer to peak fitness fitness.

As well as having a slight edge from the 2019 Club XC Championships, Naimoli also notched a win over Angell at the 2019 Masters 15K National Championships in Tulsa. He crushed that hilly course with a 48:37, finishing over a minute ahead of Angell. 

Chris Naimoli finishes off his Maine Ironman 70.3 in style with a fast 10K! Photo posted on FB by Chris Naimoli

Naimoli has been training for triathlons recently so that focus may detract from pure running fitness. He devotes a lot of time to swimming and biking. If the focus is triathlons, you have to push on the bike and swimming  so that suggests the triathlete cannot develop running to the same extent. The advantage such athletes have over the pure runner should be less likelihood of injury due to overuse of specific muscle groups. Naimoli's big recent results were the Age Group Nationals Triathlon in Milwaukee. As reported by Naimoli, he achieved a 26th in his age division in Swimming 1500M-24:39, a 2nd in the bike 24.33 miles-56:14, and 1st in the 10K run 34:31. In Maine at the Ironman 70.3, he swam 1.2 miles, biked 54 miles with 2,000' elevation change, and finished off with a 1:15:12 Half Marathon. It is hard to know what a 34:31 10K or a 1:15:12 HM on the third leg of a triathlon equates to in a pure road race. But it is clear Naimoli cannot be far off the fitness of Angell and Butler.

Cake has not participated in USATF Masters National Championships. Cake ran the Mid Winter 10 Miler in February 2020 57:27, the Veteran’s 4 Miler in November 2020 22:51, followed by some trail races in the spring of 2021, and then two 5-Milers in July 28:05 and August 28:11. The faster of those two is equivalent to a 42:29. Cake seems just a bit slower than Angell, Butler and Naimoli but he will be right there if any of those three have an off day. 

Judson Cake at the Longfellow Frostbite 2.5K Road Race Photo posted by mainerunningphotos.com


Sydow is relatively new to the USATF Masters circuit but he claimed the 2019 M45 Masters Grand Prix title! That year he won the 8K and 15K M45 Championships and had four 2nd place finishes. His 26:26 at the 8K equates to a 40:13, and his 52:19 at the Tulsa Run 15K to a 41:22. The 8K race was flat and fast while the 15K course can be described as hilly. 

Brian Sydow heads into the final turn before the sprint to the finish line with a narrow lead on his rivals at the 2019 USATF Masters 10 km Championships Photo by Michael Scott


But both are in the rearview mirror. What does Sydow have recently? The most recent race recorded appears to be his 16:01 in the Hearts and Soles 5K from February 2020; that equates to a 39:27. But it was 20 months ago. With nothing recent on the books, it is hard to say if he is close to that level of fitness. He appears to be putting in some solid workout days running, alternating with Stationary Bike days Zwift. Without a race result, though, it is hard to know exactly whee his fitness is.

Thompson is also untested in National Masters Championships racing. He trailed Cake in the faster of his two 5-Milers this summer, running 28:12 to Cake's 28:05. In February 2020 he ran 54:59 in the PPTC Cherry Tree 10 Miler, equivalent to a 40:15. In 2019, at age 45,  he ran 2:29:03 at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, age grade equivalent to 39:26.  

Nicholas Thompson finishing his BOA Chicago Marathon in 2:29:03 Photo posted at runnersconnect.net

Thompson's strength at the longer distances may help him to a faster time in this 12 km race.

It looks to be a race between Angell, Butler and Naimoli for the win, with Cake, Sydow and Thompson a half notch down and ready to spring if any of those three have an off day. Others who could play a role in the fight for the podium include: Dickson Mercer Pacers Running/GRC New Balance, James Osborn, Jr. Manchester Running Company, and Matthew Wagoner Greater Philadelphia TC.

Chris Naimoli            David Angell          Brock Butler 


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