Saturday, September 11, 2021

Records At the USATF Masters 12 km Championships? A Sure Thing! Maybe... [2021 USATF Masters 12 km Championships-Preview 1]

September 11 2021  The last USATF Masters LDR Championship Road Race was on October 26 2019; the first Championship since Covid disrupted road racing is on the 19th of September at Sandy Hook National Park near Highlands NJ. That is a long time between Championships and the pent up demand has been palpable. Athletes have been signing up at an incredible rate. As of today, September 11 2021, there were 296 entrants, surpassing the 283 registered for the 2019 USATF Masters 10 km Championships in Dedham! That represents the largest field in a Masters LDR Road Race Championship, at least in known history. So that guarantees at least one record will be set!

Not only is the field large, it is one of the strongest and deepest. The desire to race against the best in the country on a course that is flat, fast and close to the water has drawn a terrific amount of interest. Mid-September also seemed favorable-not too hot and not too cold. The two big worries are humidity and wind off the ocean. And there is always the chance of a really bad storm. The Greater New York area got hit by two serious storms within the last few weeks. As of now the weather forecast looks delightful for beach-goers which means mostly sunny skies, a little warmer than ideal for runners, low to mid-70's, and definitely more humid than desirable, 80% at the start, dropping to 75% by the finish. The winds are forecast to be 10-11 mph out of the NNW. A slight improvement in those characteristics on the day is possible and would mean even faster times!

With that forecast in mind, consider the possibility of record-setting performances on the same course that hosted the By Hook Or By Crook 12 km race for the USATF-New Jersey Grand Prix. Up until this past Monday, I would have said that New Jersey's Nora Cary 66, who is not as well-known outside her home region as some, would have the best shot at taking down an American Masters 12 km Record. The current 65-69 12 km record is held by Edie Stevenson at 53:46. Cary ran 52:29 on this course in 2019. That is two years ago, but her recent outings have been high quality as well. She has a 43:06 10K and a 1:08:21 15K to her credit this year. 

Nora Cary strides to the Finish Line and a 43:40 10 km Podium Finish at the 2019 USATF Masters National 10 km Championships in Dedham MA Photo by Michael Scott


Those are age-grade equivalent to 52:19 and 53:51. If the winds stay relatively calm and Cary can deal with the humidity a record seems likely. 

This past Labor Day, Brian Pilcher 65, the 2013 Masters Athlete of the Year and holder of five American Records at the time, announced his return to racing at the Faxon Law 20 km in New Haven. After setting five M60 Records in 2016, Pilcher missed almost two years. He returned in March 2018 for a try at the 8 km record but missed it. Later that month he was out of action again. Pilcher described the New Haven race on Labor Day as a 'nice rust-buster.' It was nice enough to best the current M65 20 km American record of another Masters Hall of Famer, Doug Goodhue, by almost two minutes. He clocked 1:18:24! 

Brian Pilcher on his way to the Masters American 5 km Record for Men 65-69 Photo by Gavin Liddell


In terms of what we might anticipate, that time is age-grade equivalent to a 45:41 12 km. The current record is held by Terry McCluskey at 46:58. A long overlooked mark of John Keston's from Lilac Bloomsday in the 1990's is now listed as pending; it is 46:30. Either way, Pilcher looks to have a good shot. Pilcher indicated that he expects a strong challenge from Ken Youngers, who clocked a 36:47 at the AJC Peachtree Road Race on the 4th of July. 


Ken Youngers finishing off his 36:19 to take the 2019 M60 10 km National Championship at Dedham MA Photo by Michael Scott

That course is much hillier than either the New Haven or the Sandy Hook course. His 36:47 is age-grade equivalent to a 44:39! Although nothing is ever guaranteed, it seems likely that either Pilcher or Youngers will go home with a new American Record.

Surprisingly it seems that the 65-69 records both for Women and Men are most in danger. But many other records could fall. Jen Rhines holds the W40 record at 40:04, set in 2015. Roberta Groner 43, who was the top American finisher in the Marathon at the 2019 World Championships in Doha is entered in the 12 km Championship. Now 43, Groner ran a 51:56 15K at the Gate River Run. With its infamous Hart Bridge looming at the 7.5 mile mark, that course is not easy either.

Roberta Groner on her way to a Top Twenty Finish in the 2021 Women's National Open 15 km Championship at the Gate River Run

The 51:56 is equivalent to a 41:05. Groner definitely has a shot! Joan Samuelson set the W55 Record at 46:27 in 2014. The only runner who has exhibited recent fitness close to that mark did it on the track. Lisa Veneziano 56 won the W55 10,000 Meter title at the Masters Outdoor TF Championships in Ames with a time of 38:42. If that performance had been on the track it would have equated to a 46:54 12 km. Track times are usually a bit faster than road times so it would be a stretch to say Veneziano is likely to take down that record, but it will be interesting to see how close she can get. 

Lisa Veneziano left and Marisa Sutera Strange giving all they've got to secure the final Overall Podium spot at the 2019 USATF Masters Road Mile Championship in Flint Michigan Photo by Carter Sherline, Frog Prince Studios


There is certainly no shortage of competition! Suzanne LaBurt 58 and Doreen McCoubrie 59 should certainly push her for the win, even if they are, perhaps, not at peak fitness coming out of the Pandemic interruption. If Fiona Bayly 54 were focusing on mid-range LDR, like 12 km to 10 Mile, she might well have made a push for Shirley Matson's 50-54 record of 44:56. She indicated earlier this year that she would be concentrating her training and racing on the Marathon this year. No doubt the 12 km is a tuneup race for a fall Marathon. 

Fiona Bayly taking the overall Win at the 2018 USATF Masters 15 km National Championship in Tulsa OK Photo By Tom Gilbert

Perhaps next year, after she turns 55, Bayly will take aim for the 12 km record. Heide Moebius 82, a celebrated octogenarian will give the record attempt her best shot. June Machala set the W80 record of 1:13:14 9 years ago at Lilac Bloomsday. Moebius ran a 1:05:05 10K in early August. 

Heide Moebius on a training run Photo by Dan Marschka for


That is age grade equivalent to a 1:19:11. The 48:42 5-miler she ran on July 3rd is faster though, equivalent to a 1:15:18. If everything breaks her way on the day, a record effort is possible.

In addition to Pilcher and Youngers, Gene Dykes 73 and Roger Sayre 63 are the two likeliest men to threaten a 12 km record, even though it is a big task in the final two years of an age division. Dykes would be the M70 World Record holder in the Marathon had the 2018 Jacksonville Bank Marathon in Jacksonville FL been USATF sanctioned as well as certified. Dykes ran 2:54:23, faster than the record set by the legendary late Ed Whitlock. Because the race was not sanctioned by USATF, World Masters Athletics WMA could not recognize it as a record. But that shows you how fast he was. Earlier that year at the 10K Masters National Championship in Dedham, he set the M70 American Record of 39:02. In October he ran 2:55:17 in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, just missing Whitlock’s record. In November 2018 he set the M70 Half Marathon American Record of 1:25:05. What a fabulous year! Dykes has had years since then that would be excellent by any other standards, but he has not yet shown the same comparative speed he had in 2018. At the Caumsett, Long Island course that has seen many records, Dykes set the 50 km American Record (pending ratification) earlier this year in 3:56:44. That is almost a minute per mile slower pace than his Marathon efforts. Perhaps he was only running as fast as needed for the win and the record.  Ultras and Trail Races are what Dykes seems to love most, but he prefers to get out to race as often as possible. 

Gene Dykes closing in on the finish and an M70 Win and Age Grade Podium at the 2018 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championship at the Dexter-Ann Arbor HM Photo Credit:

His most recent effort was at the USATF Masters Outdoor Championships. He ran the 5000 meters Thursday evening and Saturday morning the 10,000 meter event. He won both handily, the 10,000 meters in 41:57, averaging 6:45 per mile. He can, no doubt, run faster than that. Known for his recovery powers, it is nonetheless possible that running a 5000-meter race 36 hours before his 10,000-meter effort slowed him down. If he is going to threaten Doug Goodhue’s 12 km record of 48:38 in New Jersey, he will have to average 6:30 per mile pace for a longer race. If conditions are favorable, Dykes definitely has a shot at it, but it is not a sure thing. Dykes just ran the Hood to Coast Relay. With his usual schedule, he could well have run another ultra between now and the 12 km Championship. Dykes is a master at fast recovery. 

Roger Sayre 63 got within 6 seconds of the M60 8 km American Record in 2018, and he is entered in the 12 km. It is a daunting task to break a record held by Tom McCormack. At 42:50, it requires a pace of 5:45 per mile. That is like running a 35:43 10K and keeping that same pace for another 2 km, a tall order at 60, much less 63. Sayre’s efforts in 2020 and early 2021 also reflect that he was on the comeback trail from an injury in late 2019. But by July he seemed to be all the way back. His 38:46 10K on July 24 in Colorado Springs, at 6,000 feet of elevation was a cannon shot! If we give him a 5% altitude conversion factor for Colorado Springs, the sea level equivalent would be 36:50. 

Roger Sayre sprinting to the Final Turn and an M60 Victory in 17:29 at the 2018 USATF Masters National 5 km Championships in Atlanta Photo By Michael Scott

That marks a return to excellent form as the adjusted time would be a 90.59% PLP (age grade) and equivalent to a 44:44 12 km. Even so, that is two minutes off the record. As with Veneziano, it will be interesting to see how close he can get! Nat Larson 59, the current M55 record holder in the 5 km at 15:54, would be a threat for the 55-59 American Record, established by Sean Wade earlier this year. In his last year in the division, and coming back from an injury, a record effort seems unlikely. It will be great to see him back racing again and to find out how close he is to his past form. 

There are still a few days to register and it could be one or two more with a decent shot at a record might sign up yet!


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