Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Running Under the Palm Trees--2022 USATF Cross Country Championships at Mission Bay in San Diego-Recap #1-Overall Masters Championships

January 11, 2022. The weather unfolded as expected. It was a great day for running and for spectators with light jackets or sweaters. Under mostly cloudy skies, the temperatures ranged from the upper 50's to low 60's. The winds were 6-7 mph for the Women's race at 9:30 AM PST and had died down to 0-3 mph for the Men's race an hour later. The course is mostly flat with a few little hills to beak things up. It starts with  a long grass straightaway on the east side of Mission Bay Park, with one driveway to cross, takes a sharp left to cut across to the Bay side of the park and then heads back over a somewhat uneven mostly grass surface with some dirt and then heads back in a big loop around the inside of the park and the loop finishes by heading back past the start and on to the next loop. On the last loop, athletes are directed to a finishing chute that parallels the starting 200 meters. The Women's race is 3 loops for 6 km, the Men's 4 loops for 8 km. The course looks like it should be fast. But a number of athletes, both in 2020 and 2022, have observed that the surface is soft, that it tends to absorb a runner's stride rather than return the energy expended. In a pre-race interview, Renee Metivier observed that the course is 'spongy.' The Men's winner observed after the race that the course was 'more technical' than he remembered. Perhaps he meant that rather than open fields and wide tracks, the runners are often on a somewhat curvy path dictated by palm trees on both sides and sloping terrain near the water, skirting around picnic areas and playgrounds. The consensus seems to be that the course is not fast, despite appearances. That is backed up by the times. When I checked a few runners who competed over the same distance at both Tallahassee and Mission Bay, times tended to be a minute or more slower at the San Diego course. Tallahassee is fast, but maybe not Mission Bay, despite the promising terrain.

WOMEN  OVERALL The gun sounded! Renee Metivier Team Red Lizard sprinted down the field as if she had been shot from a cannon! She soon left her rivals meters behind and sped ahead on what appeared to be a dominant tour of the course. 

Renee Metivier shoots to the front of the field at the Start, with Mary Akor #24 far left, Colleen DeReuck #114 center background and Maggie Shearer #111 far right edge --2022 USATF Cross Country Championships          All photos courtesy of Michael Scott

Metivier was the athlete who ran in the Open division at Club Cross, running a minute and a half faster than the Masters winner. As an Open runner, Metivier represented the USA at 5 IAAF World XC Championships and is a four-time National (Open) Champion at distances from 3000 meters to the Marathon. Besides the recent Club Cross Country performance, Metivier has focused more on DEKA Fit, Spartan and Trail races. In 2019, however, she found time to run a 16:41 5K, a 1:20:40 HM and a 2:43:17 Marathon. She moved smoothly and with intense focus. One wondered if she would burn out at some point. 

Renee Metivier, all alone, as she builds her lead between the first and 2nd kilometers of the race at Mission Bay Park

Metivier was well over a hundred meters ahead of the field when she hit the 2 km timing mat in 6:58 and turned up the straightaway to start the 2nd loop. 

When Mary Akor Unattached saw Metivier take off from the start, she had accelerated and tried to go with her. Akor ran 2:52:53 at the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2020 and ran a 1:19:48 HM at the OC  Marathon this past fall. Trying to stay with Metivier on this day may have been a mistake; Akor had to drop back after the first kilometer and then could not stay with Hilary Corno Prado Racing and Maggie Shearer Cal Coast TC, when they caught and passed her. Corno, an accomplished Marathoner herself, also ran in the Marathon Trials and had a 2:45:07 Boston Marathon outing in October. She also won the San Diego XC Championships on this course in 23:47 this past November. Shearer has been on fire this fall, with podium finishes at the 12 km Masters Championships, the 5 km XC Championships and the Masters race at Club Cross. 

Maggie Shearer leads the chase pack, with Mary Akor #24 off Shearer's right shoulder and Hilary Corno right background


At the end of the first loop, Corno and Shearer were running stride for stride, hitting the mat at 7:30, with Akor 30 meters back in 4th, followed 20 meters back by Renee Gordon Team Red Lizard. Another 25 meters found Amy Alzina Team Montecito and Lorilyn Bloomer Bowerman TC, the defending Champion, running in tandem. 

Renee Gordon leading Amy Alzina on the first loop at Mission Bay


The second loop was much like the first with Metivier extending her lead to 250 meters. Shearer appeared to be dictating the pace, with Corno holding on, when they crossed the 4 km timing mat in 15:24 and 15:27. 


Lorilyn Bloomer with a slim lead over Colleen DeReuck midway through the first Loop at Mission Bay

A hundred meters behind that duo, Gordon had passed Akor, but with just a 15 meter lead, it was not a sure thing yet. And Bloomer, another 30 meters back, might still have to be reckoned with. Alzina was back in 8th as Kimberly Mueller San Diego TC who finished 3rd behind Corno at the San Diego XC Championships had moved up into 7th, 8 seconds behind Bloomer. 

Renee Metivier powers through the last inner loop at Mission Bay, heading for the Overall Masters win


Metivier went from strength to strength, building the gap throughout the final loop. She finished the final inner loop, turned 180 degrees and headed for the finish line to her north. When she crossed in 21:50, the rest of the field was still headed south on the inner loop. Corno pulled away from Shearer on that last inner loop; she gapped Shearer by 15 meters as she headed for the final 180 turn. Despite Shearer's best efforts, she could not close the gap. Corno took 2nd in 23:36, with Shearer third, just 4 seconds back. Gordon took 4th in 24:31. 

Renee Metivier takes the tape for a dominant Masters win at the 2022 USATF Cross Country Championships at Mission Bay Park in San Diego


Bloomer had closed on Akor, but Akor gritted it out and took 5th in 24:44, four seconds ahead of Bloomer, 6th. Mueller was 7th and Ingrid Walters Janes Elite  passed Alzina on the inner loop and then held her at bay all the way to the finish despite a strong finish from Alzina. Walters took 8th in 25:20, two seconds ahead of Alzina. Colleen DeReuck, the 4-time Olympian, now focusing more on triathlon and trail running, still has enough bounce in her legs at age 57 to finish in the top ten, clocking 25:33. Metivier, in the post-race interview, indicated that she enjoyed celebrating her 40th birthday in ecemebr and to celebrate her new Masters status two weeks later with a win was very gratifying. "I intend to straddle both worlds for now; I still have Open races I want to enter, and I have goals to achieve in that realm."

Renee Metivier 21:50     Hilary Corno 23:36     Maggie Shearer 23:40

MEN  OVERALL On paper it looked like it might be a close race between Sergio Reyes Hoka Aggies, Roosevelt Cook Cal Coast and his teammate, the defending Champion, Jacques Sallberg. Reyes, who has enjoyed a strong Open career, especially in the marathon, had finished 1 second behind Peter Gilmore at the Pacific Association XC Championships. And, while both Gilmore and Cook came in ahead of Sallberg at Club Cross in December, Sallberg had been victorious against those two at Lehigh in December 2019. The question coming into this race is whether Tallahassee was just an off day for Sallberg or is he a bit off the form he has enjoyed the last few times out on the turf? Unlike the women's race, those three along with Okwaro Raura boom-MILESTONE and Wesley Reutimann Unattached comprised a group of 5 that circled Mission Bay Park together for the first 1.5  kilometers.


Sergio Reyes #248 and Roosevelt Cook lead Jacques Sallberg #221, Okwaro Raura 182 and Wesley Reutimann on the Inner Loop of the first 2 km circuit at Mission Bay Park

But suddenly one could notice a change. Heading towards theat last 180 degree turn on the first loop, Reyes injected a bit more pace and only Cook could stay with him as a gap of a few meters opened up back to Sallberg, with another small gap after him back to Raura and Reutimann. Reyes and Cook were even at the 2 km timing mat, both at 6:44. It was 15 meters back to the group of 3 as Raura and Reutimann had moved back even with Sallberg. It was 50 meters back to another group of three, Gregory Mitchell Bowerman, Ivan Lieben West Valley TC, and Knox Robinson Unattached. A hundred meters beyond the timing mat, Reyes threw in another surge and quickly opened a 5-meter gap on Cook. Cook held on for the rest of that long straightaway but when they made the left turn, Reyes accelerated again and suddenly it was a 15 meter gap. Reyes did not slow down; as he ran along the Bay, the gap to Cook, who was now in 'No Man's Land' had grown to 30 meters. 

Sergio Reyes builds his lead on the 3rd loop at Mission Bay Park


Sallberg had left Raura and Reutimann behind and was also running solo, the result of Reyes pushing the pace.  Reyes sped across the 4 km mat in 13:13 with over 60 meters on Cook. The field had broken up entirely; there was no chase pack. 

Roosevelt Cook, thriving in 'No Man's Land', 2nd place behind Reyes but keeping Sallberg at bay in 3rd


Sallberg was 40 meters behind Cook, with Raura 50 meters back, and another 25 to Reutimann. Mitchell was a good 20 meters behind Reutimann. 

Jacques Sallberg presses the pace to close the gap up to his Cal Coast teammate, Cook


There was another 50 meters back to the first group that was still together, 


Lieben and his West Valley teammate, Mark Yuen at 14:13, with  John Howell Bowerman and his teammate, Ahrlin Bauman on their heels. Reyes was now destroying the course and his competition, methodically grinding out a killer pace, 3:15 per kilometer. By the end of the third loop, Reyes had 150 meters on the field and was showing no signs of slowing. The gap from Cook to Sallberg was still 40 meters back from Cook. There was now a bigger gap back to the rest of the field as Raura and Reutimann fell back. Mitchell, who had been virtually unbeatable on the turf, except by Sallberg, in the 2014-2016 period, was now leading the chasing string, with Raura and Reutimann following. Reyes never flagged, running his final 2 km loop in 6:32 to take the win in 26:37. Despite Sallberg surging to try to move up, Cook stayed strong, finishing 2nd in 27:31, six seconds ahead of Sallberg. While not full redemption from Tallahassee, and whether his performance there was due to a niggling injury or just being a little off in fitness, he closed the gap to Cook by a considerable margin in this race. Not only did Mitchell hold onto his 4th place, finishing in 28:27, Yuen followed his impressive Tallahassee performance with another one here, moving up to 5th in 28:37. He finished 12 seconds ahead of Reutimann,

Greg Mitchell had surged up into 4th place and was looking to gain more ground

who upped his pace to edge Raura by a single second! 

From right: John Howell leads his teammate, Ahrlin Bauman and Mark Yuen midway through the race, intent on moving up through the leading pack


Howell, Bauman, and Lieben rounded out the top ten in that order, Bauman edging one of his longtime rivals, Lieben, with a quickened pace in the last 50 meters, both clocked at 20:24. 

Sergio Reyes breaks the tape as he wins the Masters Overall Race at the 2022 USATF Cross Country Championships at Mission Bay Park in San Diego


In addition to his comment ont he course being technical, Reyes indicated that he, too, has Open goals to achieve in 2022. He will be running a spring Marathon but is not ready to announce which one yet.

Sergio Reyes 26:37     Roosevelt Cook 27:31     Jacques Sallberg 27:37

In the next post, Recap #2, I examine the Age Division and Age-Grading competitions at Mission Bay.

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