Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Masters Athletes at the Last Three Major Marathons –Chicago 2022, New York 2022, Boston 2023

As we head into the fall Marathon season, let us look back at the last three Abbot World majors in the United States in terms of top Masters runners. For marathoners, the three Majors, Boston, Chicago and New York have been the races of choice. Other races like Houston and L.A., especially with marathoners in the west, have their moments. But year in, year out, thousands of Masters Marathoners have their sights set on competing in one of those three venues. They outpulled the USATF Masters Marathon Championship when that was an annual event. With no Masters Marathon championship held since 2016, their luster is shinier than ever for top Masters distance runners. 

How have American Masters athletes done in the last three races, in chronological order? Note: These three marathons attract a large contingent of elite international Masters athletes. In the data below following each athlete, their age division place, including the international athletes, is in brackets following their time. The age grading score, the PLP, is given last. If it is considered a ‘World Class’ performance, 90% or above, it is bold, with enlarged font; upper national class at 85% gets only the enlarged font. 

CHICAGO October 9, 2022. Chicago is generally considered the fastest of the three courses. It is the flattest with a -0.05 meter/km drop; the finish is 2 meters higher than the start. That compares to a drop of 0.12 m/km for New York and 3.27 m/km for Boston. But Chicago has fewer hills. The elevation gains reported on Strava by Rick Lee, who ran all three, are: Chicago 272 feet; NYC 896 feet; and Boston 863 feet. The worry with Chicago is that in early October it can often be too warm. That was not the case in 2022 though. It was upper 40’s at the start and 60’s at the finish, under fair skies with 7-14 mph winds. 
MEN The top three Masters finishers were all from 40-44 Prescott Leach 2:19:57 [1] 40 Waltham MA 89.65% age grade, a newly minted Masters athlete, was the best of the bunch, covering the 1st 5K, of the 42.195K in the marathon, in 16:30 and keeping his 5K splits under 17 until his last full 5K. Ryan Smith 2:28:06 [6] 40-44 Boulder CO 84.72%+ led Christopher Antunes 2:28:38 [7] 41 Winchester MA 85.05 by 2:20 at the 30K mark. By 40K, Antunes had closed to within 1:04; he took another 32 seconds out of Smith’s lead but ran out of racecourse. Smith was the 2nd American finisher with Antunes third. That was pretty impressive work for what was, apparently, Antunes's first marathon. 
Christopher Antunes and a future marathoner at Packet Pickup before an Epic 1st marathon Photo posted by C Antunes on Strava

Top Americans in the other divisions included: 45-49 Gabriel Kliot 2:29:42 [1] 45 Redmond WA 87.27 was 1:21 slower than Guillermo Pineda Morales 2:31:32 [2] 49 Ridgewood NJ 89.20 to the halfway mark but rallied and took the lead before the 35K mat; 
Gabriel Kliot on his way to a 45-49 Win at the 2022 Chicago Marathon Photo posted by G Kliot on Strava

50-54 Ken Rideout 2:29:53 [2] 51 Brentwood TN 91.76; 55-59 Jeff Mescal 2:48:26 [4] 57 Hebron IN 86.21; 60-64 Timothy DeGrado 2:58:22 [2] 61 Arvada CO 84.54 and Rick Lee 2:59:34 [3] 61 Bayville NJ 83.98 are friendly rivals on the Masters National Grand Prix circuit, running for the Boulder Road Runners and Shore Athletic Club respectively. They decided to try for the 60-64 Marathon Record of 2:42:42, set by Brian Pilcher six years earlier. Running together they were on record pace through the 10K, which they passed at 38:29. 
Rick Lee giving a thumbs up to Laura Delea, a supporter, at Mile 11 Photo by L Delea, posted by R Lee on Strava

DeGrado fell back after that. By the halfway mark, Lee was 23 seconds behind record pace and 51 seconds ahead of DeGrado. They both soldiered on, but the early pace left them spent. DeGrado caught and passed Lee in the final 2 kilometers; 65-69 Robert Mason 3:22:02 [8] 67 Wilmington DE 79.23; 70-74 David Mart 3:34:21 [2] 70 Haymarket VA 77.05; 75-79 Lawrence Blackman 4:08:45 [2] 78 Denver CO 74.93; 80+ Jim Harman 5:58:18 [1] 80 Crest Hill, IL 54.37
WOMEN Once again, the top three American Masters overall came from 40-44 Meriah Earle 2:38:39 [2] 44 Escondido CA 89.12 had no problem, hitting the 10K in 37:12 and the half in 1:18:42 on her way to besting all other American Masters by 13 minutes. 

Meriah Earle winning the 2023 Carlsbad 5000 Photo posted by M Earle on Facebook

It would have been closer had Natasha Bliss 2:51:53 [5] 41 La Mesa CA 80.39 not run the London Marathon in 2:43:28 the week before. As it was, Bliss started out conservatively, ran a negative split and edged Jennifer Bigham 2:51:56 [6] 41 Pittsburgh PA 80.37 for 2nd American Masters. Bigham took it out hard, was almost 5 minutes ahead of Bliss at the halfway point but paid the price with a tough last 10K; 45-49 Sara Girotto 2:55:08 [2] 46 Wynnewood PA 82.31, on her way to winning the 45-49 2022 USATF Masters Grand Prix, took the title of first 45-49 American Master at Chicago; 
Sara Girotto and her coach, Steve Hranilovich sporting their Chicago Marathon medals Photo posted by S Girotto on Facebook

50-54 Mary Pardi 3:02:43 [1] 52 Falmouth ME 84.81; 55-59 Hong Wang 3:15:50 [3] 55-59 W Lafayettte IN 82.29+; 60-64 Sandra Petrovskis 3:35:31 [4] 62+ Grand Rapids MI 82.45+ ran the Berlin Marathon two weeks before this race but ran 8 minutes faster in Chicago; 65-69 Grace Wasielewski 3:34:31 [2] 69 Prospect Heights IL 92.32; 70-74 Sharon Vaughn 4:08:16 [2] 70 Austin TX 81.08; 75-79 Nancy Rollins 4:22:21 [2] 75 Evanston IL 83.73; 80+ Mary Ann Bosky 6:51:09 [2] 81 Spokane WA 62.15

Top three Age-Grading PLP's for Chicago: 
MEN Ken Rideout 51 91.76%%; Prescott Leach 40 89.65%; Guillermo Piñeda Morales 49 89.20%
WOMEN Leslie Cohen 66 87.21%; Locky Trachsel 54 87.07%; Roberta Groner 44 86.69% 

NEW YORK November 9, 2022. Upper 60’s temperatures at the start and low to mid-70’s at finish. Dewpoint 61-62 range. Mostly cloudy skies with 6-10 mph southerly winds. Runners would be advised to be careful, hydrate well, and adjust pace if necessary. Times were generally slower than Chicago. The course is always harder, and the weather was, in a rare year, hotter. 
WOMEN The Overall Masters winner was Edna Kiplagat, 42, from Kenya, out of the elite field, in 2:24:16. The top three American Masters were 40-44 Roberta Groner 2:43:06 [2] 44 Ledgewood NJ 86.69%; Jesssica Hruska 2:54:32 [4] 42 Dubuque IA 79.73; Ana Cabrera 2:57:11 [6] 40 Tarrytown NY 77.51. No Americans challenged Groner, the first American Woman at the Doha World Championships Marathon; they all did a good job of dialing back their planned race pace. 
Roberta Groner breaks the tape to take the victory at the 2021 USATF Masters 12 Km Championship in Highlands NJ

Cabrera and Hruska, on her way to the 2022 40-44 USATF Masters Grand Prix title, had to sort out their finishing order and contend with Lisa Roberts 2:57:53 [7] 43 Charlotte NC 78.82. Cabrera took it out the fastest; by the 10 K mark, Cabrera had a half minute on Roberts and nearly a full minute on Hruska. At the halfway point, Cabrera had over 1:30 on Roberts and over 2 minutes on Hruska. But the back half was where Hruska’s conservative strategy started paying off. By the 30K mark, Hruska had caught and passed Roberts and cut a minute out of Cabrera’s lead. Hruska caught Cabrera before the 35K mark and pulled away to take 2nd American Masters by more than 2 minutes. 
Jessica Hruska winning the 2022 USATF Masters 5 Km Overall Championship in Atlanta GA Photo courtesy of Atlanta Track Club

Roberts closed on Cabrera over the last 5 kilometers but never got within a half-minute. Groner was never close to being challenged for first American Masters finisher.

Top Americans in the other divisions included: 45-49 Vivien Lim 3:06:19 [3] 49 Great Neck NY 80.11, the defending champion, had to contend with Iris Klein 3:06:49 [4] and Erica Dottin 3:07:00 [5]. Dottin led the way with Klein 2nd and Lim 3rd. Dottin was 3 minutes faster than Klein to the halfway mark and 4 minutes faster than Lim. The conservative strategy also paid off in this division. Lim passed Klein at 38K and led Klein past Dottin in the last 2 kilometers as they finished 1-2-3 in that order; 50-54 Locky Trachsel 3:02:40 [1] 54 New York NY 87.07, the 2-time defending division champion; 55-59 Sunny Jiang 3:13:24 [1] 55 Irvine CA 83.32; 60-64 Karen Reilly 3:37:25 [2] 60 San Diego CA 79.40. Even experienced marathoners like Doreen McCoubrie 3:38:28 [3] can run into trouble on hot days. McCoubrie led Reilly by 5:24 at the halfway point, and by almost 5 minutes at 30K. Reilly chipped away as McCoubrie slowed, passing her in the final 2 kilometers for the win; 65-69 Leslie Cohen 3:36:27 [1] 66 Santa Monica CA 87.21, defending champion, knew her pace; Cohen’s 5K’s were close to 25 minutes for the 1st through the 5th. When her pace slowed after that, it did not slow much; she reeled in Abbie Wade 3:36:43, who ran into trouble after 20K, recovered partially over the next 5K, and then slowed a lot. Marathons are unforgiving. 70-74 Joan Gerold 4:06:43 [1] 73 Stony Brook NY 85.87 matched her 2015 win; Liz Burger 5:08:02 [2] 75 Long Beach CA 71.31; 80-89 Anne Kunz 6:58:16 [1] 81 New York NY 61.09 also started out faster than was wise but started slowing her pace after 10K; she was able to keep her pace under control and claim the victory with 6 minutes to spare. 
MEN Guillermo Piñeda Morales 2:37:48 [4] 49 Ridgewood NY 85.07, who finished 2nd in 45-49 at Chicago, battled for 1st American Masters with Yuzuru Sakakibara 2:34:48 [1] 40 Brookline MA 81.05. Morales pushed from the start, hitting the 15K in 52:47. Sakakibara opted for a steady 18 minute per 5K pace. After the 15K mark, Morales slowed his pace and Sakakibara gradually took a few seconds out of his lead each 5K, passing him between 25K and 30K. Micah Polansky 2:40:02 [5] 40 New York NY 78.4 and Oz Perlman 2:40:14 [6] 40 New York NY 78.3 battled for 3rd American Masters. Perlman had the early lead, but Polansky moved past him by the 10K mark and led the rest of the way. Sakakibara had competed at Chicago and Boston in 2022; this was his turn to be first American Masters athlete. Top American Masters in other divisions included: 45-49 Morales; 50-54 Victor Urichima 2:54:12 [10] 52 Chicago IL 79.66, who had to overtake Jason Tavakolian 2:54:22; 55-59 Blaise Brochard 2:53:51 [2] 56 New York NY 82.75; 60-64 Stephen Ridley 3:07:42 [1] 60 Columbia SC 79.58 outlasted Rick Lee 3:08:32 who started out more conservatively than in Chicago but ran into problems with the heat over the second half of the race; 65-69 Dave Walters 3:04:24 [1] 67 Lisle IL 86.8 added this one to his division win in London a month earlier; 70-74 Mike Wien 3:40:32 [6] 71 Boulder CO 75.71 repeated as top American finisher, adjusting his pace for the heat; 75-79 Andrew Suozzo 4:04:08 [1] 76 Cathedral City CA 73.52 80-89 Benny Kim 6:01:42 [3] 80 Fort Lee NJ 53.86.

Top three Age-Grading PLP's for New York: 
WOMEN Leslie Cohen 66 87.21%; Locky Trachsel 54 87.07%; Roberta Groner 44 86.69% 
MEN Dave Walters 67 86.80%; Guillermo Piñeda Morales 49 85.07%; Blaise Brochard 56 82.75%

BOSTON April 17, 2023. There have been more challenging conditions at the Boston Marathon but this year's would not be called favorable. It was neither too hot nor too cold, in the upper 40’s, but there was a light drizzle, and a steady headwind of 9–14 mph. 
MEN No doubt Fernando Cabada 2:23:01 [1] 40 Aurora CO 87.73 was the favorite to take the First American Masters title. He did nothing to dispel the notion, hitting his first 5K in 15:50 and keeping his subsequent 5K splits well under 16:00 through the 15K. 

Fernando Cabada dark singlet running in the lead pack on his way to the masters win at the 2023 USATF Masters Ten Mile Championships hosted by the Sactown Ten Photo courtesy of SRA Elite

Anthony Bruns 2:23:39 [2] 43 Denver CO 89.45 and Prescott Leach 2:23:44 [3] 40 Waltham MA 87.29, top Masters American male at Chicago, ran in tandem for the first 30K. Leach drifted back slowly after that, winding up as third American Masters, behind Bruns. Those two lost a minute and a half to Cabada in the first 15K but kept the gap there over the next 10K. Cabada pushed it up to its largest extent at 1:41 by 30K. Bruns took 6 seconds back in the next 5K, as Leach started to drift back. Between 35 and 40K Bruns took another 17 seconds back. That was it, though; Cabada had over a half minute on Bruns at the finish. Cabada not only was top American Masters, but he was also the top Masters athlete overall. Bruns was second, and Leach 3rd. Top American Masters in other divisions included: 45-49 Steve Lawrence 2:28:40 [1] 45 W. Bloomfield Hills MI 87.88; 50-54 Guillermo Piñeda Morales 2:33:30 [1] 50 Ridgewood NY 88.83 made his 2nd straight Top American Masters finish at a major marathon and was, in this case, top 50-54 overall. Morales got out well and hung on as Chris Hartshorn 2:34:07 came from 2 minutes down at 35K to just 37 seconds back at the finish; 55-59 Thomas Tayeri 2:46:40 [3] 58 Palo Alto CA 87.94 is running his marathons 20 minutes faster than he did in his early 50’s! That was good enough to finish as top 55-59 American; 60-64 Rick Lee 2:46:36 [1] 62 Bayville NJ 91.4 proved that third time is the charm, at least for this set of major marathons. Everything worked; he went out solidly and finished strong. At Boston the first half is very much a downhill course; the uphills are in the 2nd half, including the infamous ‘Heartbreak Hill.’ 

Rick Lee capturing Silver Medals in Age Division and Overall Age Grading at the 2023 USATF Masters 12 Km Championships Photo by Jason Timochko

Lee ran the second half of the race in 1:24:32 after an opening half of 1:22:04, a good distribution of effort. 65-69 Dave Walters 3:01:22 [1] 67 Lisle IL 88.26 made it two for two, as he followed up his NYC win in 65-69 with a win in Boston; 70-74 John Hieb 3:27:39 [3] 73 Murphys CA 82.46; 75-79 Lee Cook 3:55:55 [1] 78 Greer SC 79.01 withstood a late challenge from Julio Aguirre 3:58:13, who cut Cook’s lead in half over the last 7K;  80-89 Myung Joon Kim 4:12:55 [1] 80 Los Angeles CA 77.02
WOMEN The overall Masters winner was, by a long shot, Sara Hall 2:25:48 [1] 40 Flagstaff AZ 86.05, who finished 17th overall and 4th American overall in her first marathon as a Masters aged athlete. Hall finished almost 20 minutes ahead of her nearest rival for the Masters honor. Others contending for top 3 American Masters included: Carmen Hussar 2:45:01 [1] 45 Homewood AL 86.48, Laurie Knowles 2:46:37 [2] 45 Atlanta GA 85.65, and Gina Rouse 2:46:22 [6] 43 Knoxville TN 84.27. A relative newcomer to marathons, Hussar finished 2nd Masters at Grandma’s the previous June. A marathon veteran, Knowles last ran Boston in 2021, as did Rouse. Rouse finished 3rd American Masters that year, behind Dot McMahan and Shalane Flanagan, just ahead of Knowles. 
Laurie Knoowles winning the 2018 USATF Masters 5 Km Championship in Atlanta GA Photo by Jason Getz, Getz Images.

Hussar got out fast, sometimes a mistake in Boston. She hit the 10K in 35:47. She dialed the pace back a bit after that but still hit the halfway point in 1:16:06. At that point Rouse was almost 5 minutes back and Knowles almost 6. The question was whether Hussar would pay a price later in the race, perhaps on the infamous Newton Hills. Hussar was still going strong at 35K, with a 6-minute lead on Knowles and over 6:30 on Rouse. That was when Hussar started to slow. By the 40K mark, Knowles had cut the gap to 3.5 minutes, with Rouse another half minute back. Hussar really struggled from the 40K mark (24.8 miles) to 25.2 miles where her pace slowed to 9:40 per mile. But Hussar gritted her teeth, crossing the finish line with over a minute on Rouse, who had rallied in the last 2 kilometers to finish 15 seconds ahead of Knowles. Top American finishers in the other divisions included: 50-54 Laura Ankrum 3:08:41 [3] 50 Holualoa HI 80.09; 55-59 Lisa Veneziano 2:57:38 [1] 58 Fenton MI 94.49, the 12 Km 55-59 American Record holder enjoyed her first sub-3-hour marathon since 2021; 
Lisa Veneziano capturing the 55-59 Win and earning a top 5 overall Age Grading Award at the 2022 USATF Masters 5 Km Championships hosted by the Atlanta Track Club's Publix Marathon Weekend 

60-64 Heather Knight-Pech 3:10:37 [1] 61 Darien CT 91.88 won her division at Boston in 2017-2019 and then again in 2022. She did not enter the fall 2021 event. Would she make it 5 for 5 in 2023? Knight-Pech had a serious challenge from Cindy Conant 3:13:55. Knight Pech built a lead of over 5 minutes by the halfway point. Conant chipped it down to 4 minutes by the 40K mark, but Knight Pech still had a 3-minute gap by the finish. She had her five for five; 65-69 Leslie Cohen 3:28:56 [2] 67 Santa Monica CA 91.78 was first American in New York and was looking for the same outcome in Boston. Becky Backstrom 3:30:13 battled her for it. Backstrom went out faster, hitting the 15K with a 20-second lead. By the halfway point, Cohen had recovered; only a 6-second gap remained. Cohen reversed the gap over the next 5 Km and never looked back. Backstrom was moving faster at the very end, reducing the gap from 1:34 at 40K to 1:17 at the end. Cohen got her 2nd straight division win at a major marathon; 70-74 Debbie Clark 3:38:26 [1] 70 Colleyville TX 92.16 nailed first American in this division with a cushion of over 20 minutes. In two earlier tries, in 2013 and 2014, she finished 4th American; the win in 2023 must have tasted sweet; 75-79 Jeannie Rice 3:33:15 [1] 75 Concord OH 103.01% is an amazing runner. She holds American Records in distances from the 1 Mile to the Marathon; she just set 3 World Records on the track this July, from 1500M to the 10,000M. 
Jeannie Rice winning the 70-74 division and earning the top Age Grade Overall at the 2022 USATF Masters 5 Km Championships, hosted by the Publix Atlanta Marathon Weekend

This was her 8th time to run Boston. She had finished anywhere from 4th to 1st in her age division. The Marathon is unforgiving. If you are not fully fit, a marathon, and this is especially true of Boston, will find your weakness and hold you accountable for it. She won on her 1st try in 2013 and her 3rd try in 2015. Her next outright win, including international competitors, did not come until 7 years later, in 2022. That is how indefatigable Rice is! She does not give up! Going into this year, Rice had never won two consecutive Boston Marathons and she had never broken 3:38. She got her 2nd consecutive win, broke 3:38 with her 3:33:15 and age graded over 100%. That was a faster time than the recognized world record, but Boston, because it is point-to-point and falls by over 3 meters per km, is not record eligible; 80+ Hansi Rigney 5:07:42 [2] 81 Carmel CA 83.04.

Top three Age-Grading PLP's for Boston: 
MEN Rick Lee 62 91.40%; Anthony Bruns 43 89.45%; Guillermo Piñeda Morales 50 88.83%
WOMEN Jeannie Rice 75 103.01%; Lisa Veneziano 58 94.49%; Debbie Clark 70 92.16%

It will be exciting to see what the 2023-24 Marathon season has in store. Perhaps there will be a new American or a new World Record!

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