Friday, October 6, 2023

Masters Athletes Head for the Heat! USATF Masters 5 Km XC Championships in Boca Raton FL--Preview

 October 4, 2023 Boca Raton FL; USATF MASTERS 5 KM CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS. Masters runners from as far away as New England, the Pacific Northwest and the Mountain West, and as near as a few miles down the road, are headed to the USATF Masters 5 Km Cross Country Championships. The South County Regional Park, north of Miami FL, welcomes Masters runners from across the country. Last year’s event, in Boulder, CO was challenging because of the altitude. This year’s edition has heat and humidity. Race time temperatures are expected to be in the low to mid-80’s with a dewpoint in the low 70’s. Luckily, the race is only 5 Km long. The organizers promise to have plenty of water available at the start and finish and in between.  On the plus side there is supposed to be little wind. Until today it looked like the smoke from Canadian wildfires might give a low Air Quality as well. Apparently the smoke was carried south and was moving closer to the surface. Yesterday's reading was 140. Today it was 39, in the good range. Hopefully it will stay down below 40 for Saturday's race.

The course at the South County Regional Park is a two-loop affair around a lake. Organizers report that it has been accurately measured and is fast. They also plan to have a split clock out on the course.

OVERALL CHAMPIONSHIPS MEN A dandy competition is shaping up in the Men’s race for the Overall Championship. The main protagonists appear to be Chris Gomez and Bryan Lindsay. Gomez won the 2022 5 Km Masters Cross Country race in Boulder in 16:35. [Except that I learned on the 5th of October that Gomez would be a scratch--see comment at end of this section below.] Lindsay won this year’s Masters 5 Km Championship in Atlanta with a 15:35 on a hilly road course. He also took the 1 Mile title on his hometown course in Indianapolis with a sterling 4:25. 

Bryan Lindsay breaks the tape as he wins the Overall Championship at the 2023 USATF Masters 1 Mile Championship in Indianapolis Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Monumental Mile

Altitude and terrain are great equalizers in Cross Country, not to mention the weather. In a torrential rainstorm, those two met over 10 Km in the Men's 40+ race at the Club Cross Country Championships last year in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Gomez won that duel, finishing 42 seconds ahead of Lindsay. It is hard to read too much into that competition. Because of the huge tree that fell during the Men's 60+ race, local officials wanted to cancel the rest of the Championship. A compromise was reached. The result was that the Masters 40+ Men's race and the two open races would be changed into circuits around a 1200 Meter rough track at the Polo Grounds in Golden Gate Park. Two others deserve mention. David Angell is on the comeback trail; he won the 2018 edition of this championship in Buffalo NY and that same year finished 3rd in the highly competitive Club Cross Championships in Spokane. 

From Left: David Angell #1487, Jorge Maravilla #1448, and Eric Loeffler blue singlet-orange letters leading the field around the course in Spokane WA, on their way to a 3-1-2 finish in the Men's 40-59 Masters Race at the 2018 USATF Club Cross Country Championships Photo by Michael Scott

Three weeks ago, he finished 5th overall at the 12 Km Masters Championships. It may be a stretch too far to give him a shot at the win. But he is experienced at Cross Country and his recent progress has been impressive. Jesse Chettle, one of Gomez's teammates, is an intriguing wild card in this race. He enters with plenty of flat speed. He scorched the field in the 5K at Grandma’s Marathon in 2022, taking the win outright, in 14:52. On the other hand, Chettle clocked a strong, but more approachable, 21:00, this past April at a 4 Miler, the CCVI Trolley Run in Kansas City MO. That is age grade equivalent to a 16:14 5K. Which Chettle will we see on Saturday? If it is the one who can run a sub-15 5K, watch out! It is hard to see anyone else pressing those four. Dirk de Heer ran a minute and change slower than his teammate, Gomez, at Boulder last year. That is close enough to suggest he could be in the mix for the podium. Gregory Putnam, out of the 50-54 division might have a shot. He finished 30 seconds behind Angell at the recent 12 Km Masters Championships. He, too, has several fine showings at national Cross Country Championships under his belt. Gomez is the reigning champion; he has to be the favorite going in. Lindsay is reputed to be in excellent shape. If he can stay with Gomez, he should have the edge if it comes down to a final sprint. Gomez will need to pull away in the middle of the race. Lindsay is the best bet for 2nd place. I like Angell for the podium after those two but concede that a speedy Chettle or de Heer could push him off the podium. Note: Chris Gomez is a late scratch. That means Lindsay moves up to the favorites position and moves, in my mind, Chettle, onto my predicted podium. de Heer may have something to say about that.

Top Contenders for the Overall Men's podium in alphabetical order:

David Angell     Jesse Chettle     Bryan Lindsay

If experience at the top were the sole determinant, Sonja Friend-Uhl would be the athlete to beat in the Women’s race. Friend-Uhl won the Women’s race overall at the 2016 Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, over 6 Km. 

Sonja Friend-Uhl finishing off her Winning Run in the Masters Women's Overall Championship at the 2016 Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee FL Photo by Michael Scott

She finished 2nd overall at the 2019 Masters 5 Km Championships in Atlanta. Friend-Uhl is now winning division titles again after overcoming some health issues. At this summer's USATF Masters Outdoor Championships, she took the division crown in each event she entered, from the 400 meters up to the 5000 Meters, the latter in 20:11. She has a 19:38 5K from mid-June. Friend-Uhl’s teammate and running client, Jennifer Sober, won the 45-49 division 5000M title this summer at the Masters Outdoor Championships in 18:59, and has cracked 19 minutes twice on the roads this year, an 18:42 and 18:52 in January and February. Euleen Josiah-Tanner finished 7 seconds behind Sober in that 5000M, but has enjoyed success in Cross Country, both domestically and internationally. She won her 45-49 division over 6 Km at the 2021 Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, and finished 5th in the same division at the 2022 World Masters Athletics Championships in Finland. 

Euleen Josiah-Tanner on her way to the 45-49 win in the Masters Women's Race at the 2021 USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee FL Photo by Michael Scott

Her performances seem to be on an upward swing; she finished 6th overall at the 12 Km Championships last month. Angela Giuliani, who finished 6th Overall at the Masters 1 Mile Championships in Indianapolis with a 5:26, and ran a recent 19:37 5K, was in the mix for a podium finish. But a flare-up of chronic heel bursitis may prevent her from competing or perhaps limit her pace. On September 30th she tried a walk/jog workout for the first time in several weeks and the discomfort was less. She speculated that she might not run again until warmups and then make a game-day decision. Samantha Gerrits may insert herself into the mix. She clocked a 20:24 5K this past May, but last October turned in a 19:42. In 2021 she had two sub-20 performances. Since Sober won the last meeting with Josiah-Tanner over this distance, albeit on the track rather than the turf, she should be the slight favorite. But given Josiah-Tanner's more extensive experience on the turf, it would not be surprising were she to take the honors. What about Friend-Uhl? She is the only one of the three with top Overall finishes in Masters national championships on the turf and the roads. If she were not coming back from some challenges, it might be an easy call. As is, it appears she may not quite be ready to challenge for the win. A podium berth seems well within her reach. That suggests a finishing order of Sober/Josiah-Tanner/Friend-Uhl. 

Top Contenders for the Overall Women's podium in alphabetical order:

Sonja Friend-Uhl     Euleen Josiah-Tanner     Jennifer Sober

AGE GRADING CHAMPIONSHIPS WOMEN The age grading exercise compares the athlete's time, over a given distance, to the projected fastest time in the world over that distance for a runner of that age. Grades are in percentages ranging from 80%, a national class performance, to 90%, a world class performance, to 100%, essentially the equivalent to the fastest time in the world. These percentages are developed for the roads but are applied here to performances on the turf. If the course is measured accurately, times on the turf will usually be slower, for the same effort, than times on the roads. Hence, age grade scores, called Performance Level Percentages or PLP's tend to be lower at cross country events than on roads. It also inappropriate to compare age grade scores across courses and for the same course with different weather conditions. For example, a course may be slow when it is muddy from rains and perfectly fast otherwise. Head-to-head competition is more revealing than just looking at PLP's. But there are fewer such comparisons available.

Top contenders for Women’s Age Grading, which recognize the strongest runners for their age, include: Mary Cass 62, Patrice Combs 66, Friend-Uhl 50, Jeanette Groesz 74, and Suzanne La Burt 60

Cass had the 4th highest PLP at the 12K with a 94.6. At the Club Cross Championships in San Francisco last December, Cass finished 5th with an 88.28. In Boston at the 2021 USATF Masters 5 Km Championships, Cass finished 6th at 84.7.

Mary Cass leads Stella Gibbs #1771 through Boston's Franklin Park on their way to a 2-3 finish in the 60-64 Division at the 2021 USATF 5 Km XC Championships Photo by Michael Scott

At the 5 Km in Atlanta this year, Cass finished 6th with a 92.66. 

Combs had several high-flying age grade finishes before the Pandemic. In 2019, she finished 4th at the 2019 Masters 5 Km and 8 Km Championships and 8th at the 1 Mile and 15K Championships. 

Patrice Combs leading two of her younger teammates into the final turn before the finishing straight, on her way to the 60-64 Win and a 4th Place in the Overall Age Grading Championship Photo by Michael Scott

Her 5 Km time of 21:20 at age 62 merited a PLP of 89.06. More recently she finished 9th at this year's 5 Km Championships in Atlanta with an 87.75. Cass, as noted, finished ahead of her. 

Friend-Uhl finished 10th overall in age grading at the highly competitive Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee in 2016 and followed that with a 7th at the 2018 Cross Country Nationals, also in Tallahassee. Her highest PLP at a national championship came in 2019 over 5Km in Atlanta; her 17:34 at the age of 48 earned a 92.06. 

Groesz has a harder time matching these folks on the roads. But on the turf, she competes very closely. She outpointed Cass in San Francisco at Clubs this past December finishing 2nd overall in 89.11. The October before that, she finished 4th in Boulder; no one who finished ahead of her is entered here. In January 2022, she finished 5th with an 82.16 in San Diego. 

Jeanette Groesz, on her way to a Top Five Age Grading Finish in the Masters Women's Race at the 2022 USATF Cross Nationals Championships in San Diego Photo by Michael Scott

Again, no one who finished ahead of her is entered here. Her teammate, Sharon Gerl, who is entered here, finished 12th at 78.67. If we go back to December of 2021 when Club Cross was at Tallahassee, Groesz finished 7th. This time, the final athlete on our list, La Burt, did finish ahead of her in 4th, a full percentage point ahead. 

Suzanne La Burt leading Gwen Lapham #894 and Others onto Loop #2 on the 6 Km Cross Country Course at Tallahassee, on her way to the 55-59 Win and a 4th Place Age Grading Finish at the 2021 USATF Club Cross Country Championships

More recently on the roads, La Burt has come in ahead of Groesz, in age grading, at both the 1 Mile where La Burt was 6th to Groesz's 9th and at the 12 km championship where La Burt was 5th, well ahead of Groesz, but a full percentage point, and one place behind Cass. 

For the sake of prediction, I will go with La Burt- Groesz- Cass as the more likely finishing order. I fully expect all of the athletes in this list to have superb performances! The PLP's just sort out how good their day was!

Top Contenders for the Women's Age-Grading podium in alphabetical order:

Mary Cass     Jeanette Groesz     Suzanne La Burt

The Men’s Age-Grading contest features Angell, Rick Becker 68, Gomez 41, Robert Qualls 71Steve Schmidt 63. David Westenberg 65 and Mark Zamek 60

Angell is, admittedly, a longshot in this list. In what was arguably his best Cross Country performance ever, in Spokane, in 2018, when he finished 3rd overall in the Club Cross championship, he finished just outside the top 20 PLP's recorded in the M40-59 race. Earlier that year, in a smaller championship, the Masters 5 Km XC in Buffalo, Angell had the 9th highest PLP at 83.76. Doug Goodhue 81, currently on the comeback trail from knee surgery, had the third highest PLP at that championship, 85.16. 

Doug Goodhue on his way to the Age Grading Podium in the Masters Men's 60+ race at the 2018 USATF Masters 5 Km XC Championships in Buffalo, NY Photo by Andy Martin, Exclamation! Services

Angell's best recent PLP was at Cross Nationals in Richmond, where he finished 10th in the 40-59 division at 84.9. Westenberg, included in the above list, finished 10th in the 60+ division with an 85.9.

Becker was a top cross country age grader in 2017 and 2018 when he finished 2nd and first at successive Club Cross Championships in Lexington and then Spokane. 

Rick Becker on His way to a 2nd place in Men's 60-64 and the Top Age Grade PLP in the Masters Men's Race at the 2017 USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Lexington KY Photo by Michael Scott

In January of 2022, he finished 2nd again at the San Diego Cross Nationals Championship. When he returned to Club Cross in San Francisco last December he had a decidedly off day; his PLP was not among the top ten in 60+. He will be looking to erase that taste with a strong outing here.

Gomez [Scratched now], like Angell, is a longshot. Favored to win the race overall, it would be a stretch for him to make the age grading podium. At Boulder last year when he won overall, he finished 10th in age grading with an 81.68, behind Qualls, listed above, in 4th and Mark Callon see below in 7th. His 6th place finish in the Men's 40-59 race at Club Cross last December netted him a 26th place PLP.

Qualls has been winning everything in sight in his 70-74 division since entering it in the spring of 2022. But placing highly in the age grading has been more of a challenge. Qualls ran well in San Francisco, winning his age division but had the 24th best PLP in the 60+ race at 81.87. Becker, despite being unhappy with his race scored two percentage points higher. On the other hand, the race that day was so unusual, it would be easy to put too much weight on it.

Robert Qualls finishing off his winning run and Top Ten Age Grade score at the 2022 USATF Masters 12 Km Championships in Highlands NJ Photo by Jason Timochko

Qualls finished 4th in age grading in Boulder a couple of months before. At the 1 Mile Championships in Indianapolis in June, not only did Qualls break the 70-74 American Record, he finished 3rd in age grading. 

Schmidt is probably the favorite. At Club Cross last December, he finished 2nd in age grading in the 60+ race, at 88.39, ahead of some pretty strong runners. He was well ahead of Becker, Qualls and Westenberg. Angell, out of the 40-59 race, was closer, at about 87.54. But, unlike the 60+ race, that was not a true Cross Country race, although I am sure it was quite miserable to run in it. Note: It was known a t the time that the course was not a true 10 Km in length. I heard that it was about 6 Miles long. I have recalculated any PLP I report for that race as a 6 mile run. The official results assumed it was a true 10K. Schmidt has not run in another cross country race since then. But he has done well on the roads: 2nd at Atlanta in the 5 Km with a 91.98; 2nd at the Half Marathon on a warm day in Syracuse, on a hilly course at 89.65; 

Steve Schmidt powering through the streets  of Syracuse NY on his way to 2nd place Overall in Age Grading at the 2023 USATF Masters Half Marathon Championships Photo courtesy of Syracuse Half Marathon

3rd at the 10K in 89.65; and 4th in the 12 Km last month with a 91.1. None of the athletes who have come in ahead of him in age grading are entered in this race. 

Westenberg may be surprised to find himself in this list, but he has earned it. At Cross Nationals in Richmond, he finished tenth in age grading at 85.9, a full percentage point above Angell, even though they ran in two different races. In San Francisco at Club Cross, he again topped notable runners like Becker and Qualls in posting the 11th best PLP at 85.81.

David Westenberg navigating a large mud puddle on his way to a 2nd place finish in M65 and a Top Twelve in Overall Age Grading in the Masters Men's 60+ Race at the 2022 USATF Club Cross Country Championships


Zamek is a bit of a puzzle, and therefore a wild card. He has been rehabbing a set of injuries for the last year. He pushed it last spring, entering the 10 Km Championships in the midst of 70-mile training weeks. It paid off during the race. He finished on the podium in the incredibly competitive 60-64 division, behind Nat Larson and John Van Danacker, not entered, and ahead of Schmidt. Schmidt edged him for 3rd best PLP by 0.01 percentage point. Incredible! But a week later he could not do a workout. Whether that was directly due to the 10k effort or was the result of pushing his training hard after the week following the race, is an open question. Either way he was diagnosed with Proximal Hamstring Tendinopathy PHT. No one works harder on Physical Therapy than Zamek. But few are as reluctant to go easy when necessary. He decided he could risk a tempo run in the 1 Mile Championships. He did so and helped his Shore AC team to victory by a single second.

Mark Zamek Shore AC Crossing the Finish Line with the 4th best Age Grade PLP at the 2023 USATF Masters 10 Km Championships in Dedham MA Photo Credit: Pam Fales 

His effort was more restrained than the 10K. He had the 26th highest PLP. My guess is that his goals for this race are similar, to run a good tempo and help his team. After all, he wants to run well in Tallahassee, not be in the middle of rehab again.

Others who have had good age grades in the past include Doug Bell, Mark Callon, Doug Goodhue, and Gregory Putnam. The recent scores for Bell, Callon and Putnam suggest the podium would be a stretch. Goodhue is on the upswing but is probably not ready for a podium or near-podium effort yet.

It looks like the most likely order of finish is: Schmidt-Becker-Qualls. But one can easily imagine different scenarios.

Top Contenders for the Men's Age-Grading podium in alphabetical order:

Rick Becker     Robert Qualls     Steve Schmidt

AGE DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIPS MEN 40-44 Gomez, Lindsay, Chettle and de Heer, all out of this division are considered in the discussion of the Overall Championship above. Based on that, the projection for the division is: Gomez-Lindsay-Chettle. Note: Chris Gomez is a late scratch. That means Dirk de Heer gets added to the 40-44 predicted podium.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Jesse Chettle     Dirk de Heer     Bryan Lindsay

45-49 David Angell was listed for the overall podium. He is the favorite for this division. It appears the top other contenders are Matthew Di Pretore and Christopher Hernandez. Those two met at the 5 Km Championships in Atlanta. Hernandez had the edge there, 17:12 to 17:30.  Di Pretore ran 34:59 t take 4th at the 10K Championships and Hernandez 43:47 for 5th place at the 12Km championships. I do not find recent Cross Country championship results for them. Hernandez finished 4th in 40-44 at 2019 Cross Nationals in Tallahassee. Leonardo Canete ran some 5K's in the 17:30 - 17:45 range this summer and will press those two. The most likely outcome seems to be: Angell-Hernandez-Di Pretore. But DiPretore and Hernandez are very close and it could go either way.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

David Angell     Matthew Di Pretore     Christopher Hernandez

50-54 Steve Bell, Brent Fields, and Gregory Putnam appear to be the three strongest runners. Putnam finished 2nd in the 2021 edition of these championships in Boston, and finished 4th in the division at 2021 Club Cross in Tallahassee. 

Gregory Putnam white singlet leading a host of talented Cross Country Runners as he secures a Top Five 50-54 Finish at the 2021 USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee FL Photo by Michael Scott

On the roads, he met Bell and Fields in Dedham at the 10K, taking division honors with a 34:21. Bell was 15 seconds back in 2nd, with Fields in 7th at 36:18. Bell and Fields, teammates, also met in San Francisco at Club Cross last December and at Cross Nationals in Richmond in January. But Putnam did not compete there. Bell came in ahead of Fields at both. It does not appear there is anyone else int he division to push those three unless it is the teammate of Bell and Fields, Christopher Harris. Harris ran at the 5 Km in Atanta but in the community race. Had he run the same time in the Masters Championship he would only have been 30 seconds behind Fields. If Harris should also happen to be better on the turf than on the roads, he could be a threat for the podium. For now, I put the likely order as: Putnam-Bell-Fields.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Steve Bell     Brent Fields     Gregory Putnam

55-59 Mark Callon has the target on his back in this division. A newly minted 55-year-old, Callon finished 4th last October at Boulder in the 50-54 division. He finished 24th in M50 at Clubs in San Francisco but had finished 13th the year before in Tallahassee. Callon took 6th M50 at the 2022 12 Km Championships. 

Mark Callon  finishing off his 12 Km Effort on a warm day at USATF-NJ's  By Hook Or By Crook Course in Highlands NJ Photo by Jason Timochko

He has had some niggling issues this year but, despite a sore high hamstring, managed a 1:17:54 at the San Jose Rock n Roll Half Marathon. He ran a minute and a half faster last year at San Jose but he should be good for a 5 Km XC effort. That is probably equivalent to a solid sub-18 5K. He also has a 3.87 mile XC race under his belt. Jeffrey Conston is in the best position to push Callon in the division. Conston finished 11th in M50 at cross Nationals in Richmond. As a new 55-year old, he moved up to 5th M55 in Atlanta with an 18:09. At Indy in June, he took 3rd in the division in 4:59.04. After that it looks like Dale Flanders and Scott Siriano should battle for the final podium spot. Flanders finished 45 seconds ahead of Siriano at Richmond and then on the roads, bested him by 29 seconds at the 5 Km Championships. At Indy they were in a virtual dead heat at the Mile, with both awarded the same time to the next full second, 5:22, but with Siriano given 6th to Flanders's 7th. The most likely order of finish, assuming Callon's high hamstring holds up, is Callon-Conston-Flanders.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Mark Callon     Jeffrey Conston     Dale Flanders

60-64 Steve Schmidt is the main man here. If Mark Zamek is planning on running fast rather than just running a smooth tempo effort, it could be interesting. As noted in the age grading section. Schmidt beat all comers except Nat Larson (not entered for Boca) at Clubs in San Francisco. But Zamek ran Atlanta, finishing in 4th just 9 seconds behind Schmidt. And at the 10 Km in Dedham, Zamek went all out, running a 36:12 to take 32rd ahead of Schmidt. As noted, though, a week later he could not run. Since then, Zamek has been up and down. He ran a tempo pace for the Mile and finished 6th in the division at 5:20. If he gives a similar effort here, it should be Schmidt-Zamek going 1-2. Regardless of how those two sort out, Lester Dragstedt looks solid for 3rd. 

Lester Dragstedt far left battles Larry Sak white singlet in the trenches at the 2023 USATF Cross Country Championships in Richmond VA Photo By Michael Scott

Although well back from those two at the 5K and 10K championships, Dragstedt has been a solid performer all year. He finished 6th at Richmond and 23rd at Clubs in San Francisco. If any of those have an off day, either Eric Hawkins or Craig Williams look to be next in line. My best guess at the likely order is Schmidt-Zamek-Dragstedt.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Lester Dragstedt     Steve Schmidt     Mark Zamek

65-69 The biggest names on the list are Rick Becker, David Westenberg, and Ken Youngers. Becker is discussed at length in the age grading section. He should be due for a great run. Westenberg is coming off training for a Marathon that allowed him to qualify for the Boston Marathon. As a dedicated middle distance runner, he is always ready to run a 5K, whether on the turf or the roads. Admittedly he has tried to awaken the fast twitch muscles in the last week or so. Perhaps he will not be at peak fitness for a 5K? In addition to his cross country races, referenced in the age grading section, Westenberg took the honors at the 10 Km Masters Championship in Dedham MA with a 'no pushing' 39:19. Ken Youngers has been hampered by a health issue over the last 10 months or so. Despite that, he was able to finish 2nd at Cross Nationals in Richmond in January and 3rd at the 5K Championships in Atlanta in February with an 18:47. He matched that time at the fast Macon Labor Day 5K. But he was a minute faster in 2022. Michael Lebold, another middle-distance athlete, was two minutes behind Westenberg at Club Cross in San Francisco. He has not pushed his mileage up as much as Westenberg but his training was sufficient to break 51 minutes and garner a 2nd place in the division at the 12 Km championships three weeks ago. Kevin Dollard, John Blaser, and Reno Stirrat are always ready to run a strong race and could challenge for the podium if it is their day. Nonetheless, it seems more likely that the finishing order will be Becker-Westenberg-Youngers. Westenberger had the advantage at Club Cross but Becker has enjoyed a solid training block coming into the race and is a fierce competitor on the turf. It will be fascinating to see how it turns out. A runner who can handle heat and humidity better should fare well. That suggests Youngers might have a good day.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Rick Becker     David Westenberg     Ken Youngers

70-74 As noted above, Robert Qualls has been winning every national championship race he enters since summer of 2022. His two main rivals in this race are teammates, Doug Bell and Douglas Chesnut. The three met on the turf at Cross Nationals in Richmond, with Qualls enjoying the victory with a minute and a half cushion. Qualls shows no sign of slowing down. He took top honors at the masters Outdoor Championship sin the 1500 and 10,000 meters. In late August he took top honors at a hometown race, the Journal Jog 8K, at 34:25, in Reno NV. Bell and Chesnut are pretty close in ability. Bell had the edge on at Cross Nationals, 35:46 to 36:08. Chesnut had the edge in Atlanta over a hilly 5K, 20:50 to 20:54. And they finished almost in a dead heat at Indy, with Bell getting the edge, 6:10 to 6:11. 

Doug Bell #601 leads some of the 60+ competitors around the Mechanicsville XC course at the 2023 USATF Cross Country Championships Photo by Michael Scott

Kirk Larson is not far off. He was a minute behind Chesnut at Richmond but is probably running better now than then. He was a half-minute back in Atlanta in 21:22 and ran a very nice 44:03 to capture 2nd in the division in Dedham at the 10K Championships. At Indy, he was right with Bell and Chesnut, finishing 5th with the same 6:11 time as Chesnut. If Larson, an Atlanta runner, handles the humid heat better, he could find his way to the podium. Jerry Orange, my old Athletic Annex Indiana teammate, has lived in Florida now for almost a decade. In 2014 we took the 5 Km XC team championship when 60's teams needed 5 finishers for a complete team. He competed at Cross Nationals in 2019 at Tallahassee, finishing sid 4th in 65-69. Another runner who is used to the heat, he could be dangerous. Eugene Myers, who finished 6th in M70 at Club Cross in San Francisco and 5th at Richmond, a second ahead of Larson, would, ordinarily, be in the mix. He was cheering on his wife at the 12 Km in Highlands, sidelined by an injury. My guess is he may be back for Club Cross at Tallahassee, but this race is probably too soon. The most likely scenario seems to be Qualls-Bell-Chesnut but the weather conditions could be a wild card that jumbles things up.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Doug Bell     Douglas Chesnut     Robert Qualls

75-79 Rick Katz is the new kid on the block in this division and emerges as the favorite. That is especially so as Dave Glass is a scratch. Katz ran a good half minute faster than Glass at Richmond, finishing 8th in M70. Still in M70, Katz ran faster than Glass in the Road Mile at Indy as well. Jerry Learned has had an up and down last 12 months with a health issue. In October he came in 2 minutes ahead of Katz at the 5 Km Championships in Boulder. 

Rick Katz on his way to an 8th place finish in M70 [before moving up to M75]-at the 2023 USATF Cross Country Championships Photo by Michael Scott

Three months later he came in almost 4 minutes behind Katz at Richmond. After struggling through the early part of the spring, he ran much better at Dedham, where he finished in 49:59, outdueling me, Paul Carlin, over the last half mile to edge me by 5 seconds. That was a sign that his turnaround had begun. At Atlanta and Sacramento I had been able to pass him early in the race and finish ahead of him. At the 12 Km in Highlands, Learned did even better, clocking 58:32 to come in a minute and a half ahead of me and only 14 seconds behind his teammate, Glass. But it is worth noting that Katz came in 4 minutes ahead of me at Richmond, so being able to run with me does not mean that Learned can run with Katz. But if Learned has continued on the upswing, he could definitely give Katz a battle for the win. And again, the humid conditions favor the Atlantan over the Coloradan. With Glass out, I might have been the favorite to round off the podium. I finished 4 minutes ahead of Przemek Nowicki in Richmond, and 2.5 minutes ahead in Atlanta. Nowicki is an experienced cross country runner and will appreciate a relatively flat course. A late change in plans has made me a scratch; Nowicki is now the pick for third place.

The likely order of finish is: Katz-Learned-Nowicki. 

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Rick Katz     Jerry Learned     Przemek Nowicki

80-84 Doug Goodhue is the heavy favorite in this division as his recovery from knee surgery fades further back into the distance. He ran 2 minutes faster than Ed Bligh in Atlanta, arguably the #2 favorite, despite taking a fall. At Indy in June, Goodhue, already in the Masters Hall of Fame, ran a minute faster than Bligh in taking the 80-84 title in 7:26. In mid-September, Goodhue averaged under 8:30 per mile in winning the 12 Km Championships. And Goodhue has many top finishes n the turf. He finished 2nd in M75 at the Lehigh Club Cross Championships, outrunning many a younger athlete, in 2019. In 2018 Goodhue took the 75-79 win at the 5 km Masters XC in Buffalo with a 4-minute cushion. Two months later he took the 75-79 win at the Spokane Club Cross Championships with over 6 minutes to spare. Bligh, who finished 2nd in Richmond and 2nd in Atlanta in 28:30, recorded an 8:27 Road Mile in Indy. That suggests that Robert O'Rourke can give Bligh a battle for the silver medal. O'Rourke ran 28:41 in the Captain Zinn Memorial 5K on August 12th. That was probably not as challenging a course as the one in Atlanta, but it suggests he is not far off. And he may have a bit more raw speed than Bligh, which can come in handy in a 5 Km XC race. O'Rourke clocked 7:42 at the Big Bang Mile in New Jersey, 45 seconds faster than Bligh's race in Indy. Still, O'Rourke has to show that he can outrun Bligh. If George Gilder were enjoying the same fitness that he did in 2022, he would be the likely candidate for 2nd place. That year he won the 10Km 80-84 Championship in 58:03.This year he ran almost three minutes slower in finishing 3rd. It will be interesting to see if the April 10K was an anomaly and Gilder is in shape to challenge for the podium. Stan Edelson could also make some noise. He finished 2nd of 4 at the 5Km XC in Boulder last October and, a year before, enjoyed an 80-84 win at the 5 Km XC at Boston over a strong field of 8, including Bill Borla and Roland Cormier (not entered here). It seems the most likely outcome is Goodhue-Bligh-O'Rourke, but we will need to run the race!

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Ed Bligh     Doug Goodhue     Robert O'Rourke

85-89 Adrian Craven who has the 2023 85-89 Masters Grand Prix all locked up, will take this championship unopposed. He just needs to finish.

90-94 Eric Seiff, the oldest entrant, at 90 years of age, has no rivals. If he makes it to the starting line, no mean feat at 90, and finishes, he has the 90-94 championship. He would be, if I recall correctly, our first 90-94 male champion this year.

WOMEN 40-44 If Angela Giuliani's heel bursitis allows her to run at close to full speed, she should be able to take the win. She finished 3rd in the division at Indy in 5:26 after almost deciding not to run due to the heel acting up during warmups. She apparently ran a 19:37 5K on September 9th. Her mile time suggest she could run under 19:00 if all is well. In 2022, Samantha Gerrits ran three 5K's ranging from 19:42 to 20:58. She ran a 20:24 this past May. That suggests she is in line for 2nd, or 1st if Giuliani is unable to run at full speed. Alex Dietrich, a sometimes race walker who prefers the middle distances for her track races, ran 24:15 for the 5000 meters at the Masters Outdoor Championships this past July. The only race result I can find for Lorinda King is a 40-minute 5K. Most likely it will be Giuliani-Gerrits-Dietrich in that order.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Alex Dietrich     Samantha Gerrits     Angela Giuliani

45-49 Jennifer Sober and Euleen Josiah-Tanner were considered in the Overall Championships section above. 

Two 5000 Meter Winners from the 2023 USATF Masters Outdoor Championships- Client and Coach-Jennifer Johnson Sober L and Sonja Friend-Uhl R

Based on that discussion it appears it should be Sober and Josiah-Tanner going 1-2. Karyn Baig, who finished 3rd in the 45-49 division at the 12Km Championships in 52:53, looks good for 3rd. In the summer of 2022, her 5K times ranged from 20:49 to 21:53. Alicia Eno and Hiroko Guarneri ran 22:38 and 22:50, respectively, in Atlanta; they can certainly push Baig for the podium. Alicia Martinez appears to be a track athlete who prefers the middle distances and the 800 meters in particular. It will be interesting to see if she can stay with some of the leaders in the race. If so, she might have an edge at the finish. The most likely order seems to be Sober/Josiah-Tanner/Baig.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Karyn Baig     Euleen Josiah-Tanner     Jennifer Sober

50-54 See the Overall Championships section for consideration of Sonja Friend-Uhl. She should take the win in this division with plenty to spare. Amy Bonnerot and Cassandra Crane are more closely matched. Crane has more recent experience in Cross Country at the national level, finishing 32nd (of 41) at Club Cross in San Francisco and 8th (of 10) at Cross Nationals in Richmond. Bonnerot has a slight edge on the roads. Her 1:41:02, at the Philadelphia Distance Run HM last month, compares favorably with Crane's 1:42:57 at the Grand Island HM. 

Cassandra Crane finishing off a fine run on a moist day at the 2023 USATF Masters 10 Km Championships in Dedham MA Photo by Pam Fales

Bonnerot's 45:55 10K in August is a bit faster than Crane's 46:17 at the 10 Km national championships in April. Given the closeness of the times and Crane's greater experience at national championships on both the turf and the roads, I will go with Crane over Bonnerot but it should be a duel worth watching. The most likely order seems to be: Friend-Uhl/Crane/Bonnerot.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Amy Bonnerot     Cassandra Crane     Sonja Friend-Uhl

55-59 Brenda Osovski looks to be the favorite. Her 46:09 at the Masters 10 Km Championships is ten minutes faster than Lori Mangual's best 10K. Mangual's 5K's in 2022 ranged from 26:07 to 28:39. That compares favorably to Valerie Silver's 5K's ranging from 29:26 to 30:36. Mangual also appears to have more recent experience with Cross Country at the USATF-Long Island level. Osovski competed at both Club Cross in San Francisco and Cross Nationals in Richmond this GP season. Osovski-Mangual-Silver is the expected order of finish.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Lori Mangual     Brenda Osovski     Valerie Silver

60-64 This is one the most competitive division in the championship.  Mary Cass had been winning all of the championships she entered in this division for the last year, until La Burt aged up from 55-59. It is likely that it will be Suzanne La Burt leading the way in this championship.  Cass will give her a strong challenge. Among the others, Suzanne Cordes probably has a slight edge over Mireille 'Mimi' Silva. Cordes ran at both San Francisco and Richmond, trailing Cass in San Francisco by 1:13, and La Burt in Richmond by 2:07. That seems to line up with the 10K and 12K results on the roads where La Burt had the edge by 34 and 49 seconds respectively. Cordes and Silva both competed at Tallahassee Clubs in 2021; Cordes came in well ahead of Silva. 

Suzanne Cordes leading two of her rivals at the 2021 USATF Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee FL Photo by Michale Scott

That suggests a finishing order of La Burt-Cass-Cordes.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Mary Cass     Suzanne Cordes     Suzanne La Burt

65-69 Patrice Combs appears to be back atop this division after a pause in her participation in national championships. At the age of 59, she finished 6th in the 2016 Cross Nationals in Tallahassee. Three years later she finished 7th (of 40) at the highly competitive 2019 Club Cross Championships at Lehigh. Earlier that same year she took 1st place in 60-64 at the 5K, 8K and 15K and netted silver medals at the 1 Mile and 10K championships. This year she has taken first place at the 5Km championships and won her age group at Peachtree with a stunning 44:14. Kitty Musante will push her for the win but finished a minute back from Combs in Atlanta. Jan Tefft, out of Arizona, and Cindy Williams, out of Atlanta look to be closely matched. Williams finished 3rd in Atlanta in 24:55. Tefft answers with a 24:32 5K this August 15th. And Tefft also has a 23:55 at the 'World's Fastest 5K', Carlsbad. Williams counters with the results from Peachtree, where they both ran; Williams came in almost a full minute ahead of Tefft. One could argue that home curse advantage played a role. Williams has much more experience at national championships. That is doubly so for Cross Country national championships, where I find no recent results for Tefft. Wiliams, on the other hand, finished 10th (of 20) in this division at Club Cross Country in San Francisco, and 5th (of 20) at the 5 km XC in Boulder. Those are just two most recent cross country championships in a long string over the past decade. 

Cindy Williams racing at the 2019 USATF Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee FL Photo by Michael Scott

For that reason and the Peachtree results, I suggest that Williams has a slight edge. Again that is a race within the race that is worth keeping an eye on. Taking all that in, it looks like Combs-Musante-Willams. But Tefft will certainly make a strong run for the podium.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Patrice Combs     Kitty Musante     Cindy Williams

70-74 Jeanette Groesz should take this division. She is very tough on the cross country turf. She has won her division at the last two Club Cross Country championships, in Tallahassee in 2021 and San Francisco in 2022 under very different conditions. She also went into altitude at Boulder last year and took 2nd, losing to the only 70-74 year old who is likely to beat her at Cross Country, her teammate, Sabra Harvey (not entered here). Victoria Crisp could push her in the race. Crisp won the 65-69 division in the 5Km Championships in Atlanta in 2019 in 23:14. Groesz finished 2nd in Atlanta this year in 70-74, a half minute slower. But if one applies the age grading formula to age up Crisp's 2019 result to 2023, it comes out to a 24:33. Her most recent 5K, a 24:25 at the Delray beach Turkey Trot in 2021 reinforces that projection. Norma 'Nonie' Hudnall finished 3rd in Atlanta this year off a 27:30. Cande Olsen finished almost three minutes behind Hudnall in Atlanta this year. 

Jeanette Groesz on her way to a Top Five Overall Age Grading Score at the 2019 USATF Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee FL Photo by Michael Scott

But she was able to finish 52 seconds ahead of Hudnall at the 2021 Club Cross Championships in Tallahassee. That suggests the Cross Country terrain may work in Olsen's favor. Still, that is a large difference in the more recent 5K meeting. It looks like a finishing order of Groesz-Crisp-Hudnall may be in order.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Victoria Crisp     Jeanette Groesz     Norma Hudnall

75-79 Sharon Gerl and Andrea McCarter are entered in this division race. Gerl is a newly minted 75 year old, and has run much faster than McCarter on a consistent basis. An example is the 1:26 and change 10 Miler Gerl ran in Sacramento in April compared with a 1:31:26 10K that McCarter ran on Labor Day. 

Sharon Gerl navigates the Tallahassee Cross Country course in 2019 as she anchors her Red Lizard team to a 70+ Win Photo by Michael Scott

The finishing order should be Gerl-McCarter.

Top contenders for the podium in alphabetical order:

Sharon Gerl     Andrea McCarter

80-84 Marie-Louise Michelsohn is the sole entrant in this division. It appears she is new to national championships. She has competed in triathlons and ran her 5K's in the summer of 2022, in the range from 36:15 to 39:10. She needs to finish the race to earn the championship.

85-89 Joyce Hodges-Hite has, in contrast, been very active in national championships this year and has won the 2023 85-89 Grand Prix. She has won championship races this year from the 1 Mile to the 10 Mile and also took top honors in the 6 km race at Cross Country nationals in Richmond. She, too, need only finish the race to again be our oldest Gold medalist at a Women's national championship.

TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS Not many teams have made the trip to Boca. Nonetheless there will be some interesting contests. The analysis is based on declared teams as of the end of registration and, in one case, an intent to move an already registered runner onto a team during packet pickup.

WOMEN 40+ It is Atlanta vs. Shore. It appears Atlanta will have a slightly tighter pack overall, despite La Burt leading off for Shore with an almost certain win. If Baig can come in ahead of both Eno and Guarneri, it could make a huge difference. But with only two teams in the division and scoring by place, not time, it will be close. If Eno and Guarneri beat Baig, it goes the other way. If my 45-49 analysis is right, it seems this could go to Shore.

Prediction: Shore AC      Atlanta Track Club

50+ The Genesee Valley Harriers are unopposed. As long as all three of their athletes finish, they not only take first in the 5 Km Cross Country competition, they win the 50+ Women's Grand prix title for 2023.

Prediction: GVH

60+ The Atlanta Track Club will take this championship unopposed.

Prediction: Atlanta Track Club

70+ Team Red Lizard, out of Oregon, enter as the strong favorites. If all three athletes run well, it will be no contest. Groesz and Gerl should go 1-2, with a potential duel between the Atlanta Track Club's Hudnall and Olsen determining whether Red Lizard goes 1-2-3 or 1-2-4. Either way, barring something unexpected, this one should go to Team red Lizard, allowing them to win the 2023 Grand Prix along with the 70+ Team gold medals in this competition.

Prediction: Team Red Lizard     Atlanta Track Club

MEN 40+ Assuming Ryan Stevens gets moved onto Team Run Flagstaff's declared list of runners at packet pickup, this division goes, unopposed, to TRF, out of Flagstaff AZ. They defend their 2022 title won at altitude in Boulder CO.

Prediction: Team Run Flagstaff

50+ Itis Atlanta out of Georgia against Shore AC out of New Jersey once again. This time Bell and Fields should go 1-2 and even if Conston should beat Dolan, it does not appear that anyone else on Shore's team should.

Prediction: Atlanta Track Club     Shore AC

60+ It is Ann Arbor Track Club vs. the Atlanta Track Club. Steve Schmidt should take first for Ann Arbor. But after that it is likely that Becker, Dragstedt and Youngers will take 2-3-4 for the win. Ann Arbor will happily celebrate winding up on the 2023 Grand Prix podium. Atlanta will also have a Grand Prix podium to celebrate, in their case, first place.

Prediction: Atlanta Track Club     Ann Arbor Track Club

70+ In this 3-way contest involving Atlanta, Boulder, and Shore, it is pretty clear cut. Bell and Chesnut should go 1-2 in the team competition. Larson may be able to beat Katz and Kirschner. If Learned could also beat them both, the final score would be closer. But Boulder would still take the win. Shore does not measure up to those two strong teams but, if everyone runs well, they will wind up on the podium nonetheless.

Prediction: Boulder Road Runners     Atlanta Track Club     Shore Athletic Club

80+ The Atlanta Track Club is the sole entrant. They will likely take care of business as they usually do, and go home with the Gold medals for the win.

Prediction: Atlanta Track Club 

That is it for the preview. It will be interesting to see if the warm, humid conditions have a major or a minor effect on the outcomes. Let the races determine the Champions!

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