Friday, December 8, 2023

2023 USATF Club Cross Championships - Men's 40+ Race

December 7, 2023 It looks like a great day for spectators at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee Florida this Saturday! The Women's race goes off at 9AM, followed by the Men's 60+ Race at 10 AM and Men's 40+ at 11 AM. Open races start at noon. Temperatures are forecast to be in the low 60's for the first race, rising through the mid 60's to the upper 60's and, possibly, low 70's for the Men's 40+ race. And there will be plenty of humidity. Runners will need to hydrate, wear caps, sunglasses possibly, and apply sunscreen.

There will be some dandy races within the Men's 40+ division. 

40-44 Malcolm Richards West Valley Track Club and Jesse Davis Indiana Elite Athletic Club, who finished 3rd and 5th last year, in 29:10 and 29:27, respectively, return to try to lead their clubs to victory. Davis will be joined by his teammate, Bryan Lindsay, who finished 10th and Roosevelt Cook Call Coast Track Club, who finished 11th, will also join the fray. Alexander Taylor Tracksmith Boston Hares, who finished 6th in 2021 at Tallahassee, is back to lead his new team. 

First Time for men's 40+Across the Polo Field 'Track' at Golden Gate Park in 2015 Photo Credit: Michael Scott

As always there are new challengers! Brian Flynn Garden State Track Club took the win at the Masters 12 Km Championships with a nifty 39:00. That is age grade equivalent to a 32:11 10K. Apart from that, however, Athlinks has little information about Mr. Flynn. There is a talented Brian Flynn out of Virginia who runs his Half Marathons in the 1:10 to 1:11 range. But unless they are the same person, that provides little added information. Our Flynn resides in New Jersey. Jesse Chettle Team Run Flagstaff has sub-16 5K speed, including a blazing fast 14:52 in the 5K at Grandma's marathon in Duluth in 2022. That speed was almost enough to deliver a victory at Boca Raton. But finished in third place, twenty-three seconds back in 3rd and 2 seconds behind his Flagstaff teammate, Dirk de Heer. The winner of that race, Christopher Miller, is not entered at Tallahassee. Kevin Pool West Valley Track Club last competed at Clubs as an Open athlete at Lehigh in 2019. He finished 46 seconds behind his teammate, Richards, at the Pacific Association Cross Country Championships in November. His 33:57 time would have been good for 8th in the Masters 40+ race. More recently he clocked a 1:08:52 to finish 4th Masters at the Urban Cow HM this September. He ran Boston this past April in 2:27:29.

Richards finished 2nd to Fernando Cabada in the Masters 10 Mile Championships in Sacramento with a 49:39. In 2022 he posted a 2:16:15 at Grandma's Marathon. Davis has also had a good year. He rana  1:08:11 Half Marathon at the Quad Cities Marathon and clocked his PR Marathon of 2:17:30 at the Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis. Taylor looks fit; he clocked a 31:23 10K at Lone Gull in September and matched Davis's marathon time with a 2:17:30 at Grandma's in June. He could not stick with Davis two years ago. How will it turn out this Saturday on the same course? Cook is in great form. He ran a 31:19 10K at the Dinosaur Dash and even faster, 30:58, at the Dana Point Turkey trot! But, truth be told, he ran similar times before Clubs last year and finished 11th. He will have to show that he can convert that speed into similarly great outcomes on the turf. Cook is not just a speedster, though. He has 5 Half Marathons this year between 1:08:39 and 1:10:37! But that is also not new to 2023. 

Lead Pack in the Early Going at Tallahassee in 2021 - Photo Credit: Michael Scott

It looks as if the winner should come out of the Richards-Davis-Pool-Taylor group. Flynn is a bit of a wild card but with no information on cross country races, I am reluctant to put him in the mix for the podium. I will let him prove me wrong if he can. He certainly had an impressive performance at the Jersey Shore in the 12 Km! Lindsay, like Chettle, has speed to burn. The trick for the mid-distance aces is to be close enough to the leaders without having depleted ones stores too much--easy to say but tough to do. If the race turns tactical that moves the needle in their favor. At Tallahassee, Davis pushed the pace at the front. Eventually everyone else fell back. He did not do that in San Francisco. it will be interesting to see what he does this time around. Richards has had some minor niggles, but it did not prevent him from running very well at the PA XC Championsh54ips. There seems no reason to move him out of the favorite's role he earned last December in San Francisco. Davis seems a good bet for 2nd place. It might be Pool in 3rd but I will go with Taylor as he aims for a better outcome than in 2021. Richards-Davis-Taylor.

Top Contenders in Alphabetical Order

Jesse Davis     Malcolm Richards     Alexander Taylor

45-49 Top contenders in this division include: David Angell Unattached, Neville Davey West Valley Track Club, Mike Jackson Indiana Elite Athletic Club, and Jacques Sallberg Cal Coast Track Club, and Jason Troxler Team Run Flagstaff. Others who could work their way onto the podium include: Daniel Smith Tracksmith Boston Hares, his teammate, Matt Taylor, Aaron Totten-Lancaster Garden State Track Club, and David Wertz Pacers Running/GRC New Balance

Heading for Home in 2016 at Tallahassee-The Race to the Finish Line Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Angell's high point for Clubs was 2018 in Spokane when he was among the three leaders pulling the field around the course. In the end, he finished 3rd, ahead of, among others, Sallberg. It was a rare victory over Sallberg. Angell has had more success on the roads including national championships at Mile, 5K, 8K, 10K, 12K and 15K. The last two years have been more of a struggle in terms of injury and rehab. He has been just outside the top ten at Clubs starting at Lehigh in 2019. He began a comeback in early 2023 with a 2nd place division finish to Sallberg at Cross Nationals in Richmond, leading until midway through the final loop. In the middle of the year things were looking good with a 2nd place finish in M45 with a 33:15 at the Masters 10Km national championships and an M45 win at Indianapolis with a 4:42 road mile. In between, he found time to run a 15:48 5K in May and a 16:01 in October. He ran at Boca Raton, finishing 3rd in M45, with a 16:49, to two runners who will not be competing at Tallahassee.

Davey had his high point with Clubs a year before Angell in Lexington KY. He claimed the overall crown in 32:43, with Angell 28 seconds back in 4th. He was away from USATF Championships for a while but started to appear again in 2022 when he ran for his West Valley team at Boulder in the Masters 5 Km Championships, finishing 13th overall, at altitude, on a challenging course in 17:37. He followed that with a 31:01 at San Francisco, finishing 6th in M45. By May, Davey's fitness had advanced enough that he was able to rip off a 4:40 Mile at the Devil Mountain/Mile of Truth, taking 2nd Masters and first M45. On the 4th of July, Davey claimed the Masters win at the Morgan Hill Freedom Fest 5K with a 16:06. Davey is ready for the turf; he took 1st in M45 at both the Matt Yeo Aggies XC and the Pacific Association XC Championships. He was not able to keep pace with Jaime Heilpern, however, who, luckily for Davey and his fellow 45–49-year-olds, is in the 50-54 division.

Jackson does not share the longer pedigree of Angell and Davey but he deserves to be named a top contender because he came in well ahead of both of them in San Francisco last December. He finished 2nd in this division, almost a half-minute ahead of Davey and a good 19 seconds ahead of Sallberg, who finished 3rd in the division. He took 1st M45 in the 1500M at the Indoor Masters Championships with a 4:17 and was in Oakland CA over Thanksgiving, posting a 16:06 Turkey Trot win.

Sallberg had an enviable string of Cross Nationals overall wins, starting with Boulder in 2015, continuing through two years at Bend, OR. He missed the 2018 and 2019 Championships in Tallahassee but enjoyed the win in January 2020 at Mission Bay in San Diego. Success was harder to come by at Clubs, but Sallberg climbed to the top of the pile at Lehigh with a dramatic surge away from Peter Gilmore in the final 400 meters, claiming the Overall win in 32:55! Coming back to Clubs in 2021 at Tallahassee as a 45-year-old, Sallberg finished 11th overall and 2nd in his new division. In San Francisco, Sallberg took 3rd in the division with a 30:57. He took the division win ahead of Angell at Richmond. 

Troxler, like Jackson, makes the list because in San Francisco, Sallberg edged him by just a single second. Of course, that means he came in ahead of Davey and Angell. Troxler also claimed 3rd in M45 at Carlsbad with a 16:21 and ran a 33:22 10K in Phoenix.

Among the other three mentioned, Smith gets a look due to his 33:10 at the USATF-NE Championships at Lone Gull in September. he also clocked a 57:39 Ten-Miler and a 26:40 5-Miler at the Bobby Doyle race. Totten-Lancaster was a half-minute behind Davey at San Francisco. This fall he took the M45 win at the 12 km Masters Championships in 40:34 age grade equivalent to a 33:28 10K. Wertz finished 2 seconds ahead of Totten-Lancaster in San Francisco. Since then he has clocked a 15:59 5K and finished 3rd in M45 at the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in 54:43 age grade equivalent to a 33:08 10K. They are all talented and hard working. If things break right, one of them could be on the podium.

First Lap Around the 'Track' at the Polo Fields at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco-2023- Photo Credit: Pam Fales

Still, if last year's championships are a good indicator, the likely finishing order this year would be Jackson-Sallberg-Troxler. But Davey has been running better this year and was only 3 seconds behind Troxler last December. Perhaps Davey's experience will help him find a way onto the 45-49 podium while helping his team to as high a finish as possible. Angell, after having a very good middle of the year, has been a bit more up and down in the last third. Yet his training has been very solid. He could surprise! I will opt for a likely order of Jackson-Sallberg-Davey and let the others prove me wrong.

Top Contenders in Alphabetical Order

Neville Davey     Mike Jackson     Jacques Sallberg

50-54 The list of top contenders in this division are starting to look a lot like the top contenders in the 40's a few years back: Ahrlin Bauman, Jaime Heilpern, Ivan Lieben, Gregory Mitchell, Gregory Putnam, Sandu Rebencuic, Todd Rose, and Mark Yuen. The West Valley team has been on top for the last couple of years. Bowerman has moved a few of their athletes up into the 50's and should give them a challenge.

The Lead Pack Toils Uphill at Lexington Kentucky in the Early Going, 2017- Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Bauman Bowerman ran 32:18 at San Francisco to finish 20th in M45. Two years earlier he finished 6th in M45 at Tallahassee Clubs with a 36:09. Over the winter Bauman aged up and ran a 27:28 over 8K t Richmond to take 1st M50 in his debut. This year he ran a 1:14:38 Half Marathon at Eugene and a 16:18 to take first Masters at the Bowerman 5K in August. He should be ready to keep rolling!

Heilpern HOKA Aggies has been in many a tussle with the Bowerman and West Valley crews over the years. Recently he has been coming out on top. After finishing 2nd to West Valley's Yuen at Tallahassee in 2021 with a 34:34, he moved up to take the win in M50 at San Francisco with a 31:08. Both Stow Lake and Morgan Hill provided him an opportunity for sub-16 5K's at 15:52 and 15:58. He added a 33:45 10K at the Oakland Running Festival. He also took first at the USATF Masters 10 Mile Championships in Sacramento.

Lieben West Valley, after finishing 2nd to Heilpern at Clubs in San Francisco at 31:40, ran a 1:19:44 at the Kaiser-Permanente San Francisco HM. And then nothing. I understand he has been rehabbing much of the year. Nonetheless, some of his teammates have been encouraged by how well his recent workouts have been coming along.

Mitchell Bowerman finished either first or 2nd in each of his first four Club Cross Championships from 2013 in Bend Or to 2016 in Tallahassee. In two of those years, he was the first runner across the line who did not subsequently accept a USADA sanction. More recently he ran 34:42 at Tallahassee to take 3rd in 45-49. A year later in San Francisco he finished 5th M45 at San Francisco at 30:58. He won the division this spring at Carlsbad with a 15:59. His 'turkey trot' this year was a 15:28. He will be looking to do well in his first Clubs as a 50-year-old.

Putnam Central Mass Striders had a good year, winning national 50-54 championships at the Half Marathon, 10 Km, 12Km and Masters 5 Km XC in Boca. Putnam has often competed at the 5 Km XC Championships but more sparingly at Clubs. It appears this may be his first appearance at Clubs since 2017 when he claimed 7th, just behind Yuen in 6th. He has yet to claim a podium finish at Clubs  that I know of. Will this be the year?

Rebencuic Greater Springfield Harriers is a bit of a wild card. He does not often compete at National Championships and his Athlinks profile is not public. In 2016 he ran 33:27 at Clubs in Tallahassee, finishing 12th overall and first in M45. At Lehigh 4 years later, Rebencuic ran 34:44 to take 1st in M50. He ran a 17:27 5K this September. It appears he is in his last year in this division.

Rose West Valley finished 5th in M45 at Lehigh in 2019 with a 34:20. A 34:14 at Tallahassee two years later netted him the M45 win. Rose had an off year in 2022, finishing 15th in M45, perhaps due to the weather or the odd nature of the 'cross country' race being held on the 'track' at the Polo Fields. With nothing on the books for 2023 that I can find, any projection would be based solely on history.

Yuen West Valley, like his WV teammate, Lieben had some rehab to do this year. The general impression I had was that Yuen is a bit further along because the onset of problems was earlier. Yuen was dominant in 2022, winning M50 at Tallahassee with a 34:07 over 10K and a 1st at Cross Nationals in San Diego over 8K in 28:47. He had a good outing at the WMA Outdoor Championships in Finland in June, finishing 3rd in the 1500M in 4:21 and 2nd in the 5000M at 16:02! But by the time the 5 km Masters XC Championships at Boulder rolled around, Yuen was running for the team, finishing 8th in M50. His rehab has improved his fitness. But he was still not all the way back this September 30th when he ran a 1:16:30 at the Rock n Roll San Jose Half Marathon. He had clocked 1:13:28 in the run up to Tallahassee in 2021. Not that a 1:16:30 HM in your 50's is shabby; it is not! But it does indicate that Yuen is not quite as far along as he might be.

I look for Mitchell to take the win with Heilpern 2nd and, perhaps, Yuen in 3rd. But there are many imponderables.

Top Contenders in Alphabetical Order

Jaime Heilpern     Gregory Mitchell     Mark Yuen

55-59 The top athletes in this division include: Mark Callon, Roger Dix, Peter Hammer, Mark Hixson, Michael Mallon, Anthony McGrath, Mike Nahom, Matthew Waite, and David White. 

Callon West Valley finished 24th in M50 last year at San Francisco with a 34:35 but he should move up in his new division. His fitness is not where he would like it to be but he clocked a 1:17:54 HM at the end of September and a 37:02 10K at the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot. He also tested himself in the warmth and humidity of Florida, taking an M55 win at the Masters 5 Km XC in Boca Raton on October 7th. Back in California for the Pacific Association XC Championships, he took 1st there as well.

Two Hundred Meters into the Course at Spokane WA in 2018 Photo Credit-Robyn Doloughan

Dix HOKA Aggies was 12 seconds behind Callon last year in San Francisco, taking 10th in 55-59. He ran a 1:23:23 Half Marathon at the Clarksburg Country Run in November and ran the equivalent of a 38:44 10K earlier at the Wharf to Wharf 6 Mile Run.

Hammer Boston Athletic Association lost the M45 title at the 2014 Club Cross Championships by 6 seconds. No one would have guessed that would be the last time Hammer would fail to win his divisional championship at a Club Cross Championship for at least 7 consecutive championships, 2015-2019, and now 2021 and 2022. That is astounding! One of these years he will lose again. But there is no particular reason to think this would be the year. He has already taken M55 1sts at the USATF New England XC Championships and at the Boston Mayor's Cup XC.

Hixson Greater Springfield Association is feeling his oats again after being away for a couple of years. He finished 7th in this division in Tallahassee in 38:21 (over a full 10K, unlike SF). He finished 4th at Richmond over 8K in 29:52. He clocked 37:12 to take 5th in 55-59 at the Masters 10 Km Championships and posted a 17:48 5K on Labor Day.

Mallon Boulder Road Runners has no recent cross country results I can find. But he won this division at the Quad City Bix in 42:25, equivalent roughly to a 37:22 10K. He also ran a 1:19:56 Half Marathon at the Illinois Marathon.

McGrath West Valley another athlete with no recent cross country experience I have found, finished 2 seconds ahead of his teammate, Callon, at the San Jose race on September 30th. A few weeks before he ran a 19:35 5K. No doubt they will be packing it up, at least through the early stages of the race.

Nahom Greater Springfield Harriers is a very tough runner on the turf. He finished 9th in M50 at Tallahassee with a 36:57. Two years later at San Francisco, he had moved up to 55-59 and was 5th in 34:15. Nahom  took 1st in the division at Richmond with a 28:29 over 8K. To be fair, the field at Richmond was not as deep as it typically is at Clubs.

Lead Pack Treading the Mud at Lehigh in 2019- Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Waite TC Running Company [TC=Twin Cities] was 21 seconds ahead of Nahom at San Francisco, finishing 14th in M50. He has a couple of 17:30-ish 5K's and a 1:20:07 at the City of Lakes Half Marathon this fall.

White West Valley was the closest runner to Hammer at both Tallahassee, with a 36:41, and San Francisco, finishing 2nd both times, 55 seconds back at Tallahassee, and 29 seconds behind in San Francisco, 32:37. Will this be the year he closes the gap?

The favorite's role keeps going to Hammer until someone takes the honor from him. After that, I have no information about results this year for White. There are many David White's running out there but I find no results for any of those that would plausibly be the David White who is such a good 55-59 runner. Yet, with no added information, it is hard to go against success. And let us go with Waite to give us one newly minted 55-year-old  on the podium. And he is a Midwesterner, nicely balancing off the East of Hammer and the West of White! So, Hammer-White-Waite.

Top Contenders in Alphabetical Order

Peter Hammer     Matthew Waite     David White

If there is time, I will post a few thoughts on teams late this evening. The team races look to be hotly contested for sure!

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