Wednesday, December 6, 2023

2023 USATF Club Cross Country Championships-Masters Men 60+

December 6, 2023 Hold onto your hats, sunglasses, sunscreen & water bottles! The weather forecast is holding at low 60's for the Women's race at 9AM, mid-60's for the Men's 60+ race at 10AM and upper 60's for the Men's 40+ race at 11AM. Latest forecast on humidity is a bit more forgiving, dropping from high 80's relative humidity to low 80's for the young Men's Masters race! That means the dew point will remain at or below 60 for all three races. A dewpoint of sixty seems to be a dividing line, at least according to some sources, between 'not bad' and 'kinda uncomfortable.'

One way or another, the races will go off and we will persevere. On the plus side it looks like a dandy day for spectating! In this section of the preview, we see which old guys will rule the day....maybe! This race is over 8 Km. The first 6 Km is just like the Women's course described in their preview posted a few days ago. Check there for more detail. There will be two 3 Km loops, followed by the shorter 2 Km loop which cuts off the kilometer around the furthest back field. Folks are moving pretty fast by the time they make the last turn into the woods, heading for the 'Shell Path', just over a kilometer to go! They want to go up 'The Wall' with momentum! 

These previews celebrate the top runners in each division based on recent and sometimes not so recent history. Podium predictions should be taken with several grains of salt. But I take it seriously and do the best I can with the information available. Of course, I do not know fitness on the day of the event. Someone can be in the best shape of their life on paper but if the hamstring, Achilles, ankle, back, etc. does not cooperate the day of the race, all bets are off! Here we go!

Men's 60+ Race at Golden Gate Park-Club Cross 2015-San Francisco Photo Credit: Michael Scott

60-64 There are 61 athletes entered in this division. Men's 50-54 is the only division with more. Those most likely to compete for the podium include: Alan Evans, Nat Larson, Rick Lee, Kevin Ostenberg, Steve Schmidt, John Van Danacker, and Mark Zamek.

Evans Genesee Valley Harriers is known primarily as a marathoner and a stalwart competitor for GVH in the Masters National Grand Prix events. His most recent effort was a 2:57:17 at Grandma's Marathon in June, when he took the 60-64 title. At Syracuse in March, his 1:22:26 left him 7th in 55-59. Had he been a few months older, he would have been on the podium in 3rd. Evans's most recent Club Cross effort was at Lehigh in 2019 when he finished 6th in M55 with a 37:13 [age grade equivalent to a 29:36 for comparing to 8K XC]. He just ripped off a 36:42 10K on Thanksgiving Day; he is fit!

Larson Greater Springfield Harriers is a heavy favorite. The three-time Masters Harrier of the Year has been doing it on the roads this year. He holds the ratified American 60-64 Record on the roads for the 1 Mile 4:49 and 10 Mile 57:24. He also holds 60-64 American records that were just ratified at the USATF Annual Meeting for 5 Km 16:35, 8 Km 27:45, 10 Km 34:25, 12 Km 42:26, 15 Km 53:32, Half Marathon 1:15:27. All have been set in the last 16 months. Larson is also the defending Club Cross 60-64 Champion; he won last year, by 19 seconds, in near gale conditions at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, clocking 29:24. He also took the 60-64 win at Cross Nationals in Richmond over 8 Km at Pole Green Park, winning by over 40 seconds, in 28:33! Larson, at times, seems unbeatable. He is so determined in his training and his racing! He is that rare runner who excels on the roads and on the turf! He will often pick out a faster, younger runner and stick with him until forced to give up, or not! The strategy usually pays off handsomely. But it can backfire, as it did, once at least, in Tallahassee in 2021.

Lee Shore Athletic Club is in his 5th year of running. During that time, he has run distances from the Mile to the Marathon to Ultra Marathons, including a multi-day event across the Sahara and, recently the Comrades Marathon in South Africa over 90 Km. Lee also runs on the track, the XC turf and the roads. He wins his age division most of the time; Lee holds the American 60-64 Records at 50 Km 3:31:44 and at 50 Miles 6:27:30. To give an idea of his range, Lee won the 60-64 Road Mile Championships in Indianapolis this year in 5:06 and was the first 60-64 American to finish with a 2:48:17 at the Chicago Marathon. Lee finished 3rd at Club Cross in San Francisco with a 29:52 and at Richmond with a 29:52.

Ostenberg HOKA Aggies Running Club deserves a mention. At Clubs in Tallahassee in 2021, he finished 5th in 31:12, closing fast to finish just 24 seconds off the podium! He fared less well at San Francisco last December but was still just outside the top ten of 105 finishers! At Carlsbad this year he took the 60-64 crown in 18:08! An interesting footnote: Athlinks informs me that Ostenberg ran in the 2001 Club Cross Country Championships and in most of them since. It did not retrieve times for 2001, 2002, nor 2003 but it did tell me that as a 44-year-old runner, Ostenberg finished 11th in the 40-44 division in the 2004 Clubs in Portland OR. 

Schmidt Ann Arbor Track Club first came to my attention as one of the first two entrants into Amby Burfoot's 6DS3 Marathon club a few years back. The 6DS3 club consists of those individuals who have run a sub-3-hour marathon in 6 decades of their life. He was credited by the other fellow who made it on his first try in the same race with helping him to get through the last few miles on pace. Having gotten to know Schmidt as a teammate this year, that selfless act does not surprise me in the least. Schmidt is also a determined runner. He finished 2nd to Larson at Clubs in San Francisco, closing hard to pass Lee for 2nd and finish within 20 seconds of Larson. He typically wins his division at important races and has almost always been on the podium, even in this highly contested division, at national championships, including the 5 km 17:39 on the 'Atlanta Flat' course; Half Marathon 1:21:12 on the hilly Syracuse course on an unseasonably warm day. He finished 2nd to Zamek on a warm day in Boca Raton at the Masters 5Km Championships. That should be good preparation for the outing in Tallahassee this coming weekend.

Van Danacker TC Running Company [TC = Twin Cities] finished 7 seconds behind Lee at Clubs in San Francisco, just off the podium. He rectified that at Cross Nationals in Richmond. Finishing behind Larson again, this time Van Danacker took 2nd, putting a 26 second gap on Lee.  When these two tangled again on the roads, this time with Schmidt in the mix, it was Lee, Van Danacker and Schmidt in times ranging from 17:31 to 17:39! Zamek emerged from a long rehab and joined the 60-64 crew for the first time at the 10 Km. Larson took top honors, setting the American record at the same time. But Van Danacker took 2nd, 19 seconds ahead of  Zamek. Schmidt, apparently on an off day, was a half-minute back in 4th. Van Danacker ran a 1:20:12 Half Marathon in August but I find nothing for him from this fall. That could mean something is afoot but it has been his pattern at least as far as I can tell on Athlinks. There are few results in the fall and then Van Danacker hops into Clubs and is one of the top competitors. Most likely it will be the same this time around.

Golden Gate Park-San Francisco CA - Men's 60+ Race-2022 Club Cross Championships Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Zamek Shore Athletic Club, as noted, emerged from a long period of rehab to finish 4th in Atlanta at the 5 Km and then land on the 60-64 podium for the first time at the Masters 10 Km Championships, hosted by the James Joyce Ramble in Dedham MA. Zamek has not competed recently at Cross Country Championships but finished 2nd to Larson in M55 over 10 Km at Lehigh in 2019. His 36:07 [age grade equivalent to a 28:44 8K for comparison purposes] left him 12 seconds behind Larson. As noted, he bested Schmidt at the 10Km Championships by a good half minute in April. This October, over 5 Km on a warm day in Boca Raton, the race was closer, but Zamek won this time, with Schmidt 2nd, 13 seconds back.

Dubbed the 'Big 4' after Clubs in San Francisco, Larson, Schmidt, Lee and Van Danacker  slugged it out at various venues, always with a slightly different set of 4. It would have been 5 had Dan King been able to stay healthy. Even so he finished within a few seconds of Lee at the Road Mile Championships and pipped him in age grading. King is rehabbing this winter; if all goes well, I am sure we will hear about some 65-69 record attempts in his new age division. Once Zamek came out of rehab, it became the Big Five, even without King.

There are many fine runners entered who may sneak in under the radar and land on the podium. In addition to Evans and Ostenberg mentioned above, there is Paul Thiels, out of New Orleans, who may run well in the warmth and humidity. He is a talented runner, no doubt. He enjoyed a 2:49:17 marathon at Houston in January of 2022. Thiels ran a neat 38:22 at the Crescent City 10K, also in early 2022. If either of those had been more recent, his name would have made it in the top list. His outing at Clubs in Tallahassee in 2021 appeared to be a little off relative to those of the Big Five who were there. Joe Mora gives these contenders a run for their money at shorter distances like a Mile or a 5K. He came in 3rd behind Lee and King at the 60-64 Road Mile Championships in Indianapolis, clocking 5:13. In 2022, He took the 60-64 honors at the 5 Km Championships in Atlanta, kicking away from Tim De Grado and Lee to take the win in 18:02. But his outings at Tallahassee and San Francisco make it a little doubtful that he can stay close enough over 8 kilometers of turf to do damage with a closing kick. Watch out if he is close though, after getting up 'The Wall' for the last time.

Apalachee Regional Park-2016 Club Cross-Men's 60+ Race--Tallahassee FL Photo Credit: Michael Scott 

Although I have noted that Larson can be beaten. I gave one example, but Lee apparently did so at one race this fall as well. Having said that it would be foolish not to suggest that Larson is, far and away, the favorite. A multiple record holder, 3-time Masters Harrier of the Year. He would have the target on his back even if I were not the one to put it there. After that there is even more guesswork involved. I have no recent races for Van Danacker; I am assuming he enters in top fitness. Zamek has been able to come in ahead of Schmidt the last two times. But even that is hardly certain. Zamek continues to have concerns about some of his long-term issues and does rehab faithfully. It looks like he will enter in full fitness. Lee has been up and down a lot this year, running an incredibly fast time one weekend and then struggling a bit the next due to some nagging issue. Coming into this weekend he is rehabbing a hamstring which is apparently responding well. Taking all in all, I will go with a likely order of Larson-Van Danacker-Zamek. But will I be surprised if Lee and/or Schmidt wind up on the podium? Not at all. 

Top Contenders in Alphabetical Order:

Nat Larson     John Van Danacker     Mark Zamek

65-69 The top contenders in this division include Rick Becker, Daniel Johnson, Doug Keller, David Westenberg, and Ken Youngers.

Becker Atlanta Track Club is that team's 'Out of Association' recruit. A long-time Club Northwest runner out of the state of Washington, Becker wanted to be part of a team that competed at multiple national masters championships each year rather than just Clubs. I noted that Ostenberg went at least back to 2004 Club Cross in his participation. At that same event, Becker finished one place ahead of the 44-year-old Ostenberg, taking first in his 50-54 division at the time. Becker, like Larson, is also a 3-time Masters Harrier of the Year. My first encounter with Becker on the turf was when Cross Nationals were at Bend in 2016. He tore around that challenging course, over a golf course on the side of a cinder cone, winning his 60-64 division by 2 minutes! Becker did not win every race, of course, especially in the last year in his division. His recent experience on the turf includes a 2nd place finish at Cross Nationals in San Diego in January of 2022 at the Mission Bay course in San Diego. He trailed Jacob Nur in that race. Nur, a multiple American road record holder and the 65-69 Club Cross Champion in 2022, is not defending his title. Becker had an off day in San Francisco, finishing 6th. He did not contest the championships in Richmond but showed at Boca Raton he is to be reckoned with. He won 65-69 in 18:57. with Youngers a minute back and Westenberg another 13 seconds behind Youngers in 3rd. 

Lexington KY--The Lead Out for the Men's 60+ Race at 2017 Club Cross Photo Credit: Michael Scott 

Johnson TC Running Company finished 3rd in 65-69 at last year's Club Cross Championships, running almost a minute faster than Becker. He followed that with a 19:08 at the Brian Kraft 5K in May and a 1:25:16 at the Bjorklund Half Marathon at Grandma's in June. The one cloud is again a lack of results in the late summer and fall. But like his teammate, Van Danacker, Johnson also does not necessarily race much after mid-summer, at least as far as one can tell from Athlinks. On the other hand, at the close of registration he had been declared to the 'B' team. It may be that Johnson's fitness is a bit off its peak. On paper he appears to be stronger than one, if not two, of the athletes entered on the 'A' team.

Keller TC Running Company moves up from 60-64 this year. Last year he finished a minute ahead of Johnson, at 31:37, claiming 15th in M60 in his last year in the division. Had he been in 65-59, his time would have earned him a 3rd place finish. In September he ran a 1:24:19 at the City of Lakes Half Marathon and followed that in October with a 38:10 10K at the Victory races. Keller has competed at most of the Club Cross Championships since 2015, topping out at 7th in his division twice. perhaps this is his year to move up to the podium?

Westenberg Greater Lowell Road Runners until recently was a talented middle-distance runner whose only idea of competing on the roads was pretty much centered on Road Mile competitions. He has since moved onto the roads and the turf in a much bigger way. He won the 65-69 Masters 10 Km Championship in Dedham MA this April, cruising to a 39:19.  He had run 38:12 the year before. Through a pact with his daughter, Westenberg even trained for and ran a marathon together with her this September, clocking 3:03:13. On the turf Westenberg finished 2nd to Nur last December at Clubs in San Francisco, a half minute ahead of Johnson. He followed that a month later with a win in Richmond where he finished a minute ahead of Youngers. As noted, at Boca in early October, Westenberg finished 3rd at Boca behind Becker and Youngers. Whether Westenberg still had some heaviness in his legs from his early September Marathon or it whether the marathon training reduced his fast twitch fitness is an open question. With another two months of his normal training regimen, Westenberg may be able to compete more effectively on the turf at Clubs.

Youngers Atlanta Track Club has been battling health issues off and on for the last couple of years. Youngers had his best Club Cross finish, at least in recent years, at Clubs in Lexington KY in 2017 when he finished 3rd in 60-64 behind Becker and Joe Sheeran. In 2022 he was at peak fitness when he clocked 37:48 at Dedham, at the end of April, to take the 65-69 win and set the 65-69 course record. He finished 2nd at the Masters (Road) Mile Championships a few weeks later but then did not compete at any National Masters championships after that. He skipped Club Cross but was healthy enough to compete for his team at Cross Nationals in Richmond. His 32:29 2nd place time in 65-69 helped his ATC team to the 60+ team victory. In between that championship and Boca Raton, Youngers was engaged in rehab and getting healthy. He was able to run in Boca Raton, finishing 2nd, as noted, a minute behind Becker and 13 seconds ahead of Westenberg. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Youngers clocked an 18:54 5K at the Invesco Half Marathon. Although not in the kind of condition he would like, it appears Youngers can compete for a podium spot at Tallahassee, as well as help his team.

Becker seems to be riding the wave right now after battling injury early in the year. He looks good for the win. After that I am going to guess that Westenberg has moved past Youngers again. Youngers may be good for the podium as well, but Keller looks a slightly better bet. I will hazard a guess on Becker-Westenberg-Keller for the podium in that order.

Top Contenders in Alphabetical Order:

Rick Becker     Doug Keller     David Westenberg

70-74 Robert Qualls River City Rebels has been winning every national 70-74 championship in sight this year, on the track, on the roads and on the turf! He took the Cross Country trifecta this 2022-23 season. He won his 70-74 division race at Clubs in San Francisco, at Cross Nationals in Richmond and at the Masters 5Km Championships in Boca Raton! His winning margins were 11 seconds, 1:48 and 46 seconds respectively. 

Spokane WA Men 60+ Mid-Race 2018 Club Cross Championships Photo Credit: Michael Scott 

The closest competitor who is entered for these championships is Rick Pfeiffer who was 39 seconds behind Qualls in San Francisco. Others who might give Qualls a battle for the win include Thomas Cushman and Tomas RodriguezDavid Dunbar who finished 2nd at Cross Nationals in San Diego in 2022 and 3rd in the division when Clubs were at Tallahassee two years ago could also contend. Depending on how those five do, others who could contend for the podium include: Doug Bell and Douglas Chesnut who finished 2nd and 4th respectively at Cross Nationals in Richmond. But that field was not as deep. They were over a minute and a half behind Qualls. Based on the paper trail, I thought that Ted Larison who finished 4th at Clubs in San Francisco with a 36:00 effort, could, with a good day, land on the podium. But it appears that Jim Foster, his teammate, has been running well ahead of Larison at two of the Pete Glavin Cross Country Series races this fall. Foster won the 65-69 Championship at Clubs in Lexington KY in 2017. He finished 6th at Clubs when it was at Lehigh in 2019 but has struggled at Clubs since. It is probably a reach too far for him to land on the podium but he should help his team to a good finish.

Pfeiffer Jamul Toads broke into the 70+ ranks with a 2nd place finish at Tallahassee. Two years older and with a deeper field, Pfeiffer still made the podium, finishing third at San Francisco. He had a good outing at the Cross Country Championships in San Diego last month but not as good as Dunbar, who came in a minute ahead over 6 Km.

Cushman HOKA Aggie Running Club was on fire two years ago when he won the 65-69 division at Tallahassee in 34:12, a full minute faster than Pfeiffer and two minutes faster than Dunbar. But Cushman did not compete at San Francisco. The most recent outings I can find in Athlinks are a 45+ and a 46+ 10K in February and March of this year. Lucky for me, Cushman ran in the Pacific Association Aggies Cross Country Championships over 4.2 miles in October. He finished well ahead of the 70's field. It was the same story a month later at the PA XC Championships over 5 miles. His 33'20 even eclipsed Qualls by over a half a minute. Qualls has had some injury niggles even during this incredible run. Is this one of those? One race does not make a national champion, but it probably makes Cushman the favorite going in. 

Rodriguez Cal Coast Track Club is another athlete new to the 70's. At Tallahassee he was a half minute behind Cushman in 3rd. Rodriguez also skipped San Francisco. His most recent 10K is faster than the winter ones reported for Cushman, at 41:24 on Thanksgiving Day. Rodriguez did not compete in the So Cal XC championships on November 12th, however.

I am going to guess that 'youth' will be served; I will put Cushman ahead of Qualls but Qualls ahead of Rodriguez. It will be another great race, within the race, to follow.

Top Contenders in Alphabetical Order:

Thomas Cushman     Robert Qualls     Tomas Rodriguez

75-79 With the exception of Clubs last year at San Francisco, the turf in this division has been owned by Ron Wells Jamul Toads. He won Clubs at Tallahassee in 2021 and at Cross Nationals in his backyard Mission Bay course in January of 2022. The races were not tight. At Tallahassee he was over a half minute ahead of his closest pursuer, Dave Glass, when Glass was in top form. In San Diego it was the same story except that it was Gary Ostwald Boulder Road Runners in 2nd and a full minute back, with Gary Patton and Glass further back in 3rd and 4th. Ostwald pulled a big upset in San Francisco, closing with a terrific kick that pulled him just past Wells to take the victory by a single second! Ostwald went on to win at Richmond, where Wells was not entered. Again, Ostwald's trademark finish stood him in good stead as he caught Glass on the final loop and powered away over the final 200 meters. Ostwald will get to test himself against Wells again. But Glass and Patton are not competing.

Lehigh-Bethlehem PA - Men's 60+ Race--Navigating the muddiest turn on the course-Club Cross Championships 2019-Photo Credit: Michael Scott 

Rick Katz Boulder Road RunnersJerry Learned, and Terry McCluskey have joined the 75-79 division. Katz, still in 70-74 at the time, ran a half minute faster than Ostwald at Richmond. Learned was further back but was dealing with a health issue at the time. Learned had a tough first few months of 2023 but by the 10Km Championships in Dedham at the end of April, he was starting to recover. He still ran several minutes slower than the year before, but he was now running with some of his old grittiness. He is probably not quite ready to compete for the podium, but he will not be far off. He finished well over a minute behind Katz at Boca; Katz won with a 24:48, with Learned 2nd at 26:12. McCluskey too is a bit of a wild card. He was at the top of the 70-74 division, winning at Clubs in Spokane and again at Lehigh in 2018 and 2019. But with Covid interrupting racing and his main running partner taking some time away from the circuit for surgery, McCluskey did not train with his old in9tensity and did not race in championships. That ended when 'The Silver Bullet', Doug Goodhue, then in his 80's, started to come back from surgery and wanted to run himself gradually back into shape by competing at national championships. McCluskey agreed to compete in San Francisco and finished well back, running with his teammate. Three months later he ran at Atlanta finishing 10th in 70-74. But his time was faster than the third-place time in 75-79. At the Road Mile Championships in Indianapolis at the end of June, he finished 7th in M70, again would have finished 3rd in M75, and came in 7 seconds ahead of Katz. In August he ran a 47:52 10K, suggesting his training was coming around. He also ran at the 12 Km Championships but had an issue during the race that forced him to cut his effort back. He still finished well back. With almost 3 months to get back on track, based on past history, one would expect McCluskey to have a good outing in Tallahassee.

I expect it to come down to Katz, McCluskey, Ostwald and Wells. My best guess is that Ostwald may be the odd man out. If not, he will have to get his kick going again! Wells ran well at the San Diego XC Championships this November, finishing ahead of Pfeiffer. Let us put him at the head of the class and let the others catch him if they can. I guess Wells will be ready for Ostwald this time. Katz ran a half minute faster t1han Ostwald in Richmond. McCluskey beat Katz over a mile on the roads. I would guess that suggests McCluskey should beat Katz on the turf as well. We shall see. I will also guess that McCluskey is not quite ready to take down Wells. it will be fun to watch! So I have Wells-McCluskey-Katz as the likely finishing order.

Top Contenders in Alphabetical Order:

Rick Katz     Terry McCluskey     Ron Wells

80-84 This is Doug Goodhue's division. When the Masters Hall of Famer ran Clubs at San Francisco for fun, he was awarded 2nd place in the division. But there was a lot of confusion in that race due to the near Gale conditions. It is known that the marshals made some misdirection during the race; some of the older competitors were directed to finish before taking a last short loop. According to the splits, which no one disputes, Goodhue Ann Arbor Track Club was well ahead at the last split. Anyone can be caught and passed but it seems unlikely. Suffice to say that since that time, Goodhue has been unbeatable in the division. 

Lehigh-Bethlehem PA -Men's 60+ Race -- Another Shot of the Muddy Turn-Club Cross Championships 2019-Photo Credit: Michael Scott 

Even with a fall and a scrape in Atlanta, he took the division crown by more than two minutes over Ed Bligh Atlanta Track Club. He won the 12 Km Championships in mid-September by over 20 minutes and would have been in the top ten in a much deeper and faster set of 75–79-year-olds. This will be Goodhue's first race back on the turf where he will be running to score well! He should take the 80-84 crown while beating as many 70-79-year-olds as possible! Art Must Atlanta Track Club has just entered the 80-84 division. He ran 43:11 at the Decatur-Dekalb 4 Miler in August. That was a good 9 minutes ahead of Andrew Sherwood Atlanta Track Club. But Must held a slower pace than Bligh typically employs at the shorter distancers. Bligh has either won his races or finished 2nd to Goodhue this year. He ran a 1:00:05 10K at Peachtree this year. He will be challenged though. David Salmon High Point Athletic Club has run a 29:40 5K and this summer ran 1:38:43 at the Utica Boilermaker 15K. Those times suggest a close match between Bligh and Salmon. I will give the edge to Bligh based on experience at national championships, but it could go either way. That is the likely outcome on Saturday then--Goodhue to win, followed by Bligh and then Salmon. 

Apalachee Regional Park-Tallahassee FL -Men's 60+ Race--2021 Club Cross Championships Photo Credit: Michael Scott 

If things break just right, Must could wind up on the podium. And watch out for Sherwood; he always competes!

Top Contenders in Alphabetical Order:

Ed Bligh     Doug Goodhue     David Salmon

85-89 Adrian Craven Atlanta Track Club is, once again, in a class by himself, the oldest competit1or on the Men's side. He is set to add this victory to his earlier victories this calendar year at Richmond and Boca Raton.

Top Contenders in Alphabetical Order:

Adrian Craven

Next up--Men's 40+!

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