Monday, January 29, 2024

Masters Athletes Braved the Cold in Richmond: Recap of USATF Cross Nationals -Overall & Age Division

January 24, 2023 It was a sunny, brisk day for the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships. The flagpole by the course was straight out; the wind whipped across the open country of the upper field of the Pole Green Park Cross Country course. Sub-freezing temperatures felt even colder with the northwesterly 13-16 mph winds, gusting to 26! The Local Organizing Committee provided a large, heated tent within a short walk of the start area and finish line. The officials also encouraged athletes to keep their outer layers on until just a few minutes before the gun would sound. Any items left there would be there after the race; unclaimed items would be moved by volunteers into the heated tent.

The Masters Women were the first race of the day, over three 2 Km loops for 6 Km, at 10:30AM. The Masters Men raced at 11:30AM over four of the same 2 Km loops for 8 Km. In the afternoon the races went off to select U20 and Open teams for the upcoming WA Cross Country Championships in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. An interesting wrinkle of those races were hay bales and logs as obstacles to require some hurdling. At the Technical meeting the evening before, Race Officials made it clear those would not be in play for the Masters races and that competitors in those races could simply run around them.


Women The favorites were Carrie Dimoff, overall winner at Club Cross in Tallahassee last month; Kasie Enman, 2021 USATF Masters 5 Km overall champion; April Lund, defending champion; and Renee Metivier, silver medalist at Tallahassee. Two regional stars, Julia Siegel Breton and Mindy Mammen were also expected to compete for the podium.

The gun sounded and Metivier ran with clear purpose, taking the lead in the downhill section towards the first turn. But Dimoff and Lund were on her heels, with Mammen next and then a small gap to a foursome including Enman, Breton, Ashley Palmer-Thomasey, and Metivier's teammate, Chelsea Lenge Warren. Metivier dictated the pace for the first kilometer, but Dimoff was often right up on Metivier's elbow. Lund was content to run a stride back in 3rd between the two leaders. Either Dimoff did not get the information about the logs or chose to hurdle them anyway as the others ran around. The straight line can be the fastest and Dimoff neatly strode over the logs and actually gained a small edge on Metivier, which was quickly closed down. 

Carrie Dimoff left front and Renee Metivier lead April Lund black singlet and Mindy Mammen at the end of the first 2K loop at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships Photo Credit: Mike Scott

As they finished up the first loop, Dimoff was pressing the pace, with Metivier matching the acceleration. It put some pressure on Lund and Mammen, establishing 5 meters of daylight between those two and the leaders. Dimoff and Metivier continued to pull away; Lund, despite her best efforts, could not prevent the gap from growing. At the 3K mark, where Dimoff started dictating the pace to Metivier, Lund was 25 meters back, followed closely by Mammen and Lenge Warren. There was a 15-meter gap back to Enman. Breton who had started more conservatively, was a hundred meters behind Enman in 7th. Once they passed the 3 K timing mat, Dimoff accelerated. Metivier tried to answer but could not close down the gap. Metivier followed a few strides back. By the end of that loop, Dimoff had carved out a 30-meter lead. Metivier, in trying, unsuccessfully, to match Dimoff's acceleration, did succeed in leaving the rest of the field well back. Lund and Warren were now about 70 meters behind Metivier., followed by Enman and Mammen another 20 meters back. There was no drama the rest of the way. Dimoff pulled further ahead, winning in 21:16, with Metivier in 2nd a half minute back. Lund ran strong the whole way Lund took 8 seconds out of Metivier's lead in the last kilometer but finished 40 meters back in 3rd. Warren was three seconds behind Lund, 4th in 21:59. Enman was 5th in 22:06, with Mammen 6th and Breton 7th. That gave Dimoff two overall wins in two tries for this Cross Country season! Metivier enjoyed her second straight silver medal. Lund could not repeat her 2023 win but ran well and enjoyed her first national championship podium finish of 2024.

Carrie Dimoff 21:16     Renee Metivier 21:47     April Lund 21:57

From Left: April Lund, Carrie Dimoff, Renee Metivier - Masters Women - Overall Podium -2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

Men The strong favorite for the race, Fernando Cabada, and the favorite for second, Neil McDonagh, were both scratches. That left Brian Flynn, Adam Otstot, and Jeremy Redfern as favorites for the podium. Forest Braden was also thought to have a shot at the podium. Others who might have been mentioned included David Angell, who finished 7th last year, and had been running well last fall until he struggled at Clubs in Tallahassee. Charlie Ban, who finished 6th here last year, also struggled at Clubs finishing just outside the top 30 overall. Matthew Barresi, Peter Derby, and Christopher Pirch had some solid road races, but no recent Cross Country outings nor entries at national Masters championships. 

None of that mattered when the gun sounded. The runners took off along the flat and down the slope to the first turn. Flynn, Braden, Otstot and Redfern moved to the front of the field. By the 500-meter mark there was already a small gap from that foursome back to the rest of the field. At the 1K timing mat, Braden and Flynn were dictating the pace at the front, with Otstot and Redfern tucked in behind in 3rd and 4th. 

Forest Braden leads Brian Flynn and Adam Otstot at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

There was a 25-meter gap back to the rest of the field where Barresi, Ban and Pirch were running. Angell and Derby had started more conservatively and were another 20 meters deeper in that group. Braden started to push the pace over the final 500 meters of the first loop. Flynn stayed within a few strides; Otstot allowed a ten-meter gap, up to Flynn, to develop as Redfern fell further back. When they finished the first 2 Km loop, Braden was the clear leader, but Flynn was hanging on gamely just a few meters back. Otstot was another 15 meters back from Flynn. There was now a 50-meter gap between Otstot and Redfern. Redfern still had 25 meters on the Ban-Barresi-Pirch chase group, with Angell a few strides back. Braden kept the pressure on for the 2nd loop. By halfway through that loop, Braden had increased the gap on Flynn to over 15 meters. Otstot was hanging in twenty meters further back. Redfern had paid the price for the early pace and was about to be caught by Ban and Barresi. Braden kept grinding; by the 4 km mat at the end of the second loop, there was a 40-meter gap on Flynn, who had, in turn, a 30-meter gap on Otstot. It was well over a hundred meters from Otstot back to the chase group of Ban, Barresi and Redfern, with Angell and Pirch 30 meters further back in 7th and 8th. It is never easy running alone at the front. But Braden had no trouble; he added a few seconds to his lead on each loop, taking the win in 25:35. Flynn never gave in, claiming second, 17 seconds back. Otstot was never challenged, finishing third in 26:19, over half a minute ahead of the remaining athletes. Barresi moved away from the chase pack over the second half of the third loop but could make no progress in trying to catch Otstot. He took 4th in 26:55. Angell kept moving up and was able to catch and pass Ban in the last kilometer, and then held off Pirch at the finish line. His 5th place finish in 27:05 represented a nice recovery after this Tallahassee experience. Pirch was 6th, with the same 27:05 time; Ban finished 7th in 27:10, just ahead of Derby, in 8th. For Braden it was a tour de force, leading all the way and finishing well ahead of the field. It was Flynn's first national masters Cross Country podium. Otstot moved up from 4th last year onto the podium. Angell and Ban recovered nicely from their Tallahassee outings, finishing in the top five and top ten respectively.

Forest Braden 25:35     Brian Flynn 25:52     Adam Otstot 26:19

From Left: Brian Flynn, Forest Braden, Adam Otstot - Masters Men - Overall Podium-2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott


Men 40-44 All of the top contenders for the Overall Championship were from the 40-44 division. Hence that coverage above works for this division as well. Braden collected the 40-44 division championship as well as the Overall Masters Championship.

Forest Braden 25:35     Brian Flynn 25:52     Adam Otstot 26:19

45-49 David Angell, competed in his first Cross Nationals as a Masters athlete in 2017 at the Bend OR course, arguably the most challenging Cross Country course that Masters athletes have encountered in the last ten years. Angell finished 4th overall. In subsequent years he finished 4th and 2nd overall at Tallahassee in 2018 and 2019, and 3rd overall at the Mission Bay course in San Diego in 2020. There was no race in 2020 and he did not make it to the starting line in 2022. In 2023 after rehabbing some chronic issues, he was faced with his first Cross Nationals event as a 45-49 athlete. He finished 7th overall and 2nd in his division behind Jacques Sallberg [not entered this year, but Sallberg had won the overall Masters Cross Country championship every time he competed between 2015 and 2020]. Angell had done well on the roads this year, finishing 3rd overall in April at the 10 Km championships in Dedham in 33:15. On November 11th, he clocked a 1:12:47 Half Marathon in Richmond. At Boca Raton in early October, Angell finished 5th overall in 16:47. So it was a surprise when he struggled at Tallahassee. The fields there are typically deeper and stronger than at Cross Nationals but still, for Angell to finish 42nd overall and 13th in his division was a shock. Which Angell would show up at this event? His main competition would come from William Palmer, who ran a 4:29.04 Mile in June and a 34:43 at the Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K in Richmond. Jason Abbot had run a 17:00 5K in 2021. Edward Ross ran 1:02:31 in the Blue Cross Broad Street Run in May. Mark Tompkins ran a 35:41 10K and a 1:16:43 Half Marathon. Those three would likely duke it out for the final podium spot. Ross and Palmer were most aggressive, hitting the 1 Km mat in 3:12, with Angell about 20 meters back in 3rd, followed by Abbot, over 50 meters back and Tompkins another 35 meter behind Abbot. By the end of the 2 Km loop, Angell had pulled even with Palmer and Ross. By the halfway mark of the second 2 Km loop, Angell had a small gap on the two; he grew that gap to almost 50 meters by the end of the 2nd loop. 

David Angell #368, solid black cap, swings wide to pass M40 runners, Michael Harlow #425 and John Becker #440, and Dickson Mercer #470 at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

Angell was never headed after that, winning the division by well over 150 meters in 27:05. In that same latter half of the second loop, Palmer pulled away from Ross, enjoying a lead of almost 25 meters. Palmer held onto his position all the way to the finish, taking second with over 200 meters to spare. Ross was not able to keep pace with Palmer but kept the other two well behind him. Ross claimed the final podium spot in 28:44. Tompkins had closed on Abbot by the 4-kilometer mark and ran just off the pace for the next two kilometers before pulling in front at 7 Km and edging Abbot for 4th, by 4 seconds, in 29:04. Angell's performance netted him his first age division gold medal. True, it was not an Overall medal. But if one recalls those early 40-44 age division podiums he was on, Angell was on the second and third step of the podium. This time he was on top! 

David Angell 27:05     William Palmer 27:43     Edward Ross 28:44

50-54 Phillippe Rolly finished 2nd in this division last year, losing by just a single second. He has been in fine form on the roads with a 55:32 at the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler in April, a 1:13:17 half marathon in September and a 2:35:45 at the Chicago Marathon. Rusty Snow was a top ten finisher overall at the 2015 and 2016 edition of these championships but has been absent since then. He ran a 16:09 5K in 2022 and in February hustled to a fast 1:13:23 at the Ventura HM. The trio battling for the final podium spot included Anderson Norton, who finished 8th in the division here last year and ran a 1:21:58 at the Hokie HM; and Christopher Wolf who ran a 17:00 5K on the roads and a 16:47 3 Mile Fasttrack Cross Country Championship.  Marcelo Mejia Perez, like his teammate, Snow, has been absent from these championships for several years. In 2015 he finished 16th in M40 and in 2016, 8th. When the gun sounded, Snow pushed toward the front with Rolly a bit more restrained. They went through the 1 Km mark 1st and 2nd in the division at 3:19 and 3:23. Perez was even with Rolly while Wolfe was 5-8 meters back, followed by Norton another ten meters to the rear. Rolly closed up on Snow by the end of the first loop but it was transitory.

Rusty Snow #490 battling with M40 runner, Charlie Hurt #486, as Phillippe Rolly sunglasses tracks Snow a couple of strides behind-at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott


By the 3 Km mat, Snow was again 15 to 20 meters ahead of Rolly. By the end of the 2nd 2 Km loop, Snow had increased the gap to over 40 meters; this would not be Rolly's year to take the division win. Snow won the division in 27:29, with well over a hundred meters to spare. Rolly was never pressed, however, claiming second in 27:56. Mejia Perez stayed close to Wolf over the 2nd kilometer. But by 3 Kilometers, Wolf had a gap of over 30 meters on Mejia Perez. The gap grew the rest of the way. Wolf enjoyed third place in 28:16, with Mejia Perez finishing 38 seconds later. Norton was fifth in 29:07.

Rusty Snow 27:29     Phillippe Rolly 27:56     Christopher Wolf 28:16

55-59 Tim Harte finished 3rd last year in 50-54 in 28:07. This year he ran 35:16 to take the 55-59 title at the Cooper Norcross Bridge 10K, and 27:40 for the 8K at the Philadelphia Marathon the weekend before Thanksgiving. Michael Nahom won the 55-59 division last year in 28:29. Nahom was a scratch at Club Cross, which could be due to an injury or a health issue but could also be unrelated to fitness. Shane Anthony has no recent results I can find but he ran a 57:31 10 Miler in 2021 and a 17:10 5K in August of 2022. If Nahom is not at top fitness, he and Anthony could be battling for 2nd. Jeff Conston, who finished 11th in 50-54 last year in 30:13, and Kevin McGuire, who finished 8th in 55-59 in 30:40 are closely matched but not quite as fast as the other three entrants. When the gun sounded, Harte quickly put distance between himself and the rest of the field. None of his division rivals were within 50 meters at the 1-kilometer timing mat. By the end of the first 2 Km loop, Harte was a hundred meters ahead of Anthony, McGuire and Nahom, all of whom were within 2 seconds of one another. 

Tim Harte leading M50 runners, Christopher Wolf and Marcelo Mejia-Perez, on his way to M55 victory at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

Conston was 25 meters further back. Harte grew his lead throughout the race, finishing 1st in 28:35 with over 200 meters on his closest division rival. Over the 2nd loop, Anthony opened a 30-meter lead over Nahom who had left McGuire 60 meters back. McGuire now had Conston running stride for stride with him. Anthony took 2nd in 29:29 as Nahom finished 3rd. Conston and McGuire battled over the second half of the race. Conston edged ahead with a kilometer to go and was able to hold off McGuire, finishing 4th in 30:31 with three seconds to spare.

Tim Harte 28:35     Shane Anthony 29:29     Michael Nahom 30:02

60-64 Nat Larson has been unbeatable since turning 60 in 2022. Dominant on the roads, he now owns all 60-64 American records from the 1 Mile to the Half Marathon. Larson has also taken the division title at the last two Club Cross Championships in San Francisco and Tallahassee and at last year's Cross National Championships on this Pole Green Park course. Mark Zamek returned from a lengthy rehab to start winning division medals again. He finished 3rd at the 10 Km Masters Championships in Dedham MA in April with a 36:12. In October he won the Masters 5 Km XC title in Boca Raton (Larson was not entered) at 18:13. Zamek gave it everything he had to stay with Larson at Clubs in Tallahassee this past December. He stayed with Larson for the first 4 Km of their 8 Km race. After that, Larson pulled steadily away, winning by 19 seconds. The second place for Zamek showed that his training was on the right track, but he wants to win. With neither Rick Lee, Steve Schmidt nor John Van Danacker entered, those two would surely battle for the win again. Lester Dragstedt, Mark Neff, and Henry Notaro would battle for the final podium spot. All three are strong runners and one could argue for any order. It was a dandy matchup! 

Zamek apparently decided to change his strategy. Rather than let Larson dictate the pace, Zamek took the division lead, opening a 30-meter lead over Larson in the first kilometer. Larson was able to reduce it to about 25 meters over the second half of the first 2 Km loop but did not eliminate it. 

Mark Zamek leading the M60 field among runners, Jason Abbot #496 M45, John Sharp #424 M45, Bert Jacoby #485 M40, and Jason Dwyer #416 M40 at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

Zamek pressed the pace over the first half of the 3rd loop, running his fastest kilometer so far at 3:33. As a result the gap grew to almost 40 meters. Zamek and Larson had given their all; both were tired. Both ran their slowest kilometer to finish off the 3rd loop. But Larson drew back 1 second from Zamek's lead. With the downhill stretch before him, Larson accelerated over the 1st half of that last loop, running his fastest kilometer, 3:31, carving 5 seconds out of Zamek's lead. Larson was within striking distance, less than 15 meters back at the 7 km mark. 

Nat Larson #461, running 2nd in M60 but on his way to victory, with Bronson Lee #557 M50, Timothy Greszler #420 M45, and Matthew Wisnioski #369 M45 at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

Larson's drive to the front was inexorable; he caught Zamek on that last kilometer and over the final stretch was able to break away for a three second victory in 28:52! Wow! That was the closest call Larson has had in the last two years of Cross Country championships! It looked like he loved the competition! Zamek is now going back to the drawing board. His strategy of matching Larson's pace for as long as possible did not work at Tallahassee. Getting out ahead of Larson to make Larson do the chasing came closer but was still unsuccessful. 

What about the bronze medal? Notaro got out fast, covering the first two kilometers in 7:26; he was 60 meters ahead of Dragstedt and Neff who were running in tandem in 4th and 5th. The margin stayed there through three kilometers but over the 4th kilometer, Dragstedt started to cut gradually into Notaro's lead. Neff kept pace with Dragstedt a couple of strides back. The lead was down under 40 meters by the halfway point of the third loop and lowered further to less than 15 meters by the end of that loop. Notaro hung tough; Dragstedt could not catch him. Neff was able to swing past Dragstedt in the final kilometer and make a run for Notaro. Notaro held on to claim the bronze medal; he finished in 30:44, a single second ahead of Neff. Dragstedt finished 5th a mere 4 seconds later.

Nat Larson 28:52     Mark Zamek 28:55     Henry Notaro 30:44

65-69 At both Boca Raton and Tallahassee, the order of finish in 65-69 was Rick Becker, Ken Youngers, and David Westenberg. The same trio was expected to vie for the championship this time. But Becker had to scratch due to a strained tendon. I expected Westenberg to fare better than in those last two contests because he would have an extra 4 to 5 weeks to get the fall marathon out of his legs and because cold suits him better than warm and humid. There were other worthy challengers as well. Timothy Conheady finished 3rd here last year behind Westenberg and Youngers. Youngers ran 12 seconds faster.  Pete Gibson finished 4th here last year, over a minute behind Conheady. But Gibson has been running faster this year. He ran a 1:03:57 10 Miler, a 30:48 at the Surf'N'Santa 8K, and a 42:06 10K. Roger Sayre has also had an excellent year on the roads; he set the American 65-69 Record for the 25K with his division winning 1:40:41. Sayre also took the win at the 10 Mile Championships in Sacramento with a 1:01:09. When the gun sounded, Gibson set off with the confidence of an athlete who expects to run well. Gibson hit the 1-kilometer timing mat in 3:40, a good 15 meters ahead of Westenberg, trailed closely by Youngers. Sayre and Conheady were 25 meters back. Gibson kept up the pressure through the remainder of that loop and halfway into the next. 

Pete Gibson leading the M65 field, and being chased by Michael Hiller #482 M45, Adam Nuckols #522 M40, Timothy Suhr #404 M50, and Robert Dinterman #542 M50 at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

Westenberg limited the damage, holding Gibson's lead at 25-30 meters. At the 3 Km mark, Youngers had fallen over 40 meters behind Westenberg but had an 80-meter lead on Conheady and Sayre. Westenberg finally began to cut into his deficit up to Gibson in the 2nd kilometer of the 2nd loop; the lead fell to less than 15 meters. Youngers, meanwhile, was motoring well, in 3rd, 20 meters behind Westenberg but nearly a hundred meters ahead of Conheady. 

David Westenberg #436, running 2nd in M65 ahead of Ken Youngers #359. Westenberg won in the end. Accompanying Westenberg & Youngers are two M50 athletes, Michael Swan #492 and Michael Stowe #374 at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

Sayre was suffering a rare off day; he had fallen over 40 meters back from Conheady. Over the 3rd loop, Gibson maintained the lead but Westenberg was right on his heels for the whole loop. Westenberg took the lead in the first kilometer of the final loop but Gibson stayed within 15 meters. Westenberg stretched the lead a bit in the last kilometer, winning the M65 championship for he second consecutive year, this time in 31:18. His winning time was 9 seconds faster despite the temperature being twenty degrees colder! Most who ran in 2023 and 2024 ran slower this year. Gibson took second 7 seconds behind the winner.

It looked like Youngers had the bronze medal sown up. He hit the 7 Km timing mat in 27:57 with a lead of over 150 meters on Conheady. But then things started to fall apart. Not only did Youngers lose that lead, but Sayre reports that he was only able to pass for 4th when Youngers fell on the final run to the finish. Youngers is an experienced long-distance runner. That kind of collapse is a sign that something went seriously wrong. Youngers had no explanation for it; he noted that his lower back tightened up, possibly due to dehydration, He could not run without severe pain. Youngers had been running pretty steady 4:07's for the second kilometer on each loop. That last one ballooned to 4:48! That is not to take anything away from Conheady, who ran a super race, taking ten seconds off his 2023 time on this course. Credit the M65 competition for the faster times!

David Westenberg 31:18     Pete Gibson 31:25      Timothy Conheady 32:31

70-74 Robert Qualls has been the 'top gun' in this division since summer of 2022 when he turned 70. In 2023, he won the 5 Km Championships in 20:02, the 10 Km Championships in 41:38 and set a new M70 American Record in the Mile with a 5:33. He has also been unbeaten on the turf, winning Club Cross at San Francisco in 34:39, here in Richmond last year in 34:08, and at Boca Raton over 5 Km in 20:28. The main contenders for the other podium spots included: Doug Bell, James Linn, Don Morrison, and Eugene Myers. Bell is a perpetual contender for the podium, finishing 2nd here last year in 35:46. But he has finished 6th in the last two cross country championships. In 2022, Linn finished a minute and change behind Bell at the 5 Km Masters XC Championships in Boulder CO. Of course, Bell had the advantage of altitude, training in Greeley CO. Linn trains in New Jersey. Linn enjoyed a fine M70 win at the 12 Km Championships in September, clocking 51:44. Morrison finished 11th here last year but likely was off his best. Morrison ran three 8K's in November and December in times ranging from 34:27 to 36:05. Those equate, roughly, to 21:15 to 22:15 5K's. He validated that fitness with a 21:37 5K on New Year's Day this year. Myers is a tough competitor, but an injury slowed him in the second half of 2023. He finally started to be competitive again at Tallahassee but still finished 1:40 behind Bell in 12th position.

As he has done all year and longer, now, Qualls went to the front of the M70 field, hitting the 1 Km timing mat in 3:52, with a 20-meter lead on Linn. Morrison was running in third, 40 meters behind Linn. Myers had started conservatively and was 20 meters behind Morrison in 4th. Bell was already 50 meters behind Myers. This would clearly be an off day for Bell, who is not known as a 'come from behind' winner. Despite Linn running strongly in second, Qualls had no trouble building the lead. Qualls hit the 5th kilometer timing mat in 21:12 with a lead of well over a hundred meters. 

Robert Qualls with a big lead in M70 at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

Linn led Morrison by more than 200 meters. Morrison had an 11 second lead on Myers by the end of the first loop but took 6 seconds out of that lead in the first kilometer of the 2nd loop. But that was as close as Myers would get. Qualls won his second straight championship here in Richmond, clocking 34:25. Linn was 23 seconds back in 2nd place. Morrison rebuilt his lead over Myers back up to 11 seconds by the end of the third loop. Despite a strong effort by Myers, Morrison was too tough; he took 3rd in 36:33, with Myers 18 seconds back in 4th. Bell finished 5th.

Qualls continues to ride the top of the wave in the 70-74 division. Linn showed he can run a strong Cross Country race and Morrison cemented his return to fitness by holding off a good effort by Myers.

Robert Qualls 34:25     James Linn 34:48     Don Morrison 36:33

75-79 Gary Ostwald won the two prestige cross country events last year, edging past Ron Wells (not entered in Richmond this year) for the win at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and kicking away from Dave Glass (not entered this year either-rehabbing after heart surgery) to win here in Richmond. That should have made him the favorite. But Gene Dykes has moved up from 70-74. Dykes finished 3rd last year in that division. But his 35:49 in M70 was over two minutes faster than Ostwald's winning M75 time. At that time last year, Dykes had just started to make progress on a white blood cell problem. By the middle of 2023 he had that problem behind him. In October he claimed the M75 American Marathon Record with a 3:17:01 at Chicago. Since then he has run two 1:35 and change half marathons. Those efforts signal that Dykes actually entered as the favorite, with Ostwald favored for 2nd. Rick Katz and Jerry Learned would likely battle for third. Learned had some health issues in the first part of 2023 but has put those behind him. But Katz has come in ahead of Learned both at Boca Raton in the Masters 5 Km and at Tallahassee at Clubs over 8 Km. But Learned was much closer at Tallahassee in December, a 9-second gap, than at Boca Raton in early October, where the gap was well over a minute. Perhaps Learned's fitness is improving? Once the athletes got to the 1-kilometer timing mat, most of the uncertainties were resolved. Dykes clocked 4:25 for that first kilometer. Ostwald was 50 meters behind in 2nd. Katz trailed Ostwald 25 meters back, with Learned another 20 minutes further back. There were no surprises the rest of the way; the gaps just grew bigger. 

Gene Dykes #459, with a sizable lead on the M75 field, running with M60 athletes, Andrew Shearer #446 and William Rose #476, and Eric Puma #504 M50 at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

Dykes won in 37:39. Ostwald finished 2nd 55 seconds later. Katz was third in 39:43, a minute and 34 seconds ahead of Learned. Jan Frisby showed that his efforts to return to fitness are paying dividends, finishing 5th in 43:08. He will enter the 80-84 division in April just before the 10 Km championships. Dykes ran almost two minutes slower this year. I learned after the race that he had Covid in early January, making his 1:35:30 Half Marathon on January 13th more of a struggle than one might have expected. A week later it is hardly surprising that Dykes's time was off.

Gene Dykes 37:39     Gary Ostwald 38:34      Rick Katz 39:43

80-84 Two were entered but only one made it to the starting line, Jim Assal. He had no trouble traversing the course for four loops in 54:24. 

Jim Assal on his way to victory in the Men's 80-84 division at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

He is the 2024 M80 national champion.

Jim Assal 54:24

Women 40-44 As with the men, the top overall finishers all came from the 40-44 division. The description of the overall race is the description of the 40-44 division race.

Carrie Dimoff 21:16     Renee Metivier 21:47     April Lund 21:57

45-49 Jacqueline Cooke finished 4th overall at the 2022 Masters 10 Mile Championships in Sacramento in 1:03:16. A year later she clocked 1:03:28, finishing 3rd overall. IN September of 2022, Cooke claimed 4th in W40 at the Masters 12 Km championships, with a 48:35 at Highlands NJ. Euleen Josiah-Tanner finished 5th in her division in the 8 Km Cross Country race at the 2023 WMA Indoor Championships in Poland last March, clocking 29:25. She finished 4th in the 10K in 39:27. She ran even faster at the Boca Raton 5 Km Cross Country Championships in October; her 19:54 took top honors overall. Jodi Smith finished 6th at the 2022 Masters 5 Km Championships in Atlanta with a 19:18. This past November she posted an 18:48 at the Des Moines Turkey Trot 5K. In the preview I guessed at an order of Cooke, Josiah-Tanner and Smith, noting that Cooke appeared to be faster than Tanner on paper. It turned out that Cooke was also faster in fact. She moved to the front and her chip recorded a 3:46 at the 1 km mat. Smith and Josiah-Tanner were running in tandem 30 meters back. Tamara Pelletier was 50 meters behind that duo in 4th, with Katrina Holloway 40 meters further back in 5th. The main drama was in the Josiah-Tanner/Smith matchup. They were essentially even at the end of the first 2 Km loop. But Smith was able to keep up her pace over the 3rd km as Josiah-Tanner started to slip back. Smith enjoyed a 30-meter lead by the time they passed the 3 Km mat. That gap grew with every passing kilometer. But Smith could not keep pace with Cooke. 

Jacqueline Cooke leading the Women's 45-49 division on her way to victory at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

That gap also grew kilometer by kilometer; Smith took the division win in 23:29, nineteen seconds ahead of Smith. Josiah-Tanner was 150 meters behind Smith; she claimed third in 24:29, a minute and 17 seconds ahead of Pelletier. Holloway was a minute and change back in 5th. Perhaps faster on the roads than the turf, Cooke enjoyed a fine wire-to-wire division win, tenth overall. Smith showed she can run well on the turf. Josiah-Tanner delivered another podium finish; it is hard to deny her that even in her last year in the division. After this summer, she will be competing in 50-54.

Jacqueline Cooke 23:29     Jodi Smith 23:48     Euleen Josiah-Tanner 24:29

50-54 Lorilynn Bloomer, the favorite, was a scratch. The Bowerman team did not compete for the 40+ team championship after all. Abby Dean, perhaps a co-favorite, had surgery in November. So, for the second year in a row, she would be competing in this championship solely for team points. Last year she finished 3rd in 26:16. She would be unlikely to run any faster than that this year. With Bloomer absent and Dean at less than full fitness, Samantha Forde looked a good bet for the win. The defending champion won last year in 24:49. She has been a solid threat for the podium at national championships, finishing 4th in the division at the 5K masters Championships and winning the division at the 10 Mile Championships in Sacramento with a 1:06:46. Forde finished 4th at Tallahassee this past December. Brenda Hodge finished 4th in the division here at Richmond last year and might crack the podium. She ran a 19:49 5K in March and then clocked 1:09:21 at the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia. I caught Amy Gannon as a late entry for Richmond but missed viewing her recent results. She would surely factor into the race for the podium. Her recent results include a 1:08:50 at the Broad Street 10 Mile Run, a 40:54 10K in Augusta, a 3:13:20 marathon at Chicago, and a 1:30:09 at the Naples Half Marathon six days before Richmond. Forde set the pace for the first kilometer, hitting the timing mat in 4:04. But Gannon was right on her heels. It was 50 meters back to Dean, with Cassandra Crane and Brenda Hodge a few meters behind Dean. Ford and Gannon remained 1-2, separated by a second, for the remainder of the first 2 Km loop and a kilometer into the 2nd loop. 

Samantha Forde #508 and Amy Gannon #592 running 1-2 at the front of the Women's 50-54 field at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

Hodge was able to stay within ten meters of Dean for the first loop but fell back, allowing a 20-meter gap by the 3rd kilometer. Gannon pressed the pace after the third kilometer and enjoyed a 20-meter lead by the end of the 2nd loop. Those gaps grew over the last kilometer. Gannon got her first Masters national championship with a fine 25:05, finishing 19 seconds ahead of Forde. Dean claimed third for her team with a 26:44, finishing nine seconds ahead of Hodge who took 4th. Crane finished 5th.

Amy Gannon 25:05     Samantha Forde 25:24     Abby Dean 26:44

55-59 Rachel Hopkins, the favorite, was a scratch. In Hopkins absence it appeared it would be a 4-woman race for the championship. Kelly Brown and Deelyn Robinson finished 7th and 8th here last year in 27:26 and 27:54 respectively. Brown ran a 45:00 10K at the Beach to Beacon in early August in Maine, adding a 22:54 5K on New Year's Day, three weeks before this race. Robinson ran a 37:17 8K at the Christmastown Dash, age grade equivalent to a 22:57 5K. Melissa Chiti had some good road and track results this year but no cross country I could find. Her 6:12 at the Masters Road Mile Championships in Indianapolis in June had her 5th in the division. She ran a 47:41 at the AJC Peachtree Road Race. She ran a 22:00 at the Gobbler 5K at Thanksgiving. De Lea has been working her way back into competition; she ran 5K's this summer in the 21:17 to 21:59 range. That suggested she might be faster than Brown and Robinson and at least competitive with Chiti. A few days before the event, De lea posted she might be a scratch and if not would be slow. That led me to downgrade her chances. This was the tightest division through the first five runners over the first kilometer. The first five were within thirty meters of one another. Robinson led the way with a 15-meter lead on De Lea. Chiti, Brown and Maureen Masseell followed on De Lea's heels. Massell fell back by the end of the first loop. But Chiti and De Lea were up tight on Robinson's heels, with Brown just starting to struggle to maintain contact.

Deelyn Robinson #582, leading the Women's 55-59 division, running alongside Katrina Holloway #607 W45 t the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

The third kilometer saw Brown falling 40 meters back from the lead trio; Massell was another 40 meters further back. The chips of Robinson and Chit read 13:28, with De Lea at 13:29! With Chiti dictating the pace, the next kilometer saw Robinson fall almost twenty meters off the pace. 

Laura De Lea #616 and Melissa Chiti solid lime green cap, running 2-3 in Women's 55-59 here. Chiti and De lea would finish 1st and 2nd respectively at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

De Lea was still right on Chiti's heels as they clocked 18:09 and 18:10 at 4K. De Lea lost 4 seconds in the 7th kilometer, trailing Chiti's 22:36 by 5 seconds. De lea clawed back three of those seconds in the final kilometer but Chiti finished strong, claiming the win in 27:04, a mere 2 seconds ahead of a fast-closing De Lea! Chiti presumably focuses on Indoor Track now as De Lea turns to the late winter/early spring road season. Will they meet again in Atlanta? Both are already entered, along with Mimi Fallon from New England. Sparks could fly! Robinson finished 3rd, eleven seconds behind De Lea. Brown finished 4th in 27:40 with Massell 5th.

Melissa Chiti 27:04     Laura De Lea 27:06     Deelyn Robinson 27:17

60-64 Suzanne La Burt, who was the favorite for the win, strained a hip flexor while preparing for a Millrose Games relay. She scratched. That left Mary Cass, Kris Huff, Lorraine Jasper, and Amanda King vying for three podium spots. Cass won the division at Clubs in Golden Gate Park in 2022 and won the 60-64 10 Km Championship in late April at Dedham with a 41:43. She lost to La Burt, finishing 2nd in 60-64 at Boca Raton over 5 Km and at Tallahassee over 8 Km. La Burt is the only one in this division that Cass has lost to in the last year and a half. When La Burt scratched, Cass became the favorite. Huff finished 3rd in 55-59 in the 5 Km in Atlanta with a 21:23 and she placed 14th in the younger division at Tallahassee with a 28:11. Jasper is returning from rehab. She won this division at Tallahassee in 2021 with a 25:50, just 6 seconds slower than Cass's 2023 time. But Jasper does not seem ready to run that fast yet; she is primarily competing for team points. King, Cass's teammate, finished 5th at Tallahassee last December, albeit a couple of minutes slower than Cass. 

Cass led the way but King was determined to stay with Cass, at least for the first kilometer. They hit the 1-kilometer mark together at 4:10. Their 3rd teammate, Virginia Bok was 40 meters back, with Jasper a couple of strides back and Huff another 15. By the end of the first 2 Km loop, King had fallen 20 meters behind Cass but had over a hundred meters on Jasper, running in 3rd. Bok was now 15 meters behind jasper in 4th, 30 meters ahead of Huff. 

Mary Cass #601 leads her teammate, Amanda King #602 at the front of the Women's 60-64 division, running alongside Theresa Gagliardi #588 W40 at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

Over the 2nd loop, the gaps between Cass, King, and Jasper all grew. Huff caught and passed Bok but was almost a hundred meters behind Jasper. Nothing changed the rest of the way except for the size of the gaps. Cass enjoyed the win at 25:28. King was a minute and 3 seconds behind her in 2nd. Jasper nailed third with a 27:29, 25 seconds ahead of Huff. Bok was 36 seconds back in 5th.

Mary Cass 25:38     Amanda King 26:41     Lorraine Jasper 27:29

65-69 Nora Cary is the defending champion; she won here last year in 26:22. She had an injury she needed to rehab in the middle of the year. But by the end, she was back in the driver's seat again, winning the 65-69 division at Club Cross in Tallahassee. She defeated a strong field by two and a half minutes! Deborah Snagg finished 2nd here last year, 2 and a half minutes behind Cary. Susan Stirrat, the 2023 65-69 Masters National Grand Prix winner, finished over 3 minutes behind Snagg in third. Myers was 4th in 50:35. Nothing happened to change expectations based on the 2023 results. Cary ran the first kilometer in 4:21, enjoying a 40-meter lead on Snagg, who had a lead of over a hundred meters on Stirrat. Myers was almost 300 meters behind Stirrat. The race unfolded as expected; all of the gaps grew kilometer by kilometer. Cary won in 27:17. 

Nora Cary #622 running at the front of the Women's 65-69 division alongside teammate, Laura De Lea W55 at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

Snagg claimed 2nd again, 2:07 behind Cary. Stirrat enjoyed the bronze medal in 33:05. Myers finished 18 minutes later in 4th place.

Nora Cary 27:07     Deborah Snagg 29:14     Susan Stirrat 33:05

70-74 With Nancy Antos and Kathleen Doswell, both scratching, Cindy Lucking was left in a division by herself. After hip replacement surgery last March, Lucking finished 2nd at Tallahassee in 35:31. 

Cindy Lucking on her way to victory in the Women's 70-74 division at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

The team leader for her 70+ team, Lucking took care of business, running faster than at Tallahassee by more than half a minute.

Cindy Lucking 34:50

75-79 Running for her team, like Lucking, Andrea McCarter had no individual rivals to worry about. 

Andrea McCarter on her way to victory in the Women's 75-79 division at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships - Pole Green Park, Richmond VA Photo Credit: Mike Scott

She set off when the gun sounded; 46 minutes and 19 second later, McCarter crossed the finish line, earning the 75-79 gold medal.

Andrea McCarter 46:19

85-89 Joyce Hodges-Hite competes. Last year she won the Masters National Grand Prix title for this age division. She won two Masters Cross Country Championships, over 5 Km and 8 Km; and four Masters Road championships, at distances from One Mile to Ten Miles. She starts calendar 2024 off with a win!

Joyce Hodges-Hite 1:04:00

That completes the recap of the Overall and Age Division Championships at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships at Pole Green Park in Richmond VA. The next event on the Masters National Grand Prix circuit is the USATF Masters 5 Km Championships over a new road course in Atlanta Georgia on PUBLIX Atlanta Marathon Weekend, Saturday, February 24, 2024

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