Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Hurrying To Atlanta-Preview of the 2024 USATF Masters 5 Km Championships

 February 21, 2024 The USATF Masters 5 Km Championships return to Atlanta for the third consecutive year; it is their 5th time hosting since 2018. The Championships see some very fast times; that is due to the competition more than the course. Atlanta, as folks learned from the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials, is a hilly city. The Atlanta Track Club referred to their 5 Km Championship course as being 'Atlanta Flat' meaning 'not flat.' But they did put all of the uphill in the second half of the course. They are introducing a new course this year, due to local changes beyond their control. It will start and finish next to teh Home Depot Backyard near Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They hope the new course will be at least as fast, and maybe faster, than the old course. We shall see, the proof is in the running.

Here is a rough description of the new course, based solely on the elevation profile. Unlike the old course, this one hits the runner with a hill right off the bat. There is about a 60' rolling uphill climb in the first mile, followed by a few smaller downs and ups in the second mile, with a long downhill to get you past Mile 2 to around 2.3. At that point, the course is slightly lower than at the start. You did not think you could get by with just one long uphill, did you? From this point you have another good climb of 50' or more and then a rollicking good, half mile rolling downhill to the finish. Some folks are going to be flying! There should be some f-a-s-t [!!!] finishes! 

An Atlanta athlete gave me a description of the course after he did a practice run on it. Here is his take--you will have to confirm or not when you get onsite. "The course has an uphill start, one significant hill for about 3 blocks just past the 2-mile mark, but otherwise mostly - to use your phrase -  “Atlanta flat” - with a nice downhill finish past the impressive new stadium ... Much of the route traverses the funky arts district of Castleberry Hill. That part of town is just beginning its gentrification process, so there are a few rough spots in the pavement - offset by some creative artwork on the walls, Watch out for the giant alligator on your right at the top of the third mile hill."

The course map, with elevation cross section is posted at: Atlanta 5K Course Map  

[Scroll down for the map when you are redirected to that page]

The weather forecast is for sunny skies, 40F temperatures at 7:30 am, with WNW winds at 5-6 mph, gusting to 15. That is better than a few days ago when the forecast was for 36F!

The Atlanta Track Club, to no one's surprise, has retained many of the features that athletes love. The staging area is in the Home Depot Backyard, next to Mercedes Benz Stadium. It will have the same big USATF Masters Tent that is the hub of activity. Eric Heintz of the Atlanta Track Club will be the M.C. on the microphone, keeping everyone on track during the run up to the race on Saturday morning.

New this year are separate starts for Women and Men. The Women start at 7:30 am, with the Men going off at 7:40am. The Mass participation race starts at 7:45 am. That will make for less crowding at the start and the lead women will have a separate finish to themselves before the lead men finish.

Everyone knows that the Atlanta Track Club ATC turns out in force to defend the home roads! Last year they had over 90 of the 300 or so runners who ran. This year, when entries were at 211 and climbing, ATC was already at 80! That encourages the fastest runners from around the country to visit Atlanta and stake their claim to being the fastest 5K Masters runners in the land!

Waiting for the Start of the 2023 USATF Masters 5 Km Championships Photo Credit: Joaquin Lara

How do the races look at this point?

OVERALL CONTENDERS Based on entries through Wednesday, February 21, 12 Noon.

WOMEN With a few days to go before online entry closes, we already have a very fast field. Hidi Gaff Three Rivers Racing/Indiana, Jami Hollandsworth Unattached/Michigan, April Lund GYS Track Club/North Dakota, and Jennifer Pesce Garden State Track Club/New Jersey, and Stephanie Pezzullo Unaffiliated/Florida are in the 40-44 division, with Jill Braley Atlanta Track Club and Dawn Grunnagle Unattached/Texas in the 45-49 division. 

Waiting for the Start of the 2023 USATF Masters 5 Km Championships in Atlanta GA Photo Credit: Joaquin Lara

Pesce is the defending Overall champion. She ran away from a fast field to take the win in 17:49 last year, with ten seconds to spare. Since then, she has cemented her status as one of the fastest Masters women on the roads. It was closer at the Masters 12 Km Championships, but Pesce showed she has endurance as well as speed, winning by 8 seconds in 44:31. She also posted a 28:59 at the Ashenfelter 8K and a 36:52 at the Cooper Norcross Bridge 10K in 2023.

Jennifer Pesce Takes Top Honors Among Women at the 2023 USATF Masters 5 Km Championships Photo Credit: Joaquin Lara

Gaff finished 5th Overall last year in 18:41. Three months later she posted a 37:18 10K at the Carmel Marathon in Indiana. In June, Gaff clocked 17:59 at the Brian Diemer 5K. If she can run closer to that in Atlanta this year, she will give Pesce something to think about.

Hollandsworth did not compete in Atlanta last year. But she turned in some fast times in the Traverse Bay area of Michigan. Her fastest was a 17:50 at the Elk River Harborun 5K in August. But she also posted an 18:06 at the Meijer Festival of Races in Traverse City and a 37:39 10K at the Bayshore Marathon in May.

April Lund has, perhaps, enjoyed more success on the turf than on the roads. She won the Overall Masters race at the 2023 USATF Cross Country Championships, earning the right to represent Team USA at the first WMA Cross Country Championships over the same course and on the same weekend as the WA Championships in Bathurst Australia. At that event, she paired with Ben Bruce to win a silver medal in the Relay and earned a 40-44 gold medal in the Individual race. 

April Lund headed for the Team Silver Medal in the Mixed Relay at the 2023 World Masters Athletics Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Lund also earned gold medals in Cross Country at the 2022 WMA Outdoor Championships in Tampere Finland in the 35-39 division and at the 2023 WMA Indoor Championships in Torun, Poland in the 40-44 division. Lund is no slouch on the roads. She also claimed a 40-44 Half Marathon gold medal in Poland with a 1:17:44. This past October Lund turned in a nifty 2:43:35 at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon.

Pezzulo, a newly minted masters athlete was a nationally ranked 300M Steeplechaser in 2010 and 2011. She made the final at the Outdoor Championships in Eugene in 2011, finishing 13th in 10:09.43. Her PR was when she finished 8th in 9:56.82 at the 2011 USATF High Performance Meet in Los Angeles. In the last year, Pezzullo has been tearing up the roads in Florida and North Carolina. In Charlotte NC last November she won the Turkey Trot 8K in 28:07 and, on the same day, the 5K in 17:48, not a bad double! Pezzullo also clocked a 34:48 and a 34:06 10K last year, not to mention a 54:38 15K at the Novant Health Lake Norman 15K, age grade equivalent to a 35:43 10K.

Braley finished 3rd last year, 20 seconds behind Pesce. The year before she ran ten seconds slower but finished second overall. If she can again improve her time by ten seconds, Braley should be on the podium again! Braley most recently competed at the Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, finishing 11th overall in 22:49 over 6 Km.

Jill Braley #502 in a highly competitive race at the 2023 USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, FL Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Grunnagle has not competed recently in USATF Masters LDR events. In 2019, as a newly minted Masters athlete, Grunnagle's 34:24 won the 40-44 gold medal in the 10K at the WMA Indoor Championships in Torun, Poland. Four years later, Grunnagle may not have the speed to run under 35 minutes for a 10K. But Grunnagle is still plenty speedy, as shown by two recent races in the Dallas area. She posted a 37:22 10K at the Toyota Music Factory 10K and backed that up in late January this year with a 37:32 win at the Too Cold to Hold 10K. The latter is age grade equivalent to an 18:22 5K.

Although Pezzullo is a newcomer to the Masters Championships, she appears to have the speed and endurance to carry the day. But Pesce will not give away the title. She is a strong runner and, you never know, the hills may be an equalizer. Grunnagle and Lund have strong international experience, and both are competitors. It should be a heck of a race at the front of the Women's field. If I had to pick a finishing order today, before all entrants are known, I would probably go with Pezzullo-Pesce-Lund, but Grunnagle and others could well upset that prediction!

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

April Lund     Jennifer Pesce     Stephanie Pezzullo

MEN Top speedsters entered at this time include Perry Griffith Atlanta Track Club, Luke Mortensen Athens Road Runners, Aaron Rowe Unaffiliated, and Jay Stephenson Atlanta Track Club out of 40-44 and David Angell Unaffiliated/Virginia in the 45-49 division. Fred Joslyn Unaffiliated may be a wild card. 

Griffith finished 8th overall in 2022 with a 16:16. That same time would have landed him in 5th overall in 2023. Later in 2022, he ran a 33:42 10K at Peachtree and a 21:55 at the Decatur Dekalb 4 Miler in August, equivalent to a 16:56 5K. I can find no results for Griffith since August of 2022 on Athlinks or for any of the obvious 2023 Atlanta Track Club races. That raises some questions as to current fitness. 

Mortensen finished 2nd last year in 16:01. He finished as 2nd Masters at the AJC Peachtree Road Race, a few months later, in 32:48. Later in 2923, he ran a 16:33 5K on Thanksgiving Day. I find no Athlinks results for him in 2024, but he has a private Athlinks profile that may include 2024 races.

Luke Mortensen claims 2nd place in the Men's race at the 2023 USATF Masters 5 Km Championships in Atlanta GA Photo Credit: Joaquin Lara

Rowe was close behind Mortensen at this championship last year, finishing fourth in 16:10. He clocked 16:47 in the 5K associated with the Cleveland Marathon in May. This January he ran 15:58 at the Matanzas 5K. 

Stephenson did not compete in this championship last year. But two months later, Stephenson took top honors at the Red Apple 5K in Cartersville, GA with a 16:10. Stephenson clocked 15:11 to take 2nd overall and top Masters at the fast Macon Labor Day 5K last September.

Angell has been up and down the last couple of years dealing with various foot and ankle issues. He finished 3rd overall last April at the Masters 10 Km Championships in Dedham Mass, with a 33:15, it looked like a new beginning. After finishing 6th overall at Indy in the Masters 1 Mile Championships in 4:42, he clocked a very respectable 16:01 to take the Wild Angels 5K in October. Over the years, Angell has been almost as strong on the turf as on the roads, finishing 3rd in the Masters 10K race at Club Cross in 2018. So it was a surprise when he struggled at Club Cross in Tallahassee this year, finishing outside the top forty. He righted the ship before Cross Country Nationals in Richmond VA. There, on January 20th, Angell finished 5th overall in the Masters race, over 8 Km, in 27:05. 

David Angell far right Swinging Wide to Pass at the 2023 USATF Cross Country Championships in Richmond VA Photo Credit: Michael Scott

It will be fun to see what Angell can do on Saturday the 24th. His last appearance at these championships in Atlanta was in 2019 when Angell took top honors in 15:51.

Joslyn is intriguing. In 2016, at age 33, Joslyn was, apparently, one of the six athletes who made up the Team USA squad that took top honors at the World Athletics 50K Championships in Qatar. He ran several fast races in the greater Harrisburg PA area in his late 30's. That included a 15:57 5K and a 25:21 5 Miler at age 37, and a 54:43 at the Capitol 10 Miler in Harrisburg in 2022 when he was 38. This past April, at age 39, he won that same race in 55:15, equivalent on age grading to a 33:28 10K. Now he is 40. It will be interesting to see what he brings to this 5K course as a masters athlete. Being from the greater Harrisburg area, he is probably used to running hills!

Picking a podium is never easy. In this case, I would give Mortensen the nod. Bruce ran away with the race, and Mortensen beat everyone else. He has earned the #1 pick, with Rowe second, as he finished just 9 seconds back from Mortensen. Had I been able to find results for Griffith for either 2023 or 2024, I might pick him 3rd. But it seems risky. Instead, I will go with Stephenson, who had strong results throughout 2023. Angell may well break onto the podium. He ran well in Richmond and his training appears to have gone well since then.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Luke Mortensen     Aaron Rowe     Jay Stephenson


MEN 40-44 If Mortensen, Rowe and Stephenson go 1-2-3 overall, they go 1-2-3 in M40. Others who can challenge include Griffith and Joslyn, not to mention Chuck Terry, who finished 9th overall at the Masters 10 Km Championships in Dedham MA last April with a 34:25.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Luke Mortensen     Aaron Rowe     Jay Stephenson

45-49 If Angell is on and no other strong runners enter in this division in the next week, he could take the division win by over a minute. The strongest rivals for the podium otherwise appear to be Chadwick Hales Atlanta Track Club/Georgia and Christopher Hernandez Genesee Valley Harriers/South Carolina. Hales ran 17:01 in 2022 to finish 6th in this division. He also posted a 35:16 at the Peachtree 10K in July and a 58:29 at the PNC Atlanta 10 Miler in October. In Hales's absence last year, Hernandez finished 3rd in the division with a 17:12. He finished 6th at the Masters 12 Km Championships in September in 43:23, age grade equivalent to a 36:07 10K. Two others could well be battling for the podium. Matthew Di Pretore Greater Philadelphia TC/Pennsylvania finished 4th in the division here last year with a 17:30 and 4th at the Masters 10 km Championships with a 34:59. However, he was closer to Hales in 2022 when he ran just 6 seconds slower. Stewart Ellington ran a 1:14:50 Half Marathon in Greenville SC in February, age grade equivalent to a 34:13 10K and a 17:18 5K in Knoxville TN in July. In between he clocked a 1:17:56 HM in Knoxville. It looks like the battle for the two remaining podium spots are likely to be settled by those four. James Berry who finished sixth here last year in 17:47 and Edward Ross, who finished 3rd in this division at Richmond VA last month on the turf, may have something to say about that. My picks at this point are Angell for the win, followed by Hales, with either Hernandez or Di Pretore likely for third. I will go with Di Pretore.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

David Angell     Matthew DiPretore      Chadwick Hale 

50-54 The main contenders for the podium appear to be Mark Andrews Genesee Valley Harriers/New York, Steve Bell Atlanta TC/Georgia, Alcides De Quesada Unaffiliated/Florida, John Fernandez Unaffiliated/Ohio, and Christopher Harris Atlanta TC/Georgia.

Andrews is the defending champion; he won here last year in 16:30. At Thanksgiving, Andrews ran 34:35 to take 1st Masters at the Race with Grace 5K. Two weeks later he was third overall and first in this division with a 16:36 at the Don Curran Memorial 5K. His most recent outing, a 17:04 5K on January 20th, was an Overall win at the Charleston HM in South Carolina on an unseasonably cold 44-degree day. Andrews seems primed to defend.

Mark Andrews driving for the M50 Win at the 2022 USATF Masters 12 Km Championships in Highlands NJ Photo Credit: Jason Timochko

Bell finished 2nd last year in 16:59. Two months later he finished 2nd at the Masters 10 Km Championships in Dedham MA in 34:36. He added a 16:38 and a 16:40 to his collection of sub-17 5K's in June. On Labor Day he posted a nifty 16:28 at the fast Macon Labor Day 5K. In Mid-October, he popped a 16:49 5K at an Apple Festival 5K.

Steve Bell finishing off his Silver Medal M50 Run at the 2023 USATF Masters 5 Km Championships in Atlanta, GA Photo Credit: Joaquin Lara

De Quesada ran six 5K's in 2023 in the 16:46 to 16:59 range. His most recent effort was a 16:50 5K this January in Florida. He showcased his 10K speed with a 34:34 at Flanigan's Rockin' Rib Run in mid-November.

Fernandez finished 4th last year in 17:42. This past fall he ran a 1:18:48 HM at the Haunted Forest Marathon in October and a 16:59 at the Perry Rotary Turley Trot 5K, both in Canton, OH. Those two results taken together suggest he might be able to go faster this year. Or it might just be that those race courses are flatter than 'Atlanta flat.'

Harris did not race in the championship last year, but he did race in the Mass Participation race that started after the Championship, over the same course. His time was 17:53, which would have been fast enough for a 6th place finish in the championship. Harris ran a 35:09 10K at the AJC Peachtree Run, which suggests he could maybe go faster than the 17:53 he clocked last year in this 5K. He finished 3rd in this division on the turf at Boca Raton in 17:56 over 5 Km.

As noted above, Andrews seems primed to repeat as division champion. Bell looks a solid bet for 2nd place again. De Quesada seems t have the speed and consistency to run a fine 5K. I will go with him for the third-place pick to round off the podium: Andrews-Bell-De Quesada

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Mark Andrews     Steve Bell      Alcides De Quesada

55-59 The top performers in this division appear to be: Jeffrey Conston Shore Athletic Club/New YorkMatthew Marion Atlanta TC/Georgia and Dean Thompson Chattanooga TC/North Georgia

Conston, a solid performer for the Shore 50+ squad, finished 5th last year in these championships in 18:11. He also claimed 8th in the 10 Km Championships in 37:51. He finished 3rd in this division at Cross Nationals in Richmond with a 30:31 over 8 Km of turf. He claimed 2nd in the 12 Km Masters Championships in mid-September with a 46:36. He could challenge Marion for 2nd.

Jeffrey Conston, getting it done for Shore AC at the 2023 USATF Masters 12 Km Championships  in Highlands NJ Photo Credit: Jason Timochko

Marion won his division at the Houston Marathon's Half Marathon in 1:19:58. That is age grade equivalent to a 36:28 10K. In fact, Marion ran a 37:56 at the Tartan Trot 10K earlier this month on February 10th.

Thompson finished 2nd last year in these championships in 17:39. He finished 3rd in the 2023 USATF XC Championships in Richmond VA. On February 3rd of this year, Thompson ran 3:04:56 in the Mississippi River Marathon, finishing 6th overall and first in the division. Three weeks is probably enough to fully recover from that effort, but we shall see on the 24th.

Those three appear to have an edge over the rest of the field. Four athletes return who finished 30-40 meters behind Conston, within 4 seconds of one another last year: Dale Flanders Genesee Valley Harriers/New York, Ryan Shrum Chattanooga TC/Tennessee, Alan Thomas Athens Road Runners/Georgia, and Fred Weir Atlanta TC/Georgia. Last year it was Conston 18:11, Weir 18:20, Shrum 18:22, and Flanders 18:23 in 5th through 8th M55, with Thomas a second behind Flanders, 7th in 50-54. If everyone brings the same fitness to the line this year, those results favor Conston, or Marion, to close out the podium. 

Flanders plays a crucial team role for GVH. He finished 5th at the 5 Km Masters XC Championships in Boca Raton with a 19:27. Flanders ran a 5:22 in Indy to finish 7th in this division in the Masters 1 Mile Championships. He also ran for GVH at Cross Nationals in Richmond this year but was off his best, running three minutes slower than in 2023. Conditions were better in 2023 than 2024 but a three-minute difference may point to some issue with his training. With over a month between the races, let us hope there is no noticeable effect remaining for the race in Atlanta.

Dale Flanders heading to the Finish Line as he Helps his GVH Team to a 5th Place M50+ Finish at the 2023 USATF Masters 12 Km Championships in Highlands NJ Photo Credit: Jason Timochko

Shrum, shortly after last year's 5 Km Championships embarked on a successful quest to run a Baker's Dozen of Marathons in 2023. Starting with a 3:24:13 in Rome, Italy on March 19th and finishing with a 3:24:15 at the St Jude Memphis Marathon on December 2nd. The set included a 2:56:15 in Boston on Patriot's Day. Shrum returned to shorter pursuits after that, running 40:12 to finish 15th in the division at Club Cross. A week later he ran a 30:10 8K. Shrum could not resist a run at the Chevron Houston marathon, clocking 2:52:02. Perhaps he has more marathon goals in mind.

Thomas ran a half minute faster, 6 months later, at the Macon Labor Day 5K, clocking 17:51. Of course, that race does produce fast times every year.

Weir Two months after the 5 Km Championships, he ran an 18:08 at the B.A.A. 5K. Weir returned to Boston in late June to run a fast 39:38 at the B.A.A. 10K, before slogging through an AJC Peachtree 10K nine days later in Atlanta, clocking 43:02. [The BAA does not identify hometowns in results but it seems unlikely there are two 57-year-old Fred Weir's who can finish 2nd to Tim Meigs in the 55-59 division at the 5K and win the 55-59 10K. Weir joined Thomas in Macon for Labor Day, running even faster, at 17:22. like Conston and Flanders for their Clubs, Weir has been a rock-solid part of the 50's team for Atlanta, running in their scoring five at Club Cross in Tallahassee last December; he was #2 runner for Atlanta 50's at Cross Nationals in Richmond last month.

Thompson seems almost a lock for first. It may be a mistake, but I will give the edge to Conston for 2nd over Marion. Conston has run well in Championships over the last year and Marion is new to the event. I will go with Marion to close off the podium and let one of his rivals prove me wrong if they can.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Jeffrey Conston     Matthew Marion      Dean Thompson

60-64 Unless we see a late entry, this will be the first championship in a long time without at least one of the 'Big 5" of the division, Nat Larson, Rick Lee, Steve Schmidt, John Van Danacker, and Mark Zamek. Larson regularly misses this event due to a family event the last weekend in February. But all of the others have run here before but are not currently entered. In their absence, the runner most likely to land atop the podium is Lester Dragstedt Atlanta TC/Georgia. Chuck Bridgman, Tim Ensign, Casey Hannan, and Michael Mertens will fight it out for the other two spots.

Dragstedt had a fine year in 2023. He finished fourth here last year in 18:41. A month later he took 4th at the 10 Mile Championships in Sacramento in 1:02:53. Dragstedt claimed 7th at the 10 Km Championships in 38:43. In September he ran 46:18 to finish 5th at the 12 Km Championships. Dragstedt seems ready to keep up the good work. He finished 5th at Cross Nationals last month in 30:49. That is more than a minute faster than he ran on that same course in 2023.

Lester Dragstedt enjoys a slim lead over Dave Bussard as they finish off their 8 Km race Over the Turf, helping their Teams to 4th and 5th place respectively at the 2023 Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, FL Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Bridgman finished a half minute behind Dragstedt here last year, claiming 6th with a 19:20. Four months later, Bridgman finished 7th at the Masters 1 Mile Championships in Indianapolis in 5:22. A month later he claimed 5th in 60-64 in the 1500 Meters on the track with a 5:02.

Ensign has been a key part of his Club's Cross Country efforts. He ran with the M50+ team in Tallahassee, finishing among the five scoring slots. In Richmond he finished 5th in M60, trailing Dragstedt by 27 seconds in 31:16. The year before he had come in 16 seconds ahead of Dragstedt, and 50 seconds ahead of Hannan. Ensign also ran a 31:38 8K at a Turkey Trot in November, roughly equivalent to a 19:28 5K.

Hannan, a teammate of Dragstedt's ran in many of the same championships, finishing within shouting distance of Dragstedt. He was a key contributor to their successful season. He finished 8th in Atlanta with a 19:22. At the 10 Km Championships in Dedham MA, Hannan ran 39:19 to finish 9th. Hannan's 47:26 at the Masters 12 Km Championships earned him a 7th place finish.

Casey Hannan heading for the Finish Line at the 2023 USATF Masters 12 Km Championships in Highlands NJ Photo Credit: Jason Timochko

Mertens is not far back from those four but will need a good day to get on the podium. He finished 12 seconds behind Hannan last year, finishing 12th in M55 with a 19:34. Mertens clocked 40:20 at the 10 Km Championships.

Dragstedt looks good for the top of the podium. Ensign and Hannan should have a good battle for 2nd. If this were on the turf, I might give Ensign the edge. But Hannan has proven a bit faster on the roads and he does have home course advantage. I will opt for Dragstedt-Hannan-Ensign.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Lester Dragstedt     Tim Ensign      Casey Hannan

65-69 John Glidewell Atlanta TC/Alabama, Roger Sayre Boulder Road Runners/CO, and Ken Youngers Atlanta TC/Georgia should all be on the podium at the end of the morning. 

Glidewell surprised many at this race last year, although not his Atlanta TC teammates, by running away from a strong field to win in 17:32. Apparently a standout runner at Ohio State in his day, Glidwell had run sparingly since then. Last summer he ran a 10K in the Senior Games but something was off. Either he was accompanying someone else or encountered an issue during the race as his time was over an hour. Athlinks has nothing for him since that race and I do not find him in any Atlanta TC results since then.  I am guessing he is running this Saturday at full fitness, but we shall see.

Sayre finished 2nd to Glidewell last year in 18:28. Other times include a 19:57 5K and a 40:46 10K at the Bolder Boulder, both at altitude. Sayre dropped down to Wisconsin in November to run a 39:12 10K. Sayre ran most recently at Pole Green Park in January, finishing 4th in 32:44 over 8Km of turf. He attributed the slower time to an off day.

Roger Sayre, Pulling on the Gloves midway through the Masters Race at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships in Richmond, VA Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Youngers finished 3rd last year in 18:50. He ran a similar time, 18:56 at the Invesco Thanksgiving HM 5K. Youngers also had an unusual day at Pole Green Park, finishing 5th in 32:45. Youngers experienced a lower back issue that made the last portion of the race painful, forcing him to alter his normal stance. Sayre reported after the race that Youngers had been ahead of him but fell close to the finish. Youngers indicated after the race that the issue had come as a complete surprise to him and that he was looking forward to a better race in Atlanta.

If any of those three have an off day, Paul Beers Unaffiliated/Virginia seems most likely to advance but John Blaser Boulder Road Runners/Iowa, Kevin Dollard Shore AC/New York, Kevin Jenkins Unaffiliated/Florida and Brian Cummins Unaffiliated/Florida finished in 9th through 12th last year, just 4 seconds apart.

I will go with Glidewell-Sayre-Youngers in that order, despite some uncertainty.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

John Glidewell     Roger Sayre      Ken Youngers

70-74 I had a note from an athlete in this division that noted this would be the first time that he knew of where the 'Big Three' of 70-74 would meet in the same race. Those three were Richard Larsen, James Linn, and Robert Qualls.

Qualls took top honors here last year in 20:09 and won a ton of other championships and races in 2023. A month later, Qualls also claimed the gold medal in the road 10K at the WMA Indoor Championships in Poland 41: 12. At the end of April, he won the 70-74 competition at the Masters 10 Km Championships in 41:38. Qualls set a new 70-74 American Road Mile record in Indy when he took top honors in 5:33! Over the fall and into January of 2024 he took top 70-74 honors at the Masters 5 Km XC in Boca Raton, Club Cross at Tallahassee and Cross Nationals in Richmond. He has not been seriously tested in domestic competition since he won the 12 Km Masters title in 2022 in 49:53.

Robert Qualls moving up through the 60's Athletes On His Way to a Big M70 Win at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships in Richmond VA Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Larsen will be a test for Qualls if anywhere near his usual form. In 2022 Larsen took the 70-74 title here in 19:37. In November of 2022 he clocked 19:45 in the BIGGSteps Boston 5K. I find only trail and mountain results on Athlinks for Larsen in 2023. Because of elevation and measurement issues, those are hard to interpret. For what it is worth, Larsen was the first runner over the age of 61 to finish the Delta Dental Mt Washington Road Race this past June. His time of 1:26:08 over 7.6 miles may have been affected by the 4,650 feet of vertical climb and the 22% max grade. I surmise that Larsen will not be fazed by hills on the 5K course.

Linn did not compete in Atlanta in 2023 or 2022. Last summer, Linn clocked 20:39 and 20:40 at two 5K's in New Jersey. In September, Linn took top 70-74 honors at the Masters 12 km Championships in Highlands NJ with a 51:45. He ran 1:11/:45 in a 10Miler on Super Sunday. That is age grade equivalent to a 43:13 10K.

Those three probably are the favorites for the podium but there are a number of other strong runners in the field, including Doug Bell Boulder Road Runners/Colorado, Kirk Larson Atlanta TC/Georgia, Don Morrison Greater Philadelphia TC/Pennsylvania, and Eugene Myers. One of them could move up onto the podium if any of the other three run into any difficulties.

Bell finished 3rd in M70 here last year in 20:54. In June Bell finished 3rd, with a 6:10, in 70-74 at the Masters Road Mile Championships hosted by Indianapolis's Monumental Mile. He ran a 43:56 10K at the Longmont Turkey Trot, at altitude. Bell was off his best at Pole Green Park in Richmond last month; he finished 6th in the division with a 37:06 effort. The year before he ran 35:46, finishing 2nd.

Doug Bell left leads a group of 60's and 70's athletes on his way to an M70 Silver Medal at the 2023 USATF Cross Country Championships in Richmond, VA

Larson was 36 seconds behind Bell here last year, finishing 5th in 21:30. Larson did not appear to lose much, if anything, over 2023. At the Invesco Half marathon on Thanksgiving Day, Larson clocked 21:26 in their 5K. On New Year's Day, 2024, Larson ran a 21:45 5K, and followed that a few weeks later with a 21:58.

Morrison does not often compete in Masters Road Championships. In September 2021, Morrison clocked 54:43, finishing 1st in 70-74. On New Years Day, 2023, Morrison ran a 22:22 5K and then a 22:11 5K in mid-March. At the same race on New Year's Day this year, Morriosn ran 21:37. Three weeks later he came in ahead of Myers in Cross Nationals at Pole Green Park, taking 3rd in the division in 36:33. He looks ready to compete!

Myers was injured over the second half of last year. Before that, he finished 7th here in 22:19, and followed that with a 5th place finish at the Masters 10 Km Championships in 45:17. Myers was over his issues by December when he clocked a 22:27 and a 22:15 5K. At Richmond last month, Myers ran faster than he had in 2023; he finished 4th in 36:51, fifteen seconds ahead of Bell.

Qualls is the reigning champion; I have to go with the champion until someone unseats him. I will go with Larsen for 2nd and Linn for 3rd: Qualls-Larsen-Linn.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Richard Larsen     James Linn      Robert Qualls

75-79 Gene Dykes Greater Philadelphia TC/Pennsylvania is the strong favorite. Last year he was in the 70-74 division for this championship, finishing 4th in 21:29. His time was well over a minute faster than the winning 75-79 time. Dykes likes to run lots of races. In the fall Dykes was still running well, clocking a 21:02 and a 44:37 10K on the same day in Bethlehem PA. In early November at Chicago, Dykes broke the American 75-79 Marathon Record with a 3:17:01. In November and January he ran two 1:35 and change Half Marathons. Dykes was disappointed but no one else would be. At Pole Green Park on January 20th, Dykes won the 75-79 division in 37:39 on the turf over 8 Km. That was almost 2 minutes slower than he ran on the same course in 2023; it was almost a minute faster than his closest rival. Even though Dykes is not running as well as he would hope, there is a large gap back to the closest rival currently entered. Dykes had a difficult Ultra on a colder and much rainier than expected day this past weekend. But he has usually been able to shake off such difficulties, even with only a week to recover.

Gene Dykes blue headband, #459, leading some 60's athletes on his way to an M75 Win at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships in Richmond, VA Photo Credit: Michael Scott

The other prime contenders for the podium are: Rick Katz Boulder Road Runner/Colorado0 and Jerry Learned Atlanta TC/Georgia.

Katz, like Dykes, was in 70-74 last year; he finished 8th in 22:58, a minute and a half behind Dykes. By the fall, Kattz was in 75-79 and took 1st place at the Masters 5 Km XC Championships in Boca Raton with a 24:48. He ran well in Tallahassee for the Club Cross Championships, earning a 3rd place finish in the division with a 40:02. He repeated that 3rd place M75 finish in Richmond, clocking 39:43.

Learned had health issues that affected his performance during the first half of 2023. By late April, Learned's fitness was coming back. His 49:59 was well back in M70, but had he been competing in 75-79, that would have been good for third place. From October to January, his 5K times were up and down, including a 25:00 effort in late October, a 23:23 on Thanksgiving Day, a 25:36 on New Year's Day and a 24:22 six days later. At Richmond, Katz finished 4th over the 8Km of turf. His 41:17 left him a minute and a half behind Katz, but almost two minutes ahead of his closest pursuer.

Should any of those have an off day, it appears that Jan Frisby Boulder Road Runners/Colorado or Paul Carlin Ann Arbor TC/Michigan (your author) should have a chance to move up. Last year, Carlin finished 3rd here in 24:39. But Learned fought me off at the 10K and I have not finished ahead of him yet. Frisby was rounding into shape last year; he finished fourth, a half minute behind me. I was still ahead of Frisby at Tallahassee, finishing 2 minutes ahead, in 44:03. But Frisby reversed that at Pole Green Park in Richmond. His 43:08 effort there left me 17 seconds back. Allen Joyce finished a minute and a half behind me at Richmond last month, but he came in a second ahead of me last year here in Atlanta. He could also factor into the race for the podium.

If things unfold according to recent history, it should be Dykes-Katz-Learned in that order.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Gene Dykes     Rick Katz      Jerry Learned

80-84 Ed Bligh Atlanta TC/Georgia and Harold Rosen Unaffiliated/Maryland are the favorites. 

Bligh is a veteran of Masters Championships, as well as a mainstay of Atlanta's 80+ team. Bligh claimed 2nd in this division last year in 28:45. He repeated that 2nd place M80 finish in the Masters 10 Km championships in April. In Indianapolis, Bligh's 8:27 road mile netted him another 2nd place at the Masters National Championship. He claimed the win at Club Cross in December by finishing ahead of Doug Goodhue, who ran, bandaged up, hoping that a recalcitrant hamstring would behave. Bligh's 49:01 gave him the win with two minutes to spare. His perseverance and patience had paid off.

Ed Bligh setting Out oon His Winning M80 Jaunt Over 8 Km of Turf at the 2023 USAF Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, FL Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Rosen may be a veteran runner but is a newcomer to USATF Masters National Championships. He won this division at the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Run, the USATF Open 10 Mile Championship. His 1:27:04 is age grade equivalent to a 52:15 10K. Later that month he ran 54:39 at the Pike's Peek 10K. Rosen reinforced that message with three 5K's in 2023 at 27:08, 27:09 and 28:41. Those times suggest that Bligh will be pressed to stay with Rosen. That may be true but Bligh's 28:45 was on a challenging course. And he does have home course advantage. Bligh will have to make the hills work to his advantage.

Those two should go 1-2. David Turner won this division on this course in 2022 in 29:02 but did not compete last year. This year in September, he clocked 29:35 at a 5K so he should be ready.

I will go with Rosen for the win. His times are certainly faster. But Bligh will not quit. Rosen appears to be faster on the flat. I do not know if any of Rosen's times were on challenging courses. The CUCB 10 Miler is flat and fast for a ten miler. The Pike's Peek 10K advertises itself as a PR course, suggesting the same.

My pick is Rosen-Bligh-Turner in that order.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Ed Bligh    Harold Rosen      David Turner

85-89 It would be poetic justice if Adrian Craven Atlanta TC/South Carolina would win this division this year. Last year he was far ahead in M85, not far from the finish when a young spectator ran out of his parents' grasp, entered the racecourse. Craven, in trying to avoid running the child down, fell. Craven was helped to his feet. That is allowed by rule. Based on visual evidence, the Referee determined that Craven had also been assisted forward after he rose. The Referee issued a DQ. Craven was directed to the Medical tent and did not learn he had been disqualified until after the protest period was over. Craven's time would have been 38:50 had he not been DQ'd. Had he not been tripped; the time would have been faster. A few months later, he won the M85 Masters Road Mile Championship in 11:28. Craven wound up the year with a win at the Masters 5 Km XC Championships on a warm day in Boca Raton, with a 44:42.

Adrian Craven On His Way to M85 Victory at the 2023 USATF Masters 5 Km Cross Country Championships at Boca Raton, FL Photo Credit: Michael Scott


Bill Blask Greenville TC/South Carolina will give him a run for his money. Blask ran a 1:10:14 5-Miler in February. But he speeded up, posting a 35:11 5K in April and a 36:41 5K in October. Those are both faster than Craven's effort at these championships last year. Whether terrain is an equalizer or not is a question. How much time was lost in the incident leading to the DQ is also unknown.

Sid Davis Atlanta TC/Georgia was declared the winner last year in 53:54. His lone challenger for third is Fred Motz Atlanta TC/North Carolina who ran a 1:51:26 10K at Peachtree, which is age grade equivalent to a 55:26 5K. Motz followed that with a 59:47 5K in August. But with temps in the mid-80's it is safe to assume he adopted a measured pace. It has also been suggested by his Team Captain that Motz might not make the trip from NC after all. Either way, I will go with Davis for third.

It looks like it might be close between Craven and Blask. I will go with an order of Craven-Blask-Davis.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Bill Blask    Adrian Craven      Sid Davis

WOMEN 40-44 If Pezzullo, Pesce, and Lund finish 1-2-3 overall, they also finish 1-2-3 in this division.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

April Lund     Jennifer Pesce     Stephanie Pezzullo

45-49 Jill Braley and Dawn Grunnagle were considered in the preview of contenders for the Overall podium. Hence they are the top two contenders for this division. I give Braley a slight edge, both because her time last year on this course appears to be a bit faster than Grunnagle's recent 10K's suggest she can run. But Braley also has experience in this Championship and, presumably, has practiced on this new racecourse.

Jill Braley captures 2nd Place Overall and in the 40-44 Age division at the 2022 USATF Masters 5 Km Championships in Atlanta, GA Photo Courtesy of Atlanta Track Club

The other primary contender is Sara Girotto who won here last year in 18:54. That time might have been faster. In the crowded start, Girotto tried to maneuver around a falling runner. As she was doing so, somewhat off balance already, another runner bumped into her, and she fell hard. She bounced back up, like a champion. After she won the race, she had an ice bag on her knee. Girotto learned later that she needed surgical repair to her knee. That she was able to win her division and improve on her 2022 time, is a testament to her resilience. A long rehab followed. By December she was training well and had recovered some of her fitness. Her times at a 10K and a Half Marathon, however, were still slower than her time in those same races in 2022 before the surgical repair work. She ran a 40:42 10K in November and a 1:30:18 HM in December. Those suggest conditioning sufficient for a sub-20-minute 5K but perhaps not a sub-19.

Sara Girotto claims the Win in Women's 45-49 at the 2022 USATF Masters 5 Km Championships in Atlanta, GA Photo Courtesy of Atlanta Track Club

That means that Rhia Kilpatrick who finished 8th in this division last year in 19:37, has a shot at coming in ahead of Girotto. Kilpatrick ran 18:16 at the fast Macon Labor Day 5K. Her 31:31 at the Give Thanks 8K was a half-minute faster than the 8K that Girotto ran as part of the Philadelphia Marathon weekend just before Thanksgiving. I will guess that Girotto's fitness has continued to improve since early December. If so, she should be up to the challenge from Kilpatrick. I am opting for a finishing order of Braley-Grunnagle-Girotto.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Jill Braley     Sara Girotto     Dawn Grunnagle

50-54 Abby Dean Greater Philadelphia TC/Delaware won this division last year with a 19:22. That was three months after surgery. The surgery threw her off at Richmond last year. History has repeated itself as a surgery in November relegated Dean to 3rd at Richmond in 26:44 this year. Last year Dean got enough training time in to rise to the top for Atlanta. That is likely to be true again this year. Dean was 4th overall and first in this division at the Masters 10 Km Championships in 38:15.

Abby Dean crosses the Finish Line in 4th Place Overall and with the 50-54 Win at the 2023 USATF Masters 10 Km Championships in Dedham MA Photo Credit: Pam Fales

Should Dean not be fully recovered, it is likely that Samantha Forde Impala Racing/California and Rebekah Kennedy Central Park TC-Tracksmith/New York would battle for the win. Kennedy had the edge here in Atlanta last year, finishing 4th in 45-49 last year in 19:45. Forde was 20 seconds back, finishing 4th in 50-54. In their most recent matchup, however, on the turf at Tallahassee, Forde had the edge, finishing 4th in 25:19, more than a half minute ahead of Kennedy, in 7th. It will be interesting to see who has the edge on Saturday. Alexandra Marzulla has the recent edge over her teammate, Alysia Puma. If any of the top three have an off day, Marzulla, or possibly Puma, might ascend the podium. Puma finished 8th here last year in 21:49; Marzulla did not run. Marzulla came in two minutes ahead of Puma at the 12 Km Masters Championships last September in 52:32. They have 10K times in different races that are within a half-minute of each other so Puma may be stronger at shorter distances and Marzulla at longer distances. On the other hand, Marzulla also came in 20 seconds ahead of Puma last month in Richmond.

My best guess at finishing order is: Dean-Forde-Kennedy.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Abby Dean     Samantha Forde     Rebekah Kennedy

55-59 Fiona Bayly Unaffiliated/New York enters as the strong favorite. She won the division here last year, Her results this year show she is still in top form. In torrential rain, strong winds and mid-30's temps, Bayly still managed a division win at the Fred Lebow HM in NY on January 28th in 1:29:26. She ran 4 minutes faster in Houston two weeks earlier. Rachel Hopkins Sirius Athletics/Georgia, moving up from 50-54 this year is probably the best bet for 2nd place. She finished 3rd in 50-54 last year in 19:43. With Bayly unentered at Clubs in Tallahassee, Hopkins took the division win in 24:41 with over 20 seconds to spare. After those two there is still a very strong field that will battle for the third spot on the podium: Melissa Chiti Pursuit Of Excellence TC/North Carolina, Laura DeLea Shore AC/New Jersey, Mimi Fallon Liberty AC/Massachusetts, and Hronn Gudmundsdottir Impala Racing/California

Fiona Bayly attacking the final hill on her way to a Podium Finish Overall in the Masters Race at the 2023 USATF Cross Country Championships at Pole Green Park in Richmond, VA Photo Credit: Rick Lee

Chiti and DeLea met at Richmond last month on a chilly day on the turf. Chiti came in first, just 2 seconds ahead of DeLea. How will the rematch go? In August, Chiti ran a 22:03 at the Atlanta's Finest 5K over the same course as the 5 Km Championships. DeLea ran 20:34 and 21:12 5K's in the fall.

Laura DeLea left, knee socks leading Melissa Chiti lime green hat (and her 50-54 teammate, Alexandra Marzulla right, red gloves), mid-race, on their way to a tight 1-2 finish in 55-59 at the 2024 USATF Cross Country Championships in Richmond, VA Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Fallon finished 3rd in 50-54 at the Masters 10 Km Championships in April with a 42:03. She ran three 5K's last fall in the 20:11 to 20:24 range. On February 11th, she clocked a 26:35 4-Miler on Super Sunday. That is age grade equivalent to a 20:21 so she is on target for this coming Saturday. Gudmundsdottir last appeared here in 2019 when she finished 3rd in 50-54 in 19:29. More recently she finished 5th in 55-59 with a 1:10:13 at the Masters Ten Mile Championships in Sacramento. That is age grade equivalent to a 42:31 10K. One of those four will break away from the others. It is possible that one of them might challenge Hopkins for 2nd. If forced to pick, I will go with Fallon. That gives me a projected order of Bayly-Hopkins-Fallon.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Fiona Bayly     Mimi Fallon     Rachel Hopkins

60-64 This could change on the last day of registration. But, as of now, this division has the largest field of entrants among the Women's divisions and is larger than Men's 60-64. That would be a first in my decade or so of looking at Masters Championship entry lists. The competition in Women's 60-64 is very healthy! I expect to see Suzanne La Burt Shore AC/New York and Mary Cass Liberty AC/Massachusetts contending for top honors. Cass had her way at the top of 60-64 from late 2022 through much of 2023. She did encounter a faster runner at the 5K Championships here last year. Kris Clark (not entered this year) claimed the win; Cass finished 2nd in 20:17.

Since La Burt aged up from 55-59, she has had the edge over Cass. La Burt claimed her first 60-64 Championship, in Indianapolis, running a 5:46 road mile to take the win. Cass did not compete at that event nor the next one. At the Masters 12 Km Championships in Highlands NJ, La Burt ran 49:13, taking the division win with 5 minutes to spare. They finally met at the Masters 5 Km XC championships in Boca Raton in October. Cass closed strong to close the gap to 4 seconds, but La Burt had the win in 20:51. 

Suzanne La Burt closes in on her 60-64 victory over Mary Cass background at the 2023 USATF Masters 5 Km Cross Country Championships Photo Credit: Michael Scott

They met again at Tallahassee, in December, where La Burt enjoyed a more decisive win, by 25 seconds, as she clocked 25:21. Cass enjoyed the win at Cross Nationals in Richmond in January with a 25:37. But La Burt was not entered. Atlanta will be their third meeting since La Burt entered the division. Cass will be hoping that third time is the charm, for the win La Burt will be hoping that her winning margin stays the same or grows.

Who will be battling for the final podium spot? The chief rivals are: Deborah Capko Shore AC/New Jersey, Donna Grocki Shore AC/New Jersey, and Kris Huff Atlanta TC/Georgia. Capko ran a 22:08 5K at Asbury Park in August and followed that with a 21:21 at the Little Silver 5K in October. Her 55:46 at the Masters 12 Km Championships earned her the bronze medal. But she finished a minute and change behind her teammate, Grocki, who claimed the silver medal. Grocki posted a 22:32 5K on Thanksgiving Day and a 22:05 on New Year's Day. She ran a 47:03 10K at the end of May. Huff finished 3rd here in 55-59 last year with a 21:28. She also posted a 44:21 at Peachtree. At Clubs in Tallahassee, Huff came in a good minute ahead of Capko. 

Kris Huff on her way to a 4th place finish in the Women's 60+ Team Race, helping her team to a Second Place Finish at the 2024 USATF Masters Cross Country Championships at Pole Green Park in Richmond, VA Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Given Huff's experience running Masters Championships and her mental knowledge and 'muscle memory' of Atlanta's terrain, I go with Huff for the third-place finish! That gives a predicted order of La Burt- Cass - Huff.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Mary Cass     Kris Huff     Suzanne La Burt

65-69 Stella Gibbs Impala Racing/California should enjoy her new age division. In 20:22 her 21:06 left Gibbs just off the 60-64 podium. If she had run the same time last year, it would have again left her in 4th. But it would have been a winning time in the 65-69 division. If we apply the aging function of age grading to that 2022 time, we see that two years later, it equates to a 21:39. That would still be faster than the winning 65-69 time last year. That does not guarantee a win, but it points in that direction. Last year she ran a 21:38 5K in June and a 21:12 in July. I have no recent results, but it looks like Gibbs is ready to run under 22:00. Patrice Combs Atlanta TC/Georgia won the division here last year in 22:32. Four months later she ran a faster pace to win her division at Peachtree with a 44:14. That suggests she might be more competitive with Gibbs than it appears from looking at the 5 Km Championship times.  Lesley Hinz Atlanta TC/Georgia is coming back from rehab after surgery; that close finish might be a sign that she is ready to compete with Combs. Hinz was setting American Age Division Records on the track not so many years ago. Hinz clocked a 20:09 5K at the fast Macon Labor Day 5K in 2021. Even though the course is fast, that time suggests the low 21's, on an ordinary racecourse, was possible for Hinz in 2021. In February of 2023, Hinz was two minutes slower than Combs at Atlanta in 24:19. At Tallahassee last December, Combs edged her teammate, Hinz, for the silver medal by a single second. It looks like their friendly competition is tightening up. Kitty Musante Shore AC/Florida also has a role to play on Saturday. Like Hinz she is returning either from an injury or surgery or both. In late 2022, Musante was running her 5K's in the low 22-minute range. In the Masters 5 Km Championships in February 2023, she finished 2nd to Combs in 23:34. At the 5 km Masters Cross Country Championships in early October, Combs ran 4 minutes faster than Musante. By Clubs in December, the margin was down to a minute. This winter Musante has run her 5K's in 23:13, 22:35, and 21:18, all in Florida. It looks like she is ready to compete for the podium as well!

Mireille Silva and Lesley Hinz sharing a happy moment right after they crossed the finish line at the 2023 USATF Masters 5 Km Championships in Atlanta, GA Photo Credit: Joaquin Lara

It is not clear at all how things will shake out on Saturday. Until Hinz actually beats Combs, I have to give Combs the edge. The same goes for Combs vs. Musante. I will go with Gibbs for the win, followed by Combs, followed by Hinz. But it is very possible that Musante will be on the podium. Almost any permutation of those four seems possible on Saturday. My best guess is: Gibbs-Combs-Hinz.

 Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Patrice Combs     Stella Gibbs     Lesley Hinz

70-74 A newcomer to Masters Championships, Kari Chandler Unaffiliated/Michigan appears to be the favorite. Last September, she ran a 38:04, age grade equivalent to a 23:24 5K. Chandler followed that in October with a 1:43:13 Half Marathon in Grand Rapids, age grade equivalent to a 46:57 10K. Chandler finished off the series with a 22:43 Turkey Trot 5K in Lansing. 

Norma 'Nonie' Hudnall finished 3rd here last year in 27:40. Hudnall's teammate, Cynthia 'Cindy Lucking, returning to the Championships after hip replacement surgery, finished 16 seconds ahead of Hudnall at Club Cross in Tallahassee with a 35:31. A month later, Lucking took the division win, unopposed, at Cross Nationals in Richmond VA with a 34:40. Lucking has not tested her hip at a Masters national road championship yet. But it seems unlikely Lucking could crack 25 minutes. She would need that fast a time to be close to Chandler. 

Cindy Lucking started conservatively but moved up during the race to capture the 70-74 Silver Medal at the 2023 USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, FL Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Terry Ozell, an ATC teammate of Hudnall's and Lucking's, ran 27:53 last year to finish 6th in 65-69 here in Atlanta, GA. Her most recent efforts do not suggest she is likely to run under 27 minutes. The most likely order of finish seems to be Chandler-Lucking-Hudnall.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Kari Chandler     Norma Hudnall     Cynthia Lucking

75-79 Terry Foody Unaffiliated/Kentucky, Andrea McCarter Atlanta TC/Georgia, and Barbara Sauer Greater Buffalo TC/New York are entered in the 75-79 division. They have to make it to the starting line and finish the race. If they do so, each will be on the podium, barring late entrants to the division. But what is the likely order? Sauer was 5th in the 70-75 division here last year with a 29:08 effort. Sauer advanced to the 75-79 division before the Masters 10 Km Championships. Her 1:00:13 earned her the 75-79 silver medal at those championships. She ran a 28:52, a 30:04, and a 29:19 5K in August, September, and October last year. Unless something is amiss, Sauer seems likely to run around 30 minutes or under on Saturday. In 2023, Foody ran 36:05, 36:11 and 36:13 5K's. Something around 36 minutes seems a good projection. McCarter finished 2nd here last year in 75-79 with a 37:09. Her first run of 2024 on New Year's Day was a 36:08. McCarter finished ahead of Foody on the turf last December, stopping the clock at 46:06, 43 seconds ahead of Foody. It looks like McCarter and Foody will have a good battle for 2nd place! 

Andrea McCarter on Her Way to a 75-79 Bronze Medal at the 2023 USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, FL Photo Credit: Michael Scott

But I have to give McCarter the edge based on the Club Cross outcome and home roads advantage. That leaves me at: Sauer-McCarter-Foody.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Terry Foody     Andrea McCarter     Barbara Sauer

80-84 Teammates, Myrna Barnett Atlanta TC/Georgia and Catherine Radle Atlanta TC/Georgia are the two entrants in this division. They will go 1-2. Last year Barnett won with a 36:46 effort. Radle was 3rd at 38:35. Barnett ran a 37:33 5K on January 20th. Radle ran a 38:01 on New Year's Day and then a 39:06 on January 13th. There seems no reason to look for an upset. The more likely order of finish is Barnett-Radle.

Likely podium in alphabetical order:

Myrna Barnett     Catherine Radle

85-89 Joyce Hodges-Hite, the winner of the 2023 Masters National Grand Prix title in this division, continues to roll along. She won the 80-84 division here in 2022 with a 50:05. 

Joyce Hodges-Hite on Her Way to an 85-89 Gold Medal performance at the 2023 USATF Masters 5 Km Cross Country Championships in Boca Raton, FL Photo Credit: Michael Scott

A year later, she ran faster, clocking 48:51 to win the 85-89 division. She is running unopposed. A victory is all but certain.

Likely podium:

Joyce Hodges-Hite   

That covers the entries through Tuesday, February 21st at 12 Noon. The fields are almost set! If there are important last-minute entries, I will update this article. 

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Hall and Kibet Just Miss Qualifying for the Olympics But are the New American Masters Marathon Record Holders

February 4, 2024. At the Olympic Marathon Trials in Orlando on Saturday, two Masters runners turned in amazing performances in their quest to join Team USA in Paris. 

WOMEN'S RACE Sara Hall, has had a long and decorated career, augmented by recent runner-up finishes at the London Marathon in 2020 with a 2:22:01 and a 5th place finish, and first American, at the 2022 World Championships Marathon in Eugene. Hall, who turned 40 last spring, had never been on an Olympic team. This looked to be her last chance but, perhaps one of the best. She could build confidence from those successes at London and Eugene; her training had gone well. She was prepared, but the field was deep and strong. Veterans like Keira D'Amato, Lindsay Flanagan, Caroline Rotich, Betsy Saina, Emily Sisson, and Aliphine Tuliamuk were known competitors, but relative newcomers could surprise. Molly Seidel qualifying in her debut marathon at the 2020 trials in Atlanta is an example.

Everyone who is a serious fan of the sport now knows the name of Fiona O'Keefe, who startled many in the running community when she surged away from the lead pack during mile 20 and then extended the lead from Mile 20 to Mile 21. Sisson was the only runner in the lead pack who could try to go with her. And then, all of a sudden, instead of Hall vying with 4 other women for the win, it was O'Keefe going for the win, with Sisson in pursuit and Hall battling for the final spot with three other women. O'Keefe got the win in 2:22:10, with Sisson about a half minute back in 2nd. 

Rotich and Saina, the pre-race favorite of many, had been in that lead pack the whole race. Dakotah Lindwurm, who was not one of the favorites, but had been there as well, had started to struggle and drifted back. Twelve seconds behind the lead group at Mile 19, Lindwurm was, seemingly, out of the hunt. Her 5:30's had not been matching the 5:27's the lead group had imposed on them by O'Keefe. But once O'Keefe and Sisson left them behind, the trio of Hall, Rotich and Saina found their pace at 5:38 for Mile 20 and slowed to 5:48 for Mile 21. The combination of a warm day and too hot a pace had worn on them. Lindwurm's 5:35 for Mile 20 brought her slightly closer to the trio and then her 5:39 in Mile 21 brought her to the front of that 3-athlete pack, as they slowed to that 5:48 split. 

Sara Hall, between Dakotah Lindwurm left and Fiona O'Keefe right firmly in the hunt for the win on the 2nd loop of the 2024 Olympic Trials course Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Hall fared better than Saina and Rotich. Both had to retire from the race between miles 21 and 22--such disappointment! Saina may have another good chance; she will be 39 for the 2028 Trials. But for Rotich, only one year younger than Hall, this was probably her last chance to make Team USA for the Olympics. Rotich is a two-time winner of the UA NYC Half, winner of the 2015 Boston Marathon and member of Kenya's marathon team for the 2011 World Championships. Rotich switched her residency for international competitions from Kenya to the US last October to be able to represent the country she has lived in since 2006. Hall battled on. 

Sara Hall right and Emily Sisson left  on the third loop, trying to stay in touch with O'Keefe at the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials Photo Credit: Michael Scott

But her legs and lungs, which had been carrying her to sub 5:30 miles from Mile 14 to Mile 19 could no longer do it. Mile 22 was 5:47, as she lost another 7 seconds to Lindwurm. When her pace slowed again and Lindwurm gained another 7 seconds, Hall must have realized the dream was gone. But you finish the race. Hall finished 5th in 2:26:06 as Jessica McClain sped by her in the last 385 yards.

Sara Hall finishing her 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials Race Posted by S Hall on Facebook


Hall posted after the race on Instagram: "My heart is broken, but my love for this sport is unchanged. Man, I missed doing that and loved every moment of being out there again flying along, flanked by an incredible group of women I love and respect so much. Even when you come up short, there’s no better feeling than going all-in and all-out on something you love.

Congratulations to our amazing team @fiona_okeeffe @em_sisson_ @dakotahlindwurm who are going to represent so amazingly in Paris!"

It was not the ending Hall wished for, and the fast time unimportant. But it will be important to many athletes as they enter their 40's. That 2:26:06 smashed Des Linden's mark of 2:27:35 set just a few months ago in Chicago. If neither Steph Bruce, D'Amato, nor Rotich break it next year when they pass 40, it could stand for a long time. The 3-way Masters attempt, or 5-way if Hall and Linden joined in, might be a nice story line for Chicago next year!

MEN'S RACE It was a different story in the men's race. Elkanah Kibet enjoys less fame than Hall. But he has had a distinguished career in international competition for the US. He has run the marathon for Team USA in three World Championships, London in 2017, Doha in 2019 and Eugene in 2022. His best World's finish was 1st American and 16th overall in London. He was 2nd American and 9th overall at the Boston Marathon in 2:09:07. He turned 40 last summer. Not listed as one of the prerace favorites, you can bet that the other prime contenders knew he was there. 

Elkanah Kibet US Army World Class Athlete Program Posted on Facebook by US Army WCAP

The men's race unfolded differently. After the first two miles, Zach Panning, one of the pre-race favorites, asserted control of the race by moving to the front and setting a pace that would, if held to the end, result in a time that would qualify for the Olympic Games. 

Elkanah Kibet left running in the lead pack on the 2nd loop, with Leonard Korir far left, his rival for the final spot, a few meters behind at the 2024 Olympic Trials Photo Credit: Michael Scott

As was announced shortly before the Trials, the US was only guaranteed two spots in the Olympic Marathon in Paris. By running very fast times at Chicago last October, Connor Mantz and Clayton Young opened up two slots. But no other American had run under the 2:08:10 needed to unlock a third spot. If anyone other than Mantz or Young had run under 2:08:10 in the trials that would have unlocked a third spot. Panning, with Mantz and Young running comfortably in 2nd and 3rd, brought the lead pack through the half marathon in 1:04:07. 

Kibet, and one of his rivals, Leonard Korir, a youngster at 37, who finished 4th in the 2020 Trials, were in that pack. Panning kept hammering as Miles 15 through 19 went by in 4:51, 4:48, 4:44, 4:51, and 4:53. In Miles 18 and 19, Kibet and Korir allowed a 7 second gap to open up between them and the leading trio.  Mile 20 saw Kibet's split rise just above 5:00 for the first time; he suddenly found himself in 5th, 7 seconds behind Korir and 16 behind Panning. Even though Kibet lost another 9 seconds to Korir in the next mile, with a 5:15 split, the veteran did not panic. He found a way to settle into a slightly more productive rhythm. Kibet closed up with Korir by Mile 23. 

By Mile 23, the lead trio was tired; all three had splits of 5:06 or 5:07. Mile 24 saw Panning start to struggle. Mantz and Young's splits climbed from 5:07 to 5:10 but Panning's split for Mile 24 was 5:29. All of a sudden, Panning was 3rd, in 'No Man's Land', twenty seconds behind the lead duo of training partners, Mantz and Young. At that point he had a 24 second lead on Kibet. Korir had hit another bad patch and trailed Kibet by 12 seconds. With 3rd place coming back to him, Kibet found a way to lower his split for Mile 25 to 5:07. With just 1.2 miles to go, he was only 3 seconds out of 3rd place and closing fast, with a 14 second lead on Korir, in 5th. After that disastrous 24th mile for Korir, the warrior inside him awakened and saw that if he could find a better rhythm with his stride, he had a chance at the prize that eluded him in 2020. He was not able to lower his pace by as much as Kibet in Mile 25, but almost. Korir's 25th mile split was 5:09 to Kibet's 5:07. Kibet continued to close on Panning, but it was because Panning had nothing left. Kibet's pace rose to over 5:20 per mile as Korir was able to keep his under 5:10. Kibet passed Panning shortly after they passed the 25 Mile mark. But right before they hit the 26 Mile mat, Korir had passed Kibet with a head of steam. Korir claimed third in 2:09:57, five seconds ahead of Kibet. Korir was elated, Kibet downhearted. 

Elkanah Kibet, after finishing the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials in 4th Place Photo Credit: Michael Scott 

But Kibet had battled hard; it was not in the cards for him on this day. 

The consolation prize, if you will, is that he lowered Abdi Abdirahman's American Masters Marathon Record by one second. At the 2020 trials, Abdi ran 2:10:03; that had stood as the American 40+ record since then. Once the new record is ratified, it will read, Kibet 2:10:02.


WOMEN The other headliners were Steph Bruce and Des Linden. Bruce had qualified for the trials and would run them. Bruce gave birth to her third child, a daughter, Sophia, to join sons Riley and Hudson, just 4 months before the trials. At the beginning of 2022, after being diagnosed with a congenital heart condition, Bruce had started a 'Farewell Tour'. After some really strong performances, she called it off and said she would be pointing toward the 2024 Trials. Bruce had finished sixth at the 2020 Marathon trials in Atlanta. And here she was, four years later, probably not the fittest she had ever been for a Marathon. But she was showing up and would enjoy every minute! Bruce ran her first mile in 5:53 and ran all of her splits for the first 12 miles of the race in the 5:51 to 6:01 range. 

Stephanie Bruce keeping it going through the 2nd Loop of the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials in Orlando, FL Photo Credit: Michael Scott 

After that her splits climbed up further into the low 6's and eventually climbed above 7. But she had enough left at the end for a strong finish. She had every reason to be proud of her 2:47:42, finishing just outside the top 100. Her Strava post: "On paper rough, in real life, after giving birth to Sophia over 4 months ago, super proud."

Linden, the winner of the 2018 Boston Marathon, was relishing her role as the underdog and the one runner who knew how to run well in disastrous conditions. If the weather was too hot, would the favorites fade back? Would we see Linden calmly moving to the front? That was the speculation. In the end it was not to be. Linden came in with the Masters Record she set last October in Chicago. She left with a fine 11th place finish, but no Masters record any more. Linden must have been thinking a 5:30 pace would bring her home in a little over 2:26 and that might be good enough to win on a warm day in Orlando. She started out at that pace and was comfortably in the middle of the lead pack. When Hall and the others lowered the pace to 5:17 in the 2nd mile, Linden's response was to run a 5:28 mile. Her third mile was 5:34. By then she was a half-minute behind the leaders. Linden, no doubt, felt that everything was okay. You never knew what might happen to those going out fast on a warm day. She wished them well but knew she had to be ready to move should things open up later in the race. But with O'Keefe applying pressure at the front, Linden fell further and further behind with her 5:30-ish pace that grew closer to 5:40 after Mile 14. 

Des Linden, running with plenty of bounce in her stride-Third Loop of 2024 Olympic Trials Marathon Photo Credit: Michael Scott 

By Mile 22, she was 3 minutes behind Hall and 4 minutes behind O'Keefe. Her gamble did not pay off. but it had been her best bet. She did take over a minute out of Hall's lead in the last 4 miles. Linden was right that the fast pace and warm weather would favor a more reasonable pace. But she needed another mile or two of racecourse for it to pay off.  In the end, Linden had another fine run, stopping the clock at 2:28:04, in 11th place.

Roberta Groner does not have quite the celebrity status of Bruce and Linden. Although it was close after the Doha World Championships in 2019. She finished as the #1 American in the Marathon and 6th overall that year. The time was slow, due to the inferno like conditions in Doha. They ran the race in the middle of the night and the conditions were still so hot they had a huge number of DNF's. Groner ran her qualifying 2:31:37 at Copenhagen in 2023. Her PR was set at Rotterdam 4 years earlier in 2:29:06! Unlike Linden, Groner had no real likelihood of finishing top 3. But she would run the race, compete, and see what happened. Her plan was to run at 5:45-5:50 pace. That would, if all went well, bring her in with a 2:32 Marathon, very respectable on a warm day in Orlando. Running part of the way with Katie Kellner, Groner appeared to have a fun day as well as a good one. 

Roberta Groner gives a Thumbs Up while racing in the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials alongside Katie Kellner Photo posted on Facebook by R Groner

She passed the Half Marathon mark in 1:16:01 and slowed only slightly over the last 13.1 miles, finishing 24th in 2:33:33. Marybeth Chelanga, in her debut marathon apparently, had a lead of a minute over Groner with 3 miles to go. Groner caught Chelanga with 200 meters to go and edged ahead. But Chelanga did not give up as they sprinted the final meters to the finish line. 

Roberta Groner Right and Marybeth Chelanga both finish in 24th place at 2:33:33 Photo posted on Facebook by R Groner

They wound up with the same time to the second! Such a fun way for a veteran and a rookie to end the race! 

Andrea Pomaranski is the American Masters (40+) Record Holder for the 1 Mile (Road) at 4:47 and the 50 Km at 3:07:49. She is also the 2023 50K US Champion and the Silver Medalist from the 2023 World 50K Championships. Her plan was much like Groner's. Pomaranski carried a faster pace through the halfway point, running the first half marathon in 1:15:12 compared to Groner's 1:16:01. 

Andrea Pomaranski found something too smile about on Loop2 of the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials in Orlando FL Photo Credit: Michael Scott 

But over the second half, Groner was able to keep her splits about 5 to 10 seconds faster than Pomaranski. By Mile 23, Pomaranski was no longer ahead of Groner. But she kept her pace going, finishing 27th of 116 in 2:34:35. That was a Trials Marathon to be proud of!

Meriah Earle, who won the Masters Overall Race at the 2023 USATF Club Cross Country Championships, ran in her first Trials Marathon in 2020. This would be her second. She hoped to improve on her 136th place finish in 2:45:46. Earle knew that an average pace of 6:00 per mile would allow her to finish under 2:40, giving her some slack should she slow over the last few miles. She ticked off sub-6's through Mile 11. Even though she had not kept the sub-6's going through the entire first half, she gained confidence, no doubt, by seeing the halfway split of 1:18:00. Except for her Mile 17 split, which was 6:06, she was running at 6:15 pace from Mile 16 to 21. 

Meriah Earle running comfortably right behind Bruce on the 2nd Loop of the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials course in Orlando FL Photo Credit: Michael Scott

From Mile 22 to 24, Earle's pace rose to 6:25 per mile, but it never shot up like it did for some who had been less cautious in the early miles. Earle hit her 25th mile split in 6:02 and kept it going for a 6:08 in the last full mile. Finally she was across the finish line, one objective achieved. She finished 61st in 2:39:46!

MEN Apart from Kibet, none of the other Masters athletes in the Men's race had a realistic shot at qualifying. The list, in alphabetical order, included: Riley CookBen Payne, Jesse Davis, Prescott Leach, Sergio GarciaMalcolm Richards, Alex Taylor.

Ben Payne had the best day. He ran the first mile in 5:18 but followed that with a 5:07. Once he got into his rhythm, he was running at about 5:15/mile pace through the Half Marathon. 

Ben Payne far right striding along at 5:15 pace in the first loop of the 2024 Olympic Trials Marathon Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Payne passed the halfway point at 1:08:55. Payne kept that up the rest of the way, his slowest at 5:19 and his fastest at 5:09 over those miles. He finished strong to post a 2:17:05, finishing 34th of 150. Kudos to Payne! Not many handled the Orlando warm as well as he did.

Malcolm Richards had a good day as well. The first half marathon was smooth. Like Payne and much of the field, Richards ran his first mile slower than his second, 5:13 and 5:06 and then settled into a pace that was just under 5:10. Richards rolled through the half at 1:07:44 and kept that sub-5:10 pace going through mile 17. 

Malcolm Richards Center-white cap rips off another sub-5:10 Mile on Loop 2 of the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials Photo Credit: Michael Scott

After Mile 17, the next few miles were at 5:18/mile. After Mile 20 things fell apart a little more; the splits rose closer to 5:30, and then 5:45. Richards's 2:18:32 had him in 44th of 150.  Richards was mildly dismissive of his effort on his Strava post, titled, "Yeah, on second thought, I don't know about this whole marathon thing." But Richards had a pretty good result on the day. Many folks struggled to finish. That often happens with a marathon on a warm day. Of course, it was not as fast a Trials marathon as his 2:17:13 in Atlanta nor as fast as his 2:15:10 on the fast course in Berlin in 2016. But it was 8 seconds faster than his Trials marathon in LA in 2016, and 43 seconds faster than his Trials debut marathon in 2012.

Prescott Leach ran a pretty even race, although slower than the races of Payne and Richards. His first mile was 5:30 and he dropped to 5:21 for the 2nd. He hit the splits from Mile 3 to Mile 21 between 5:21 and 5:26, crossing the halfway point in 1:10:06. His pace was closer to 5:30 for the last 5 miles but it does not appear that he experienced as much variation as Richards. His 2:21:07 left him in 71st place out of 150--top half!

Riley Cook was unusual in that his second mile was not faster than his first, hitting both at 5:21. But thereafter Cook settled into 5:20/mile pace through the 17-mile mark, crossing the half at 1:09:33. After Mile 17, his pace climbed above 5:30/mile, and then after Mile 20, above 5:45. 

Riley Cook right cranking out the 5:20 miles on Loop 2 of the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials Photo Credit: Michael Scott

He found his legs could handle a sub-5:30 pace for the final couple of hundred meters, getting him across the finish line in 2:22:53, 90th of 150. Cook noted on Strava, "...not what I hoped for or felt like I trained for, but I gave it everything I had. The third loop was a death march." and " was really cool to have family here supporting me. I hope it inspired my kids to chase their dreams."

Jesse Davis started with a 5:26 and dropped it to 5:14 for the 2nd mile. He then kept it around 5:20 pace through Mile 17, crossing the halfway point at 1:09:34. 

Jesse Davis left gives a 'Thums Up' to a fan as he keeps his 5:20 pace going through the 2nd loop of the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials Photo Credit: Michael Scott

He and Cook must have been running in a group at that point. Davis commented on Cook's post that he was right behind him much of the way. Davis's splits rose to 5:40 pace for miles 18-20 and then to just under 6:00/mile for the final 6 miles. His 2:24:17 left him 108th of 150, another fine effort! His Strava post echoed Cook's, "That was tough. Started cramping with 8 or 9 to go, so went into survival pace. Not my worst race ever and given the heat, I'll take it."

Alex Taylor reported on Strava, after the race, that: "Nauseated and couldn’t take in more fluids and was getting cramps so pulled the plug. Physically fine. Respect to all the finishers today." Taylor was running steady before Mile 18. 

Alex Taylor right laying down a steady 5:40 pace as he runs, by chance, next to Bradley Taylor on Loop 2 of the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials Photo Credit: Michael Scott

He passed the halfway point in 1:12:23 and continued to carry a 5:40 pace through Mile 18. That was when he made the sound decision to 'pull the plug' and live to race another day.

Sergio Reyes won the 2010 USATF Marathon Championship, hosted by the Twin Cities Marathon in 2:14:02. He also ran in the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston, finishing 25th in 2:15:41. Reyes's experience this year was similar to Taylor. His splits fell into the 5:52 to 5:58 range up through Mile 16. He had hit the halfway point in 1:11:55. 

Sergio Reyes running strong on the 2nd Loop at the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials Photo Credit: Michael Scott

He lowered his pace to 5:47 for Mile 17. I do not know if that was an experiment to see if he could carry a faster pace or simply because he was suddenly running more smoothly, as sometimes happens in a marathon. His pace rose back up to 6:03 for Mile 18. That was his last split.  

 It had been a warm marathon day in Orlando, not a day for PR's or to get the third qualifying spot for the Olympic Men's Marathon. But it was not the health risk that many worried about, and it may turn out to be as warm or warmer in Paris in the summer. So it was a good selection site for that reason.

Certainly, hats off to all of the runners who qualified and, especially so, to those who were able to compete, in an event that only comes around once every four years. Next Marathon Trials up, 2028!

Sources: Runners World, Wikipedia, World Athletics,,