5 Thoughts On The USATF Marathon Champs At Cal International

By LetsRun.com
December 4, 2017

The 2017 USATF Marathon Championships were held at the California International Marathon in Sacramento this weekend and Tim Ritchie and Sara Hall picked up the $20,000 first-place prizes. We weren’t able to watch the race as it was not broadcast live, but after analyzing the results, we’ve listed five takeaways below.

Sara Hall of Redding, Calif., wins the 2017 USA Marathon Championships women's title at the California International Marathon in Sacramento, Calif., in 2:28:10 (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly) Sara Hall of Redding, Calif., wins the 2017 USA Marathon Championships women’s title at the California International Marathon in Sacramento, Calif., in 2:28:10 (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)

1) Sara Hall’s marathon double caps off a terrific fall

Few U.S. runners have been more prolific this fall than Sara Hall. Here’s what she’s done since the calendar turned to September (and yes, technically the first half of September is still summer):

September 4: Ran 67:53 (PR) to place 3rd at US 20k champs in New Haven
September 17: Ran 69:37 (PR) to place 10th at Copenhagen Half Marathon
October 1: Ran 53:43 to win US 10-mile champs in St. Paul
October 29: Ran 2:27:21 to place 5th at Frankfurt Marathon
December 3: Ran 2:28:10 to win US marathon champs in Sacramento

Throw in Hall’s 2:28:26 in Tokyo in February – a PR at the time but only her third-fastest marathon of 2017 – and it’s been an incredible year for the 34-year-old, who is coached by husband Ryan. Hall’s ability to bounce back was already well-known – she finished 20th at World XC (top American) just two weeks after making her marathon debut in 2015 – but what she did in Frankfurt and Sacramento was even more impressive. It’s one thing to run two solid marathons in five weeks, but Hall’s performances in Frankfurt and Sacramento were more than solid – they were the two fastest marathons of her life. They also ranked as the eighth- and ninth-fastest marathons by an American woman this year – the equivalent of a U.S. man running 2:12 twice in five weeks. And she has done all this while raising four daughters. Incredible.

The way Hall ran in Sacramento was also incredible as she boldly attacked the course record of 2:27:33, running almost the entire race solo. By 10k (34:44), she led by 72 seconds and went on to win by 2:28.

Tim Ritchie of New Haven, Conn., wins the 2017 USA Marathon Championships men's title at the California International Marathon in Sacramento, Calif., in 2:11:55 (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly) Tim Ritchie of New Haven, Conn., wins the 2017 USA Marathon Championships men’s title at the California International Marathon in Sacramento, Calif., in 2:11:55 (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)

2) Tim Ritchie and Saucony’s Freedom Track Club have made a fast start

On September 20, Saucony announced the launch of the Boston-based Freedom Track Club, a training group headed up by three-time U.S. 5,000 champ Tim Broe that includes 2015 NCAA XC champ Molly Seidel, former Virginia Tech star Tommy Curtin, and 61:23 half marathoner Tim Ritchie. Two and a half months later, and things could not be going much better.

Seidel and Curtin both impressed by finishing 2nd at the USATF 5k road champs in New York on November 4. Though November is not a time of year when most U.S. runners are in peak shape, there was some serious quality in both races as Curtin defeated Paul Chelimo, Ben True, Hassan Mead, and Leonard Korir while Seidel’s scalps included Natosha Rogers, Stephanie Garcia, and Abbey D’Agostino. Then, on Thanksgiving, Seidel finished third at the Manchester Road Race, taking down British stud Eilish McColgan (14:48/32:10, 10th in World Champs 5k) in the process.

Now Ritchie, who has been working with Broe since August 2016, has gotten in on the action with a big win of his own. Ritchie, a Worcester, Mass., native who went to Boston College, sliced almost three minutes off his old PR (2:14:50) to get the win in Sacramento in 2:11:56, and did so with a sizable negative split (66:52-65:04). Though Ritchie lives and trains in New Haven, Conn., (he visits Boston roughly once a month to check in with Broe), he has enjoyed being part of a team again.

“Their (Seidel and Curtin’s) results in New York were awesome,” Ritchie told LetsRun. “Both of them sent me messages, along with some of my other teammates, the night before the race. That’s what I miss about that college running is that feeling of that you’re part of a team. I’ve kind of always felt that with Saucony, but now that the Freedom Track Club is really taking its shape, I’m out on the course and I’m thinking of my teammates, I’m thinking of the club and trying to do my best to get the jersey across the line first.”

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Check back later this week for an interview with Ritchie.

3) The depth in Sacramento was incredible

The qualifying window for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon opened on September 1, and a ton of athletes took advantage of the perfect conditions and downhill course in Sacramento to knock out their qualifiers. In all, 10 men were under the “A” standard of 2:15:00 (which includes airfare and lodging at the Trials) and 38 were under the “B” standard of 2:19:00. On the women’s side, 13 hit the “A” standard of 2:37:00 and 54 hit the “B” standard of 2:45:00.

The depth goes beyond the elites, however, as a total of 105 men (and one woman) broke 2:30. Check out how that compares to other major marathons in the United States in 2017:

Race Men under 2:30 Women under 2:30 Total under 2:30
CIM 105 1 106
Chicago 58 6 64
Boston 50 6 56
New York 30 8 38
Grandma’s 33 0 33

(If we go back further in history, 84 men broke 2:20 at the 1983 Boston Marathon with 313 going sub-2:30 when there was a favorable wind. But the most impressive may be the 1991 London Marathon where 100 people ran under 2:19:31 on a non-aided course).

We should note that the CIM course is not record-eligible — to be record-eligible, a course must drop by no more than one meter per kilometer and CIM drops by 2.45 meters per kilometer (hat tip David Monti and Race Results Weekly). But the course is eligible for running an Olympic Trials qualifier.

Among the 38 men and 54 women who qualified, there were a ton of PRs, but a few stand out as especially noteworthy:

  • Tyler McCandless (2:12:28), Kiya Dandena (2:12:56), and Anthony Costales (2:13:12): Ritchie wasn’t the only man to run a big PR at the front of the race. McCandless (2:58), Dandena (9:18), and Costales (4:36) all ran huge personal bests to take second, third, and fourth, respectively.
  • Christopher Zablocki (2:13:45): Zablocki, whom we profiled in 2016, ran a PR of almost two minutes to place eighth. That in itself is impressive, but even more so when you consider CIM was his 11th marathon of 2017 (one of which was a 2:21:48 world indoor record at the Armory). Prior to CIM, his most recent marathon was a 2:18:01 win in Hartford on October 14.
  • Roberta Groner (2:30:38): Groner, at age 39, ran a PR of seven minutes, 14 seconds, to take second in 2:30:38.
  • Dawn Grunnagle (2:35:42): Four days after her 40th birthday, Grunnagle, a former member of the Nike Oregon Project, ran a PR of 5:21 to finish 10th.
  • Molly Friel (2:43:57): Friel, who ran her PR of 2:41:30 at this race three years ago at age 47, qualified for the Olympic Trials at the age of 50 (and with over a minute to spare!). We’re not sure of Friel’s exact birth date, but assuming the Trials are held sometime after December 3, 2019, Friel will be at least 52 years old when she runs the Trials with a spot to Tokyo on the line.

MB: Holy Hell the depth at CIM.

4) Props to Parker Stinson

The US Marathon champs are in an interesting place in the US marathon scene. The US’s top stars go to big-city marathons where they get appearance fees much bigger than the first place prize at the US champs. The next tier of US runners can often still snag smaller appearance fees and often are pulled to majors or fast courses in Europe where they can get a PR and show they might contend for the 2020 Olympic team spots. The US champs are often left with guys and gals not as concerned with time, content to battle it out for the win and the $20,000 payday.

That definitely didn’t apply to Parker Stinson. The Oregon grad, now coached by Brad Hudson and running for Saucony, went through halfway on 2:09:22 pace (1:04:41). At mile 20 he had slowed to 2:10:34 pace, and it did not end well for Stinson as he had to walk during parts of the final miles and he finished in 31st in 2:18:07. However, we left super impressed with the effort. CIM is a fast downhill course and Stinson tried to run a fast time all alone without any rabbits.

There has been some lamentation this fall on the LetsRun messageboards on why so few Americans can break 2:10 in the marathon (see: What is wrong with American male marathoners? Or, how long will 2:12 be impressive?). One thing we know for certain is you can’t break 2:10 if you don’t make it your goal. Props to Stinson for going for it, even though there are no bonus points for effort in running.

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5) Jerry Lawson’s record lives on

Ritchie’s win and Stinson’s guts inspired us to look up the CIM course record. It is the 2:10:27 American Jerry Lawson ran in 1993. Since no one associated with LetsRun.com under the age of 30 knew who Lawson was, it’s time for a brief history lesson.

While the late 1990s and early 2000s are viewed as the dark ages of American marathoning, there were actually two Americans, Lawson (2:09:35 Chicago 1997) and David Morris (2:09:32 Chicago 1999), who went sub-2:10 on non-aided courses (something only seven native-born Americans have ever done).

Lawson, who also ran 2:10:04 in Chicago in 1996 for 2nd place, was a total blue-collar runner (he started out at Mohawk Community College in Utica, NY, and ran some 200-mile weeks) and ran his 2:09:35 while working at a local running store and at a preschool.

The 1990s definitely were the dark days for sponsorship for American runners, causing Lawson to juggle two jobs, but New Balance came up with a promotion to pay $1 million to any American who ran faster than Bob Kempainen’s wind-aided 2:08:47, which they viewed as the American record, by the end of 1997.

Things were not going well for Lawson in 1997. The engagement with his girlfriend was called off and he was devastated and short on training as he headed into Chicago. Nonetheless, he had the best run of his life, coming just 48 seconds short of the million-dollar bonus.  

“I still amazed myself. I ran that time in Chicago from just five weeks of real workouts, with no real base training and with a shattered heart and head,” Lawson said in Joe Henderson’s book, Best Runs. New Balance extended the offer a year, but Lawson did not come close the next year.

*Nice profile on Lawson here

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