Craig Young Breaks American Masters Half-Marathon
RRCA National Half-Marathon Championship
BY RICK PLATT
The Hampton Coliseum race was the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) National Half-Marathon Championship. The half-marathon, with $15,800 in prize money, attracted over 900 entrants, with 792 finishers. The accompanying 8K race, with $5,000 in prize money had almost 400 entrants, with 373 finishers.
The men's overall race was thrilling, as mere inches separated first-place Australian Andrew Letherby, 24, of Albuquerque, N.M and second-place Reuben Chesang, 36, a Kenyan, based out of San Francisco. Both were timed in 1:03:36. Out of the 830,610 inches in a half-marathon race, only one or two inches was the difference; a difference worth $2,000.
The trio of Letherby, Chesang and James Bungei, a Kenyan from Albuquerque, were still together entering the Hampton Coliseum parking area, just over a half-mile from the indoor finish. Bungei, who had handled most of the pacing chores throughout the race, was the first to drop back, eventually finishing a tired third in 1:03:52. Chesang assumed the lead in the final mile, pushing hard, and held it going inside the Hampton Coliseum, just 50 yards from the finish line. Letherby, the 1998 Penn Relays 10,000 meters champion, never had the lead during any portion of the race until the final few yards, and put on a furious kick to nip Chesang at the line.
The race was so close that Chesang still thought he was the winner well after the finish. Chesang only discovered that the official decision went to Letherby when he was being interviewed 30 minutes later. He claimed he never saw Letherby pass him.
That decision made a difference of $2,000 as the winner earned $3,000, plus a $500 course record bonus (the previous race record of 1:04:33 was set by Brian Ferrari in 1991, the first year for the Hampton Coliseum race). Second place was $1,500 for Chesang, while Bungei earned $1,000 for third. Sean Wade of Houston and New Zealand, part of the lead pack through 8 miles, was fourth in 1:04:55, good for $600.
Young was fifth overall with his 1:05:01, but the Hampton Coliseum race did not allow "double dipping," so he earned just $750 ($500 for first Masters, plus a $250 Masters race record bonus). Jim Hage was second Masters with a 1:08:47, almost a minute under the previous Masters record of 1:09:45.
Bill Rodgers, 51, a four-time winner of both the New York and Boston Marathons, was the guest speaker for the race, and was the first 50+ runner across the line (as well as the third 40+ runner), finishing in 1:11:11, close to the U.S. single-age 51 record of 1:10:33 and the U.S. 50-54 age group record of 1:09:30, both by the legendary Norm Green.
The open women's race was tame in comparison with the men's battle, as three Canadian women (Tania Jones, Michelle King and Isabelle Ledroit) shared the pacing chores, with Yugoslavian Suzana Ciric tucking in behind, and never leading until the end. At 12 miles Ciric, 29, surged into the lead, and quickly pulled away to a 1:16:43 win over Jones (1:17:00), King (1:17:21) and Ledroit (1:18:39).
The shorter 8K race was won easily by Breeda Dennehy Willis, 28, of Ireland in a solo 26:23. Willis's coach had wanted her to do a hard 8K time trial in preparation for the Irish Trials to the World Cross Country Championships (two weeks later), and the Hampton Coliseum 8K was the right distance and the right time.
The men's 8K had a four-man lead pack at 3 1/2 miles, but Henno Haava, 26, of Estonia and Sissonville, WV (24:03) outkicked Philippe Rolly of France and Arlington, Va. (24:07) and two Kenyans, Simon Cherogony (24:17) and Julius Rotich (24:21). Masters 8K wins went to Peter Kirk (25:54) and Debi Bernardes (30:28).
After the race Letherby (after running his half-marathon PR) was quoted as saying, "I never expected a half-marathon to come down to a sprint finish. I was just trying to win the race. We both gave it everything coming down the straight."
Letherby continued, "I thought James [Bungei] would be very tough. He was doing a lot of the work into the wind. A couple times I went to their shoulders, and they [the two Kenyans] would surge. The whole race we were together. It was the two Kenyans who were surging most of the way. I was just hanging on."
Letherby ran for Division I Georgia State in downtown Atlanta, where he placed 9th in the '97 NCAA Championships 5000M, then graduated in '98 with a degree in exercise science.
Did Letherby think he had won? "Yes," he said confidently, but admitting "the last couple feet was the only time I led." Letherby felt the margin of victory was "a couple inches, not very much. It was very close. I didn't want to look sideways, it would slow me down. I felt I ran through the line just ahead of him [Chesang]. He ran though the chute faster." He attributed the fast finish and the win to his track background and recent speedwork. "That was very important. I started training more like a track runner [in the past month]."
Chesang's recollection of the finish was different than Letherby's. "Yeah, I thought I won. I didn't see anybody come in front of me."
Bungei, the sacrificial lamb, said, "I was going for the course record, so I pushed by myself most of the way. Sometimes I have a good kick, but not this time." Bungei may have been slowed by a cold he'd been fighting the previous two weeks.
Sean Wade commented, "James [Bungei] made nearly all of it [pacing] till seven [miles]. That's probably what cost him the race." About finishing just six seconds ahead of Young, Wade said, "I'm just glad I held him off. I don't want to lose to a 42 year old. That's a hell of a time."
Although Letherby won $3,500, the happiest person inside the Hampton Coliseum was Craig Young. "That's what's so exciting. It's one thing to break the course record, it's another thing to break the American record when it's so respectable."
"I thought it was possible, to break the existing record. I certainly had that in mind. It was evident right from the gun that I had a shot at it. I felt strong. I knew I was on pace [5 miles in 24:40]."
Publicly the night before the race, Young would only admit to an attempt at the single-age record of 1:08:14. To himself, though, he was hoping for as fast as 1:05:00 (one second faster than his actual time). "That's a bold prediction," said Young, wearing a "Young at Heart Racing" singlet. "We had ideal conditions, the wind wasn't bad, the temperature was cool and overcast, and with a flat course, it was everything you'd want."
Young hung with the lead pack through five miles. "I felt I was going just a little too fast. They had a slight surge at five miles, and I let them go." When Sean Wade fell of the lead pack at 7-8 miles, Young said, "I had something to shoot for. I set my crosshairs on him, and used him to try and stay on pace for the record. I was confident. I knew I had the endurance and the strength."
In contrast to Young, Bill Rodgers wasn't sharp yet. "It was my first race in three months, and I haven't done much speedwork." He felt his 1:11 was good preparation for an April attempt at the Boston Marathon age 50-and-over record.
1. Andrew Letherby ($3,500*) 1:03:36
* Includes $500 course record bonus (old record 1:04:33 by Brian Ferrari, 1991)
** Includes $500 for 1st Masters and $250 for Masters course record (old Masters record 1:09:45 by Terry Permar, 1995)
*** $250 for 2nd Master.
1. Craig Young ($750) 1:05:01
1. Bill Rodgers ($50*) 1:11:11
* Guest speaker and featured runner
19 and Under
1. Brandon Swecker 1:27:12
1. Donald Cambria 1:11:31
1. Rafael Veras 1:09:37
1. Michael Mann 1:11:51
*Placed 2nd in Carolina (S.C.) Marathon Saturday, then raced 8K and half-marathon Sunday.
1. Chris Chattin 1:10:49
1. Kevin Nickodem 1:15:47
1. Chuck Moeser 1:14:20
1. Reuben Beauchamp 1:18:24
1. Ben Dyer 1:23:20
1. Mel Williams 1:22:46
1. Tom Ray 1:31:07
1. Andrew Polansky 1:40:28
75 and Over
1. Robert White 1:50:02
1. Henno Haava ($1,000) 24:03
1. Peter Kirk ($300) 25:54
14 and Under
1. Ryan Kent 31:01
1. Steven Henn 27:43
1. Michael Tanner 26:48
1. Rob Adams 26:31
1. Robert Hinkle 25:01
1. Brett Schmidt 27:49
1. Carlos Pena 27:48
1. Rick Platt 28:04
1. David Lowe 31:28
1. Cecil Davis 34:07
1. Chan Robbins 33:10
65 and Over
1. John Cholish 38:32
1. George Fenigsohn 30:33
1. Suzana Ciric ($3,000) 1:16:43
* Includes $500 for 1st Masters and $250 for Masters course record bonus (old Masters record, 1:21:00 by Diane Legare, 1997)
** $250 for 2nd Master
1. Lee DiPietro ($750) 1:19:40
1. Jeanne Kruger ($50) 1:33:32
1. Charlotte Cockrell 1:38:45
1. Monica Robbers 1:24:47
1. Missy Foy 1:22:11
1. Patricia Bouvatte 1:23:59
1. Nancy Ferris 1:32:47
1. Barbara Mathewson 1:31:43
1. Melissa McLeod 1:46:34
1. Kathy Lewis 1:45:50
1. Tami Graf 1:55:11
1. Breeda Dennehy Willis ($1,000) 26:23
1. Debi Bernardes ($300) 30:28
14 and Under
1. Aspen Foster 36:03
1. Rose Moeser 35:39
1. Sara Rowley 34:40
1. Jill Cridge 38:28
1. Julia Smith 32:26
1. Lori Robertson 31:29
1. Robin Moon 33:59
1. Eileen Hungerman 34:14
1. Andrea Hess 39:07
1. Charlene Magee 41:00
60 and Over
1. Nancy Patron 43:00
1. Carol Pamperin 34:45