Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays and Thanks from DtB

Happy Holidays everyone!

On behalf of our little operation, let me wish all of you a happy, healthy, and relaxing holiday season from Down the Backstretch. As much as we all love cross country, track & field, and road racing, it's now time to turn our focus to family and friends rather than results and performances.

As we've done in the past, DtB is going to enjoy a little holiday vacation. We'll return to action after the New Year, of course, getting you back on top of the sport and the budding indoor season. If big news happens to break during our "vacation," you can bet we'll at least note it on our Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Before we go, let me take a moment to thank some of the folks that made 2011 another fine year for DtB. First off, special, heart-felt thanks go to Adam Lindahl of TC Running Company and the Board of Directors at USA Track and Field - Minnesota for their support of DtB as its presenting sponsors. Without their generous investments in our site, DtB would likely not still exist.

We'd also like to thank everyone who has advertised with us during the year -- folks like Twin Cities in Motion, Grandma's Marathon, the Minnesota Distance Running Association, the University of Minnesota Track and Field Camps, the Autism 5K, and the SISU Foundation. your business is truly appreciated!

I'd also like to thank anyone and everyone who has contributed to DtB. Special thanks go to co-founder Pete Miller, fantasy contests director Doug Cowles, photographer Gene Niemi, commentator and pinch hitter Jim Ferstle, ultra-running maven Alex Kurt, throws contributor Kevin Holubar, photographer Sean Hartnett, and high school lists' statisticians Kevin Moorhead, Bill Miles, and Tim Miles. Without the generous contributions of those folks and others, DtB wouldn't have been all that it was this year.

Finally, allow me to thank you, our readers, for making DtB an important part of your enjoyment of the greatest sport on earth. Your continued loyalty to DtB makes the job of covering all the track, road, and cross country action fun and rewarding.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Jon Grey Featured in RT Article

Team USA Minnesota's Jon Grey is the subject of a feature on the Running Times website HERE.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Grey, Tyner, Cheever Make USA XC Squad

Team USA Minnesota runners Jon Grey and Jamie Cheever and former Brainerd High School star Justin Tyner have been named to the USA squad for the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country - International Challenge on January 7.

Teams from the United States, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and a select European team will compete in men’s and women’s junior and senior races at the event.

Grey and Tyner will run on the senior men's team; Cheever will compete in the senior women's event.

Each country competing in the International Team Challenge will consist of nine athletes per team (six on the junior teams) with the first six athletes per team scoring.

Read the full USA Track and Field media release HERE.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Longest Running Streak by Female Ends

Julie Maxwell, a Kasson, Minnesota resident, who had not missed a day of running since July 5, 1978, fell and broke her ankle on December 10, ending the streak after nearly 34 years.

Read about it HERE. Find a current listing of active running streaks -- including some that have lasted more than 40 years! -- HERE.

Sathre, Keller Named Athletes of the Month

Ben Sathre and Linda Keller have been named USATF Minnesota's Athletes of the Month for December.

Sathre, a senior at the University of St. Thomas, was honored for winning the men’s title at the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships in Winneconne, Wisconsin last month. The Chaska High School graduate ran the 8-kilometer course in 23:45. As a junior last year, Sathre was the runner-up at the NCAA Division III Championships.

Keller, a junior at the University of Minnesota – Morris, was recognized for her seventh-place finish in the women’s race at the NCAA Division III Championships. The Paynesville High School grad ran the 6K course in 21:08, earning All-American honors for the second season in a row. A year ago, Keller finished 19th at the meet.

USA Track & Field Minnesota selects Athletes of the Month to honor excellence in track and field and its related sports in Minnesota. USA Track & Field is the governing body of the sport in the United States and the Minnesota Association of USATF sanctions and sponsors track and field, cross country, road racing, and racewalking events for athletes of all ages in the state.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Twenty-Eight Minnesotans Enter Olympic Trials

Twenty-eight marathoners with ties to Minnesota are entered in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials scheduled for January 14 in Houston, Texas.

Fourteen Minnesota men and fourteen Minnesota women have achieved a qualifying mark and were accepted to the event after regular entry into the race closed on Friday evening.

Male athletes needed to run a marathon under 2:19:00 to qualify; women needed to better 2:46:00. Provisions also allowed athletes to qualify at other distances or via performances at the USA Marathon Championships.

Minnesota men's qualifiers include: Team USA Minnesota's Andrew Carlson, St. John's University alum Chris Erichsen, Woodbury resident Donovan Fellows, Team USA Minnesota's Matt Gabrielson, University of Minnesota alums Justin Grunewald and Chad Johnson, Team USA Minnesota's Jason Lehmkuhle, Run N Fun's Eric Loeffler, Northfield High School alum Chris Lundstrom, Team USA Minnesota's Josh Moen, Sauk Rapids native Chris Raabe, the Twin Cities Track Club's Mike Reneau, St. Olaf graduate Malcolm Richards, and Stillwater High School alum Luke Watson.

Minnesota women entered in the race include: St. Olaf alum Jenna Boren, Bloomington resident Kelly Brinkman, Foley and Mansfield's Nicole Cueno, former Team USA Minnesota runner Michelle Frey, Duluth East alum Kara Goucher, Moorhead resident Megan Grindall, Chaska High School alum Stephanie Herbst-Lucke, St. Scholastica alum Jennifer Houck, Duluth Marshall alum Katie Koski, Team USA Minesota's Katie McGregor, former Team USA Minnesota runner Kristen Nicolini, Team USA's Meghan Peyton, Gustavus Adolphus alum Nichole Porath, and Robbinsdale Armstrong alumnus Leah Thorvilson.

Find a complete listing of the more than 300 men's and women's Olympic Marathon Trials entrants HERE.

Friday, December 16, 2011

2012 Team Circuit Races Announced

USA Track and Field Minnesota has unveiled its Team Circuit for 2012. The year-long series of team-scored road races looks similar to this year's circuit, with a few notable exceptions.

The grand prix, which is presented by Twin Cities in Motion and Life Time Run, features eight races, down one competition from 2011. Competition will still be conducted in six categories - men's open, women's open, men's masters, women's masters, men's grand masters, and women's grand masters.

The circuit will commence with its traditional opener -- the St. Patrick's Day Human Race in St. Paul on Sunday, March 18.

The rest of the circuit is as follows:

Get in Gear 10K/USATF Minnesota 10K Championship
Saturday April 28th

Medtronic TC 1 Mile/USATF Minnesota 1 Mile Championship
Thursday May 17th

Brian Kraft Memorial 5k/USATF Minnesota Team 5k Championship
Monday May 28th

Life Time Fitness Torchlight 5k/USATF Minnesota 5k Championship
Wednesday July 18th

MDRA 15K/USATF Minnesota 15k Championship
Sunday August 12th

City of Lakes 25k/USATF Minnesota 25k Championship
Sunday September 9th

Medtronic TC 10 Mile/USATF Minnesota 10 Mile Championship
Sunday October 7th

For the first time, the Team Circuit will break the men's and women's open competition into two divisions, with the top division competing for cash prizes as in the past and the lower division competing for awards and non-cash prizes.

Find official information on the USATF Minnesota Team Circuit HERE.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Runners of the Year: McGregor, Erichsen Lead

With the Minnesota road racing season all but over, Team USA Minnesota's Katie McGregor and former St. John's University star Chris Erichsen are poised to win Minnesota Runner of the Year Awards for 2011.

The Minnesota Runner of the Year Awards recognize the exploits of Minnesota runners racing in Minnesota races over a variety of road distances ranging from the mile to the marathon. Athletes earn points based on their rank order in up to five separate race distances.

McGregor leads 2007 women's Runner of the Year (and 2009 and 2010 ROY runner-up) Jenna Boren 79 points to 75 points. Kim Robinson, who was the ROY runner-up in 2008, is third with 68 points.

Full open women's standings can be found HERE.

Erichsen leads 2010 Runner of the Year Dan Greeno 90 to 87 in the open men's division. Team USA Minnesota's Matt Gabrielson stands third with 76 points.

Full open men's standings can be found HERE.

Minnesota Runner of the Year awards are conferred for age-group runners as well. Find all the Runner of the Year details, HERE, on the official web-site managed by Mike Setter.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

MDRA to Host Race Director's Conference

The Minnesota Distance Running Association is set to host its annual Race Director's Conference, scheduled for January 21, 2012.

The half-day event is designed to let road race directors share knowledge and bring up new ideas to enhance the race experience for participants and sponsors.

The conference will be held at the Edina Community Center in the morning prior to MDRA's annual awards Pizza Party.

Registration fees for the conference are $40. Find a registration form HERE.

Topics for the upcoming conference include race communications and announcing, sponsors and sponsorship, race certification, and the pros and cons of walkers in races.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Minnesota Youngsters Race at Junior Olympics

A handful of Minnesota's top young runners made the trip to the USATF Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina last weekend.

Jesse Delgado of Waseca was the top finisher in the group, placing 22nd in 13:12.56 in the Youth Boys (born 1997-98) 4K. Delgado was runner-up in the Midget Boys division last year.

Spencer Urick of Chaska finished 41st in the Youth Boys 13:29.42.

In the Midget Boys (born 1999-2000) 3K, Zach Emery placed 40th in 10:32.11.

In the Bantam Girls (born 2001-02) 3K, Tessa Laska of South St. Paul finished 38th in 12:02.66. Laska was a medalist at the USATF Junior Olympic track championships this past summer in Wichita.

Anna Meger of Mahtomedi finished 188th in 12:42.24 on the Midget Girls 3K course.

In the youngest age division, Kaori Zeller ran the 2K course for Sub-Bantams (born 2003-04) in 10:00.39 to finish 80th.

Jennifer Delgado of Waseca, sister of Jesse, completed the Young Women's division (born 1993-94) 5K run in 28:18.13 for 74th.

Thanks to USATF-Minnesota Youth Athletics Chair Chris Dallager for information on the event.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Team USA's Grey Wins Club Cross Title

Team USA Minnesota's Jon Grey is getting his professional career off to a nice start.

The 2011 William and Mary graduate who joined Team USA Minnesota in September won the individual title at the USATF Club Cross County Championships in Seattle on Saturday. Grey went to the front of the field early and was pulling away before the halfway mark of the 10K event which he won in 29:38.

“Initially I planned to sit and kick, but during the race I was just running an even pace and slowly pulled away after 4K,” Grey said. “So I kept on the hammer until I crossed the finish line. I was definitely surprised to run away from a field like that."

Grey (pictured) finished ten seconds ahead of runner-up Aaron Braun, the event's defending champ. Brainerd native Justin Tyner, a recent Air Force Academy graduate, finished 9th in the race in 30:02. Grey's Team USA Minnesota teammate Matt Llano finished 18th in 30:18.

Run N Fun's Justin Grunewald finished 23rd in 30:33, leading the St. Paul-based club to an 11th-place team finish in the race.

Grey's victory earned him a spot on the USA team competing at the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country International Challenge, which will be contested in Scotland on January 7.

“Overall, I can not believe I actually won and it shows how well I have progressed in a very short time under Coach [Dennis] Barker,” Grey said. “I am very honored to be able to get my first USA win as a Team USA Minnesota athlete."

"I am also extremely excited for Edinburgh," he added. "That was the whole reason I made this trip, and it means so much to me to earn my first USA team trip which will hopefully be the first of many.”

Find complete USATF Club Cross Country results HERE.

Photo: (c) Mike Scott 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Peterson, Three Others into Western States

Brian Peterson of Minneapolis will be running the Western States 100-mile race in California this June. He was one of more than 270 applicants to have an entry ticket drawn at Placer High School in Auburn, California on Saturday.

Peterson, 27, has finished two 100-mile races to date. He won his debut at the 2010 Superior Sawtooth 100, and placed fourth at the Cascade Crest 100 in Washington State in August.

Peterson will be joined by fellow Minnesotans Scott Hoberg, David Holmen, and Ethan Richards at Western States.

Unofficial lottery results are posted HERE. Official results should be posted to the site shortly.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Cross Country Season Finales on Tap

The final meets of the U.S. cross country season are set for this weekend.

The nation's top high school harriers -- including Shakopee star Maria Hauger -- will race in San Diego on Saturday at the Footlocker National Championships. Hauger, a three-time MSHSL Class AA state titlist, finished 5th at the Footlocker Midwest Regional in November.

The nation's top club teams and some top individuals -- including Team USA Minnesota's Jon Grey and Matt Llano -- will compete at the USA Club Cross Country Championships in Seattle on Saturday as well.

Finally, the youngest competitors in the sport will race for glory at the USATF Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Look for results on our Facebook and Twitter feeds this weekend ... and a full report on Monday.

Yes/No: Final Standings and Wrap-Up

Let's make it official: Mike Henderson is the Yes/No champion for 2011 joining Pick 10 gold-medalist Bryan Tolcser in the winner's circle.

Coincidentally, the two victors are both St. Kate's track coaches, so all Down the Backstrech fantasy hardware (not that there actually is any) will find a home in the Saint Catherine University athletic building this year. Henderson, the head track and cross country coach at St. Kate's won the 2011 Yes/No crown with a grand total of 29 points. He finished two points ahead of Rachel Karel and Jim Glazer.

Entering the final weekend triple-header, Henderson and Karel were tied with 26 points. Henderson displayed a superior finishing kick, however, by answering all three final questions correctly. Other contestants to go three-for-three in the final week were Glazer, Dimitri Drekonja, Megan Smith and Nick Wareham.

Some may argue that Henderson has an unfair advantage in a contest such as Yes/No. He has coached collegiately in the Big Ten and the MIAC and is active in the local road racing scene. His deep involvement in the sport may have contributed to his impressive Yes/No run. Or, maybe he just got lucky ... 29 times this year.

For the record, here are the top eight finishers in the final Yes/No standings:

Mike Henderson - 29
Jim Glazer - 27
Rachel Karel - 27
Jesse Schoen - 26
Patrick Eastman - 26
Dan Vogel - 25
Daniel Gerber - 25
Pat Foley - 25

We've now completed three years of fantasy contests at Down the Backstretch and we are always looking for new ideas and improvements to our games. Please send any comments or suggestion to the DtB fantasy mailbox: DtBFantasy [AT] gmail [DOT] com or leave a comment on the Down the Backstretch site.

Complete standings can be found at DtB Fantasy Corner.

Thanks for playing Yes/No and Pick Ten on DtB!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Camp Features Olympian, Olympic Trials

A running camp sponsored by Minnesota-based Life Time Fitness will feature Olympian Carrie Tollefson and front row seats at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials in Houston.

The four-day Life Time Run Camp, scheduled from January 12 to January 15 in Houston, Texas, will be a warm-weather getaway that aims to teach "the core essentials it takes to be a great runner." As an added bonus, campers will have the opportunity to watch the Olympic Trials Marathon on January 14.

"We thought watching the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials would be an awesome reason to get out of Minnesota for some warm weather training, learn more about the sport, and watch one of the best races in American history take place right in front of us," Tollefson, a 1500-meter Olympian in 2004, told DtB.

The camp also features guided workouts; yoga; seminars on nutrition, strength training, injury prevention, and race preparation; guest speakers; and professional athlete "meet-and-greets."

"We had our first camp here in Minnesota last year and it went great so we thought this year lets do it bigger and better," Tollefson said. "Running camps are fun for anyone at any age and running level. Our Life Time Run Camp will once again bring the running community together and sort of bring back the fun of what it was like when we were kids training hard and dreaming big!"

Details on the camp can be found HERE.

Ultra Roundup: Western States 100 Lottery

Eighteen Minnesotans are hoping to have their names drawn in Auburn, California Saturday at the Western States 100 lottery. The drawing takes place at the Placer High School track, where the race finishes.

Among the local hopefuls: 2011 Sawtooth 100-mile winner John Horns; 2011 Black Hills 100-mile winner Adam Schwartz-Lowe; 2010 Sawtooth 100-mile winner Brian Peterson; and Christi Nowak, who has yet to attempt the 100-mile distance but is undefeated in ultras up to 100K.

A total of 1,942 applicants will vie for over 300 spots. The exact number is not set. Peterson, who broke down the odds on his blog, HERE, explained that the race aims for a five-year average of 369 starters, and that 400 are typically selected. Once automatic qualifiers – including previous top-ten men and women and Montrail Cup Series Winners – are factored in, the number of runners whose names will be drawn Friday could be closer to 310 or 320.

But those 310 won’t just be selected from the 1,942 applicants. Two-time entrants (including Peterson, who unsuccessfully entered last year) have two tickets in the lottery and three-time entrants get three tickets, bringing the total number of tickets up to 2,941.

Based on this system, and assuming 310 names are drawn, Peterson broke down the odds. A first-time entrant – like Nowak – has a roughly 10% chance of being selected to toe the starting line in Squaw Valley next June. Two time-entrants have a roughly 19% chance, and three-time entrants have a near 27% chance.

Probably the best-known of the major 100-mile races in the US, Western States has a special connection to Minnesota. Proctor native and St. Scholastica graduate Scott Jurek won the race an unprecedented 7 times from 1999-2005 and held the course record until 2010.

Award Winners Named ... The Upper Midwest Trail Runners (UMTR) announced their 2011 Ultra Series Champions at their banquet in November. Here’s the list:

Men’s Open – Craig Hertz
Men’s Masters – Rick Bothwell
Men’s Grandmasters – Gary Sheets
Men’s Overall Champion – Craig Hertz

Women’s Open – Christi Nowak
Women’s Masters – Lisa Messerer / Shelly Thompson (Tie)
Women’s Overall Champion – Christi Nowak
(There was no Women’s Grandmaster winner.)

Adam Schwartz-Lowe was also awarded the $500 “Gnarly Bandit Series” prize for completing the Zumbro, Kettle Moraine, Black Hills and Sawtooth 100-milers and the Wild Duluth 100k in 2011.

DtB's Ultramarathon Contributor Alex Kurt filed this report.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Kara Goucher Talks Training, Racing, Trials

Runner's World has just published a wide-ranging interview with Duluth native Kara Goucher HERE.

Goucher, who will race the Dodge Latin Music Miami Beach Half Marathon on Sunday, talks about training under new coach Jerry Schumacher, workouts with teammate/rival Shalane Flanagan, and her preparations for January's Olympic Marathon Team Trials.

Photo by Victor Sailer/Photo Run.

Series Invites Runners to Explore Minnesota

A new running series is inviting runners to explore Minnesota through their sport.

Anderson Race Management and Explore Minnesota Tourism, the travel promotion office of the State of Minnesota, recently announced the launch of a new statewide running series called the "Explore Minnesota Challenge."

The series of more than 25 races in locations around the state encourages runners and walkers to participate in at least eight of the events, including one in each of four different areas of the state.

Participants will be awarded Explore Minnesota Challenge lapel pins representing the region where they have completed a race. An Explore Minnesota Challenge medal will be awarded to those who complete a total of eight events including one in each of the four designated areas. Participants who register for the series will also receive membership in the Minnesota Distance Running Association.

"This new race series includes a variety of great events around our state," Anderson Race Management owner Mary Anderson said in a media release. "We are thrilled to partner with Explore Minnesota on the Explore Minnesota Challenge as we work to bring walkers and runners out to enjoy the unique offerings of each of the wonderful regions of this state."

Details on the series can be found HERE and a list of races in the series is available HERE.

"Minnesotans are known for their active lifestyles," John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism said. "Partnering with Anderson Race Management on this race series is a great way to promote Minnesota as a destination for runners and walkers. The series is an innovative way to let people know about the fun events Minnesota communities offer year-round."

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Team USA Happy with Las Vegas Tune-Ups

“All things considered, I’d qualify the race as a successful tune-up.”

That was how Team USA Minnesota's Jason Lehmkuhle summed up his third-place finish at Saturday's Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon. The road racing veteran, whose current training is pointed toward January's U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials, ran 1:03:37.

“Like many of the guys in the field, I definitely felt some of the accumulated marathon training in my legs, but the goal going in was just to remind my body of the feeling of racing and getting a hard effort in," Lehmkuhle, the 5th-place finisher at the 2008 Marathon Trials, said.

Teammate Matt Gabrielson, who also has the Marathon Trials in his cross-hairs, finished 5th in the race in 1:04:19. The women's column of the Team USA Minnesota roster was successful as well, with Katie McGregor and Meghan Peyton finishing 3rd and 7th, respectively.

Sean Houseworth of Colorado won the men's race in 1:03:12; former Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon champion Jason Hartmann, also of Colorado, was runner-up in 1:03:34.

“The race itself was a pretty amazing experience," Lehmkuhle added. "Racing down the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard at night is something I won’t soon forget.”

McGregor’s time of 1:11:45 established a new personal best for the 2010 USA Running Circuit champion. Peyton posted a 1:14:57. The two are also training for the marathon trials where Peyton will be making her debut in the distance.

“I know I still have a lot of work to do but I am satisfied with a PR,” McGregor said. “It shows me that I am moving in the right direction. Benita [Willis] took the race out hard. I never checked my splits so I am not sure what pace we were running but Amy [Hastings] and I worked our way up to her in the first mile."

Willis won the race in a course record 1:10:40; Hastings was runner-up in 1:11:22.

“I was basically keying off those two, so I didn’t really ever lead the race," McGregor said. "I stayed with them until around 7 or 8 miles. The course was a slight downhill going out, then made a bunch of turns for a few miles before heading back to the Strip. It was slightly uphill on the way back with a little headwind.”

Find complete results of the race HERE.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Stillwater Boys 10th At Nike Cross Nationals

The Stillwater High School boys' cross country team finished 10th at Saturday's Nike Cross Nationals, putting a national sheen on a sparkling harrier season.

The Ponies, who were MSHSL Class AA and NXN Heartland Regional champions this fall, scored 296 points in the meet held in Portland, Oregon.

Christian Brothers Academy of New Jersey, running as the Lincroft XC Club at the meet, won the NXN boys title with 91 points.

“Top 5 would have been nice, but 10th in the nation? Everybody is pretty happy about that," Stillwater senior Tom Linner told DtB correspondent Eric Jahn after the race. "This is the only championship event in high school sports, and it’s nice to be able to prove who’s the best.”

Linner was the Ponies' #2 runner, finishing 53rd overall in 16:04, just two places behind teammate Wayde Hall who was 51st in 16:02. Eric Colvin was 89th for the squad in 16:24; Taylor Aarness was 133rd in 16:45; and Sean Bjork was 158th in 16:56.

Bjork, who closed the door on the team's top-10 finish, spent the week prior to NXN with his foot in a medical boot due to a metatarsal stress fracture, Jahn reports. “I would rather break my foot than miss this race, Bjork said afterward.

Class A individual runner-up Brandon Clark of Blake was the top Minnesota individual in the race, finishing 42nd in 15:58. Class AA champ Josh Thorson of Wayzata was 73rd in 16:15.

“I went deep today, and was hanging on the last 2K,” Clark told Jahn. “This gets me ready for college races next year, when I probably won’t be near the front. Like today’s race, I’ll go out hard, keep moving up, but I won’t be going for the win as a freshman at 8K. NXN was a great experience for me.”

Futsum Zeinasellaissie of Indianapolis won the boys' individual title in 15:03.

In girls' competition, Monticello finished 20th in the team race. The Magic scored 480 points.

Erica Seidenkranz led her squad with a 98th place finish in 19:20. Mariah Betzler was 133rd in 19:50, Amber Seidenkranz finished 139th in 19:55, Amber Stoick was 145th 20:01, and Brooke Rasmussen rounded out the scoring in 179th at 20:54.

Three-time Class AA individual champ Maria Hauger (pictured, #1)was the state's top individual, finishing 24th overall in 18:28. Jenna Truedson of Bemidji was 35th in 18:35, while
Danielle Anderson was 94th in 19:16.

Sarah Baxter of Simi Valley, California won the girls' title in 17:38.

Find complete results of the meet HERE.

Photo by Kraig Lungstrom. See his photos galleries from NXN HERE.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Minnesotans Eager for NXN Competition

Minnesota's two most decorated high school cross country teams and five individual runners are set to toe the starting line at Saturday's Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon.

The competition pits the nation's top high school teams and many of the country's best individuals against one-another in a national championship-style competition.

The NXN championship races will be streamed live HERE starting at noon CDT Saturday.

The MSHSL Class AA team champion Stillwater boys and Monticello girls arrive at the meet with high hopes. Stillwater is ranked #4 in the country in the most recent XCNation rankings, while Monticello is tabbed as the #5 girls' squad in the country.

Three-time Class AA state individual champion Maria Hauger is eying a high finish for herself. The Shakopee junior, who has also qualified as an individual for next week's Footlocker Nationals, won the NXN Heartland Regional meet by nearly 25 seconds.

Joining Hauger in the girls' field are Bemidji freshman Jenna Truedson and Eagan junior Danielle Anderson.

Class AA boys' champ Josh Thorson of Wayzata and Class A runner-up Brandon Clark of Blake will race individually in boys competition.

On the Scene ... Wayzata High School boys' assistant coach Eric Jahn is on the scene in Portland and has donned the Down the Backstretch media badge for the big weekend. He offers the following insights form the meet ...

Jahn reports that Stillwater coach Scott Christensen credits team chemistry as a major factor in his undefeated team's success, saying that his team has been cohesive and focused since returning from a parent-organized nine-day training trip to Wyoming in July.

Jahn adds that Stillwater alum Brian Brochman has been coaching the team for the past month. He is said to have the team healthy with gas in the tank, ready for a run at a top-ten finish.

Jahn also reports that the Monticello squad has high hopes as well. Heather Rasmussen, mother of Magic runner Brooke Rasmussen, has been coaching the team since the State. She told Jahn that the team has developed a competitive chemistry the past six weeks that has them all on the same page. The girls think they may surprise many people with a top-ten finish.

Shakopee's Hauger told Jahn that compared to this point last year, she feels fresh and much more fit, in spite of two high level qualifying performances at Footlocker Midwest and NXN Heartland.

This year, Hauger increased her weekly mileage from the 30-40 miles she did the past two years to 60 miles per week by the end of the 2011 preseason. She also raced a 5K or 10K road race nearly every week of the summer.

Hauger did reveal that she feels her best chance of a top finish is at Footlocker in San Diego because the racing surface will probably be more dry and firm, which should suit her forefoot running style.

Course conditions in Portland, according to Jahn, are likely to be wet and slow.

Class AA boys champ Thorson returns to NXN for the fourth straight year, but for the first time is not racing as part of the Wayzata team. Jahn said Thorson feels an extra incentive to prove that he belongs in Portland as an elite athlete, and that he hopes for a top-20 finish.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

What Happens in Vegas ...

... could matter in Houston for Team USA Minnesota's marathoners.

Four Team USA Minnesota distance runners – Jason Lehmkuhle, Matt Gabrielson, Katie McGregor, and Meghan Peyton – will compete at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon on Sunday as part of their preparations for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials to be held in Houston in January.

The Sin City event is a popular destination for American marathon hopefuls looking to tune-up for the Trials The race, held in conjunctions with the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon, boasts fields that include former Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon champion Jason Hartmann, former Team USA Minnesotan Patrick Smyth, and James Carney among men and Amy Hastings, Kathy Newberry, and Alvina Begay among women.

(Britain's Kathy Butler, and former world cross country champion Benita Willis of Australia are also entered in the race.)

Team USA Minnesota's Lehmkuhle, who was fifth at the men’s marathon trials for the 2008 Olympics, has a half marathon best of 1:02:32. Earlier this fall, he placed second at the USA 20K Championships in New Haven, won the Ohme 30K in Japan last February, and posted 2:13:40 at the London Marathon in April.

Gabrielson has run 1:03:43 in the half marathon distance. During 2011, he set a personal best in the marathon of 2:13:28 at Grandma’s Marathon and was fifth at the USA 25K Championships last May. Most recently he was fourth at the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving Day.

McGregor has a best in the half marathon of 1:12:01. This year she finished second in the USA Running Circuit, won the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in June, was fourth at the USA Half Marathon Championships and at the USA 10 Mile Championships, and second at the USA Women’s 10K Championship.

Peyton’s half marathon best is 1:13:43 which qualified her for the trials in January where she will make her marathon debut. Her competitions this fall have included seventh at the USA 20K Championships, fifth at the USA 5K Championships, sixth at the USA 10 Mile Championships and fifth at the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K. She also was second at the Manchester Road Race.