JACKSONVILLE -- Olympian Amy Cragg dominated the women’s field Saturday morning in Jacksonville, Florida, winning her first USATF 15 km title, while Ben True pulled away late to win his third consecutive title at the USATF 15 km Championships, hosted by the Gate River Run.
The USATF 15 km Championships are the first stop on the 2015 USATF Running Circuit. The top 15 finishers at each race on the circuit qualify to compete in the 2015 .US National 12K, which takes place November 15 in Alexandria, Virginia.
Cragg, along with USATF Cross Country champion Laura Thweatt, led the women’s field from the gun, as a pack of nearly 20 athletes ran together for much of the first three miles of the race. As a variety of runners traded leads, including Neely Gracey, Mattie Suver and Kellyn Taylor, the field dwindled down to seven runners past the 5 km mark.
At five miles, Hastings put in a surge that cracked the lead pack, reducing it down to a trio, as Gracey and Thweatt hung on gamely. Hastings continued to surge, eventually gapping the chasing duo, extending her lead to over 20 seconds with less than two miles to go.
Hastings continued to push to the finish, crossing the line arms raised in 50:18, 32 seconds up on second and third place finishers Thweatt and Gracey, who held on to both finish in 50:50.
“The field here was super strong,” said Cragg afterward. “I am really excited to be able to come here and come away with a win.”
Young USATF Running Circuit pros Juliet Bottorff and Alexi Pappas proved to be the strongest of the rest of the chase pack, handling the tough second half of the course to finish in fourth and fifth overall in 51:11 and 51:19.
Olympian Jen Rhines, who fell at one point during the race, picked herself up and pushed to a sixth place finish in 51:36, while Mattie Suver, who finished second at last month’s USATF Cross Country Championships, placed seventh in 52:02. Mia Behm finished eighth in 52:09, Kara Foster crossed the finish in ninth in 52:17, while Taylor rounded out the top ten in 52:20.
While the women’s race was seemingly decided after the 10 km point, the men’s race played out a bit differently. Through the first two miles, Luke Puskedra, Girma Mecheso, Donn Cabral and Ben True all took turns leading a top pack of nearly 30 men.
At two miles, Puskedra pushed the pace, stringing out the field. As the pack thinned to a single file line of nearly 20 competitors, True and Mecheso pushed to the front and led until just past the four mile mark, when the two road race veterans, along with 2014 USATF Running Circuit overall champion Christo Landry, surged and started to position themselves ahead of the chase pack.
As the three clearly established themselves as the top three in the field by 10 km, it seemed only a matter of time until one of them took the reigns with one last sustained push to the finish. That runner was, to no surprise, True, who pushed with two miles to go, first breaking Mecheso and in the final mile breaking Landry.
In similar to the two years prior, True sprinted home to victory, bouncing back from his performance at the USATF Cross Country Championships last month. True crossed the line well ahead of runner-up Landry, finishing in 44:03.
“Today being as hot as it was, I really just wanted to go for place and go for the win,” said a happy True afterward. “Every time I toe the line I go for the win and I was going to go until I couldn’t go any more until I get the win today.”
Landry cruised in to a fine seasonal debut performance of 44:14, while Mecheso hung on gamely to place third in 44:28. The 2012 Olympian Cabral completed his furthest race as a professional with a fourth place finish in 44:47, while marathon veteran Ryan Vail rounded out the top five with a mark of 44:54.
Rounding out the top ten finishers, USATF Running Circuit regular Sean Quigley finished sixth in 45:26, Aron Rono placed seventh in 45:38 and Augustus Maiyo placed eighth in 45:39, while Northern Arizona Elite’s Eric Fernandez placed ninth in 45:44, edging out Paul Chelimo, who placed tenth in 45:49.
About the USATF Running Circuit
The USATF Running Circuit is a USA Track & Field road series featuring USATF championships from one mile through the marathon and consistently attracts the best American distance runners with more than $500,000 to be awarded in total prize money. A total of $53,000 in prize money will be awarded at the USATF 15 km Championships.
The first ten U.S. runners earn points at each USATF Running Circuit race. For the USATF 15 km Championships, scoring is set as 22.5 for first, 18 for second, 15 for third, 10.5, 9, 7.5, 6, 4.5, 3 and 1.5, with those earning the most points receiving prize money at the end of the series.
The mission of the USATF Running Circuit is to showcase, support and promote U.S. runners. Since its inception in 1995, the USATF Running Circuit and its races have provided over $7 million to U.S. distance runners.
Contributed by Scott Bush