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Huddle, Braun Return to Defend .US National 12K Titles


ALEXANDRIA -- Olympian Molly Huddle and Aaron Braun return to defend their titles at the .US National 12K Sunday morning in Alexandria, Virginia. While each enters as a pre-race favorite, deep and talented fields define this year’s edition.


The .US National 12K is the final stop on the 2014 USA Running Circuit. Each of the competing athletes qualified by finishing top ten in at least one of the USARC races during the season.


For Huddle, it’s been a memorable season. After winning the 5,000m title at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, she set the American record for the event by running 14:42.64 in Monaco. Coming back stateside, she won three USA titles on the roads, taking home victories at the USA 7 Mile, 20 km and 5 km Championships. As she looks to finish her season with another win, she’ll also have an eye on taking home the overall USARC title, repeating the same success as 2014.


“End of the season fatigue is looming at this point of the season so my goal is to do what it takes to win, which I realize may be pretty hard,” says Huddle. “I am not sure it will necessarily go as fast as last year but despite the unique point in the year of this race it sounds like some of the top seeds are fit right now and really gearing up for it.”


Huddle currently sits two points behind standings leader Sara Hall, 47-45. Hall’s season has been one of incredible consistency, with three runner-up finishes and a third place finish. While a ruptured appendix forced the Flagstaff-based runner to take a few weeks off training after emergency surgery, she’s come back incredibly strong and looks to challenge Huddle for the win Sunday.


Two more Olympians are set to challenge Huddle and Hall, as Kim Conley and Janet Bawcom, line up with plenty of top-level experience and veteran race instinct to draw from. For Conley, her 2014 season has seen a handful of personal best efforts, along with a memorable 10,000m victory at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Such momentum should put her right up front for much of Sunday’s race.


For Bawcom, the 2014 season has been a roller coaster ride. The early season saw the USARC veteran place second to Olympian Shalane Flanagan at the USA 15 km Championships, while taking home the title at the USA 10 Mile Championships. However, injury caused Bawcom to miss the rest of the season, that is until this weekend’s event. How fit Bawcom is remains to be seen, but she’s the most experience road racer in the field by far.


Tied with Huddle in second in the USARC standings is Brianne Nelson. Coming off a third place effort at the USA Marathon Championships back in October, Nelson may not have the blazing leg speed of the other top competitors, but she’s as experienced and savvy as they are.


Two other consistent challengers on the road are Emily Infeld and Kellyn Johnson Taylor. Infeld continues to come back from an injury that knocked her out of the tail end of the 2013 season and well into the 2014 season. She’s shown glimpses of her dominant self and could surprise Sunday. For Johnson Taylor, she hopes to build on her four top five USARC finishes, including her first national title at the USA 25 km Championships. Both are in great shape and will mix it up for much of the race.


For Rachel Ward, one of the breakout athletes of the year, she looks for another top three finish to go along with her third place finishes at the USA 10 km and USA 7 Mile Championships. She ran to a fifth place effort in the 10,000m at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships and is clearly an athlete on the rise.


While veteran talent makes up a large portion of the race field Sunday, there’s a handful of young up-and-coming athletes all capable of high finishes. Recent college graduates Emily Sisson, Megan Goethals, Juliet Bottorff and Elaina Balouris had All-American success at the college level and each runs the .US National 12K with hopes of wrapping up their first pro seasons with a breakthrough performance. Olympian Jen Rhines and young pro Alexi Pappas are two other runners to watch, too.


On the men’s side, defending champion Aaron Braun returns to Alexandria looking to kick-off a late-fall and winter racing season. In 2013, Braun used a strong second half to pull away from the field, scoring an eight second victory. While the field is certainly deeper this time around, Braun enters Sunday’s race fit and well aware of what he’ll need to do to win.


“I think the competition this year is even stronger than last year,” says Braun. “Last year it seemed like I was one of only a handful in the field that wasn't coming off of running a fall marathon. This year there are a few guys who are coming off of one, but a lot more guys who, like me, this race is their biggest focus of the fall season.”


Braun’s biggest competition could come from USARC standings leader Christo Landry. Landry looks to continue his career year, which has seen the Ann Arbor-based runner win three national titles, score two runner-up finishes, all the while holding a dominating lead in the standings. He currently sits with a 27 point lead over second place Tyler Pennel, 76-49, and while he’s coming off racing the Chicago Marathon, Landry acknowledges Sunday is one more opportunity to pick up a fourth national title.


While Braun and Landry get much of the pre-race focus, a trio of USA Running Circuit race winners pose a serious threat. USA 5 km champion Diego Estrada, USA 20 km champion Girma Mecheso and USA 7 Mile champion Sean Quigley all proved throughout the season they have the talent to pull off the win. All three seem perfectly suited for the 12 km distance of Sunday’s race and all three will look for another chance to put their stamp on a successful season.


Similar to the women’s race, there’s a strong level of young professional talent, each athlete seeking to make a name for themselves on the pro circuit. Former University of Oregon All-Americans Parker Stinson and Trevor Dunbar are prime contenders for top five finishes. In similar fashion, North Carolina State alum Andrew Colley and Northern Arizona standout Brian Shrader have top five aspirations.


There are also many veterans capable of top five finishes Sunday morning. USA 5 km runner-up German Fernandez hopes to build on his season, while Bobby Mack, Scott Bauhs and Brett Gotcher have each flashed plenty of talent over the years to pull of a surprise finish. Ahmed Osman finished top eight twice in USARC races this season and Tyler McCandless looks to position himself for a big finish, too.


Sunday’s race in Alexandria has all the makings of a classic. Olympic-level talent on the women’s side, depth in both races and strong head-to-head match-ups make the .US National 12K the perfect finish to the 2014 USA Running Circuit.


Live Coverage

The .US National 12K will be broadcast live beginning at 7:05 am ET at, with the women’s race starting at 7:15 am and the men’s race at 7:30 am. Race video, results, post-race interviews and photos will be available shortly after the race in cooperation with Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #dotUS2014.


About the USARC

The USARC is a USA Track & Field road series featuring USA 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 $100,000 in prize money will be awarded at the .US National 12K.


The first ten U.S. runners earn points at each USARC race (15 for first, 12 for second, 10 for third, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1), with those earning the most points receiving prize money at the end of the series.


The mission of the USARC is to showcase, support and promote U.S. runners. Since its inception in 1995, the USARC and its races have provided over $7 million to U.S. distance runners.


Contributed by Scott Bush

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