JACKSONVILLE -- Ben True looks to defend his USATF 15 km championship title, while Laura Thweatt hopes to build upon her USATF Cross Country victory last month, as the USATF 15 km Championships take place Saturday morning in Jacksonville, Florida, hosted by the Gate River Run.
The USATF 15 km Championships are the third stop on the 2015 USATF Running Circuit, which concludes with the .US National 12K in historic Alexandria, Virginia. The top ten finishers at each race on the circuit qualify to compete in the .US National 12K.
Last year, True pulled away from Chris Derrick during the late stages of the race, winning by 12 seconds, a level of fitness he carried over to the track two months later when he ran 13:02.74 over 5,000m. While True finished a disappointing 11th at last month’s USATF Cross Country Championships, he’s proven consistent racing on the roads.
Reigning USATF Running Circuit champion Christo Landry kicks off his 2015 season in Jacksonville. In 2014, Landry won three separate circuit titles, while finishing fourth at the USATF 15 km Championships. While it remains to be seen what sort of shape the Ann Arbor-based runner is in, you can bet he’ll challenge for the victory Saturday.
Joining True and Landry up front, top marathoners Ryan Vail and Tyler Pennel look to make their mark in the shorter distance. Vail, who consistently challenges as top American in major marathons, seeks to work on his speed a bit this spring, bypassing a marathon. Meanwhile, Pennel hopes to build momentum coming off his USATF Marathon title this past fall.
Other experienced road racers, Girma Mecheso and Sean Quigley, have high hopes entering Saturday’s contest. Mecheso comes off a 2014 season where he won the USATF 20 km Championships, while placing third this January at the USATF Half Marathon Championships. Quigley enters as one of the top returnees in Jacksonville, having placed eighth last year, while hoping to capture the same magic he found in winning the USATF 7 Mile Championships last summer.
Maverick Darling and 2012 Olympic steeplechaser Donn Cabral are both relative newcomers to the USATF Running Circuit. While Cabral gains strength for the upcoming track season, Darling eyes improvement on his two USATF Running Circuit finishes in 2014. Both are proven athletes over shorter distances, but their success over 15 km remains to be seen.
The mix of young and veteran talent up top trickles down to top ten contenders, as well. Luke Puskedra looks to get regain past success he’s seen on the roads, while Aron Rono builds off his sixth place effort at the USA Half Marathon Championships earlier this year.
Ian Burrell, Bobby Mack and Jim Spisak all have top five aspirations, while former Oklahoma State All-American Shadrack Kipchirchir enters the U.S. ranks and could very well challenge for the win.
In the women’s race, Thweatt enters as the pre-race favorite after her dominating performance last month in Boulder, Colorado at the USATF Cross Country Championships. Her cross country victory was made even more impressive by her margin of victory, which totaled 31 seconds ahead of runner-up finisher Mattie Suver.
Thweatt continues to show reasons why many consider her a legitimate Olympic qualifier threat as 2016 nears and she has another chance to prove herself against top-level competition Saturday.
Two Olympians Thweatt faces are Amy Hastings and Jen Rhines. Hastings, the reigning USATF 10 km champion and 2014 USATF 20 km runner-up, is in the middle of training as she’s set to compete in next month’s Boston Marathon, while Rhines comes off a third place finish at the USATF Cross Country Championships and looks to tune-up for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships later this month.
Rhines is joined by Boston Athletic Association teammates Elaina Boularis and Juliet Bottorff. Boularis joins Thweatt and Rhines in their build-ups to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, as she finished sixth at the USATF Cross Country Championships last month, while Bottorff looks to rebound after a difficult race in Boulder, seeking similar form to what she showed in taking sixth place in January at the USATF Half Marathon Championships.
Not to be overlooked, USATF Cross Country Championships runner-up Mattie Suver continues to impress in USATF Running Circuit events. The savvy veteran qualified for Team USA with her performance last month, and hopes to build her USATF Running Circuit point total after a seventh place finish at the USATF Half Marathon Championships.
Suver is joined by fellow veteran Kellyn Taylor. Taylor finished eighth at the USATF Cross Country Championships and is the reigning USATF 25 km champion. She raced in Boulder last month coming off a stellar marathon performance, where she finished sixth overall at the Houston Marathon in 2:28:40, immediately throwing herself into the discussion of athletes capable of qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in the marathon.
After a fourth place finish in 2014, Alexi Pappas enters as the top returnee in Jacksonville. Pappas continues to be a consistent top three threat regardless of what race she’s in, and along with 2014 USATF Half Marathon champion Serena Burla and young veteran Neely Gracey, she’ll seek to pull off the upset victory Saturday.
The USATF 15 km Championships once again showcase many of the top distance runners in the United States and should provide tremendous racing from start to finish.
The USATF 15 km Championships will be broadcast live beginning at 8:20 am ET at USATF.tv. Race video, results, post-race interviews and photos will be available shortly after the race in cooperation with RunnerSpace.com. Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #USARC.
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