GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan -- Jared Ward pulled away late to win his second consecutive USATF Running Circuit race, while Lindsey Scherf broke away over the final miles to win her first national title, Saturday morning at the USATF 25 km Championships in Grand Rapids, Michigan, hosted by the Fifth Third River Bank Run.
The USATF 25 km Championships are the fifth 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 on November 15 in Alexandria, Virginia.
A moderate early pace kept the men’s pack intact, as all the pre-race favorites ran in stride for much of the first half of the race. Four-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman (Tucson, Arizona), Brett Gotcher (Aptos, California) and defending champion Christo Landry (Charlotte, North Carolina) led the charge through 10 km, passing through in 30:10.
The pace started to quicken as the pack passed the eight-mile mark, with Abdirahman, Landry, USATF Marathon champion Ward (Provo, Utah), Augustus Maiyo (Colorado Springs, Colorado) and Girma Mecheso (West Chester, Pennsylvania) forming a group of five, as Gotcher and Matt Llano (Flagstaff, Arizona) dropped off the back.
The lead group of five remained intact for the next three miles, until the pace dropped, with Ward, Landry and Abdirahman running 4:44 for both mile 11 and 12. With the three firmly established, fans watched in eager anticipation, waiting for the final straight to see which athlete would pull away to victory.
With under a mile to go, Ward put in a surge neither Landry nor Abdirahman could match, pulling away to a second straight USATF Running Circuit victory. Ward crossed the finish line, arms raised, 1:14:57, five seconds ahead of runner-up Landry.
While Landry held on to finish second in 1:15:02, Abdirahman kicked home for third in 1:15:27, building on a very successful early part of his 2015 season. Maiyo hung on over the final few miles for fourth place overall in 1:16:39, while Gotcher finished strong over the final mile to place fifth in 1:16:49.
Mecheso and Llano battled over the final miles, with Mecheso placing sixth in 1:17:32 and Llano seventh in 1:17:34. Joe Moore (Manhattan, Kansas) placed eighth in 1:19:00, Zach Ripley (Rockford, Michigan) ran to a ninth place finish in 1:19:05, while USATF Mountain Running champion Joseph Gray (rounded out the top ten in 1:19:30.
While the men’s lead group found itself tightly packed until the final miles of the race, the women’s race got off to a fast start, thanks to Scherf (High Falls, New York) and Sara Hall (Flagstaff, Arizona). Scherf, who’s known to take the pace out quickly early on in races, gapped everyone but Hall by the four-mile mark.
The chase pack of Kara Foster (Boalsburg, Pennsylvania), Katie DiCamillo (Providence, Rhode Island) and Heather Cappello (Somerville, Massachusetts) tried mightily to keep Scherf and Hall within their sights, but the honest early pace made it a two-woman race for the remainder of the morning.
As Scherf and Hall ran stride-for-stride, their lead continued to build over the rest of the field. Everything changed just past the nine-mile mark, however, as Scherf put in a small surge that put Hall 25 meters behind her. The gap remained until Hall stopped to tie her shoe, allowing Scherf to grow her lead to over 100 meters; a lead she would never relinquish.
Scherf continued to pour it on, extending her lead to over 200 meters with less than two miles to go. As Scherf rounded the final turn, she took a look back, seeing her first USATF Running Circuit national title in her sights. Scherf kicked home to win the race by over a minute, crossing the line in 1:26:36.
Despite falling off in the late stages of the race, Hall hung tough, finishing second in 1:27:41, while Cappello ran a strong back half of the race to place third overall in 1:29:09.
Road race veteran Marci (Gage) Klimek (Bend, Oregon) ran consistent throughout the race, earning a fourth-place finish in 1:29:54, while Allison Mendez (Austin, Texas) just missed breaking the 90-minute barrier, finishing fifth overall in 1:30:08.
Local favorite and 2013 USATF 25 km champion Dot McMahan (Rochester, Michigan) earned sixth place overall in 1:30:28, while Foster and DiCamillo placed seventh and eighth in 1:31:21 and 1:31:35.
Ward’s victory added another 15 points to his USATF Running Circuit standings lead, which now sits at a total of 63 points. Llano’s performance pushes his second-place total to 38 points, Mecheso’s finish gives him 34 points, good for third in the standings, while Landry’s effort increases his points total to 30, good enough for fourth overall.
Hall’s runner-up effort moves her up to third overall in the USATF Running Circuit standings with 31.5 points, only trailing leader Laura Thweatt (Boulder, Colorado), who has 40.5 points and second place Brianne Nelson (Golden, Colorado), who owns 38 points.
The next stop on the USATF Running Circuit takes place this coming Thursday, May 14, as the USATF 1 Mile Road Championships are set to be contested in St. Paul, Minnesota.
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 $30,200 in prize money will be awarded at the USATF 25 km Championships.
The first ten U.S. runners earn points at each USATF Running Circuit race. For the USATF 25 km Championships, scoring is set as 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 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