LOS ANGELES -- Jared Ward (Provo, Utah) ran away over the final miles to win his first American title, while 2008 Olympian Blake Russell (Pacific Grove, California) pulled away late to win the women's race, Sunday morning at the USATF Marathon Championships in Los Angeles.
The USATF Marathon Championships are the fourth 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, that takes place on November 15 in Alexandria, Virginia.
Ryan Hall (Flagstaff, Arizona) took out the men's race aggressively, building a lead of two minutes by 10 km, while looking to build upon a solid half marathon performance during his marathon build-up. Hall's intense early pace backfired though, as chase pack of Daniel Tapia (Mammoth Lakes, California), Matthew Llano (Flagstaff, Arizona) and Ward caught Hall just past the halfway mark of 13.1 miles.
As quickly as Hall moved from first to fourth, he veered to his left and stepped off the course, clearly feeling the quick early pace.
Tapia, Llano and Ward pushed on, clearly ahead of the second chase pack, all focused on winning their first USATF title. Tapia led the trio past the 15-mile mark, when Ward took over and started to push the pace.
Ward and Llano ran stride for stride for the next two miles, as Tapia fell back to third, until Ward put in another surge in mile 18, putting a ten-second gap on Llano, a lead he would never relinquish.
Ward hammered mile after mile, focused ahead and silently thinking of improving upon his runner-up finish at the 2014 USATF Marathon Championships. With 5 km to go, Ward had a large enough lead where it was clear the win was his. Into the final homestretch Ward looked relaxed, crossing the finish with a smile in 2:12:56, setting a personal best by over a minute.
Behind Ward, Llano held strong to finish second in 2:16:13, setting a nice marathon best himself. Hansons-Brooks veteran Mike Morgan (Rochester Hills, Michigan) used a conservative first half of the race to pass Tapia in the final miles to place third overall in 2:16:56, while Tapia charged home to finish fourth in 2:17:14.
Rounding out the top five, Max King (Bend, Oregon) ran a strong second half of the race to pull away to a 2:17:30 finish. Stephan Shay (Huntington Beach, California) similarly finished well to place sixth overall in 2:18:06, while Scott Smith (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) in 2:19:40, Sage Canaday (Boulder, Colorado) in 2:20:02, Patrick Rizzo (Colorado Springs, Colorado) in 2:21:54 and Juan Carlos Trujillo (Boulder, Colorado) in 2:22:01 rounded out the top ten.
While the men's race thinned out very early on, the women's race saw a strong contingent of runners running stride for stride much of the first half of the race. 39 year old Russell, Heather Lieberg (Helena, Montana), Brianne Nelson (Golden, Colorado), Sara Hall (Flagstaff, Arizona) and Becky Wade (Houston, Texas) led the way, running as a pack mile after mile. It wasn't until 16 miles that the pack started to break a bit, at which point Russell, Lieberg and Nelson broke away.
The American trio ran together until mile 19, when Russell put a small gap on Nelson and Lieberg. Lieberg faded off the back, while Jodie Robertson (Melville, New York) surprised the field, coming from way back and establishing herself among the top three.
Russell continued to challenge and extended her lead a few seconds every mile to the finish, as the veteran finished hard and won the women's title in 2:34:57.
Meanwhile, Nelson, Robertson and Lieberg battled for second, taking turns leading, all three handling the final miles as best they could as the temperatures rose and Russell continued to pull away. In the end, Lieberg pulled away to finish second.
Russell bested runner-up Lieberg, who claimed second once again after finishing in the same spot in the 2014 edition of the event, this time running to a 2:35:32 finish. Nelson hung on gamely after struggling the final two miles to place third overall in 2:36:07, as Robertson and Wade finished fourth and fifth respectively in 2:36:18 and 2:37:30.
To round out the top ten, Kathleen DiCamillo (Providence, Rhode Island) tried her best to catch Wade, but ultimately fell short with a sixth place finish in 2:37:59, while Lauren Jimison (Mammoth Lakes, California) ran by herself much of the second half of the race to place seventh in 2:39:16. Meghan Peyton (Richfield, Minnesota) of Team USA Minnesota finished eighth in 2:41:50, as Sarah Cummings (New York, New York) and Rachel Jaten (Spokane, Washington) placed ninth and tenth, in 2:42:20 and 2:42:29.
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 $150,000 in prize money will be awarded at the USATF Marathon Championships.
The first ten U.S. runners earn points at each USATF Running Circuit race. For the USATF Marathon Championships, scoring is set as 30 for first, 24 for second, 20 for third, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4 and 2, 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