Written by National Championship Liaison Lin Gentling.
From an inside vantage point, Heckscher State Park looked absolutely beautiful. The sun was brilliantly shining, there was no wind, and the temperatures were most comfortable. BUT that was from inside. Out in the elements, the sun remained, but the wind was brutal blowing off of the Great South Bay. Adding to the distress was the temperature. As evidenced by the frozen puddles scattered about, the temperature was well below freezing. Combined with the wind, the wind-chill was typical of an Arctic day. The course was a loop which meant that half the time you ran into the wind and half the time you ran into the wind (no typo). As any runner knows, the wind is seldom at your back, even on a loop out and back course.
The certified 5K course on the paths of Heckscher State Park in East Islip, New York was pancake flat. Minimal traffic provided an almost traffic free course with beautiful views of Great South Bay and Fire Island as a back drop. The race was moved from Caumsett State Park to Heckscher due to construction in Caumsett.
Despite the weather, there were 65 hardy runners entered into the USATF 50K championship race with many others in the open 50K race as well as a 25K race run concurrently. Promptly at 8:30 am, the race started as did an increase in the wind velocity. But ultra-runners are a strong and tenacious group and nothing stood in their way.
Entered into the race was the very cordial and amazing ambassador of ultra-running, Michael Wardian, Arlington, VA. Always pleasant, and sharing his knowledge and experience with runners new to the game, he exuded the spirit of Caumsett. At 45, he is ageless, and ran an outstanding race. In 2008-2010 Wardian won three consecutive national 50K championships. Also present was Camille Herron. Her resume of her ultra-running accomplishments speaks for itself and she did not disappoint. With the Olympic Marathon Trials being held on the day before Caumsett, there were several runners missing from the line-up. Additionally, this race would serve as a selection race for the 2020 US team that will be competing in Jordan on November 27, 2020. The top male and female would receive automatic selections to the team as long as they ran the qualifying times of 3:00 or better for the men and 3:33.00 for the women.
The top 5 men remained the top 5 men throughout the race. Matthew Dewald, 37, Dakota Dunes, SD, took the immediate lead in the race with a 17:09 first 5k lap, followed by youngster Kallin Khan, 23, Lisle, IL in 17:19 and Cole Crosby, 31, Princeton, NJ in 17:47. In a pack of 4 all at 18:11 were Wardian, Sam Skeels, 41, Adrian, MI, Boyd Carrington, 47, West Islip, NY, and Stewart Jones, 30, Pittsburgh, PA. The order for the top 3 men remained the same though 20Km. Wardian was also in close pursuit, losing the pack behind him at 20K. Close behind Wardian and in 5th place was Skeels. At 25K, Khan took over the lead and was 7 seconds up on Dewald, Crosby began to struggle, and Wardian was holding steady clicking off metronome like 5K splits with Skeels right behind him. Positioning held until the 40K point at which point, Wardian overtook a determined, but tired Crosby. Meanwhile Khan’s lead over the field grew slightly with each 5K loop. The order at 40K was to remain until the end. Kallin Khan crossed the finish line in 2:57:21 as the 2020 USATF Men’s 50K National Champion. Behind Khan and 1:44 later was Matthew Dewald who ran a great race challenging Kahn for much of the race. Rounding out the top 5 were the effervescent, gracious, and cheerful Wardian, who ran consistent 5K loops and took a solid 3rd place in 3:06:10 (1st masters), followed by Cole Crosby in 3:10:05 and Sam Steel (2nd masters) in 3:11:11. In Kahn’s words, “I knew I was in shape to run around 2:50 if the weather was perfect, but I figured with the wind I could run 2:55. So I settled into running 17:30 or so per 5k, regardless of what other runners were doing. Once I took the lead around halfway I focused on maintaining my pace, and once I got about a 2-minute lead I stopped worrying about pace. Since it was a loop course I could see how far ahead I was, so I just focused on maintaining a healthy lead to the finish”. When asked if there were any surprises, he mentioned, “The only surprise was that before the race I set up my fluid bottles for fueling during the race, and then went for my warmup. When I got back I saw the wind had blown my bottles off of the table, several of the bottles broke and emptied out on the ground, and I was left with less than half of the fluids I had planned on taking during the race. Ended up fine though!”
While Khan will be an automatic selection to the 2020 US 50K team by virtue of winning the national championship, Dewald’s time is a qualifying time and will be listed as a time for consideration.
So who is Kallin Khan? In an effort to qualify for the men’s Olympic Trials he ran several marathons in 2019 with his best effort being the 2019 CIM where he ran 2:22:28, not fast enough for the trials, but fast enough to win the 2020 national 50K. In 2019, among a stellar field at Caumsett, he finished 9th overall in 3:29:01. In one short year, he brought his 50K time down by over 30 minutes!! A diverse runner, he also takes to the trails. His immediate plans are to run in the upcoming 50-mile trail national championships in Auburn, CA and then 5 weeks later the 100K road national championships in Madison, WI. This will be a young athlete to watch.
On the ladies’ side, Camille Herron, 38, Alamosa, CO, took the lead from the start and never was challenged. This was an impressive victory coming on the heels of her win at the Black Canyon 100K just two weeks ago. Camille is another icon in the sport. Her performances at all distances speak to her breadth of talent. Truly she is a naturally gifted athlete, but one who works hard at her trade. Four athletes behind Herron were at one time or another in the hunt for the coveted 2nd place. The order remained the same up to 40K, with Herron leading, followed by Laura Kline, 42, Syracuse, NY, Trisha Steidl, 43, Seattle, WA, Lauren Dorsky, 24, New York, NY, and Helen Huang, 50, Cold Spring Harbor, NY. At 40K there was an exchange in the 2nd and 3rd position with Steidl gaining on Kline and taking over 2nd by barely a minute, extending her lead to just over 2 minutes at the finish line to take 1st masters in 3:41:29. Kline finished 3rd woman in 3:43:35 and 2nd masters. Fourth position went to Dorsky in 3:48:15 and fifth to Huang in 4:13:40.
Like Khan, Herron ran herself onto the 2020 US 50K team with her win and qualifying time.
Steidl was running with a very heavy heart after hearing of the passing of longtime friend to all and especially to her, Bill Roe, whom she knew very well. Dedicating the race to Bill’s memory and with thoughts of him filling her time on the course, she definitely felt his spirit and gentle guidance as she dug deep to take 2nd place for “Bill”.
While the intent was to utilize Heckscher State Park for only this year and return to Caumsett next year (2021), the runners had great comments of the Heckcher course. It is a very fast course despite the wind. Can you imagine what might evolve on a windless day? The Greater Long Island Running Club (GLIRC) will be surveying the participating runners for their thoughts prior to deciding on a course for next year.
The race was made possible and the quality outstanding by all the amazing and dedicated volunteers. The GLIRC is a large running club and they really know how to put on races. Their volunteers not only made for a safe and exacting course, but did so willingly and with huge smiles on their faces encouraging all runners. These folks know the effort required to run an event, to make sure each runner feels special, and they know how to keep warm!!! Thank you Carl Grossbard, Race Director, Sue Fitzpatrick, executive director of GLIRC, and Mike Polansky, president of GLIRC and your tireless volunteers. You and your club have much to be proud of!!!
The 2021 USATF 50K National Championship will return to Caumsett (or Heckscher) State Park, and will be a qualifying race for the 2021 50K world championship in Taiwan on October 31, 2021.