TALLAHASSEE, Florida – Shelby Houlihan used a furious finish to best Molly Huddle in the senior women’s race, while Shadrack Kipchirchir outkicked the field to take the senior men’s title Saturday at the USATF Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, Florida.
The USATF Cross Country Championships are the first stop on the 2019 USATF Running Circuit, as top finishers earned their spots on Team USATF for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, set to take place in Aarhus, Denmark on March 30. Fans can relive the excitement of Saturday’s races on USATF.TV with a USATF.TV +PLUS subscription.
From the early stages of the women’s race, it was clear the Bowerman Track Club (BTC) contingent would set the tone for much of the way. With an honest pace from the gun, the early pack of 10 runners came through both the two mile mark and halfway 5 km point together, as Houlihan, Huddle, Houlihan’s teammates Marielle Hall and Amy Cragg, along with Aliphine Tuliamuk led the way.
That core of five athletes were joined by BTC teammates Courtney Frerichs and Karissa Schweizer, while Tuliamuk’s HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite teammate Stephanie Bruce also was in position to push for a top five spot.
Just after the halfway point, the lead group of five women separated from Frerichs, Schweizer and Bruce, putting in a collective surge.
With two miles to go, Cragg dropped off the group, leaving four women in a race to the finish.
With a half mile to go, Houlihan, Huddle, Tuliamuk and Hall all remained in contention, knowing that a kick to the finish would determine the outcome of Saturday’s contest.
Tapping into her superior track speed, Houlihan made a mad dash to the finish, putting a whopping eight seconds on Huddle over that final half mile, crossing the finish line victoriously in 32:47.
Behind Houlihan, Huddle charged hard, holding off her competition to finish second in 32:55, a nice building block in her focus on the Virgin Money London Marathon this spring.
Hall came across the line third, as the Olympian showed she’s already in fine form this season, finishing in 32:57. Tuliamuk finished fourth in 33:03, adding to her impressive collection of USATF Running Circuit performances, while Cragg hung on to finish fifth overall in 33:18.
Frerichs and Schweizer gave BTC five athletes in the top seven, as Frerichs placed sixth in 33:25 and Schweizer crossed in seventh in 33:28.
Rounding out the top ten, Bruce took home an eighth place finish in 33:30, while Hansons-Brooks runner Anne-Marie Blaney placed ninth in 33:34 and Sarah Pagano earned a tenth place finish in 33:44.
Using similar team tactics in the men’s race, American Distance Project (ADP) teammates Kipchirchir, Emmanuel Bor, defending champion Leonard Korir, Hillary Bor and Stanley Kebenei dominated from start to finish.
The ADP pack charged to the front over the first mile, creating a tight pack, while the rest of the field sat back and decided not to challenge the lead group.
Through the halfway point, the five ADP athletes were running strong, stride for stride as they passed through 5 km. Only Garrett Heath held on to the back of the pack, but it wasn’t long until Heath fell back to the chase back led by Scott Fauble.
With a mile to go, it was then every man for himself, as all five runners started to size up each teammate and lock in their own strategy to close the race. With a hard surge with less than 800 meters to go, Kipchirchir and Emmanuel Bor started to push, dropping the other three men.
Kipchirchir and Bor ran stride for stride in the final stretch, until Kipchirchir made one final push, edging slightly ahead at the line, winning the first USATF Running Circuit race of the season. Both men finished in 28:53.
While Korir was disappointed he didn’t three-peat as USATF Cross Country champion, he still finished strong in third in 28:55. Hillary Bor, who won the Great Stirling meet last month, claimed third in 28:57, while Kebenei held on for fifth in 29:04.
Fauble broke free from the chase pack in the final mile, running by himself in the final stage of the race, crossing the finish in sixth in 29:20, 16 seconds behind Kebenei, but 12 seconds ahead of seventh place finisher Mason Ferlic, who finished in 29:32.
Completing the top ten scoring athletes, Reid Buchanan placed eighth in 29:36, just edging young pro Andrew Hunter, who took ninth with the same time. Martin Hehir placed tenth in 29:38.
With their wins, Houlihan and Kipchirchir earned 15 points each and now sit atop of the early USATF Running Circuit standings.
The second stop on the USATF Running Circuit takes place March 9, as the USATF 15 km Championships get underway in Jacksonville, Florida, assembling a world-class field of competitors once again.