Atlanta Track Club came home from Florida with one national championship and an all-time best finish for its women’s open team at the USATF Club Cross Country National Championships at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee. Sonja Friend-Uhl successfully defended her title in the Masters Women’s 6K making a decisive move on Club Northwest’s Janet McDevitt after the second mile to win the race in 22:15, besting McDevitt by more than 20 seconds. “It was a struggle to get here the last few weeks,” said Friend-Uhl. “Even when I doubted myself…my family, my team, my sponsors and my friends buoyed my faith.”
Despite being plagued by injuries, the masters women’s team placed fourth with strong performances from Kathy Wiegand (25:23) and Stephanie Whitis (26:03). In the same race, the women’s 60+ A and B teams placed 2nd and 3rd respectively lead by the 28:26 performance of Mary Richards and Cynthia Lucking (28:37).
The day ended on the women’s side with an unprecedented performance from the open women’s team. Lead by the 16th place finish of Bridget Lyons (20:16), the open women placed 5th, the highest placing ever by an Atlanta Track Club open women’s team. Strong performances from Lauren Sara (20:59), newcomer Carmen Graves (21:12), Janel Blancett (21:16) and Morgan VanGorder (21:23) aided Lyons’ run.
Kristian Blaich headlined a successful day for the master’s men. In his first cross country championship in the 50+ division, Blaich held onto eventual age group winner Peter Hammer of the Boston Athletic Association through 3,000 meters before Hammer opened up a sizable lead. Blaich finished third just two seconds behind Nat Larson of the Great Springfield Harriers in 34:07. His performance was good for 7th place in the age group standings. “Toeing the line at club cross with friends and teammates is always the highlight of my season,” said Blaich who recently recovered from a hip flexor injury. “All of the top runners are there and we all want to perform our best.”
New master Aaron Totten-Lancaster was the highest overall finisher in the masters men’s 10k placing 9th with a time of 33:25. Lead by Totten-Lancaster and Blaich, the masters men’s team placed 4th, their eighth consecutive appearance in the top four at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships. Eric Stabb (34:08), George Darden IV (34:12) and Thomas Carroll (34:39) rounded out Atlanta Track Club’s top five.
There were high expectations for the open men’s team coming into Saturday’s race. Atlanta Track Club’s Kirubel Erassa was 7th at last year’s championships in San Francisco and was thought to be a contender for a spot in the top five in Tallahassee. But, Erassa was never in contention placing 30th with a time of 30:23. “It was a great season and today didn’t have it,” Erassa said after the race on Twitter. Matt McDonald (30:26), Andrew McLain (30:38), James Dwyer (30:51) and recent Baylor graduate Matt Galvin (31:34) made up Atlanta Track Club’s top five to place 8th in the team competition.
Nearly 70 runners competed for Atlanta Track Club’s teams in what is the biggest meet of the year for the elite competitors. “It was an amazing day with a lot of great performances,” said Coach Andrew Begley. “Atlanta Track Club is about the life cycle of the runner,” said Coach Amy Begley. “It was exciting to take that many teams to compete in the age groups. We look forward to doing that in track and field and cross country next year,” Amy Begley said.