by Philip Dunn
Lake Louisa State Park, Clermont, Florida - (February 13, 2005) - This morning the finest 50 km walkers in the country gathered for their annual rite of passage. Oddsmakers had Curt Clausen and Philip Dunn battling it out into the latter stages of the race as they had done three weeks earlier at the national 30 km race.
There was also a great deal of excitement to see the names Ray Sharp and Marco Evoniuk on the start list. The last time Ray Sharp had qualified for a U.S. National Team was back in the early 90s so it was anyone's guess what the Michigan resident would be able to muster.
Throw into that mix a batch of 50 km veterans — Theron Kissinger, Mark Green, Dave McGovern, Dave Doherty, Steve Pecinovsky, Bill Vayo, and Chris Rael — and a couple of relative new comers — Ed Parrot and Mike Bartholomew — and you had a recipe for some exciting racing. Rounding out the men's field were Max Walker, Ed Fitch, and Stephen McCullough. Fresh off her National 30 km runner-up performance was women's favorite, Dorit Attias, joined by Erin Taylor in the two-person women's field.
The first surprise of the day was the absence of both Evoniuk and Green at the starting line. Evoniuk, always the mystery man, never emerged from the shadows. Green, who looked great at the January 30 km, couldn't make the trip from Las Vegas because of a recent medical condition. He is recovering well and eager to get back to walking as soon as he can.
From the starter's gun, each walker settled into his or her own rhythm almost immediately. Late-entry Canadian Tim Berrett joined Clausen and Dunn for the early going at an honest 5:00/km pace. Berrett has been training in nearby Sarasota rather than braving the Canadian chill and made the trip to get in a 35 km workout.
The three walked together for the first 15 km before Clausen and Berrett slowly began to put some distance on Dunn who struggled all day to find his usually smooth stride. Kissinger and Sharp joined forces for much of the first half of the race, trailed by McGovern and, further back, the duo of Doherty and Parrot. The others were strung out along the circuitous loop with Pecinovsky, followed by a strong-looking Rael and then Vayo, Bartholomew, Finch, Walker and McCullough.
On the women's side, Attias started out more aggressively than Taylor and widened her gap over the course of the race.
By 25 km, Clausen and Berrett were still cruising along comfortably ahead of Dunn. Sharp had moved into third position having taken advantage of the repeated pit stops that Kissinger was forced to make due to a very unhappy stomach. McGovern was quietly lurking within striking distance while Doherty began to suffer and dropped out shortly after a pause in the course-side latrine. Parrot was left to walk the second half alone, as were Pecinovsky, Rael, Bartholomew and Vayo. Each faced his own demons, occasionally joined by a walker that he was lapping or had lapped him.
At the beginning of the day, the air had a definite chill to it. By midmorning, the Florida sun had warmed things up. A refreshing breeze ran the length of the course, though, and the only major complaint about the weather was a sunburn or two.
The grueling distance, however, was not so gentle. By 35 km, Berrett dropped out of his training walk leaving Clausen to bring home another national championship alone. Dunn, who had briefly been keeping eye on Sharp's aggressive stride behind him, muscled his way to second place. Clausen and Dunn qualified for the IAAF World Track and Field Championships in August in Helsinki by virtue of their 2004 'A' standard 50 km performances.
Sharp struggled in the final 10 km and was caught on the last loop by McGovern who had been slightly more patient in the middle stages of the race. Kissinger was forced off the course by severe stomach cramps at the 48 km mark. Though he clearly wanted to finish the distance despite his obvious discomfort, Kissinger was pulled off the course by judges who ruled he was no longer able to follow the rules of racewalking.
There was a bit of a gap before Parrot made his way across the line to finish his second 50 km. Pecinovsky rounded out the top six with what he was proud to announce was both his slowest 50 km ever and a new American Master's record. Rael had a comfortable lead over Bartholomew with a lap to go, but cramps in his hamstrings forced the southern Californian to concede defeat to the fast closing youngster. Vayo and Walker completed the finishing field of ten men.
Despite pre-race complaints of illness and missed training since the 30 km, Attias easily defended her 2004 50 km title with a convincing win. She improved on last year's time by nearly 25 minutes. Taylor, walking alone the entire race, finished up in just over six hours.