AUSTIN, TEXAS, December 01 — For years American cross country at the professional level has been, if not dead, certainly moribund. Anemic fields at recent USATF Nationals, both club and individual versions, have given fans little to get enthused about it. But Sound Running’s FitnessBank Cross Champs proved that if the overland sport were promoted with enthusiasm, the big stars would come.
On a 1M loop at Austin’s St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, some of the hottest U.S.-based distance runners hammered their way around the challenging course, competing for major points on the World Athletics XC Tour.
The men went off first, with Oli Hoare and Joe Klecker leading a strong contingent from On Athletics. Hoare led past the mile post in 4:27.8, his big margin followed by Iowa State alum Wesley Kiptoo, representing HOKA NAZ Elite in 4:34.0. Klecker (4:34.2) ran a stride behind alongside teammate Geordie Beamish.
Hoare kept the pressure on through 9:03.8 at 2M, his lead stretching to 70m or more. At the front of chase pack (9:12.3) ran Klecker, tailed by Kiptoo and On’s Morgan McDonald. Holding 5th was Edwin Kurgat, representing the American Distance Project.
The wear started to show on the Aussie frontrunner on the middle loop, where his tempo slipped to a 4:41.5, allowing his pursuers to start breathing down his neck. Kiptoo and Kurgat ran closest, and On’s Yared Nuguse moved to 4th, The Kenyans soon overtook Hoare, Kurgat leading through 4M in 18:21.4.
In the end it was Kurgat who finished best, covering the 8K in 23:27.5, with Nuguse storming to 2nd in 23:30.6 and Hoare holding on for 3rd (23:32.7). Kiptoo faded to 6th while McDonald and Beamish grabbed 4th and 5th.
Kurgat, an unsponsored pro still training at Iowa State, noted that he and Kiptoo still train together: “Me and Wesley are training hard and have had some very good workouts at Iowa State, so being out there today was just my happiness.” The 2019 NCAA XC champ, Kurgat said he resolved, “I’m going to stay with you today, Wesley, and I’m going to make sure I run to the end with you.”
Teamwise, it was On Athletics that dominated the 4-man scoring, racking up 14 points with that 2-3-4-5 finish. HOKA NAZ Elite followed with 45 points, and Puma Elite tallied 57. All told, 11 teams scored.
The women’s race produced what turned out to be a scintillating battle among the top three, with Ednah Kurgat (U.S. Army) leading through the first mile in 5:23.4 followed closely by USATF titlist Alicia Monson (On) and Emily Infeld (Nike), as well as Natosha Rogers (Hansons) and Courtney Wayment (Taylor Made Elite).
On the second loop, Monson took over, speeding up slightly with a 5:22.8 (10:46.4). Kurgat and Infeld led the pursuers as they stayed within a stride or two of the Wisconsin alum. The big break came on the next circuit, as Monson threw down a 5:11.1 (15:57.6) with Kurgat pressing hard on her shoulder and Infeld hanging tight. The gap to the chase pack grew to more than 50 meters.
As is her style, Monson used her strength to keep hammering from the front through a fourth mile of 5:13.8 (21:11.4), Infeld and Kurgat still in contention. So it remained, as the 24-year-old Monson mounted an impressive sprint on the track finish to cross 6 seconds ahead of Infeld (26:55.7-27:01.7), with Kurgat another 6 behind (27:07.9). Fiona O’Keefe of Puma Elite ran a well-paced 4th in 27:19.8, followed by Hanson-Brooks’ Jessie Cardin (27:34.7), who caught Wayment (27:35.7) before the end. Only 2 complete women’s teams scored, Puma Elite (17) edging Hanson-Brooks (19).
Said Monson, “I was definitely scared of the hay bales and the mud obstacles, but it was actually fun to do… I was really confident in my last kick around the track. As long as I’m there with 350 to go, I knew I could close it in.”
FITNESS BANK CROSS CHAMPS
WA Cross Tour #8, Austin, Texas, December 01—
Men (8K): 1. Edwin Kurgat (Ken) 23:28; 2. Yared Nuguse (US) 23:31; 3. Oliver Hoare (Aus) 23:33; 4. Morgan McDonald (Aus) 23:43; 5. George Beamish (NZ) 23:43;
6. Wesley Kiptoo (Ken) 23:45; 7. Olin Hacker (US) 23:47; 8. Joe Klecker (US) 23:48; 9. Mario Garcia (Spa) 23:56; 10. Andrew Colley (US) 23:57.
1. Alicia Monson (US) 26:56; 2. Emily Infeld (US) 27:02; 3. Ednah Kurgat (US) 27:10; 4. Fiona O’Keeffe (US) 27:20; 5. Jessie Cardin (US) 27:35;
6. Courtney Wayment (US) 27:36; 7. Taylor Werner (US) 27:45; 8. Natosha Rogers (US) 27:52; 9. Sintayehu Vissa (Ita) 27:52; 10. Allie Buchalski (US) 27:53.