Joe Fejes is currently in the last spot on the US Men’s Team with 145.6 miles, but going into the last days of qualifying, there could be big shake-ups on the team. Below is Joe’s take on the top male athletes competing in this weekend’s stacked Run4Water 24 Hour race.
Run 4 Water
“Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol’ Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee”
All eyes of the Ultrarunning community will be focused on the state of Tennessee on Saturday April 1, 2017. April Fool’s day is the start of the legendary Barkley Marathons at Frozen Head State Park in Wartburg Tennessee. Tennessee is also playing host to the Run4Water 24 hour run that is being held in Lebanon Tennessee, about 120 miles east of Wartburg.
Run4Water is the last opportunity for runners to qualify for the 2017 24 hour USA national team before the qualifying window closes April 2. Run4Water is the brainchild of Greg Armstrong, a member of the 2015 USA 24-hour team who was gracious enough to put together a first class even in a short time frame. Team USA will compete in the 24 hour IAU World Championship to be held in Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 1. The Run4Water men’s field is loaded with runners hoping to qualify for one of the 6 slots available for both the men and women’s teams. Currently, I am the owner of the last spot on the men’s team with 145.6 miles.
The current weather forecast is calling for decent conditions with a high/low outlook of 70/48 and overcast skies which should be favorable for runners looking for big miles. There is however still a significant variance (13 degrees!!) in the forecasted temperature between Friday and Sunday as the high temperature is supposed to be 64 on Friday and 77 on Sunday. Anything over 70 degrees will feel quite warm since the course is fully exposed half mile paved blacktop oval encircling a middle school.
Tier 1 (160+ miles):
For the men, the prohibitive favorite is Jon Olsen (age 42), the 2013 24-hour World Champion, with a personal best of 167 miles, second best US 24-hour performance behind only Mike Morton’s 172 miles. Jon is also the former American record holder in the 100 miles with an 11:59 performance. He is coming off a 2:33 win at Modesto marathon last weekend and should be primed for a breakout run. Some runners questioned the wisdom of running a fast marathon so close to race day. I believe Jon was prudent to run the marathon as a final “tune up” as a way for him to gain confidence in his health and fitness level.
If Jon is healthy on race day, then everyone else at Run4Water is running for second place. The race is Jon’s to lose however we all know nothing is guaranteed in a 24-hour event. Jon is brilliant with race strategy as evidenced by his nearly identical 1st half vs. 2nd half split (5:28/5:31) running his 100-mile record on the indoor track in Ottawa. At the 2013 World Championship in Steenburgen, Netherlands, Jon executed his race strategy perfectly from start to finish and was not baited into running with the front runners that went out fast. I suspect Jon’s sole goal at Run4Water will be to win the race by running a minimum amount needed to make the team. I don’t envision him (or anyone else) running more than 155 miles.
Lurking behind Jon are at least six (6) runners capable of running 150+ miles.
It will be discouraging for aspiring team members if they, at any point of the race, believe they will be unable to make the team; either due to their own race or that of another, especially if Jon O is having a big day. Expect a lot of early drops as the race progresses.
Tier 2 (140-150+):
Olaf Wasternack. Age 37. Local Nashville runner who has solid leg speed and has competed in two prior 24 hour races with a 140 PR at last year’s North Coast. Olaf will have plenty of fan support and is my surprise pick for eclipsing 150 miles and relegating Bob Hearn (see below) to the sidelines.
Greg Soutiea. Age 32. Greg won the Run4Water 24-hour race earlier this year with a 130-mile performance, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees, and also put up a solid 143 miles at Desert Solstice in December. He is in absolute superb condition, is a 2:54 marathoner, and has gained sufficient experience in the 24 hour to be realistic 150+ mile threat.
Adrian Stanciu. Age 47. Adrian fooled a lot of people (including me) into believing he wouldn’t be competing for a team spot notwithstanding he previously held the #6 slot. He has since “unretired” and even ran in last month’s Riverbank 24-hour last month. If hungry he should be in the mix with Olaf, Greg, et al.
Bob Hearn. Age 51. Bob is currently holding down the #5 team slot with 149 miles. Bob’s entry into Run4Water was a last-minute decision in his effort to defend his #5 spot. Bob will be challenged mentally as running defensively often doesn’t lead to optimal results. I suspect Bob will be constantly monitoring performances and will run hard at least until the qualification picture clears. I do not however see a personal best happening from him under the circumstances.
Andrew Snope. Age 30. Love me some Snope Dog! At Desert Solstice in December Andrew broke his own barefoot record by running 138.81 miles. Andrew is very smart with pacing and the Run4Water course and atmosphere should be an excellent opportunity for him to achieve a new personal best.
Phil McCarthy. (Age 48). The 48-hour American Record holder with 257 miles has been on multiple 24 hour USA teams and has a 24-hour personal best of 153 miles set in 2011. Phil still has excellent leg speed as evidenced by a 3:35 performance recently at Caumsett 50k. If healthy and dialed in mentally then Phil should be a contender with the Tier 2 group. His success largely rests on how he fares between 13-18 hour mark.
Tier 3: (130-140+miles):
Sho Gray. (Age 29) Sho is a 29-year-old local Tennessee runner from Knoxville, who put up a whopping 86 miles in the Delano 12 hour which supports a significantly higher 24-hour performance than his current 123-mile pr. Conditions are ripe for a substantial improvement in miles run by Sho (provided of course he slows his young ass down the first 12 hours!).
Charlie Engle. (Age 54) Charlie is coming of a solid 17:10 100-mile performance at the Daytona 100 miler in December which supports a 130-135 mile 24 hour. Charlie without a doubt has the most experience and varied ultrarunning resume of all participants. He is also the author of “Running Man,” a recently released memoir (available on Amazon) chronicling his amazing life as an ultrarunner and adventurer along with overcoming many life challenges.
Steve Barber. (Age 46) Steve, a local native of Oak Ridge Tennessee has won numerous ultras across the Southeast including the 2015 Pistol 100 mile run in 15:39, which suggests he has 140 mile wheels for the 24 hour. Look for a breakout run by Steve who may very well crack Tier 2 standards.
Kevin Grabowski. (Age 48) KG put up 127 miles last year at North Coast 24 hours in his debut. He is one of the faster runners in the field with a 100k PR of 7:17 and should improve significantly on his debut performance.
Joe Fejes. (Age 51). 6 Day American Record holder with 606 miles. Ran 156 miles in 2013 and currently holds the #6 spot for the team with 145.58 miles. Current fitness (or lack thereof) level and weight gain will make Fejes a non-factor in this race. Struggled in recent Columbia marathon (3:23 marathon). Sadly, Fejes is likely to be more focused on the plethora of food offered at the aid station rather than running big miles.
- Jon Olsen 154 miles (bumps Bob & Joe)
- Olaf Wasternak 150 miles (bumps Bob and Joe)
- Greg Soutiea 146 miles (bumps Joe)
- Adrian Stanciu 143 miles
- Andrew Snope 142 miles
- Phil McCarthy 141 miles
- Bob Hearn 140 miles
- Steve Barber 140 miles
- Sho Gray 139 miles
- Keven Grabowski 137 miles
- Charlie Engle 135 miles
- Joe Fejes 130 miles