Decathlon Tributes – 2021

By Tim O’Keefe


As you’ve heard often this past year and a half, this is a time like no other and the Summer Decathlon did not escape unscathed. With the backing of the FSRC Executive board planning for the hopeful 2021 decathlon began in late winter. As spring evolved it looked like the series would be a reality. In mid May the Maryland Athletic Association came up with a plan for post season track events that would stretch to near the end of June. Great for high school but not so great for a series that takes place on now occupied tracks. Plan B ended up being a lot of fun and very different as the first 5 events took place in local parks while the final 5 events were run on the track. The races went smoothly but I got a lesson in management from the perspective of communication…not everyone was clear on how races were to be run in a park with some wondering if these were over the river and through the woods type events. Also, 5 different parks meant a new location 6 weeks in a row. Those that did make it had a lot of fun. All of the  Park decathlon races were on the road or a paved path. Some of the post runs were on trails and cross country. As Arthur Leathers can attest to, they were all hilly…which means he ran 4:40 something miles instead of 4:30’s. All the races had a kid’s run which always ended with freeze pops for all finishers. The parks also made for a great family environment as all of them had a playground nearby.

The shorter faster distances  on the track bring out talent that you always don’t get to see in road races or trails. And there are always amazing outcomes. Who knew Ron Elliott was faster than a speeding bullet or at least fast enough to nip Scott Wallace at the end of 200 meters. In our iron person relay where teams had a series of exercises to do to at the end of each quarter…the four fearsome women walloped the men’s team by nearly a half lap. And how fate smiled upon us as we squeezed every event in before impending storms brewed. What else would you expect from a series that began just as restrictions from COVID were being lifted and then the series ends as COVID restrictions were popping back in place.

The decathlon is also unique in that the runners serve as the timing and placement volunteers for every race. If you ran the decathlon you have experience with the behind the scenes operations of a race. Many thanks also to those who opted not to run but help with the finish line: George Ladle, Clair Heasman, Dana Leathers, Rachel Ridgeway, Lindsey Weaver,  and Darren Elliott. In addition there were host and hostesses for several events who helped with the organizing and brought treats for prizes. Thanks to Paul Christiansen, Heidi Novak, Chris Dutton, Crystal Tressler, and Scott and Melissa Wallace. Thanks to John Way for transporting all the equipment during my vacation week. Our hero Heidi came through and with John Leonardis help had Brusters Ice Cream for everyone after the 800 meter run. Turn out for the event was amazing…was it the distance, the Grand Prix tag or ice cream at the end of a hot run? Whatever, everyone had fun. And most of all a big thanks to the FSRC executive board for supporting the decathlon and allowing it to be a free event for all members. What a great club!

Now for the fun part! How do you get one of the cool awards being given out today? You need to be a Steeplechaser member. You need to run at least 5 of the decathlon races. And you need to be in the top ten with your age graded results. If you don’t know how age grading works, the concept is based on a table that was created using top athletes times for each single age. Adjustments were then created to predict what a runner’s performance was compared to those top times. A new adjusted time is created and that is how the final result of each decathlon race is scored. There is also a percentage attached to that time based on how close a runner is to the top athletes. Most competitive runners are in the 60% range, good local runners are in the 70% range, and amazing runners are in the 80%+ stratosphere. You need at least a 71% to qualify for the Steeplechasers Racing Team. You’ll find that we not only have good runners but we have several amazing runners who are in that 80%+ group.

Starting us off in 7th place is Xinlian Liu running 5 out of 10 races. Xinlian was one of the runners that was not sure if he could do all the events a decathlon called for. After an explanation that it was one event a week and that all the events were runs, he was there the next week. On the cusp of turning 50 he has amazing speed and a wicked kick. He finished 3rd in the 200 with a time of 31.8…AG 27.7. Still in the speed category he ran a 75 second 400 and 3:05 800

Arthur Leathers fills in our 6th spot. At age 30, Arthur gets no help from age grading…he’s at the age where the top runners are. He ran the first 5 races which were all in parks and which he commented every time that the course was hilly. Mysteriously when we got to the flat track, he disappeared. I’m not sure but having a brand new baby at home may have guided his decision. Arthur won every race in the parks except the final one where he got nosed out for 2nd. How much did the hills slow him down? His mile was 4:44, 2 mile at 10:33, and 3k in 9:26. Remember the percentages? Arthurs lowest percentage was 75% with  most races being near the 78% mark.

After missing the first race, our number 5 runner ran all of the final nine. At age 45, Ron Elliot races like he is in his 20’s.The park runs threw a challenge to him as often he’d come flying straight from work, jump out of the car, get his shoes on, and then race. With no warm up, he blasted through a 6:17 mile, a 2mile in 15:44 where he missed a turn and added on to the distance, and a 1500 in 5:49 where he literally ran from the car to the start.But his true inner speedster came out on the track. He opened with a 2:41 for the 800 meter. Then at 400 meters he blasted a 1:04 that AG to a 58 second effort. Then the race of all races, coming down the final straight to the finish of the 200, he edged out Scott Wallace and won outright with a 26.4 and an AG 23.6. That put him at 82%…truly rarified air. Ron did make the suggestion at the end of the season that we adjust the distances to be between 50 and 800 meters.

In 4th place is Tim O’Keefe running 9/10 races. At age 68 his hope was to run fast enough to take advantage of the age grading. Unfortunately hope doesn’t make up for being slow. You would think that since I created all of the park courses that I would have some innate advantage. No…I wasn’t even close enough to yell if someone made a wrong turn.The highlight of the series was finding that Kathy Cea and I were pretty close in finish times. Forget the times, a good race was dependent on how close I was to Kathy. My 3:13 at 800 meters put me in the 70% range while my 7:12 mile and 14:04 3K had me just below that.

I’m thinking just about every runner in Maryland knows John Way. Our 3rd place runner is in multiple series throughout the summer as well as multiple races each weekend. The Iron Man Award he got from the Steeplechasers is truly well deserved. Discounting last year’s non-decathlon, John has run 119 decathlon races in a row. That’s 12 years with one miss! Except for John, no one this year ran all 10 races. And John doesn’t just run the races, he is going for a PR everytime. At age 56, his AG percentages in the series were in the low to mid 70’s. YIKES!

His 6:12 mile age grade to a 5:15. His 800 time of 2:44 was 74% AG 2:16. Even the 400 which he says he cannot get enough speed going was run in 75 seconds, an AG equivalent of 63. He’s also my go to guy when determining how many heats to run in a race.

Bet you thought I forgot about the women! Nope, the 5 race requirement was a bit more challenging for the women. But those that ran were incredible, starting with 77 year old Jeanette Novak who tied for third place. A stalwart of the summer decathlon Jeanette pushes herself in each event. This year, that push was a bit tougher as a fall in a summer race left her banged up for the decathlon runs. Tougher but not out of it. Bandaids, bruises, and all Jeanette kept on going. Her 28:34 two mile AG to a 16:00 good enough for 2nd. A 12:50 one K AG to 7:05 picking up another 2nd place. Even a 2 week trip to Michigan didn’t slow her as she returned to clock a 4:44, AG 2:36 in the 600 meters.

Tying with Jeanette for 3rd place is Melissa Wallace who ran 6/10 races. Melissa’s talent has a wide swath as she was one of the top 2 ladies in both the park distance events as well as the sprints on the track. Her finishes were in the upper 60% AG and that is only going to improve as she brings that speed to her new status as a Master’s runner. On the hilly mile course she aimed for a 6:45 and ended with a 6:39. Her 5:57 for the 1500 meters gave her the open win, while her 32.9 for 200 meters put her on top for both the open and AG. Look for her on the awards stand a lot this coming fall.

Appropriately our runner up for men is 42 year old Scott Wallace with 8/10 races. Scott is one of those wonders I mentioned earlier. 7 out of his 8 races were in the 80% range with 2 of them at 86%. That is an incredible level to be running. He outright won half of his races while his AG put him consistently in the top 2. His 2 mile time of 10:43 was an AG of 10:04. The 800 meters was run in 2:05 which is AG equivalent to a 1:56. During his 600 meter run, his wife Melissa was giving us a play by play at the finish line and explained that he was going to run hard through the 400 and see how he could handle the final 200. While we all watched to see , Scott never slowed down! He ended up running 1:30 which is the equivalent of running 3 back to back 30 second 200’s. His 200 time was 26.5 which means he was at top speed for a lap and a half. No surprise that put him in the 86% range.

In the runner up spot for the women was 35 year old Julie Harris with 8 races. Julie’s AG was minimal so her high finishes came from her fast times. She is one of those unique runners whose speed is deceptive…she doesn’t look fast, it just looks like everyone else is going slower. Half of her races gave her the open race win which is no surprise given that she was just below 70% for her AG. Not only does she bring speed to every race but she also brings Emmet! Emmett brings happiness and excitement to every race and is also first to line up for the kids run. Obviously he emulates mom with his love of running. Julie ran a 6:25 for the mile to win that run. Her 400 meter win came from a 82 second effort and her 2:56 put her under the magic 3 minute mark for the 800 meters.

This year’s Summer Decathlon Men’s Champion is 55 year old Pete Wergin who ran 8/10 races. Somehow the message never got to Pete that as a Grand Master, he shouldn’t be racing 30 year olds. But that is exactly what he did at every race. When he wasn’t with the lead pack, he was just behind them running amazing times. That incredibly lofty goal of running in the 80% range was where Pete was at every race. He had AG wins in half of his races and top 3 finishes in half his races. When he wasn’t racing, he was dispensing coaching advice and calling out splits on the track. His friendly smile quickly disappears once the gun goes off as it is business and bursts of speed in each race. His 5:17 mile was an AG time of 4:27. In the 800 he clocked a 2:24 which was the equivalent of a 2 flat half mile. His 66 second 400 meters was an AG of 56 seconds.

This year’s Women’s Summer Decathlon winner is 61 year old Kathy Cea who ran 9/10 races. Kathy is a talented runner who keeps pressing and pressing the pace in each race and just when you think she will back off, she picks it up and drives hard to the finish. It would amaze me that when I would be closing in on her and picking up my speed for a fast finish, I would look up and she would be even further ahead. Kathy had her first foray into racing on a track this summer and her times showed there was no learning curve. She had AG wins in 8 out of her 9 races and with runs in that magic 80% zone, she surprised herself with incredibly fast times. Her 1 mile time of 7:08 was an AG equivalent of a 5:10 mile. She hit the 800 in a time of 3:12 which an AG of 2:27 and her 1:31 for the 400 was equal to a 67 second quarter.With those blazing times, it is no surprise she more than doubled the points of the 2nd place woman in the series.

Congratulations to all of the winners of this year’s Decathlon Series and again thanks to the executive board and Heidi for continuing to support this event. Who knows what the summer of 2022 will bring, but in some form the decathlon will be back for its 32nd year.