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5k Tournament of Champions

The first annual Boston Buddies 5k Tournament of Champions just wrapped up on Sunday, June 28th, after 7 weeks of grueling head to head match ups by a field of 128 runners.  Way back on May 16, 128 runners took to the streets in their local home towns to compete against other athletes from all over the world.  The tournament is similar to the NCAA College Basketball tournament where the winners advance to the next round and the field is cut in half each week.  The first week saw runners from many states in the US but also Australia, New Zealand, Guatemala, Canada, and scattered throughout Europe.  There was some stiff competition coming into the tournament as some of the big names in running joined us including Amby Burfoot, Michael Wardian, Becca Pizzi, Jack Fultz, Roger Robinson, and Dave McGillivray’s 14 year old son, Luke.  However, the early favorite was record setting septuagenarian Gene Dykes, who just one week earlier ran a head to head 5k match up with Utah native Emily Morley and ran an 19:18, at 72 years old! 

The excitement from Gene and Emily’s race is what spawned the idea for the Boston Buddies 5k TOC.  In a world where organized, in person events are dropping like flies, runners were itching to do something to get their competitive juices flowing.  After seeing the excitement generated by Gene’s big win, I spur of the moment asked the group if they wanted to do a NCAA style 5k tournament.  I was hoping to get 64 runners and thought we wouldn’t get enough.  Well, within a day we had over 64 and quickly jumped to 128 and had to put people on a waiting list.  The more runners that entered the more weeks the tournament would go on so I capped it at 128 to keep the tournament at 7 weeks.  Back to back 5ks can be tough, I wasn’t sure what would happen when runners needed to do 7 in a row.      

There really was no good way to seed people because many hadn’t been racing for a few months and most of the members run marathons, not 5k’s.  I decided to line everyone up by their age and divide it into 4 groups of 32 runners.  The age brackets ended up being 14-40, 41-47, 48-56, and 57-81 years old.  The next challenge was to make it even based on gender and age.  There were numerous paths to take and some heated debates as to the merits of them all.  Amby Burfoot even suggested some mathematical equation from a professor at MIT which I just couldn’t figure out!  At the end of the day I decided on the “Age\Gender Equivalent Calculator” on the MarathonGuide.com website.  You can input any runners time, age and gender and calculate the equivalent time for any age and gender.  Simple enough since I had to do all this by hand. 

After figuring out the brackets and the timing the next step were the ground rules.  Since people were running from all over the world there needed to be some rules to keep things even.  The start and finish of the course needed to be within 100 yards of each other.  This would prevent someone from running an all downhill course.  You could run Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.  All times needed to be in by noon Monday eastern time.  No treadmill running.  Your GPS had to measure at least 3.10 miles.  The mileage could be over but anything over does not get deducted.  Your elapsed time and not your moving time is used.  This prevents people from stopping in the middle to catch their breath, but people also had to be careful not to pick a course where they would be stopped by traffic.  And then there was everyone’s favorite rule.  Rule #9, “If we forget any rules we reserve the right to make them up as we go along.”  This was by far everyone’s favorite rule and we actually had to invoke it a few times during the tournament.  In week 2 we saw so many people go down with injury and we didn’t want anyone to get a free pass so we made a new rule.  The fastest non age graded losers of the previous week are brought back to replace an injured runner that cannot compete.  This gave people a reason to still try their best because they had a chance to come back even if they lost. In week 5 we added the “Win by 2” rule.  Because GPS isn’t always accurate and runners don’t always stop their watch on time, we gave some wiggle room to make mistakes.  And even in the last week we added a rule.  If the athlete runs so hard that they throw up we would subtract 10 seconds from their time.  This was another added bonus to get people to push hard.  Spoiler alert, we didn’t need to invoke this run unfortunately.

Week 1 started May 16 and the matches were fast and furious.  This was when people finally learned what the athletes were capable of.  We had 14-year old Luke McGillivray run an 18:08 to take his match.  Becca Pizzi ran a 21:31 which was age\gender graded at 18:58. Gene Dykes was matched up against Amby Burfoot and ran a 20:42 which was enough to get past Amby, but the effort proved costly as he had to withdraw from the tournament because injury.  Once Gene went down everyone was carefully studying the results to determine who would be the next favorite.  81-year old Roger Robinson ran an incredible 25:32 in the far away land of New Zealand but that still wasn’t good enough to beat Helen Sabourin who at age 79 ran a 28:47 which graded to a 24:32 to advance her to the next round. But the big surprise in week one was 34-year old Charlie Smogoleski.  Charlie ran a blistering 16:16 WHILE PUSHING HIS TWO KIDS IN A DOUBLE STROLLER!  This quickly caught the eye of everyone and immediately rocketed him as the favorite.  If he could run that fast with the stroller, what would he do without the kids.  Only time will tell.

Week 2 – Now everyone knew what their competition was capable of so the stress of a head to head match up got even higher.  51-year old Parag Dongre from India was trying to run while his country was in complete lockdown.  He ran a 21:36 in week one and was going up against Nicolas Martel who ran a 20:29 the first week.  In week two he improved to a 20:44, a 52 second improvement and was able to eek out a 3 second win.  50 year old Stuart Sinibaldi went from a 19:13 to 18:37 to win his match. 20 year old Cole Morris went from 18:56 to 17:45 but that wasn’t enough to get past Luke McGillivray who improved his week 2 time by 1:02 and ran a 17:06!  Yvonne Leippert was matched up against Kathryn Ann Ergen who the prior week each runner ran 23:13 and 22:33, but Yvonne put down a 22:21 in week 2, and Kathryn came back and ran a 22:28 but age graded was a 22:15 so she punched her ticket to round 3.

Week 3 – Week 3 started seeing some steady progression.  Michael Wardian improved from 16:26 to 16:21 to a week three race of 16:11.  Charlie broke 16 minutes for the first time and ran at 15:49, still pushing the double stroller.  48 year old Rich Snyder went from 18:29 to 17:50 to a phenomenal 17:27 to advance to the sweet 16!  60 year old Mariann Tullius went from 22:41 to 22:26 to 22:08 but that wasn’t enough to get by Carrie Varner who improved from 23:32 to 23:05 to an amazing 21:38.

Week 4 – Week 4 was the Sweet 16 and the competition was getting tougher.  58 year old Jae Andy Bee  ran an incredible 21:09 to knock off Varner who had a setback week.  63 year old Carol Sexton broke the 21 minute mark for the first time and ran a 20:12 to knock off a very tough Suzanne Koonce.  Charlie continued to improve and ran a 15:43 to get past Debra Pena who had an amazing run Charlie’s time was just too fast to beat, and he’s still pushing the kids.  Dalyla Dean took on Hidi Graff in one of the closest matches that week and they ran 19:12 to 19:26 respectively.  Graff’s age graded time was 19:18 so Dean advanced to the Elite 8 by 4 seconds!

Week 5 – Charlie continued to push his kids in the stroller and ran an amazing 15:27 to take care of Dean.  41 year old Tim Fryer ran a 17:33 but was no match for Wardian as he ran 16:44 to move to the Final Four.  53 year old Peter Lederer ran an 18:23 and caught Snyder on a bad day due to work to win his match. And Sexton broke the 20 minute mark and ran a 19:50 to get past Bee.

Week 6 – The Final Four pitted Charlie against Wardian.  This is what people had been waiting for, to see what Charlie would do without the stroller.  But he still pushed the kids and ran an incredible 15:22!  Wardian was not only competing in this tournament, but was still running 100 mile ultras and 50k treadmill races in between all these 5k races.  He ran his best race of the tournament in 16:05 but age graded that was a 14:54 so he advanced to the finals!  Lederer was up against Sexton and he ran 5 seconds faster than the week before for an 18:18 but that wasn’t enough to get past Sexton’s 21:28 which age\gender graded was 16:46 age\gender graded. 

Finals – So the final two were set to go up against each other Sunday morning.  Sexton is in Washington State while Wardian is in Washington DC so they weren’t going to run at the same time, but were going to keep their results quiet so they could both report their times at the same time.  We even had a press conference with the two athletes on Friday where Amby Burfoot, Bart Yasso, Ron Tabb, Geoff Smith, and some other members asked the athlete’s questions and hyped up the race.  Both athletes were gracious and each were slightly tepid in announcing their race plan.  But Sunday morning finally rolled around after 7 long weeks of grueling races.  Both athletes were doing their race on the track.  Michael raced first and ran his tournament best of 15:51!  Just incredible.  Carol went live on Facebook when she ran her race at 11:00 am eastern time.  Her husband stood in the middle of the track and played music as she ran around the track and let the audience see live sports for the first time in months. She finished in an incredible 19:46 which age\gender graded is 14:38 which gave her the first ever Boston Buddies 5k Tournament of Champions winner’s cup!  This was just an absolutely outstanding experience to watch unfold and all the athlete’s proved that running is not cancelled.  Our next race is The Great American Relay, a real relay from Boston to Santa Monica for 36 consecutive days in 379 legs.