Written by USATF Championship Liaison Meghan Canfield.
Sunday, February 27, will be the USATF Road 50k National Championships held at Heckscher Park on Long Island, New York. Winners who run a qualifying standard for the National 50k Team will be awarded an automatic spot for the 2023 IAU 50 Kilometer (Road) World Championships in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, May 28. For women, that time is 3:33 for the 50k, or 2:48 for the marathon, and for men it is 3:00 for the 50k or 2:22 for the marathon. Learn more about the U.S. 50K Team and how to qualify.
Top women competing for the championship are Jamie Hershfang (50 miles in 6:07:11, marathon PR 2:50), Regina Lopez (marathon PR 2:42:08, 50k in 3:36), Alexandra Niles (marathon PR 2:40:43), Gabrielle Russo (marathon PR 2:44:52), and Emily Schmitz (top American woman at the 2019 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship).
Top men are Zack Beavin (marathon PR 2:18:26, 50 mile 5:35:44), Ryan Clifford (50 miles in 5:39), Bijan Mazaheri (marathon PR 2:15:26), Rajpaul Pannu (2021 USATF 100K Champion, 100k PR 6:28:31, marathon PR 2:17), and Jeff Zenger (100 miles in 13:42)
I had the privilege of interviewing some of these top athletes, and here are their responses:
How’s your training been for Heckscher? This is my first 50K (I’ve run 14 marathons including the 2020 Olympic Trials) but I think my training went pretty well.
What’s your biggest fear going into the race? I’m not fearful of anything in the race, maybe a little worried I might mess up my pacing, but I worry about that a little in a marathon too.
What is your pre-race ritual, starting whenever you have a pre-race ritual? I don’t have any pre-race rituals – I grew up as a gymnast and had a lot of small superstitions which kind of got in the way for me mentally – so not really a ritual/superstition, but I always wear my hair in double french braids for a race (more out of necessity though, especially for longer races/races in hot weather).
Who are your biggest fans? Besides my family and my current running coach, my former gymnastics coach (who is also my boss) is one of my biggest supporters. I am a gymnastics coach, and the kids that I coach get pretty excited when I get to race in “bigger” races (like NYC Marathon and the Olympic Trials).
What is the worst possible strategy you can think of for Heckscher? To be honest, I don’t focus on the worst possible outcomes for a race.
What animal would you like to be? Why? A giraffe…or a velociraptor if dinosaurs count.
Regina Lopez – @getfitwithreginalopez
How’s your training been for Heckscher? Looking at the Heckscher’s race as a training run and see where I am at. I’ve been running high 60s to 70 miles a week while working full time as an assistant supervisor (working with children with autism).
Training is going well overall. I decided to race Heckscher 8 weeks ago. I’ve recently changed coaches (Fernando Cabada) and feel stronger every day. I’m excited to see how I do.
What’s your biggest fear going into the race? Biggest fear is not having women to race with out there. Also, the weather being snowy and windy.
What is your pre-race ritual, starting whenever you have a pre-race ritual? I like to spend time alone and with my husband. I also love watching inspiring videos and getting massage, adjustments from my husband. Nice and quiet.
Who are your biggest fans? My husband is my biggest fan. He comes to all my races. He is a Physical Therapist; he always fixes me with rehab and does his amazing work on me. Also my parents and my coach.
What is the worst possible strategy you can think of for Heckscher? Go out super-fast and not intake enough nutrition where I hit the wall.
What animal would you like to be? Why? Tiger: They have a lot of strength and never give up type of attitude.
Rajpaul Pannu (pictured top of page) – @lightningraj
How’s your training been for Heckscher? It’s been challenging given that it’s my first time training in real winter conditions. Coming from California, Denver is a stark contrast during this time of the year because I have to coordinate training while working full-time during the winter months. Regardless, I am pretty confident as a result of putting in high volume, getting in several 100 mile weeks.
What’s your biggest fear going into the race? I don’t fear anything or anyone in any way/shape or form. I simply enter anything as I am, ready for whatever that may come.
What is your pre-race ritual, starting whenever you have a pre-race ritual? I keep that a secret 😉 However, I do take a hot bath almost every day during my two week taper phase to balance out the “lack of activity”.
Who are your biggest fans? My mother has been my biggest supporter. She strung enough cash to allow me to buy my first track spikes from the discount rack my junior year of high school. Now, she crews me in ultras ranging anywhere from 100k to a hundred miles.
What is the worst possible strategy you can think of for Heckscher? Not making it on time to the starting line. Sounds like a terrible strategy to me.
What animal would you like to be? Why? I’d like to think that I’m already an animal as I act instinctively, eat whenever I’m hungry, and move with fluid motion. Perhaps a koala bear.
Bijan Mazaheri – @honey_bijan
How’s your training been for Heckscher? I decided to race Heckscher about 5 weeks ago after coming off a little hamstring injury, so I’ve had to concoct a bit of a “get fit quick scheme.” I went straight to 100-mile weeks, held it for 3 weeks, then tapered for two. This is going to a be a bit of a dice roll.
What’s your biggest fear going into the race? I’ve run a few marathons, so I know what happens from 20-26 miles and it’s not pretty. I don’t know what happens from 26-31 miles. I don’t expect it to be pretty.
What is your pre-race ritual, starting whenever you have a pre-race ritual? Pre-race rituals are a futile attempt to control the chaos. I guess I’ll eat some oatmeal.
Who are your biggest fans? My parents will both be at the race. My girlfriend goes to almost all of my races, but she is at a conference this weekend presenting her research (we are both Ph.D students at Caltech). I’ll probably forgive her.
What is the worst possible strategy you can think of for Heckscher? Not eating oatmeal.
What animal would you like to be? Why? Maybe like a mountain lion, but I think I prefer being human because I like doing math.
How’s your training been for Heckscher? It has been solid! My ‘A’ goal for the spring is the Mad City 100k, but my training schedule from my coach called for a hard 30 miler on this weekend just by happenstance. The coincidence was too much to pass up on! I’m largely training through this race with eyes on the 100k in April, but I’m pleasantly surprised with where my fitness already is leading into this.
What’s your biggest fear going into the race? The snow and the cold. I’ve never really had issues running in the cold until this year. The joys of getting old!
What is your pre-race ritual, starting whenever you have a pre-race ritual? I have a Blue Moon the night before with a pasta dinner. Morning-of, I take a hot shower and guzzle copious amounts of coffee.
Who are your biggest fans? My boyfriend, friends, and family! Before the Marathon Trials Test Event in Atlanta, we received an email addressed to “athletes, coaches, and managers” with race logistic info. I sent it along to my mom and aunt who were going with me, and since then they have been my de facto “managers.” In my case, that means taking care of pre-race dinners, crewing at ultras, and making sure the post-race bar is well-stocked.
What is the worst possible strategy you can think of for Heckscher? Taking no nutrition. Bonks are real and you don’t want to go down that path if you can avoid it.
What animal would you like to be? Why? My boyfriend just made me watch Blackfish, so Orca’s seem pretty cool at the moment.
Look for complete results and photos after the race on this website.