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Loaded Women’s Field For .US Road Championship

Shalane Flanagan, Molly Huddle and Emily Infeld will lead the way in the inaugural event.

Shalane Flanagan, Molly Huddle and Emily Infeld will lead the way in the inaugural event.

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Like a baseball game that has gone into extra innings, Sunday’s inaugural .US Road Running Championships has top athletes like Shalane Flanagan, Molly Huddle and Emily Infeld both excited by the possibility of victory but also of bringing their long 2013 seasons to a close.

Victory here over the 12K distance in this “race of champions” (athletes had to qualify at other USA road running championships) would mean a $20,000 guaranteed payday, plus the chance to lock-up the 2013 USA Running Circuit points title, which would bring an additional $6000. Points are tripled in tomorrow’s event; the winner will get 45 points instead of the usual 15.

“It would be great (to win), especially because it’s the cap of the USA road champs,” said Huddle, the American record holder for 5000m. “It’s prestigious.”

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Huddle, 29, of Providence, R.I., is one of the few non-marathoners who is still in strong form this late in the year. At the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K on Nov. 2, in New York City, Huddle ran a road racing personal best of 15:27 on a course that gains 10 meters in elevation, beating the insurgent Infeld by half a second and Flanagan by 13 seconds.

“It’s a big race,” Huddle told Race Results Weekly of Sunday’s contest. “It’s a big inaugural show that they’re putting on here to garner support for next year. It would be great for me to cap off my season and feel good about the break I’m going to take afterwards. I’d be able to enjoy it a lot.”

Huddle admitted that the 12kilometer distance “is a little long for me,” but she said that she had prepared well by jumping into some of the longer workouts her training partners Kim Smith and Amy Hastings did in advance of the ING New York City Marathon. Huddle, an Olympian who finished sixth at last summer’s IAAF World Championships in the 5000m, said she has been thinking about this race for a long time.

“I’ve been looking forward to this race since I heard about it back in February,” she told reporters at a press conference here today. “This 12K will be a great test of what I can do.”

Flanagan, 32, an Olympic bronze medalist who is the U.S. 10,000m record holder, relishes the chance to compete against Huddle. An accomplished marathoner with a 2:25:38 personal best, Flanagan sees the 12K distance as playing to her strengths. The 5K in New York was a little short given that she is focused on endurance training at this time of year.

“It was really a lung-burner, as I called it,” Flanagan said. “I hope the 12K distance is a little kinder to me.”

With 14 national titles and both Olympic and world championships medals, Flanagan is the most decorated athlete in the race. She’s never run a 12K, but with a good performance she could challenge Deena Kastor’s USATF-ratified 12K record of 38:24 set en route at the 2006 Berlin Half Marathon. That mark is equivalent to a 31:36 10K by one well-regarded formula, a time which is well within Flanagan’s abilities.

“My fitness is rounding into shape,” Flanagan said. I had a really nice hard 5K two weeks ago in New York City, as a celebration and preparation for the marathon, and ran against Molly and placed third. It kicked me into another gear of fitness, so I’m excited to be here, healthy and rounding into shape.”

Infeld, 23, who focused on middle distance running at Georgetown University, has been a breakout star this year on the roads. Training with Flanagan in Portland under coach Jerry Schumacher, Infeld has shown that she has exceptional endurance for a young athlete, keeping pace with Flanagan on her long tempo runs. On the roads this year, she won the Wharf to Wharf 6 Mile in California by 14 seconds last July, was second to Huddle at the USA 5K road running championships in Providence, R.I., (15:31), and was only narrowly defeated by Huddle in New York City two weeks ago.

When USATF Director of Communications Jill Geer referred to Infeld as “a sleeper” in today’s press conference, Flanagan objected.

“She’s not really a sleeper,” Flanagan said provoking laughs from the gallery. “She’s really good. I’ve been training with her (and) she’s doing really well. It’s great to see. The transition from the college to the professional ranks can sometimes be a little rocky. She had a little bit of a rocky moment, but she’s come out and she’s doing exceptionally well.”

Other contenders for the women’s podium here tomorrow include USA 20K champion and runner-up Meghan Peyton and Mattie Suver, and all-purpose road racer Kellyn Johnson, who won last weekend’s Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon.