The Altitude Conversion Debate: Part 50 🏔
Photo: Noah Hales | @noahhhales
Here we go again! For my money, there is no greater tradition in sports than running fans losing their minds over some NCAA altitude conversions. So big thanks to Nico Young, who ran 3:57.33 for the mile on Friday night at North Arizona’s Lumberjack Challenge, inside the dome that hosts an oversized sitting just below 7,000 feet. Because the calculator is spitting out that it’s worth a 3:48.71, and reactions are predictably – uh – not universally chill.
This conversion has made a lot of people very angry, and is widely regarded as a bad move. But is it?
Well, two years ago Young ran 4:02.89 at the same meet, which was converted to 3:54.07. At the time I defended the effort and conversion, given my own experience sucking for air at altitude and other athletes backing up their own debated performances. Well, one week later Young ran 3:56.00 at the University of Washington – not quite the full value of the conversion, but fast and close enough for jazz.
Using the historical data from 2022 to extrapolate an estimate, then it’s fair to say Young is in at least 3:50-something shape, meaning Cooper Tear’s collegiate record of 3:50.39 might be within reach.
The challenge at these speeds is quite literally… the speed. To run 3:48 means averaging 56.8 seconds each quarter and that’s getting into a realm of middle-distance running where it’s about more than just aerobic fitness. However, this is a guy who ran a 7:37/13:22 double last month – he is fit, and has undervalued wheels!
Currently, the top five men’s times in the NCAA mile are all altitude conversions, and NAU’s Maggi Congdon’s 4:40.34 is the top women’s seed, being valued at 4:30.16. For these athletes, there’s not much incentive to “prove” their conversions at sea level, unless they think they can better them at a place like BU.
And speaking of, the first look we’ll get at a post-3:48* Nico Young will be in the 5,000m at BU Terrier this weekend. If Graham Blanks’s 5000m mark goes down, how do we feel about those conversions?
USA XC Championships: Free trip to Serbia! 🇺🇸🇷🇸
Photo: Kevin Morris | @kevmofoto
Don’t let it being an Olympic year distract you from the fact that it is also a World XC year. Look, there wasn’t an abundance of noise about the US Cross Country Championships this year – we ARE distracted!
Is it possible that running a 10K over grass in January will impact how one performs in July at the Olympic Trials? Probably not. But it’s not just about one half-hour run. It’s the training and travel surrounding it.
A lot is going on in 2024 and therefore fields were a bit more sparse than normal, with athletes having to choose their own adventure in the way they approach this season. And since the Olympics trump all, the Marathon Trials and Sound Running 10,000m will attract the majority of athlete’s affection.
But still… USAs was a qualifying event with the top six finishers earning a bid to the World Champs in Serbia on March 30th – 10 weeks is enough time to get a stress fracture, some PRP shots, a lobotomy, and still show up to the start of your “A” race in shape.
This was a predictable problem, so maybe USATF should have gone with a more European-style team selection – if there was ever a year to name a portion of the athletes to the World XC team by committee, then this would have been the one to do it. But we’re American, dammit. And we love a good trial, be it OJ Simpson’s, Gwyneth Paltrow’s, or the Olympic Marathon team selecting one.
It’s not necessarily where World XC fits in the schedule that is the issue, it was this qualifying race specifically. Surely if spots were offered to Alicia Monson and Grant Fisher to bypass this race in Virginia and instead get a direct flight to Serbia they’d consider it.
So credit where credit is due. Having a full schedule did not prevent Weini Kelati from showing up one week after setting the American record in the half marathon. Her legs must have recovered quickly because this was a glorified tempo. Kelati finished 21st at Worlds last year and is committed to returning to improve on it after struggling with some injuries in the lead-in to that race.
Rounding out the qualifiers [if they choose to go] will be a team of international rookies led by Emma Hurley, Katie Camarena, Allie Ostrander, Cailie Logue, and Abby Nichols.
Okay, maybe my above suggestion that more athletes would be willing to race internationally if they didn’t have to run the qualifier is not a perfect solution. That’s because the men’s champion Cooper Teare has already shared that he will not be competing. The goal coming in for him seems to have been to get a huge boost of confidence in his first race back training under coach Ben Thomas out of Virginia Tech. (Hocker skipped World Indoors in Serbia during the 2022 season… Ben, if you’re reading this: let the boys go to Serbia!)
This meet is a qualifier in nature, though it is also a national championship and it should be appreciated when athletes show up to win one of those. Teare’s last cross country race was struggling across the finish at the 2021 NCAA XC championships – so yes, this was some sweet redemption!
With a couple of kilometers left it looked like a triathlete might steal the whole thing, which had me conflicted. Like, we should be rooting for the pure runners to win the running races, right? Granted Morgan Pearson has run 1:01 for the half… but if he is suddenly better at running than all the runners, what does that mean for us – do we all have to start smelling like chlorine and going bankrupt buying bike gear too? The former Buff finished fourth, but will not be heading to Belgrade as he has already qualified for Paris in the triathlon.
With those two opting out, the team will likely include Anthony Rotich, Ahmed Muhumed, Emmanuel Bor, Christian Allen, Reid Buchanan, and Anthony Camerieri. And before you can email me, Reid Buchanan is running the Marathon Trials, which further invalidates the earlier point I was trying to make. You are killing me, Christian and Reid! (Full results)
The Boston University Circuit 🏎
In last week’s Coffee Club podcast the blokes played a fun game of drafting teams of the best four meets on the calendar – in my opinion, Joe Klecker had the best lineup, led by a strong first pick with the Oslo Diamond League. They encourage listeners to draft their own teams and I think I can win this whole thing exclusively in one city: The Boston Marathon, Indoor Heps at Harvard, New Balance Nationals (sponsored!), and literally any meet at Boston University.
The Terrier Invitational is set for this weekend and the main event is the men’s 5000m (Friday night on Flotrack). Except the fields are so deep that they will be split into two, with Woody Kincaid and Abdi Nur in one with Yared Nuguse and Joe Klecker in another. As you may imagine, this has certain participants of the Citius Mag group chat up in arms (Hint: It’s Mac and Fauble).
A knee-jerk reaction would have you cursing the meet directors for taking such action, right? Well, it’s not their fault that the entire system as put in place by World Athletics is to use the indoor season to chase times. The stated goal for the majority of athletes is to achieve the Olympic standard of 13:05.00 – not to break records or win. A well-paced race, run on a less congested track makes that easier.
In theory, these “competitors” are going to be working as teammates for the first 4600m anyway, as they take turns pushing the pace and closing gaps because one other guy getting the standard doesn’t block anyone else out. There is a surplus of men capable of running the time entered, and if too many are there then inevitably it becomes a very long or thick train to ride.
It is therefore in the coaches’ interest to split the heats up, and Boston University is happy to do so because they’d like to continue being the go-to track for time trials. The influx of entrants to next year’s meet after 20 guys break 13:00 this weekend will probably double BU’s endowment. Right now there is more money to be made from entry fees than there is from sponsorships or TV dollars.
And that’s the conundrum in the system: World Athletics is not requiring that its product is built for entertainment. These types of meet exist as a means to an end and if some races just happen to be fun to watch, then that’s a nice bonus. And so let me concisely sum up the issue with modern track and field:
More fans will experience a record-breaking performance as a graphic on the internet than will actually watch the race live.
If this were a professional-only meet, then there’d be a few broken hearts and upset agents since certain athletes are left on the outside looking in. It has been suggested by this newsletter before that college athletes and professionals should not be so intertwined and in this case that might mean the likes of Ky Robinson and Nico Young do not run in the fastest heat despite their fitness to do so. That would be the collateral damage of professionalizing the sport.
Now there is a solution for collegians wronged by this line being drawn in the sand… and it is to become a professional.
Instead we’re damned to split heats, and complain about a lack of clearcut professional track season. Here’s hoping this entire discussion will be nullified once we witness the glory of someone running stupid quick.
The women’s field isn’t so large that it’ll need to be divided into two even heats, however, Alicia Monson will be rabbiting Josette Norris, Rachel Smith, Courtney Wayment and a strong Ethiopian contingent.
Catching up with Natosha Rogers 🗣
Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz
In 2012, as a junior at Texas A&M, Natosha Rogers followed up her NCAA 10,000m victory with a second place finish at the US Olympic Trials despite a mid-race fall. Although her time of 31:59 did not qualify her for the Games, running fans took immediate appreciation of her talent. A decade later she finally qualified to represent the United States at a global track championship in the 10,000m in Eugene. Then in 2023, representing her current sponsor and club, Puma Elite, she did it again, this time doubling in the 5,000m and 10,000m at the World Championships in Budapest. Rogers qualified for the Olympic Trials via the half marathon and now holds a personal best of 1:09:36 – it will be her debut at the distance. Given Molly Seidel’s success in her debut at the 2020 Trials, I wanted to hear how Natosha’s foray into the new distance was going.
Hey Natosha, how’s everything going?
Just recovering from a long run – the last big one. It wasn't too hard compared to the rest of them, but it still takes it out of me.
Can you taper now with less than two weeks to go? It’s probably nice to know that the hard work is done.
I am so relieved and I'll be more relieved once I just get there. But yeah, I'm surprised that I made it to this point.
Have you done the distance yet? What's the furthest you've gone so far?
Before this my longest long run was probably 16 miles. So I've never done anything like this. This whole build was discovering what my body can handle. At first it was like, ‘Oh my God – this is for, like, psychotic, masochistic people.’ But things finally turned the corner and these last three or four weeks, I'm starting to like it. I really wish a miracle happens for me so that I can continue on this marathon journey. But if it doesn't, I am ranked third in the 10,000m and 5,000m so I'll at least be super fit going into those.
I have so many questions! First off, you ran a very good couple half marathons considering your longest run was only 16 miles.
That's incredible. I mean between a warm up and cool down that day, you're hitting an all-time high. Is that where the seed was first planted that you wanted to do this? Were you thinking about this in 2021?
No, it really wasn't until I signed with Puma. When I was with the Hansons, we did definitely discuss it, but we hadn’t committed to that path yet – just because there is still promise on the track. If I stayed with the Hansons then I would have probably done Chicago this past year. I think everyone just kind of wanted to milk the track out of me as much as possible, but I'm in my 30s and an old lady now.
Who had the idea first that you could open up your marathon career at the Trials? Was it Amy and Alistair [Cragg, Natosha’s coaches]?
Puma really wants marathon runners, and my contract reflects that, because they made it a focus with their shoes. They didn't used to have such solid long distance running shoes and they really picked up their game in this area – the new ones are great!
But it goes back all the way to 2012, when I raced Amy in the 10,000m as a junior in college – I've had that connection with [Amy and Alistair] and they've seen the talent in me. Obviously they're great at the marathon as Pat [Tiernan] and Rose [Harvey] pretty much having that Olympian title in the bag for this year. Sarah Vaughn ran great in Chicago and it's just performance after performance, like, they know their stuff.
And they really believe in me and that this is my direction. It's pretty easy to put my full trust in them with this. I had to let go of the control factor because for the majority of my career I was training alone in isolation and a lot of things were in my control. But I'm really glad that I did not try to approach the marathon with me in charge, because I did not know what I was doing with this stuff.
I was reading your athlete bio on the Trials website, and you said that you went all in starting in 2023. You've had a pretty good career for not being all in leading up to then! From your perspective, what was that shift and how did things change?
Deciding to join this team took a lot of sacrifice. I moved out of my state and away from my family. I had my cat adopted. I just got sick of doing my career one foot in and one foot out. I have to admit that in my 20s that I lived it up… like I did it all! I wanted to not have any regrets in my 20s and I still don't regret that.
But now it’s just like, “why am I still doing this if I'm not going to be all-in?” It gets embarrassing on the world stage. I am very grateful to have made it to Worlds and stuff, but if I'm not all-in, the performance is going to show. I definitely put it all out there this year and it takes time to experience that caliber. And then when I started this marathon build I had no choice but to seriously be all-in because you can't get away with stuff with this sort of training.
Not to be a psychologist on it, but was the one foot in and one foot out thing a reaction to 2012 and some injuries afterward?
I'm a very emotional runner. I also have a wild side… I'm just going to be honest. But now that I'm getting older it's kind of dying out. Like, I'm too tired.
The mileage is probably a factor as well.
Yea, but I think I'm just getting older now, and this is my career and the path I chose. In your 20s, you don't realize the weight of all of that and you still want to have fun. You still want to be like, a regular person in ways, but enough has happened at this point where I would rather just see what I can get out of this… and make more money!
How has the build up been? If 16 miles was your previous high, what has that or your mileage gotten up to? Has it been a smooth build up overall?
Nope. I was actually supposed to go to Albuquerque with my team and Fiona [O’Keeffe]. After Budapest, I kind of let myself go a little bit just because I had a crazy year. I lived out of two suitcases for the majority of the time and moved three times. When your life is just nonstop like that it's only a matter of time before you have to slow down.
Meanwhile, Fiona was training really hard over the summer because she didn't get to compete at USAs and so we didn't really line up and she was a level ahead for sure. It became clear to us that I kind of needed to separate and be on my own trajectory. I'm just a different athlete.
I start out very unfit, and then by the end start getting some serious traction close to championship time. Our trajectories were different, and the universe wanted me to do this in isolation.
I've had help from some of the guys on the team for long runs and stuff here in North Carolina. But it has not all been smooth. I had a really hard adjustment to the distance, but like I will say, it's really coming around. My odds are a lot lower than the favorites in the field, but the race can play out a number of ways… so it's going to be a chess game out there!
Is there a workout or a performance that you're drawing on for confidence that leads you to believe, ‘hey, on my best day I can finish in the top three here.’
Well, it's hard with social media because you have your Keira D’Amatos and Sarah Halls posting their workouts and like… they're insane. So, no – and this goes for track too – if you looked at my workouts in practice you’d say ‘she won't make the team.’ But I do have a lot of confidence in my ability to pull something out of my ass and grind it out.
My heart is really invested and I have tried hard to surrender and commit to this. And so like, that's all I can really lean on and just do the best I can. Trying to compare workouts would be my biggest mistake.
What’s the best advice that you have received for the marathon? I would imagine anything Amy says should be written down.
I saw Rory Linkletter in Austin for The Running Event, and we had a really good conversation. He told me easy days are the most important and to take recovery days as seriously as you need to. That was one of my biggest mistakes the first half of the block because I am an exercise addict and like to do a lot of cross training. I like to feel like I'm getting ahead and separately outside of practice.
That worked for me in college, and it kind of stuck with me. But then I was doing this new strength stuff that I was taught during the summer and all of that had to go because I would show up to workouts already defeated. You have to be as fresh as possible for these serious long run workouts. And so my easy days are totally relaxing. I’m willing to go slow or not run with the team.
I appreciate you taking the time to chat and I will see you in Orlando in less than two weeks. Have you been in North Carolina this whole time?
Of course! And yes, I love it here so much. Have you been?
I have – the Tobacco Trail is the nicest run possible.
Right? It's so charming and cute here. There's so many trees, and as I said, I lived out of two bags all year. I just needed some stability for this build and wanted to feel like I was at home.