Lap 141: Sponsored by New Balance
The results from last weekend’s survey of The Lap Count readers are in – and being frantically whipped up into a pitch deck – and there are some interesting takeaways. First off, apparently, many of you are doing quite well for yourselves despite the majority of you being under the age of 35. I can only assume that as a reader, you’re ridiculously good looking, too.
Another consistent thread among you all is a deep love for New Balance shoes. And that’s good news since they’re a regular supporter of the content here. I am not taking all of the credit, but 95% of subscribers say they recognize what brands sponsor the newsletter each week.
And when I rolled up to the group run this weekend in a fresh pair of all-white New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13’s… my friends took notice. Hey – you don’t make it to the 13th version of a shoe without it being special. Just like you, my dear high-earning, young, hot readers!
The top storylines of the 2023 NCAA XC Meet ✍️
Photo: Xavier Gallo | @xaviergallo
Alright running nerds (sorry, I was worried that intro was too flattering), I am back in the booth for ESPN at the NCAA Cross Country Championships this Saturday, November 18th in Charlottesville, Virginia. Coverage begins at 9:30 AM ET and my goal coming in is to be able to read the YouTube comments afterward and not completely hate myself.
There are 62 teams and 510 individuals competing, and if you graduated from college at any point prior to the pandemic, then you’re probably a bit out of touch with just about all of them. With that in mind, let’s try to simplify things and give you the major storylines to enjoy the broadcast.
The Dynasty: The Northern Arizona men will be running for their seventh national title in eight years. They return their top four and have had no shortage of talent entering the program at all times, so you’d expect that they’d be the heavy favorites. But that assumption would discount how insanely well the two heroes of the day had to run in order to make last year’s title happen. Santiago Prosser was 17th at regionals in 2022 and then finished 19th at the national meet. Brodey Hasty was 14th at regionals and ended up 25th at NCAAs. The pair was 15th and 14th, respectively, at this year’s Mountain Regional meet. But just in case they don’t replicate 2022’s heroics, NAU brought in backup in All-American transfer Aaron Las Heras, so there is a little more room for error. And then there is the wild card in Kang Nyoak, who finished fifth last weekend in what was undoubtedly the best cross race of his life. To beat this NAU team, it will require an all-time great team and a historic performance.
The Challenger: One year ago, Oklahoma State lost the NCAA meet on a tiebreaker in their own backyard. Rather than rolling over, coach Dave Smith added more firepower to his squad and is back with a team that scored 19 points at regionals despite resting a couple of likely NCAA entrants. The big off-season acquisitions were Denis Kipngetich, Brian Musau, and Adisu Guadia. They’ve all demonstrated talent, but the NCAA meet is unique and often requires a couple of tries to get right. With Fouad Messaoudi and Alex Maier, there are legitimately four guys on this team who could be in the top 10. If both Northern Arizona and Oklahoma State run perfect races, then the Cowboys will likely win.
The defense: It’s been back-to-back titles for the NC State Wolfpack, but this next one may be the most difficult yet, thanks in part to the ascendance of #1-ranked NAU. At Nuttycombe, the Lumberjack women pulled off what would have then been considered an upset, though that was without NC State’s Samantha Bush (15th in 2022) in the equation – she should be back for NCAAs. NC State has shown their cards, though never all at once. The 1-2 punch of Katelyn Tuohy and Kelsey Chmiel return and have been stalwarts of the program’s recent success. For the Lumberjack, Elise Stearns and Annike Reiss are now the beneficiaries of three fresh transfers in Gracelyn Larkin (26th in 2022), Ruby Smee, and Aliandrea Upshaw. Do you know how good the Northern Arizona women have to be to earn the top ranking heading into NCAAs against the two-time defending champions who still have their biggest pieces back? That’s bulletin board material!
Photo: Xavier Gallo | @xaviergallo
Pick a favorite: No one in the men’s race has won an individual NCAA Cross Country title before… losers! Well, that streak will end in a few days for one lucky fella. Who will it be? Stanford’s Ky Robinson earned double gold during the outdoor track season so he’s not a bad name to start with. He was 4th at Nuttycombe (0.1 from second), though he won Pac-12s and West Regionals. Many would pick Nico Young – last year’s second-place finisher seems like a natural heir to the throne. He’s got eight All-American certificates, just none of them in gold (not sure if they do different colors for winners but you get what I mean). Up until Wisconsin, Harvard’s Graham Blanks would have been a good “dark horse” pick, however, the horse is out of the bag after his run there. He didn’t actually have to try very hard to win Heps and he won regionals in trainers (okay, they were Vaporflys) so Blanks is well rested. I’m hesitant to name anyone else because of the rule of threes and all. But if I had to, then it’s gotta be New Mexico’s Habtom Samuel, who just started his freshman year as a Lobo with a CV that would put most others’ to shame. And while I am not sure what resume-padding activities he got up to in high school, he has run 27:20 for 10,000m and finished 17th at World Cross last year for Eritrea. And not the little baby junior race either!
Is this a rivalry yet?: Katelyn Tuohy vs. Parker Valby. Apologies to the other women in the field, but no one except your parents is picking you to win this one. (And because I just said that, you now have the necessary motivation to prove me wrong!) Between her storied high school career, marked by winning four NXN titles, and her complete dominance last year, it sorta feels like Tuohy should have won nine NCAA cross country titles by now. However last year was her first, and this year will not be given. Florida’s Parker Valby only has one career win against Tuohy over hill and dale, but it came this season at the Nuttycombe Invitational. A 12-second victory is substantial, but October 13th is not November 18th.
Homefield advantage: For the better part of two decades, the NCAA championships were not a traveling circus. Younger readers might not realize that 13 of the last 21 editions were held in Terre Haute, Indiana. For the first time since 1987, the meet returns to Charlottesville (albeit, on a different course than it was last contested on) and that was largely due to the work of Vin Lananna. But the then-ranked #10 UVA women and #13 men struggled mightily at the regional meet and both got in as the 30th team off of points. Now that they’re back home, how much can they outperform expectations?
In defense of NCAA international athletes 🌍
Photo: Johnny Pace | @pacephoto
Five years after transitioning through the ranks to become a Division I program, the Cal Baptist University men’s cross country team has qualified for the NCAA national meet. The CBU women did it a year earlier, and qualified again this year. Both squads did so in a less traditional way than many universities: through the recruiting of international athletes.
On the surface, that’s not the most novel approach – this has been going on for generations, with certain universities and countries having long standing talent pipelines.
Take Villanova and the Irish, for instance. That started in 1949 when Jumbo Elliot became coach and brought in John Joe Barry, “The Ballingarry Hare,” as he was colloquially known according to a statue I have run by many times. (Full disclosure, I met my wife because she came from Ireland on a running scholarship to Stony Brook, so feel free to ignore all further opinions of mine on this subject if you must. Coincidentally, she also is from Ballingarry, a village of 269, but I’m pretty sure if I called Patricia the Other Ballingarry Hare I’d be sleeping on the couch.)
But CBU did its international recruiting in a much different way than we traditionally see – their top seven men are from seven different countries. And they’re not those already ubiquitous in the American system like Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, or England. The seven are from Uruguay, Latvia, Lithuania, Argentina, South Africa, Colombia, and Chile. The varsity women are also from seven different countries from each other and in total, their roster is about as diverse as the United Nations with 22 nationalities represented. Can you imagine what a team potluck must be like?
For the most part, these are not countries with powerhouse distance running histories. An 18-year-old kid being a national champion and record holder is a really cool thing to put in an Instagram bio, but it also means the opportunities to remain at home and still become the best version of your athletic self are limited. And the domino effect of those impacted could be endless. There’s no telling how many young aspiring track talents will draw inspiration from their country’s national champ finishing near the front of an NCAA meet.
There are undoubtedly critics of programs that rely heavily on international recruiting. The main argument is that these scholarships should go towards advancing and supporting American kids, but I think it’s pretty much bogus. There are 363 Division I schools with a maximum of 12.6 scholarships on the men’s side and 18 on the women’s. There are 304 more Division II programs in the NCAA. Obviously, not all are fully funded, but an American high schooler who has shown promise will have the chance to either be recruited with a scholarship offer or be able to eventually earn one as a walk-on.
There’s also this idea that recruiting internationally is somehow a shortcut to success. As if this modern version of college sports with NIL deals and instant transfers is the maxim of fairness! It completely dismisses how impressive it is to bring together so many young adults with completely different backgrounds into a cohesive team. And that doesn’t even cover the challenges athletes face in settling into a groove in a new country, likely away from home for the first time.
I had two years of conversations and college visits with the assistance of my family, friends, and guidance counselors to eventually pick a school 30 miles from where I grew up. My parents would come to all of my races and drop snacks off at my dorm when I was running low. Should it be that surprising when a person in a situation like mine has a solid freshman campaign?
Compare that to the experience of an athlete whose first time in the United States was a week before classes started and their first language is not that of their teammates. Welcome to Riverside, California – here’s your roommate assignment. Meanwhile, the Nuttycombe Invitational is in seven weeks.
There is a reason the NCAA is largely considered one of the greatest developmental systems for athletes (across all sports) in the world. It doesn’t discriminate against where the talent came from, just that it’s here. It’s not the case now, but 20 years ago the “All-American” athletes were given their certificates following the removal of non-Americans from the descending order list. The official place of where one finished in a race did not make such concessions.
There will be 41 different countries represented on the line in Charlottesville. Try to change your perception a bit when we inevitably see some international athletes running well this weekend. First off, it’s all by the book! But most importantly, what a fortunate series of events that American kids don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to be able to race the very best talent and meet people they otherwise never would have – that’s quite an unfair advantage!
Only 50 miles to GLORY! 🙌
Photo: @bpnsupps | Bare Performance Nutrition
50 miles in 4 hours 48 minutes and 21 seconds.
That’s about how long it takes to get from Midtown to the Hamptons on a summer Friday! Flips first note card over shoulder and adjusts bow tie, smirking at the camera, before reading the second card And it’s also how long it took Charlie Lawrence to break the world record at the Tunnel Hill 50 Mile in Illinois this past weekend.
For those keeping score at home, that’s 5:46 pace. To help put this feat into perspective, imagine a relay team of fifty exceptionally talented 11-year-olds and it’d be a very tight race between them and Lawrence.
They say you can measure the impressiveness of a record by the stature of the athlete who held it before (no one says that but I do now, and hell, I like it). The previous mark of 4:50:08 was set by none other than Jim Walmsley, en route to his 2019 100K American Record. This obviously isn’t a routinely competed-in event at an elite level, but Lawrence is a 2:16 marathoner in his own right. If he can navigate hills and trails – nature’s cobblestones – well, then let’s get his ass to France ASAP!
You know there are a bunch of 2:15 guys chirping right now about how they could totally beat this time. My advice to those guys: you probably can’t, but if you’re convinced, then go do it. Not every world record is purported to be the greatest human accomplishment ever achieved (like the indoor 4 × 800), it’s just the fastest that anyone has ever gone for a given distance. And it gets the people talking!
The Athlete’s Voice: Kendra Chambers 🤘
Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz
This week’s Athlete’s Voice is that of Kendra Chambers. Chambers was an 8x All-American at the University of Texas and now represents Oiselle professionally. She holds a personal best of 2:00.76 for 800m.
I’ve been competing in track and field for nearly half of my life. And from starting track in middle school, to finishing my collegiate career at the University of Texas, to turning pro in 2015, I’ve always felt that it was better together. Let me explain.
From a young age track athletes are taught to either fear or hate the lane next to you. Outside of relays, track is an individual sport so I get it. Most coaches try to motivate you to beat the person next to you – that is literally the sport. But somewhere along the way, I decided to pick up my head and look at the courageous women around me. Ever since then, I’ve been inspired.
It all started in college. The brutality of workouts, the intense coursework, the constant reminder that everyone expected the best of you both on and off the field… it was a lot for a teenager from little ol’ El Paso, Texas. Nonetheless, that was the first time I truly realized that the women around me were more than teammates or competitors: they were family. The only way I got through some days at practice was if one of them literally picked me up off the ground before another set of 400’s and said “you can do this.”
I love to use the phrase “trauma bonding” when I think back to that time in my life, because that’s exactly what we did: we bonded over the impossible workouts, the mental heaviness, and the grueling days we spent together from lifting weights at 6am to study hall at 6pm.
Though we all went separate ways, took different career paths and landed in different cities after graduation, we still love to get together and reminisce on our successes, our medals and records and all the fun, tears and laughter in between. At times I look back and actually wonder how we did it all.
After I moved on from Texas, I took a year off, not sure if I ever wanted to run again. Then something inside me said I wasn't finished, so I joined my first pro group in 2015! I went on to experience a few professional groups, as I was trying to find the right training, the right city, and the right coach and group that worked best for me in the many different phases of life. I eventually joined a group in Philadelphia and began to feel that type of family bond again I’d come to rely on at UT.
For a Texas Girl, winter in Philly was an adjustment. Running in the snow… it was a huge shock to the system. On my second day out there we had a long run and the snow had already started to stick on the ground. When I got home I was frozen solid, so I jumped into the bathtub, only to jump right out because my toes felt like a million bees had suddenly stung each of my toes. I immediately called my new teammate – an East Coaster – and asked what was happening? She laughed and said “oh yeah, wait until you're back at normal body temperature before taking a hot shower or bath!” Never again… this Texas girl was in trouble.
Being in a professional group is way different than being on a college team. But between our game nights, birthday and team dinners, venting sessions, and those few hours a day when we contemplated life at the track: we became a family. The relentless days of lifting, running, grinding, traveling, performing on some of the biggest stages, feeling the heartbreaks and the successes, and repeating the whole experience season after season… it simply bonds you. And one day, you look up and you realize you have a refuge after a sucky race, a safe place in a foreign country, a friend to eat dinner with at a track meet, a smile after a long travel day, a hug after a PR, or just simple reassurance in the midst of the constant chaos and competition.
When life on and off the track is hard, it’s okay when you have a group of women surrounding you, telling you that you can, that you will make it, and that they love you no matter the time on the clock.
People would ask us “how are y'all friends if you run the same event?” I would laugh and think, “because two things can be true at once.” At the end of the day we can be professionals, because this is our job, after all. We are getting paid to do this. We can show up to the track and whoever is in the lane next us, it doesn't matter – our job is to beat them. We’ve each prepared in our own ways to be there and to show up and run fast. But when we are done with the race; win, draw, fall or fall short, we're there for each other, too, because we’ve all been there and done that.
The joy I feel seeing one of my friends run fast is unexplainable. Even if I’m in the race! Remember, two things can be true at once. I can be excited for my friend and I can be devastated about my own race. And neither of those outcomes change how I truly feel about the other – even when it’s really damn hard to show, I am always more happy for them than I am upset for myself. And the same thing goes in reverse: I can be excited about my own PR and feel for my friend who is struggling through an injury. And I know they’d do and feel the same for me. There’s enough sunshine for all of us. At some point in your career, you gotta stop and smell the flowers and realize – hey it isn’t always about me. In that moment, you become more free, more loving and a better friend. There it is: better together, a million times over.
-dedicated to the ones I love