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Lap 149: Sponsored by New Balance

2023 Foot Locker Cross Country champion Drew Griffith, a senior at Butler HS (PA) and Notre Dame commit, has signed an NIL deal with New Balance. Last month, Griffith ran 15:06.9 to become the first boy from the Keystone State to win the national title. He is also a two-time WPIAL champion and 2023 PIAA champion. He boasts personal bests of 4:07.24 for the mile; 8:48.01 for two-mile.

Now that you're a New Balance athlete, everyone wants to know, what’s your favorite shoe?

It's definitely the 1080. Right now it's the v13, but I've been running in them since I started running. I had the v11s and I was like, “Wow, this is the best shoe ever.” So I've been loyal to New Balance my whole career.

I love that your career only spans a couple versions of the shoe. If you could go for an easy run with anyone in the world, who would it be with and why?

I think right now it'd be Yared Nuguse because I am going to Notre Dame next year. I think he'd provide some valuable information and he's also just killing it right now. 

Perfect segue! Why did you choose to commit to Notre Dame? I am sure every college in the country was chasing you.

As soon as I stepped on campus it just had this atmosphere that it felt like home. The team is so welcoming and treated me like family. And the coaches just really pushed for me!

You're still relatively young in your career, but what advice would you give to a younger version of yourself now that you have the wisdom of a high school senior?

Follow your dreams. A couple of years ago I thought swimming was going to be my entire life and that wouldn’t do any other sport. Then all of a sudden I found this spark for running and realized, ‘Hey, I'm pretty good!” So I went out for the track team and found out I was super good and I thought ‘I can do this.’ You never know where you're going to end up, but just keep pursuing what you're doing.

New Balance has quite a roster of athletes and it’s growing rapidly here. But of all of the professional athletes on that New Balance roster, who's your favorite?

It's got to be Jake Wightman. I think what he did at the World Championships two years ago was super special and I've been a fan ever since.

Good pick! So what’s the best workout that you've ever done? I'm assuming that you might have been wearing something besides the 1080s for this one.

Last indoor season we started off a 1K and I ran five seconds too fast – I think 2:48 to open it up. Then after some strides, I did 5 x 800 with 400 jog rest, cutting down. The first was 2:11 and then I had to keep getting faster and finished at 2:00. For me that was pretty quick. 

That’s moving! I'll see you at New Balance Nationals Indoors. Do you know what you’ll race yet?

I am tempted to experiment with the 5000m, but I might have to just stay with the two mile. We'll see how the season plays out!

Grant Fisher returns to his high school coach 👉

Photo: @kevmofoto

The American record holder in the 3000m, 5000m, and 10,000m just left the country’s most successful professional running group of the last decade to return to his high school coach (according to an interview with LetsRun). Like Matt Centrowitz and Courtney Frerichs, Fisher’s new home will be in Park City, which will only add to the booming real estate market of the Utah mountain town. On the surface, you might be thinking, “What is Grant Fisher thinking?”

Many similar comments were made when Emma Coburn parted ways with Mark Wetmore to be coached by her husband, who at the time had very little resume to his name. But today, Joe Bosshard is a coaching commodity, leading the largest standing army of fast women in the Mountain West... plus Scott Fauble. Alan Webb was coached by his high school coach Scott Raczko as a professional, too. So let’s suspend judgment for at least eight months and see how things pan out.

Now this is a huge win for high school coaches everywhere – America’s fastest athlete is returning to the man who helped make him. It should be noted, however, that Mike Scannell isn’t your average gym teacher who is seeking an extra paycheck for blowing a whistle at distance runners while they do wind sprints. Remember, Grant ran 3:59 in high school and won Foot Locker Nationals – he was very good. And that was accomplished with a long-term vision in mind as even back in 2015, Scannell had purposely held Fisher back.

“Grant hasn’t done any speedwork. You know why? He wasn’t capable of it yet, in my opinion. He wasn’t capable of doing speedwork because he hasn’t been old enough, strong enough and couldn’t recover from it, so we didn’t do it.”

Scannell ran 2:16 for the marathon in his debut back in 1989 to win the Phoenix City Marathon beating a then 39-year-old Bill Rodgers. Before then, he was a walk-on at Arizona State where he was teammates with Grant’s father Dan, which is the initial connection that led to his guidance starting in eighth grade.

It’s tough to change setups ahead of an Olympic year, though we have to trust Grant knows what he is doing. He has run 26:33 – let him cook!

The UPDATED Olympic Marathon Rules ✍️

I hate to be A HUGE NERD, but allow me to direct your attention to a new set of USATF rules hosted by the fine folks over at Flipsnack. To spare you the trouble of locating your reading glasses, here’s the gist: in order to make the US Olympic marathon team it will now take the men a sub-2:11:30 and the reading comprehension skills of a second year law student.

There is an argument to be made that USATF should not be changing the rules of qualifying three weeks before the event, but  the red line edits are in the athletes’ favor, at least. 

I’d imagine I’ll spend a lot of time this month saying/typing out that the United States has currently unlocked only two of the three men’s slots, thanks to Conner Mantz and Clayton Young having dipped below the 2:08:10 Olympic standard.

When the initial rules were written, USATF likely did not consider this possibility. I don’t think anybody really did! Surely there would be at least three American men qualified via the standard or the requisite positioning in the Road to Paris rankings by January 30th. Yet here we are.

So to help ensure that the federation is sending a full team, USATF is opening up its window until the May 5th deadline for athletes to chase a top 80 ranking – this is a good thing.

Remember, spots can be reallocated to any athlete who has run under 2:11:30, with the right of first refusal awarded based on placement at the Trials. The dream scenario for USATF is that the first three athletes who cross the finish line are all obviously qualified in a nice digestible manner for the casual fans who are tuning in to watch for the first time in four years on television.

Since the American women are better than the men, that’s likely going to be the storybook outcome, barring some insanely tactical and heroic run by someone whose name you likely don’t know. But unless the race goes relatively fast on the men’s side, which will require some favorable weather, and probably somebody with a puncher’s chance electing to fall on the pacing sword then fans will likely sit on pins and needles until May 5th.

The big, specific change USATF has announced is that athletes can now chase their ranking. Imagine a world in which Galen Rupp finishes third… or do your best to imagine this! If after the race he still needs to improve his ranking, then he can go run a 58 minute half and secure his spot.

Now let’s say that behind Rupp, Joel Reichow finishes third and doesn’t have the ranking. If Rupp still goes and runs 58 minutes, then ol’ Joel Reichow is Paris-bound!

Theoretically, other athletes could give an assist and unlock the spot for someone else who was top three at Trials. But here is the crazy part:

“Please note, finishers at the Selection Event will not be permitted to “chase” the time qualifying standard following the Selection Event if they have not already met the Qualified Athlete standards or have achieved at least 2:29:30 (women)/2:11:30(men) performance during the Qualification Period as of the conclusion of the Selection Event.”

What that means is if my college teammate Brendan Martin – qualified with a 2:16:02 mark – comes in third in 2:11:31… then goes to London and runs 2:00:34, he’s still not going.

Overall, this is an improvement to the selection procedure, though it could have gone one step further – the World Athletics goalposts are a bit wider than this. If the ideal scenario is that the top three finishers at the Trials end up on the team, then creating additional opportunities seems like the path of least resistance.

In summation, if you have not run under 2:11:30 then you better plan on doing it in Orlando. Can we get some on-course lasers to help the pacing? And some lawyers at the finish line to explain who is going to Paris?

No Emma Bates at the Olympic Trials 🙁

Photo: @kevmofoto

And with the sharing of one Instagram video, American running fans everywhere had to reevaluate their picks for the top three at next month’s Olympic Marathon Trials. In an emotional post, Emma Bates gave fans an unfortunate update: she will not be starting in Orlando as the torn plantar she suffered in Chicago led to an unfortunate bout of shin issues.

The good news is that the 2:22 marathoner is back running, now. There just wasn’t enough time to get back into fighting shape. In the long run, this makes sense. Why risk a spring marathon or falling further into an injury cycle to rush back, only to be at less than 100% of the requisite fitness? Of course, that pragmatic logic doesn’t make it any less tragic.

The truth is that a large number of athletes are going to be showing up to the start line held together by KT Tape and a Hail Mary deep tissue massage the morning of their flight to Florida. To make the team will require a heroic effort for all but a few of the favorites, and therefore risks are taken in workouts and with volume that put the body within razor-thin margins of falling apart. Don’t be surprised when someone you expect to podium instead drops out at seven miles only to eventually reveal they have been training in a pool the past couple of months with a femoral stress fracture. No one is making this team with one functional leg.

The real shame here beyond Emma not getting a healthy shot at making the team is that we want our best athletes to represent us in Paris. With multiple top-five finishes at Majors and a seventh place finish at Worlds in 2022, Team USA lost out on someone who would have not been happy just to be there.

This sport sucks sometimes, but reading the comments is the newest edition of “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Emma Bates.” That’s a lot of fans!

✍️ Have a question about sports nutrition? Ask Maddie Alm of Team Boss and Fueling Forward to be answered in an upcoming edition Office Hours.

That’s how you start a career in the marathon 🇦🇪

Photo: @adidasrunning

Tell me if you have heard this one before: a former 800m runner named Tigist who is coached by Gemedu Dedefo runs a really fast marathon out of nowhere!

You’re probably thinking of the world record holder, Tigist Assefa. But this time around it’s her training partner, Tigist Ketema, who has announced herself to the world at the Dubai Marathon. Her winning time – 2:16:07 – not only broke Ruth Chepngetich’s course record, it was the fastest debut ever, and is good for number eight on the all-time list.

Ketema may already be familiar to runners in Cleveland, as she won this year’s Guardian Mile. Of at least equal note – shout out the Guardian Mile… CLEVELAND ROCKS! – she won the bronze medal in the 800m at the World U20 Championships in 2016, and her 1500m best of 4:00.91 certainly corroborated that she had some serious talent. But nothing hinted at this level of immediate success on the roads.

Dedefo was my coach of the year in 2023, and this is one helluva start for him in 2024. The dude can’t miss right now! You just have to respect the bold confidence afterward of saying “I thought she could do 2:15, but I can’t be dissatisfied with what she has done.

What’s the Ethiopian Olympic selection committee thinking right now? You have to put Tigist Assefa and Amane Beriso on the team. But do you risk it with a wild card who has only ever run the event once before? That’d be your entire squad in the same training group, working together for the many months leading in. On the other hand, how do you not include Worknesh Degefa, Letsenbet Gidey, Almaz Ayana, or one of the 11 OTHER women who broke 2:20 in 2023.

I suppose that’s a better problem to have than relying on an 11th-hour rule change to increase the likelihood of sending a third athlete, right? At least it is in my opinion. Different strokes for different folks, I guess!

Anyway, Dubai is a great place to run fast if you are willing to start in the dark (to run these sorts of times, that seems like a small price to pay). The men’s race also put up an early nominee for rookie of the year with 18-year-old Addisu Gobena winning in 2:05:01. 

Trigger warning: disgusting story of just barely-tapped-into talent.

Hey there Lap Counter… don’t give up on your dreams and don’t compare yourself to others… but Gobena has only been training for two years. He was a former mediocre javelin thrower, and then his aunt Ruti Aga (who was second in the women’s race) encouraged him to try the marathon. High school track coaches get excited when they find a talented runner who is bad at soccer that can run an 18-minute 5K their first time racing – imagine stumbling across this guy!

Catching up with Betsy Saina 🗣

Photo: @sydneymarathon

With all the excitement leading into the Olympic Marathon Trials on February 3rd, it seems like a good time to reacquaint readers with some of the contenders. This week I spoke with Betsy Saina, the former three-time NCAA champion from Iowa State and fifth place finisher in the 2016 Olympic 10,000m. In April 2021, Saina shifted her allegiance and is now eligible to represent the United States. Following her 2:21:40 finish at the Tokyo Marathon and a win at the Sydney Marathon on a hot day in September, where she ran 2:26:47, there is certainly a possibility of her being in Paris on the horizon.

I put out a poll to readers asking who they want to hear from and you are popular! So first off, how has preparation been going? Are you healthy? Is confidence high? And everything going according to plan?

When I just came back from maternity leave I don't know how things will unfold, but the progression has been really amazing. I feel like you need to be better than where you left off – that's what people always say. Going from training to leave, I came back feeling strong. I have had enough time since my son is two years old and things are clicking. I'm excited to see what I can do in Orlando. I've had a solid build up.

How do you manage training so early in the morning and finding that balance as a parent?

The reason why I'm in Kenya is just because I wanted to get enough support whereby I would not be worried about who is going to be with my son when I go running. I have full-time help – she’s like another mom and has been helping take care of Kalya since he was two months old. I can do my training at 150% because I don't get interrupted. Then when I'm recovering I get to spend time with him. He knows mommy's home. It’s why my body has been unfolding really well.

Compared to the previous build ups for the Tokyo and Sydney marathons last year, which both went really well, are you doing anything differently? 

Going into Sydney I was pretty much doing 115 to 120 miles a week. Same for Tokyo. After Sydney [in March], I came back and my coach said we're not going to change anything except bump my mileage up. In mid-October I got up to like 130, 127, 125. This week was like 123. It’s been a slight difference just going up to like, 130, just to see how it went.

You're a unique athlete in the sense that you were on maternity leave during this period of time in which the shoe technology completely changed. Do you feel that it has made a difference in your ability to train more? I think a lot of people say it helps on race day, but just as much in training and ability to recover. 

Like two weeks ago  I had a 20km tempo. And before, when you finished running something like that at half marathon pace, it would take a lot of time to recover. 

But now that we have these new shoes, I finish my workouts, get a massage and I’m recovered in two days. You feel really ready to go again. I feel like it's helping a lot because, you know, you're not on the floor when you're running a lot. You just bounce back.

Looking back a little bit now, in 2016 you were fifth at the Olympics and eight years ago till now it's a long time. But how different of a runner would you say you are? In which ways have you evolved and are you better off today than you were then?

As you grow and you become more experienced you feel like a different person. Especially for my case, I am a high mileage person. When I was in college, I could go up to like 90 miles, but now I’m doing up to 130 without feeling it too much. So a lot has changed. 

And I’m 35 – okay, how long do I have before I retire? Give yourself a window, you know? It makes me think more and be like, okay, I have to do this. Now I have to put everything out there because I don't know what is coming tomorrow.

Of course, a big change as well is you were competing for Kenya then, now you're going to be representing the United States. How special would it be to make the US team?

I'm really excited. Like I said, things have changed a lot.  The U.S. has become my home because it's been over ten years since I moved there. That makes me feel really emotional. My heart is full. I'm so grateful to be able to represent the U.S, after all I've gained in living there: to my two sisters living there, my son being born in the U.S. – it's a family thing for me. So I'm running for the whole family now.

How nice is it to be able to prepare with someone of Joyciline Jepkosgei’s capabilities, without having to be competing for the same spot? How is she as a training partner?

I went to high school at the same time as her, so I knew her from back in 2005. When I made the decision I really wanted to train with her because we have had a long time friendship. But I was a little bit like, ‘oh my gosh, she's run 64!’ 

But I looked at myself and I was like, ‘I need to challenge myself every day.’ When you're running with someone who is better than you, it's a privilege.

I remember when I was training for Sydney and we were doing the same workouts, and my coach could use the time [difference between us] like, ‘hey, for this long run you still have like one or two minutes, you know, that you need to improve on.’ And I remember when I started maybe it was like four minutes and then by the time I was going for the race, I was closing down to like a minute. 

It's been a big challenge, in a good way. 

She's been helping me so much for the last month. She's not super competitive in training. Like, I know some people, when you're training with them, they can start saying, no, I don't want her to be close to me. But for Joyciline, she really wants me, you know, to be on the same caliber with her, especially knowing that she's not in the same team with me. I love training with her. And when I come back from the Trials, I'll be able to keep training with her, whatever happens.

And then I guess my last question is, a lot was made about the decision to hold the Trials in Orlando. What’s your impression of running in the heat? Did you get involved in any of the discussions about changing the time?

I didn't worry about it. At the end of the day, all of us are going to compete in the same environment. 

I was really excited to acclimatize and start to do things like go run down from Iten some days. You feel it when you go down that mountain like an hour – you just feel like you're running in like, 110 degrees or something like that! It's been amazing just to go out and see what I can do there. 

I am just excited to see what we can do.

I'm sure because of all of the conversation around it, it's going to end up being freezing. Well, Betsy, thanks so much for taking the time to chat. I'll see you in Orlando very soon, but hopefully the final few weeks of training go really well for you, and we can get you on that team!

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The full interview will be released on The CITIUS MAG Podcast. Subscribe here.)

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

  • It’s a shame the US fanbase isn’t more invested in waking up in the middle of the night to watch some of these Spanish XC races because Elgoibar was as muddy and electric as Burning Man. Berihu Aregawi ran away from Rodrigue Kwizeraand and Soufiane El Bakkali. And Beatrice Chebet continues to warm up before defending her World XC title in Belgrade.

  • Donavan Brazier is no longer training with the Union Athletics Club, is recovering from his fourth foot surgery, and he does not currently have a coach. I once watched Donavan run a 59 second 500m to start a workout and it was the easiest thing in the world for him – rooting so hard for his comeback!

  • The NCAA has agreed to an eight year, $920 million deal with ESPN to stream 40 championships, including cross country and track. Make no mistake about it, we are riding on the coattails of women’s basketball here! If you run into Caitlin Clark or Angel Reese, be sure to thank them.

  • Asefa Boki Kebebe (2:06:46) and Bekelech Gudeta (2:22:54), both of Ethiopia, won the Xiamen Marathon in China. I watched the entire race so you don’t have to – this was a pretty weird tactical move in the final few minutes. What’s the opposite of a tangent?

  • Daniel Ebenyo and Francine Niyomukunzi triumphed at the Campaccio cross country race in Italy. This course looks so much like the one from Sound Running in Austin in 2022 – TBD if any athletes with podcasts have thoughts about it.

  • Courtney Frerichs opened up about her decision to leave the Bowerman Track Club. I was super impressed with how candid she was about her time with the club and eventual departure – she answers basically every question fans might have.

  • Former Clemson Tiger and Brooks Beast Laurie Barton has joined the Atlanta Track Club. She has personal bests of 2:00/4:09/4:28 and was 9th in the 1500m at USAs in 2023.

  • BYU’s star steeplechaser and US Champ Kenneth Rooks has signed a professional contract with Nike.

  • The Houston Marathon is Sunday morning and while the elite field is stacked, the debuts of Moh Ahmed and Weini Kelati in the half marathon are commanding the majority, if not all, of my attention. Watch on abc13.

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Thank you to New Balance for sponsoring this week’s newsletter! Stay tuned to CITIUS MAG for more exciting NIL signings in the coming days. And make sure to purchase your tickets for the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on February 4th in Boston, MA.