Let's talk about the 1500⏱

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Lap 120: Sponsored by New Balance

Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton

This past weekend the CITIUS MAG team was at Franklin Field celebrating the biggest stars in track and field as they finished up their high school career at New Balance Nationals. This meet is not just about competing against the best athletes from around the country – it’s about putting a cherry on top of the sundae of a wonderful career. It is also the end of an experience.

In 2008, three friends and I broke our school’s sprint medley relay record and became All-Americans in the process. It was the end of the road for those guys and those four years of work culminated in the end goal of having our names hanging from a banner in the gym. Now 15 years later, that record was finally broken by four new teammates.

We still talk about our trip to Nationals and at least one of those guys still has the fact that he was a high school All-American on the very bottom of his resume. And I know after speaking with so many of the high schoolers this past weekend that at least a few more future resumes will note that they were New Balance Nationals All-Americans.

This is the American Record? 🇺🇸

When Yared Nuguse crossed the finish line in third place at the Bislett Games, his time – 3:29.02(!) – popped up on the screen alongside the letters “AR.” That doesn’t stand for “American record,” but rather “area record.” The area in question is North America, which is of course bigger than just regular America, since North America contains America. So one could reason then that this performance was also the American record, right? After all, all squares are rectangles.

Not exactly. (About the record… not about squares… I think that’s still true.) Everyone agrees that the American record is, or was, Bernard Lagat’s. The disagreement is over which Bernard Lagat result we’re talking about.

In 2004, Lagat ran 3:27.40 a few weeks before he represented Kenya at the Athens Olympics. Then in 2005, he announced that he had become a US citizen a few months before running that 3:27 and that he was switching his international allegiance, thus forcing him to sit out of that summer’s World Championships.

No matter. Lagat would go on to break Sydney Maree’s American record two weeks after Worlds, when he ran 3:29.40. An open and shut case, this result was soon ratified.

But in 2018 things got weird. Despite 14 years having passed since the performance, Lagat’s 3:27.40 was ratified as the American record. And you can blame Mondo Duplantis for the confusion – seriously.

You see, the greatest pole vaulter ever was born in Louisiana, but chose to represent his mother’s native Sweden. Before a relevant height had even been cleared, former American record-holder Jeff Hartwig had sounded the alarm, pointing out that according to USATF bylaws, any American citizen is capable of setting a national record, even if competing for a different country. And as Hartwig prophesized, that exact thing happened when Mondo cleared 6.05m at the European championships to set the American record, while wearing his Swedish uniform.

This series of events led to some closer inspection of the 1500m record, and Bernard Lagat became the American record holder, again – just faster.

I don’t believe that this policy is still on the books due to USATF wanting its Wikipedia page to be slightly more impressive. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that some lawyers made this decision because technically it is how the rule was written.

The issue is that USATF does not automatically know the citizenship status of every single person in the world. It’s not like after Faith Kipyegon broke the 1500m and 5000m records, Max Siegel called her up just to confirm that she is not a US citizen.

If this sort of record ratification process were universally adopted by every other country’s athletics governing body, then certain Americans would certainly own other countries’ national records. For example, Roisin Willis chose to run for the United States despite having a claim to Irish citizenship – in this hypothetical she would hold the Irish 800m record. Clearly, that’s not the case.

But USATF is not the only outlier. For example, Julien Wanders, a dual citizen of both France and Switzerland, currently holds records in both countries.

Anyway, after both Lagat’s and Mondo’s records were reluctantly ratified, the rules were changed to prevent any future confusion – but not retroactively. Fortunately for the sake of clarity, the mark set by Mondo has since been surpassed multiple times by dudes who exclusively bleed red, white, and blue. Yared has his work cut out for him, though I am not discounting the possibility.

As fans of the sport, we want records to be broken because it brings attention and excitement to our athletes. The MAINSTREAM MEDIA won’t write an article about someone breaking the American Record*!. And I don’t see ESPN celebrating an area record anytime soon then spending precious airtime explaining all of this to its audience.

To be clear, the insistence that Nuguse is the American record holder has nothing to do with birthright vs. naturalized citizenship. In this ever-globalizing world, athletes are going to move around and switch teams. I just don’t think the Washington Wizards should retire Michael Jordan’s number.

Who turned the 1500 into the 1450? 🤌

Photo: Alex Andrei | @alexandtrack

I was sitting beside the Hudson River the other day with an old friend who also happened to be a retired 1500m runner. As we sipped our iced Americanos he asked, “Do you miss it?” My answer was, “Not at all! But I can’t help but feel if I was born a few years later that I’d have run a few seconds faster.”

I hope that doesn’t make me a narcissist… or like I’m making up a story that sounds vaguely like a mash-up of several scenes from the first Men in Black movie.

This season is still young, but it’s already been incredibly exciting for distance fans. There have been numerous world records, races to the line, and it seems like every athlete keeps busting down doors to new personal bests. Think I might have to up my phone plan soon with all of the congratulatory texts I’ve been sending out.

We’re living in a golden age of track, it seems, and before I get into the technological factors contributing to that, I gotta at least acknowledge the fact that the driving force is the athletes! They’re just good right now.

But in a sea of talent, there are few athletes in the sport more exciting right now than Jakob Ingebrigtsen. It’s not only his ability to run 3:27.95 that is a pleasure to watch, but the way he does it – from the front. There are still almost two seconds between the Norwegian and the world record, and his biggest challenge won’t be the fitness, it will be the company.

The 1500, more than most races, is about getting into the right race, and any time you’re in a race with Ingebrigtsen, then it has the potential to be exactly that. With Jakob towing the field along, eight men were under 3:30 in Oslo, and intellectual pundits like myself have started to take notice of just how fast the event is running this year.

But why is this happening?

Let’s cross off the obvious ones like the shoe improvements, and wave light technology. We have seen the impact that those technological improvements have had on the NCAA and there is no reason why it would not also extend to the highest level of the sport.

An often discussed reason that championship races are now faster is a sport-wide over-correction to the 2016 Olympic final. Since Centrowitz’s win, the two best runners in the world, Jakob and Timothy Cheruiyot, are regular front runners who have been unafraid to push the pace or show up to race fairly often.

Looking at the results from the past 18 years could hopefully give us some insight as to other factors at play. The most men under 3:35 in a single year is 57, from 2021, and so far this year – it’s mid-June, remember – there have already been 55 men to dip below that same barrier.

The argument in 2021 was that athletes were healthy and hungry after not racing for much of 2020 due to the pandemic. So were they suddenly sickly and/or metaphorically full in 2022 when only 34 men dipped below that mark? One possible explanation is that the window opened for the 2022 World Championships on June 22nd, which is on the early side, and allowed 31 of the 57 men to achieve the standard the season before, in 2021.

Looking at the year-by-year breakdown there is a noticeable lull in the number of sub-3:35s between 2014 and 2020, with an average of only 28 per year. During this period there were three years without a championship, and therefore no standard to chase. And in the years there were global medals up for grabs, the standard was only 3:36.0 or 3:36.2.

Is it actually surprising that when World Athletics tells athletes how high to jump that they then go out and do exactly that? If you think there are a lot of fast performances this year, wait until next year – the Olympic standard is 3:33.5! Just because the goal is for half the field to fill out via rankings, it doesn’t mean everyone won’t aim for the sure thing.

And looking at this year’s results, a huge percentage of these marks have all come from the same few races: Oslo (13), Tomblaine (10), Nice (8), and a few others with 5 or 6. The 1500 at this pace has such a thin margin for error, but on the right day, with good weather, and someone to keep things honest on the third lap, then the possibility of running fast is much greater than doing it alone.

That’s just always been the way the middle distance races have been run. There is rarely a 10 second gap to the next guy at any point like in the 5000m. Instead, you get on the train, hold on, and hope it’s a fast one.

It’s interesting to note that the number of sub-3:33s each year has seen a much smaller range, in comparison to the slightly slower time. The top tier of athletes is apparently not as heavily impacted by the set standard, plus they have a consistent set of opportunities each season. The rich keep getting richer!

But all this said… who would you bet on: the 3:36 guy who has won all of his races this season, or the 3:34 guy who comes in 10th in every Dream Mile, Fantasy Mile, Desire Mile, etc.? At a certain point the times become meaningless if you’re getting beat by that many people. I have often quipped that if you don’t finish in the top eight of a track race that it shouldn’t count. You lost to too many people!

The Oslo Dream Mile 💅

Photo: Johnny Pace | @pacephoto

How big of a deal is Jakob Ingebrigtsen in Norway?

He can make the Dream Mile a Regular Ol’ 1500. And that opened the doors for the first-ever women’s Dream Mile at the Oslo Diamond League.

It’s about time the Oslo Dream Mile switched sides! The meet has hosted some women’s miles throughout history, but not with any consistency. And even then, those were just normal miles, not Dream ones. (Though the results were still often mighty impressive.. Perhaps even dream-like; the last contest being in 2016 Faith Kipyegon ran 4:18.60.) But this year was the first that the women’s event was given the distinction of being the Dream Mile.

Dismiss this distinction as “just branding,” but it does matter. The term denotes prestige and it demands respect. This is part of my ongoing mission to encourage track aficionados to lean into the things that have been established as being important!

People have long known about the Millrose Games and that winning the Wanamaker Mile – its premier event – is important. Yet it wasn’t until 2012 that the same honorific was extended to the women’s race, although in that first year it was actually called as the “Wanamaker Metric Mile.” Talk about bad branding!

The men’s race has certainly earned the Dream Mile name, as three world records have been set there and the winner has dipped under 3:50 on 23 occasions. (But if you’ll grant me a little bit of pedantry, actually, the term was first used in 1971 to describe a match-up at Franklin Field between Jim Ryun and Marty Liquori.) Those are big shoes to fill. And they’re magical shoes, evidently.

However, in just its first year, the women’s Dream Mile has already lived up to its billing. Ethiopia’s Birke Haylom is only 17 years old and even though she ran 3:57.66 for 1500m earlier this season in Rabat, running from the front with a massive gap on second, it looked like she might have been running like an inexperienced high schooler with two laps to go. As the field soon found out, she was not. Pressing through all the way to the finish line, Haylom ran 4:17.13 to set a new world U20 record.

Behind her there were seven more personal bests, including a second place finish by Cory McGee for an eight second improvement on her previous mile time, a new Australian record for Jess Hull (4:18.24), and a successful introduction to the Diamond League for Nikki Hiltz (4:18.38).

Now I’m not suggesting we start tossing around the Dream [insert distance here] name all willy-nilly. Nothing would be worse than a men’s “Dream 100m” where the winning time is 10.31 and half the field pulls up with bum hamstrings. But if an event is already attracting top talent and resulting in incredible performances, I’m open to it!

Grandma’s Marathon — In the 🍜

Photo: Marnie Kinnaird | @koolgurl69

The day before the Grandma’s Marathon, I asked a friend for the weather report and he said it’s “supposed to be soupy.” Damn, I thought. When the new Olympic Trials standards were released in December 2021, I had put my over/under at 200 men and women each. That prediction is going to look a lot more prophetic if we get favorable weather for the more popular OTQ-attempt road races!. While I also root for friends and dream chasers to run well, don’t get it misconstrued, my main motivation is to be correct!

By my count, as of press time, there have been 151 men and 129 women who have achieved the standards of 2:18 and 2:37. Remember that in 2020 there were 513 women who qualified and a slashing of six minutes from the standard received significant backlash. Well, in 2020, of those 513, just 91 women had run under 2:37. And for those on the cusp currently, there’s still time to go until that December 5th, 2023 window closure happens.

When you look at how much more competitive the US women are compared to the men on the international stage as measured by Olympic standards attained (6 vs. 0), then it would probably make sense for more women to be at the Trials. To do that, the men’s time could afford to be a bit quicker.

There are a few days over the next five months that will determine if we get to 200. The Chicago Marathon, the California International Marathon, the McKirdy Marathon, and the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon will all be big ones.

We’ll continue to pray to the weather gods! But that wasn’t enough for Grandma’s – Duluth, Minnesota was not smiled upon. Marathoners – hoping for the gentle kiss of a Lake Superior tailwind, mid-50 degree temps, and overcast skies – were subjected to temperatures already in the mid-60s at the start, and creeping quickly into the mid-70s. Meteorologically speaking, the soupiness didn’t truly set in until the second half of the race, otherwise known as the hard part. But the faster you ran the less time you spent in it. Take for example Kenya’s Elisha Kiprop. The now five-time men’s champion only had to sit in the broth for 2:09:14 – that’s hardly enough time for all the flavors to marry!

On the women’s side, hometown hero Dakotah Lindwurm was on her way to a third victory but the debutant, Lauren Hagans, persisted with beautifully run even splits to win in 2:25:56. The HOKA NAZ Elite athlete spent many years excelling on the track, notching personal best of 15:10 over 5000m. Now a week before her 37th birthday, Hagans boasts incredible range from the marathon all the way down to a 2:02 800m.

It was an excellent race for Hagans and the other new qualifiers. Enjoy your accomplishment, and thanks for helping me take one step closer towards being right!

Catching up with Patrick Smyth ☘️

Photo: Marnie Kinnaird | @koolgurl69

And on the topic of OTQing, I love how you can look at the start list for Marathon Trials and see a few names that call out to you like phantoms from results pages past.

Our sport is an unforgiving one, and generally, when your body can’t handle the training anymore, that’s it. You hang ‘em up and start a newsletter.

The closest thing to that sort of career evolution you’ll find in track & field is the technically retired, but still-fit road dog, who hunkers down for a few months to take a swing at an OTQ. Take Patrick Smyth, for example. The former Notre Dame standout made a couple of World Cross Country teams and was a regular presence near the front of domestic road and eventually trail races for years, until retiring in 2020. So imagine my surprise when I saw his name – with that unmistakable “y” – once again near the top of the Grandma’s results.

I knew I had to catch up with him and hear what motivated him to give the marathon another shot, while seemingly enjoying some separation from the pro side of the sport.

I was pleasantly shocked to see your name pop up in the Grandma’s results. I sent a text to a friend saying, “now that’s a name I haven’t seen in a long, long time.” Where did that come from?

I don't know! I decided back in January with a buddy of mine from Notre Dame, Tim Moore, the former Footlocker champ, that we should do a marathon together. We picked Grandma’s and that was the impetus to start training a little.

In March, I went to meet some friends in Moab and ran a half and went 64 minutes. At that point, I thought I should probably try to get in the elite field in Minnesota and not just run with Tim (editor’s note: Tim ran 2:37).

And so I reached out and I was initially told no. That just proved that you're only as good as your last race. And if you haven’t raced in three years then it turns out race directors don’t take too kindly on that. But after some begging, I got into the elite field.

Correct me if I am wrong, but you were fully retired after the 2020 Trials, right? Clearly you must have stayed in touch and still been running a bit.

I've stayed in relatively good shape since not running competitively anymore. I got into ski mountaineering and have been doing that here in Santa Fe and just around the intermountain west. I’ve also jumped in some trail races just to stay tapped into the community, so I have been running – just not actually racing like I used to.

Was it a matter of things getting more serious as you got more fit or was this the plan? You said you were running a bit beforehand, but how much?

The plan was to run moderately more than I already was. I was running maybe like five or six miles a day. Then once I signed up for the marathon I just gradually worked my way up in training.

Are we talking like 100 miles a week and actually training?

I only got up to like 75 miles a week but even with that, I was like, “oh God, I feel like I'm going to break.” I had a lot of weeks between 60 and 70 to stay healthy, but it was consistent, which was the most important thing. And I was doing other cross-training type stuff.

The race itself – like, I'm guessing you went in thinking you could run the qualifier. At what point were you like, wow, I'm actually having an amazing day.

Going through halfway, because yeah, the plan was to go through at about 1:09, 1:10, being comfortable. And I ended up going through closer to 1:07. And I felt really good.

It was strange because there weren’t really guys around me. They were either running exactly to the Trials time, or they went out with the lead pack. And then there was like, nothing in between.

But I think at that point I realized that I started seeing people come back off the lead the pack so I just started trying to catch those guys. That's when I knew it was going to be a good day.

I mean this is now… what, your fourth Olympic Trials that you've qualified for? Is there a takeaway here? Is there something that we could all learn from the fact that after, a few years of really not taking this that seriously, that you could – at 36 – come back and run 2:14 for your first real race in forever?

Yeah, good question. I'd say my takeaway has been do less… but, do more, consistently. I look back at other marathon build-ups I had while running professionally and I was just always doing too much. Getting really fit and then getting injured, or, you know, getting really fit then just getting worn down. So I think my takeaway this time around has been to be a little undercooked, and it seems to work out all right.

I mean, you were eighth in 2016. Is there a part of you thinking I should really dive back into this now? Or is it, you know, this is working. Just having fun. Have some balance in my life. Let's just, like, go enjoy the Trials.

No – no ambition to take it any more seriously than that currently. It's kind of like a nice life supplement at this point

And you know, the Trials… it’s obviously this great experience. But I've been lucky enough to have been to three of them so I don't even know if I'll actually do the Trials this time.

I'd love to do Boston. I've never had the chance to do that. And so I'm kind of looking a bit towards like, if I can keep some of this consistency, maybe do a good half marathon sometime in the fall, and then target Boston and have a similar kind of build up towards that... I think that’d be more personally satisfying than going and having another Trials experience, as great as those have been in the past.

I feel like you have to go at least do a long run.

Yeah, that's a good point. I try to convince myself that, you know, it's not that big of a deal, but it is a big deal. Okay, so I’m still thinking about it. I've got time to think about it!

When you look back on your professional running career, what is your take away? If you're describing what you did to someone, you know, at a bar, that you just met, what is your perspective on how it all went down now, a number of years later?

I was really lucky. I had a lot of really good coaches and training partners. Just overall, I had a lot of great opportunities. Even after I hung up on the road racing in the marathon, I was able to pick up a second career on the trails. And that was incredible. I think that that was a case of serendipity – I was trying to extricate myself from the sport and then wound up falling face first back into it.

Seems like that's a theme. Keep trying to get out.

Keep trying to get out and then yeah.

And I will hopefully see you at the Olympic trials. I will not be racing, but I hope you do show up.

Never say never. Yeah, who knows?

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

  • The On Track Nights made its next stop in Vienna, highlighted by Paul Chelimo’s 5000m win in 13:03.12. (Hype Video)

  • The much hyped battle between future Oregon Ducks and future Stanford Cardinal (is it Stanfords Cardinal, like Attorneys General?) went to Simeon Birnbaum as he won the mile in Oregon in 4:02.22. He was threatened with disqualification by officials for making the shush symbol as he crossed the finish line. In response to the thread he said, “I honestly don’t care.” Absolute #villain.

  • Before that win on Sunday, Birnbaum won the 2 mile in Seattle running 8:34.10 on Wednesday, then ran 3:37.93 for 1500m on Friday.

  • Speaking of villains, check out this fight that broke out in the middle of a high school race. This could have ended very poorly.

  • Long time coach of the University of New Mexico Joe Franklin has accepted a job at Louisville University. He led the Lobos to two national championships and two runner-up finishes with numerous individual winners.

  • Watch this incredibly well done video of Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone before her race at the Paris Diamond League. More of this please.

  • Emily Mackay ran a big six second personal of 4:01.52 for the 1500m, out-leaning Helen Schlachtenhaufen at the New Jersey International.

  • One of the reasons Lamecha Girma has not received more attention in the United States for his 3000m indoor or steeplechase world records is the language barrier. This Q&A gives more context to his life and career than I had ever heard.

  • The New York Grand Prix is on Saturday at Icahn Stadium at 1pm. Sydney, Lyles, Norman, Ajee, Engels, Gabby, Coleman, and more will be there. WILL YOU?

  • Andrew Coscoran (3:32.68) broke Ray Flynn’s Irish 1500m record and 18 year old Niels Laros (3:32.89) equalled the Dutch record. (Results)

  • It’s too bad that having a fire social media game isn’t an event in what I’d love to call “the octathalon,” because I love everything about this retweet by Anna Hall and would award it lots of points.

  • Was the showdown between Kejelcha and Kiplimo in Oslo the most exciting non-championship 5000m record you can recall? Both men ran 12:41.73 and traded blows every second of the damn race!

  • Great Britain’s Eugene Amo-Dadzie did not start running until he was 26 years old. Now the 31 year old accountant is running 9.93 (+0.01) for 100m. Meanwhile, I am 32 and still can’t figure out why the IRS won’t just tell me how much money I owe. (Article)

  • Jacob Sommer Simonsen of Denmark broke the half marathon world record while pushing his one-year-old kid along for the ride in 1:08:04. This is the most impressive performance I’m writing about this week – it requires a high level of fitness, but also an almost unfathomable degree of cooperation from a one-year-old.

  • Please consider donating to the GoFundMe that was setup in support of Ali Feller’s fight against breast cancer.

Thank you so much to New Balance for sponsoring this week’s newsletter! I just picked up a new pair of the Fuelcell Supercomp Trainer V2s and am feeling confident that these will be my everyday trainers for the next 500+ miles. They have a great bounce to them that keeps the legs feeling fresh and it does not hurt that I love the colorway.