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Lap 87: Sponsored by Bandit Running

Bandit Running is a Brooklyn-based running brand designing performance and lifestyle apparel for runners by runners. And with the NYC Marathon, aka their hometown marathon upon us, Bandit has put together a weekend full of amazing events. Check out their full itinerary here and RSVP for the events you'd like to attend. Special mention goes to my conversation with James Kent (marathoner, Michelin star chef, and restaurant owner, and homegrown New Yorker), which you can RSVP for while there are still a few spots remaining. Snag some product online or at their pop-up with Whalebone from Friday-Monday.

 Cross Country Times — Do they matter?

Cross country is already not the friendliest spectator sport, however, when you host the sort of conference championship that plenty of dorky, prideful alumni would love to attend during working hours on a Friday, it becomes even less accommodating. That’s just what the Ivy League Championships (confusingly known as “Heps”) did. And that’s why I spent my lunch hour that day following along via intermittent updates as runners tromped over timing pads every two kilometers or so of the race.

Nevertheless, through a little theater of the mind and thanks to the folks at Leone Timing, I was able to feel like I was there, sort of. When Harvard’s Acer Iverson (2nd in the picture) crossed the finish line in a winning time of 23:59.3, I flashed back to Ben True kicking my — and everyone else’s — ass back in 2008, when he also ran 23:59 — POINT SIX!

And that’s why Iverson is infinitely better than True. Thank you for coming to my TED talk!

Of course, I am joking. Although Iverson is now technically the conference meet record holder, what is three-tenths of a second worth fourteen years later on a five-mile (or is it 8k?) course that has an ever-changing start line, and whose forested paths are either steamrolled smooth or a severe tripping hazard, depending on the Parks Department budget under a given mayor? It’s a popular rallying cry to proclaim that times don’t matter in cross country, and one I am often fully supportive of.

Just because Florida’s Parker Valby ran 18:25 for 6k to win SECs and NC State’s Katelyn Tuohy only ran 19:08 to win the ACC meet, that doesn’t mean that there will be a 43-second gap between the two favorites at the NCAA meet. If time is all that matters then we need to hand Casey Clinger the trophy right now following his 21:59 win at the West Coast Conference meet. (I have nothing further to say on this subject after last year’s Florida State controversy. I have learned the error of my ways, and am now positive every cross country course is correctly measured.)

Margin of victory can be a telling factor depending on how the race is run. If the whole field is packed up until the final 400 meters and the winner only takes it by a second that doesn’t say much. But if someone manages to dominate a quality field, as Nico Young did in the Big Sky Conference with 26 seconds to spare, then it’s telling.

As a New Yorker who grew up running real cross country, I don’t want to get into any comparisons of high school times with my west coast counterparts who donned their flats on manicured golf courses. Admittedly as an old man, it still shocks me to see Stanford’s Charles Hicks or Colorado’s Bailey Hertenstein wearing super shoes en route to PAC-12 titles.

But for all my hating doubts, if run on the same course two weekends in a row under comparable conditions, might it be fair to measure performances against each other?

We do it on the track, which is nothing if not consistent. But we also do it on the roads. I dare you to tell a four-hour marathoner that their time is irrelevant when tracking improvements from New York to Boston. Make sure they know it’s not about time, it’s about beating people — even if that’s for 8,103rd!

Up front, winning is what matters most. Surely UNC’s Parker Wolfe is more upset about being out-kicked by Notre Dame’s Carter Solomon than he is excited by dipping under 23 minutes at the ACC meet. However, not everyone is in the hunt for a championship and the depth of each field can vary significantly.

Acer Iverson is not going to be racing Ben True on the same day at Heps anytime soon. But there have been experiments with less controlled variables than this one. If a comparison gives us the ability to appreciate an excellent performance in the context of history, then here I am defending cross-country times — but only under the right circumstances!

Catching up with Nell Rojas

The greatest road race in the world, the New York City Marathon is on Sunday, and the women’s field is absolutely stellar. For a full preview of all the action, stay tuned and subscribe to the CITIUS MAG newsletter. But one of the athletes I am most interested in following is Nell Rojas, whose career story and trajectory are nothing short of inspiring. After finishing sixth at the 2021 Boston Marathon, Rojas followed it up with a new personal best of 2:25:57 at the 2022 edition. I caught up with her ahead of this weekend’s race.

How are things? Does your body know it has to run a marathon on Sunday?

Probably about the same as things are for you! My body is just sandbagging right now. Every marathon you feel so different.

I feel amazing some days and then today I was just like, “What's going on?” I hope I don't feel that way Sunday! My mileage has been low so I’m not even tapering that hard.

Honestly, that was my approach for my first marathon and it went really well. 

How does that compare to your approach now? I hope the preparation has gone as planned.

This will be my sixth marathon and every time I add a bit of mileage. I used to be more like you. In my first one, I didn’t hit the Olympic standard, but I probably averaged 65 miles a week and trained more like a 10k runner. And now I'm doing 22- to 24-mile long runs and workouts are longer — it’s more of a classic marathon approach. My coach trusts that I can handle it. In this build I was running 115 every other week, but I basically raced every other week and those were about 90. So it was 115-90-115-90-115-90 the whole time.

I was talking with my boyfriend last night because my legs are not ready yet, they still need this week. And he was saying how hard it is to just show up at 100% with the amount of stress we are putting on our bodies. But last year I was destroyed beforehand. And the one before I was very sick. And the one before that my pelvis had me barely running. But right now, I’m very healthy! It was a good build.

That’s the perk of having done a number of marathons by now. 

But you still never know. When I look back at my training log, I'm doing some things better, but not everything, you know? I can’t even say better or worse, it’s just always different.

You've had success in Boston, but this is your first time running New York. What is some of the advice that you've received? I'm asking everyone! 

I remember when I was in your position and I hadn't run a marathon and I was literally talking to people off the street. The best advice I can give anyone or have received is to run your own race otherwise you are running someone else's.

Run within yourself and stay conservative in the first half and finish strong. And that's it. That's what you see time and time again if you look at the winner’s splits. They're going to negative split by two or three minutes.

That's what I've been saying! Everyone has this idea in their head that it's impossible to close hard, but I keep thinking the best people do it. So why not just run like the winners rather than holding on for dear life?

The best people do it. And as a coach of many athletes, you will run your best race if you close hard. Put yourself in a position to have a great second half. 

This field is very good! Lots of sub-2:20 women and others who are capable of it. Do you go into the race with the plan to feel it out and see how things unfold? Or do you have a pace in mind and just ignore what others are doing?

It's a combination of everything. You have to make these intuitive decisions while you're out there. I don’t have an exact pace but looking at the results from the past five years I see the race often goes out conservatively in 1:12 — which would be perfect for even splits.

If they do that I'll stick with that pack. If they're running too fast for me, maybe I decide to go with them instead of running by myself because I think it's worth it. Or I try to find a second pack and stay confident enough that I can catch some of them in the last 10k. That's how I race. Some people are like, “No, I will be with that front pack no matter what, you know. But that's not my style or plan.

I'm taking notes! So how well do you know the course? I’ve run or driven the whole thing before, but I still find myself watching old race videos to study. Do you have a similar prep?

I'm not familiar. I have had the elevation profile as my computer background for the past three months. And I look at it and I'm like, “Okay, 150 feet, first bridge, okay, 100 feet last bridge.” I've watched the course tour video, but I did that for Boston and it felt so far off once I was actually there.

It’s tough to know what running up 150 feet feels like in theory.

I've seen the bridges and those bridges look like others I've run up, just for fun before, but who knows!

Because this is The Lap Count, you know I have to ask. Your decision to end your Adidas contract was non-traditional. What was the reaction to that decision and the thought process behind it? And now you're lining up in a Nike uniform!

Oh, man. It was obviously a hard decision. I feel more confident in Nike. I work better with Nike. I've always loved Nike. I really had a solid relationship with Adidas because it was such a new contract, but just decided that their shoes were not going to make me the best and most competitive runner I could be. And that was really the only thing that I needed to go off of. When I was asking myself the question of how am I going to be the fastest, it was running in the Alphafly. And so that's all I needed. And that was my decision right there.

How did your agent take that?

I had to have multiple conversations with him in multiple forms that same day to help him understand why. And then once he understood after a well-thought-out email with like ten different bullet points, he was like, “Okay, I understand and will talk to Adidas.”

But it was very traumatic because I still I get a lot of flak for it. And I still have PTSD when I open social media that someone's going to be talking shit about me because I'm so scarred from it. I'm just so grateful and stoked to be competing for Nike. And that's really it. 

I look at it as you betting on yourself, knowing what you needed, and valuing your performance more than anything. As far as being a spokesperson for a brand, that’s about as good as it gets.

And honestly, I've worked with Nike for two weeks now and they've treated me like a professional athlete. They have gotten to know me. They take the time to ask for my opinion on the shoes. We've talked about the future and different ways we can work together. It’s been a great experience and the intangibles are incredible.

Unfortunately, I am starting a bit behind you, but I need your official prediction…for me.

This is New York, you know? So you know that it's totally different than if we were on a flat course.

You can be tough with me. I can handle it!

First marathon and you're feeling pretty confident. 

I mean I feel healthy and regret not running 40 miles a week more. But like on a flat bike path, I've made 5:15 to 5:20 pace feel pretty comfortable.

You’re going to have a good day — I am saying 2:16!

Okay, thank you. But I'm definitely way too scared to go out fast enough to make that a possibility.

In partnership with On

Hi readers —Olivier here, back to chat about marathons. I don’t need to remind you that a marathon is 26.2 miles. But it’s really the .2 that makes the marathon. It’s the .2 where we become so focused, time disappears and all aspects of performance are amplified. It’s the .2 where we really have to dig deep and hang on to the runners high to get us to the finish line with a smile. It’s all in that Point2.

Our athlete Hellen Obiri knows a thing or two about flow state. As the only woman to win a world title in indoor track, outdoor track, and cross-country, she’s ready for her next big dream. Yeah, the 26.2 one. If you haven’t heard of Hellen yet, mark my words, you will.

I’d like to invite you to explore this magical mindspace that can only be accessed through running. Our Point2 experience will see MoMA PS1’s timeless institution transformed through vibrant movement sessions, performances, and conversations, all while celebrating the world’s most iconic race: NYC Marathon. All free, just sign up here.

See you soon.


Catching up with Emily Durgin

The biggest American name debuting in the women’s field is likely that of Emily Durgin. The past couple of years, Durgin has been a certified road warrior with a half marathon best of 1:07:54 and most recently a third-place finish at the USATF 10-mile Championships in 52:16. All signs are pointing towards a long and prosperous career going the full distance, but after Sunday fans won’t just have to speculate. I caught up with Emily on her way to a chiropractor appointment to hear more about training and how she is approaching New York.

We are only a few days out from our mutual debuts! How's everything feeling?

I think I’m feeling good. I don't know what I'm supposed to be feeling. I had my last little workout today in Flagstaff and it is starting to get pretty cold here, so I'm happy that the weather for New York looks warm because we really haven't trained in cold weather until this week.

I love that perspective! I'm just seeing it slowly creep up every day.

I think everyone's freaking out about it, but building up for a fall marathon, a lot of the build is in August and September. For a lot of our hard efforts and long runs, it definitely wasn't cold. I think the weather will be perfect, but what do I know? I guess it's all a little longer.

How did the buildup go and how different was it from when you were training for the half?

We really took a conservative approach. Even in the race, we are going to be conservative. But that being said, we still did a lot of the quality sessions. So a lot of my workouts kind of stayed the same as half marathon or a 10K-type training. I kept up with the faster mile repeats and k's every week. And then we just incorporated a longer, long-run workout.

So one week that would look something like 8 to 10 miles of decent running pace. Change your shoes and then go and do an eight-mile tempo. And then the following week we would just do a steady, long run progression which started at 16 miles and got all the way up to 24. The biggest change was basically just more time on feet and a ten mile warm up rather than three.

Who's been the key training partner or spiritual guide for this transition?

I was lucky to have Sarah Pagano and Paige Stoner for a good chunk of my training. But living in Flagstaff, you just have to be proactive. We have a group message of pretty much just all solo trainees and we'll meet up for easy runs or doubles. And if you can get people for those things, then, you know, every once in a while I have to grind their work out myself.

So what's been the hardest part? Are you tired all the time or is it just learning how to fuel? I love that video of you taking a bottle.

We definitely practice the fueling and honestly, who knows? The race might go differently. The hardest part for me is actually just grabbing you it off the table. The bottle in the video was cheap plastic so we got some squishier bottles now.

I was a little bit under-fueled early on in the build and have tweaked that. My last 20-mile run I was so diligent about taking it early on and felt good. That's my goal for the marathon — just be very good about taking it. After 30k, it's too late, so anything you're taking is more just psychological. Your body's not going to actually benefit from anything that late in the race, so you have to be good early.

Taking a step back, do you ever look back on your college career and think of what you've accomplished now and have to pinch yourself? Your eight-year progression is so steady. Did you always expect to be in the position you are now?

It's a good question because I think that there have been a few special coaches since I was young who always saw this in me. They thought I could be top in the U.S. someday, but I didn't see it in myself. I had ups and downs and I never focused on running as much as I have in the past few years. It just wasn't as much of a priority.

Over the years I have dialed it in and realized what it takes to get to the next level. But I'm also super thankful for my college experience because, you know, who knows what would have happened if I was in a program that was super hardcore and had me running high mileage. Maybe I would have been better in college, but who knows if I would have still loved the sport like I do now. I've slowly improved and it's fun to get better, but it's not fun to get slower.

Was there a moment in your career that you could point to where you noticed something was changing?

The biggest one was probably after the COVID year. I went out and ran a 5k and 10k in California and got last in both of them. At this point in my life, running was my full-time career. When I signed a deal, I kind of went full-pro and COVID happened and I wasn't running great, and it sucked after that. I remember driving home and thinking "I'm never going to race again unless I'm going to be in the front of the race.“ I just hated that — the petty claps, it was embarrassing. I'm not showing up to another race until I'm ready to run with these front women. The race meant nothing, but I had no joy in running these races and being dead last. So I said, ‘I'm going to keep doing this. I'm going to be in the mix.’

How do you define success for this weekend? Is it just don't get anyone clapping because they feel sorry for you?

I'm not sure if Terrence is just trying to be super conservative with this one. But his only goal for me is to finish the race and be excited to do another one and feel like we had something more left.

That's my goal!

You could be a coach.

A lot of that will be determined in the first half, right?

Yeah and he's not going to be out there to hold my hand. But having him in my head wanting me to be pumped for the next one and not feeling like we're dying will help. He has explained it’s like a poker game the first 16 miles. You don't want to show anyone your cards. You want to be a ghost in the back and see what everyone else is doing. Just be hidden and be in the group and try to save as much energy for the end.

That’s some sage advice!

There's really nothing to lose. Technically there could be some money I guess.

I don’t get any of that.

No matter what, the sun is still going to come up the next day and life will go on. And like my boyfriend tells me, nobody really cares.

We all need to be reminded of that sometimes.

NYC Marathon - Vol. 10

And now we rest. It was 13 weeks ago that I got my act together and decided it was time to start training for the New York City Marathon. When you read the next iteration of The Lap Count, you’ll be hearing how the race went — hopefully well! Tonight I cued up footage of the 2019 version of the race and studied the course, again. This week is about getting my legs under me, sleeping well, eating better, and visualizing myself floating through the five boroughs.

This past week I had one easier tempo of 8 miles at 5:19 pace. My goal was to run 5:20s and visualize what it would be like to finish having another 18.2 to go. Some good advice was passed onto me from a friend to not worry too much about the undulation of splits as they vary with the terrain. That’s a bit of an adjustment from the track. It’s a simple but important thing to remember: on the roads, not every mile is created equal.

If you feel like making a prediction in the Instagram contest, here are some facts and highlights that can hopefully help guide your gut:

  • Averaged 67 mpw for the last 3 months, but from 2012-2020 I routinely ran over 90 (when not hurt)

  • 24 miles @ 5:38 w/ a middle 16 mile progression averaging 5:19

  • 22 miles @ 5:45 in Central park w/ 2 x 6 miles @ 5:16 and 5:09

  • 8 x Mile @ 4:49 w/ 60 sec rest

  • Paces: 5:15s = 2:17…5:20s = 2:20…5:25s = 2:22

  • New York City is a hilly course that is considered 2-3 minutes slower than most flat courses

  • I have never fueled during a race before

With that in mind, my goal is pretty ambiguous. I’ve asked many accomplished marathoner friends how fast they think I could run to help me gauge my pacing strategy and their predictions are all over the place.

Based on my fitness, I think that I can run sub-2:20 in a well-executed race. But my number one priority is to enjoy the experience, avoid running any 6-minute miles, and walk away wanting to do another marathon again soon. My hope is that however fast I run, it will not be my lifetime personal best. If I die a miserable death, then there is a chance that it will be.

With that in mind, I want to go out conservatively. I have this weird idea in my head that the best athletes who end up winning New York regularly close hard and run a negative split. Yes, the second half is harder, but if I run it as a winner would, then it is possible. You should know when tracking my splits (Bib#488) in the NYRR app if I am successful in following through on this plan pretty early.

Now taking a step back from the performance side of things, please indulge me in a moment of personal reflection. When I retired from professional athletics a bit over two years ago, it wasn’t because I no longer enjoyed running. It was more complicated than that.

Pursuing a dream often means putting life on hold. I was fully committed to the craft and it was important to me that I would never have to doubt that. To this day, although I never achieved some of the things I had hoped on the track, I am quite content with the way my career panned out because of that. However, as I was entering my thirties some other realities started creeping up.

Writing this I have a number of things around me that serve as a reminder that it was the right call. In addition to having a good job that I enjoy, I have been able to pour a lot of myself into CITIUS MAG — which brings me an unbelievable amount of satisfaction and has allowed me to stay involved in the sport I love. And I’m fortunate that my wife and I were able to buy a house, which is not something we would have been in a position to do had I kept running competitively.

But most of all, today is my daughter’s first birthday. Having Laoise in my life lets me know that every decision that I have made up to this point must have been the right one. And with that comes a feeling that I have never before brought to the start line — one of satisfaction and calmness. Because unlike every other race that I have ever done before this one, there is no result that could make me any happier.

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

  • At the Dublin Marathon, Morocco's Taoufik Allam (2:11:30) and Ethiopia’s Nigist Muluneh (2:28:32) both ran personal bests to win the event. Following the cancellation of both the 2020 and 2021 races, this year’s edition was the biggest yet with over 25k athletes.

  • British 1:44 800m man Kyle Langford has joined the Brooks Beasts.

  • The 2023 World Relays, which were supposed to be in Guangzhou, China, have been postponed until 2025 due to pandemic restrictions. As if this meet wasn’t already in need of a serious revamping — this surely won’t help. Maybe some more distance events will be added by then? A new qualifying system for relay events was created, but since the United States already qualified across the board I didn’t bother reading it.

  • The Frankfurt Marathon was won by Kenya’s Brimin Kipkorir Misoi (2:06:11) and Selly Chepyego Kaptich (2:23:11). The 37-year-old Kaptich who has twice run 2:21, lived and trained in Japan for 10 years, but is now representing the NN Running Team. Every year there are dozens of high-quality marathons in the world that no elite American participates in. I’m very tempted to do one and make a very big deal out of being the top American in the field.

  • Leah Falland shared that following a series of health issues she is no longer competing for the On Athletics Club. In the Instagram post Falland writes, “this isn’t a retirement post, but more of an announcement that I am making big life changes.”

  • The 47th running of the Marine Corps Marathon was appropriately won by Marine Corps. Captain, Kyle King (2:19:19). His personal best of 2:16:56 is from the 2019 CISM Military World Games in Wuhan, China. King was hoping to hit the OTQ, but winning the race by over three minutes meant he did most of the effort alone. There will be more opportunities, but in a post-race interview, he noted that his marine training is about to increase due to upcoming field ops. Chelsea Baker won the women’s race in 2:42:38.

  • Want to know how often the best runners in the country are being drug tested? Olivia Baker came in as a surprising number one with 17! She is probably being too nice and making the testers breakfast and so they keep coming back.

  • Kicking off New York City Marathon weekend is the USATF 5k Championships on Saturday. The fields are stacked and you can watch live on at 8:20am ET!

Thank you so much to Bandit for supporting this week’s newsletter and my entire build-up! It’s been special having the backing of a brand for this journey and I’ll proudly be repping the most comfortable uniform I have ever worn on Sunday.

And thank you to On for the wonderful partnership! ICYMI - check out this special CITIUS MAG interview with OAC coach Dathan Ritzenhein.