USATF 5K Championship 🇺🇸
Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton
Whoever’s idea it was to mesh together the New York City Marathon with the USATF 5K Championships… bravo. People who are likely at least pro-running-curious are already traveling to Manhattan from all over the world. Might as well give them the chance to watch a national championship, while they’re there.
And as far as national titles go – this one’s about as unpredictable as they come. Every pro shows up to the line in severely different parts of their season and there’s a diversity of fitness that you rarely get on such a high-stakes starting line.
You’ve got the track specialists who just did their second tempo of the fall and thought, “screw it! What’s the worst that could happen?” (The answer is full deflation of one’s ego that was feeling good from a few sub-six-minute miles on last week’s long run.)
There are road warriors like Keira D’Amato who otherwise have a racing desert between her previous marathon at the World Championships and the next at the Olympic Trials. Might as well have some fun and keep the race honest, right?
And then there is Annie Rodenfels, who operates under the mindset of “anytime, anywhere.” The B.A.A. athlete won her first USATF national title in 15:22 following a fourth-place finish in 2022. Although she is coming off a victory in her debut at the 10K distance, Rodenfels did say in the post-race interview that she “hadn’t done any speed work.” Don’t worry, the cliche was caught partway through the sentence.
Also, can we give it up for Rachel Smith who finished second in her first race back since having her daughter Nova just six months ago?
On the men’s side, things went out more controlled with a huge pack rolling together into the final hills, and ten guys finished within ten seconds of each other. With such a tight group together, conditions were optimal for a single bus driver to hit as many people as possible at once. Fortunately for the depth of American distance running, the rogue bus that somehow made its way onto the course stopped just in time, mid-intersection, and disaster was averted.
Following this scare, athletes had 2.5 miles to compose themselves and launch their kicks. Ultimately, Morgan Beadlescomb broke away to win his first national title in 13:44 over Ahmed Muhumed, who finished a few seconds back. As a local, I took moderate offense to Morgan saying, “that’s New York, I guess” on the topic of almost being flattened by a bus. And then I remembered every CitiBike ride I’ve ever been on…
Elise Cranny’s turn to say goodbye ⚡️
Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz
“Damn, change is hard. And having the opportunity to be part of such an incredible community at every level of the sport from youth to masters has made this decision extremely challenging. But the time has come for me to make a change.” (Instagram Post)
Who’s leaving the Bowerman Track Club next week? Welcome to what’s become a recurring segment. Elise Cranny is leaving after what many athletes would consider a great year: she won national titles in both the 5,000m and 10,000m, finished 9th at the World Championships, and ran 4:16.47 in the mile.
Before kicking Bowerman while they’re down, as the team is experiencing some turnover, let’s not lose sight of how much Cranny and others have improved during their time under Schumacher. Since joining in 2018, Cranny dropped 11 seconds from her 1500m, 15 in the mile, 29 over 3000m, and 76 seconds from her 5000m PB. Cranny never won an NCAA title while at Stanford, and last year ran a solo 10,000m in 30:14.66 to just narrowly miss the then-American record.
At this point, the athletes who have recently left Bowerman haven’t cited specific reasons for their departures or publicly laid out their next moves. While Cranny has had an abundance of success, the last year and a half has certainly had its ups and downs, as she battled RED-S last spring. Hopefully, wherever she lands, it is with a group of women who can push her in practice, but the possibilities are limited when you’re that good.
New York, New York — Obiri, Obiri 🍎
Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton
The New York City Marathon was a race of attrition before it even started. Only 14 elite women took off across the Verrazzano after all the scratches from the field – I’ve seen 800s with more bodies to navigate!
It seems like every major marathon is now being billed as hosting “the deepest field ever,” which is understandable given just how many athletes are running under 2:20 these days. But at one point this race would have had a fair claim to that title.
Despite all of those scratches, there was still enough on-course talent to carry the show – it was just that no one wanted to show it off in the first 20 miles.
The pack remained intact, jogging six-minute miles late into the race and there has never been a greater endorsement to get rid of rabbits. (Everyone gets mad at me when I refer to pacers as rabbits, but I don’t see how the role is any different on the track vs. the road – why should they go by different names?)
When the pace finally became reasonable, a breakaway formed and the lineup was unreal: Sharon Lokedi, the defending champion, Hellen Obiri, the reigning Boston Marathon champion, and Letesenbet Gidey, the half marathon world record holder. They ran three across in Central Park, and it looked like all three might wait too long to throw in a move.
The tempo kept pressing down, Lokedi fell off, and fans were left questioning who should be trying to run the kick out of who. Flashbacks to Gidey’s narrow victory at last year’s 10,000m World Championship were surely replaying in both Obiri’s and Letesenbet’s minds. But it was Obiri’s final mile – 4:52! – that propelled her to break the tape in 2:27:23, making her the first women’s winner of the Boston and New York Marathon in the same year since Ingrid Kristiansen in 1989.
Obiri has proven that she is lethal in tactical races on difficult courses. Hopefully, there is no politicking involved with the selection of Kenya’s Olympic team. Her 2:21:38 personal best is only the 38th fastest time in the world this year and slots her at 11th on Kenya’s descending order list, but for all we know, Obiri is the best marathoner in the world right now.
Depending on your definition of fun, this might be a fun thought experiment: Who would you leave off your Olympic team? Hellen Obiri (’23 Boston & NY champ); Ruth Chepngetich (2:14:18 - ’22 Chicago champ); Rosemary Wanjiru (2:16:28 - ’23 Tokyo champ); or Peres Jepchirchir (2:17:16 - ’21 Olympic & ’22 Boston champ). There are no wrong answers. But there also aren’t really any right ones!
Also, a tremendous congratulations to Kellyn Taylor and Molly Huddle on their excellent returns to the marathon after giving birth. Neither was happy just to be there – they let their presences be known, regularly leading the race and responding to early faux-moves.
Kellyn Taylor came in in 2:29:48 for eighth place, and although she does not currently have the 2:26:50 needed to possibly make the Olympic team, there is good reason to believe that she’ll be a contender for a top-three spot. Although Taylor noted in pre-race comments that she is not concerned about the potential noon start time, a cooler race temperature would certainly be helpful from a time perspective.
Technically the qualification period is open until May 5th, so someone would potentially be able to chase. I’d imagine if an athlete finishes in the top three and does not have the 2:26:50/2:11:30 times needed there might be a bike path spring marathon with their name on it. There is no official word yet from USATF about the qualifying process, so maybe they decide otherwise.
Put some respect on Tamirat’s name! ✍️
Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton
On Saturday morning, I was on a run weaving through the crowds doing their pre-race shakeouts in Central Park when I saw Tamirat Tola lope by. I thought to myself, “none of those people realize they just ran by the guy that’s going to win tomorrow.”
If you think I’m making up this act of clairvoyance, you can ask Chris! When I got to the CITIUS shakeout run I said to him, “I just passed by Tamirat Tola on the way here, and it’s always crazy to me that he can just run unbothered like he’s not going to win tomorrow.”
And then Tola, of course, dominated the field to win in 2:04:58, breaking a 12-year-old course record. The margin of victory is a big deal when assessing performances and it wasn’t even close – he beat the 2021 champion, Albert Korir, by 1 minute and 58 seconds.
Since nobody at my day job will indulge me in this type of conversation and I started this newsletter partly to find the people who may, can we just take a moment to appreciate how good Geoffrey Mutai was?
In 2011, he ran 2:03:02 to win the Boston Marathon – then the fastest time ever run in the world (though technically not a world record), and then won New York later that year.
When he returned to Beantown in 2012 to defend his title, he dropped out in the second half because if you remember, that was the year it got up to 88 degrees. As a result, the Kenyan federation did not select him for the Olympics (hindsight is 20/20 but they did not win gold). So that September he won the Berlin Marathon by one second in 2:04:15 instead. (Honestly, one of the weirder finishes. Was Kimetto trying?)
ANYWAY! It’s not unreasonable to say that New York ran almost four minutes slower than a flatter course like Rotterdam this year. Consider the performances of Abdi Nageeye, Koen Naert, and Futsum Zienasellassie who finished 3rd, 5th, and 10th in the five boroughs, and were 3rd, 6th, and 11th this spring when they raced in the Netherlands. The delta between the trio’s average time in New York vs. Rotterdam is 3 minutes and 35 seconds. Extend that conversion to Tola and he’s running 2:01:23, which would be the third-fastest of all time without rabbits. (I didn’t write the book on statistics but this feels like a reasonable extrapolation!)
All that is to say Tamirat Tola ran out of his freakin’ mind! And he deserves better than this thoughtless headline from the Wall Street Journal. He’s an Olympic bronze medalist, a world champion, and now the fastest to ever run the biggest marathon in the world. If someone is coming to a group run and asking me for a selfie, then goddammit, Tamirat Tola deserves to be recognized in the park!
Wrapping up the PanAm Games
It might be the “off-season” for most track athletes, but not nearly enough attention was directed towards Fiu, the PanAm Games mascot. As the mini-Olympics are now finished up in Santiago, I’ll say that overall, for the complete lack of hype it received in the United States, it was underrated.
Because the calendar placement does not fit tidily into anyone’s periodization plans for 2024, every distance race was tactical with a wild last lap. Here are some of the highlights:
M5000: Fernando Daniel Martinez seemed to have the clear win, but his impeding of Kasey Knevelbaard’s late push resulted in a DQ and US victory! They ran 14:47.69. That’s not a typo.
W400: Martina Weil (formerly of the University of Tennessee) electrified the home crowd, winning in 51.48.
M1500: Charles Philibert-Thiboutot dove under the extended arm of his Canadian teammate Rob Heppenstall to nab the victory in 3:39.74.
W1500 & 5000: Joselyn Brea of Venezuela won the double gold in 16:04 and a close one over Emily Mackay in 4:11.80. Remember her from On Track Fest, where she ran 14:47 to set an area record?
W200: The world champion at the 400m, Marileidy Paulino, won the 200m in 22.74 despite a crazy slow reaction time of 0.233 seconds.
M10000: Isai Rodriguez deserves so much credit for going out and completely soloing 28:17 from the first step and it sort of lines up with everything I understand about the type of runner he is. One month after running the Chicago Marathon, Sam Chelanga took second to make it a 1-2 finish for the United States. Even though Rodriguez was 43 seconds ahead, he still closed in 60 and fought for every second.
The Athlete’s Voice: Sam Prakel 😘
Photo: Justin Britton | @jzsnapz
2023 was a great year to be Sam Prakel. In addition to running new personal bests at 1500m and 5000m, Prakel added three national titles and a World Road Running Championship bronze medal to his resume. And most special of all – he got married! As any elite athlete knows, it takes a village– Prakel acknowledges that in this edition of The Athlete’s Voice.
A Tribute to the Significant Others of Track & Field
Being an elite athlete is hard, but sometimes being the partner of one is even harder. Not too many jobs invade your personal life like professional track and field, and if you’re in a relationship with a serious athlete, you probably have a long list of peculiarities that you’ve learned to accept (or at least tolerate) out of love for your little track star. Where you live, what you eat, where you can travel, what you do in your free time… it’s all dictated by this sport. You make countless sacrifices and experience the not-so-glamorous side of what we pros do, and receive none of the praise.
So please take a break from listening to your partner complain about their tight calf for the 1000th time, and – while waiting for them to finish their activation drills – enjoy some well-deserved recognition for supporting the hard-working athletes chasing their dreams.
There are 365 days in a year, but my partner Katie only had two to choose from for our wedding day. That date ended up being October 7th of this year, squeezed between the last race of my season in Riga, Latvia on October 1st, and the start of my fall training on October 16th. A year-round schedule is typical for a pro athlete, but unfortunately, it leaves little time for much off-season.
This year my off-season was even shorter and busier than normal due to the late races and our wedding. Everything paid off though – I won a bronze medal in Riga, and we had a nice wedding the next weekend. Katie deserves all the credit in the wedding planning department and honestly deserves just as much credit for the bronze medal and my success in running over the past six years as I do.
Katie and I met at a track meet in Ireland in 2017, and she immediately got a sense of what life would be like in the years to come. Following the Cork City Sports mile, Katie sat in the stands and waited for me to finish my post-race workout before we could get dinner together at what would be our first date. It was a fitting start to our relationship, but more importantly a life and career-changing moment for me. Katie and I are now partners for life, and she has elevated every aspect of my running career.
Katie is an accomplished runner herself, winning a Big Ten Championship in the steeplechase and an NCAA team title in cross country, so she
understands what I do. But I can’t say she particularly enjoys all the side effects that pro-running brings to a relationship. For example, gone are the opportunities for relaxing summer vacations. Instead, Katie chose to use a large portion of her PTO for yet another trip to Eugene, Oregon.
Katie has been incredibly selfless since we first met. In the winter when we vacation with her family in Florida, the first items on the itinerary are what days I have to work out and double, and the rest of the plans fit in the slots when I’m not training. It’s hard to have a true vacation when you’re always on the clock, but Katie brings joy to the constant grind of training.
Running not only dictates our vacations and holidays but also follows us home. Starting with our most basic need, running has been one of the biggest factors influencing our housing. When touring a variety of houses and apartments, we could immediately rule some out simply because there wasn’t a good running route from the doorstep (a challenge in a hilly city like Seattle). Katie sadly watched the hilltop houses and apartments with nice views disappear from Zillow.
As you walk into our apartment, one of the first things you notice is the living room corner dedicated to foam rollers, free weights, and yoga mats. Such clutter takes up valuable space in a small apartment that I’m sure Katie would rather use for plants or something more aesthetic.
Another basic need that gets completely overhauled due to running is food, and no one feels the effects more than Katie. The worst part of it is managing the constant state of “hangry” that I’m in throughout the high mileage weeks leading up to a season. Along with that comes the constant snacking and accidentally eating leftovers in the fridge meant for Katie’s lunch the next day. Through it all, Katie continues to help plan and cook meals and keeps me fueled with her exquisite culinary skills.
Not only does Katie devote much of her time and freedom to my career, but she also dedicates a large chunk of her iPhone storage to “pictures and videos of Sam running.” In today’s modern world, creating content seems to be a requirement of a pro athlete, and almost any documentation of my training is probably thanks to Katie behind the lens (and sometimes on the bike for a 15-mile long run). The slow-mo videos and bursts of photos can quickly eat away at that iCloud storage. And when I get an opportunity to post a photo of the two of us, it gets a fraction of the likes that running pics get. Come on Instagram, show a little appreciation!
The real challenge begins when the season starts and all the traveling takes off. As a pro runner, you’re away every other weekend for racing, a whole month for altitude camp, and another month or so in Europe during the summer. Katie’s commitment to communication and willingness to FaceTime whenever and wherever has kept us close when the distance is far. A nine-hour time difference to Europe can be hard to navigate – I’m waking up when Katie is going to bed, and I’m going to bed during Katie’s lunch. The European circuit is perhaps the hardest time for a significant other of a track athlete – not often can a couple make the trip across the pond together. So on behalf of all the significant others, please, USATF and the hard-working meet directors in the US: keep pushing for high-level domestic competitions. We athletes and our partners will thank you!
So here’s to Katie for letting me “focus on my craft” and supporting me along the way. And to all the other significant others in the track world out there, you are not alone and are so deeply appreciated. The sacrifices you make are sometimes big and sometimes small, but you are always there, simultaneously lifting us up and keeping us grounded. The journey to fitness is a little easier and a lot more fun with someone special by your side.