This one isn't too long⏱

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Lap 121: Sponsored by OLIPOP

Can you imagine how fast Frank Shorter could have run the marathon had he put down the Coke and picked up a can of OLIPOP instead? The Runner’s Soda was born from the idea that athletes should enjoy a healthy alternative to the sugary cans of carbonation that we grew up with. Instead, thousands of runners across the country have started recognizing the benefits that a low-sugar, prebiotic soda can have on their gut health… once the miles are done.

Zharnel Hughes Called His Shot 🎯

Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz

It had been five years since Zharnel Hughes last ran a personal best in the 100m and even then, 9.91 is quite a bit away from 9.83, so why did he write down that time in his journal ahead of the race?

It came to him in a dream the night before. And just as his subconscious predicted, it was the time on the clock the next day as he won the NYC Grand Prix in 9.83 (+1.3) — just as he predicted.

With apologies to all of my 120-year-old readers who were at Wrigley Field that fateful day, Hughes calling a 100m time down to the hundredth is much more impressive than Babe Ruth pointing very ambiguously in the general direction of center field, 368+ feet away, and knocking the ball toward that way.

Hughes may have hedged his astral bets slightly with the small addition notation specifying that 9.89 - 9.91 would be the slowest he’d run. But I think we can give him a pass. It’s not like that’s on the same level as if Mark Messier had followed up his guarantee that the New York Rangers would win game six in the Stanley Cup with, “but if not, then definitely game seven.”

I need to know how often Hughes does this sort of thing too. Was this the first time he ever wrote down a time prediction or is this just the first time it worked out? I’ve had visions of grandeur myself, they just never materialized so I’ve kept them on the down low.

This winning time establishes Hughes as the world leader in a field that is relatively open for new medalists. And the mark also breaks Olympic and World Champion Linford Christie’s 30-year-old British record of 9.87 – an accomplishment many fans are likely happy to see replaced.

Early in his career, Christie was given the benefit of the doubt when a banned stimulant was detected in a urine sample. This likely contributed to one journalist’s suspicions 10 years later about Christie. In turn, Christie sued, and won a libel lawsuit against Spiked, the defunct magazine in which he was accused of using PEDs. This is the sort of reason why The Lap Count has a strict policy against such claims!

Ironically, one year later Christie was issued a two-year ban for having nandrolone in his system. One of the excuses offered, according to Wikipedia, was that he ate avocado.

Avocado? Be careful millennials!

But how did Zharnel do it?

With unbelievably impressive top-end speed. Getting the lane draw next to Christian Coleman will never make anyone’s start look that special, but wait until the final 40m. How do you tell Lewis Johnson with a straight face that you haven’t started speed work after that? We just watched you do speed work! Maybe his coach, Glen Mills, the architect behind Usain Bolt’s career, has another gear he is waiting to unlock.

Since we are all obsessed with time and Zharnel hadn’t broken 10 yet this year, then it does seem like this came out of nowhere. But last week Hughes ran 10.00 (-0.9) into a headwind to beat Ackeem Blake, who had run 9.89 (+1.0) to win the LA Grand Prix earlier this season. Beating a guy like that by seven one-hundredths of a second is a solid indicator of what is to come.

We are so caught up on how fast guys are running that we forget to pay attention to who they’re running faster than. And for Zharnel Hughes right now, that’s everyone.

Cordell gets the last laugh 😜

Photo: @razorbacktf

When the list of the Bowerman semi-finalists was narrowed down to five and Pittsburg State’s Cordell Tinch was not on the list, he had something to say about it: “This is nuts.”

And he’s right. If DII athletes are going to be eligible to receive the award, then there isn’t much more that he could have accomplished – he won three national titles and ran the fastest all-conditions hurdles time in NCAA history. I suspect he’s being knocked not for the size or budget of his school, but the wind behind his record-setting run. But should he have to apologize for mother nature’s contribution toward his fast time?

Not anymore. As his coach, Jesse Miller, remarked, Now shut up.” Tinch ran 12.96 (+1.3) to add the fastest legal time in collegiate history to his resume.

That is also the world lead. With the top four times in the 110H this year being held by Americans, it’s a good thing we get four spots.

What are the European Team Championships?🇮🇹

Photo: World Athletics

Italy did it! They won! They won the… looks at cue card… the… European Team Championships? This section’s for the Americans, obviously. Those of you in Italy, Hungary, or Ireland are surely still recovering from that nasty post-parade hangover after your nations’ respective victories.

But back to you Yanks. This whole thing started in 1965, when it was known as the Bruno Zauli Cup. In the beginning, there were different leagues with different countries of varying depths competing against one another to qualify for something called the Super League. And apparently, it never went away fully!

In 1983 the format shifted to have four different leagues with the winning countries being promoted and the last place teams being relegated. Sound familiar, soccer/fútbol fans? In today’s format, there are now three divisions and it is a biennial event.

Teams are awarded points based on athletes’ finishing places – first place gets eight points, eighth place gets one point (in most events), etc., etc., etc. You may have seen this viral video of Belgian shot putter Jolien Boumkwo trying her best to make it through the hurdles for what was quite evidently the first time in her life. (It’s hard to jump while carrying the pride of an entire nation on one’s back!) Points! That’s why a national record holder in the shot and hammer might line up for a race she’s never attempted before.

Viral moments aside, there were some decent race results, too, but nothing too crazy. But I would recommend watching the 1500s (men and women) as they were both super exciting tactical affairs. That’s something we aren’t accustomed to seeing at this point in the season.

That’s all fine and dandy. But I still have a question: why is anyone doing this?

There is no prize money. That’s also the case at the European Championships, but for whatever reason everyone holds that event in significantly higher esteem. No, Team Champs is something athletes willingly participate in, seemingly because they have pride in their country and it’s another opportunity to wear the vest. It might not be a straight check, but if an American athlete wanted to sell their giant duffle bag of free Nike gear then it’d be worth at least a few thousand dollars on the gray market.

Another good reason to show up – besides all of the patriotic glory – is to be viewed favorably in future political team selections. Not every nation’s procedure is as meritocratic as the ol’ red, white, and blue’s. And if there is one thing I know about panels of old white men who hold the fate of others’ dreams in their hands, it’s that they value loyalty. Show up for this event, and the powers that be won’t forget it.

European athletes also receive a significant amount of financial support from their federations, so if the hand that feeds you says, “we need you to come run a slow 5000m in Poland this weekend,” then you smile, nod, and make a polite joke about looking forward to biting the kielbasa.

In theory, this meet has an infrastructure in place that many fans are constantly arguing for: a team dynamic. But if you look into the relatively empty stands, it makes you wonder if that’s an idea worth fighting for. Is track as an individual sport really that bad?

Last week during lunch, a coworker made the mistake of mentioning that she enjoys watching track during the Olympics, but then said she didn’t understand what those athletes did for the next four years. Boy, did she come to the right person! I immediately found myself rambling to that coworker about how good the Diamond League has been this year. At the end of my spiel, it seemed like my poor colleague had an understanding of what pro track looks like outside of the Olympic system, and even hinted that a Diamond League meet seemed like a cool thing to check out on TV. And by TV I of course mean the Peacock app on an iPhone.

A large reason the Diamond League is well suited to connect with a casual fan of Olympic track is the run time. The two hours of non-stop individual action, across “just” 14 events is significantly more digestible than the 132 events spanned over five days, and 47 teams, that made up the European Team Champs. As much as we all love a good battle between intercontinental rivals (when fought by athletes competing in sports!) if we want fans to become invested then programs need to be simplified and shortened. I love track and field. Just not that much…

Put a question in the MAILBAG! 📬

Did you forget about Sinclaire? 💁‍♀️

Photo: Jason De Leon | @dlvisualz

No matter how many times we go through the rigmarole that is the competitive racing calendar, it is so easy to forget just how long of a year it is – partly because it sometimes feels like it never stops and never formally started! Well, somehow, it was only one year ago that Sinclaire Johnson matched every move thrown at her at the US Championships with ease, en route to the national title. But she wasn’t done yet. Speaking with her after her sixth place finish at Worlds, I sorta loved how dissatisfied she was with the performance – her first global championship. It felt like this was the beginning of a long run of similarly impressive races.

And 2023 started off promisingly. Johnson’s indoor season was highlighted by a demonstration of newfound strength, a 3000m win in 8:37.83. Since then it’d been a quiet spring until a promising double victory in Eugene last week with an 800m (2:01) and 1500m (4:05). Then at the Stumptown Twilight meet, Sinclaire ran 4:00.77 gliding away from the pack, and giving us all good reason to believe she’ll qualify for another Worlds team, at least.

In my mind, Johnson has reestablished herself as the favorite to win USAs, which is saying something.

There are currently six American athletes who have run 4:01.55 or faster this season: Cory McGee, Josette Andrews, Sinclaire Johnson, Nikki Hiltz, Emily MacKay, and Helen Schlactenhaufen.

Then there is the wild card… Athing Mu is entered in the 1500 as well, with her 4:16.06 personal best from 2021. If you are wondering… how? There’s precedent in allowing high-profile athletes to appeal their way into events that they have otherwise not qualified for. I always think of Alan Webb getting into the Olympic Trials 5000m in 2012 with a 13:49 entry mark, while a teammate of mine was in Eugene sitting on the bubble and praying. Ultimately, their 13:38 did not get in… (Yeah, 13:38 used to be a fringe Trials time, but we also used to walk six miles each way, uphill both of them, to get to school!)

While I’m generally for crystal clear qualifying protocols, letting the defending World Champion in the 800m compete up one distance is hardly an egregious decision and is well within the bounds of the bylaws that hardly anybody ever reads.

So assuming Mu is in the field, the question then becomes how do you beat her? In reality, it probably doesn’t matter. Athing has a silver medal at worst in Budapest if she runs the 800m and a silver medal at absolute best if she runs the 1500 significantly better than any of us could ever hope for. But it’s still a US title on the line!

All of the true 1500m runners are hurt by the absence of Elle Purrier-St. Pierre, who has historically been the one willing to grind everyone down from the front. And that’s what worked at Millrose in 2022! Mu ended up dropping out at 1400m, but rewatching that race makes her winning in Eugene feel more plausible – she’s had 1.5 years to find another 109 meters!

If I were Sinclaire, then I’d sit tight and see if things are honest until halfway through. If they are, then I’d just wait. If they are not, then I’d start pushing!

Working out with Ajeé Wilson

The main attraction heading into the New York City Grand Prix this past weekend was undoubtedly Athing Mu’s return to racing. We hadn’t seen her toe the line since winning last year’s World Championships, and an absence that long always invites questions. But any concerns over how she’d adjusted to training under her new coach, Bobby Kersee, and if the 21-year-old was healthy were answered after 1 minute and 58.73 seconds of racing. Mu looked strong and well-composed at the front, daring the pack to try and run a negative split with her, before slamming the door shut with a 14.09 final 100m.

With that performance, Mu extends her streak of sub-two-minute races to three years – just a couple of Olympic cycles shy of Ajeé Wilson’s 11. The first time Wilson broke two was at the USA Championships in 2013 when she ran 1:59.55 to finish third and qualify for Worlds. She has done it every year since.

That’s why no Ajeé fan should be worried about what is a Halley’s comet-level rarity: her running a bad race. Remember, her 1:58.16 from Paris is still the US leader. And also, I went to Philadelphia to join her for a workout the week before her off day in New York and I can personally confirm she is fit!

I have a bunch of takeaways from the workout, and without going into the excruciating detail I know you’d like to read, first and foremost it was a good one! On tired legs from the 800s and one set of 300-200-200, our first set, we ran another 700m at WR 800m pace with a total of 60 seconds rest. As a refresher, the WR is 1:53.28!

It’s rare for an athlete to stay with their coach from their youth track days all the way through their time on the professional circuit. Think about how much you evolve as a person and an athlete in that timespan – so it’s a testament to Wilson and her coach, Derek Thompson, that they’ve not only made it work, they’ve thrived. And they’ve done it their own way.

In a world of GPS data, double thresholds, lactate strips, heart rate monitoring, altitude tents, and endless testing in a lab, it’s refreshing to see that there are still athletes and programs that can be successful with a more old-school approach. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that stuff. But Wilson’s training is a reminder that every successful system boils down to a simple formula: get tired, recover, repeat.

It took me a few reps with her to realize that Ajeé wasn’t even wearing a watch. She jogs eight laps clockwise around the track for her warm-up. When she runs on easy days she goes by the mile markers on the trail. During most reps, Coach Thompson doesn’t even yell out the mid-way splits, just whether or not his World Champion should speed up, slow down, or keep things where they are.

There is no training journal meticulously kept at home. And after a lot of workouts, Ajeé doesn’t even know how fast she ran them. When I went too quickly for a 300m rep because I was terrified of being too slow, there was no reaction from her or her coach. Like in a race, sometimes things go out faster than expected, and sometimes a washed-up miler will show up to practice and start pushing the pace.

As someone who loved training and was always obsessed – often detrimentally – with the numbers and splits, I envy that level of liberation from the watch. Ajeé has reached nirvana when it comes to the understanding that the purpose of the workout is not to have a pretty Strava entry but to get better.

How many of us would benefit from not wearing a GPS watch every day? The purpose of a recovery day is to recover. Does knowing the seventh-mile split really help with that?

Ultimately, what a long and storied career like Wilson’s comes down to is trust. It takes trust in one’s training, which typically means trust in a coach. For most athletes, it would be a blessing to at least occasionally shut off the doubting, questioning part of their brains and leave the configuring to someone else.

And then it takes trust in oneself on race day that the preparation was enough. There is no need to compare one workout to another from years past, or to what your competitors are doing.

While Ajeé Wilson's career is underappreciated for its consistency and longevity, the way she has done it is also undervalued. Fortunately, she is only 29 – there is still time to fix this.

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz - The NYC Grand Prix was well attended!

  • Bryce Hoppel bounced back from a disappointing last race in LA to make sure any doubters had to revise their men’s 800m Worlds team predictions, winning in New York in a time of 1:44.55. I was also impressed by Hobbs Kessler’s 1:45.80 for a full-second PB. Given his lack of NCAA/championship experience in the 1500, running crowded 800s is probably the best way to replicate those tactics.
    NCAA 5000m champion Parker Valby has signed an NIL deal with Nike (Interview). And so did Australian 1500m prodigy Cameron Myers, which seems to indicate maybe he’s keeping his NCAA options open.

  • Hellen Obiri continued her winning ways in Boston, taking the BAA 10K in 31:21 as Gabriel Geay, the marathon’s second place finisher this year won the men’s race in 27:49. Emily Sisson and Diego Estrada were top Americans in fourth and fifth, respectively.

  • My analysis of ultra-running always feels like it’s lacking. How many times can I say, “Woah, that’s super far and not that slow! I could never be away from my phone for that long!”? But Courtney Dauwalter 100 mile race at Western States is a special one. Her time of 15 hours, 27 minutes and 33 seconds is one hour and eighteen minutes faster than the previous course record.

  • The Ethiopian 10,000m trials were won by Gudaf Tsegay (29:29) who flexed some serious range, having run 1500m in 3:54.0 to win Rabat earlier this season. In the men’s race, Berihu Aregawi ran 26:50, good for the fastest time in the world this year.

  • Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone ran 400m in 49.51 – a new personal best – in New York to break the tape. In Paris she came through 300m in 34.94. This time her ¾ split was 36.08. It took Goldilocks a few tries to find the right porridge, too!

  • Also in NYC, Noah Lyles ran 19.83 seconds, which put him into a tie with Usain Bolt for the most sub-20 second 200 clockings ever. The mere mention of Lyles’s name in the same sentence as Bolt’s made many fans (from one country in particular) very upset!

  • At the Golden Spike in Ostrava, Mondo Duplantis cleared a world leading 6.12m in the pole vault. Lamecha Girma ran the 1500m like a steeplechaser, yo-yoing his way through the final stages of the race, but still managing to still pull out the W in 3:33.15. But the biggest performances of the day belong to the 23 men on the start for the 1500m and 15 for the 800m, none of whom fell, despite such crowded fields.

  • The full 82 page report into the University of Colorado program’s use of body composition testing has been released. The staff are keeping their jobs, but with new guidance of use around the controversial method.

Thanks so much to OLIPOP for sponsoring this week’s newsletter! Their ongoing support of this year has allowed us to be at more meets than ever before — let them know it’s appreciated by using CITIUS25 at checkout.