The Boston Revolution: Spread out talent 🖐
Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton
Expectations were high for the OAC and Mike Smith elite squads, but Edwin Kurgat (12:57.52) and Adriaan Wildschutt (12:56.76) finished the day as the two big winners. Has the balance of power in US distance running shifted? (Granted, neither of the winners are American… and both of them train in Flagstaff… but I digress!)
My hierarchy of rooting interests in the sport looks something like this:
2) Whatever is best for the sport
The reason for the first is obvious. Now the second is open to interpretation, but my hope is that at the end of each race, there’s something interesting added to the plot that creates more debate and conversation.
Sometimes that’s a crazy thing like Nico Young breaking the collegiate record, going 12:57.17. He’s been a star since high school, and no one will ever be more popular among my readership than an athlete who was fast while simultaneously studying for the SATs. But during that battle in the last quarter, I was hoping Wildschutt would get him. Why?
Because Nico breaking 13 is already infinitely exciting. Nico winning or not doesn’t change how many fans are thrilled by his performance. Whereas if Adriaan – who is a VERY GOOD RUNNER – wins, that makes for Nico’s infinite buzz plus an extra helping of buzz for an athlete that many casuals are not yet familiar with.
Let’s be honest, if Nico wins then I might not be writing more than a sentence or two about Adriaan, the South African record holder and former Florida State Nole. Instead we introduce a new character to the story and add to your roster of athletes to root for.
Additionally, with the recent success of Dathan Ritzenhein- and Mike Smith-coached athletes, the narrative has become that those are the two groups you have to train with to be elite. This ‘training with X group is the only way to succeed’ way of thinking is cyclical and the zeitgeist is ever-evolving. Last Olympic cycle it was Bowerman that sucked up all the attention!
So when Edwin Kurgat and Adriaan Wildschutt run well, then the conversation opens up to, “hey, you know who has become a very good coach these past few years? Stephen Haas.” Or maybe, “Remember when NAZ hired that coach we weren’t familiar with? Maybe Jack Mullaney was a good choice!” As fans, we want the talent to spread out. The least interesting battles in sports are those that lack parity.
From the perspective of commerce, every time a non-Nike shoe crosses the tape first, it further legitimizes the products that HOKA and Under Armour have spent years and wild amounts of money developing. And if more high school kids are buying their spikes because they realize the Dragonfly isn’t the only option, then these brands will keep investing – both in product development and athlete sponsorships. That’s how this world turns!
I don’t want to be dramatic or exaggerate the impact of the Terrier Classic. But these results will single-handedly be the biggest driver towards the sport becoming popular in our lifetimes. And when historians look back in a decade to identify a pivotal moment in time when everything changed they’ll say, “Remember that one indoor race in January where nothing besides chasing standards was on the line? That saved the sport!”
What is going on with that mile? 📈
Photo: Noah Hales | @noahhhales
Trigger Warning: If you are justifiably sick and tired of American men talking about the sub-four mile, then just skip over this section entirely rather than unsubscribing to this newsletter. For what it’s worth, I tend to agree: it’s enough already! But in my defense – and for those who have no idea who the author of this newsletter that you signed up for is – that was my event so it’s more of a personal reflection than me being in love with Roger Bannister.
On January 26th, the 16th fastest time in the NCAA (which qualifies for nationals) is 3:55.53 – the best in history. Here is how that stacks up against full seasons of years past:
I had my friend Tyler who is good at Excel make this graph
Because I’m edited by Ned Flanders…
Hug, Marry, Chuck: Altitude, BU, and oversized tracks?
12 out of the 16 fastest men’s mile times this year came with one of those asterisks. But in this newsletter, we BELIEVE CONVERSIONS and my personal best is from BU, so I’m inclined to not care about said asterisks too much.
There is not another men’s event in the NCAA where the guaranteed qualifying mark for this year has already surpassed last year’s standard. The only women’s event where 2024 has bested 2023 is the 5000m, which is largely skewed by the 12 athletes who raced immediately after the cross country season.
For comparison to the women’s mile, the 2024 time to beat is 4:34.37 vs. 4:33.14 from last season. So what’s going on with the men’s mile?
At one point in time, the magic of the four-minute barrier propelled athletes to push themselves and believe in their ability to do something that was once thought impossible blah blah blah! And simply running under that mark meant something of a consolation prize. I think of my senior year at Columbia when I ran 3:59 to win our last chance meet. While it was disappointing to not make NCAAs, I still had, “hey, I broke four though!” in my back pocket.
Running under four minutes in the mile was cool for a lot of people. But for others with higher ceilings, it was a crutch used to prop up sub-par races to make them appear like good ones. Now that mystique has faded as the accomplishment becomes more commonplace, college guys are no longer being held back by an arbitrary time that once pushed them. To paraphrase Justin Timberlake playing Sean Parker in The Social Network, “Running 3:59 isn’t cool anymore… you know what’s cool? Running 3:55.”
What’s on the line? Olympic Marathon Trials Prize Money 💰
If any qualified athletes were on the fence about heading to Orlando for the US Olympic Marathon Trials, then perhaps the promise of a $600,000 prize purse was enough of an incentive to get them to declare. Although, when you consider that total is divided between the two fields, and then again among the top 10 finishers, it’s sort of like winning the lottery – the sticker price isn’t what is getting deposited into your bank account. (Don’t do the math to figure out agent cuts and taxes, trust me!)
Even then, the likes of Noah Lyles and other track-only athletes have caught a glimpse into the amount of money that is up for grabs on the roads and it has them considering an event switch. After all, winning your event at the US Outdoor Championships last year paid a whopping $8,000 – which is good, because I don’t get out of bed for less than seven.
It’s important to note that USATF is not putting up any of this money. It’s from the local organizing committee as part of their deal for hosting.
But a major difference is that the Marathon Trials is just one event and the money does not have to be split across 23 disciplines. While I am all for getting rid of half of those, until the sport does, then the prize money for a national championship on the track will never get close to what it’ll be on the roads.
In both cases, the athletes who are winning on the roads are likely making close to or more than that first-place prize money anyway from their contract bonuses. That’s not even considering the potential “rollover,” which is when an athlete’s highest bonus gets rolled into your base salary the following calendar year.
What’s not seen here is the opportunity cost of competing in the Trials but finishing outside the money or off the podium! Top-tier American marathoners who race twice a year may receive six-figure appearance fees for doing so. Fortunately, there aren’t many alternative options in February they had to turn down. But because there is such a low supply of potential races, athletes can demand a lot for their presence. Compare this to the track… on any given weekend during the summer there are 15+ “professional” meets somewhere in the world.
If there is ever going to be similar prize money on the track then there needs to be fewer events and fewer meets – until then, athletes are a common commodity. Though based on the prize money from the 1996 Trials, even the marathoners aren’t appreciating in value.
Picking Favorites: Olympic Marathon Trials 🥰
Photo: Kevin Morris | @kevmofoto
Last week I said something out loud that I never thought I would work up the gumption to let loose. Watching ESPN in a bar with a buddy, I turned to him and remarked, “you know, I actually respect the hell out of Stephen A Smith!”
The man is a truly once-in-a-generation BROADCASTER. He speaks his mind, without trepidation, and hell, then he says a bunch more stuff that seemingly he had never once even thought about for a minute. He’s got a blindfold on, he’s spinning in a circle, and he’s dispensing takes recklessly at a hundred miles per hour.
And as a result, in a situation where actual analysis or prognostication is called for, he’s actually perfect. He’ll lack a well-formed opinion, but he’ll talk anyway for a couple of minutes, pivoting hard on a well placed “HOWEVER,” and when he’s done, you didn’t even notice that he basically said nothing.
We’ll come back to Stephen A. in a minute.
The beauty of a race like the Trials marathon is its unpredictability. The odds of picking two perfect trifecta boxes this weekend… well, I’m not a “math guy,” but I doubt any of us will do it.
That’s why the United States’ system of selection is the most hyped in the world. Despite not having the fastest or deepest fields, it’s a chance for athletes to live the American dream! Show up with nothing but a nickel in your pocket and a qualifying mark, and you have as fair of a shot as anyone to make the team – assuming that top three time is under 2:11:30/2:29:30.
This is all to say, I have been ruminating over my picks nonstop the past month and I am still having commitment issues. Partially because I am terrified of being called out by an athlete who made it for not picking them – that motivation is free! And partly because as someone who lives and breathes this stuff, I don’t want to be publicly wrong.
It’s not just a question of who the three best are or even the three fittest. They need to execute on that day, in that moment to realize it. Regardless of how much research, data points or thought exercises we do in the lead-in, the final result will probably surprise us.
As I am wavering back and forth about who to make my final team for Thursday’s prediction show at Hoka’s Citius Cafe, I thought it’d be helpful to channel my inner Stephen A. Smith, and just put a deluge of information – some of it probably wrong – out there, and hope that when I’m done talking, I’ve said something profound or at least worthy of a meme.
The Lap Count’s Potential Men’s Team 🦸♂️
Photo: Kevin Morris | @kevmofoto
Why he’ll make it: No one is owed anything in the marathon, but Fauble has paid his dues. He’s consistently run well in New York and Boston with multiple top-American finishes. The Trials don’t have pacers, and Fauble isn’t one of those fancy guys who need someone else to tell him how fast to run. He’s accustomed to actually racing the distance. His 2:08:52 personal best likely doesn’t tell the full story of how fit he has been in comparison to much of the field whose seeds come from Chicago. And apparently he’s fitter than ever before!
Why he won’t make it: Fauble’s attempt to get the Olympic standard in Berlin ended in a DNF after he dropped out 30K in with stomach issues.
Why we want him to make it: We like Scott! He got grandfathered into the CITIUS MAG group chat as an early contributor. But mainly, Scott gives good interviews, says cool things, and is not afraid to have hot takes on running Twitter.
Why he’ll make it: How do you bet against the guy who has done it twice before? No one else in this field has proven they are a threat to win an Olympic (marathon) medal or win a Major. After a long cycle of injuries and some drop outs, it seemed like his storied career was on its final chapter – then he ran 2:08 in Chicago. Even though he got beat by other Americans in the process, if he has been healthy since October then he likely will have leveled up. And coach Mike Smith can’t seem to miss right now.
Why he won’t make it: I mean, Houston wasn’t great! He only ran 1:02:xx and never even made an attempt to run with the leaders. You could couch it by saying he was in the middle of a block on heavy legs. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that was his second rep of the day. But that performance does create a bit of doubt…
Why we want him to make it: Rupp won’t just be happy to make this team. On paper, he’s got the best odds of actually doing well at the Olympics. And if he gets hugs from his kids at the finish-line and gives a good post-race interview, then we’ll likely see him behind the mic on some broadcasts in a couple of years.
Why he’ll make it: Well, he’s run the fastest this cycle. Mantz took to the marathon immediately and has excelled on flat and fast courses throughout his career – Orlando will be exactly that. And he likely won’t have to be the one up front pushing the pace as surely, someone who has not run under 2:11:30 won’t let it drag. Everything that’s been made public about his training lately is a good indicator of things to come.
Why he won’t make it: It turns out Mantz is not invincible, as he did suffer a stress reaction in his femur in November. But just about everyone has him in their top three and there is no way we are ALL right, right?
Why we want him to make it: Some athletes make it look so easy, and that’s just not relatable. We want future generations to know that if you want to run fast that it’s going to hurt.
Why he’ll make it: Clayton Young put together one healthy marathon block and he knocked it out of the park, running 2:08:00. You’re welcome, America! His trajectory at the distance is quite steep, having gone from 2:29 to 2:16 to 2:11 to 2:08. If Mantz is a bull dog then Young is the immaculately groomed Vizsla, and in the chaos of a qualifying situation, having a measured response to the moves may pay dividends.
Why he won’t make it: How good is that kick if he saw the clock in Chicago and couldn’t find that one more second to become a 2:07 guy?
Why we want him to make it: Look at how much making an Olympic team would mean to him. The world needs more vulnerable men who are in touch with their emotions!
Why he’ll make it: Futsum won his debut marathon in 2022 at the USATF Championships at CIM running 2:11:01, but it was the way he cruised a sub-15 minute 5K from 35 to 40K that gives me a lot of confidence. He ran 2:09:40 in Rotterdam and then was 10th at New York, which are solid performances so the consistency is there. Actually having won a real marathon puts him in elite company in this field, too!
Why he won’t make it: Rotterdam was a 2:03 race, making it a special opportunity to run fast and while 2:09:40 is good, it might not be good enough to make this team.
Why we want him to make it: Watch the video below.
Why he’ll make it: Panning’s in great shape. He recently ran 16 miles at 4:47 pace and when the Internet speculated if he ran that workout too hard, he followed it up with a 2 x 6 mile @ 4:41 the following week. His 13th place finish at the World Championships is being massively overlooked because it was a hot day and therefore the time wasn’t flashy.
Why he won’t make it: There are a lot of really good guys! Panning’s MO has been to run smart and work his way through a large deep field and clean up guys who run fast. The Trials is going to put him in his first lead marathon pack.
Why we want him to make it: We like transparent athletes who post their workouts on Strava because it’s fun! But Panning is a late bloomer who will give credence to all the non-Divxision One athletes out there that the size of your school doesn’t determine your future.
The Lap Count’s Potential Women’s Team 🦸
Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz
Why she’ll make it: Being the previous American record holder in both the marathon and half marathon is a pretty good resume. It feels like yesterday, but the 2:19:12 in Houston was two years ago now and since then, she has raced a lot. If I am armchair quarterbacking my analysis, I get the impression that she really likes racing. But this Trials build seems like the most intentional training block of her career, with no other distractions. It probably was tempting to line up more, but her workouts look good and she’s actually had regular training partners.
Why she won’t make it: She is coming off a disappointing performance at Worlds where she suffered some hip flexor problems.
Why we want her to make it: The inspiration! Keira’s story has transcended the elite running world and her balance of working mom and elite runner is the sort of thing NBC could really attach themselves to ahead of Paris.
Why she’ll make it: How about that bronze medal? Look around the world of women’s marathon running right now – the world record is 2:11 now! And Molly is the defending bronze medalist, who clearly knows how to run championship-style races. Momentum is on Molly’s side as she ran a personal best (2:23:07) in Chicago. And prior to going dark on Strava, her mileage was up!
Why she won’t make it: Molly will probably have to run a pace she never has before to make this team. Even her half marathon personal best (69:20) multiplied by two is not under the American record.
Why we want her to make it: Because she drinks beer! But mainly because she has been through hell at many points in her career and bounced back and after lots of injuries and disappointments since Tokyo, it’d be wonderful to see another high note.
Why she’ll make it: The defending champion! Aliphine was being overlooked as a qualifier in 2020, and she then won the damn thing. It’s hard to express just how different the all or nothingness of this event plays into the psychology of it, and the best predictor of future success is past performance.
Why she won’t make it: Tuliamuk was supposed to run Chicago this fall, but withdrew with a hamstring issue shortly before. She looked very strong in New York 2022, finishing seventh, but never fully built off that momentum in 2023.
Why we want her to make it: During the pandemic, Aliphine gave birth to her daughter Zoe and entered the Olympics with an abbreviated training block. Halfway through she was forced to drop out due to a hip injury. This is her opportunity to return at full strength!
(Since initially writing this I saw this update on Aliphine, which indicates the hamstring is still a point of concern.)
Why she’ll make it: A few months ago, Betsy Saina was flying so far under the radar that she’d have been considered a dark horse. That only lasted so long because now everyone remembers, “Betsy Saina runs for the US.” Saina ran 30:07 for 10,000m back in 2016, and has now transitioned to the marathon very well, highlighted by a 2:21:40 in Tokyo. And she has proven that in addition to running fast courses, that she can do it in tough conditions – it was well into the 70s for her Sydney win.
Why she won’t make it: Please get back to me on this one.
Why we want her to make it: Her ceiling just feels so high! My recurring point about modern marathoning is that it’s never been more important to have been a good track runner because at these speeds you need some turnover.
Why she’ll make it: At 40 years old, this is Hall’s eighth Olympic trials between the marathon and on the track. She is a veteran of high-pressure races and in 2022 finished 5th at the World Championships as the top American over Keira D’AMato and Emma Bates. Hall loves a good fast race and has run under 2:23 five times! No one else in the field has done that.
Why she won’t make it: It’s a red flag to pull out of the Houston Half Marathon a few weeks before the Trials, but inside sources report that was just being super cautious and she’s fit and ready.
Why we want her to make it: Because she has tried to make the Olympics on seven occasions!
Why she’ll make it: 2:18:29 – that’s why! Even on an “off-day” in Chicago, Sisson was the top American in a loaded field. My Roman Empire is Sisson lapping the entire field four times in the 2020 Olympic Trials 10,000m because it was two hundred degrees out and she was the only one not bothered by it. If having to come up with a strategy to beat Sisson, the best bet may be just to pray.
Why she won’t make it: In 2020 Sisson was a DNF after a really strong debut in London – anything can happen. No one is safe! This is the excitement of the Trials!
Why we want her to make it: If we are going off the descending order list of who the best Americans are then Emily is at the very top of it and we want our very best to represent the US in Paris. Of course, that’s why we run the race though.