Lap 148: Sponsored by OLIPOP
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Beatrice Chebet’s year goes out with a BANG 💥
For many of us, the end of December is a lame-duck period where there is no point in really trying too hard at anything. Quotas have already been hit, Christmas bonuses are set, and if you piss some loved ones off over the holidays then just apologize with some admittance of seasonal stress and then add “stop being an asshole” to your New Year’s Resolution list. But not if you’re Beatrice Chebet!
In Barcelona, on the last day of the year at the Cursa dels Nassos, Chebet broke the 5K record running 14:13 – a time worth celebrating doubly so because it temporarily removes the confusion of having to distinguish between having two records: women’s only and mixed. The previous record was 14:19, set by Ejegayehu Taye two years ago on the same course so if you’re looking to drop your season’s best before the clock strikes midnight, then Barna should be on your bucket list.
Beatrice Chebet adds a world record to her World XC and World Road Running titles from 2023, and a bronze in the 5000m at Budapest. She was so consistently good across every month of the year it makes you wonder when she finds time to meaningfully train. Is it too late to add one more to the Athlete of the Year award?
Courtney Frerichs Leaves Bowerman ⚡️
Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz
January 1st is track and field’s equivalent of the last day of free agency in the MLB. The major difference is that rather than GMs dealing players mid-game to cross-town rivals, the poorly kept secrets that could not be openly discussed due to contract clauses are finally made public and announced.
The biggest news this year was that the American record holder in the steeplechase, Courtney Frerichs, shared that following seven years with the Bowerman Track Club she has left the group. Of course, this is another major loss to a program that dominated the US Championships for a couple of Olympic cycles. And while this presents a great opportunity to try and dunk on the group in Instagram comments, it’s an expected part of the evolution the team is going through. I’d imagine that in a year even more veterans from the old guard will be gone and the entirety of the Eugene-based group will be new recruits who chose Eugene explicitly, rather than having Eugene foisted upon them.
Frerichs earned silver medals at the 2017 World Championships and Tokyo Olympics in the steeplechase, and still holds the American record in the event: 8:57.77. This past year was not her best – she struggled with injury and bad luck, but Frerichs only turns 31 later this month and has plenty of running left in her.
An interesting aspect of her changeup is that she’ll now be coached by Alistair and Amy Cragg of Puma Elite despite maintaining a contract with Nike. There is of course a connection here through her representation with Kimbia, but it seems like as of now, no one wins in terms of brand alignment. Only in track and field, baby!
Copying tennis’s homework📝👀
Photo: Johnny Pace | @pacephoto
With the turning of the calendar comes the opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to become the people that we hope to be. (Or we can at least talk about doing that!) Either way, in that spirit, what if we took this article published in The Athletic called “Professional tennis is broken. Here’s how to fix it” hit control + F, and every time tennis is mentioned, we replaced it with track and field? Mission accomplished. We did it! The solution for both sports seems so obvious to fans, the issue remains that there are too many stakeholders with slightly different goals.
Tennis and track are both similar in that they are mass-participant sports and that complicates what it means to grow the sport. Would you rather the number of people signing up to run a marathon in the world double or is your preference that TV viewership (and salaries of professionals) multiply instead? It depends who you are. Road race directors and shoe companies would prefer the first, but newsletter writers, athletes, and most fans would probably prefer the latter.
The proposal for tennis is not significantly different from what has already been discussed or written about in what has become an annual cycle here in The Lap Count. The schedule should be focused on the Majors and the largest competitions on the calendar with the notion that the top athletes would be predictably present at each of them. In many ways, track and field is closer to this vision than tennis.
We have the Diamond League – a moderately cohesive collection of meetings on the calendar that sort of provide a semblance of a season for fans to follow. Although they each are managed by independent organizations, the collective bargaining works in favor of negotiating sponsorships, TV deals, and what events are happening when.
The underlying problem is that of fairness and development. In tennis the proposal is that the top 100 players are on the tour each season – that’s the major league. To break-in to that stratosphere, less-established athletes would have to thrive and separate themselves from the pack in the minors.
So let’s apply that to track, as a thought experiment. Each year the least successful athletes from the preceding season’s Diamond League are relegated and the most successful outsiders are promoted. This works great in theory until a kid that no one had ever heard of starts running solo 1500m races in 3:28 at meets vs. nobody. Unlike tennis, track has a barometer by which to measure performance beyond head-to-head matchups. And no matter how much we try to make head-to-head competition the focus, time will always be a factor.
From a storytelling and marketing perspective, a consistent roster of athletes facing off each week would be the most ideal scenario… IF they were also consistently the top performers. This is easy to control in the likes of Formula 1 because no one outside of those 20 drivers are sitting in those cars and racing on those tracks. Since it is unrealistic for the top circuit of track and field to become exclusive, there needs to be more incentives in place so that the best athletes in the world need to keep racing at the best meets in the world.
The answer: don’t let the top athletes get comfortable.
The first step is to remove the standard. Take a page out of tennis’s book that requires even the best players to continue playing throughout the season – you can’t rest on your laurels. The standard is the ultimate crutch because once an athlete achieves it then all they have to do is show up for the championships.
The next step is to shorten the window. An athlete can run 3:33.50 on July 1st, 2023 and be qualified to compete on August 2nd, 2024 for the first round of the 1500m in the Olympics. Those might be two different athletes – a lot can happen in 13 months! January 1st of the same year seems like a more honest starting point, although I’d really say that the season should start at the first Diamond League meet on April 20th in Xiamen. Do you know who would be at opening day, if it actually mattered? Everyone.
The challenge is determining the fairest way to determine how to fill out the fields in the Diamond Leagues since they will become even more competitive to get into. In addition to tweaking the ranking algorithm, getting rid of the home field advantage and “my agent is in charge of this meet” clauses are two obvious ones. Perhaps having a play-in race at a minor race a week before creates more opportunity and intrigue.
It’s important to develop the talent of tomorrow, but for the sport to succeed then there needs to be stars. And like stars in the night sky, you always know where your favorites will be (shout out Betelgeuse)! Even if that’s occasionally slightly less fair to the up-and-comers or those who haven’t run fast in over a year.
Graham Blanks Signs with NB ✍️
There isn’t technically any prize money at the NCAA Championships, but at this point, there might as well be. When Graham Blanks crossed the finish line in Charlottesville six weeks ago his name, likeness, and image began writing checks that his less conceptual sense of self could eventually cash. And as of last week, that wait was over, when it was announced that New Balance signed Blanks to an NIL deal.
From a shoe company’s perspective, here is a super-talented dude with seemingly unlimited potential, coming into his own in an Olympic year, as evinced by his recent 13:05 collegiate indoor record.
It probably doesn’t hurt that he’s got that big maroon burgundy crimson “H” on his chest, from a recognition standpoint – Harvard isn’t Coca-Cola or McDonald’s, but there aren’t many institutions more globally recognizable out there.
And on top of an undefeated season, the reception to Blanks the person’s subsequent media tour has been well-received by the masses.
Given New Balance’s Boston roots, the brand partnering with a student who goes to school “just outside of Boston” makes sense. But beyond that, it could be more indicative of a more strategic shift for the brand: American distance men. Look, I have said it on record that if I could be coached by anyone today it’d be Mark Coogan.
At this point in the NIL game, it’s still too early to tell how tight the pipeline is from college contract to the real thing. While Katelyn Tuohy stuck with Adidas through the process, there is no legal obligation to do so. Time will tell if the companies that are demonstrating the most interest in talented 20-year-olds remain committed to that “developing talent” when it’s well… been developed. Running fast will help!
Personal Reflections on 2023 🥳
At first, I was a bit disappointed when my Strava year in review indicated that I averaged a few meters short of five miles each day. And it didn’t feel like I had missed 38 days on the calendar. But my training log has a better memory than me, I guess. In terms of form, looking in the mirror, I don’t completely hate what I see – God bless decent genetics! But when it comes down to function, any slight pace infusion after a few down weeks and my heart rate tells a different story.
Each of our relationships with running will continue to evolve throughout our lives, and highs and lows always come with the territory of this dumb/wonderful hobby/passion. But I was struck by how much work it took this year to maintain a happy balance in my now decades-old running relationship. There were predictable consequences to having a toddler, such as 5 AM wake-up calls. My long commute into the city a few days a week certainly cuts into my mileage. And isn’t it ironic that covering the sport more directly results in having less time to participate in it yourself?
This next year won’t necessarily be easier, but I feel better equipped to handle the dissonance between real-life and the fantasy training camp that comprised my 20s. While I used to abide by mildly insulting made-up maxims such as, ‘anything less than 30 minutes doesn’t count as a run’ or ‘only joggers listen to music’ I have grown wiser (and less judgmental) in my old age. And I have learned a thing or two about running – and motivation – when you’re not a competitive runner anymore, but also enjoying being at least marginally fit.
My problem – and not to say you’ve got a problem, but this is quite possibly your problem too – is that while I’m by no means slow now, I used to be fast! And with each passing year it becomes more difficult to hold onto that version of myself. It is especially difficult when so much of my identity is wrapped up in the fact that I am was fast. I’m just way less motivated by trying to dampen the atrophy of fitness than I was training to unlock new achievements.
To avoid regressing to the point where I’m forced to start from scratch, should I decide I need to race another marathon in the future for blogging purposes/self-fulfillment , I have developed a few strategies that I am happy to share. We’ll name it, “Kyle’s 6 Tips For Holding Onto A Little Fitness From Five Years Ago”:
No run is too short. I call them ‘pajama runs’ because they don’t require putting on your clothes. If I only have 20 minutes, then why waste five of them squeezing into tights? Just put your shoes on and run around the block a few times.
Take advantage of company. A solo run of four to six miles generally scratches the itch for me. But when I have friends to run with or the time to do more then these are my days to steal as much fitness as possible.
Lean into the weather. Running in the cold, snow, and dark sucks. I hibernate for the winter and my expectations are the bear minimum (get it?). I know I’ll add on the miles when the sun comes back out.
Get to the track. I may leave the house with no plans, but if I run to the track then I can normally guilt myself into doing some sort of workout. It might be a singular sub-five minute mile or it might be 6 x 400 @ 2015 10K pace.
Pick a race. It might just be a company fun run, though having something on the calendar once a year will extend your shelf life. Adjust your expectations and swallow that ego. The rapid improvement curve the first few weeks of “training” is a great reminder of how much fun the sport side of running is.
Get your ass kicked. Getting dropped on someone else’s easy run will restart the engine. You can also kick your own ass – that sub-five mile I mentioned above… when you feel the ghost of your pre-pubescent 14-year-old self outkicking you down the homestretch, you might find yourself driven to put him back in his place.
Don’t take two days off. When you start dreading the act, don’t force it. But once you start taking multiple rest days in a row then it miigghhht just be out of laziness.
This is at least how I have been approaching things. And if you are currently in your prime, reading this pathetic list of excuses and don’t think your time will come – just wait! You’ll be doing cul-de-sac loops wearing sweatpants with a phone in your hand listening to financial news podcasts on speaker phone before you know it.