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The 86th Manchester Road Race 🦃
Elite athletes make a lot of sacrifices in pursuit of their goals, but chief among those sacrifices is having to run a turkey trot. Even as a more recreational runner, there is a lot of cultural pressure to participate. Hell, when I saw that the forecast in the northeast was essentially perfect this past Thursday morning, I admittedly considered signing up for one. But at this point, the only way I’d risk getting out-kicked by a local high school kid is if there were a few hundred bucks on the line, and fortunately for what’s left of my pride, there aren’t many races paying out these days.
One notable exception, however, is a little turkey trot held annually in Manchester, Connecticut, which is why the historic 4.748-mile-long race pretty much has a monopoly on top talent one day a year.
With a prize purse of $21,500 on both the men’s and women’s sides, plus an additional $2,400 worth of gift certificates being awarded down to 25th place, that’s more than enough financial incentive for competitors looking for an excuse to spend a holiday away from their families. And that’s not even including the additional $1,000 paid out to the king and queen of the hill at the race’s summit, and a potential $2,000 bonus for breaking the course record.
In an email to the race organizers, I posed a simple question: Why?
“The appearance of outstanding male and female elite athletes at our race increases interest in the event and gives it high visibility in the running community and world-class stature. This year our race attracted nearly 10,000 entrants. We view the prize money and incentives offered to the elites as an investment well spent that returns impressive dividends for the race.”
How do we convince others to feel similarly?
It also returned impressive dividends for Conner Mantz, who won it in 21:04, and towed five men under (or right on top of) the previous course record of 21:15, set by Ed Cheserek in 2018. (Granted, it was 16 degrees that day, but still – this race has attracted some serious talent over the years so any record is no joke.)
This performance by Mantz came just six weeks after he ran his 2:08:16 debut at the Chicago Marathon, and he admitted to quickly ramping back up to 100-mile weeks after in preparation for Manchester. Look, the glory of winning the Manchester Road Race makes people do wild things – plus the $9,000 payday mid-honeymoon doesn’t hurt.
(This isn’t a new strategy, but I’d wager it’s the right one! I was always impressed by the approach of my old roommate and future Connecticut senator, Donn Cabral. He’d continue training after the Olympics/World Championships until Thanksgiving in hopes of winning his hometown Turkey Trot. Then, payday in hand, he’d take his downtime to properly enjoy the holidays before using indoors to get ready for steeple season – the man is a genius.)
On the women’s side, Weini Kelati successfully defended her 2021 title, winning in 23:39 by an incredible 42 seconds. While this doesn’t match her 22:55 from last year, it was still the second fastest time ever on the course – a reminder of how ridiculously impressive her run last year was.
Kelati finished 30th overall in the field, beating out 8,329 potential track fans in the process – that’s why it’s important for community road races to have elite participation. It’s like guerilla marketing for the sport! The people need to experience firsthand how impressive the professionals are to truly appreciate it.
And one more perk of attracting elite talent to your small New England town is that the local news station comes out to cover the race and does a better job doing so than many major marathons. Just check out the finish here, and let me know if you’re inspired to skip out on your usual family Thanksgiving plans to give this race a shot.
Asafa Powell Retires 🇯🇲
Athletics will always celebrate records and medals, but consistency deserves more credit than it gets. As Asafa Powell announced his official retirement from the sport, let’s just quickly drop some numbers to put his longevity into perspective.
Although he never won an individual Olympic or World Championship gold medal, he twice broke the world record in 2005 (9.77) and 2008 (9.74) in the 100m.
Distance runners are enamored with Steve Scott’s 137 sub-four-minute miles, but breaking 10 seconds in 100m is a much harder thing to do and Powell did so on 97 occasions. Second on that list is Justin Gatlin, way back at 64, and then Usain Bolt at 53.
A Name to Remember: Irene Riggs
It’s not the time, it’s the speed rating. For New Yorkers, I likely don’t have to explain to you what West Virginia’s Irene Riggs running 171 means, but for those of you who grew up in one of the other 49 states, let me quickly explain.
High School running statistician and archivist, Bill Meylan, operates a popular website called Tully Runners. It’s been around for 22 years, and in the Empire State it’s the place to find results, or better yet, the speed ratings associated with those results. The concept is borrowed from horse racing, where a numerical value is assigned to all the runners in the race that can then be used to compare one performance against another, across years and courses.
The premise is that these values represent an objective measurement of how fast each performance is versus others regardless of what day or where they were run. (For a more in-depth look, check out one of his many articles on the methodology.)
It’s hard to explain how sacred speed ratings are in certain circles if you didn’t grow up with them. When I consider what the best race of my prep career was, I believe it to be the NYS Federation meet, which I lost, but ran a 194.4 – my highest ever speed rating, and a number I remember as clearly as any lifetime PR.
This is all to say, when I saw that Irene Riggs ran 16:02 for 5k to win the NXR Southeast Regional meet, I was impressed – that’s super fast. Even more impressive was that she won by 84 seconds, and even more impressive than that is the fact that she broke Katelyn Tuohy’s course record by 20 seconds. But when I saw that 171 speed rating, I was absolutely floored. Basically, I was the Vince McMahon meme.
For even more speed rating context, the highest Natalie Cook recorded last year before going on to run 15:25 in the spring was a 165. One speed rating point is worth three seconds which in theory means there is an 18-second differential between Riggs this year and Cook last year on a cross country course. That doesn’t mean the Stanford-bound Riggs will match that, but she did run 9:50 for 2-miles as a junior, and that doesn’t require a doctorate in statistics to quantify.
(For curious minds, the highest speed rating on the boy’s side this year came from Lex Young (202) as he led Newbury Park to a 52 point win at the California State Meet.)
Catching up with coach John Hayes
“I know their training – these guys are strong. They were built for a 10k.”
Halfway through the NCAA Cross Country Championships, when the Wake Forest men popped up as being in fifth place I boldly called that the 12th ranked ACC Champions wouldn’t be falling back. And I was right. There’s some admitted bias there, as I ran for coach John Hayes at the University of Texas while in graduate school, but that’s why the ascent of this program has not been one bit of a surprise to me. Since becoming the Director of Cross Country and Track in 2016, the Demon Deacons have consistently climbed the rankings each year and with one of the best recruiting classes in the country coming in, it seems that this trend may continue. I wanted to hear more about the journey, so we had a long overdue catch-up.
Let’s go back to 2016…after a few-year hiatus away from college coaching, you decided to return. Why? And specifically, why Wake Forest?
Going back even further to 2006, my wife and I sat down and said, ‘Where are some places that you'd like to finish up your career?” At the time the program here was starting to slide a bit from when they were really good in the nineties and the late eighties. I knew they were strong academically, it was a good area, and that the campus was beautiful. And so I said this was one of five or six schools that I would consider finishing my career coaching.
When I was coaching Leo Manzano and that small group with Duncan Phillips for my three years off from college, I knew that was not a long-term gig to generate money for my family. I missed going to NCAA championships. I loved the Diamond League and stuff, but NCAA cross country is such a special team event. The team stuff really gets me.
This role ended up being perfect for me as I wanted to be able to put my name on a program and not just inherit the success. It was important to me to build something, which has been both a blessing and a curse.
The year before you took over the program, the team was 14th at the ACC meet and 23rd in the region. How do you go from that to where you are today? Was this the time frame you envisioned?
I thought it would take four years. After four years, I don’t think we had fully turned the corner on the culture just yet. We just missed out on making the national meet, but the culture was coming.
Coming in from the outside, how do you change a team’s culture? What’s the first thing you do to start that process?
It’s different now than it used to be. Compare it to 25 years ago – I could've cut the people that don't want to be there and bring in people that want to be great and who are willing to do the work. You can't do that anymore.
The problem is you have kids, and they're all good kids, but they get brought into a culture of apathy and that's the lifestyle they get used to. It's really hard to change who you are and some do, but the majority don't. And so you bring in new kids gradually and the scales tip in the right direction. It usually takes three to five years. It took us five as we went from not qualifying, to 15th, to 10th, to 5th, at the NCAA meet.
How special is it to get a school like Wake Forest to turn that corner? They have the resources, the academics, and the athletic support, but just weren’t getting it done when on paper they should have been.
Our administration kept saying, “John, it's going to take time! Relax. You may never get there!” But I'm not that guy. There's got to be that commitment. People as a whole want to be great, but are you willing to make sacrifices? So getting the group as a whole to change that mindset over the course of five years and getting the administration to see that this actually could actually happen was the key. And they bought in – they had the sign up at school that we won the ACC Championships on our athletic building, and not many major universities would appreciate a cross country team’s accomplishments like that.
You have kids that attack you because you're expecting a change in mindset and they don't want to do it. It can become contentious and you just have to continue to try to do the right thing over and over again. Because what I'm trying to do is create memories of success and championships for young men and women within our program that they’re going to look back on in 20 years. And when some kids don't want to buy into that vision, they have to do something different.
Something many cross country recruits probably don't consider is the importance of the distance coach being the director. That definitely came into play at times when I ran for you in Texas, but now you’re in a position where you get to call the shots. What are some of those advantages?
Well, the philosophy of the program and a lot of your resources are put into the success of that group. We care about all event groups, and I have a great staff across the board to follow the blueprint, but I personally know what it takes for a distance program to succeed.
We have a Boost treadmill in our locker room and an underwater treadmill. We have great running here, however, I wanted us to have our own vans so we could be mobile so we can get to other trails quickly. We do blood testing often enough to have baselines of ferritin levels. We take lactate levels at practice to make sure they're within range of what we're looking for and in terms of the aerobic or anaerobic threshold. So we're putting these resources in and taking the time to do it and setting these young people up for success. They feel important when you surround them with these facilities and how we do things.
How different is training in your philosophy now versus what it was like in 2012 when I was running for you? We did more threshold work than I've ever done in my entire life, but damn did I get strong!
The truth is we do even more of it now. What I found is the more I keep giving, the more they keep getting better and that's kind of the philosophy. It’s safe and unless there is a plateau, they just keep getting stronger. We still work on speed development and all the basics – you have to be good at the basics.
Now, kids that are older and more developed we're going to take more chances with. Like Zach Facioni, for example, at this point in his career, he’s ready to blossom and develop into someone who is well under a 13:20 guy.
It’s a lot of threshold work and it’s a lot of hills. And when I first got here the one thing that I felt like was missing was a place to do a great hilly long run. But Ryan Van Hoy, who grew up here, told me where to go and now we have that spot.
There are a lot of athletes who want to become college coaches. But I think of where you started at Morehouse up until today and it’s not an easy path, even for someone who knows what they’re doing – it’s a grind of a profession. So what is the best part of being a collegiate coach, and what’s the worst?
The best part is the journey with these young people. From meeting them in their house to bringing them on campus. Watching them come in as freshmen they can be like wild animals that are finally let out of a cage. Whether they become All-American or they improve a lot, it’s rewarding to see them do things that they never thought were possible.
Look at Luke Dewalt – I sat down to talk with him for an hour last night. A year and a half ago he was banged up and wasn’t on the squad that finished 15th. Last year he was somewhere in the 140s. But last week he goes out and gets 22nd in the country. That’s a pretty cool feeling! Late in my running career, I was also coaching a group when I was in the Army and realized it feels way cooler to be involved in others’ success rather than just feeling it for myself.
Consequently, it feels pretty crappy when they're not successful and I have to look in the mirror and ask what I did wrong. Though the worst part about coaching is the time it takes away from your family. I've missed some key times in my kids’ lives that I won’t get back. That’s hard. I didn’t get to see my kid ride a bicycle for the first time when we were in Austin. You have to have an incredibly independent spouse and one that understands what you're doing. But my kids and my wife are so important and I miss them often and really regret that.
Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥
The 2021 USATF tax filings report showed some staggering numbers as the nonprofit organization paid CEO Max Siegel $3.8 million. Adding a layer of intrigue, the USATF Annual Meeting begins this week, which is some of the best off-season entertainment a fan could find not behind a paywall. I have very mixed feelings about these figures because on one hand, it’s a lot of money. But on the other hand, I am in a constant state of petitioning for myself to be the next CEO. (USATF! I’m willing to do it for half pay!)
At the Hachioji meet in Japan, Emmanuel Kiplagat ran 27:07 to lead the deepest 10,000m ever as 24 athletes broke the 28-minute barrier in a single heat, and an additional ten did so too in other heats.
The North Carolina State cross-country team had a nice write-up in the New York Times celebrating and attributing their success to a culture of fun and long-term success. Always good to see the occasional positive article!
The three countries with the most athletes currently serving bans for doping are Russia (102), India (61), and Kenya (55). At the World Athletics council meeting this week there is a discussion regarding the status of the East African powerhouse and the possibility of sanctions. I don’t foresee anything that will negatively impact Kipchoge happening.
A week after sharing his retirement on Instagram, Olympian Hassan Mead has been suspended for three years following a doping violation for the substances ostarine and LGD-4033 in an out-of-competition test on October 17th, 2022. I have no idea what Hassan did or didn’t take prior to that date and during his career, so all I’ll add is that on June 25th of this year in Eugene, he and I had a conversation about his retirement and job search. That day I sent a text message with his number to a contact who was willing to help Hassan in that process saying, “Had a convo and he’s about to hang ‘em up.” (He spoke with Jonathan Gault.)
Get to know the New York City Marathon Champion in this behind the scenes look at Sharon Lokedi’s life.
For the first time in the 13 year history of NXN, traditional powerhouse Fayetteville Manlius will not be fielding a team at the meet, which they have won on 12 occasions (11 girls’ titles, and 1 boys’).
The Turkey Trot that got the most attention of all this week was in Troy, NY, and not necessarily for a good reason. This video of two runners colliding at the finish went viral following some questionable racing tactics.
Who do you think won the Alcobendas World Cross Country Tour in Spain this weekend? I know you want to say Thierry Ndikumwenayo, but you’d actually be wrong this week! Our man took a rest and so it was wide open for Burundi’s Rodrique Kwizera. And on the women’s side it was Lucy Mawia of Kenya who took home the W.
Jess Warner-Judd defended her British Cross Country title and Emile Cairess won his first. My guess is our friends across the pond are quite familiar with Cairess, but for the Americans, be on the lookout. This performance follows his big 1:00:12 from the Valencia Half in October and his trajectory is steep.
Julie-Anne Staehli followed up the Sugar Run 5k with another win as she and Connor Black won the Canadian Cross Country Championships in Ottawa, where there was surprisingly no snow on the ground.
What to Watch 📺
Taking place this Thursday, Sound Running’s FitnessBank Cross Champs in Austin, TX will feature all of your favorite pro-running groups like the OAC, Bowerman, Puma Elite, Hansons, Tinman, and more! Watch on RunnerSpace.com - 5:30pm ET.
IT’S TIME TO TAKE THIS RUNNING INSIDE! The indoor season officially kicks off at Boston University on Saturday with stacked fields chasing NCAA qualifying times using residual cross country fitness. Watch Saturday on Flotrack.
The best high school teams (and most individuals) in the country will battle at the NXN Championships. Watch on NikeCrossNationals.com at 1:05pm ET.
The California International Marathon is on Sunday in Sacramento. This race is historically a major proving ground for Olympic Trials Qualifiers and there are many hopefuls lining up at what will double as the USATF Marathon Championships. Watch on USATF.tv at 9:50am ET.
The Spanish speedway known as the Valencia Marathon is on Sunday. You can cheer for CJ Albertson (I think)here starting at 2:15am ET.
Thanks so much to VELOUS for sponsoring the newsletter! I got a number of emails from readers saying they bought a pair upon first hearing of the brand last week — that stuff doesn’t go unnoticed and is very much appreciated.
If you are in Austin for The Running Event, come say hello at the Puma booth on Wednesday for a live podcast recording with Molly Seidel at 3:30.