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Lap 82: Sponsored by Tracksmith
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No one beats Kipchoge, but Kipchoge! 🐐
Allow me to be the first to tell you that Eliud Kipchoge broke his own world record at the Berlin Marathon on Sunday. (Would love to know how The Lap Count reader who found this newsletter, but didn’t know this news found us.) The new mark of 2:01:09 eclipsed the 2:01:39 set on the same course in 2018, except it was quite clear he intended to go even faster.
The complicating factor of the INEOS 1:59 challenge is that it didn’t actually answer the questions surrounding the possibility of a sub-two-hour marathon. Getting an answer with an asterisk made for good entertainment and one helluva marketing campaign, though it wasn’t satisfying. Between that experiment and the street legal 69-seconds left, then the universal belief is that yes, it’s achievable.
Kipchoge spoke with humble confidence prior to the race, noting that he felt like he was in shape to run a personal best, which is a polite way to describe a record attempt. But when he came through the first half in 59:51, Kipchoge’s intentions were quite clear. And the second half is where the “problem” begins.
As Ethiopia’s Andamlak Belihu began to fade, Kipchoge was forced to face the truth all alone — no one else is as good as him, which is both a blessing and a curse. Having won 17 of his 19* marathons, the statistics alone tell the story of his dominance. But to run as fast as he hopes to, he’ll need more company than a lead motorcycle late in the race. There are only a few men in the world who on their very best days would have a prayer of having their presence felt. Perhaps we can reduce Lawrence Cherono’s drug suspension in exchange for a 40km pacing job?
All the previous notions that time shouldn’t matter and that the measurement of greatness should be done against the backdrop of competing and winning medals are suddenly being called into question. If Kipchoge’s yoda-like approach to racing and training has determined that breaking two hours in the marathon is the most important thing left for him to still do, then perhaps it is time to reevaluate my own values. While misdirected for a high schooler to obsess over variable 5k XC times, for the greatest to ever do it, this is nirvana.
As much as we’d all hope for Kipchoge to finish off his career with wins on the US circuit in New York and Boston, it’s just not as exciting to do something that so many others have already done. Or his contract has some insane time bonus.
Have you met Tigist Assefa? 😧
If you could be a world-class runner doing the 100m, would you ever consider moving up to the 400m? Let’s say you’re already at the Olympics — who wants to run more than they have to? Apparently Tigist Assefa!
The former Ethiopian middle distance standout has shocked the marathon world as she more than successfully made the jump from the roads to the track. With an 800m personal best of 1:59.24 from 2014, the 2016 Olympian made the move up and it is all paying off, quite literally.
With her win at the Berlin Marathon, Assefa’s 2:15:37 is now the third fastest marathon ever.
With no official results to show in 2017, and just a bad road race from 2018, the first sign of promise that Assefa could make the ascension was in 2019, when she ran 31:45 for a 10K in Germany and a 1:08:24 half marathon in Valencia. Then following two more years off the grid, she returned to the limelight this year running three consecutive 10K personal bests, and winning the adizero Road to Records half marathon in 1:07:28.
As she entered the race with plans to run 2:18, it would still be some level of ambition given her previous marks. I’m not really considering her official marathon debut – a 2:34:01 that she ran coming off injury/sickness. After coming through the halfway point in 1:08:13, she kept it rolling and pulled away from the field and into the history books with an epic 1:07:24 second half.
This trajectory is quite marvelous – was Assefa ever actually an 800 runner? Or was she a marathoner this whole time that happened to have success at a shorter distance and therefore was delayed into eventually moving up to her true calling. Imagine if Athing Mu is also actually a marathoner!
Surely the skeptics will want to know more about her story, as right now there is very little information that I could find scouring the internet. Admittedly, disappearing for a few years and reemerging as one of the best marathoners in the world is suspicious and it is understandable to want a few questions answered. However, running 1:59 as a 20-year-old is demonstrative of immense talent and although Assefa is the first athlete to run sub-2:00 and sub-2:20, this isn’t the first case of a talented middle-distance runner finding success in the longer races.
In North American news, Keira D’Amato had this one circled on the calendar as a possible assault on her own record. There should never be an ounce of disappointment that a 37-year-old mother of two, who works full-time, and took a 10+ year hiatus from the sport only ran 2:21:48 to finish 6th at a World Marathon Major. That time is still the sixth-fastest by an American woman in the last decade.
This might as well have been a Masters event with all the standout performances by those old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall. Canada’s national record fell at the hands of 40-year-old Natasha Wodak, who finished in 2:23:12 for 12th place.
And lead you through the streets of London
The London Marathon will be held in the fall for the third consecutive year due to the pandemic and race organizers emptied the bank to attract some of the biggest stars not named Eliud Kipchoge.
If you have a buddy who hasn’t watched track since 2011 but want him to get into it again, maybe tell him that Kenenisa Bekele and Mo Farah will be going head-to-head in a marathon to see if that does the trick. Bekele, the second-fastest man of all-time at 26.2, is running his first marathon of the year after pulling out of this spring’s Boston Marathon. Last fall, he finished 3rd in Berlin (2:06:47) and 6th in New York (2:12:52) so we’ll see what form he’s in a 40 years old. Farah failed to qualify for last year’s Tokyo Olympics on the track and contemplated retirement before signing up for this year’s race. It’s his first marathon since finishing 8th at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. Both guys may not be favorites for the win as Olympic bronze medalist Abdi Bashir (who took down Farah’s European record and has a 2:03:36 personal best) is entered along with Ethiopian studs Birhanu Legese (2:02:48 PB) and Sisay Lemma (2:03:36 PB).
I’m more excited to see Joyciline Jepkosgei defend her title on the women’s side after running 2:17:43 last year, which is the 7th-fastest performance ever. It won’t be easy since she’s up against an Ethiopian trio that headed by Yalemzerf Yehualaw, who moved just ahead of Jepkosgei on the all-time list with a 2:17:23 in her marathon debut in Hamburg. Her compatriots Degitu Azimeraw and Ashete Bekere were second and third last year, respectively. (World record holder Brigid Kosgei withdrew from the race on Monday due to a minor hamstring injury). Women’s marathoning is at an all-time high and Jepkosgei can make a big statement on her place among the best on Sunday.
NYC Marathon Training - Vol. 5
Hitting the reset button and starting the rebuild of fitness from scratch (or the closest I’ve come to “scratch” since starting out in the sport more than half my life ago) has meant that each week, the usually marginal gains in fitness have actually been quite apparent. Splits that I’d have been thrilled with a couple weeks earlier quickly feel outdated. I’m constantly having to redefine what constitutes a good session.
Having coached a number of amateur runners the past few years, I’ve witnessed this phenomenon from afar. But now, experiencing it personally, these tangible improvements are addicting — and why my goals for the New York City Marathon have continued to evolve since first convincing myself to sign up at the beginning of summer.
Simply put, running tends to be the most fun when you can see that the work being put in leads to clear results on the other end — a concept that is not always so black and white when competing as a professional.
This past week of training, however, marked the first time that I felt some degree of stagnation during this block. Following my marathon-lengthed long run, I thought it would be wise to take a couple of easy days, although I was pleasantly shocked at how good my legs felt the next day. For all the hoopla surrounding the updated shoe technology and how it basically gives you springs for legs on race day— something I just narrowly missed the boat on during my career… please put this on my tombstone someday — the widely held assumption is that the greatest impact comes from the reduction in pounding. Suddenly the body can bounce back faster from harder efforts quicker and the overall volume of quality work can skyrocket.
That’s how most performance-enhancing drugs work. It’s not that they directly make you faster. But they allow you to handle a higher and more dense workload while aiding recovery. That’s why it’s always a red flag when an athlete is working out 5 times a week and balancing absurd mileage without getting hurt…
ANYWAY! Between the 2:40 long run, a busy week at work, and a Friday flight to Ireland, I pushed this past week’s main workout back to Thursday. The plan was to run a ladder of 4 - 3 - 2 -1 with a 2 minutes jog between each, starting at 5:20 pace and working down. It was an ominous start to the morning with multiple trips to the bathroom and a storm passing through, but with a rare 90-minute block cleared in the schedule to get it done, I was committed.
Three miles into the workout I started making compromises. My stomach was twisting and although I was flying a few seconds under pace, things were not happening organically. Rather than call the thing off entirely, I negotiated with myself and was determined to just get 10 miles in of work at 5:20 pace. If that meant the reps had to be cut short or rest added, that’d be fine.
As soon as the pressure to nail the session was removed, things began to turn. It never felt easy, but I got through it knowing that a day like this one probably prepares me better for the unpredictability of a first marathon more so than when I am firing on all cylinders. My final splits were: 4 @ 5:17 - 3 @ 5:13 - 2 @ 5:05 - 1 @ 5:05. As my buddy quipped on Strava after, I shouldn’t be allowed to complain so much if I am still hitting my times. But the watch only tells part of the story, and this felt like shit.
A few hours later as my body started to unravel a bit, I felt increasingly more positive about things. Laoise starting daycare has tested all of our immune systems, and I caught a mild viral bug. With body aches and a sore throat, I was of course worried that it was the onset of Covid, but 24 hours later I was on the up and up.
As the Friday workday wound down, I threw on the ol’ out-of-office and was ready to tackle the challenge of taking a 10-month old on her first flight. After sitting in two hours of traffic and parking in a lot miles away, Laoise had a full on blowout waiting to get through airport security. Immediately upon giving her a clean diaper and an outfit swap, we received news that the flight was canceled with a rebooking set for the next night. Following a short mental breakdown, we took the trip in reverse, but with a quick pit stop at Wendy's for sustenance. Miraculously, we made it home by midnight.
If there was one positive to the whole thing, it was that we’d be able to attend a first birthday party with our friends and I could get a decent weekend run in. So on Saturday morning, I set out with no set route, pace or time in mind. There are a lot of beautiful places to run in the greater New York area, but there are few things in life I’d champion more than running in Rockefeller State Park during the fall. Living a mile from the perimeter has certainly been a blessing and by no means an accident. But it’s not a place you want to adventure unless there is life in your legs — the hills are brutal! I ended up doing a 17-mile loop, which as a guy training for the marathon, I will henceforth refer to as a medium-long run.
That night, our 8:30pm scheduled flight finally left the runway shortly after 1am. By the time we arrived in Tipperary the next day after 4:30pm, it felt like my first day off in months was well-deserved. Historically, I have operated as someone who prefers jogging a slow thirty minutes as opposed to completely resting. This has been rationalized with the questionable belief that some blood flow helps flush the junk out. The truth is that even in retirement, with absolutely nothing on the line, I am still a psychopath who operates under the Kantian maxim of “no days off.”
As we speak, I am sitting in a Kilkenny pub mooching off their wi-fi and having what the lads call a sneaky pint. This is part of my mental preparation for the beginning of Irish training camp.
The Victory Lap: Luis Grijalva 🏆
The following interview is an excerpt from this week’s Victory Lap — our premium newsletter hosted by Mac Fleet, which passes all proceeds on to the athletes whose stories we share. It’s our creative way of raising money.
This week we were joined by Luis Grijalva, the former Northern Arizona University standout who finished 4th at this year’s World Championships and ran 13:02.94 for 5000m. He chats with us about the keys to his breakout season and how to manage racing against the world’s best. In addition, Luis also talks about the process of being a DREAMer and the hoops he has to jump through to be able to compete internationally.
So you end the season with a fourth place at Worlds and a 13:02 5000m pb – is it too early to talk about next year?
I think we’re going to kind of go with the flow, you know, take it day-by-day instead of focusing a couple of months in advance. Obviously, that was the biggest thing the whole year, Worlds, but you always want to do better, and be more competitive.
I gained a lot of confidence from that — you know, when you had a good day at these big-time races — but I’m also still learning when to really race. Like, you want to run fast and that's really exciting, and that's part of the sport. You want to run fast, you want to be in the race, but you also want to learn how to compete in these championship races because it’s different.
And I think for me right now, competing in championship races is way more important than time trialing because realistically, a lot of people can time trial, but how many can race when it matters? You kind of saw it at Worlds, with the 15 guys that made the final, there were six guys with 5000m PBs under 12:50, and all but four guys had broken 13:00 — me and Abdi [Nur] being two of those four.
Time trialing didn’t matter in that race. Racing mattered. And I think being a part of NAU and being coached by Mike Smith, we’ve learned how to compete when it really matters and compete on the biggest stages and perform in the biggest races. But it still takes some time to kind of figure that out.
How has your relationship changed with Coach Smith since you first got to NAU?
The relationship is pretty special. I think we have a special thing going on. You know, he was recruiting me when I was 17 years old coming out of high school. We just passed the five-year mark. He’s seen me at my worst and at my best. And I always look up to him as an amazing coach, but he’s more than that — he’s kind of a mentor, kind of a friend. I always trust and rely on him and I always ask him for advice when I really need. It’s a great thing.
He always challenges his athletes to be better people, to do the right thing. He’s really patient with us. And he was really patient with me in particular. It took a long time for me to kind of grow up, but he was always there whenever I needed him. And I think now, our relationship is a little bit different from, you know, being in college. I think we’re a little bit closer.
It’s pretty special to think that I showed up five years ago and the things we’ve accomplished together and worked towards since.
Let’s talk a little bit about another guy you’ve been with for a lot of this journey. How has it been sharing the last couple of years, but more specifically this season, with Abdi as you guys have progressed through the sport?
The cool thing is that it’s not like we just joined a pro group together, we’ve been here. He’s one of my best friends. We’re even roommates and just kind of share the daily work we put in. We can say whatever we want to each other. We can bicker and argue over splits or paces, talk shit to each other during workouts, but it’s never personal and when the work is done, we’re back to joking around.
He’s really like a brother and it’s amazing we get to do this together. We’ve gotten to travel around the world, see and experience a ton of things. I think that just shows how much we’re on the same page, not having our egos get in the way but knowing that if we work together we can go do anything.
(You can subscribe to The Victory Lap to read the full interview and receive a weekly interview in your inbox with all proceeds going to support elite athletes.)
Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥
Deena Kastor, arguably one of the greatest American runners of all-time, continues to build her resume now as a Masters athlete running 2:45:12 in Berlin. She now joins an exclusive club of individuals who have run all World Marathon Majors, the Olympics and Worlds. As someone who values longevity, things like this need to be factored more into GOAT talk — she made Footlocker as a freshman for Godsakes!
Molly Huddle has lined back up, and our reports in the field have shared that her baby is very cute in-person. She ran 33:58 at the Lone Gull 10k in Gloucester, MA for third as Regan Rone won in 33:42.
The UVA won the Battle in Beantown with a dominant 20-point victory on the men’s side and 27-points on the women’s.
Emma Coburn’s Elk Run 5k to raise money for Living Journeys was on this weekend in Crested Butte. Dom Scott (17:29) won the women’s race and Connor Winter (15:06) the men’s, which is held almost 9000 feet in the sky.
Erin Gregoire, who was not added to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials field despite running 2:42:55 (under the 2:45:00 OTQ) because of the difference between her chip time and gun time, hit the 2024 qualifying time with a 2:36:21 finish in Berlin. Fellow Columbia Lion, Brendan Martin (2:16:02) also got his time, and Mike Sayenko was the top American (2:15:33). And shoutout to Josh Kalapos for hitting the qualifying time on the nose, going 2:18:00 for a nine-minute best. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 2019 with a 14:33 5k PB.
Garrett Heath won the USATF Half Marathon Trail Running Championship in 1:13:44. Anna Dalton took the women’s title in 1:30:17.
Natalie Cook is making an instant impact as a freshman at Oklahoma State. She led the Cowgirls to a victory at the Cowboy Jamboree by winning in 20:17.1 for 6K.
Alex Maeir made it a home team sweep on the men’s side, but BYU had the strength through seven as they won the meet with 75 points over Stanford, NAU, and Oklahoma State.
Albania, Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkey and Uzbekistan are officially on the World Athletics Competition Manipulation Watch List.