Hopping into the rabbit debate⏱
Lap 104: Sponsored by New Balance
The CITIUS MAG team is heading back to The TRACK at New Balance next week! The 2023 New Balance Nationals Indoors will be held March 9-12. It is not just a competition, but a celebration of excellence in high school track and field.
It's a chance for the top athletes from around the country to showcase their talent, hard work, and dedication in front of some of the best athletes in the world. Jake Wightman, Trayvon Bromell, Emma Coburn, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, and more New Balance professionals will be in the house to see the next generation of up-and-comers, which includes – Rocky Hansen, Sadie Engelhardt, Shawnti Jackson, Nyckoles Harbor, Aaron Sahlman, Avery Lewis and so many more rising stars.
It would not be the national meet without the best athletes in the country and New Balance Nationals Indoors has them!
Madrid - I guess that is racing? 🇪🇸
The World Indoor Tour made a stop in Madrid last week, and there was rightfully a lot of hype going in. The primary recipient of all that attention was Yared Nuguse and his recently set American Records in the 3000m and mile. Fair or not, every time he steps on the track now, people will forever expect fireworks. Add in Mohammed Katir – who had dipped under the previous 3000m World Record in Liévin (but was beaten to the line) – and this was billed as a potential opportunity for Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s 1500m world indoor record of 3:30.60 to go down.
Through no fault of our golden boy, Erik Sowinski, the race got off to a horrible start. Organizers lined up Nuguse, Katir, Grant Fisher, and Mario Garcia Romo in the middle, and they were subjected to a game of roller derby for the first 25 meters of the race. Despite having to navigate his way around traffic, Nuguse eventually found his way to the front and was brought through 409 meters in 54-high.
There’s a reason I’ve always preferred the 1500 outdoors and the mile indoors. That long 100m straightaway allows everyone to find their spot without coming to a standstill, even if that spot is in last. And in the indoor mile, that extra 9 meters surprisingly makes a difference. The decision to not put the best guys on the outside in Madrid, or to use a one-turn stagger was…staggering.
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Anyway! It wasn’t the most effortless first quarter and any real chance at a sub-3:30 clocking had evaporated once Nuguse found himself alone up front. But with time out the window, he was able to make the mental shift to focusing on the win, allowing Katir to take the lead, before reattaching and readying himself for a big kick. Any critic who argues that Nuguse is a time trial darling and not a racer was silenced in the last 100m when he made the pass to take it in 3:33.69.
I am fully on the team arguing that head-to-head match-ups should be the focus of the sport. Every race doesn’t need to be a record attempt or have a rabbit, and I am fully on board with Diamond League races moving toward that format. But once you put a pacer in the field with lights, then it’s clear the objective is to go fast, which doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t also be a race. There was enough talent to support both here.
Lessons from Birmingham ✍️
The British athletes sure turned out for their fans in Birmingham. The day started out with a bang as Dina Asher-Smith lowered her own national record during the heats, running 7.03 for 60m. Then in the 1500, Neil Gourley rode the wake behind Josh Kerr to take the record from his fellow Scotsman, winning in 3:32.48. But all of that was the appetizer for the main course – two of the country’s biggest stars attempting to break a world record…
Well, it was two separate records, actually. Just 18 minutes apart on the schedule, the two final events in the program highlighted the two best middle distance runners in the United Kingdom, racing the clock. First up was Laura Muir in the 1000m. The Olympic silver boasts an outdoor personal best of 2:30.82, and the goal was 2:30.94. Coming through the 600m in 1:29, she looked poised to do it, but when the rabbit stepped off the pace slipped away and she finished in 2:34.53.
Next was Keely Hodgkinson in the 800m, another Olympic silver medalist. With an outdoor personal best of 1:55.88, Hodgkinson was targeting 1:55.82. Coming through 400m in 57, she also looked poised to do it, but again when the rabbit stepped off the pace slipped away and she finished in 1:57.18. She still bested her own National record, but the disappointment on her face was evident.
Do you see a theme?
Both athletes are supremely talented and full of fitness, but like riding a seesaw some things are tough to do alone. Next time out, let’s split the difference, make it a 900m, and put the two stars in the same race. That’d definitely be a world record.
You can change the rules?
While there may be some aspects of the Birmingham schedule worth disagreeing with, there is one thing this meet got 100% right: its length. The good stuff was all squeezed into a 95-minute window, which is the doctor-recommended, most digestible amount of track consumption. I’m still trying to spend time with my family on Saturday! I can’t spend the whole day waiting for the 55th section of the boy’s 200m to finish up, just because I want to see Marquis Dendy long jump 8.28m in a ski mask and bucket hat for his farthest mark in five years.
Baseball has implemented a number of rules in 2023 to help speed up the game. The current average play time in a season of 162 games is 3 hours and 6 minutes and the average TikTok video is 12 seconds, so MLB recognized there was a slight problem. To try and remain competitive with other sports by speeding things up and increasing the offense, pro baseball will now:
Make bases bigger
Do away with the shift rule
Put in a pitch clock
Penalize batters for delaying
If you have tried to have a conversation with anyone with even the slightest bit of interest in sabermetrics then not only do you know how difficult it is to stay awake, but you understand that baseball is a game entrenched and swallowed by its own history. Sound familiar?
If the NBA can add a three-point line and shot clock; if the NHL can move the blue lines and reduce the size of pads; if the NFL can make up completely new rules every single year; then so can athletics. Let’s not worry about how fast Jesse Owens would have run in today’s spikes, or if it’d be controversial to relegate the events with the least fanfare. If we continue to push against reform then pretty soon we’ll blink and pickleball will have usurped us in ratings.
In partnership with Velous
VELOUS, the active recovery footwear brand designed to help you Restore, Revive and Reenergize before and after you train, is launching 2 new styles to their recovery mix. Launching March 6th. The Hoya Slide, with an adjustable upper for a custom fit that can also work with or without socks. And the Skyline, a full lace-up recovery shoe you can wear all day every day to and from the track, the gym and throughout your day.
VELOUS’s Active Recovery solution helps your feet, ankles, knees, and legs recover from your training through a three-part, patent-pending Tri-Motion Technology solution and proprietary foam formula. It adapts to the gait pattern of the user, providing optimum cushioning in the heel, with additional support through the arch area and added flexibility at toe off.
Enjoy a 20% discount by entering the code: CITIUSMAG20 at checkout.
Mondo does it again! 🇸🇪
6.22m — Sweden is so lucky they have Mondo Duplantis on its team. Could the United States put together a trade package of future second round draft picks, a couple of bronze medalist swimmers, and cash considerations to get him back before the Olympics?
His newest mark was achieved at the All Star Perche in Clermont-Ferrand, France, the hometown of the former world record holder, the meet director, and long-time mentor to the now best to ever do it, Renaud Lavillenie. The Frenchman was the first to run onto the mats to embrace Mondo, and their relationship has been one of the best subplots of Mondo increasingly reaching new heights.
Lavillenie cleared 6.16m in 2014, but since February 2020, Mondo has added a single centimeter to that mark on six different occasions. When you realize there is a freak of nature sneaking up on the runway behind you, then the best thing to do is pass him the proverbial 17 foot long torch and be supportive along the way.
Collegiate 400m running 📈
Only in America would we consider leaving three global championships without a medal in the 400m a draught, but that’s what we’ve dealt with since the 2018 World Outdoor Championships, and it’s tough to sleep at night. Well, fear no more friends because the University of Florida’s Talitha Diggs is here!
Her run of 50.15 at the SEC meet was not only good enough to win a college conference title, but it was also the American Record. The previous best was from when Kendall Ellis beat out Sydney McLaughlin at the 2018 NCAA championships (not head-to-head).
In 2022, as a 19-year-old, Talitha won the indoor and outdoor NCAA titles, and then went on to win USATF Outdoors to qualify for the World Championships. Although she narrowly missed making the final, Diggs won a gold medal as a member of the 4x400. Now with an additional year of experience and strength under her belt, Diggs is set up well to make another late postseason run. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because her mother, Joetta Clarks Diggs is a four-time Olympian at 800m. But she never ran this fast in a quarter!
And in the same meet on the men’s side, Georgia’s Elija Godwin ran 44.75 – the fastest time in the world this year. After qualifying for the Mixed Relay at the Olympics and then winning two medals on the relays at the World Championships, Godwin’s story received some attention. But after this weekend’s performance, the incredible story of his 2019 accident has resurfaced and gone viral. In 2019, he was impaled by a javelin during practice and almost lost his life as a result. Now, with his signature late-race shuffling stride, he is on his way to the next level.
More credit to the rabbits 🐰
It is rare that the rabbit gets much attention, despite being the subject of every fringe fan’s first question while watching a race, and much of this week’s newsletter. That’s why it’s so exciting that The New York Times had a nice write-up on the man who has become synonymous with the job, Erik Sowinski. Despite an impressive resume that includes 166 sub-1:48s, a personal best of 1:44.58, and a World Indoor bronze medal, he is currently best known for his work as the pacesetter every top athlete, agent, and meet director turns to when a fast time is desired.
Being a good rabbit isn’t just about knowing the pace. (Although Sowinski is definitely excellent at that!) With pacing lights now lining the inside of many tracks, that’s the “easy” part. What Sowinski does better than anyone is arriving at his target destination with the pack in tow.
You weren’t exactly a successful rabbit if you finished your assignment on-time, but without a single competitor on your heels! There are plenty of 400/800-types who can comfortably hit the end split Erik does, but how many of them – cursed with too much fast twitch muscle fiber or jittery with nerves – lope to a 15-meter gap on the field in the opening 200 then allow the pace to lag as everyone catches back up?
There are nuances to pacing that ought to be taught on the bunny hill. For example, take the first 50 meters out too hard, and suddenly an insurmountable gap has formed. It’s best to run parallel to the field – allowing them to sort positioning out – and then slide in before the second turn once tempo has been established. Then sometimes people fall off after being attached! What do you do in response? As pointed out here, Erik knows what to do without disrupting the rhythm. The most crucial part of the job comes moments before stepping off. Top-tier rabbits wind up the pace for the athletes who are following, which helps minimize the possibility of it immediately slowing down when they’re left to their own devices. And then it’s also a matter of not tripping anyone!
Once in a blue moon, there is a race that gets set up perfectly and even the tenth-place finisher runs a personal best. Fans keep attributing the revolution of fast times the past couple of years to super shoes or faster tracks or double threshold-style training. But no one has recognized that the timing of it all also lines up perfectly with Erik Sowinski’s personal renaissance as a pacer. There is infinite value to having someone who is capable of being in the race themselves fall on the sword.
We’ve long seen that with male pacers elite female road running prospers and I think we should take things one step further. Why not let professional rabbits cheat? Like, Sowinski can cruise the first 1000m of a world record-pace 1500m, but with modern science, I think there’s another 300m we could probably tap into. Alternatively, what if when athletes get busted we allow them to reduce their sentence if they do “community service” by helping to pace a certain number of events? Who cares if the dude who is committing seppuku at the front of the race was jeopardizing his long-term health? He’s paying it forward with honor!
While on the topic, here is a bright idea I had that doesn’t fit in any other section of this week’s newsletter! If a world record is achieved that sets off a bunch of red flags and has everyone suspicious of its legitimacy, then the athlete should then prove they did it without cheating by openly doping the following year. If they can’t run faster it’d be quite obvious that they were previously under the influence. But if for example, Usain Bolt stepped out in 2010 and ran 9.48, then the debate would be over, right? We’d know for eternity that 9.58 was done clean.
(If the cops are reading this, or if my candidacy to be named the next President of World Athletics in the year 2050 is under consideration, then please understand that for legal purposes, this is a joke.)
Tip your bartenders and pay your coaches
Much is made of how little professional athletes get paid, which makes sense – they are the ones in the spotlight and with the social media followers. But if you want to stay in this sport as a career, then there aren’t many options as ubiquitous as coaching, and let me tell you… the pay there can really suck, too.
When you are 19 years old and Googling what a derivative is the night before your calculus exam, then spending every weekend for the rest of your life hanging out with teenagers on long bus rides seems like a nice alternative.
And while we all sit around waiting to be named the new head of the next On Athletics Club, the majority of us didn’t have a cool nickname like the Big Mazungo and are shit out of luck. Going from volunteer assistant coach at your alma mater to director of a Big XII school requires a journey that cuts through more states and carries a higher chance of dysentery than trekking the Oregon Trail, but that’s generally what it takes. Still, for many, the transition into coaching is not a choice, but a vocation.
Reading about the move by Athletics Ireland to start paying ten of their top coaches $80,000 a year – split equally amongst them – actually makes the NCAA look quite generous in its wages. From an outsider’s perspective, an annual payment of $8,000 might not be worth much, but there’s significant gratitude from the selected coaches and athletes for this grant. It’s the first step towards professionalizing a job that requires an incredible amount of time and effort. Between the cost of petrol and the distance driven to get on the few tracks available for use in Ireland, this is only a drop in the bucket, but it’s a start!
When I first came out of college, I paid my coaches $100/per month for their services – an absolute bargain to be yelled at by one of the legends of the sport. Once I was on contract and had a salary, that got upped to a few thousand dollars. Not every shoe company bakes that payment into their athletes’ compensation package, but they all should. Some coaches may take a percentage of earnings, or get paid directly by a brand if there is a team contract.
Among the many reasons that the United States is a destination for pro athletes from all over the world is that we have the most consumers ready to be marketed to and the highest average wage (about $70K) in the world. It makes sense for shoe companies to invest their resources in terms of contracts and training groups here.
However, we have something else going for us: the college system, which includes housing, training facilities, equipment, physical therapists, travel, a side of education, and yes, coaches that are paid actual money to coach – even if it’s not always much. In an ideal world, talented runners shouldn’t have to make the decision to leave their families to pursue the sport at its highest level if they don’t want to. As a former Irish junior champion, my wife made that choice to matriculate to Stony Brook University without ever having been on campus. I am glad she did or we wouldn’t have met, but I am not sure if I would have been able to do the same thing in her position (re: marry me!).
Acting in a supporting role can be a thankless job, and it’s not one that I envy. So while we may scoff at $8,000, there is a long list of coaches outside of the United States who are doing it for free. That’s much too low of a price to deal with some of the bullshit that we put them through.
There’s not an obvious answer here, especially since what I’m hoping for is higher pay for coaches all over the world, under different governing bodies, and within wildly disparate economic circumstances. So while athletes certainly deserve a raise, they’re not the only ones.
Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥
Allie Ostrander has once again returned to the world of professional running as she signs a contract with NNormal, which was co-founded by the ultrarunner, Killian Jornet. If you aren’t familiar with the brand, now you are, and that’s why brands sponsor athletes.
98-year-old Betty Lindberg ran the Publix Atlanta 5K in 59 minutes and 6 seconds to win her age group at the USATF Masters 5K Championships. The video of her crossing the finish line has received 3M views and counting on the CITIUS MAG TikTok.
Gudaf Tsegay ran 8:16.69 in Birmingham to miss the previous 3000m World Record of 8:16.60 by a blink of an eye. Fortunately, everyone she beat was even further off the record.
At the USATF Half Marathon Championships in Fort Worth, Aliphine Tuliamuk won in 69:37, fourteen seconds ahead of NAZ Elite teammate, Lauren Paquette. And on the men’s side, Jacob Thomson was the victor in a four-way kick running 62:38 to earn his first national title as throngs of high school kids across the country celebrate that their coach might actually know what he’s doing.
Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala clocked a 9.81 second 100m in Kenya a few days after running a world-leading 9.86 seconds. After the race, he said, ‘the level of fitness I have so far is so good that nobody can beat me.' Detractors say it’s February and time will tell!
Asics orchestrated the Fred Kerley announcement perfectly, lining it up with the opening of his season at the Maurie Plant Invitational in Melbourne. Into a headwind and with 30m worth of celebration, the World Champion ran 20.32 to much fanfare.
The mile in Australia was won by local podcast hero Ollie Hoare in 3:52.24, but the most notable performance was by third-place finisher. If you don’t know the name Cameron Myers, you might wanna learn it. He ran 3:55.24 at 16 years old to break Jakob Inbgebrigtsen’s age group record. When I was his age my biggest accomplishment was sprouting a single chest hair.
It’s unclear which of the two sections of the BU Last Chance Mile should be referred to as the fast heat. Henry Wynne beat a field of pros that included Cooper Teare in 3:52.51, whereas Geordie Beamish unleashed a textbook last 200m to beat the entire University of Washington team in 3:51.22. His time just missed the Kiwi national record and the Olympic standard.
Following flight issues to Birmingham, Sinclaire Johnson called an audible and flew to Boston instead to run a huge personal best of 8:37.83. We’ve always known she is fast, and now she is strong, but it’s the way she looked!
35 men broke 2:10 at the Osaka Marathon with Hailemaryam Kiros of Ethiopia the fastest of the bunch at 2:06:01. His countrywoman Helen Bekele was the top woman in 2:22:16.
Around CITIUS MAG: My colleague Dana Giordano just launched the More Than Running newsletter. And if you weren’t already impressed by her pentathlon at USA’s then you need to experience A Day In The Life of Anna Hall.
What to Watch 📺
European Indoors - March 2nd to 5th - Schedule - AllAthletics.tv
USATF 15K Championships - Saturday, March 4th at 7:45am ET - RunnerSpace+ Subscription
The TEN - Saturday, March 4th at 9:15pm ET; Fast Sections at 11:50pm ET - SoundRunning.run (PPV $5.99) - INFO
Tokyo Marathon - Saturday, March 4th at 7:10pm ET - Flotrack Subscription
Thank you so much to New Balance for sponsoring this week’s newsletter! I am counting down the days until we are back at the TRACK deciding and celebrating the fastest high school runners in the country.