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Lap 97: Sponsored by OLIPOP
As a Man of Moderation, I’m not doing Dry January as much as I am trying out a Drier January. The holiday season was a little bit more damp than I had planned on, so to cut back a bit I’ve been replacing my post-run shower beer with a post-run OLIPOP. And my gut is loving it.
Every can contains 9 grams of prebiotic fiber from chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, and cassava root, and I like that I’m not just subtracting booze from my routine, I’m adding something positive for my healthy gut bacteria to feast on. Join me by starting 2023 on a positive note by actually stretching, doing occasional core work, and drinking healthier options while shaving our legs in the tub.
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The Paris 2024 Olympic Schedule
The Olympic schedule has been released and this should be plenty of time for all you Type-A planners out there to book your flights and start putting together your travel spreadsheets.
The good news is that they cut a day out of the schedule, at least on the track. In Tokyo and Eugene, it was ten straight days in the stadium and now it’s down to nine-ish (just like Budapest). The race walk is referred to as Day 0, which I think is offensive, but it honestly might just be a first-floor-in-Europe-is-floor-zero, type thing. The worst draw is for the women’s marathon, which is on Day 10. Those poor marathoners will be walking out of the hotel lobby for the race of their lives while all the other athletes are walking back in from a final night of Olympic-caliber revelry.
Having attended the entirety of a championship for the first time this past year, while incredibly fun, it sort of feels like you’re Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day after about 72 hours. Paris ought to be an improvement, but I dream of a schedule that is six or seven days. That would make it possible for fans to realistically take a week off of work and spend all of their money to actually see everything.
There has to be a balance though, because athletes need to rest and there needs to be enough time in the schedule for the stars to possibly double. In the case of Sydney McLaughlin, she could conceivably run just about every day and come away with four (gold?) medals. But all the major and obvious ones are feasible like the 100/200; 800/1500; 1500/5000; 5000/10,000; and LJ/TJ.
Taking a look at this schedule has me excited, but it is also a painful reminder that we are apparently going forward with repechage heats. For those who don’t have a dictionary handy, they are the loser rounds – a second chance for those knocked out in the preliminaries to get into the semi-finals. As if any individual who didn’t make it out of the easiest round will really be a factor in the more difficult one, after having to run an extra race.
Hopefully, the Olympic schedule is not set in stone so that once the repechage experiment flops in Budapest they can reconfigure it in Paris. I am sure the television networks reading this newsletter are open to suggestions!
Strength vs. Speed 💪⚡️
Every time a race is loading up for the final sprint the commentators will naturally resort to sharing the contending athletes’ personal bests in shorter events. (Surely one’s hand-timed quarter-mile split from a 4x400 in high school will be the most relevant reference point during the last 200 meters of a marathon.)
Well, the British Milers Club meet in Sheffield this past week, we may have finally put that notion to rest. It was a race that was basically a thought experiment about two polar opposite athlete archetypes meeting in the middle to compete in an event that no one likes running — the 3000m. The combatants – neither of whom won BBC’s Sportsperson of the year – were Jake Wightman and Phil Sesemann.
Wightman is the reigning 1500m World Champion and has an 800m personal best of 1:43.65. But he cited his newfound strength as one of the main reasons he was able to pull off the victory in Eugene, and in retrospect his 7:37 at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix foreshadowed the breakout season.
Then we have Phil Sesemann, the doctor who has two dogs named Haile and Kipchoge as training partners. With a couple of 2:12 marathons to his name, he probably arrived on the final straightaway of this weekend’s race with a slightly different training plan than Jake.
But despite the apparent disadvantage he faced fast-twitch-fiber-wise in the final meters, Phil was able to maintain his composure and overtake the on-paper favorite to win 7:54.34 to 7:54.58.
Upset and all, minus some minor scratches from the fall, there should be no bruised ego for Wightman. After all, his winning season began with a close loss in the 3000m at the same meet one year before. But there should be tremendous appreciation for all athletes – especially those with major targets on their backs – to not dodge competition just because they’re not in championship form. Raw dogging a race is part of getting fit!
If there is one thing we should all “sell” in 2023, it’s avoiding early-season races in favor of training until you’re 100% confident you’re in top form. These races are part of the process, and ultimately, it’s the championships that matter. And with that said, I’d still put my money on Wightman over Sesemann in a 1500 come August… and so would Phil.
Campaccio Cross Country 🇮🇹
When we finally got a World Athletics Cross Country Gold meet in the United States, there were a lot of comments from athletes, coaches, and fans about the course. Well if you had any bones to pick with the meet in Austin, Texas, watch the finish of the Campaccio in San Giorgio su Legnano in Italy, and tell me it doesn’t look familiar! We were in good company!
These sorts of courses are more or less tradition in this series, and that’s saying something. This meet has been around since 1957 and its name roughly translates to ‘uncultivated field.’ Athletes like Kipchoge, Bekele, and Farah have run loops around these soccer fields, and onto this very track, and if it’s good enough for them, who are we to complain? Only one American has had the honor of breaking the tape here and that was Dathan Ritzenhein – might explain why the OAC did alright in Austin, right? Maybe others have cultivated too delicate of a palette? Is it time I start a weekly column here inciting a moral panic about how American harriers are growing SOFT and CODDLED by the NANNY STATE (perfectly manicured, speedway-style grass courses)?
Although his finish-line defense may have been questionably flagged as roughing the passer, Rodrigue Kwizera continued his hot streak to win a fourth gold label meet this season. He was 11th at the World Cross Country Championships in 2019, and is seemingly in a great position to finish well this year, but we still haven’t seen him square up against any of the favorites.
On the women’s side, there’s a name that you are going to want to etch into your hippocampus: Rahel Daniel of Eritrea. Now 21 years old, Daniel was fifth at the World Championships 10,000m and holds national records of 14:36 and 30:12. It doesn’t take a statistician to notice the trend line in her performances – all of her personal bests have improved by minutes over the past two years. That’s the sort of improvement you’d really only expect from the sophomore on your high school team who spent every easy run their freshman year hiding in the woods or debilitated by shin splints.
Elgoibar Cross Country 🇪🇸
Another week, another awesome Spanish cross country race that at least one fast athlete from the United States should have attended. It feels like I deserve some sort of unofficial ambassadorship at this point, even if I haven’t successfully persuaded any of our top-tier distance specialists to take the muddy plunge. The Juan Muguerza Cross Country Race in Elgoibar took place this weekend, and with an origin story dating back to 1943, it’s one of the classics.
Juan Muguerza, who hailed from Elgoibar, was a 1920 Olympian with personal bests of 4:18 for 1500m and 16:13 for 5000m. (Before I start bemoaning being born in the wrong era and country, I remember how my grandfather had to sneak onto a plane for seven days to escape Franco. And unfortunately other guys like Muguerza were killed in bombings during the Spanish Civil War.) This race was created in his honor.
The men’s 10.8k race featured Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega, the Olympic 10,000m champion, and 12:56 man Birhanu Balew from Bahrain. After Barega won the race by 13 seconds, he shared that he likely would be skipping the World Cross Country meet in favor of an indoor season, where he was 5th in 2019. An ongoing theme seems to be that as a result of the long travel to Australia, many athletes are doing either/or.
The women’s 7.6k race was quite deep as well, with representation by 8:56 steeplechaser Winfred Yavi, two-time World Championship medalist Margaret Kipkemboi, Francine Niyonsaba, and more. But once again it was Eritrea’s Rahel Daniel who took it by eight seconds just two days after Campaccio. I’m telling you…Eritrea’s last and only World Cross Country winner is Zersenay Tadese — time for another?
Cruz Culpepper signs with HOKA NAZ Elite 🏔
January is the time of year when seemingly every social media post from a professional runner is a sponsorship update, news about switching groups, or the decision to retire. But one thing that might come unexpectedly is the decision by a collegiate athlete with eligibility remaining to sign his first professional contract, as is the case with Cruz Culpepper. If the name sounds familiar that is because Cruz is the son of two two-time Olympians, Alan and Shayne Culpepper, however, a couple of years ago he started making a name for himself. As a high schooler in the middle of pandemic restrictions, he ran a 4:00.10 mile indoors and ran 1:48.50 later that year. After one year at the University of Washington and another at Ole Miss, Cruz now has personal bests of 3:39 and 3:57. He joins us today to give some insight into what comes next.
Cruz, it’s been too long. You're in Flagstaff right now – do you have some exciting news to share?
Yeah, I do! I have officially signed a professional contract to join HOKA NAZ Elite and my father will be coaching me here.
When did this all come about? As soon as your dad became coach was the thought just, ‘I'd love to run for him again!’?
Initially there was the thought that I could after college. I was planning on going back to Ole Miss to run for Coach Van Hoy because I had a good first year there. I had transferred to Ole Miss after a year at Washington, but then Van Hoy wound up leaving. I still wanted to give year two a try, but when I got down there I started having feelings that maybe something like this would be an option.
Honestly, I remember eating with you in Scottsdale when I was in high school, working with Joe Bosshard and his group, and reflecting on how I've been raised in a different situation. Looking back, this was probably a move that I should have made out of high school. It’s a relief to be here now – I was prepared to make this move even if there was no contract right away.
So the motivation was mainly that with Van Hoy leaving that you were going to have a fresh start anyway, so the timing made sense?
It was the main thing that started getting the ball rolling. I spoke with my now-agent Mark Wetmore before any companies were in the picture and he was pretty confident that something would come up. But I was willing to race without a contract. I feel good about the decision and my ability to make things happen. And then when my coach left it seemed right.
You are in a unique position as the child of former professional runners. Whereas many of us maybe didn't know this was a career path at a young age you likely always dreamt of this happening.
From the onset I was prepared to do the normal progression that everybody does: go from high school to run in the collegiate system, and then move to the pros. But for a combination of reasons, from my background, to COVID my senior year, to graduating a semester early, and then working with a professional group, it was a rough two years, honestly.
Last year, I felt like I was starting to get the hang of everything, but mentally I was struggling with the way the college system operates. It was tough for me to get a hold of that as I believe I am very aware of what needs to happen to run at my best. And if one thing was off, then I’d start questioning all of it.
Could you expand on that a little? Is it the constant racing and multiple peaks? Or less individualized training and team-oriented goals? What exactly is it that you're looking forward to as a professional versus being a collegiate?
It may be an unpopular answer in many people's eyes and I’m not sure if all athletes think in these terms but something that gives me confidence is knowing that no one else is doing my training. And I enjoy having input into what I feel I need.
Then there is the schooling element. At Washington there was no way I was going to graduate – it wasn’t going to happen. And at Ole Miss I was getting a general studies degree. For whatever reason, I just didn’t have it in me to do that.
And I kind of just knew from what I had accomplished in high school running-wise – before super shoes – that if I could just get a little bit of momentum, that I am confident that it’s going to come together.
Is there a certain quality that you think makes for a successful professional that doesn't line up well for the collegiate system? We see some athletes have great college careers, but struggle after. Is there a secret ingredient you hope to have?
I do think there's a difference. There's an underlying element of having to take more ownership than the typical collegiate athlete. And I think certain groups cater to certain athletes’ personalities. To fold into Bowerman makes for a pretty smooth transition for your classic collegiate runner who enjoys doing as they're told.
But if you're trying to join a group where it's more solo then you need to have a comprehensive grasp on all pieces of the puzzle – which I believe I have. And that knowledge was why the college system was challenging for me because I couldn't let that go. There were elements that ultimately felt detrimental for me and that’s not so much physical as it was mental – it was a constant taxer.
Aside from being reunited with family and an old coach, why NAZ Elite?
I had a taste of it coming up here during the fall and training with Olin Hacker. I feel like his combination of talents would kind of help me and vice versa. And I have a very supportive company behind me in HOKA, and given my situation, having a company that really wants and understands me.
Then there is the component of being at altitude all the time. Growing up in Colorado my sea level is 5,000 feet and that's another component of my college years that had me never feeling normal. When I come up to 7,000 feet, I do feel different and it gives me a little something. I had some other opportunities like Union, which had other great qualities, but ultimately this ended up being the best all-around fit.
Decisions aside, how's everything with training going in right now? Hopefully, the fitness is coming in nicely for this indoor season.
Yeah, things have been going great and I am excited to race. I will be doing back-to-back weekends in Boston with the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix and then something at BU. It won’t be a super extensive indoor season, though.
Is there any part of you that will watch NCAAs this year and wonder how you would have done there?
I mean, probably a bit… it's hard to say. I feel good about the direction I'm going, so I don't think I have too many of those feelings, ultimately.
Wishing you the best! It all worked out for Evan Jager.
I was about to mention him, since he had a similar situation. I remember watching his Flotrack Driven video and he'd basically run about as good as I have before making the jump to the pro scene. He said something like, ‘If I were my peers, I totally would have judged me.’ And I feel the exact same way.
People might be critical, but ultimately I believe I can make it happen. There was Alan Webb too. Everyone doesn’t need to do the same thing or have the same progression.
Paige Stoner signs with HOKA NAZ Elite 🏔
“I want to consistently compete for podium finishes in the U.S. road racing scene. I’ll probably still dabble with the track a little bit as well. I have unfinished business there. My big goals for this year are to be more consistently competitive for titles and also gain confidence going into 2024.”
2022 USATF marathon champion Paige Stoner has signed a pro contract, joined HOKA NAZ Elite, and is training under coach Alan Culpepper in Flagstaff, Arizona. She is coming off a victory at the California International Marathon where she took 51 seconds off the course record in a personal best of 2:26:02. The time puts her at No. 21 on the U.S. all-time list and she is just 26 years old.
In this episode of The CITIUS MAG Podcast, we discuss why she is joining the team, what she’s most excited about and how she took a bet on herself by self-coaching for much of last year. Give it a listen now on Apple Podcasts |Spotify.
Rapid Fire Highlights🔥
Will Palmer has been named the new distance coach at the University of Florida. His Alabama team, which included two-time NCAA Champion Mercy Chelangat, finished third at this year’s NCAA XC.
David Ribich has joined the Union Athletics Club. A new episode about the move is expected to drop on the Sit & Kick podcast next week. Good to know he and Josh are still on speaking terms.
The Very Nice Track Club laced it up for the first time this season, highlighted byHobbs Kessler winning the 1000m in Ann Arbor running 2:20.76. This was also the soft launch of Charlie Grice and Eric Avila’s entrance to the group – expect some content dropping on the CITIUS MAG YouTube channel with the group in the coming days.
Steph Rothstein Bruce has announced that after experiencing the circuit one last time for the Grit Finale, she isn’t quite ready to hang it up just yet! She has pivoted away from the decision to retire and will continue racing.
The fastest man in the world, Fred Kerley, is opening his season in Melbourne, Australia, on February 23rd. Hopefully he goes down a week early to run the 4 x 2k Mixed Relay at World XC.
The European U23 Champion Isabelle Boffey from Great Britain ran 2:00.99 in Sheffield to set the world lead and an outright 800m personal best. Not a bad way to open up the season!
Another long list of banned Kenyan athletes has been released, but the name most familiar to American fans is NCAA 800m record holder, Michael Saruni, formerly of UTEP. He is provisionally suspended for failing to take a drug test. All of this can’t be helping Kenya’s bid for the 2029 World Championships.
USATF has announced the LA Grand Prix on May 27th as a Track Meet and Festival, the day after the USATF Distance Classic.
Kibiwott Kandie and Hellen Obiri won the Kenya Defence Forces Cross Country Championships.
The Boston Marathon released the names of those in the women’s field and I pray that everyone makes it to the line healthy in four months because oh my gosh. There are NINE athletes with personal bests under 2:20. Please running gods, give us a tailwind!
It was no surprise that the Bandera 100k saw another Courtney Dauwalter course record – this time it was lowered by nine minutes. Jeff Colt may have won the men’s race, but I like to think anyone who didn’t run 100k also won.
WATCH the Houston Marathon on Sunday, January 15th, starting at 7AM CT on ESPN3 and ABC13.
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