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How to run fast without really trying⏱
Lap 57: Sponsored by COROS
I am pretty good at not losing my running watch. So when COROS came on board as a sponsor for The Lap Count and sent over a COROS PACE 2, I was floored, and regretted not having an excuse to upgrade sooner. It had been a while since I had the latest technology on my wrist.
The first thing I noticed was how light it was — we pay so much attention to the weight of our shoes and so little to other wearables. While the PACE 2 has plenty of features that can provide feedback on virtually every metric imaginable, there is nothing more essential than accuracy. I know I can trust the data after hearing that beep at the same spot one mile from my apartment every morning, or when the watch recognizes that I am doing laps on the track.
The highlight of the PACE 2 is the user experience. It’s easy to navigate through the customizable screens to find what I’m looking for and the battery life — oh, the battery life! It lasts so long between charges that I regularly forget where the cord is. I don’t know how technology has advanced to the point where you can get all this under the hood for $199, but I’m not complaining!
Five weeks to train! 🏋️♀️
USATF announced this week that the 2022 Half Marathon Championships will be held next month in Indianapolis on May 7th — I hope you didn’t have plans! This understandably upset the road community as five weeks notice isn’t enough time for a training block, let alone booking flights and hotels. Additionally, the following week will be the 25K Championships in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Currently the USATF does not list it on the calendar, but the Amway River Bank Run’s website does — my research (I sent some text messages) corroborates this.
It seems like the simple solution would be to combine the two races and then have the athletes decide what championship they’re vying for 13 miles in, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Children’s literature references aside, why do we need a 15K, 10 mile, 20K, Half Marathon, and 25K US Championship? They’re all basically the same distance, and by existing they all dilute each of their fields.
The common argument is that it creates opportunities for athletes! That’s a very genial and well-intended point fans make to rationalize putting together weak fields. But there is no shortage of historic road races with great prize money in the United States — this isn’t the track. If you’re in god-tier shape and want to win a few thousand dollars, there is almost always a race ready to fork it over.
This conundrum exists across the sport: Should we do what’s good for athletes today or for the athletes tomorrow?
In this case, we are handing out a few thousand dollars to a handful of people competing at a US Championship where 90% of the best runners in the country are absent. Those are some great paydays that are likely multiplied by contract bonuses and it’s a challenging argument to ever suggest that less money in athlete’s pockets is a good idea. However, in the current system it’s too easy for the best athletes to avoid racing each other — those matchups need to happen if we want fans to care!
A well placed USATF Half Marathon Championship ahead of the fall or spring marathons could attract much deeper fields, and therefore intrigue. Rather than waking up to learn of the results after it’s over, perhaps there could be a TV-product so enticing it’s worth setting an alarm for! We know that Americans like to run our local Marathon Majors so schedule a flat fast race in September or March that’s positioned to be a tune up before them.
If even a fraction of the resources and prize money is pooled to support one or two events, then it’d be possible to boost tenth place’s prize purse of $600 to a few thousand. And maybe the competition is so good and the win so meaningful that the additional eyeballs of those now tuning into watch can justify bigger sponsorship deals.
As an idealist, I’m not ready to sell off parts of the company to cut our losses just yet. I still believe that there exists a way to restructure the sport to better cater it to an enthusiastic audience, but it starts with eliminating some opportunities — that’s an investment in the future.
Cooking up a new record 💐
The high school record books continue to be rewritten and at an unprecedented pace. This weekend it was Natalie Cook’s turn at the Stanford Invitational with a 5000m. Her time of 15:25.93 shaved nine seconds off Jenna Hutchins mark of 15:34.47 from 2020. The Oklahoma State-bound senior from Flower Mound, Texas, has been at the top of her game all year. She won both the Running Lane and Eastbay XC National Championships this fall. She ran 9:44 for the indoor two-mile, good for US #2 all-time. But it’s probably safe to say she’s currently sharp enough to best that mark — on Saturday, Cook’s final 3200 meters were covered in 9:54.
One difficult aspect of being a prodigy within the prep ranks is that most efforts have to be done solo. Fortunately, Cook had the benefit of racing against some seasoned pros like eventual race winner Molly Grabill (15:22.97). However, Cook was not content to just sit in the back and let the more experienced racers tow her to a nice PR. With just over a mile left in the race Cook took the lead after sitting in a pack of six and ramped up the tempo before eventually finishing third.
It isn’t uncommon for high school athletes to find their way into pro fields or the US Championships and to hold their own among established elites in the middle distances. (Look at what’s happening in the girl’s 800m right now!) But it is rare to see a younger athlete step up at the 5000m distance and remain competitive. In fact, it’s even rare for college freshmen to be this good. The last one to run quicker than Cooke was Weini Kelati, who went 15:22.71 during her rookie season at New Mexico.
Of course the 5000m is not a regularly contended event in high school, so the opportunities to race are sparse. But despite that, it’s safe to say Cook’s new record is hardly a soft one. This was a truly special performance. Aerobic strength takes years to develop and can’t be rushed. And the farther you’re racing, the more relevant lifetime mileage becomes — something most high schoolers, and especially Natalie, are lacking. While it’s not fair to speculate about the long term prospects of a talented young athlete who is just enjoying her senior year, we can look to the present, where professional 5000m runners will have to really work to fend off a high schooler. If they need any advice from someone who can relate, may I suggest talking to the milers — they’re used to this.
There’s a high school marathon record? 😳
Take everything I just said about high schoolers running the 5000m and multiply it eight-plus times. At the Salisbury Marathon in Maryland last weekend, Tim Synowiec broke a record that has stood since 1973 by running 2:22:51 to win by a whopping 28 minutes. With a 3200m best of 9:16, it’s clear that our man Tim has a monster engine. His ability to click off 5:27-pace miles as a solo effort makes a bit more sense considering his background as a triathlete.
While Americans traditionally place the marathon on a pedestal and wait until the end of a track career before moving up in distance, 18-year-olds have been successful before. In 2014, just a few months after becoming too old to subscribe to Nickelodeon Magazine, Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Mekonnen won the Dubai Marathon in 2:04:32 in his debut at the distance. The late, legendary Sammy Wanjiru was only 21-years old when he won the Beijing Olympics — a path he chose to follow instead of coming to America to run in the NAIA, which also has a marathon championship.
You can choose to look at a result from a kid that you likely have never heard of and know nothing about to make assumptions about the remainder of his career. Yet one thing is clear, if a high schooler is voluntarily choosing to run a marathon then he must really love to run — and that’s a pretty good indicator of long term success. Besides, 2:22 is an objectively fast marathon, no matter your age.
Do you want to support the sport’s elite athletes? Then subscribe to our Friday morning premium newsletter! This week we’ll be speaking with two-time Olympian and seven time US Champion, Keturah Orji. Sign up to receive an interview in your inbox every week to support this initiative, which has now raised over $19,200, with all proceeds going towards those whose stories we share.
The best advice my high school coach ever gave me was that if I just focused on getting faster myself, then eventually my field of competitors would narrow.
He was well aware of how dialed in I was to results from across the country and — given my long-term career aspirations — that I wanted to put up times as fast as the best kids in the nation. He stressed patience and process and did his best to quell the question looming constantly in my brain: if I was running 4:30 for the mile and other kids my age were already running 4:20, then how would I ever expect to catch up?
But as I kept improving by a few seconds each year, the guys that I had once clashed with began to fade from my radar, and a new crop of faster guys became the target of my attention. And that’s the key — my attention. It wasn’t my coach gassing me up with tales of kids shattering 4:10 out in California. It was me. Any expectations around my running were entirely my own. And if somebody knew of me outside of my county, it was likely for my posting prowess on Dyestat and not for my gradually improving PRs.
There’s an increasing level of noise as you improve. With greater accomplishments comes greater expectations, both internal and external. I began to experience this a little bit as a high school senior, but it became more of a weekly, if not daily presence after I broke four-minutes for the first time as a college sophomore. (This is way back when social media hadn’t developed into the 24/7 buzzsaw that it is today, mind you, and that undoubtedly made things easier.)
Throughout college, it started to become clearer which of my peers seemed in it for the long haul. These impressions weren’t based solely on results or workouts or mileage. Some intangible qualities stood out just as much. The way an athlete handles increasing pressure will be more telling about the probable length and success of their career than any details we can glean from reading their training log. There isn’t some secret formula of mileage, speed, and intensity that will ensure longevity.
The most obvious trait of those who make it through the system and are willing to train at a high-level for a long time is being intrinsically motivated. That’s not a #hottake by any means. There are countless studies I can link to that describe how detrimental it is when parents overburden their children with their own shortcomings. Not only will it likely make the athlete a worse runner, but it creates a buried resentment and a weird familial relationship that will be apparent to everyone except to the people who matter most — I digress.
I don’t think being a 4:12 high school miler who turned into a professional who ran 3:52* (*at Boston University, one time) makes me the sole role model for youth development. I recognize there were a lot of other factors besides my love of the game that made that possible.
But having spent most of my life now surrounded by really fast people, I think there is a sense of particularity that is consistent amongst the best. There’s a mindset that says before you can win a race, you first have to convince yourself that you deserve to win it. So when I say most top professionals have an ego, that’s not meant as an insult, it’s a necessity — you can still be nice and think you’re God’s gift to the Earth. Losing that sense of being the main character is the first step towards starting a T&F newsletter.
But there’s an element of mindfulness at play, too, among those who make it. There are kids who show up and run fast because they’re talented or went through puberty on the early side. Then there are others who are present and tuned into how they’re feeling, both emotionally and physically. Not needing headphones for every run is a good way to work on this, but the ultimate goal is to always act with intention. Don’t just stumble into personal bests like an overgrown doofus, but actively pursue them.
There is a delicate balance between being a result-oriented, hyper-competitive kid who wants to demolish everyone in sight, and just training for the sake of training. The majority of days, after all, are relatively routine or mundane. Enjoying each part of the process for what it is will make it less exhausting. Personally, I have always found refuge in the culture of the sport, whether that’s learning about training, watching other races or studying the history — it is all part of running culture and yes, that includes going to brunch with teammates after a long run.
And finally, how an athlete reacts to failure is the greatest predictor of long term success. Things will inevitably go wrong, whether that’s an injury, a cold streak, or a devastating and embarrassing loss. May I suggest the cry it out method? Being able to soothe oneself and having mild short-term memory loss will keep motivation high and the list of excuses to a minimum.
If you’re a talented and ambitious 15-year-old reading this, congrats! You’ve got your marching orders. I look forward to you running a 3:41 mile in 10 years.
If you’re a fan of the sport, here’s very specifically how you can help encourage the next generation of talent:
As outsiders we can hyper-fixate on the training of kids who are running tremendously fast and predict their downfall. But unless you’re the one in their shoes breaking national records, then we should just enjoy watching from afar. Let them do what they’re going to do. Let them talk their shit. Let them go head-to-head against an Olympic medalist and get their bell rung — or not. Let them surprise you, and themselves, when a big move pays off. Wish them the best, resist the urge to post anonymously about them on the internet, and move on. There is no trophy for accurately predicting that a good high school runner will burnout, so quit being a pessimist and enjoy cheering them on. Do what the kids are doing — have some fun!
In partnership with WCH Oregon22
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Cherry Blossom with Susanna Sullivan 🌸
What started in 1973 as a tuneup race for elite runners looking to rev the ol’ engine a bit before the Boston Marathon, the Cherry Blossom 10 miler is a must-run for road warriors of all ages and abilities, regardless of whether Boston’s also on their racing calendar. That said, it now draws a pretty quick pro field each year.
On the men’s side, Kenya’s Nicholas Kosimbei followed up his win at February’s Atlanta Half Marathon by tying the course record: a swift 45:15.
And the story of the day in the women’s field was a familiar local elite face turning straight up elite. Susanna Sullivan won the race in a twominute personal best of 52:32. Growing up in Falls Church, Virginia, and now residing in nearby Reston, Sullivan took home the victory in what was her seventh go at it. Now 31-years-old and a fifth grade teacher, Sullivan is running the best she ever has. Her college bests of 16:56 and 36:14 have been, well, completely obliterated, as this season she ran 15:38 for 5000m and 32:04 for 10000m.
I spoke with her to learn more about her inspiring trajectory.
How long was Cherry Blossom circled on your calendar, being that it’s a local race? Does that create any added pressure or expectations being that it’s in your community. This must have been a special win for you!
If I'm healthy, I want to do Cherry Blossom every year. It's a race with a lot of friends and teammates and I know the course well. When the weather is good, it can run really fast. It was a perfect day yesterday.
This whole spring is mostly focused on track, so I guess in a way, this one was circled because it was my best opportunity to get on the roads until I hopefully run Grandma's Marathon, where I'd like to get the Trials qualifier out of the way. But this was really kind of that chance to get on the roads, and hopefully have a payday. My strength is the longer stuff and the track 5000m and 10000m are rewarding because I have been getting some personal bests, but those are definitely harder fought.
Could you share a bit about your career since graduating from Notre Dame in 2012? You’ve improved considerably since, but there have been some ups and downs along the way. Although you’re clearly at your best currently – how’d it all happen?
My time at Notre Dame was completely unspectacular in every way. I liked it and I made some great friends on the team. That whole side was great, but the racing was lackluster at best. I was just tired all the time and didn't really understand the contrast between an easy and hard day. I was setting out every day to prove that I belonged, and it was just a cycle that I was always a little banged up and didn't have it on race day.
After I graduated I joined Capital Runners until 2020 and things were really good there. The workouts weren't as intense as they were in college, so I was able to pile on more miles. And that long grinding stuff is something that I think I thrive off of, even though it's not necessarily the most fun, but it helps me stay healthy because the intensity was a little lower.
I ran my first marathon in 2015 and in 2016 I was 20th with the Olympic Trials. But that was kind of a bloodbath of a race because it was in L.A. and it was really hot and a whole bunch of people were dropping out. I don't think I passed anybody on the third lap and I went up seven spots. It was a race of attrition.
In 2017, two weeks before the Philly Marathon, I was rear ended and it really screwed up my hamstrings and it took a long time to heal. Every time I tried to come back, something else would hurt in that same region. I do look at it as a blessing in disguise because even though it was a hard two years physically, emotionally and all that, I realize that weakness was the root cause of my injuries. Now I have a strength regimen with a lot of single leg balance and functional core stuff that's helped me.
What’s your current situation with coaching and training? Are you up early every morning before school getting your runs in?
After 2020, I needed a change of scenery, and I linked up with Andrew Gerard, who's at George Mason University. It’s a lot of longer things — my workout volume doubled and the intensity went down. It did wonders for my confidence as I adjusted to that. I've seen people post their workouts on Instagram and thought, ‘Oh my God, I could never!’ I might have been able to race against them, but I couldn't do their workouts. Now I can.
I meet up with Gerard like, once or twice a week. The coach of Capital Area Runners, George, is like a dad to me. Even though I don't do all of my training with him, I'm welcome to come to workouts and join for long runs. I run with some of my old training partners from CAR who are new dads and they can’t make practice and will jump in with me.
I've gotten a lot better at staying engaged in the workout when I'm on my own, because the first couple of months I was miserable. I think I'm just generally hard on myself, but I was finding myself getting frustrated not having people around me to keep me accountable. I've gotten much, much better at that. It’s also just a maturity thing where I realized not every day has to be perfect for it to be progress.
Even though my teaching schedule is really predictable, I tutor a lot outside. And so I usually work another three or so hours after school. I go to the pool every day, so I play calendar Tetris to figure out where everything is going to fit.
As someone who is starting to come into their own a bit later, do you still have the same aspirations as earlier in your career — to go full-time as a pro or make the Olympics? Or do you approach the sport with the balance of someone who works full-time?
I definitely want to run as fast as I possibly can, and yesterday's success has sort of got me starting to think, ‘am I doing everything that I can in my life outside of running to make sure that I can maximize it?’ I mean, I'm 31 and I've got a couple more good years to see what I can do. So it's definitely not just a hobby – I like it, but it is also my priority.
I would love for this current situation to continue to bring the progress it has — a two minute best at 10 miles – clearly things are working. But every once in a while, I wonder what I could do. I actually think I do better with a highly regimented schedule and so I want to keep teaching. But if the right opportunity presented itself where I could focus full-time on running because I was running fast enough to justify that to a sponsor, I would be 100 percent open to that.
Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥
Texas A&M’s Charokee Young ran a world leading 50.00 for the 400m in a dual meet vs. Texas. Don’t get your hopes up American readers, she represented Jamaica at the 2020 Olympics.
Devon Allen participated in Oregon football’s pro day and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35.
One week after I wrote about the implications of India having a breakout star in the steeplechase, Sreeshankar Murali long-jumped a world leading and national record of 8.36m. However, he didn’t actually win the competition — his countryman Jeswin Aldrin leapt to 8.37m with an illegal wind.
After a comparatively slow start, Joseph Fahnbulleh was able to chase down Matthew Bolling to win the Florida Relays in 20.22. (Fun video)
The NCAA 800m leader, Jonathan Jones of Texas and Barbados, ran an NCAA #1 400m of 45.07 and then came back to split 43.48 on the 4x400. That’s not a typo.
At the Cooper River Bridge run, Kenya’s David Bett (28:17) and Ethiopia’s Biruktayit Degefa (31:24) took home $10,000 each for their wins.
Brendan Gregg (47:25) and Lauren LaRocco (54:56) won the SACTOWN 10 Miler.
At the Stanford Invitational, the home team swept the top three spots in the men’s 5000m: Ky Robinson (13:23), Charles Hicks (13:24) and Cole Sprout (13:27) — pretty good pack.
Kenya’s Keneth Renju won the Prague Half in 59:28 — afterwards he said he’s coming back next year because if it ran that fast on a freezing day with wind, then the WR could fall there. Nesphine Jepleting won the women’s race in a new best of 1:06:57.
Earlier in the week, heads turned when JUCO’s Ilias Garcia ran a wind legal and world leading 9.88 for 100m. However, the mark has since been dismissed from the results on TFRRS (it still remains on World Athletics). Whether it’s a question of the wind reading or a timing error, the race is under scrutiny as the whole field ran massive personal bests.
The 2017 World Championship silver medalist at 5000m, Margaret Kipkemboi Chelimo of Kenya, won the Barcelona Half in a new best of 1:05:26. On the men’s side, Ethiopia’s Haftu Teklu led five men under an hour in 59:06.
The 62-year-old wonder, Tommy Hughes ran 2:30:05 for the Therme Manchester Marathon. Jonny Mellor grabbed the overall victory in 2:10:45 for the men, and Becky Briggs won the women’s in 2:29:05.
Have you ever seen indoor 400m hurdle race? They should have committed even more to this insanity and placed them on the turns!
In cold conditions at the Paris Marathon, Deso Gelmisa of Ethiopia won in 2:05:07 and Judith Korir Jeptum of Kenya in a personal best of 2:19:48. Lindsay Flanagan was the top American in 2:26:54 PB.
The Australian Champs were on this weekend and you can watch all the action on YouTube. As opposed to the American system, only the race winner guarantees a spot on the World Championship and Commonwealth team assuming standards are met. Congrats Jess Hull and Matthew Ramsden (5000m), Ollie Hoare and Abbey Caldwell (1500m), Peter Bol and Catriona Bisset (800m) and other event winners!
And on a much more somber note, three Milligan University athletes were hit by a drunk driver while running in Williamsburg, Virginia, ahead of the Colonial Relays. One of the runners, senior Eli Cramer, was killed. I never met Eli in person but I know he was — like anyone reading this — a huge running nerd who truly loved the sport, and who recently set a lifetime best in the 5000m of 14:30. He subscribed to this newsletter and I enjoyed his occasional banter when he’d send a message on Instagram. I know the entire running community feels this tragedy. It’s nothing short of heartbreaking. My deepest condolences go out to Eli’s friends, family, and teammates.
Thank you for reading this week’s newsletter and to COROS for sponsoring it! If something resonated with you here, please consider tagging @thelapcount on Twitter or Instagram to continue the conversation!