Raise your standards⏱
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USATF Half Marathon Champs
The entirety of the NCAA should feel less bad about their own inability to beat Conner Mantz – the professionals couldn’t do it either! Well the 2x NCAA XC Champion gave Nike the routing number to his checking account and kissed his amateur status goodbye. What better way to announce your arrival on the scene than winning your debut at a USATF Championship?
Being an aerobic monster apparently converts, whether that’s for 10 kilometers or 13.1 miles, as he opened up in the final few minutes of the race to win in 60:55, four seconds ahead of second place finisher Sam Chelanga. As someone who never really cared that some athletes in college are older than others, I find it refreshing to see Mantz beat a field of his elders and not have to hear anyone make an excuse about it.
Two more callouts in the men’s race: Keep an eye on Nico Montanez, or at least learn the name. After finishing 7th at the Chicago Marathon he came back to run 1:01:13 for 3rd in South Carolina. Then there’s Morgan Pearson, the Olympic three sport athlete, who finished 8th in 1:01:47 reportedly smelling like chlorine.
On the women’s side, it was all about the 37-year-old real estate agent and mother of two, Keira D’Amato. Despite the recent tear she’s been on, this was her first US title, and it was well worth the wait! Halfway through she made an aggressive push and the race was essentially over then and there. Her time of 67:55 (5:10/mi pace) was 14 seconds shy of Molly Huddle’s women’s-only American record, though she didn’t leave empty handed record-wise – Keira got the 20k mark along the way. She’s had quite the fall, but it all started with a 4th place finish at Chicago after a rushed buildup. It’ll be exciting to see what she does next time she lines up for a Major at full strength.
The best rivalry in distance running was on display a bit behind the front pack as another fierce head-to-head matchup between Erika Kemp and Makena Morley unfolded. Ultimately Makena won the battle with her 5th place finish (69:57), but it was Erika whose 6th place (70:38) secured the USATF Running Circuit title and $20,000. This was a well-deserved bonus as the series requires a ton of racing throughout the year and both athletes made it interesting until the very end.
What’s in the water?
Going to try and keep this recap quick like they did. Without NXN this year, Running Lane became the de facto national championships. No one was surprised that Newbury Park dominated, but the times certainly turned some heads. Colin Sahlman (14:03), Leo Young (14:05) and Lex Young (14:05) went 1-2-3 and all dipped under Dathan Ritzenhein’s 21-year-old mark of 14:10, which was previously the fastest high school 5k XC time ever run.
Since @rundude37 threatened to unsubscribe if I called this course short, I won’t make that mistake again — especially because TLC has an official policy against that now! Besides, this is without a doubt the greatest high school XC team of all time. They have consistently dominated against the best competition all year long and this spring they’ll start making tracks look suspiciously mismeasured.
And though the Newbury Park boys’ performances stole the show, I want to point out that Natalie Cook won the girls’ race in a blistering 16:03, which is just 3 seconds off of the fastest high school XC time ever run — on this same course, last year, by Jenna Hutchins. Look for Cook to make a splash at Oklahoma State next year!
Silly pros, XC is for kids! 🐰
Sound Running x Trials of Miles x Tracklandia continue to experiment in finding new ways to bring fun meets to athletes and spectators alike. This past weekend they put on a 5.5 mile long cross country meet for professionals. Brooks also had itself a day on the hills with Allie Buchalski running away with the individual women’s title and Hansons capturing the team victory. Meanwhile, on the men’s side, HOKA’s Dillon Maggard won outright while Tinman took the team title.
As has become tradition, it was a one-time $5.99 purchase to watch. Every penny was worth it for the Mt. Sac drone shots, alone.
The 10,000m stands on its own!
This year’s US Championships are set to be in Eugene from June 23 to June 26th — book your hotel now or you’ll be taking very expensive Ubers back from the Wild Duck to Corvallis. With the World Championships being just three weeks after, the decision has been made by USATF to host the 20k race walk, multis and 10,000m earlier in the calendar as stand alone events.
I can’t speak to walking or competing in ten disciplines, but athletes can 100% recover from 25 laps of running in three weeks. It’s called Normatec boots (not an #ad)! But even if this call was made for reasons that I don’t necessarily agree with, I’m a fan of this move and had suggested it via Twitter before.
This method for team picking is already utilized elsewhere (UK, Japan, Australia, etc.) and it is wildly popular. Part of that reason is that during a four day meet athletes are picking and choosing races and are less likely to double. By holding these events earlier in the season it opens up the doors for matchups in a US Championship that we’d never otherwise see. Imagine Evan Jager and Paul Chelimo getting in the ring with Woody Kincaid and Grant Fisher at no risk to their primary race.
Compared to the Olympic Trials, the action is even more condensed into a small window in regular years. This not only opens up the TV window by two 30 minute blocks, but creates a venue to have undivided storytelling concentrated on the races. Additionally, with all the focus on one event this hopefully lessens the probability of having to compete in the middle of the day. So let’s pitch the beer tent and hit play on the power hour playlist!
Home on the range! 🏠
What a weekend for realtors! Sara Vaughn validated the big talk of milers everywhere who theorize about their own marathon potential. This weekend at the California International Marathon, she debuted as the fifth fastest American ever in 2:26:53. Sara pulled away from the field in the second half with a major negative split (74:48/72:05). This was a big jump up in distance — five months ago she ran 4:05 for 1500m and never before in her career was the 5000m even a focus. (To learn more about Sara’s journey, check out this unlocked interview with The Victory Lap).
In the men’s division, Brendan Gregg won in a PB* of 2:11:21. His tuneup races this fall were likely run with many miles in them, as a 12th place finish at the USATF 25k champs and 15th place finish at Cherry Blossom hardly predicted this. Just a friendly reminder to never judge a runner pre-taper.
*The CIM course is technically not record eligible because it loses 340 feet over its entirety, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t hills.
Interested in supporting athletes? On Friday morning in our premium newsletter we will be publishing a roster rundown of San Diego Track Club Elite. Get to know this team full of amateurs before they head to the Club XC Championships where they are in it to win it! This initiative has now raised $14,800 with all proceeds going towards the athletes.
Winter track is here ☃️
Nothing quite rings in the indoor track season like time trials on the Boston University oval. Get those contract bonuses in the final minutes of the year and celebrate the rollovers for all of the next one! Unless you’re in college, then it’s the perfect time to squeeze out the last drops of that residual cross country fitness.
The highlight of the meet was the men’s 5000m. The trustworthy pacesetting duties of Joe Klecker brought the field through 3800m in 10:05. Hot on his heels was eventual third place finisher, Iowa State’s Wesley Kiptoo, whose 13:14 is the third fastest NCAA indoor mark in history. As always, the NAU boys were close behind as the Lumberjacks had four men between 13:22 and 13:28. In the process, Nico Young broke his own American U20 record and George Kusche nabbed the South African national record.
But this race was set up for the On Athletic Club. In the last quarter, Olli Hoare showed off his 1500 prowess, closing the final two laps in 28.7, and 26.7 to run 13:09, a PB and a new Australian indoor record. Another Oceania all-time mark fell seconds later, courtesy of Geordie Beamish, who cut 19 seconds off his previous best to set the New Zealand record. Both times were under the 13:13.5 standard for Eugene 2022.
And for you lads out there, there are two breakthrough performances to celebrate. Waterford’s Barry Keane ran 13:25 to set the Irish record, and Neil Gourley went 13:34, which is now the Scottish record.
Have you ever heard a rabbit talk about how great they felt and that they could have won the race had they just stayed in? BAA’s Annie Rodenfels was tasked with helping out BYU standouts Whittni Orton and Courtney Wayment. The pace would require her to come through 3k in 9:12, six seconds faster than her previous best of 9:18.
As planned, Rodenfels tucked back into the pack and regrouped. Even with 200m to go, chasing down Orton, Rodenfels was in a pacer’s mindset, still clicking her watch for lap splits. Crossing the finish line in 15:08, the three-time NCAA DIII Champion out of Centre College exceeded even her own expectations with a 23 second personal best. Retroactively, I’m having regrets about dropping out of the 2016 Wanamaker Mile — I felt really good!
In the women’s 3000m, the NCAA XC runner-up, Ceili McCabe of West Virginia, won in 8:52. Katelyn Tuohy finished 4th in 8:54 for the American U20 record.
The Olympic Trials Marathon Standards
Like how all major decisions ought to be, the 2024 Olympic Trials Marathon standards were not announced through a press release, but were instead leaked on Twitter.
Remember how in 2020 it took men 2:19:00 to qualify and 260 did so? Well, for this next cycle, the guys will have to run 2:18:00 or below to line up in a yet-to-be-determined host city. The opinionated running public has generally accepted this one-minute raising of the bar as reasonable. The half marathon standard also dropped a minute, from 64:00 to 63:00, which is worth a 2:15 according to the IAAF scoring tables. This sends a clear message of, ‘we would like you to qualify for the marathon trials by running a marathon,’ which, you know, fair!
But when it comes to the new women’s standard… we’re looking at quite a different response. Last time around the ask was 2:45:00/1:13:00 and a few people did that. And by a few, I of course mean 513, which doubled the total qualifiers from 2016. To qualify for the 2024 Trials, women will now have to run 2:37:00 or 1:12:00. With only 12 athletes qualifying via half marathon last time around there’s been little to no reaction to that stiffened requirement, but the eight minute drop for the marathon has caused relative outrage.
It’s worth noting that USATF wanted the standards to be faster in 2020 and initially had set them at 2:18/2:43, but rules were in place that said you can’t make Trials standards faster than Olympic ones, so they were dialed back. As a result, seemingly every runner in the country knew at least a few people who made the Olympic Trials.
There were many feel-good stories about working parents who qualified and the race was seen as a celebration of sub-elite running culture, and more specifically women’s competitive racing. Remember, it wasn’t until 1984 that the Olympics even hosted a women’s marathon. A sub-2:45 would have garnered a 32nd place finish back then. The fact that just a generation or two later, the United States had 513 women capable of doing that is absolutely worthy of celebration and acknowledgement.
All that said, I agree with the new standards. If anything, I think the men’s cut-off should be a couple minutes faster. A 2:37 is objectively a better result than a 2:18, but the counterargument is that American women are better than American men at the marathon. For comparison, the third fastest American man this year, Brendan Gregg, is 289th on the 2021 global descending order list, whereas Kellyn Taylor’s 2:26:10 puts her 84th.
Will anyone ever even bid to host this race ever again?
There are a few reasons that I am for smaller fields, the first being the obvious logistical benefits. It may surprise some readers to learn that USATF does not host their own Olympic Trials. That gets outsourced! A key aspect of the Atlanta Track Club’s winning 2020 bid was its promise to pay for the travel and hotel accommodations for all qualifiers. Suffice to say, their original projections and budget didn’t account for 773 entrants. Although hosting the race was always seen as an investment in the future of American distance running for the ATC — one of the best run organizations in the sport — it still became almost prohibitively expensive. On top of the financials, setting up the course, transportation, water bottles, medical staff, and a million other things you forget about becomes increasingly more complicated with more bodies added to the equation. Atlanta still managed to create an incredible race experience for the athletes while bearing a sizable economic burden, but will future hosts want to take on that challenge?
Those who were on-site in Atlanta talk about the amazing crowds and atmosphere — it was inspiring — and I believe that! Because I remember the feeling of being at the 2008 Olympic Trials in Central Park, as we watched 134 men duke it out. I can still feel the shivers sent down my spine when Ryan Hall blasted away from the field. (The women’s race was held in Boston, the day before the Marathon, and while I wasn’t in attendance, I can safely say it was an equally spine-shivering experience for the spectators along the fabled course.) It was a moment I’ll never forget, but don’t ask me where anyone outside of the top 3 finished — I don’t remember.
Are the Trials solely about picking a team?
One beautiful aspect of running is that basically anyone can do it. If you’ve got a pair of sneakers on and the desire to do so, it’s possible to line up against some of the very best in the world. How many hooligans watch a Liverpool game and think, ‘if only I was on the field!’? On the roads, there’s an opportunity to prove it.
For some, the marathon is just about finishing, which is a commendable achievement in and of itself. Others are there to race against the clock to beat a previous version or an idea of themselves. And then there are the athletes who are theoretically most driven by the external competition of racing. For this third camp, others succeeding inherently means you have failed to do what you set out to do. That’s what the Olympic Trials are for — to see who makes the Olympic team. (And frankly, it seems like a good and fair way to do so — we’re spared the politics of other countries’ systems where Olympic marathon squads are chosen based on vague performance criteria.)
But the Trials are also, of course, a benchmark for elite performance. Any runner with a concrete goal they are training for is a serious runner, but once you’re able to toss “OTQ” up on your Instagram page, you are drawing a line in the sand, then saying you are on the other side of it. As we learned in 2020, finding yourself in the elite, in-group is a highly motivating factor. But are we hosting a festival and pretending it’s a VIP event? Just as a victory is only as sweet as the people you beat, a club is only as hip as the first person who’s stuck waiting on line to get in (Sorry, Peter).
How can having a Trials improve the sport most?
But where do you draw that line? As many proponents of a slower standard — and hell, basically everyone else — would argue, we should set a time that will both motivate and develop athletes.
Having runners in the field who realistically won’t make the team is important for two key reasons: Because some of those runners will improve to the point of becoming realistic contenders; and every runner is pushing the person ahead of them to be better.
It’s impossible to predict the athletes that will fall into that first camp with 100% certainty, so I think it’s good to err on the side of setting a challenging yet attainable standard for entry. But to the second point, how far back in the field do the athletes at the front realistically feel, and get pushed by?
I would suspect that the game of telephone is too long between 2:20 and 2:10 guys for the message (“speed up, buster, I’m comin’ for ya!”) to reach the front with any clarity. Maybe your number is higher than mine. But what’s your reason for not letting even more in?
So are we going to just have a super tiny Trials? Won’t that hurt the reach of the event?
To look back on 2020 and extrapolate that only 91 women will go under 2:37 for 2024 seems short-sighted. Let’s glance at the trend of how many American women have run that fast over the past two decades: 2004 (13), 2008 (16), 2012 (27), 2016 (34), 2020 (91). This elevation of women’s running has occurred without the added incentives of it being the Trials standard and for most of that era, without the benefit of super shoes. Simply put, American women are getting better quickly, and now they have even more reason to run faster. The over/under is 200 for both the men and women. Care to bet on it?
Many have cited the increased exposure of the Olympic Trials by virtue of allowing more people in. Admittedly, this might be true. Plenty of friends and family flew down to Atlanta to cheer on athletes who were non-factors in the race and plenty of local newspapers covered the everyday heroes who got there without the benefit of a shoe sponsor.
Theoretically let’s say those additional few hundred athletes accounted for maybe a couple thousand fans who otherwise wouldn’t have gone — not exactly enough to save the sport. While there were surely those who stayed home to cheer from afar, the television broadcast only drew 1.2 million viewers. For context, this year’s Prefontaine Classic had 1.5 million.
It’s like having three days of high school races at the Penn Relays and then forcing all of the parents of those kids to watch the professionals. This isn’t creating fans — it’s creating an illusion. I’m willing to concede that the 2020 Olympic Trials may have won over a few new fringe fans through osmosis. But it’s small potatoes, and doesn’t begin to address the fundamental flaws in the presentation of a sport that fails to capture any attention of the masses.
My ambitions are greater than a couple thousand fans flying to Atlanta, and although this may sound delusional, it’s possible. I know that because Japan’s Olympic Trials field was whittled down to just 30 men and 30 women with the selection criteria being made partially subjective. The goal of producing a digestible TV package worked, as the television audience was almost 50 million deep. Yes, they have a different running culture than the United States and that’s the entire point. Is our current system working for the development of fans?
Everyone reading this has independently come up with the idea of a running league that involves teams. It’ll never happen for a thousand reasons, but the main one is that we are collectively more concerned with fairness and opportunity than entertainment. There are only twenty Formula One drivers on the circuit at any given point and odds are that the first one left out is better than someone currently competing. That’s the collateral damage and a price we aren’t willing to pay. (Look at the pushback to cutting down on a 513 person field!)
Now I’m not suggesting we go to the top-30 model… yet. But this feels like a step in the right direction. We may lose some people because 2:18/2:37 suddenly feels too far out of sight or is simply faster than what they’re capable of running. But I’m willing to bet this will lead to other athletes running faster than they thought they ever could, with a small portion of those runners making the jump into contenders. If the bureaucracy believes in us, then we should too!
Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥
Former Oregon Duck, Cooper Teare, officially signed with Nike. #TBT to this backhanded compliment he gave me while in high school.
Michael Githae won the 75th and final Fukuoka International Marathon in 2:07:15 and gave a pretty incredible post-race quote.
Karston Warholm and Elaine Thompson-Herah won the World Athletics Athlete of the Year awards.
Rai Benjamin and Grant Holloway are teasing the idea of racing each other in a head-to-head 200m hurdles matchup and the internet loves it!
All proposed amendments regarding new governance failed to pass at the USATF Annual Convention. (Summary)
Colleen Quigley got engaged, but stay on high alert for another April Fools Day post!
Lawrence Cherono won the Valencia Marathon in 2:05:12 in an exciting three-man final kick (Watch). Nancy Jelagat won the women’s race in 2:19:31 — a personal best by 17 minutes!
I always say that my target audience for this newsletter is my wife. Well honey, Fionnuala McCormack ran 2:23:58 in Valencia and is doubling back to run the European Championships in Dublin this weekend. That’s a must-watch event for everyone!
As always thank you for reading and please encourage your teammates to subscribe — it is how we grow! And thanks again to Medal Awards Rack for sponsoring Lap 40! Interested in sponsoring a newsletter? Email TheLapCount@gmail.com