Should we (🇺🇸) care about the Commonwealth Games?⏱
Lap 74: Sponsored by RunDNA
Almost every Tinman Elite Athlete has set a PR this year! A big reason for this is consistent training without injuries. Founder/CEO of RunDNA, Doug Adams, has joined Tinman Elite as Head Physical Therapist to help make this happen. Tinman Elite and RunDNA have brought together expert training principles and RunDNA’s systematic approach to injury prevention and performance training. Now you can access these plans through Hammer & Axe Coaching on RunDNA’s platform so that athletes of all abilities can have the same great results. Find the right plan for you!
American Track League 🇺🇸
‘What happens to a team deferred? Does it die with summer fun? Or should you lick your sores — and then run?’
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All year long, professional athletes stare unblinkingly at the dates of the global championships circled on their calendars. But only three* lucky souls per event from each country have the opportunity to actually compete there. What do you do if you’re on the outside looking in? And even for those who qualify for the year-defining games, they’re ultimately just a 10-day event! It’s a confusing aspect of the job for those less familiar with the annual schedule. We put such an emphasis on global championships and the Olympics that it can be quite shocking to hear about other races mattering at all.
So if you don’t share a bank account with one of the competing athletes (or take 15% of their winnings), then the Ed Murphey Classic might have seemed like the ultimate lame duck meet in the American Track League schedule. Taking place during the final days before the 2023 World Championship qualifying window opened (July 31st), in the traditional ‘only global championships mean anything’ model of the sport, there is no race that could possibly have mattered less.
A more cynical author might end the blog there, but that ain’t me!
This is where following the athlete’s stories becomes an essential part of the growth equation. Take Sage Hurta, for example. After running 1:58.30 in the US Championships semi-final, it seemed like if someone was poised to break up the ‘Big 3’ it was her. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be and Hurta finished 7th in the final.
But in Kate Grace-like fashion, she hasn’t allowed that disappointment to derail the rest of her season. On Friday evening, Sage ran a four-second personal best to win the 1500 in Memphis going 4:01.79 — she is now the 5th fastest American this year in the 800, 1500, and mile. And behind her, the 2017 NCAA Champion, Marta Pen Freitas, ran a 1500 PB for the first time in four years. They’re not Worlds standards, but if you’re invested in their careers, then they matter.
And if you’re a fellow Yared Nuguse fan, then I hope you like emotional roller coasters! Since breaking the American Collegiate Record in an ACC prelim last year, it’s been an up and down ride, mostly contingent on his health. Now bouncing back from his 11th place finish at the US Championships, the Goose got loose in Memphis, closing in 54 seconds to win it in 3:34.95.
Should the qualifying window for the 2023 World Championships have probably opened the day after the 2022 ceremony concluded? Yes. But even with that not being the case, these races aren’t just floating in the abyss of results purgatory. They still mean something because the people who ran them care! And as soon as I figure out how the ranking system works I’ll try to quantify the amount we all should, too.
Morgan McDonald (7:49.26) and Elly Henes (8:48.06) popped bottles of champagne to celebrate their 3000m victories. Nia Akins won the 800m in 1:58.78 PB and Jonah Koech bounced back after his WRONGFUL disqualification at Worlds to win in 1:44.95. Young stars Teetee Terry (10.82) and Tamari Davis (10.83) both ran their fastest wind-legal times ever to go 1-2!
In response to Gladwell’s Pied Piper idea
One of the many guests who stopped by the CITIUS MAG house during the World Championships was New York Times best-seller and track fanatic Malcolm Gladwell. Because our hour conversation wasn’t enough, we got dinner later that night and he continued to pitch us the idea of his 20-athlete deep cross country race, that he has officially coined the “Pied Piper.”
It was no surprise that he later took pen to paper to spell out exactly why this shift to a new type of race will bring about short and long-term improvements to the sport.
There’s a lot to like about Gladwell’s proposal, but as a retired-athlete-turned-talking-head, you already know I have some counter thoughts. Before diving into my commentary on the Pied Piper’s theoretical efficacy, I suggest reading the full transcript of Gladwell’s bulletin here — and go ahead and subscribe while you’re at it.
In its current form, a standard high school cross country race is won by the team with the lowest aggregate score for its top five placed runners out of a team of seven. The first place finisher earns their team one point, second place gets two points, and so on. In an effort to boost participation in the sport by getting more kids involved in team scoring opportunities, Gladwell suggests that we amend these rules to include each team’s top 20 athletes in scoring. And more controversially, he also suggests the winner be determined by clocking the lowest combined time for all 20 of a team’s finishers.
I should begin by noting that there isn’t a participation issue in high school cross country. The real challenge in Gladwell’s eyes is convincing high school runners to stick with the sport past graduation, whether competitively or not. I think that issue goes hand-in-hand with one I’m always going on about: that running as a whole struggles to convert its youth participants into lifelong fans.
The easiest solution there is to show these younger athletes that running is something that exists beyond the scope of their Saturday morning cross country races, and that it’s something to care about for life. Bring the professionals to the high school meets that are thriving and that routeinly attract 10,000+ kids: Mt. Sac, the Manhattan Invite, Great American, etc.
Then have those pros race on a short looped course so it’s easy to spectate!
While Gladwell’s intentions are well-placed, the reality of the Pied Piper scoring method, once implemented, may look quite different from what’s forecast in his essay. We don’t have to venture much farther than two scoring systems that already exist to discover the Pied Piper’s potential holes.
The first is ironic given Gladwell’s vocal disdain for the sport, but cycling has provided us well over a century’s worth of data and results to model from. One of my biggest gripes with the sport of cross country is that despite the wide ranging conditions, undulating terrain, and questionable course measurements, many athletes and coaches bring their obsession with time from the track to the mud. In the Tour de France, the only time that counts is relative to your competitors: the number we count is how far behind the winner one finishes. The Pied Piper accomplishes this.
But ask a cycling fan to name the last few team classification winners!
No one cares about this category. Instead, fans choose to focus on the riders up front who are winning the stages, sprints, and uphill climbs. Most of the efforts for the majority of the team are to act as a domestique to assist their contender — why? Because fans love a star! No new scoring method will make the slowest runner matter that much more, but it will make the team element matter less.
Then there’s the logistics. The second I heard Gladwell’s field-expanding suggestion, I had flashbacks to being shoved to the ground at the start of a chaotic race in high school and fearing for my life as the stampede trampled over me. With 31 teams plus additional individual qualifiers, the New York State Federation meet had 285 girls cross the finish line at Bowdoin Park last year. The Pied Piper essentially triples the size of every event!
There is a safe way to do this that will also solve the problem of making it slightly more obvious who the race winner is. After all, even with just five athletes receiving popsicle sticks at the end of the finisher chute, there is generally an extended wait for the final results of a high school cross country race to be tabulated. Waiting for the 20th athlete to come in and calculate the cumulative score won’t make that any easier.
The Japanese style of Ekiden simplifies this. What is fundamentally a relay race on the roads, the Ekiden sees athletes passing along a sash rather than a baton. The most popular version is the Hakone Ekiden which features ten athletes per team over two days across a 217km long course. It was watched by over 64 million television viewers in 2021.
If the goal is to popularize the sport and make it so that every athlete matters, then where better to look than Japan, where distance running is must-watch television, a participatory cultural mainstay, and a great source of national pride? In 2021, Japan had 106 men break 2:15 in the marathon. The United States only had 11. (With respective populations of 125 million vs. 330 million people.)
And if the goal of the Pied Piper scoring system is to circumvent Gladwell’s Law — that “in any sporting endeavor, elite achievement comes at the cost of mass participation” — then maybe the entire element of cross country being a team sport is the problem.
Potential high cross country runners aren’t necessarily intimidated by running itself — 18.1 million Americans signed up for a road race in 2018. But what percentage of the non-running-averse population would still find running enjoyable if there was suddenly an added element of external pressure? Surely there’s a sizable percentage of would-be high school harriers who wouldn’t come out for the team if there was an expectation that their performance matters — that in their first ever race it could be them that sinks their team’s chances at a collective victory. What if scoring 20 athletes has the adverse effect of diminishing participation?
In partnership with The Pride 5K
The Pride 5k is a run/walk organized by non-binary professional runner Nikki Hiltz. It raises money for the Trevor Project, an organization providing suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth. Along with a virtual race option, the Pride 5k is hosting the first ever IN-PERSON Pride 5k in Flagstaff Arizona on Sunday, October 2, 2022! The race is $35 to register and all proceeds go to the Trevor Project!
According to The Trevor Project, having just one accepting adult in an LGBTQ person’s life can reduce their risk of suicide by 40%. Whether you join us in person or run a 5k wherever you live, showing up to support queer people has the power to save lives.
The Commonwealth Games 👑
Soon after Jake Wightman won the World Championship 1500m, his father and coach offered up advice about not celebrating too hard and to keep the Commonwealth Games in mind. Americans likely reacted to that comment with curiosity — like, who cares? Let the kid go paint the town red!
Well, we aren’t the target audience. But for the 56 countries — or 72 teams — that are a part of the Commonwealth who know what lawn bowls and netball is, they’re a big deal! The first edition began as what was known as the British Empire Games in 1930 — and for the purposes of the event’s branding, it’s probably best that they changed the name.
Even with no home team to root for, if you are a track fan then you should be following along because the fields are stacked and the athletes are running with a lot of pride on the line. For example, it’s a rare opportunity for individuals from Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland to wear their home vest rather than competing for Great Britain.
And for those who hail from a country that was once colonized by the British Empire, then it’s an obvious opportunity to root for the underdog. (An athlete from a formerly occupied nation winning a race isn’t going to correct a grave historical injustice, but in a world that sadly doesn’t provide much recourse on that front, it’s still a powerful statement.)
I will enthusiastically be tuning into the Sir Walter Miler to cheer on my favorite athletes, and there is objectively way less on the line.
The blokes abroad are quite chuffed about the crowds, which have mostly filled the 30,000-seat stadium for the early days of mid-week competition. If only I was there, because figuring out the VPNs and time differences has made watching the races live, stateside nightmare. Which truly sucks because there have been some incredible performances.
Uganda’s Victor Kiplangat won the marathon in 2:10:55 and Australia’s Jessica Stenson won the women’s in 2:27:31. The races had 18 and 16 finishers respectively. And in the men’s 10,000m, Jacob Kiplimo followed his bronze at Worlds winning in 27:09 with a 5:03 final 2000m.
Results/Schedule can be found HERE.
World Athletics U20 Championships 🇨🇴
Although I am probably more interested in watching the Commonwealth Games, I’ve been seeing way more of the World Athletics U20 Championships this week. There might be a lesson here about the importance of accessible viewing here! Additionally, for those who questioned how we could possibly condense the ten-day schedule of the World Championships, then look no further than the meet’s six-day schedule.
The race that was worth setting an alarm for was the men’s 100m final which featured Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo, who had set the U20 World Record of 9.94 earlier this season. After jogging a 10.00 in the prelims, the stage was set for a show.
From the first step, Tebogo said he knew he was going to win. And with 25 meters left there was a full 90-degree turn in the general direction of eventual second place finisher and now Jamaican U20 record holder, Bouwahjgie Nkrumie. When the clock read 9.91 jaws dropped — what could he have run had he just run right through the line?
I don’t really care about sportsmanship in most cases and almost every argument against mid-race gloating starts to sound like an adult from Charlie Brown wah-wah-wahing. That’s not my beef with here. It was very fun to watch the celebration! But with perfect conditions (79 degrees and +0.8 wind) on a fast track situated at 3000+ feet of altitude, why not just put the record out of reach forever?
Tebogo recently shared that he plans to attend the University of Oregon this fall (does he know that 100m in 9.91 seconds is actually 7 minute pace according to the program’s new director?). How much money could a 19-year-old capable of running well into the 9.8s be worth? Not enough to pass up an education apparently!
Note: The M1500, W800, M110H and W100 are in a 40 minute window tonight starting at 6:55pm ET.
Jonathan Davis joins the Atlanta Track Club
After finishing 6th at the NCAA Championships and earning his fourth All-American certificate, it looked like the end of a successful collegiate career for Jonathan Davis at the University of Illinois. Up to that point, there hadn’t been a standout performance that indicated he should definitely pursue running post-collegiately as a career option — that is until the USA Championships. There, he finished a surprise second in 3:46.01 with a 52.01 final lap. However, without the standard or an adequate world ranking, Davis did not qualify for the World Championships. If there was any question as to whether or not this was a flukey result in a tactical race, Davis answered it a few weeks later at the Sound Running Sunset Tour where he led a stacked field to a slew of personal bests, including his own – 3:33.81!
He joins The Lap Count today to announce his next move.
I should probably start by allowing you to share some exciting news. What’s coming next for you in your athletic career?
Yeah! I signed to run for the Atlanta Track Club and to be sponsored by Adidas. So I am moving down to Atlanta in about a month and I will start training, and getting ready for next year after my season wraps up next weekend at the Sir Walter Miler (Watch here Friday).
After the season you've had, there were probably a number of different options. What is it about the Atlanta Track Club that attracted you to head south?
When I signed with Total Sports right after USAs, I made a list of things in descending order that was important to me about a program or hypothetical training environment.
The similarities between my college training and what they’re doing as professionals at ATC had a lot of similarities to hopefully make the transition as smooth as possible.
I hit it off with both coaches, Amy and Andrew Begley, and they have something similar going to what I had at Illinois. That got me interested in the program and after talking with some of their athletes, it was a good fit and natural progression from college.
Were you planning on going pro this whole time — when did you realize that this could actually be a viable option? Like, did you grow up wanting to be a professional runner?
I didn't make that decision until after the USA 1500 final for obvious reasons. Then I spoke with my now agent, Stephen Haas, about what the future could hold. I just decided to go for it and see where this goes.
I went back and forth ever since high school. I'd have those times where I would mentally do everything I could to set myself up well to run professionally, but that would ebb and flow. At the end of college, I didn't think anything that I had done until the beginning of this year warranted me going to the next level — especially to make it financially feasible. But when the opportunity presented itself, I kind of realized it was something I wanted to try to do.
It wasn’t straightforward based on finishing order at USAs who qualified for Worlds. Now that you’ve had time to digest it and watch Worlds, what did you make of that experience? Was it strange watching knowing that you had finished on the podium?
Definitely! Watching the 1500 prelims I was trying to digest that as it was going on — just wondering what heat I would have been in and wondering how I would have done. There was a little bit of frustration. And then we went out to Los Angeles and I ran 3:33 and that kind of helped me — and probably a few other people — realize that it wasn't necessarily luck that I had finished second.
It's one thing to run 3:33 getting towed along and coming in 10th place, but you beat everyone doing it. You have the fastest American 1500 in 2022. At the start of the year, had I told you that you'd finish second at USAs and run that fast, would you have believed me?
Not at all in early January. The training was a little bit hit or miss after cross country nationals and trying to find a groove in the winter was kind of tough. And so I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me that.
Just going back a little bit in your career, I see that there's quite a gap during 2018 to 2020 where you weren't running much or very fast. What happened during that part of your career?
In 2018 I got a stress fracture in my foot and then coming back from that I got mono. Then it was Achilles tendonitis and then a femoral stress fracture. After that I started my healthy streak — it was just a lot of injuries and sickness those two years.
I'm an unapologetic Atlanta Track Club fan because I think the organization is doing things right from the top to bottom. But why would you tell a casual fan to root for you and your new teammates?
I think the community outreach that the team does is really special, which is something I wasn't previously aware of until recently. It's kind of hard to root against an organization that is so committed to the whole running environment in Atlanta. Plus, getting to know some of the runners on the team, they're just people who are hard not to like.
Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥
Sean Brosnan, the coach of Newbury Park has accepted a role in the NCAA as the distance coach at UCLA. It’s not easy to get the attention of a Power Five from the high school ranks, which is a testament to how many records were broken by his team this year.
USATF Masters Nationals is always inspiring! 81-year-old Mary Smith ran 200m in 39.40 seconds. 85-year-old Robert Williams Jr ran 100m in 16.89 and 95-year-old Rich Soller crushed a 34.16 200m! (Video)
Shalane Flanagan has been named to the University of Oregon’s coaching staff.
Following his fourth-place finish in the 400 at Worlds and a 4x400 gold medal, Champion Allison shared that he will now be representing Puma.
Former Michigan State and 3:52 miler, Morgan Beadlescomb shared on the Run Your Mouth podcast that he has joined the Very Nice Track Club, with shoe sponsorship news to follow soon. His teammate, Hobbs Kessler out-leaned him in Lignano, Italy, this weekend 3:36.99 to 3:37.03.
Patrick Tiernan (32:32) and Fiona O’Keeffe (35:58) won the Bix 7 In Davenport, Iowa — a good day for the Puma Elite Running squad.
Under Armour has named Lara Rogers the head women’s coach of the UA Mission Run Baltimore Distance squad. The former University of Washington State and University of Cincinnati coach’s squad will include 4:03 1500m runner, Susan Ejore and Ellie Leather, who finished third in the NCAA mile this year.
I laughed when Sydney McLaughlin’s world #2 ranking showed on the scoreboard at the World Championships because she was obviously the heavy favorite. The reason she wasn’t ranked first is that she hasn’t raced a Diamond League event in three years — until now. She’ll be in Monaco!
In the interest of helping a fellow runner and former Frank Gagliano athlete, I wanted to sign off by sharing the GoFundMe for John McNulty. A regular at our NJNY TC practices, John has miraculously survived over 265 brain surgeries, which as you can imagine is coming at a great financial cost to his family. His ability to survive in this fight is attributed to the strength from his days running at Rutgers and winning the Yonkers Marathon. Regardless of contributing, I highly recommend reading his story.
Thanks so much to RunDNA for supporting this week’s newsletter! I can say from my personal experience that physical therapists make some of the best coaches out there so I highly recommend their content as a resource. If you enjoyed this week’s Lap Count, please feel free to share with your teammates or repost segments on social media. It helps us reach new audiences!