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Lap 107: Sponsored by Crazy Running
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The New York City Half 🍎
As a lifelong New Yorker – not counting the few years I squatted in a frat house deep into the Jersey suburbs or the 9 months I spent cosplaying as early-career Matt McConaughey in Austin, Texas – I can say with confidence that March is its worst month. That’s because it sounds like a spring month, but very much isn’t. Sure, we fixed the clocks so it’s light out in the evenings, and there’s occasionally a day you don’t really need a jacket, so the expectation is it should be great for running.
But if there’s any better encapsulation of March in the Empire State, it’s this past weekend. Saturday was beautiful. Sunday was not.
With freezing temperatures and huge gusts of piercing wind directed straight into runners’ faces the bulk of the race, my main thought while cheering on athletes from Central Park South was how glad I was to not be running. It didn’t appear as if anyone was having fun, although in fairness, when has 12 miles into a race ever felt like a good time?
New York spring-winter aside, from the first steps in the women’s race, Hellen Obiri established herself as the early leader and the only one who would even attempt to go with her was Senbere Teferi. But even the world record holder in the 5k* couldn’t pour cold water on OAC’s hot streak, as Obiri won the race in 1:07:21. As expected, times were not going to be fast due to the weather and the new more borough inclusive-course. For better or worse, the days of half marathon records being set in New York are almost certainly over.
The top American in the field was popular podcaster Desiree Linden, who finished 5th in 1:12:21 looking strong. Going up and down the form charts of the field, it is fair to say that the course was running three-plus minutes “slow” compared to some of the flatter and faster courses in the world. That means Linden’s TLCAT (The Lap Count adjusted time) would be faster than her half marathon personal best from 2011. And if history tells us anything, Des is pretty good in Boston.
The men’s side saw a Ugandan sweep, as Jacob Kiplimo kept the ball rolling after winning the World Cross Country Championships last month. Despite his role as the obvious favorite ahead of time, he practiced patience and allowed the field to drag him through the first half before applying some pressure and cruising to a significant negative split.
Countryman Joshua Cheptegei did his best to maintain, but ultimately finished second in 1:02:09. After the race the Olympic champion noted that the longer distances for him are still a work in progress. He’ll be back at home on the track soon where his focus will shift for the remainder of the year.
The top guy from Maine was Ben True, who was welcomed back to New York with open arms after he unfortunately had to withdraw from the full distance this past fall. He finished 4th in 1:02:57, though the highlight of his day was the revelation of his fascinating thought process behind not wearing super shoes in practice. I don’t have enough understanding of physics to agree or disagree, but it is valuable to hear an alternate approach and opinion to the general consensus. I’m sure “big shoe” is going to try to silence this carbon fiber contrarian, though, so keep your head on a swivel, Ben.
Kejelcha’s near WR! 😮
The last time Yomif Kejelcha narrowly missed a world record, he turned around and headed to Boston to take another crack at it. Well, time to set up a 5K on the Harvard “1200 meter” tempo loop! The two-time World Indoor champion ran 12:50 on the roads in Lille, France, just one painful second shy of Berihu Aregawi’s world record.
Behind him is a name you may have already forgotten, but I am going to once again remind you: Raynold Kipkorir, World U20 1500m champion and silver medalist at the World Junior XC Champs, finished second in 13:04. Behind him was Telahun Haile, the Oslo Diamond League champion and 12:52 5000m guy. And in fourth was Jacob Krop, the world champion silver medalist at the distance.
After a tough day at The Ten, Sam Atkin bounced back to break the British 5k record in 13:16. Now if you’re like, ‘hey, how did the Americans do?’ Well, they don’t travel to road races in Europe because appearance fees back home are greater than the value of time bonuses and travel fatigue brought on by chasing a big day overseas.
The women’s race was much closer as Caroline Nyaga ran significantly faster than ever before – like thirty seconds faster – to win by 0.1 seconds over Mekides Abebe, the 2022 World Championship bronze medalist in the steeplechase.
Marathon? More like marathrongs!
Alright, let’s be transparent here: this was a relatively quiet week in terms of notable results. Not overall, there were some incredible performances around the world such as:
Zeineba Yimer (2:19:44) and Marius Kimutai (2:05:06) both won the Barcelona Marathon in course records.
Amedework Walelegn (2:05:47) took the Seoul Marathon title again, four months after the last time the race was held.
In Rome, it was Betty Chepkwony (2:23:02) and Taoufik Allam (2:07:43) who took top honors and ran many-minute personal bests to do so.
At the Wuxi Marathon, Enock Onchari took the top spot in 2:07:19 and second place finisher Jie He broke the Chinese national record in 2:07:30.
But my struggle is who can keep up with all of this!? Do you have any idea how many major cities there are in the world hosting marathons with enough funding for a few elites? In 2022, there were 297 men who dipped below 2:10 in the marathon and 261 women who ran sub-2:30. So far in 2023, the tally is up to 146 and 120, respectively. And it has only been 11 weeks!
This leaves fans – and more importantly – newsletter writers in a bit of a dilemma. Do I just objectively spit out the results like ChatGPT for your consumption, because if someone can run a 2:05 marathon then there’s a moral obligation to write about it?
A common refrain is that there’s no money in running. That’s not true. Mass participation in road races provides an enormous pool of capital from which generous prize purses can be drawn. When you have 25,000 people paying a couple of hundred dollars to run a race, you can easily pay out thousands of dollars to its top entrants.
And outside of America, where pro running is still largely sponsorship funded, it’s encouraged athletes to move to the marathon at a much younger age than they historically have, which in itself is not bad. But compared to thirty years ago when all the top professionals ran in the same handful of marathons, now this infusion of cash has dispersed the talent across the globe and calendar. It is similar to Saudi Arabian oil money disrupting the economics of the established ecosystem in golf. Is LIV beneficial to the sport as a whole? Depends who you ask.
This is of course good in the sense that more deserving athletes, oftentimes from lower-income places like Ethiopia and Kenya, are having opportunities to make a viable career out of running, hence the immense depth. The negative is the same as it has always been: it’s difficult to keep up as a fan. And this trend will only continue as World Marathon Majors eliminate prize money, making mid-tier races even more attractive.
I do not have a solution at this time.
Barkley Marathons: theater of the mind for running dorks
If you spent any time on the running-specific corner of the internet this past weekend (or have ever so much as met a trail or ultra runner) then you probably already know that the Barkley Marathons took place. For the second time in history, three men finished under the 60 hour time limit: Aurélien Sanchez, John Kelly and Karel Sabbe,
I don’t want to spill too much digital ink explaining the quirks of this event, so I’ll just say that for a race where the only goal is completion (some years nobody finishes), held in the middle of nowhere (five loops of an unmarked course in a remote state park), with no live broadcast (just a Twitter account run by, well... Keith), it might be pound-for-pound the most talked about race in the world.
Sure there are races that draw more eyeballs – the Olympic 100m final, for instance. There are certainly races that attract more participants – the NYC Marathon sees about 50,000 starters. And there are ultras that attract more conventionally competitive fields – you won’t see many Western States champs toeing the line here. But no race boasts this sort of entirely self-made mythology, and there’s definitely something the broader running world can learn from it.
The fields are hand-picked each year based largely on applicants’ essays (seriously) and the race begins when he lights his first cigarette of the weekend. He purposefully makes the course as difficult as he can, and there are a million other eccentricities baked into the whole experience.
But basically, it seems he’s tapped into something that most other races – even ultras – don’t want to recognize: that running can really, truly suck, so why not make it suck as much as it possibly can and see what sort of sickos still want to try?
Maybe rather than trying to appease those who don’t care it is better to lean into being a niche event and cater to those who do.
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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Athletes 😢
What is the appropriate reaction when yet another athlete is banned from the sport? It’s not uncommon to see some level of celebration and a number of I-told-ya-so’s from the track and field community. And that’s understandable. It means that the system is working to catch those who do wrong and hopefully bring the sport back to some level of fairness equilibrium.
But I generally feel some amount of heartbreak when this happens. Most runners are naturally optimistic. I lined up with this idea in my head that all the competitors on the starting line have dedicated equal parts of their lives to winning, but somehow I deserve to win most. Even after back-to-back seasons of disappointment or injury, I could seemingly find ways to continue convincing myself that in this next race everything will finally click.
To be a fan of this sport requires that we extend this confidence to those we are cheering on. So like with an unfaithful ex-boyfriend, there’s unwavering hope that each time you catch him in a lie that it will be the last! We suspend belief a bit to enjoy the performances as they come and to find connection and inspiration from the athletes we root for. Even when there is certainly a legitimate reason for doubt, I prefer defaulting to the mindset that athletes are innocent until proven guilty. The alternative is becoming so jaded you can’t watch at all.
Last week started out with the harrowing news that Raven Saunders, the Olympic silver medalist in the shot put, was banned for 18 months due to whereabouts failures after she missed three tests in a 12-month period. This one hurt as she is certainly a fan favorite, known for twerking in the ring and advocating for mental health outside of it. Raven took responsibility, which is the right and only thing to do. She may never earn back the trust of some, while others will be quick to forgive, but these are the consequences of her actions.
On Tuesday it was Zane Robertson, 33, of New Zealand who got popped. The national record holder in the half (59:47) and full marathon (2:08:19) was revealed to have tested positive for EPO and was subsequently banned for eight years. The extended sentence is for “providing false documentation in his defense” which was that he went to a clinic in Kenya to receive the Covid vaccine, but was injected with the prohibited substance as treatment.
When Zane and his brother Jake moved from New Zealand to Kenya at the age of 17 to pursue a career in elite distance running it was seen as the ultimate badass decision. It demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the pursuit as they took a non-traditional path toward achieving their goals. The cultural impact their story had on kids across the world was significant – surely many others dreamed of doing something similar and floated the idea to their mothers.
The Robertson twins have certainly had their fair share of detractors, many of whom are dancing in the streets right now. But sharing this news with a 17-year-old version of myself would be just as difficult of a pill to swallow as hearing that Quenton Cassidy was also taking EPO. (Maybe that’s how he did so many quarters…)
And yet the sport moves on and so will we. Surely there are other stars who are actively competing under the false pretense of being clean. And tomorrow we will unknowingly wish them all of the success in the world, only to regret it the next day. What other option is there but to remain optimistic that we finally caught the last doper?
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Catching up with Dylan Jacobs 🟠
In 2017, for the second time in only a few years, Sandburg High School had a Footlocker champion as Dylan Jacobs crossed the finish line in San Diego. Most kids growing up in the Chicago suburbs would jump at the opportunity to enroll at Notre Dame, and this budding star was no different. After a relatively stagnant start, Jacobs returned to school after the pandemic as a new athlete, ultimately winning the NCAA 10,000m Championships in 2022. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Jacobs followed coach Sean Carlson to a new job at the University of Tennessee. In the fall he finished 4th at the cross country championships and this indoor season ran 7:36.89 for 3000m and 13:11.01 for 5000m. At the NCAA Indoor Championships he won the 5000m in 13:37.59 – the fastest time ever run at altitude by a collegiate athlete. And since Dylan told me after the interview that he is a big fan of CITIUS he has now cemented himself as a guy to root for – check out what he has to say and you’ll become a fan as well:
It’s been a week since you won an NCAA championship. How does it feel reflecting on that accomplishment?
I would say it still hasn’t fully hit. National titles are obviously the main goal. That's what we talk about in our program so being able to go out there and then win that 5000m is what I have been dreaming of. In a field like that, it could have been someone else’s day, but I'm blessed to be able to get the win.
You’ve joined a small group of individuals who have won national titles in two different uniforms. How does this one differ and feel special in its own way?
The first one is always going to be incredibly special. Last year felt like it was me coming onto the scene. But this one means just as much, if not more because it is a statement that I can consistently be there and consistently win. I think what it showed is that we can do it anywhere and it's a huge momentum boost for this program. Tennessee is already getting great recruiting classes coming in and they're just going to keep getting better as we build the brand.
But if you had to root for Notre Dame or Tennessee in a football game, what fan section are you sitting in?
This is a tough one. Especially with how good Tennessee was this year. I mean, it's really tough because I love Notre Dame. They are a great team also. But I'm here in Tennessee now, so I have to say Tennessee.
I'll check back in ten years to see if you change your mind. Transferring comes with big changes, but going with your coach probably made the transition a bit smoother. What was the most difficult element?
Adjusting to the new environment and team as a whole. I had my routine at Notre Dame and knew how to run well there. It’s an adjustment to find your role as a new person, but also trying to be a leader that can help the younger guys improve. I think that the biggest challenge is not overstepping those boundaries. The team has been amazing and so welcoming. The chemistry on this team is honestly the best that I've ever seen. And it is more of a testament to the people who were here through those changes.
It has to be interesting balancing your position as a veteran, but also asking younger guys on the team where you're supposed to turn on each run.
I sat in the back on easy runs early in the fall, because I was like, “I am just going to follow you guys since you know where to go!”
Now that you have multiple titles now under your belt are you starting to look beyond the NCAA with plans to qualify for Worlds?
100%, that's definitely in the back of my mind. But if I'm going to put myself in a position to qualify for a World Championship then I have to be able to take care of business at the NCAA level if that’s going to happen.
When you win Footlocker in high school then the idea of eventually turning professional must have been there from a young age. Why didn’t you do it last year when I am sure the opportunity presented itself?
In my conversation with Carlson, he said it was my decision, but there's more left to do if I want to come to Tennessee. I hadn’t accomplished everything I wanted to, not just in racing but there was room for growth with the training. And before I make the jump to the next level I want to make sure I am completely ready for that job and to make a splash. I was definitely disappointed that I wasn't able to win in cross country as that was one of my big goals, but I think indoors proved that this was the right decision.
How much confidence do you get from witnessing how successful Yared has been in his transition to the professional realm?
An immense amount of confidence that it's hard to even put it into words. But it's not just him – I mean, he's one the greatest athletes I have ever known, but he's also one of the nicest people and he deserves the world for that. But other guys on our team like Andrew Alexander are improving and developing. That tells me that I'm on the right path because with the training that we do, there's always a lot of room for growth and whether that's running at altitude, more mileage, or harder workouts, whatever it is, there's more there for the next level.
How do you describe yourself as a runner? Are you a high-mileage grinding type? Do you love to train or are you just here to race?
I love the competition – that's my favorite thing. When I first started, I didn't love running in general. I loved competing against other people and that's kind of what drew me in. And I wouldn't say I'm a super high mileage guy and I don't look at the numbers.
I don't wear a watch for any of my runs. I know the mile markers from a couple of times running on certain routes with people. And when I'm alone I just go out and do that. But I don't like to look at the numbers or pace and all that stuff. I just like to go. How I feel is the best indicator for making sure your body's right.
I'm definitely a relaxed person in training who loves to compete. That's how I would describe myself as a runner. When it comes to race day, I'm ready to go to battle against anyone. But in training I don't try to kill any workouts – Carlson always preaches just trying to get base hits. Do your job every day and you’ll get better over time.
That's such an old-school thing to do. Stay the way you are, getting a GPS watch is opening Pandora’s box. There is no going back and what you’re doing is working. But do you keep a training log?
I do have a training log, just not a lot of numbers. I was given a Garmin at the beginning of the year and I don't know where it is. Once the battery died I never charged it but had to go for a run so I didn’t bring it and that was it. And then in workouts, I just hope other people that I'm working out with have a watch so we get those times.
Wait, you don't wear them in workouts?
No, I rarely do.
This is fascinating!
I actually just did a long run the other day and was solo and there was an app on my phone that was tracking the mileage in the background while I was listening to music. The app told me my average pace after, but I didn’t realize then.
Do you mess up pacing in workouts?
Oh, no. I honestly feel like I've become used to it. Maybe in my first couple of years, but I got to the point where I can feel what the pace is from the beginning.
I love it! You don’t hear anything like that anymore. So in terms of the next steps after this year, what are you looking for in a training group that would make it a good fit?
It's probably more of a culture thing. One of the biggest things for me has been trusting my coach and having that relationship. The culture within the team or with that coach to have that belief and the same goals would win me over. That's what I was looking for in choosing a college.
You are on a high right now as things are going great. But for some balance, what was your career low when things weren’t coming so easily?
Freshman year of college and indoor track season during my sophomore year. I had some huge goals coming out of high school. I was one of those guys who thought they’d just immediately be the best, but I didn't realize how good the NCAA is. I didn't make our conference line-up and was super lucky to get scratched into regionals in the 1500. I shouldn't have made it.
I had a good cross country season my sophomore year, but not indoor track. I was struggling to figure out why I was struggling. I still believed in the training and the team, but I couldn't figure it out. And Covid was a terrible time for everyone, but it was a chance for me to regrow my confidence and discover who I was as a runner again.
And it has been an upward trajectory since we returned. I know I'm going to get punched in the mouth again at some point and will have to bounce back. That's kind of what running is, you know, hitting a low and finding your way back up.
(This interview was edited for length and clarity.)
Rapid Fire Highlights🔥
Athing Mu was a guest on The Pivot Podcast, which is a big deal. In terms of good for the sport forward, this is getting in front of a potential target audience who may not be currently engaged in track and field. She was super transparent and this was an enjoyable listen, even if the Olympic champion is toying with the idea of retiring early to pursue a modeling career.
Maegan Krifchin (1:12:43) and Matt McDonald (1:04:12) won the New Bedford Half Marathon.
Elaine Thompson-Herah, the 5x Olympic gold medalist, ran a 400m at a meet in Jamaica in 60.88 – that is not a typo. Her personal best is only 55.88 despite having run a good number of laps in her career. If a lack of endurance is the price to pay to have 10.54 abilities, then sign me up!
The Los Angeles marathon was won by Jemal Yimer (2:13:15) and Stacy Ndiwa (2:31:02).
Allyson and Wes Felix were on the popular NPR podcast How I Built This, discussing her journey from Nike-sponsored athlete to starting Saysh.
The Olympic 400m champion Steven Gardiner opened up his year in Puerto Rico running 31.59 for 300m. The Olympic silver medalist Marileidy Paulino ran 35.16. And in the 600m, Ryan Sanchez went 1:13.97 over 400m specialist Michael Cherry who impressed with his 1:14.36 – where are the calls for him to try the 800?
MAILBAG: What do you want to know? 📫
There isn’t much on the calendar for the next few weeks so it seems like a good time to do our first-ever mailbag here at The Lap Count! Whether it’s about recent results, predictions, training, TLC/CITIUS, myself, or something else.
Thank you to Crazy Running for sponsoring this week’s newsletter! There aren’t many things better than finding a way to turn something you are passionate about into a career and this could be the perfect opportunity for you.