If ever there was an inspiring comeback story, we’ve got one in Nate Jenkins, who hopes to make a long-awaited return to the marathon in Boston on April 20. Years after finishing 7th at the Olympic Trials in 2007 and losing coordination in one of his legs, Nate discusses his long recovery, his current training, and his hopes for Hopkinton. After the chat with Nate, Gregg and Brenn recap the indoor track season and delve into political issues in the sport. Gregg gives a race report of his Dubai Marathon, where camaraderie trumped competition.
The Wanamaker Mile is the signature event of the Millrose Games, but the six-hour track party at New York City’s Armory on Valentine’s Day was loaded with enticing appetizers. Among them was the 25-lap, 5000 meter race. Cam Levins was the favorite after his stellar performance at the Armory two weeks prior. The pacer for this race was to run 8:00 for the first 3k (13:20 pace), and from there Levins was expected to speed up over the last 2k to beat his own Canadian indoor record of 13:19 while securing the outdoor championships international qualifying standard of 13:23.
Though the 5000 is a race in which all the action seems to come late, the positioning set up the drama early in this one, as Lopez Lomong of the Bowerman Track Club quickly settled in behind Levins. Lomong possess great speed – he set the Wanamaker Mile record with a 3:51.21 in 2013 – and at some point he’d try to use it. After the pacer dropped out, Ryan Hill of the BTC led the train, and close behind Levins and Lomong were BTC teammates Andrew Bumbalough and Matt Tegenkamp. Around and around they went, Levins in his Nike Oregon Project black surrounded by the blood-red of BTC. Levins is nobody’s idea of a villain, but this was taking the appearance of a choreographed strike.
Levins did not increase the pace at 3k as expected, and the race, if tactical already, had become moreso. Lomong passed Levins with four laps to go, Sam Chelanga burst to the front with three to go, then Lomong reeled him in and outpaced Hill to win by two tenths of a second in 13:27. Levins faded to sixth in 13:33. Some days you have it, some days you don’t.
Is there a runner who relies more on adrenaline than Robby Andrews? With 150 meters to go in the men’s 1,000, Andrews leapt across Olympian Duane Solomon to an opening on the outside and gunned for the finish. His 26.34 split on the last lap was the fastest in the race. Erik Sowinski was the only one able to respond and held on for a narrow win in 2:21.18. As in the 5000, it wasn’t the finishing time the athletes were looking for, but was thrilling nonetheless.
Races with ambitious targets often end in carnage. In the women’s Wanamaker Mile, Shannon Rowbury took aim at Mary Decker’s American indoor record of 4:20.5, and her Nike Oregon Project teammates Jordan Hasay, 18-year-old Mary Cain (last year’s champion in 4:27), and Treniere Moser went with her. Trailing the NOP quartet with a pitchfork on her singlet was Arizona State runner Shelby Houlihan, who, while coming in with an indoor PR of 4:38, had said she could run a 4:25. Of the chasers Hasay held on the longest, but Rowbury pulled away, shifting the attention solely on the clock.
With a lap to go, Rowbury needed to split 29 seconds to get the record. Thirty meters from the tape she locked up, Julia Lucas–like, to the gasps of the crowd. Rowbury staggered across the line, and though it clearly wasn’t a comfortable win, it was nonetheless a win by a comfortable margin. No faulting the effort, there. Rowbury’s time was 4:24, Moser was 2nd in 4:27, Hasay fourth in 4:28, and Cain eighth in 4:31. Houlihan finished 7th in 4:30, achieving a sizable new PR, if not her goal.
The main event featured a collision of world class runners. Matt Centrowitz of the Nike Oregon Project and New Zealand’s Nick Willis, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist in the 1500, were expected to challenge the meet record of 3:51.21. Defending champ Will Leer, who ran 3:52 last year, was running, as was 2012 Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano.
And then there was the old man of the track, 40-year-old Bernard Lagat. Knocking off the masters record of 3:58 seemed a given for Lagat. Since the Millrose Games moved to the Armory in 2011, Bernard Lagat has run the 5000, 2-mile, and 2K, each time setting an American indoor record. At this stage of his career the mile is not his forte, but could the 8-time Wanamaker Mile champ really be counted out for the win?
Known both for his longevity and impeccable form, Lagat glides on the track like Gretzky on a breakaway. With his patented kick, he finished first among the chase pack, running 3:54 for fourth overall, faster than all but two of his winning Wanamaker Miles from 2001 to 2010 at Madison Square Garden.
At the bell, the last lap of so many run by kids, high school students, college students, pros, and masters over the previous six hours, it came down to what everybody had been waiting for: the brash, wisecracking 25-year-old Centrowitz in the lead, and the hard charging new dad, Nick Willis, 31, close behind.
Willis pulled even on the backstretch. Willis had the momentum, but Centrowitz had the inside lane. By hanging back earlier in the race Willis used his competitors as stepping stones to the front, but he also had to run a few extra yards to get around them. Centrowitz drifted into lane 2 and Willis into lane 3. It was Centro’s quickness versus Willis’ speed. The front runner won by a tenth of a second in 3:51:35, barely off Lomong’s meet record from 2013.
See our full photo gallery of the Millrose games.
As Cam Levins limbered up for the 2-mile race at the Armory Track Invitational on Saturday, it was easy to take pity on him. A half hour earlier Levins had bounced mile specialist Chris O’Hare, 3:54.74 to 3:57.26. Now standing beside him on the start line was a fresh Galen Rupp.
The Nike Oregon Project is well known for its post-race workouts, but this was a race, not a workout. Had Levins been there to pace Rupp, it would have been insulting, as Levins had just destroyed a 3:52 miler. And if he was there truly to race Rupp, well, he wasn’t being given much time to savor his mile victory, was he? Levins’ 2-mile PR is the Canadian record 8:14.69, Rupp’s is the American record 8:07.41, after which Rupp did a 5 x mile workout, finishing in 4:01. Levins being sent back to double against Rupp would be like Rupp being sent back to double against a fresh Mo Farah. Best of luck.
As Darth Vader’s theme music from the Empire Strikes Back filled the arena, Levins and Rupp, in their black NOP singlets, shadowed pacer Trevor Dunbar for the first half of the race. With three laps to go, to the surprise of nobody, Rupp swung wide and took the lead.
Levins stuck to Rupp, and the gap to Ben Blankenship in third was about five meters with two laps to go. Then things got weird. Blankenship surprisingly closed the gap, and with slightly over 100 meters to go made a move to pass them both just at the moment when Levins, unaware of Blankenship, powered around Rupp and into the clear. Blankenship ran by Rupp, dodged a lapped runner, momentarily lost his balance, and stepped on the infield. Japan’s Sugura Osako chased down Blankenship for 2nd. Levins, astoundingly, had won again, by a clear margin no less. Understudy, no more.
Levins and Rupp are both scheduled the run the 5,000m on the same track at the Millrose Games on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.
Preceding Levins’ heroics was an impressively routine victory by his NOP teammate Jordan Hasay in the women’s 2-mile. When Hasay made her move with 300 meters to go, nobody could match her kick, and that was that. Abbey D’Agostino, who had gotten the best of Hasay in the latter stages of their college careers, was a scratch.
Mary Cain was the cover girl on the meet’s program and was flocked by the media in the interview room after her fifth place finish in the women’s 800m. Cain’s 2:02.75 was a significant indoor PR for her, and the adulation she receives is understandable given the 18-year old is positive, winning with the press, and a fantastic miler. Still, the (slightly) older winner of the race deserves a ton of respect. Ajee Wilson, at 20 years old, is America’s best young 800 meter runner and one of the best in the world. When one reporter asked Wilson about Cain after the race, Wilson patiently explained that there were several other accomplished women in the event to worry about as well.
The men’s distance medley was highly touted as a record-breaking attempt, and the U.S. anchor leg Pat Casey received the baton in great shape, having to “only” run a 4:02.5 split in the 1600 to break the old mark of 9:25.97. Ireland’s Ciaran O’Lionaird, nearly four seconds back of Casey when he got the baton, made it exciting for the fans by closing the gap.
Though it seemed unlikely he’d be able to actually pull off the comeback, O’Lionaird did run a 3:52 at the Wanamaker Mile in 2013, and the mere prospect of such an upset made the world-record setting victory for the U.S., after Casey took off in the last quarter mile and O’Lionaird could not respond, that much sweeter.
All photos by Sue Pearsall. See our gallery of photos from the Invitational.
Kim Conley’s decisive win at the US Half Marathon Championships in Houston served notice that the perpetually improving elite is as dangerous on the roads as she is on the track. In Episode 34, we ask Kim to detail her go-to workout and her thrilling, Houdini-like finishes at the 2012 Olympic Trials and at the 2014 USATF Championships. Elsewhere in the podcast Gregg preps for the Dubai Marathon, names the top distance running events for each month of the year, and defends Internet streaming of races.
Teen marathon sensation Alana Hadley and her father Mark Hadley join us in episode 33. Alana, who recently won the Indianapolis Marathon in 2:38:34, shares her plans for marathon running between now and the Olympic Trials in 2016. The father/daughter combo field questions on turning pro, potential sponsorships and training groups, and the approach that has brought Alana marathon success at such a young age. After the interview Gregg updates his training for Dubai, and we delve into less cheery subjects of drugs in the sport and the Stephanie Hightower/Bob Hersh vote reversal at the USATF annual meeting.
It isn’t often that a marathon is won by a grandmaster, but that’s just what happened when Lawrence Warriner descended from Toronto to break the tape at Brooklyn. In our interview, Warriner, 51, describes the race and shares a training regimen that has kept him ahead of the whippersnappers. Elsewhere, we praise another master, Daniel Gercke, on his Philadelphia Marathon, relay Al Michaels’ take on the Zola Budd/Mary Decker tangle from his new book “You Can’t Make This Up,” and jump on the “Queens in the next Brooklyn” bandwagon to resolve the competition among race organizers for access to the streets of New York.