Guest host James Chu helps Brenn break down the Millrose Games in 79 minutes or less. In post-race interviews, we hear from Kate Grace on signing with Nike, Stephanie Garcia and Kate Van Buskirk on their thrilling 3000m duel, and Ben True on his winning kick. Ajee Wilson and Cristian Soratos reflect on extraordinary runs.
Upstaging even the iconic Wanamaker Mile, the Paavo Nurmi 2-mile was the main event for distance running fans at Saturday’s NYRR Millrose Games. Matt Centrowitz, who last year set the Wanamaker Mile record of 3:50.63 en route to his Olympic Gold at 1500m, was moving up in distance, while his strongest competitors, including the Canadian Mo Ahmed and Scotsman Andy Butchart, 4th and 6th at Rio in the 5,000m, respectively, were moving down. Centrowitz said that the absence of rival Nick Willis was a reason for his choice. Having conquered one hill, he was picking a fight on another, and with unrivaled finishing speed he seemed primed to come out on top.
His competitors knew this, of course, and it wouldn’t play to their advantage to do any lollygagging. The pace-setters were Ford Palmer and Lawi Lalang. Mo Ahmed led the charge behind Lalang as the field quickly strung out single file, with Butchart in fourth. After Palmer stepped off the track, Lalang was scheduled to lead until 2400m. In a delicious move, Butchart passed Ahmed and Lalang two laps before Lalang was scheduled to forfeit the lead, forcing the rest of the field to start racing in earnest with 1200m, rather than 800m, to go.
Centro was set adrift as the chase pack was unmoored from the leaders. Butchart however, wasn’t the only one to bring a dagger to this fight. With about 750m to go Ben True worked his way around Centrowitz, among others, and bridged the gap to join the lead group of Butchart, Ryan Hill, and Ahmed. Hill and True (who both fell short in their own attempts to make the U.S. Olympic team for Rio in the 5000) stormed Butchart at the bell, and at this point Hill, who closed in 26 seconds to win the 3,000m at last year’s Millrose, seemed likely to win. But the race had one last surprise. After Hill held the lead down the backstretch, True offered yet another move, accelerating around the final turn and passing Hill midway down the last straightaway to break the tape in 8:11.33 to Hill’s 8:11.56 and Butchart’s 8:12.63 (Centrowitz would finish 7th in 8:21). True ran the last lap in 27.68, Hill in 28.04.
The longest race for the women, 3000m, was a memorable duel between Stephanie Garcia and Canada’s Kate Van Buskirk. Garcia, who specializes in the steeplechase, was the only runner to follow the rabbit Ashley Higginson, and with six laps to go she held a three second lead on Van Buskirk. The gap then shrank until Van Buskirk was on Garcia’s shoulder with three laps left.
“With about 600 to go, I thought, she’s going to beat me. You never want to think that, but I thought if I could just hold on to her and she could drag me though, that would be really great” Van Buskirk said. “I could tell that her arms were getting a little tight. I knew that at some point in that last lap I would have to make a move, but I had to wait that long because she made me wait that long. She was really working for it.”
Garcia, for her part, said she “was torn between easing up so I had a little bit to give that last bit, or just push it. I chose more to push, which is why I didn’t have that strong last 50 meters.” Van Buskirk took the lead on the last turn and finished in 8:52.08 to Garcia’s 8:53.48. If one second doesn’t seem like much of a difference, well, the race felt closer than that.
David Torrence seemed to be running his own race in the men’s 1,000m as he sprinted away in the mid three laps of the five lap competition. Brooks teammates Cas Loxsom, who on Jan. 28 set the 600m indoor world record; and Brannon Kidder, who finished a close second to Duane Solomon in the 800m at Millrose last year; put the kibosh on this little fantasy. Kidder dominated the final 200m for the win, with Loxsom second, and Torrence third.
There has been no more dominant performer at Millrose since it moved from Madison Square Garden to the Armory than Ajee Wilson. She won the 800m for a fourth consecutive year, setting an American indoor record with a 1:58.27.
“When I’m older and look back this is going to be a staple in my career that I’m proud of” she said. “I’ve been running at Millrose for a long time. Of course to be under two my first time indoors is incredible.” Spoken like a true veteran, at age 22. Seventeen year-old Samantha Watson finished sixth in 2:01.78, setting the American indoor high school record.
More records were set in the women’s Wanamaker Mile. Shannon Rowbury was the two-time defending champ, running 4:24s in 2015 and 2016. Given her strength over longer distances, she would be expected to tuck in behind the pacer Lauren Wallace. Surprisingly, Rowbury ceded the position to long-limbed Kate Grace, a finalist in the 800m at Rio.
Grace said that “I was pleasantly surprised at first, and then I was like oh no, I don’t want to be rabbit #2 when she drops off.” Wallace and Grace both train with the NorCal distance project and were teammates at Oiselle.
With three laps to go, Sifan Hassan, Rowbury’s teammate on the Nike Oregon Project, breezed by Grace just as Wallace stepped off the track. Rowbury followed Hassan around Grace. Hassan’s elbows flailed wider and wider as she whirled her way to the win. Her time of 4:19.89 was a meet record and a national record for The Netherlands. Grace regrouped and ultimately edged Rowbury for second in 4:22.93. Grace debuted at Millrose with a 4:28 Wanamaker Mile in 2013.
The undercard to the men’s Wanamaker Mile was the Invitational Mile, and the day’s 2nd fastest time came from this heat. Cristian Soratos said post-race “My plan was to get right on the pacer and the second he stepped off to just start cranking.” He did just that, and plans to race the mile at the USA indoor championships at Albuquerque.
Without Centrowitz or his combatant Nick Willis in the men’s Wanamaker Mile, the race seemed destined to fall to either Olympian Robby Andrews, who won the high school event back in 2009; the Nike Oregon Project’s Eric Jenkins, a 4th place finisher at the US Olympic Trials in the 5,000m; or Olympic bronze medalist in the 800m Clayton Murphy.
Jenkins, who resembles the carefree, sand splattered character Andrew Lindsay from the opening of “Chariots of Fire,” controlled a relatively uniform race until Kyle Merber made a play for the lead at the bell. Merber won the high school race a year before Andrews had, but in his last attempt in the Wanamaker Mile, in 2015, he finished 11th of 12.
And so it came down to this: Could the slender longshot and Twitter personality @TheRealMerb hold off the rising star from America’s elite distance running squadron? Well, give Merber credit for making the race more dramatic, anyways. Jenkins sprinted back into the lead on the backstretch en route to a 26.9 last lap and a victory in 3:53.23.
It wasn’t the first time Jenkins had pulled off such a fast finish. He also split a 26 second final lap in the 3,000m at Millrose last year, and he used a lethal kick to sneak past Centro in the 2016 5th Avenue Mile. In future editions of this race, Centro’s stiffest competition may indeed come from his own teammate, who, on this day, had less trouble moving down in distance than Centro had moving up. — Brenn Jones
What did Eric Jenkins and Sifan Hassan do after winning the miles? Post-race workouts, of course (click the link for our extended coverage). See also our complete photo gallery with pictures from Andy Kiss.
James Chu offers an exclusive coach’s-eye view of the Oregon Project’s post-race workout.
After the crowds had departed the 110th Millrose Games, as cleanup crews and reporters worked to compete their tasks, Cloud259 stayed trackside to detail the Nike Oregon Project athletes’ post-race workouts. NOP assistant coach Pete Julian appeared to be overseeing them.
First up was Shannon Rowbury. About 90 minutes after her 3rd place 4:23 in the NYRR Wanamaker Women’s Mile, it was back to work. Wearing Nike Zoom Streaks, Rowbury jogged a few shakeout laps before diving into a 4000m (~2.5 miles) tempo run. Rowbury completed the tempo in 13 minutes and 20 seconds (5:20 per 1600), snapping off 40 second laps without appearing unduly strained.
Rowbury recovered for about seven minutes, drinking water, taking instruction from Julian, chatting with her husband (Mexican multiple national record holder Pablo Solares), and jogging. She finished the workout striding out 4×100 in 14-15 seconds per rep, with 300m jog recoveries.
Approximate 400m splits for the 4000m tempo: 83, 2:44 (81), 4:04 (80), 1600 – 5:24 (80), 6:43 (79), 8:02 (79), 9:22 (80), 3200 – 10:42 (80), 12:01 (79), 4000 – 13:20 (79).
Approximate 100m splits: 14, 14, 14 high, 15.
Like Shannon, Eric Jenkins showed up about 90 minutes after his performance, an emphatic 3:53 win in the Wanamaker Mile. Jenkins began his post-race workout in a black shirt with the word “EQUALITY” emblazoned in bold white lettering, the same shirt he had worn when accepting the trophy for the race. Jenkins blasted a 3x1600m cutdown, a workout that NOP teammate Galen Rupp executed with inhuman post-race efforts in the past. Jenkins ran 4:28 for his first rep, jogged 400m, and launches into a 4:21 in the next. He took just over five minutes of recovery this time, using the extra time to remove his shirt, among other things. With long, powerful strides, he ran the last rep in 4:14—a solitary end to a successful day.
Approximate 200 meter splits for 1600m repeats:
34, 1:08 (34), 1:42 (34), 2:16 (34), 2:49 (33), 3:22 (33), 3:55 (33), 4:28 (33)
33, 1:05 (32), 1:37 (32), 2:10 (33), 2:42 (32), 3:15 (33), 3:48 (33), 4:21 (33)
32, 1:04 (32), 1:37 (33), 2:09 (32), 2:41 (32), 3:12 (31), 3:43 (31), 4:14 (31)
Just when I thought we could go home, the winner of the Women’s Wanamaker Mile, Sifan Hassan, stepped onto the track well over two hours after the finish of her race. I found it interesting that she was doing her workout separately from Rowbury. Would it be the same workout? After receiving instruction from Julian, she caught me by surprise and started her tempo running clockwise (opposite the usual direction). I missed the first lap and started my watch 200m into what would turn out to be a 4800m (~3 miles) tempo run—800m longer than Rowbury’s. Hassan ran about 15:36 (5:12 per 1600) with metronomic efficiency (I approximate her first lap split at 40s). The newly anointed Dutch indoor mile national record holder—she destroyed the old record in her 4:19 Wanamaker victory—took a few sips of water and jogged a few recovery laps before switching back to making only left turns on the track (the normal counterclockwise direction). She took off with a conservative first 100m before turning it up a notch for another 300m. She completed 400m in 67 seconds. After about 3 minutes and 45 seconds of jogging, Hassan dropped a 47 second 300m. After a modest recovery, she looked sprightly in her final rep, 200m in 29.7 seconds. Her workout was more difficult than Rowbury’s, not bad for someone who was having stomach issues, according to what I overheard NOP head coach Alberto Salazar saying after her race.
Approximate 200 meter splits for Hassan’s 4800m tempo:
40 (guessing), 1:19 (39), 1:58 (39), 2:37 (39), 3:16 (39), 3:54 (38), 4:33 (39), 1600 – 5:13 (40), 5:52 (39), 6:32 (40), 7:11 (39), 7:49 (38), 8:28 (39), 9:07 (39), 9:47 (40), 3200 – 10:27 (40), 11:06 (39), 11:46 (40), 12:24 (38), 13:03 (39), 13:42 (39), 14:20 (38), 14:59 (39), 4800 – 15:36 (37)
400 – 67s, 300 – 47s, 200 – 29.7s
Another benefit is that an athlete is in a unique physiological state after a race, and running a workout during this post-race window is a stressor that stimulates adaptation not easily simulated in any other situation. Ordinarily, one would work on an energy system that was lightly used during the race. For example, if one raced a mile, a tempo run of 10-20 minutes or long intervals would likely be in order. If one raced a 5k, shorter intervals such as 200s or 300s might be the right call.
One thing that stood out to me about NOP’s post-race workouts was that there was plenty of recovery between segments or intervals in the workouts. Rowbury had generous recovery between the tempo and the 100s, and 300m jogs was plenty between the 100s. Jenkins had sufficient rest before running his final 1600m interval. And Hassan had plenty of rest between her tempo and the 400m, 300m, 200m reps. The objective appeared to be high-quality paces with the requisite rest to accomplish the task. — James Chu
See also our full meet roundup.
Standing at the start of the New York City Marathon in 1976 were 10-year-old Brad Kelley, who thought splits every few miles meant ice cream, and 15-year-old high school sophomore Tony Ruiz, who a day after setting a cross-country PR at Van Cortlandt Park was looking to work in a long run with one of his buddies. What could possibly go wrong? Their stories of the race and more recent feats—wearing a Central Park Track Club singlet, Brad returned in 2016 to run a 2:50 at age 50, and Tony has become one of the club’s iconic coaches—complete our series on the kids who ran NYCM in the disco era.
Episode 50 is all about the New York City Marathon…and breaking three hours, of course. Imagine doing that as a nine-year-old. Gregg chats with Wesley Paul, who in 1977 zipped around the five boroughs in 3:00:39 at the tender age of eight, then went sub-3 the next year. Paul offers a childhood peek at the race and wise advice both for young runners generally and for adults looking to run their best at 26.2. Brenn will take Cloud259’s next crack at sub-3 at the NYCM on Sunday, and he bubbles over with pre-race denial about just how awful those last six miles will be.
In his first marathon since a sacral stress fracture postponed his quest for Cloud 2:59, Gregg braved the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. He offers a race report under intense grilling from his co-host. We highlight the top performances at that race, discuss the mysteries of ideal pacing, give a few shout-outs to listeners, and take a look at the elites who will be running the New York City Marathon on November 6. And Gregg mentions the T-word.
In Episode 48, we recount the high drama at the U.S. Olympic Trials, where America’s best distance runners left nothing on the track, and we discuss the participation of Intersex athletes at the Games. Gregg welcomes a new runner to the fold.
Jenny Simpson and Brenda Martinez, here pictured at the 2015 5th Avenue Mile, won spots on the Olympic team in a dramatic 1500m race.