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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.
Clap your hands twice – almost as fast as you can, but not quite.
That’s probably around .15 seconds, or the amount of time Lopez Lomong broke the American indoor 5000 record by Friday night at the Armory in New York. His 13:07.00 beat Bernard Lagat’s 13:07.15 on the same track in the 2012 Millrose Games.
To take down a legend like Lagat, everything had to go right for Lomong, and it did: A fast track, a talented group of teammates from the Oregon Track Club to pull him along, and most important of all – nearly perfect pacing. Take a look at the Lomong’s splits for each 1000 meters:
1st 1000 – 2:39.9
2nd 1000 – 2:37.8
3rd 1000 – 2:36.5
4th 1000 – 2:38.5
5th 1000 – 2:34.4
Breaking it down even further, LetsRun.com’s Robert Johnson was at the track reporting lap-by-lap splits, and none of the leader’s laps were faster than 30 seconds or slower than 33 seconds. An amazing 19 of the 25 laps were in the 31s!
When chasing a record or a specific time, the hard part isn’t getting consistent splits in the early going. The hard part is expending the right amount of energy throughout the race such that you don’t slow down at the end, or on the other hand, have too much left in the tank. Lomong maintained his pace beautifully at the end, running solo for a final four laps of 30.74, 31.06, 31.23 and 30.58. This suggests he got the race just right – like baby bear’s porridge in Goldilocks.
Lagat, by the way, went sub-27 in his last lap a year ago, so one could argue he could have gone faster overall by kicking earlier, but who knows for sure.
In an upcoming podcast, Brenn and I will discuss optimal pacing and how it usually plays out in the real world. Stay tuned.
None of the 13 competitors in the women’s Wanamaker Mile on Saturday ran in last year’s 1500m “Metric Wanamaker Mile.” Absent are Jenny Simpson (last year’s winner), Shannon Rowbury (2nd last year), and Morgan Uceny (who won the 800m at Millrose last year), all of whom represented the US in the 1500m at the 2012 Olympics. And yet this year’s race, loaded with young talent and with no clear favorite, is just as compelling without them.
Sixteen-year-old prodigy Mary Cain (4:32.78 indoor PR), former prodigy Jordan Hasay (still just 21), and 20-year-old Dartmouth junior Abbey D’Agostino, who barely missed qualifying for London last year with her 15:19.98 at the dramatic Olympic trials 5000m, headline the youth movement. Sarah Brown (nee Bowman) beat Cain in the mile at the Armory on Jan. 26, running 4:31.61. Emily Infeld (22 years old) is the 2012 NCAA indoor 3000m champ and 4th place finisher at the 2013 USATF x-c championship, and has been training with Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher in Jerry Schumacher’s Oregon Track Club group. Her sister Maggie finished 4th in the Metric Wanamaker Mile last year. Kate Grace (24), running for Oiselle, which recently signed Lauren Fleshman from Nike, has been slashing new PRs and beat both D’Agostino and Hasay in the 3,000m at the University of Washington Invitational. Giving the race the slightest of international feels are Canadian Olympians Sheila Reid (23) and Hilary Stellingwerff (31). A third Canadian Olympian, Nicole Sifuentes (5th last year), was originally slated to run but is out with a plantar injury.
Cain has both a blistering kick and home track advantage. The trick for her will be retaining contact with the leaders for the first seven laps so that she and the crowd can ride the wave of high drama in the eighth. I expect D’Agostino or Reid to take it with a time in the high 4:20s, with Grace and Cain in the mix. Whoever wins, expect to see several of these runners at Rio in 2016.
Unlike the women’s race, the men’s Wanamaker Mile has a clear favorite and plot line. Twenty-three year old Olympian Matt Centrowitz is the defending champ, it’s seen as his race to win, and the question is whether he will
- break his Armory record of 3:53.92 from last year’s race
- break Bernard Lagat’s Millrose record of 3:52.87
- beat Galan Rupp’s 3:50.92 from earlier this season
- go sub-3:50 and take down Lagat’s indoor American record of 3:49.89
Centrowitz controlled last year’s race from the front, a tactic he repeated to win the mile at Boston two weeks ago (3:56.26) and that seems to work for him when Leonel Manzano isn’t in the race. There are some high-upside guys who could pose a challenge: Lopez Lomong, Lawi Lalang, who ran 13:08 in the 5,000m at the meet last year, or Robbie Andrews (winner of the High School Mile at Millrose in 2009). It’s unlikely, though, that they will bring it in the low 3:50s.
Centrowitz is such a smooth runner that it seems he leaves energy unspent on the track. Despite how smooth he might appear, though, we can’t assume that he’s left gears untapped, gears that we wouldn’t see until his veins are popping out of his neck and his head bobs back and his form goes all to hell.
In order to knock all the names off the list, Centrowitz will probably have to win the race by several seconds and run it as a personal time trial, much how Rupp ran his 3:50. In three months Rupp will turn 27, and Alberto Salazar has not been afraid to push the pedal to the floor on Rupp’s short track races, which aren’t even considered his forte. The incentives are different with Centro, who has a longer horizon and less reason to risk a race for a record. He ran a 3:31.96 1500m at the Lausanne Diamond League meet outdoors last year and he’ll likely run sub 3:50 for the mile at some point, but it’ll take elite international competition to push him to it.