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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.
Jenny Simpson again punctuated a dominant track season with a win at the 5th Avenue Mile. Simpson’s 4:19.4 was her third win and second consecutive sub-4:20 at the race, following last year’s 4:19.3. Including Simpson’s victory last year, it was only the fourth time in the 34-year history of the event that the winner broke 4:20. As runner-up, Brenda Martinez, who closed fast to a 4:19.6, ran the ninth best time in the event’s history, slicing 4.6 seconds from her own winning time in 2012.
The race was a much tighter victory for Simpson than last year’s, which she won by more than four seconds. “Last year I don’t think I had a strategy to go out hard. I just kind of went by feel. I was kind of surprised how the race came to me. This year was different. I was ranked #1 in the world coming out of the track season and just ran a great 3k. My fourth race in four weeks, I said just run it as I’ve been running and go hard from the gun. With that plan in mind, I think it was actually a little harder. The pressure was there.”
The race was a clean sweep for New Balance, which sponsors Simpson, Martinez, and Ireland’s 22-year-old Ciara Mageean, who finished third in 4.21.2.
Early in the race Jordan Hasay, Mary Cain, and Treniere Moser from the Nike Oregon Project settled in behind Simpson as Martinez hung back. Hasay gamely gave chase before fading in the final kick, and the hard charging Martinez nearly caught Simpson at the line. Hasay, Moser, and Cain ended up 8th, 9th, and 10th with times ranging from 4:23.9 to 4:25.5. While Nike clearly dominates men’s middle distance, on the women’s side New Balance, for now, has gained the upper hand. Throw NOP’s Shannon Rowbury into the mix, along with NB’s Kim Conley, Abbey D’Agostino, and Emma Coburn, and these two groups are destined to clash well into the future.
Regardless of sponsor, that the United States is home to the best women’s miler (and 1500m runner) on the planet deserves a little shouting from the rooftops.
In the men’s race, a trifecta would have payed handsomely, as Jordan McNamara, Garrett Heath, and Irishman Paul Robinson stormed by favorites Matt Centrowitz, Augustine Choge, and Will Leer to win, place, and show. Robinson’s performance came out of the blue, as he was even less touted than the other Irishman (Ciaran O’Lionaird) in the race, though probably equally unexpected as countrywoman Mageean in the women’s run. It was a good day for Ireland: even Feidhlim Kelly of The Irish Examiner got into the mix, scorching the Media Race with a 4:27 victory.
Back to the pros: Leer and Lawi Lalang took to the front, but the two burnt fuel in a mid-race surge to claim the $1,000 bonus for being in the lead at the 800-meter mark. Leer got it in what would be a mid-race photo finish, if there were such a thing. The stipulation of the bonus held that the runner in the lead would still have to break four minutes, which Leer did by finishing in 3:55.9.
Remarkably, 15 of the 16 competitors ran faster than 3:58 and a mere two-tenths of a second separated McNamara’s winning time of 3:51.0 from fourth place finisher Choge.
In the final kick, it appeared that last year’s third-place finisher Heath would claim his first victory at 5th Ave. Relatively stocky and well-muscled, Heath swung his arms wide in an attempt to ward off McNamara on one side and Robinson on the other, but McNamara snuck around, raising his arm at the tape. Said McNamara after the run, “I was in dead last with 600 to go, everybody was going so fast I thought man, eventually it has to settle and it did. The last 400 people started coming back and I got excited. Once you start getting excited, cool things can happen.”
The distance events at the USATF Track & Field Championships kick off Thursday in Sacramento, and there are clear favorites in most of the races. In an “off” year with no Olympics or World Championships, it’s all about winning, as second or third won’t win you a ticket to a larger stage.
If Galen Rupp runs the 10,000, he should cruise (his qualifying mark is full minute faster than the next fastest, Ryan Vail‘s 27:44). Jenny Simpson and Molly Huddle should handle the 1,500 and 5,000. Evan Jager and Emma Coburn are heavy favorites in the steeples, and Duane Solomon should take the men’s 800. The women’s 10,000 also boasts a heavy favorite in Shalane Flanagan, but this is where things get interesting.
Also in the women’s 10,000, which starts at 8:20 PM PCT on Thursday night (11:20 EDT) is Sacramento’s own Kim Conley, who ran 31:48 at Payton Jordan and who more recently set a PR in the 3,000 at the adidas Grand Prix in New York. She and Jordan Hasay, who ran 31:39 at Payton Jordan, will hope to be within striking distance of Shalane and utilize their track speed towards the end. It may not be as easy for Shalane to break these two as it was for her to break the field in a hot race at U.S. Outdoors in Des Moines last year.
Will Galen Rupp run the men’s 5,000, and if so, will he be challenged? The 5000 is the day after the 10,000. If Rupp doesn’t scratch after the 10,000 (and if he’s not busy attending to newborn twins), he’ll be facing relatively fresh competition. Bernard Lagat ran an un-Lagat-like 13:31 at Pre, but historically Lagat has had Rupp’s number, including at last year’s 5,000 at USAs when Rupp was seen as the favorite. Hassan Mead should also be in the mix. Missing from the race is Ben True, who is hoping to run a fast 5000 at the Diamond League race in Paris on July 5.
The men’s 1,500 and the women’s 800 are both wide open. Without Matt Centrowitz, the men’s 1,500 will likely go to Leo Manzano or Will Leer, with David Torrence in the mix. Brenda Martinez and Channelle Price go head to head in the women’s 800. It will be interesting to see what Maggie Vessey will be wearing, and after her strong performance and fashion statement at the Prefontaine Classic, whether she’ll compete for the win.
David Rudisha is not often upstaged in a Diamond League race, but though he won the 800m this time around, the audience was clearly distracted. Intermittent and progressively louder roars from the crowd signalled something unusual going on. It was a competition in which not one but two high jumpers – Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim and Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko – approached the world record. Some come to these races to watch the sprints, others to watch the distance events, but the jumpers taking flight were the most transcendent performers of the day.
Back to the 800. Because Rudisha is currently a 1:44 guy and not the 1:41/42 version of years past, the question is not how fast he’ll run, but whether he’ll win. Heading in to the race, Duane Solomon had the season’s best time among the competitors, and four others had run faster than Rudisha this year. The pacemaker opened the kind of gap on Rudisha that Rudisha has been known to open on the pack. Solomon was the lead predator on Rudisha’s shoulder, poised to strike.
We asked Solomon after the race whether at any point he thought he had it. “The backstretch from 500 to 600, I was kind of hesitant. I wanted to pass Rudisha. It was kind of windy and I wanted to bide my time. I think I waited a little bit too long. In the last hundred when I really wanted to pass him, he got stronger. He’s still the best in the world. I’ll come back a little better next time, I’ll come back more aggressive.” Rudisha won in 1:44.63, Solomon finished third exactly half a second back in 1:45.13.
The headliner in the women’s 800 was Mary Cain, but it was Jamaica’s Natoya Goule who took hold of the race from the get-go. “There were too many people in the race. I’m not going to be left around by the back getting kicked on and stepped on and all that, because I’m the smallest. I’m not going to stay at the back and get run over,” said Goule.
There were other pleasant surprises, from even smaller competitors. When 10-year-old Jonah Gorevic of White Plains took out the first quarter of the Youth Mile in 71 seconds, gapping a field of bigger 11-12 year olds, it seemed a classic, if plucky, pacing blunder. But the kid kept at it, pulling off 78, 78, and 74 second laps, kicking to a 5:01.55 finish, the fastest recorded time at that age. The press huddled around Gorevic after the race, which the boy, who resembles a cross between Ryan Vail and Galen Rupp, handled with aplomb.
With about 700 meters to go in the women’s 3000m, a race broke out where none had been expected. Kim Conley had moved into second and was closing the gap on leader Mercy Cherono. “My plan had been really to try to wait and then kick hard, but I just couldn’t help myself. Mercy kind of lulled in pace for a second, and I could see that maybe it was possible,” Conley said. Cherono regained her pace, while Conley held on to finish fifth with a 3-second PR of 8:44. She’ll be running the 10,000 at the US Championships.
While Cain opted for the 800, high school junior Alexa Efraimson stuck her nose in the women’s 1500m. At the Pre Classic, another mid-distance wunderkind, Elise Cranny, caboosed the 1,500 and was pulled along to a 4:14. In New York, Efraimson was right behind Jenny Simpson, Brenda Martinez, and Shannon Rowbury at the bell – only two strides behind Sweden’s Abeba Aregawi. Her 4:07.05 was the second fastest high school 1,500 of all time behind Cain’s 4:04.62 last year. Morgan Uceny ran 4:04.87, her fastest 1500 since she crashed to the track at the 2012 London Olympics while being trailed by Aregawi, then competing for Ethiopia.
Efraimson gave everything she had, if the amount of time spent doubled over and breathless after the race is any indication. A few minutes later, by the side of the track, she was still having trouble catching her breath. Written in marker on her calf was an inspirational quote, the kind of thing you’d see in a high school yearbook, and one that seemed to explain her excellent performance.
For more Adidas Grand Prix photos, click here.