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Millrose Games 2015: Roses for Rowbury, Centrowitz, Lomong

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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See our full photo gallery of the Millrose games.

 

USA Outdoors Start Lists, And The Winners Are…

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.

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Kim Conley en route to a PR of 8:44 in the 3000m at Diamond League NYC

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.

Pick the 2016 U.S. Olympic marathon teams

As elite marathoners reboot between their big spring and fall races, it’s time to take a peak into the future. The 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials are set for Feb. 13, 2016 in Los Angeles. It’s a wide-open field, and we’ve included some names that haven’t yet given the marathon a go, but a lot can change in a few years. Let us know who you think will make the team. And if you happen to be one of the elites ON the list, yes, you may vote for yourself!

NYC Half Preview – Men’s Race

This Sunday’s NYC Half Marathon may not have as deep an elite field as last year, when 15 men went sub-1:02 and five women broke 1:10, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for in star power and interesting debuts, particularly on the men’s side. Here’s a rundown of the big names:

  • Wilson Kipsang, the Olympic bronze medalist in the marathon who also owns three sub-2:05 times including a stellar 2:03:42 in Frankfurt two years ago. Kipsang’s PR in the half is 58:59, easily the best in the field.
  • Bernard Lagat, the track superstar making not only his half marathon debut, but also his first race longer than 5000 meters and first on the roads longer than the Fifth Avenue Mile.
  • Dathan Ritzenhein, the two-time Olympian who set a PR in the Chicago Marathon last fall with a 2:07:47 and has a half-marathon best of 60-flat at the World Championships in 2009.
  • Abdi Abdirahman, a four -time U.S. Olympian with a 1:00:29 PR in the half.
  • Deressa Chimsa of Ethiopia, who finished second in the IAAF Half-Marathon Championships last year and has a 1:00:51 PR in the half.

Here are our staff predictions for the men’s race.  A women’s preview will come later.

Gregg: 1) Kipsang, 2) Ritzenhein, 3) Lagat. While I’m not quite crazy enough to pick Ritzenhein for the surprise win, I think he has a much better chance than people realize. He’s focused on this race as opposed to using it as a tune-up for a spring marathon like Kipsang who’s running London, and Abdi who is running Boston. Ritz is coming off his best marathon performance but the half is still his sweet spot, and he ran a great one last fall in Philly, turning in a 1:00:56 just before his strong performance in the Chicago marathon. Lagat will eventually be a major threat in the marathon and half-marathon, but my guess is it will take a race or two to get fully adjusted to the long distances.

Editorial side note: Ritz caused a firestorm among race fans last month for saying that the World Cross-Country Championships, which he is skipping in favor of the NYC Half, were “no longer significant.” He apologized soon thereafter. Now I understand why people were offended, and a world championship is nothing to be scoffed at. However, I also think Ritz had a point, however poor his choice of words. World Cross may have one of the deepest fields in running, but it’s basically a well-guarded secret to all but the most hardcore race fans in the U.S. Marketing of the race appears to be very limited, and the IAAF dropped the 2012 edition of the race and made it biannual. On the other hand, New York Road Runners, the host of the NYC Half and the NYC Marathon, is doing a better job of anyone of marketing the stars of the sport, and oh by the way getting them some paydays.  If we want pro runners to gain higher visibility among fans in the U.S., then what is the best place to showcase their talents – on the streets of New York, zooming past Times Square ahead of 15,000 other runners? Or in Bydgoszcz, Poland?

Brenn: 1) Kipsang, 2) Lagat, 3) Chimsa. I’m not buying the Ritz hype. By a loose application of the transitive property, Lagat beats Chris Derrick (Millrose 5,000m, 2012), Derrick beats Ritz (X-C, 2013), Lagat beats Ritz. I believe the distance at which Ritz would currently beat Lagat is 17 miles and up. Kipsang’s stated goal for this race is 60 minutes, while Lagat’s is 61 minutes. I think Chimsa will try to go with Kipsang, and Lagat will pick him off late. If the temps as currently forecast are in the 30s, I’d bet the “over” on 60 and 61.

As for Bydgoszcz, Poland, the city is hosting World X-C once again after hosting in 2010, which is a head scratcher given that, on the IAAF website, one reads “international sport federations such as the IAAF need to be pro-active when trying to reach new audiences and find new hosts for their events.” In 2010, the Polish men finished 18 out of 21 teams (beating, among others, Iraq), and the women 12th out of 12. Poland did not field teams at the last world X-C champs in 2011, though one of its cross country skiers, Justyna Kowalczyk, has won several world titles and Olympic gold.

Lomong’s Record Run A Masterpiece of Pacing

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.

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