Fast Women: Fireworks at the NCAA Indoor Championships
Katelyn Tuohy, Roisin Willis earn two NCAA titles each
Issue 227, presented by Puma
Seven collegiate records fall in Albuquerque
Before I launch into a distance recap of the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships, I need to acknowledge what an incredible event this was in the sprints and jumps. It helped that the meet was held in Albuquerque, about 5,000 feet above sea level. At higher altitudes, the lower atmospheric pressure slows distance running times, because less oxygen is available in the air. But sprinters and jumpers are at an advantage, because the lower atmospheric pressure also means there’s less air resistance. (Records set at altitude still count, though.)
Combine that with incredible athletes, improved shoe technology, and team pride, and you get some of the best performances of all time. Seventeen events were contested at the NCAA meet, and the collegiate records fell in seven of them. Some highlights:
On Friday, Florida’s Jasmine Moore long jumped 7.03m (23 feet, 0.75 inches) and broke Tara Davis’ collegiate record. In the triple jump the following day, Moore topped that. In the first round, she broke the American and collegiate records. She lowered them again in her second jump. And in her sixth and final jump, she lowered them one more time, to 15.12m (49 feet, 7.25 inches).
Arkansas’ Britton Wilson entered this meet with only the sixth-fastest seed time in the 400m. It wasn’t a given that she would win; she had to go up against Texas’ Rhasidat Adeleke and Florida’s Talitha Diggs, both of whom had broken the collegiate record this season. But Wilson rose to the occasion in a big way. She ran 49.48, which would have been a world record had Femke Bol not recently lowered it. It was the second-fastest indoor 400m a woman has ever run. Wilson returned later in the meet and anchored Arkansas’ winning 4x400m relay with a 49.20 split. Wilson plus Amber Anning, Joanne Reid, and Rosey Effiong combined to run 3:21.75, another collegiate record. Their time was faster than the world record, but it will not count as such because all four runners need to represent the same country.
Texas’ Julien Alfred, who is from St. Lucia, pulled off an incredible sprint double, winning the 60m and 200m, and setting collegiate records in both. In Friday’s 60m prelims, she lowered her own collegiate record to 6.96 seconds. And in Saturday’s final, she lowered it again, running 6.94 seconds, which ties her for second, with Aleia Hobbs, on the world all-time list. Alfred wasn’t necessarily the favorite heading into the 200m, but she came up big again, running 22.01, which puts her second on the world all-time list and is, needless to say, another collegiate record.
In the prelims of the 60m hurdles, Ackera Nugent of Arkansas and Jamaica ran a collegiate record of 7.72 seconds. In the final, she went up against Kentucky’s Masai Russell, who had set the previous record earlier in the season, and Nugent prevailed, winning 7.73 to 7.75.
Roisin Willis and Juliette Whittaker shine in their NCAA debut
Collegiate teams completely rewrote the NCAA all-time list in the women’s distance medley relay this indoor season, so it was clear the event would be a good one at the NCAA championships.
Stanford’s Melissa Tanaka got her team off to a good start, handing off in the lead after a 3:23.02 1200m leg. (Oklahoma State was right behind, but they botched their first handoff.) Maya Valmon extended the team’s lead with a 51.91 400m split, and Roisin Willis opened things up further, splitting 2:02.75 for 800m. By the time Juliette Whittaker got the baton for her 1600m anchor leg, the team had built a 3.53-second lead. Getting the baton with a solid lead in a DMR is both great and terrifying, because winning usually requires running eight laps solo, while those behind get to work together to hunt you down.
It was a big ask of an athlete running in her first NCAA championship, especially at altitude, where it can be harder to measure one’s effort. But Whittaker is experienced at handling high pressure situations. At first it looked like Whittaker’s competition would come from UCLA’s Mia Barnett, who got the baton in second. But ever so gradually, Arkansas’ Lauren Gregory, who got the baton in sixth, 7.57 seconds behind Whittaker, was working her way up.
And with a lap to go, it looked like Gregory had a real shot at catching Whittaker. But to her credit, Whittaker knew Gregory was coming and put in just enough to hold her off, 10:56.34 to 10:56.61. Like a good number of runners in the race, neither came in fresh after running prelims in their individual events, but Gregory split 4:31.67 for 1600m—an excellent time at altitude—and Whittaker split 4:38.67.
Stanford’s winning team was made up of two first years (Willis and Whittaker), one sophomore (Valmon), and one sixth-year graduate student (Tanaka). Tanaka graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2021 and has been using her remaining eligibility while getting a graduate degree at Stanford. And Valmon and Willis are both children of Olympians. Valmon’s parents are Meredith Rainey Valmon and Andrew Valmon (now the head T&F coach at the University of Maryland) and Willis’ mom, Breeda Willis, was an Irish Olympian in the 5,000m and 10,000m.
Stanford has had many strong teams over the years, so it was hard for me to believe it had been 23 years since the Stanford women last won the NCAA DMR title, with a team anchored by Lauren Fleshman. There were a lot of runner-up finishes in the interim.
The following day, Willis and Whittaker returned in the 800m final. It didn’t take long for the race to become a three-woman battle among Willis, Whittaker, and LSU sophomore Michaela Rose. With 100m to go, it looked like it could be anyone’s race. But Willis prevailed, winning 1:59.93 to 2:00.05 over Whittaker, and Rose took third in 2:00.85. It’s not a surprise that Willis and Whittaker jumped straight to the top of the NCAA, as their times suggested it was likely, but it’s impressive doing so while adjusting to being college students.
They did a good joint interview with LetsRun at the end of the meet. The only blip in the duo’s first NCAA meet was their botched handoff during the 4x400m relay. Yes, they returned for the meet’s final event as well, and Whittaker split an impressive 51.94 on the third leg, but the handoff to Willis went very poorly, which resulted in her splitting 54.65. Stanford looked poised to win their heat, but instead they finished last. It was a small setback at the end of an incredible NCAA debut for the pair.
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Convincing NCAA 5,000m and 3,000m wins for Katelyn Tuohy
NC State’s Katelyn Tuohy has built herself into such a dominant runner in the NCAA that it’s hard to believe it was only a year ago that she narrowly finished second in both the 5,000m and the 3,000m. At the time, Tuohy said that she was just starting to learn race tactics, because when you dominate all of your high school races (my words, not hers), you don’t learn a lot about tactics.
A year later, Tuohy is racing like a veteran. In the 5,000m, she sat back until 800m to go, ran her last 800m in 2:19.28, and won easily in 16:09.65. In the 3,000m, she took the lead with just over 900m to go, and closed in a similar manner, splitting 2:16.34 for her last 800m and gradually squeezing the pace down to one that no one else could handle. She won in 9:10.07. Tuohy has now earned four individual NCAA titles in nine months.
Alabama’s Hilda Olemomoi, who transferred from Iowa Western Community College at the start of the academic year, had a strong first NCAA indoor meet, finishing second to Tuohy in the 5,000m and fifth in the 3,000m. The Alabama distance squad lost their coaches when Will and Samantha Palmer moved to the University of Florida mid-season, but Olemomoi didn’t let the transition slow her down.
And Notre Dame’s Olivia Markezich also had an excellent meet. She ran the fastest last lap of anyone in the 3,000m (30.99) and nipped last year’s champion, Oklahoma State’s Taylor Roe, at the line, 9:13.01 to 9:13.22. Markezich also ran a 4:33.68 1600m to help her team’s DMR finish third. (Watch the 5,000m here and the 3,000m here.)
Tuohy’s momentum raises questions about how long she’ll remain in the NCAA. Her NIL deal with Adidas means that she can make money while running collegiately, and she seems to love being a part of NC State’s team. But unless someone new comes along or someone has a big breakthrough, she might have to try an event outside of her comfort zone if she wants to be challenged in the NCAA. (Shalane Flanagan ran quite a few 1500s while she was in college, despite knowing it was ultimately not going to be her event. But it helped her build the speed that she needed for the longer events.)
Olivia Howell wins her first NCAA title
With collegiate record holder Katelyn Tuohy opting to run the 3K/5K double, the NCAA mile final had no clear favorite. But if one was pressed to pick a favorite, it’s unlikely most would have chosen Illinois’ Olivia Howell, whose best time of 4:33.77 narrowly got her into the meet. (She was seeded 15th out of 16.)
But if you go back and watch Howell’s race, she ran the final like someone who was confident she could win. Duke’s Amina Maatoug led early, and Howell tucked right in behind her until 400m to go. Lauren Gregory passed Howell with about 100m to go, but Howell remained calm and passed Gregory back in the homestretch, winning 4:34.00 to 4:34.24. Howell ran a smart race and didn’t waste a lot of energy.
Howell stayed under the radar this season by mostly racing in the Midwest, rather than going to some of the super fast meets. The weekend of February 10, when a lot of teams flocked to Boston University or the University of Washington in search of faster times, Illinois went to Albuquerque, where distance runners run slower. But Howell, who didn’t have a lot of experience at altitude, said that learning what racing at altitude would feel like, and how to recover from it, helped her.
Gregory, a sixth-year senior, had her best NCAA showing yet, earning close second-place finishes in both the DMR and mile, which helped Arkansas win the team title. But the races didn’t help the foot injury Gregory had going into the meet, according to commentator Larra Overton. Gregory had someone carry her away from the mixed zone (LetsRun link, scroll to bottom) and was later spotted in a boot.
If she can get and stay healthy, Gregory has a bright future in the sport. Few runners in the NCAA have better range; she is competitive at every distance from the mile to the 10,000m, and she’s an excellent mountain runner as well. Over the summer, Gregory won the USATF Vertical Mountain Running Championships and in November, she finished 12th in the World Mountain Running Championships uphill race and helped the U.S. win team gold. She has outdoor eligibility remaining, but she has already been selected as a member of the Trail Team, which provides support and mentorship for up-and-coming trail runners. (All NCAA Indoor results)
Young stars race in Boston, New York
Both of the high school national meets—New Balance Nationals Indoor in Boston and Nike Indoor Nationals in New York—took place over the weekend as well. I went over to the TRACK at New Balance to check out the former, because it was the first time the meet was held in Boston. The atmosphere was fantastic in a way that doesn’t come across in a livestream, and it’s great to see a track meet taking place in such a professional-looking facility. (I am thrilled that this time next year, the NCAA championships will be held at the TRACK. If you are a collegiate running fan and Boston is convenient for you, I highly recommend finding a way to be there.)
As I followed the races this weekend, I was wondering who I will recognize 10 years from now. It was always fun to look at my old photos of high school championships and see who went on to do big things. There are a lot of reasons to run in high school and not everyone needs to go on to a high-level running career afterwards. But for those who aspire to, I hope they’re pursuing the sport in a sustainable way now, especially now that there’s much better information out there than there was 10 or 20 years ago. (This Runner’s World article from November does a good job of summing up some of the issues.)
In the distance events, with the exception of the girls’ mile, all of the fastest times came from the Boston meet. Allison Ince won the 800m (2:04.77), and Ellie Shea won the two-mile (9:49.82) and 5,000m (15:46.28). The fastest miler of the weekend was Irene Riggs, who won in New York in 4:38.23. It would have been fun to see her race Sadie Engelhardt, who won the Boston mile in 4:38.65. Some athletes raced in both meets, like Karri Baloga who finished third in the New Balance two-mile on Friday and second in the Nike mile on Sunday. (New Balance Nationals Indoor Results | NBNI Videos | Nike Indoor Nationals Results | NIN Videos)
Other News and Links
Elle Purrier St. Pierre gave birth to Ivan Charlie St. Pierre in the early morning hours of March 4. Kate Grace’s baby, River Grace O’Neil, finished a close second in the race, arriving March 5.
Speaking of babies, the first time I heard of Makenna Myler was when she went viral for running a 5:25 mile while nine months pregnant with her first child. She did the fastest running of her life after having her first child and she signed a pro contract with Asics in 2021. Myler’s second child is due March 15 and she decided to do another fast mile late in her pregnancy. This time around, she ran a 5:17. That was a few weeks ago, but this article, published last week, brought a lot more attention to Myler’s run. (She also made NPR.) Myler shared some of the negative comments she’s been receiving in her Instagram stories last week, and good for her for having thick skin and being able to laugh it all off.
Sabrina Southerland, formerly of Oregon Track Club Elite, has signed with Under Armour and joined the UA Mission Run Baltimore 800m team.
Molly Seidel was originally scheduled to run the Nagoya Women’s Marathon, but she told Runner’s World’s Sarah Lorge Butler that she pulled her glute during the USATF Half Marathon Championships on February 26. She’s now hoping to run a different marathon this spring.
BBC Sport Africa published a good article and video about Mary Ngugi’s Nala Track Club, Kenya’s first girls-only training camp. Ngugi says that some camps create a hostile environment for women and girls. "Nala is an African name for a powerful woman or a lioness. We want these girls to be that: strong, powerful, empowered, someone who can say, ‘No, I'm not doing that.’” Ngugi was inspired to start the camp after the murder of her former teammate, Agnes Tirop.
Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich won the Nagoya Women’s Marathon with a solo 2:18:08 and earned $250,000, the largest first-place prize in marathon running. Japan’s Ayuko Suzuki finished second in 2:21:52. Sarah Pagano of the U.S. finished 17th in a PR of 2:32:05. (Results)
Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia won the Lisbon Half Marathon in 1:05:30, and Kenya’s Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi finished second, 20 seconds back. In her first race since last summer’s World Championships marathon, Sara Hall finished 11th in 1:09:31 in her return from injury. Hall said on Instagram that she stuck with her plan of going out hard, despite warm and humid conditions, which made for a challenging race, but she was thankful to be racing again. (Results)
Nienke Brinkman of the Netherlands won the NN CPC Loop Den Haag Half Marathon in a PR of 1:07:44. She’s training for next month’s Boston Marathon.
At the Sydney Track Classic, Jessica Hull won the 3,000m in an Australian record of 8:31.81. Madeline Strandemo of the U.S. finished eighth in 9:02.97. Australia’s Abbey Caldwell, 21, won the 800m in a personal best of 1:58.62. And Rebecca Mehra of the U.S., who is returning to racing after injury, finished fifth in 2:03.53. (Results)
There are so many USATF Championship races it’s hard to keep track of them all, but Sunday’s USATF 50K Road Championships attracted a strong field. Andrea Pomaranski, 40, won in 3:07:48 and set an American masters record for the distance. (She was just off the masters world record.) Brittany Charboneau, who finished second in 3:13:30, was also under the previous course record.
At the NCAA DII Track & Field Championships, held in Virginia Beach, Winona State’s Lindsay Cunningham won the 5,000m in a DII record of 15:41.30. Adams State’s Brianna Robles, who set the previous record (15:47.88) one month earlier, finished second in an also excellent time of 15:51.26. Adams State’s Stephanie Cotter won the 3,000m (9:06.03) and the mile (4:49.86). Robles earned a second runner-up finish, in the 3,000m, running 9:06.72. Seattle Pacific’s Vanessa Aniteye won the 800m in 2:06.84. (Results)
At the NCAA DIII Track & Field Championships, held in Birmingham, Alabama, St. Benedict’s Fiona Smith won the 5,000m (16:33.79) and 3,000m (9:25.62). WashU’s Emma Kelley won the 800m in 2:06.62, and Emory’s Annika Urban won the mile in 4:43.17. (Results)
At the USATF Masters Indoor Championships, Perry Shoemaker, who made headlines for qualifying for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials at age 48 (Runner’s World link), set an American age-group record in the 3,000m. Now 51, Shoemaker set a 50–54 record, running 10:07.36. Michelle Rohl, 57, set an American 55–59 record in the 1500m, running 4:55.47 to take down a mark previously held by Kathryn Martin. And Martin, 71, made up for her lost record by setting one in the 70–74 age group, running 5:54.19. (Rohl and Martin also had impressive runs in the 3,000m, running 10:30.50 and 12:49.94, respectively.) The TNT International Racing Club team, made up of Angela Stabb, Mary Trotto, Nancy Berger, and Cora Hill, set a world record in the 75–79 4x800m relay, running 22:43.88. (This is a great tool for looking up the records, in case you’re wondering how you stack up.)
Former Arkansas teammates Carina Viljoen and Katie Izzo traded wins at California’s Newport Spirit Run. Viljoen won the mile (4:32.5) with Izzo taking second (4:34.8). And 10 minutes later, they raced the 5K, where Izzo took the win (16:09) and Viljoen finished second (16:39). (Results)
Former Oregon State runner Batya Beard won the Shamrock Run 8K in Portland, Oregon, running 26:44 and earning her weight in beer. Sarah Reiter won the 15K in 52:26. (Results)
I missed this race at the time, but on February 26, Dani Moreno won the Ventura Half Marathon, a downhill race, in 1:12:53. Moreno, who specializes in mountain running, is making a brief detour to the roads. She’ll run the Boston Marathon, where she hopes to break 2:37 and qualify for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
I’ve been loving Women’s Running Stories’ recent focus on current events. Host Cherie Louise Turner did a really good episode with Erika Kemp, which focused on her story so far. And Turner also did a shorter “race report” episode with Emma Grace Hurley, in which Hurley talked about her breakthrough run at last week’s USATF 15K Championships.
I also thought Hannah Borenstein was fantastic on the Citius Mag podcast. Borenstein has spent quite a bit of time in Ethiopia, and she’s currently writing a book on the country’s female distance runners. If you enjoy following Ethiopian runners’ accomplishments, this episode is a good listen.
Eilish McColgan discussed running 30:00.86 for 10,000m in the midst of marathon training and much more on a good episode of The Shakeout Podcast.
Allie Ostrander was interesting on the Freetrail Podcast. She talked about her move to the trails and if you want specifics on her upcoming racing schedule, go to the 55:40 mark. I was interested to hear that she only runs 35–40 miles per week and supplements that with cross training. “It’s the volume where I feel comfortable that I’m not going to get injured,” she said.
Dani Moreno and EmKay Sullivan launched The Sub Hub Podcast, which focuses on the sub-ultra distances in mountain and trail running. Their episode with Kimber Mattox, released last week, was solid, and you wouldn’t know that they’re new to podcasting.
Other Episodes: Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone on Citius Mag | Sydney Devore on Steadfast Running | Dani Moreno on Road to the Trials | Lindsey Butterworth on Lactic Acid | Jen Odenheimer, 2:37 marathoner, on Runners of the Bay
The New York City Half Marathon takes place on Sunday, and it should be easy to watch. The livestream of the pro races begins at 7:00 a.m. ET and it will be available on abc7ny.com, the ESPN app, and New York Road Runners’ YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. This press release has a list of athletes who are scheduled to run.
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