Fast Women: Is USATF prioritizing TV over the athletes?
Addy Wiley makes a giant leap in the 800m.
Issue 250, sponsored by New Balance
Thanks to a distracted click on my part, this newsletter accidentally went out on Sunday instead of Monday, about 12 hours early. I am surprised this is the first time I’ve messed up the timing in 250 issues.
USATF announces late start for Olympic Marathon Trials
Last week, USATF announced (Runner’s World) that for the 2024 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, scheduled to take place on February 3 in Orlando, Florida, the men will start at 12:10 p.m. and the women will start at 12:20 p.m. The news understandably sparked immediate concern from some athletes, who questioned the decision to hold a marathon midday in Florida. For more, this Runner’s World piece from Sarah Lorge Butler includes thoughts from the athletes and more background and context.
Des Linden was the first athlete I saw comment, tweeting, “Warmer temps should slightly minimize the pace of super shoes and reward smart racing. So you’re sayin’ there’s a chance?! Count me in!”
But of the athletes who have spoken up, Linden is in the minority so far. While she’s right that warm conditions could reward smart racing, those who attended or followed the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles also saw how badly a high-stakes marathon can go for some, when held in hot conditions. (More on that here. The 2016 Trials were a struggle not only because of the heat but also because of a number of organizational errors.) The late start in Orlando is thought to be because of the TV broadcast. The 2020 Trials in Atlanta started at a similar time, but the conditions were cold and windy.
There’s no guarantee the conditions will be hot at race time, but the average daily temperature on that date is in the low to mid 70s, with humidity around 73 percent. This year, on February 3 in downtown Orlando, it was 78 degrees at noon, with a dew point of 68 degrees and 71 percent humidity, and then things cooled off when heavy thunderstorms (which would also be a problem) rolled in. There’s a reason most marathons in Florida start early in the morning, no matter the time of year. As Molly Huddle said to Runner’s World, “Why deal with an unnecessary extreme like that?” Sara Hall added that some athletes’ careers have been shortened by competing in extreme conditions.
Emily Sisson proposed a compromise most people can agree on: Keep the race at noon, but be prepared to move it earlier if the conditions warrant a shift. It’s a logical solution, but it’s not clear to me how realistic it is, or how easy it is to move an event of this nature.
An email that went out to some of the Trials qualifiers on Monday stated that the local organizing committee “has contingencies in place for any potential challenges to the event, including weather.” But as Huddle said to Runner’s World, “Does that mean they’ll change the time or does that mean we’ll have sponges for you?”
USATF’s general lack of transparency and communication in recent years has led many to lose faith that the organization will act in the athletes’ best interests. Even the fact that Trials are taking place in Orlando and not Chattanooga is controversial (Runner’s World).
Marathons are frequently held in hot climates, but usually when they are, organizers do what they can to minimize the effects of the heat, including holding the race in the morning or the evening. The 2019 World Championships in Doha started at 11:59 p.m., and the temperature was over 90 degrees, but at least the athletes didn’t have the sun beating down on them. The 2004 Athens Olympic Marathon, where Deena Kastor earned a bronze medal, started at 6 p.m., when the temperature was 86 degrees. The 2021 Olympic Marathon, where Molly Seidel earned bronze, was held in Sapporo instead of Tokyo, because of the cooler expected temperatures there. And at the last minute, the race was moved an hour earlier, to 6 a.m., because of the heat. The temperature still reached 86 degrees.
Athletes have proven themselves more than capable of racing marathons in the heat. But rarely is that because organizers have planned the event for one of the hottest times of day. The Paris Olympic marathons will start at 8:00 a.m.
The handful of athletes who spoke out about the start time—mostly women—were pretty heavily criticized online last week. That included people saying elite athletes always want the conditions to be perfect, or specific athletes were against it because they don’t run well in the heat. Some pointed out that ultrarunners race in much worse conditions. (They do, but they make it to the finish line because they race at a lower intensity for most of the race, plus there are built-in breaks along the way.) Others accused the athletes of not being tough enough.
My favorite tweet of the week was from @themissjen: “Love the men on this app explaining to elite marathoners that they once ran a hot marathon and were fine. 🙏” And I appreciated Huddle pushing back against Trey Hardee here. I imagine a decathlon in extreme temperatures is grueling, but it’s a very different event. Like Linden, Hardee does commentary for NBC, the network that will broadcast the race.
The athletes worry precisely because they know how tough they are. Hall put it well when talking to Runner’s World: “We are highly motivated, capable of pushing ourselves to the outer limits of what’s humanly possible in order to achieve our chosen goal,” she said. “This gift is what has allowed us to have success in the sport. But in conditions like these, that same talent is a double-edged sword and puts us in the precarious position of putting our long-term health and careers at risk as we strive to become Olympians.”
There are absolutely things athletes can do to prepare for a hot race, and they will. There are at least two recent studies (second link is to Outside) about high-level racing in the heat, and all sorts of other resources out there. Or they can just do things the old fashioned way, like Christine Clark did when she won the 2000 Trials, held in South Carolina. Clark lived in Alaska but got in her heat training on a treadmill. (That year, the race began at 9:00 a.m. and the temperature climbed into the low 80s.)
But even when elite athletes prepare well, it’s not uncommon for them to struggle in the heat. At the World Cross Country Championships earlier this year, world record holder Letesenbet Gidey was leading the race when she fell within sight of the finish line. Alicia Monson made it across the finish line in the 10,000m at the 2021 Olympic Trials but was hospitalized after (Runner’s World). I’ll never forget watching Sharon Lokedi collapse multiple times at the 2022 B.A.A. 10K before being carried off on a backboard. And, different event, but Taliyah Brooks is suing USATF for not rescheduling the heptathlon at the 2021 Olympic Trials, despite the extreme conditions (Runner’s World).
I hope that USATF will be more explicit about their plans going forward, and that we luck out on February 3 and get at least a comfortable day for racing. (Event website)
Thanks to New Balance for sponsoring Fast Women in August
I’m so thankful for New Balance’s support, which helps keep this newsletter running. For those of you running New York, did you see that New Balance released the first items in the 2023 TCS New York City Marathon Collection last week?
And I spend way too much time on the New Balance website, but in the process, I’ve decided the next shoe I want to try out is the FuelCell Rebel v3. It’s a lightweight but well cushioned daily trainer. And as I write this, the shoe is 32% off.
Addy Wiley runs a massive 800m PR
Until Friday night, I would have said that Addy Wiley, 19, was a mile/1500m specialist. Then she won a competitive 800m at the Ed Murphey Classic in 1:59.00, a 3.33-second PR. In an 800m, that’s a huge leap, and it makes her the fifth-fastest American this year. Very impressive for someone who is heading into her sophomore year of college.
Wiley has had an incredible year, winning seven NAIA titles, lowering her 1500m time by more than eight seconds, to 4:03.22, and finishing fifth in the 1500m at USAs. And on Saturday, Wiley doubled back with a 4:37.7 win in the Beale Street Murphey (road) Mile (results).
She is one of the biggest young talents in the sport right now, and her story is all the more dramatic because she is a cancer survivor, too. But as long as she is associated with the disgraced Huntington University program, there are likely to be questions surrounding her performances. Her former coach, Nick Johnson, who is now banned by SafeSport, has been accused of doping runners without their knowledge, along with sexual abuse. And Wiley confirmed during the USATF Outdoor Championships that she is still close with his wife, Lauren Johnson. (Race video)
Athing Mu might miss the world championships
Athing Mu’s coach, Bobby Kersee, told the LA Times last week that he’s not sure if she’ll race at the world championships this year. “The training is going well but our thought process, openly, is that we’re going to just train here in L.A. for the next two weeks and the next time she gets on the plane it’ll either be on vacation or to Budapest,” he said.
Perhaps it was the way Kersee’s comments made it sound a bit like the world championships aren’t a big deal, but he and Mu got ripped apart on Twitter after that. It’s interesting how people are quick to say mental health is important, but also quick to criticize top athletes without having the whole story. I appreciated Nikki Hiltz defending Mu. She’s gotten so fast so quickly that it’s easy to forget she’s only 21.
In just a few years, Mu has gone from high school to college to NCAA champion, U.S. champion, Olympic champion, and world champion. Because of the pandemic-related schedule shift, there’s been no down year, as there usually is. And she is adjusting to living in LA this year. She’s been open in multiple interviews about the fact that all of that has been a lot, and there haven’t been many breaks. Whether we get the full story or not, she owes track and field fans nothing, and I hope that more people will give her some grace.
Other News and Links
I appreciate Krissy Gear’s openness in this FL Runners Q&A, which included some additional thoughts on her mixed feelings in passing Emma Coburn to win the steeplechase at USAs. “I knew that a performance like that would bring a lot of attention and subsequent expectations for me going forward—both from outsiders and from myself. And that isn't something I'm comfortable with or want. I just want to run and have fun and be silly and immature for a little while more. But it's something I need to learn to embrace and rise to the challenge now, I suppose.”
Former New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg has been named president of the National Women’s Soccer League’s NY/NJ team, Gotham FC. This Q&A includes more information.
If you happened to see this photo of Great Britain’s Alex Bell sticking her middle fingers up, in a playful way, after running an Olympic 800m standard just over a week ago, this article from The Daily Mail explains the situation well. Despite finishing third at the British trials, UK Athletics selected Issy Boffey, who finished fifth, to go to the world championships, because at the time, Boffey had a faster time this season.
Jenny Simpson said last week that she plans to run the Olympic Marathon Trials, which will take place near where she grew up. Simpson qualified for the race with the 1:10:35 half marathon she ran in January in Houston. She didn’t say if she’ll run a fall marathon or if the Trials will be her debut at the distance.
Aisha Praught Leer announced that she’s ending her season to protect her mental health. “A couple years of endless striving has taken a toll on my ability to consistently feel joyful on race day,” she wrote on Instagram.
Cindy Kuzma wrote an excellent article about bone stress injuries while breastfeeding. (Reading it requires a Runner’s World+ subscription.) It says that thanks to a nudge from Molly Huddle, some experts are working on an infographic on returning to running postpartum that they hope to publish soon. And USATF and &Mother are also working on resources.
The Tucker Center’s latest Women in College Coaching Report Card indicates that the number of female cross country (19.3%) and track & field (18.6%) coaches in “select seven” NCAA DI programs went down slightly. Both sports received Fs once again. The good news: In many other sports, the number of female coaches is going up.
Oiselle will be offering a six-month contract to five unsponsored women who have qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. You can read more about what they’re offering and how to apply here. The deadline is August 20.
Athlete signings, movement, and coaching changes
Susanna Sullivan has signed with Brooks (Runner’s World). She plans to continue teaching full time for now, but this will allow her to give up the tutoring she does on the side. Sullivan will miss one of the first weeks of school to run the marathon at the world championships.
Mercy Chelangat, a two-time NCAA champion for Alabama and one of the most consistent collegiate runners in recent years, joined HOKA NAZ Elite.
Emily Venters signed with Nike and will train with the Union Athletics Club. She’ll reunite with her Utah teammate Simone Plourde, who joined the team earlier this summer.
DIII champion and record holder Kassie Parker signed with Hansons-Brooks.
Former Oregon coach Helen Lehman-Winters has been hired as the head cross country coach at the University of Illinois.
She replaces Sarah Haveman, who recently became the women’s distance assistant coach at Texas, replacing PattiSue Plumer.
And former Illinois standout Olivia Howell, this year’s NCAA indoor mile champion, has followed Haveman to Texas.
NCAA steeplechase champion Olivia Markezich of Notre Dame announced that she has signed an NIL deal with On.
At the pro level, former Empire Elite coach Tom Nohilly has been named the new head coach of Atlanta Track Club Elite. He replaces Amy and Andrew Begley.
Dani Jones outkicked Canada’s Lucia Stafford to win the 1500m at the Ed Murphey Classic, 4:02.83 to 4:03.53. Jones broke her PR, which had stood since 2021, by 1.43 seconds. Anna Camp Bennett took third in 4:04.99, a 3.28-second PR. Angel Piccirillo, in fourth, also PRed, running 4:05.32. Behind Wiley’s quick 800m mentioned above, Shafiqua Maloney of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (second, 1:59.94) and Susan Aneno of Uganda (third, 1:59.95) also PRed. New Brooks Beast Kayley DeLay won the 3,000m in 8:48.56, with Katie Izzo second in 8:51.00. (1500m finish | Results)
Abby Nichols was in third place entering the homestretch at Sir Walter Miler, but she used a strong kick to win the race in 4:26.80. Nichols, who focused more on the 5,000m during college, has made great progress in the mile and 1500m this year, lowering her 1500m PR from 4:14.82 to 4:07.47. Her NAZ Elite teammate, Krissy Gear, finished second in 4:27.51, and her former CU teammate, Madie Boreman, finished third in 4:27.71, a 5.88-second PR. The top six women all broke 4:30, with Boreman, Laurie Barton (4:28.37), Katie Wasserman (4:28.89), and Katie Camarena (4:29.75) doing it for the first time and earning their trees in the Fast Forest. (Race finish | Results)
Less than 24 hours later, Camarena won the Raleigh RunDown downhill road mile in 4:21.2. (Results)
Australia’s Catriona Biset won the 800m at Sweden’s Folksam Grand Prix Malmö in 2:00.11. McKenna Keegan finished second 2:01.13. (Results)
Kenya’s Hellen Obiri won the Beach to Beacon 10K in 31:37, just ahead of Ethiopia’s Fotyen Tesfay (31:38). And Keira D’Amato (31:58) outkicked Kenya’s Vicoty Chepngeno (31:59) for third. Edna Kiplagat, in fifth (32:23), won a pretty tight masters race over Sara Hall (seventh, 32:32). And it was nice to see Fiona O’Keeffe (sixth, 32:24) back to racing after a setback. Maine native Rachel Schneider-Smith, who is returning after having a baby in April, finished 12th in 34:09. Ruth White, 17, was the top Maine finisher, running an impressive 34:56. And Yen Hoang won the wheelchair race in 28:25. The race’s founder, Joan Benoit Samuelson, ran the race with friends, including fellow Olympic medalists Deena Kastor and Catherine Ndereba. (News recap | Results)
Australia’s Izzy Batt-Doyle won a road 5K in her home country in 15:09. (Results)
Ethiopia’s Werkuha Getachew won the Brooklyn Mile in 4:31. (Results)
Hannah Rowe won the USATF 50K Trail Championships.
Anna Kacius won the inaugural Kauai 50 (miler) in 7:07:41 and earned $15,000, which is an unusually large payday for an ultra. (Results)
Ellie Shea won the 1500m (4:16.61) and 3,000m (9:05.78) at the Pan Am U20 Championships and Sophia Gorriaran won the 800m (2:04.68). (Results)
Allyson Felix was great on Armchair Expert, and I appreciated how candid she was. It was interesting hearing her talk about the challenges of being a pastor’s daughter and her first pro coach, Pat Connolly’s unconventional methods, like making Felix drink raw eggs. She also referenced Bobby Kersee’s mind games. “Some days we didn’t even know what time we were going to train” she said. “It was just like, ‘Your day is mine.’” She discussed thinking winning Olympic gold would change her life, and how she dealt with it when she didn’t. “The wins didn’t feel like what they should have felt like, but the losses did,” she said.
I appreciated getting a Natosha Rogers update on C Tolle Run. She said that because she qualified for the world championships, she no longer plans to run a fall marathon. However, she’s planning to make her marathon debut at the Olympic Trials. Rogers isn’t qualified yet, so look for her to run a quick half marathon sometime before December. She said she hopes to double in the 5,000m and 10,000m at worlds (the team will be announced very soon). And I appreciated her candid answer when host Carrie Tollefson asked about her goal for worlds—”I want to get health insurance from USATF,” she said. She said she thought that would take a top eight finish, but if I’m reading these documents correctly, I think it’s actually top 12. And it must be stressful having to perform at a high level to earn health insurance each year. Plus the irony is that struggling athletes are likely to need it even more.
I really enjoyed hearing from Alysia Montaño on the Wild Ideas Worth Living podcast. Most of what the host asked her about will be review for those who have followed her story, but it’s a good episode.
Additional Episodes: Lisa Weightman on I’ll Have Another | Kassie Parker on Women’s Running Stories | Eilish McColgan on The Game Changers | Nia Akins on The Running Effect | Carolyn Su and Stefanie Flippin discussed barriers to entry in ultra and trail running on Making Strides | Age-group world record holder Sue McDonald and her coach, Terry Howell, on The Masters of Running Podcast | Laura Green on Lactic Acid (I love seeing how people respond to host Dominique Smith’s fun personality, and this was a good one) | 2:41 marathoner Erica Weitz on The Rambling Runner
Something that made me smile
If you like Taylor Swift and/or Nikki Hiltz, you might appreciate this. It’s fun, plus it captures how fast Hiltz is in a way that race videos really don’t.
Thanks to New Balance for sponsoring Fast Women. Thanks to all of you who contribute via Patreon and Venmo to help make this newsletter and the accompanying social media sustainable. And if you’re interested in purchasing Fast Women merchandise, you can do so here. I hope you all have a great week!