Why Ryan Hall Is The Best (Natural-Born) U.S. Marathoner Ever, Sammy Wanjiru’s Wife Is Amazingly Good, U.S. 1,500 Medal Chances Take A Hit And The Returns Of Ajee Wilson And Laura Roesler

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The Week That Was In Running – January 11 – 17, 2016

by LetsRun.com
January 20, 2016

It may be dead of winter, but last week was a pretty phenomenal week with lots of stuff going on in the track and field world.

We spoke to Chris Derrick and Desi Linden, analyzed the second WADA report, and analyzed the amazing LVirgin London Marathon women’s field as well as the Boston Marathon field, so check out those links if you missed them, as we’re not going to reanalyze that stuff below.

Past editions of The Week That Was can be found here. Questions or comments? Please email us or post them in our fan forum.

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More Praise For Ryan Hall

On Friday, Ryan Hall surprised the running world by retiring from the sport at age 33. The fact that Hall’s retirement was announced in the New York Times shows you that Hall had a tremendous career (and that Asics likes to break news in the NY Times)

Ryan and Sara Hall after his marathon debut in London.

Ryan and Sara Hall after his marathon debut in London.

We immediately put out an article highlighting the six greatest performances of Hall’s career but want to add some more praise now.

Consider this.

Before Hall, in the history of the world, only twice had an American-born runner broken 2:09:00 (Bob Kempainen ran 2:08:47 in 1994, Dick Beardsley ran 2:08:53 in 1982) and never had one run under 2:08:30. Hall broke 2:08:30 four different times.

Twice he broke 2:07, as he ran 2:06:17 in London in 2008 and 2:04:58 in Boston in 2011.

No non-African-born runner besides Hall has ever broken 2:06 and Hall broke 2:05 (albeit wind-aided). Without a doubt, Hall redefined what is possible for both American-born and white runners.

Yes, as the New York Times pointed out, it’s true that Hall never won an Abbott World Marathon Major race or an Olympic gold, but that fact doesn’t really diminish Hall’s greatness as that criticism could basically be given to all American runners as no American male has won an Olympic gold medal in a distance event since 1972.

Hall finishing off his 2:04:58

Hall finishing off his 2:04:58

Ryan Hall is the best (not greatest) natural-born U.S. marathoner in history. Others like Frank Shorter or Bill Rodgers had greater careers but no one has been better in an absolute sense than Hall. Counting his wind-aided 2:04:58, Hall ran more than a minute faster than any runner in history not born in Africa (Ronaldo da Costa of Brazil, at 2:06:05, is the next-fastest) and his non-wind-aided 2:06:17 from London is basically on par with da Costa’s 2:06:05 and Toshinari Takaoka‘s 2:06:16.

We know we’ll certainly miss Hall. We believe he was the first athlete we ever interviewed in the history of LetsRun.com.

Check out this from the LRC Archives from September of 2000: LRC Interview with Prep Standout Ryan Hall.

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A Seventh Glorious Moment From Ryan Hall’s Career – He Absolutely Crushed Ritz and Torres at the 2006 U.S. Cross Country Championships

We’d now like to add a seventh great moment in Hall’s pro career. In our initial piece (“We remember the six most glorious moments of Ryan Hall’s career”), we wrote, “[Hall’s] first full year as a pro (2006) didn’t result in much of anything as he ran just 3:43 for 1500 and 13:29 for 5,000.”

That statement is true for the track, but Hall did have one glorious race in 2006 – he absolutely dominated the U.S. Cross Country Championships (12k race), winning by nearly 30 seconds in a field that contained both Jorge Torres and Dathan Ritzenhein – both Olympians and former NCAA cross country champions.

The race was Hall’s first race over 10k. The longer the race lasted, the better Hall got, and in hindsight, this race was an early sign that the marathon was the ideal event for Hall. At 8k, he led by only two seconds, by 10k, his lead was up to 17 seconds and by the finish it was 27 seconds.

Hall found out he thrived at longer distances at the 2006 USA XC Meet

Hall found out he thrived at longer distances at the 2006 USA XC Meet

“It was probably the most fun race of my life,” said Hall to David Monti after the race. “It’s my first 12-K.”

So there you have it, a seventh great moment from Ryan Hall’s pro career. Many thanks to Amby Burfoot and a former Goldman Sachs investment banker (now hedge fund employee) for reminding us of this race. After Hall’s retirement, Burfoot wrote a tribute piece on Hall where he recalled watching the 2006 U.S. cross race and then picking up the phone and calling a friend to whom he declared, “I think I’ve just seen the future of U.S. distance running.”

The former Goldman Sachs trader read our piece and then texted:

“Was reading your top-6 list on Ryan Hall earlier this evening… you forgot the 2006 usatf xc championships when he beat up on Jorge, Max [King], and Ritz in close to zero degree temperatures at van cortlandt (I think negative with the windchill). Anyone who was there that day saw the 59 minute half coming… Other than Webb in the 4×8 at hs nats in 2001, the most dominant race I’ve ever seen”

If it’s good enough to blow away both one of the sport’s longest-serving and most respected journalists as well as a jaded hedge fund employee, it definitely belongs on the list.

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Sammy Wanjiru’s Wife Runs By Far The Fastest Half-Marathon On US Soil

Mary Wacera at Falmouth in 2014

Mary Wacera at Falmouth in 2014

The most significant pro result last week was without a doubt the 66:29 half-marathon put up 2014 World Half Marathon silver medallist Mary Wacera of Kenya at the Aramco Half Marathon in Houston. That winning time, along with Cynthia Limo‘s runner-up time of 66:41, totally destroyed the US all-comers record of 67:11 held by Kim Smith. 

In case you didn’t realize it from the fact that it’s 42 seconds faster than any other time previously run on US soil, 66:29 is very fast. It puts Wacera just outside the top 10 all-time for the 13.1 distance (66:27 is 10th all-time; Wacera is now #12).

In looking up some info on Wacera’s time, we rediscovered a fact that we’d totally forgotten about Wacera and once we remembered it, it totally blew us away. Wacera was the wife of the great marathoner Sammy Wanjiru – the 2008 Olympic champ who died in 2011.

Wanjiru actually had two wives. Wacera, with whom he had a daughter (Ann, in 2010), was his legal wife but he had previously also married Terezah Njeri in a traditional ceremony and had two children with her.

Once Wanjiru died in 2011, Wacera, the 2006 World junior 5000 bronze medallist and 2007 African junior 5000 gold medallist, returned to competition in 2012 after not having competed since 2009. She ran 70:54 for the half in 2012, then improved to 70:32 in 2013 before really impressing with a 67:44 clocking that got her silver at the World Half in 2014. Now she’s run 66:29.

During her comeback, the 27-year-old has been a dominant force on the US road racing circuit as she’s picked up wins at the World’s Best 10k, Lilac Bloomsday, Boilermaker, the BAA 10k and the BAA Half Marathon.

Wacera has yet to run a marathon. Given her past success in Boston, we think John Hancock should do their best to get her to make her debut in Boston. It’s three-plus weeks after the World Half Marathon championships in Cardiff so Wacera could do both.

For her fine efforts in Houston, Wacera picked up a nice $35,000 ($20,000 for the win and $15,000 in time bonuses).

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Wacera wasn’t the only wife of a famous runner to run well in Houston. Ryan Hall’s wife, Sara, continued her fine running with a 70:07 pb for fifth place (previous pb of 70:49).

70:07 puts Hall just outside the US top 10 all-time (70:00 is 10th). If you are looking for a nice upset pick for the upcoming 2016 US Olympic Marathon Trials, Hall, who ran a 2:31:14 marathon in Chicago in October, is someone you should consider. The US trials course will feature a number of 180-degree turns so the race certainly will work well for people who are used to having their rhythm broken and Hall, a former steeplechaser and the U.S.’s top finisher on an undulating World XC course last year, clearly fits that label.

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Fast and Not So Fast Half Marathons In The US

Hall and Wacera weren’t the only people running half-marathons in the US last week. A bunch of U.S. Olympic marathon hopefuls raced as some ran last-ditch qualifying attempts and others ran tune-up races.

Puskedra's debut in New York in the Fall of 2015 almost knocked him out of the sport

Puskedra’s debut in New York in the fall of 2014 almost knocked him out of the sport

Luke Puskedra and Diego Estrada raced in Houston, with Puskedra running 61:29 and Estrada running 63:28. Neither time seemed to please the fans on the messageboard as many thought Puskedra ran too fast too close to the trials and Estrada too slow. Houston was four weeks before the Trials in Los Angeles. (MB: Luke Puskedra runs 1:01:29 in Houston!!! What the….???).

Our thoughts?

For Puskedra, it’s true a super-fast half marathon time can indicate that one is a little too sharp and hasn’t done enough long distance work, but there is no reason to automatically conclude that’s the case here and we have no problem with him racing a month before the Trials for the following two reasons.

1. It’s not like this is some amazing time for Luke. Puskedra ran nearly the same time (61:36) when he was in college four years ago.

2. Puskedra is used to racing a half marathon before a marathon. Puskedra raced a half marathon at a very similar time before Grandma’s Marathon last June. In May, Puskedra ran 65:10 before running 2:15:27 some five weeks later. So Puskedra was able to run a marathon some 5:07 slower than double his half-marathon time. If you double Puskedra’s time from last week and add 5:07, you get 2:08:05. In looking at the Trials, that’s beyond the best-case scenario in our mind. In the spring, Puskedra was just coming into shape after briefly quitting the sport last winter whereas now he’s already in shape.

A more reasonable measuring stick might be to look at what Dathan Ritzenhein did before his marathon PR in 2012. Ritz, who like Puskedra used to train under Alberto Salazar, ran a 60:57 half just three weeks before his 2:07:47 PR in Chicago. So Ritz ran 5:53 slower than double his half marathon time. If Puskedra does that at the Trials, he’d run 2:08:51 – a sizeable improvement from his 2:10:24 PR.

As for Estrada, without knowing the details, we’re not overly concerned with any time as long as it’s faster than race pace (for all we know, he could have been working on fueling; this tweet suggests he was not going all-out). Consider this: in 2013, another prominent American only ran 62:53 for his prep half marathon some five weeks out from his goal race. What did he do in that race?

Win the Boston Marathon. Yes, Meb ran 62:53 five weeks before running 2:08:37.

In conclusion, the idea that you can’t race before a marathon is absurd. There is a great messageboard post by “The Overexplainer” who lists a slew of famous people like Salazar (27:30 10k 10 days before a 2:08 Boston Marathon win) and Frank Shorter (27:51 American record at 10k seven days before his Olympic marathon gold) who raced well at shorter distances right before a strong marathon win.

We liked the historical examples cited by “The Overexplainer,”, who has an interesting conspiracy theory. It’s his or her belief  that “the idea that you can’t be in good marathon shape 1-4 weeks after being in good shape for other events” is a theory that was invented by dopers in recent years who wanted to “hide away for months before a major marathon so they can dope undisturbed.”

We always love a good conspiracy theory but in reality believe times have gotten so fast in recent years that there is no real reason for people to race before marathons. A 27:30 10k or 2:08 marathon isn’t going to be competitive on the international scene like it was thirty years ago so people must get in the absolute best marathon shape possible.

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Former Duquesne runner Jim Spisak also had a nice run in Houston last week as he was the second American in 62:26 in his half marathon debut. Spisak, who ran 13:43 and 29:02 for Duquesne before graduating in 2014, has been thriving as a pro under the tutelage of Molly Huddle‘s husband Kurt Benninger and the New England Distance Project (Website, Facebook page). This spring he ran 13:36/28:20 before putting up a series of strong results on the USATF road racing circuit in the fall (7th 20k, 4th 10-mile, 4th 12k).

Spisak isn’t racing the Marathon Trials; his plan is to hopefully make the US team for the World Half Marathon Championships on March 26.

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One of the bigger potential storylines at next month’s Olympic Trials is Abdi Abdirahman‘s quest for an unprecedented fifth U.S. Olympic team. At age 38, it’s a lot to ask of Abdi. We thought we might get a glimpse of his form last week, but he was a scratch from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona 1/2 Marathon due to a tweaked leg muscle.

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Tweet of The Week

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U.S.’s Long Shot 1500 Gold Medal Chances Just Went Down A Little Bit

It was a bad week for U.S. 1500 runners dreaming of gold in Rio.

How so? Well two of Kenya’s top 1500 stars ran cross country races and showed some good fitness. Asbel Kiprop was third at the Kenya Police Champs whereas Faith Kipyegon dominated the 34th Cross Internacional de Itálica in Seville.

Top 3 Results 34th Cross Internacional de Itálica

  1. Faith KIPYEGON, KEN                 24:56
  2. Viola KIBIWOT, KEN                  25:16
  3. Irene CHEPET CHEPTAI, KEN           25:50

2016 Kenyan Police XC Champs Top 6 Results

  1. Geoffrey Kamworor, 30:52.7
  2. Augustine Choge, 31:30.1
  3. Asbel Kiprop, 31:47.1
  4. Josephat Bett, 31:53.2
  5. Johnson Nakari, 31:57.5
  6. Caleb Ndiku, 32:00.1

When Kiprop and Kipyegon are 100% on their games, America’s top 1500 stars aren’t likely to beat them. For a gold medal to come the U.S.’s way, we need a little help, whether it’s injury or off-season laziness. Neither seems to be going on right now for Kiprop or Kipyegon.

Speaking of the Kenyan Police Champs, 2015 Worlds 10,000 winner Vivian Cheruiyot, who is hoping to double up on gold in 2016 just like she did in 2011, got the win in the women’s race (And we hope you noticed, Geoffrey Kamworor won the men’s race by an impressive 37 seconds. Mo Farah likely noticed).

Top 6 at 2016 Kenyan Police Champs

  1. Vivian Cheruiyot, 36:29.9
  2. Margaret Chelimo, 36:30.1
  3. Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi, 36:34.3
  4. Janet Kisa, 36:47.5
  5. Linet Masai 36:49.6
  6. Lydia Rotich, 36:54.9

More: Geoffrey Kamworor And Vivian Cheruiyot Win Kenya Police XC Titles *2nd Article/Results

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Injured 800 Stars Roesler and Wilson Return To Action

Last week, two of the U.S.’s most talented young 800 runners returned to the event after long hiatuses due to injury.

Roesler made it look easy at NCAA Indoors in March 2014.

Roesler made it look easy at NCAA Indoors in March 2014.

2014 NCAA indoor and outdoor champ Laura Roesler, who struggled last year with an Achilles injury in her first year as a pro and only ran 2:03.99, opened up her 2016 campaign with a 2:05.25 win at Texas A&M. 2:05.25 isn’t real fast considering in her last year in college in 2014, Roesler opened up at 2:01.32 in late January. But it should be pointed out that second place last week was just 2:08.17 and in 2013 Roesler opened up in similar fashion (2:04.66).

And we aren’t going to freak out too much about Roesler because the U.S.’s best 800-meter runner, Ajee Wilson, returned to action last week with her first 800 since the U.S. champs in June with an even slower time. Wilson ran a modest 2:05.93 for the win at the Albany Great Dane Classic at the new Ocean Breeze Track & Field Athletic Complex on Staten Island (2nd place was 2:06.04).

2:05 isn’t particularly fast but the key for both is health. Let’s see how they do in real contests in the coming weeks. What is good for Wilson this time of year? Well for comparison’s sake, Wilson has run 2:01s at the end of January/middle of February in each of the last two years. She’ll have plenty of competition in the coming weeks as Wilson will face Roesler and British stud Lynsey Sharp at the Armory Track Invitational on February 6 before squaring off against Brenda Martinez at Millrose on February 20.

And the big 800 news was Texas A&M frosh Donavan Brazier running 1:45.93 in his collegiate debut. That warrants its own article here.

Somewhat related:

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Quotes of the Week (that weren’t quote of the day).

#1 Olympic Athletes Are Held to The Strictest Of Standards, So Why Aren’t the Olympic Officials As Well?

The second WADA Independent Commission report came out last week (our thoughts on it appear here) and we loved an article by Bonnie Ford of ESPN on the matter.

Here is the excerpt we liked most from the article:

“Elite runners all over the world, like their brethren in other Olympic sports, submit their daily calendars to a vast monitoring system. They answer 6 a.m. knocks at their doors and drop their trousers to urinate on command. They can be suspended for taking many legal prescription drugs unless they provide proper paperwork beforehand, or prove they didn’t knowingly ingest them. Mental lapses, fatigue or desperation are not considered acceptable excuses. In fact, they are often told they must have known, should have known, could not have been unaware they might be violating the rules.

“Will sporting federations ever have to adhere to that standard of strict liability?”

# II – The New York Times Juliet Macur on Why WADA’s Dick Pound Backed Seb Coe

“So what I’ve surmised is that he was sticking with Coe because he considers it smarter to back the devil he knows than the one he might not know. With so much corruption in international sports, there would be no guarantee that Coe’s successor would be blemish-free.”

Juliet Macur writing in the NY Times.

III – The Head of UK Athletics Wants USADA To Finish Up Its Investigation of Alberto Salazar Soon

“I would encourage them (USADA) to complete it because it (their investigation of Alberto Salazar) has gone on a long time. And I would also encourage them if they find nothing just to say that. I live in fear it will never have an outcome because they’ll decide they have nothing to say.”

Ed Warner, the Chairman of UK Athletics talking in an article in The Guardian last week.

IV – Running Is The Easiest Part About Being A Pro Runner

“The running part is the easy part (of being a pro). It’s what you do the next 22 hours.”

Meb Kefelzighi talking last week on a teleconference call to promote the 2016 US Olympic Marathon Trials, while in an ice bath.

More: Meb Keflezighi and Shalane Flanagan Both Refuse To Call Themselves Favorites For Next Month’s Marathon Trials

V – Sometimes It Pays To Believe In Yourself

“At the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, which celebrates its 20th anniversary on Sunday, Ethiopia’s Feyera Gemeda is looking to return to the form that brought him victory in 2014 at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

Gemeda’s triumph here two years ago was a gamble which paid off handsomely. The Ethiopian was not an official entry, but he paid US $1000 for an air ticket, slept on a colleague’s hotel room floor, ran away from the field in the last five kilometers, and netted the US $65,000 first prize.”

-excerpt from an IAAF race preview of last week’s Standard Chartered Hong Kong marathon. This year, Gemeda came close to winning but ended up third.

Top 5 Results
MEN - 
 1. Mike Kiprotich Mutai, KEN          2:12:12 USD 65,000
 2. Lawrence Cherono, KEN              2:12:14     30,000
 3. Feyera Gemeda Dadi, ETH            2:12:20     15,000
 4. Dickson Kipsang Tuwei, KEN         2:12:29     10,000
 5. Fikre Assefa Robi, ETH             2:12:47      6,000

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Speaking of Standard Chartered Marathons, there was another interesting winning story at the 13th Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon last week. Kenyan Gideon Kipketer, who started the race as a pacer, stayed in the race and won $56,000 by winning in 2:08:35.

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Recommended Reads

LRC Less Than A Month From LA 2016, Kevin Hanson & Desi Linden Talk Marathon Trials, Bobby Curtis & Galen Rupp

LRC Chris Derrick On The Olympic Marathon Trials, Pro Running Being A Sweet Part-Time Job, The NY Jets, And The Decreasing Marginal Utility Of Income

LRC Dick Pound’s Puzzling Endorsement Of Seb Coe, Looking For Heroes And Where Is The “Wow” Factor? – Analysis And Reaction To Part 2 Of WADA Report

The Running World Reacts To Ryan Hall’s Retirement

Independent: “Seb Coe’s Flaws Mean He Is The Wrong Man To Clean Up Athletics”

The Oregonian: “Track Town Trips Over World Champs Funding Request”

Bonnie Ford: Strict liability standard applies to Olympic athletes, but not their leadership

Previous “Recommended Reads” can be found here.

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Quotes Of The Day And Last Week’s Home Pages

To see the actual quotes of the day from last week or last week’s home page or any home page, go to our archive page.

Past editions of The Week That Was can be found here. Questions or comments? Please email us or post them in our running fan forum.


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