By Weldon Johnson, LetsRun.com
February 8, 2019
NEW YORK — If the hundreds of young athletes at the Armory Thursday afternoon for the NYRR Millrose Games Meet the Pros Youth Clinic had hung around a bit longer they might have met a soon-to-be world record holder in the mile.
Just after the clinic ended, where the young athletes learned some tips and had a lot of fun with pros Ajee’ Wilson, Raevyn Rogers, Eric Avila, Robby Andrews, John Teeters, Maya Stephens,and Priscilla Frederick, two more pros, Nike Oregon Project (NOP) team members Clayton Murphy and Yomif Kejelcha, stepped on the track. Murphy and Kejelcha jogged maybe a mile on the oval at the Armory as a film crew filmed them.
Since this was almost exactly 48 hours before the favorite Kejelcha (and Murphy) take a shot at Hicham El Guerrouj’s world record on Saturday in the Wanamaker mile, once they stopped jogging, I thought their shakeout run was over. Murphy then went into the infield and continued to do some shots with the film crew.
I didn’t think too much of it when Kejelcha put on spikes, as he could be getting in some strides to check out the Millrose surface. But then Murphy’s agent Paul Doyle indicated that Kejelcha wasn’t here to just get in a few striders. He was here to get in a workout.
Under the auspices of newly-minted Nike Oregon Project assistant coach Tim Rowberry, Kejelcha did one 300 in 44.8, then a 200 in 28.7 with about two minutes between.
Then he repeated the process. This time he was a bit quicker, 43.1 and 26-mid.
Then again. 44-mid (this one is in the video below and we’re timing very inaccurately from the video) and 27.5.
Kejelcha now had nearly a mile of hard work under his belt and the assembled crowd, which included meet director Ray Flynn, Armory President Jonathan Schindel, Doyle, myself, and anyone watching the girls’ high school pole vault competition, began to wonder how much longer Kejelcha would keep going.
Turns out Kejelcha was doing six sets of 300, 200. Once he was done, Kejelcha did a few more minutes of jogging and then was ready to go back to his hotel. Flynn, once one of the greatest milers in the world himself (he’s #10 on the all-time indoor mile list at 3:51.20), went and shook Kejelcha’s hand and then put his palms together and rested them on this side of his head, simulating someone sleeping. The meet director made it universally clear he wanted Kejelcha to rest up and be ready for his world record attempt.
While Kejelcha’s workout was much longer than any of the uninformed bystanders assumed it would be just two days before his race, Rowberry said it was all part of the plan. Rowberry said that they were working on Kejelcha (and we learned you pronounce his name Kejelcha with a “cha” sound like in “chalk”) carrying his arms higher at the end of races when he sprints. They’ve noticed he is much faster with a higher, more pronounced, arm carriage at the end of races.
Rowberry only joined the Nike Oregon Project full-time this past December. Prior to that, Rowberry, who ran 1:48.63 for 800m, was coaching at Utah Valley, where he first started helping the NOP as a pacer when they came to train in Park City, Utah (he said he paced one of Matthew Centrowitz‘s famous 800 workouts). Gradually, Rowberry began to take on more roles. Last summer, he travelled everywhere with Kejelcha in Europe and this past December he joined full-time as an assistant coach.
Kejelcha credited Rowberry’s presence for helping him not be homesick this year. Last year was Kejelcha’s first in the United States and he said he got homesick at times, but this year things are humming on all cylinders and that brings us to the world record attempt on Saturday.
Flynn said the plan is for the rabbit Rob Napolitano to hit 1:53 for 880 yards and hopefully make it 1000m (2:21?). Rowberry said the rabbiting would be critical and they were hoping for 1:53.5 (presumably for Kejelcha).
When I asked Kejelcha if he was confident he could break the record, he said, via translator Sabrina Yohannes, “I don’t know. I’ve worked for it. I’ve prepared for it. I think I might be able to do it but ultimately the one who is going to make it succeed is God.”
Interview with Kejelcha (World Record questions start at 4:30 mark)
Video of some of Kejelcha’s workout – 3rd 300 and final 200
Very unofficial splits – Goal was 44 and 27.5
1st set 44.7, 28.7
2nd set 43.1, 26-mid
3rd set 44-point (timing from video), 27.5
4th 42-point (41.8 and 42.6 was the range on this)
6th, the final 200 (26.4 is in video below)
Quick Take: For those of you worried Kejelcha was running way too hard before his world record attempt, much of what he did today was slower than world record mile pace. Kejelcha needs to run 42.58/28.39 for every 300/200m during his mile to break the world record.
**** Don’t underestimate Clatyon Murphy
While Kejelcha has rightfully gotten the most attention this week because of the world record attempt, his sometimes training partner Clayton Murphy (Kejelcha trains under NOP coach Alberto Salazar, Murphy trains under coach Salazar and Pete Julian), is in great shape. Murphy ran the fastest 800m ever on a flat track last weekend, and is passing up a shot at the American 800-meter record to run the mile. Murphy’s performances this year show he is fit, and Doyle indicated Murphy is very fit. Murphy has run a 3:51.99 mile outdoors, and if he’s ready to PR, then he very easily could give Kejelcha some company in the race on Saturday. I tried to talk to Murphy as he left the track, but he said he was hungry and wanted to get a bite to eat. He indicated the real talking will be done with his performance on Saturday.
More: Will Yomif Kejelcha Break the Mile World Record at the 2019 Millrose Games? We Break Down His Chances Are you ready for a WR in the men’s mile? You probably should be.