Meet New Mexico’s 5000 Hopefuls Luke Caldwell and Adam Bitchell

Caldwell has improved from 14:37 to 13:29 in less than a year by running up to 100 mpw at 6:10 pace or faster, Bitchell broke 14:00 on less than 50 mpw

by Jake Shelley
March 13, 2014 Editor’s note: The author of this piece is New Mexico grad student Jake Shelley, who currently sits at #31 on the NCAA mile list at 4:00.47 (converted from 4:05.83 at altitude). Shelley is helping us with some of our coverage in Albuquerque and wrote this piece on his housemates – New Mexico’s 5000 hopefuls Luke Caldwell and Adam Bitchell.

Albuquerque, NM – The University of New Mexico is hosting this weekend’s NCAA championships and they will have two home-team representatives in the men’s 5000m, although both are actually a long way from home. Adam Bitchell grew up in Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales, before attending college in the welsh capital, Cardiff, whilst Luke Caldwell hails from the small village of Buckland in south east England and he completed his undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Oxford. Together they transferred to the University of New Mexico in the fall of 2012 to train under coach Joe Franklin, who has a history of success with British distance runners, having previously coached Lee Emanuel to two NCAA titles in the mile.

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Luke arrived in Albuquerque with fairly modest credentials – PBs of 3:47 and 14:37 for 1500m and 5000m, and no international experience, whereas Adam had already run 13:57 for 5000m and represented Great Britain at the European under-23 championships.  But it was Luke who would experience the most immediate success, gaining an All-American certificate with 27th at the NCAA XC champs in his first semester. Since then, Luke has finished in an All-American position in each of the next three NCAA championships, recording an 8th place finish in the 5000m indoors, improving to 7th in the 5000m outdoors, and most recently finishing 10th at NCAA XC in Terre Haute. He also slashed his PBs by well over a minute in the 5000m to 13:29 and over 5 seconds in the 1500 to 3:42 in less than a year. Luke puts this dramatic improvement down to consistent training and having more time to recover, given a less hectic academic schedule than that which he experienced at Oxford.

Adam’s path to qualifying for NCAA indoors has followed a more circuitous route. He had food poisoning for the NCAA XC champs in 2012 and was forced to drop out, having shown good form earlier in the season. But he bounced straight back in his first track race for UNM, when he ran an altitude-converted sub-4 mile. The next week, he found out he had a stress reaction in his femoral neck which effectively wiped him out the rest of the indoor season and the entire outdoor season in 2013. Hours of diligent rehab and a measured approach to training led him back to the level where he was able to record 13:44 for 5000m last December in an early season meet to break the long-standing Welsh indoor 5000m record and book his place at the NCAA indoor championships.

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Adam Bitchell (left) leading Luke Caldwell (right) at the 2013 Mountain West Cross-Country Championships Adam Bitchell (left) leading Luke Caldwell (right) at the 2013 Mountain West Cross-Country Championships *Photo by Petrus Malherbe

I’m proud to say that I share a house with both of these fine runners, and I can tell you that they both work incredibly hard on their running. It’s lights out every night at 10pm, and up and out of the door by 8am every morning. It’s second runs in the dark several evenings a week, it’s a core circuit on a Sunday afternoon when all you want to do is lie down after the mornings 16-miler up at 7000ft. It’s ten-mile tempo runs in gale-force winds, followed immediately by lifting weights to failure and 12 minutes in the ice bath. It’s getting injured, but not giving up, it’s moving thousands of miles away from girlfriends and family to chase the dream.

But they are not only hard-workers; they are also extraordinarily talented, in their own unique ways. In my opinion, Luke’s most remarkable talent is his ability to recover.  Earlier in the indoor season, Luke mentioned that he had just run his first 100-mile week. I asked what he estimated to be his average pace for that weekly mileage and he said roughly 6:10/mile, and that is probably not even that rough of an estimate given that he wears his Garmin for every run and checks it religiously. He never feels the need to run much slower than 6:30/mile, even when warming up or cooling down for sessions, and in the evening after a very hard morning interval session, he will still be out doing a second run at 6:00/mile pace. Adam on the other hand, is just an incredibly talented track runner and must be one a very small number of runners to have broken 14 minutes for 5000m having only ever run around 50 miles-per-week, which he achieved at the age of 19.

The clear favorite for Friday nights 5000m is Lawi Lalang, who has a lifetime best of almost half a minute quicker than the rest of the field. The NCAA cross-country champion Edward Cheserek is an obvious pick for 2nd, especially given his very strong indoor season so far. After that, there appears to be little to choose between the 14 remaining entrants, and Luke and Adam will certainly be two to watch out for in the hunt for the ever-elusive All-American distinctions.

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