Weekend Road Preview: Ryan & Sara Hall Tackle the LA Marathon; Meb, Ritz & Huddle at the NYC Half; Plus the U.S. 15K Champs with True, Vail and The US Women’s XC Team

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By LetsRun.com
March 12, 2015

One of the busiest weekends of the running year is almost upon us. You probably know that the 2015 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships will be held on Friday and Saturday at the University of Arkansas (check out this page for all LRC coverage). But there’s also some great coast-to-coast action on the roads of America, including two U.S. Championships (the Gate River 15K in Flroida and the Asics LA Marathon) and the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon. Below, we tell you what to watch for in each event (all three races can be streamed live) in chronological order.

Gate River Run/U.S. 15K Championships

When: Saturday, March 14, 8:24 a.m. ET

Where: Jacksonville, Florida

How to watch: Live on USATF.tv

Full entries *Race website

Sam Chelanga (l) and Ben True battle in the final sprint at the 2014 Manchester Road Race (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

True enjoyed a successful season on the roads last year, culminating in a win at the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

Ben True Goes for the Three-Peat

True won this race last year to kick off a terrific season which saw him drop his 5000 pb to 13:02 and culminated with an eighth-place finish at the Diamond League 5000 final in Zurich. Particularly impressive was True’s winning time of 43:04 (4:38 mile pace), the fastest since doper Mo Trafeh ran 42:58 in 2011 (outside of Trafeh, no one had run faster than 43:04 since Meb Keflezighi‘s 42:48 in 2002). True also won this race in 2013 and finished second behind Trafeh in 2011 (the result still stands as Trafeh’s results were only nullified from 2012 onwards).

True’s 2015 season didn’t get off to the start he wanted as the Maine native was just 11th at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in February, but he rebounded two weeks ago to take sixth at the World’s Best 10k in Puerto Rico, beating the likes of World 10,000 bronze medalist Paul Tanui and Ethiopian Yenew Alamirew (12:48 5000 pb; two DL wins last year). If he’s on his game, he’s the man to beat in this race.

Top Men’s Challengers

Brooks’ Ryan Vail was third at USA XC and after perusing his blog, appears fit and confident heading into Saturday’s race. 15K is a good distance for Vail right now (he was 3rd at USAs in the 10,000 last year and will run the 12K World Cross Country Championships at the end of the month) though he may not have the wheels to hang with True if it comes down to a kick. Christo Landry is the #2 returner from last year (he was fourth) and won U.S. road titles at 10K, 25K and 10 miles last year. This will be his 2015 debut, so we’ll see if Landry will be able to build on his breakthrough 2014. Landry was also second in the U.S. 20K champs last fall, and the two runners that sandwiched him in that race — Girma Mecheso (1st) and Luke Puskedra (3rd) will also be in action here.

Two interesting names to watch are Paul Chelimo and Shadrack Kipchirchir, now training with the U.S. Army in Beaverton, Ore. The Kenyan-born athletes are both former NCAA runners-up on the track (Chelimo in the 5,000 in 2012 and 2013, Kipchirchir in the 10,000 last year) and each will be making his U.S. Championship debut on Saturday. Chelimo, 24, has barely raced at all since leaving UNC-Greensboro in 2013 (he ran three races last year, most recently taking 33rd at the Army Ten Miler in just 51:50 in October) but his 13:21 5,000 pb suggests he has the talent to be successful on the roads. This will be the first race for the former Oklahoma State runner Kipchirchir since NCAAs last June. Both athletes are unknown quantities at the moment; getting a mark on the board in Jacksonville will give a read as to where they’re at in their progression.

Finally, 2012 U.S. steeplechase Olympian Donn Cabral will be stepping up in distance here (he was 10th in this race in 2013). Cabral was just three seconds behind at the World’s Best 10K in Puerto Rico, so he is in good shape right now.

Laura Thweatt Wins USATF Cross Country 2015

Thweatt will look to continue her hot start to 2015 with a victory in Jacksonville

Women’s Race: A Dry Run for World XC

Four of the six women who qualified for World XC at last month’s U.S. Championships will be in action here, led by Laura Thweatt, who won the women’s race in Boulder by 31 seconds. She’ll be joined on the start line by Mattie Suver and B.A.A teammates Jen Rhines and Elaina Balouris, all of whom will represent the U.S. in China two weeks from Saturday. Thweatt, given her dominant performance at USA XC, is likely the woman to beat among those four, but she’ll have her hands full dealing with Amy Hastings.

Hastings was just 19th here a year ago but enjoyed a great summer season, finishing third at USAs in the 10,000, winning the U.S. 10K road champs and finishing as runner-up to training partner Molly Huddle at the U.S. 20K Champs. Hastings added a 2:27 marathon in Chicago in October and a 72:04 half marathon victory at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon in January. Hastings is gearing up for the Boston Marathon (just over one month away) and a win here would be a good sign that her buildup is on the right track.

Also worth watching are Juliet Bottorff (sixth at USA Half Marathon Champs in January in 71:30) and OTC’s former Dartmouth/Oregon star Alexi Pappas, who was fourth last year, the top returner.

Real distance fans take note – 2012 Olympic Trials 10,000 runner-up Natosha Rogers, now being coached by Mark Coogan, is also on the entry list — she’s completed just one race since those Olympic Trials.

Time Does Matter

One thing we don’t often pay much attention to is the start time of road races, but for the athletes running, it can have an effect. It’s something we were reminded of when checking out Ryan Vail’s blog, as he writes:

8:30 AM is a nice start time for a 15km if you live on the East Coast. For those of us coming from the West Coast, and there are many, that is the equivalent of starting at 5:30 AM and waking up for breakfast at approximately 2:00 AM. It’s not possible, for me at least, to get myself to sleep by 6:00 or 7:00 PM PST in order to make up for this. My strategy has been to stay on my own body time, which means going to bed a bit later and sleeping in later on Thursday night to make sure I get a full night’s sleep, and then you just put up with a short night heading into the race. The adrenaline of race day is enough to get you going, and your job is done for the day by 11:00 (8:00 PST) after a cool-down and awards, so you can head straight back to bed!

It’s difficult to demonstrate what effect (if any) the time difference has on the race, but it’s something to watch for in West Coast athletes both in Jacksonville and at the NYC Half (7:30 a.m. ET start).

Prize money

There’s an $82,000 prize purse at this race ($12,000 for first American down to $500 for 10th), though the most interesting prize is the equalizer bonus. The women’s elite race goes off at 8:24, followed by the men at 8:30, and the first person to cross the line takes home an extra $5,000. It’s a nice incentive to run fast and it propelled Shalane Flanagan to a U.S. 15K record of 47:00 in last year’s race.

Weather

It will be warm and humid in Jacksonville on Saturday, with rain in the morning. Weather.com has 66 degrees as the low temperature and 85 as the high.

2015 United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

When: Sunday, March 15, 7:30 a.m. ET (elite women start at 7:18)

Where: New York, New York

*LRC United Airlines NYC Half Full Coverage Page

How to watch: If you live in New York, you can watch the race live on TV on ABC7 (you can also stream it on WatchABC or 7online.com). Outside of NYC, you can stream the race live on ESPN3.com. All broadcasts start at 7:00 a.m. ET.

Veteran American Olympians Galore in Men’s Race

An American may not win this race (the favorite is Kenya’s Stephen Sambu, who followed up his stellar 2014 with a third-place finish in his 2015 opener at the World’s Best 10K) but most of the attention will focus on the American contingent in New York. Together, Dathan RitzenheinAbdi AbdirahmanMeb Keflezighi and Matt Tegenkamp have combined to make 12 Olympic teams and all will toe the line in Central Park on Sunday morning. For Ritz, Meb and Teg, this will serve as the final tuneup before next month’s Boston Marathon. For Abdi, who finished second behind Ritz at last month’s Gasparilla Half Marathon in Tampa (63:17 to 63:55), it’s another step on the road toward the 2016 Trials, where he’ll attempt to make his fifth (!) Olympic team.

Of the four, the most interesting name is Tegenkamp. Ritzenhein has shown he’s plenty fit right now (in addition to that half marathon in Tampa, he put together a nice cross country season, punctuated by a third-place finish at USAs), Keflezighi was fourth at the USA Half Championships in January (62:18) and we already mentioned Abdirahman. Tegenkamp, who earlier this week was added to the marathon field in Boston, is more of an unknown quantity.

The two-time Olympian was hurt for much of last year and didn’t race after taking 14th (fourth among Americans) at the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in April, running 47:57. Healthy again in 2015, he’s raced twice on the track so far this year, clocking 7:55 for 3000 in Seattle on January 31 and 13:41 for 5000 at the Millrose Games on February 14. Those times are well off the 33-year-old’s personal bests, but he’s in marathon mode right now; his performance on Sunday will be a much better indicator of his fitness.

The NYC Half was part of Teg’s plan all along, but as of a month ago, he had no intention of running a marathon prior to next year’s Olympic Trials, according to an interview with ESPN’s Chris Chavez. In that interview, Tegenkamp did state that he was in the middle of a marathon cycle, so the guess is that things have gone well enough in his training for him to add the 26.2-mile race in at the end.

After his quiet 2014, Tegenkamp has been a forgotten man in most discussions of the 2016 Olympic Trials, but with pbs of 12:58 and 27:28, he certainly has the talent to make the team. The issues are experience and health. Teg has just one marathon under his belt (his 2:12:28 debut at 2013 Chicago, where he was 10th overall) and that’s what makes this current marathon cycle so important — if he can run with Ritz and Meb in Boston this spring, he’ll stamp himself as a serious contender at next year’s Trials. If he struggles, he remains part of the large second tier of U.S. marathoners, guys who could just as easily finish 15th as 3rd at the Trials. Teg ran a solid 62:04 in this race last year to beat out Meb for top American honors. If he can produce a performance similar to that on Sunday — and remain healthy between now and April 20 — he has a chance to run very well in Boston.

Another man to watch in this race will be Tegenkamp’s former Wisconsin teammate Chris Solinsky. Solinsky announced last year that he is going to focus on the marathon for this Olympic cycle but as of right now he doesn’t have the qualifying standard for the Olympic Trials in the marathon as he’s never run a half marathon or marathon. If he can break 65:00 in his debut on Sunday, he’ll have achieved the OT standard. Solinsky has pulled out of the race as shown in this thread: Chris Solinsky withdraws from NYC half.

5000 man Andrew Bumbalough will also make his 13.1 debut this weekend and while the chances of him running the 2016 Olympic Trials in the marathon are slim to none, he should get under 65:00 no problem.

Huddle, Linden, Bersagel Lead American Women

Molly Huddle, after her successful debut (1:09:04) (Credit PhotoRun/NYRR)

Huddle will be looking to build on her successful 69:04 debut from last year (Credit PhotoRun/NYRR)

As in the men’s race, the women’s field also includes some of America’s top road racers, led by Molly Huddle, who was third here in her debut last year, running 69:04, the top time by an American on the year. Huddle moved up the distance scale last year, winning national titles on the roads at 12K and 20K in addition to setting the American record at 5000 and winning her second U.S. title on the track. The focus for Huddle this year will likely be the 10,000, so Sunday’s race will be a good opportunity to see whether her strength work over the winter paid off. Challenging for the win will be difficult with women such as Joyce Chepkirui (66:18 HM last year) and defending champion Sally Kipyego in the field, but a good goal for Huddle would be to PR and become the first American woman to break 69:00 since Flanagan in February 2013.

Desiree Linden, Annie Bersagel and Adriana Nelson are the other big American names, and all will run this as a tuneup for a spring marathon (Boston for Linden and Nelson, Dusseldorf for Bersagel). Bersagel will look to improve on her 70:58 from the U.S. Half Marathon Champs in January while Linden (7th, 71:37) and Nelson (10th, 71:50) will both try to better their performances from last year.

Who’s Winning This Thing?

Stephen Sambu is the top men’s returner (3rd last year in 61:08) and after a solid third-place showing at the World’s Best 10K on March 1, he’s the favorite here. The only other man to have broken 61:00 in the field is Mexico’s Juan Luis Barrios (4th last year), and he’s looked very good so far this year, running a pb of 60:46 at the Marugame Half Marathon on February 1 and winning the Guadalajara Half Marathon three weeks later. He should give Sambu a run for his money here.

As mentioned earlier, defending champ Sally Kipyego and Joyce Chepkirui lead the women’s entrants. Buzunesh Deba, runner-up here last year (and in Boston, where she lost only to drug cheat Rita Jeptoo) should also be in the thick of things. Molly Huddle isn’t that far off the top three (she lost to Deba by five seconds last year) and it would be an encouraging sign if she could beat one of them. Sabrina Mockenhapt of Germany and Caroline Rotich of Kenya are also entered and both boast sub-69:00 PRs.

Weather

Weather.com forecasts a high of 53 and low of 36 in New York with winds between 10 and 20 miles per hour. If the wind dies down a little, that will be good conditions for racing.

Asics Los Angeles Marathon/USATF Marathon Championships

When: Sunday, March 15, 9:45 a.m. ET

Where: Los Angeles, California

How to watch: Live on USATF.tv

*LRC Ascica LA Marathon Coverage Page *Full entries

Olympic Trials Preview for Ryan Hall

Early On Ryan and Meb Were Side by Side

Ryan Hall’s most recent marathon: a 20th-place showing at 2014 Boston

As of Friday, the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon will be just 11 months away. The course for this year’s USATF Marathon Championships in Los Angeles — 26.2 miles from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica Pier — will be different from the loop course to be utilized in next year’s Trials in LA, but California native Ryan Hall is hoping that a strong showing on Sunday portends future success in LA next February.

Hall obviously isn’t the only man in this race, and based on his accomplishments over the last three years, we can’t really call him the favorite either. But he is by far the most intriguing man in this race and retains the best shot of anyone on the start line of making next year’s Olympic team.

At 32, Hall is not old for a marathoner, but his last three years have been uneven at best. Here’s a quick reminder of what he’s done over that span:

2012: Finishes second at the Olympic Trials (2:09:30) but DNFs the Olympic Marathon
2013: Runs four races (no marathons), the best a 64:10 win at the San Jose (Costa Rica) Half Marathon
2014: 20th at Boston Marathon (2:17:50); 3rd American at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half (62:53 on downhill course)
2015: 64:16 for 2nd at Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half on January 18 (lost to Kenyan Benson Cheruiyot by one second)

Last year’s 20th-place effort in Boston is the only marathon Hall has finished since the 2012 Olympic Trials. (While Hall wasn’t happy with the place or time, he did play a role in helping Meb Keflezighi become the first American to win Boston since 1983). That’s due in part to a spate of injuries Hall has battled during 2013 and 2014, a period during which he was self-coached (he had to withdraw from Boston and New York in 2013). Generally if a guy’s best marathon over the last three years is 2:17, he’s not a threat to make an Olympic team, but this isn’t just any marathoner: it’s Ryan Hall.

In case you forgot, Ryan Hall was a VERY good marathoner during the last Olympic cycle. From 2008 to 2011, he raced seven marathons. Six were majors, in which he finished no lower than 5th (including a wind-aided 2:04:58 PR, the fastest time ever by an American). The seventh was the 2008 Olympic marathon, where he finished a credible 10th. The Hall of 2008-11 makes the 2016 Olympic team with ease. But given his performance over the past three years, there’s reason to believe that Hall may not be coming back.

LA on Sunday could reveal a lot. Hall’s time won’t be that important; the high temperature of 87 degrees makes any truly fast times unlikely. But Hall needs a race that shows he’s back near the top of American marathoning and if he struggles to compete with the U.S. men in this one, it’s going to be very difficult for him make Team USA 11 months from now. The weather complicates things though. If Hall has a bad race, does that mean he’s not fit or he’s simply a bad hot-weather marathoner? It will be hard to tell. We’ve always said that for some people running in hot weather is a totally different sport (Related discussion on the messageboard:  MB: Anyone know if Ryan Hall hates running in the heat? *Going to be hot in LA on Sunday).

Another consideration is that this will be Hall’s first marathon under coach Jack Daniels (whom he announced he started working with in September 2014). Daniels’ first task is to keep Hall healthy, and with Hall on track to race Sunday in LA, he seems to have accomplished that. The real test now is whether Hall can resemble the Hall of old; we’ll know the answer after 26.2 miles this weekend.

Ward Leads Men’s Challengers; Sara Hall Debuts

Based on recent form, the man to beat might be former Brigham Young star Jared Ward (still coached by BYU coach and two-time Olympic marathoner Ed Eyestone), who ran a terrific 61:42 half in Houston in January to take second at the USA Champs. Before that, he was second at the USATF Marathon Champs last fall in St. Paul in 2:14:00. Getting down to the 2:11-2:12 range won’t happen this weekend because of the weather, but if Ward can win the U.S. title he’ll nudge himself closer to contention for the U.S. team.

The women’s favorite is less clear, but on paper the battle should be between Brianne Nelson (3rd at USATF Marathon Champs last fall), 2012 10,000 Olympian Janet Cherobon-Bawcom and debutante Sara Hall, who went 2-3-4 at the USATF Half Marathon Champs in January. Heather Lieberg (second at 2014 USATF Marathon Champs) and Sarah Crouch (seventh at 2014 Chicago, third American) should also be in contention. Crouch has already run a marathon this year, but given that she ran just 2:46:59 to win the Tallahassee Marathon on February 8, she likely wasn’t going all-out.

There are a ton of other Americans in this one obviously including 2:30 marathoner Becky Wade (10th i Houston) on the women’s side and Matt Llano, Scott Baughs, Mike Morgan, Patrick Rizzo and Sergio Reyes on the men’s.  USATF’s preview breaks it down for you here.

Hot, Hot, Hot

Let's Hope Ryan and Sara Hall (shown here in London in 2007) like hot weather. *More 2007 London Photos

Let’s Hope Ryan and Sara Hall (shown here in London in 2007) like hot weather. *More 2007 London Photos

The high temperature in LA is set to be a very toasty 87 degrees (low of 63) and race organizers have recognized that the hot forecast is a serious threat. They’ve pushed the start forward by 30 minutes (from 7:25 a.m. PT to 6:55; elite women start at 6:45) and have added misting stations along the course.

The one thing LA has going for it in terms of heat is the temperature may drop during the race as runners head from the inland start to the finish by the Pacific Ocean. It’s safe to say that no one will be challenging Markos Geneti‘s course record of 2:06:35 on Sunday. As Toni Reavis points out in his excellent race preview, the men’s winning time was just 2:17:14 in 2007 when the temperature was 84 degrees at the start and 76 at the finish and 2:13:41 in 2004 when the high was 83 degrees. But with a 6:55 a.m. start, it’s unlikely the temperature will get up into the 80s at all during the elite races. Still, if it’s in the 70s during race time, that’s enough to slow everyone down by a few minutes.

Most likely, the open winner will be looking at a time in the 2:12s or slower, with the top American filtering in a couple minutes after that. To learn about how the heat has impacted LA in the past and to learn about the internationals in the field, see Toni Reavis’ thorough men’s reviewUSATF has something on all of the Americans.

MB Discussion about LA:

More: Toni Reavis Men’s LA Preview *USATF Preview of both races


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