Clayton Young and BYU Earn Redemption, Young Sprints to 2019 NCAA 10K Title

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By LetsRun.com
June 5, 2019

AUSTIN, Tex. — Not everyone gets a chance to change their story. And entering his final year of collegiate track, Clayton Young’s story was not the one he wanted to tell.

The 25-year-old has been at Brigham Young University a long time — 2018-19 is his fifth year, following a two-year Mormon mission to Raleigh — and during that span, Young has been best known for producing fine regular-season performances and fading when it matters most. At the last two NCAA Cross Country Championships, Young, who owns personal bests of 13:31 and 28:18, finished 105th and 72nd. Last fall in Madison, Young’s BYU team finished second, 33 points behind champion Northern Arizona, and he put the blame on himself.

“I single-handedly lost the NCAA Cross Country Championships myself,” Young said. “I was our seventh man. I should have performed way better that day…The rest of my teammates did really well, had a solid day. And I mean 30 points to make up on NAU is a lot, but it definitely wasn’t outside of a performance I could put in.”

His last trip to the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships was worse. Young arrived in Eugene last year as the #6 seed in the 10,000 meters, but wound up an embarrassing 23rd as BYU “swept” the last three places.

Clayton Young wins

“Last year, the BYU boys got rocked,” Young said. “We straight up got rocked. That was probably one of the worst days of my life.”

Young couldn’t change the story of his first four years in college, but tonight he wrote a different ending, holding off Alabama’s Gilbert Kigen, 29:16.60 to 29:18.10, to win the men’s 10,000 on a warm, humid night at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. He ran his final lap in 55.88 seconds. Whatever labels Young may have owned before today — choker, underperformer, the guy who couldn’t kick — have been replaced by a more important one: NCAA champion.

Young led a charge of BYU Cougars across the line as teammates Connor McMillan (29:19.85) and Conner Mantz (29:19.93) finished 3rd and 4th. Those same three men finished 12th (McMillan), 22nd (Mantz), and 23rd (Young) in this race last year.

Tonight’s result — and the 21 points that came with it — was a legacy-defining moment for this group of Cougars. For so long, they’ve been forced to play second fiddle to NAU in cross country and hadn’t quite been able to live up to expectations on the track. Now they’ve got a national championship from Young as part of a dominant team performance in an NCAA final.

Young’s win broke a streak of nine straight victories in this race by international runners; prior to Young, Oregon’s Galen Rupp was the last American to win, in 2009.

BYU coach Ed Eyestone has a soft spot for the 10,000 meters — perhaps because he was a two-time NCAA champion himself back in the ’80s — and likes to call it the most exciting event in track and field, albeit after a 29-minute setup. And while we won’t argue against the fact that that the last two laps of this race were exciting, the 23 that preceded it were not. Though the sun had set, the temperature was still at 81 degrees (with 79% humidity) at the start of the race, and the field was reluctant to push the pace; at the halfway mark (14:43), 22 of the 24 racers were still packed together.

The pace didn’t pick up much from there, but the heat began to take its toll as men gradually began to fall off the back of the pack — or, in the case of Nadeel Wildschutt, the front of the pack. With 8.5 laps to go, the Coastal Carolina sophomore was leading but stepped aside to readjust his shoe, which had come loose at the back; he lost almost 10 seconds on the leaders and would never factor the rest of the way.

The racing truly began with two laps to go, when Pac-12 champion Robert Brandt of UCLA hit the front of a 12-man pack. A 63.56 penultimate lap whittled the lead pack to seven at the bell, with Young moving to the front at that point.

The race was decided on the back straight. Young was pushing hard, and he had to in order to protect the lead from SEC champion Gilbert Kigen of Alabama. Those two had separated from the rest of the group, and though Kigen was going all-out to seize the lead from Young before the final turn, he just couldn’t get around his rival.

“I thought that he was gonna get me,” Young said. “And I’ve seen so many races that I knew that I had to beat him to that 200-meter mark. I knew I had to do it, and even if it cost me spending a little bit more energy to hold him off on that turn, I mean, that’s where I think the race was made.”

Young did that, and pulled away over the final 100 for the win, sending the BYU contingent in a sparsely-populated stadium wild. No one celebrated the win more than Cougars Director of Operations Isaac Wood:

For Young and BYU, it was a win worth celebrating. And a story worth telling, now that it’s got the proper ending.

Young celebrated the win with his wife and daughter.

Results *Lap by Lap Splits
1, Clayton Young, BYU, 29:16.60
2. Gilbert Kigen, Alabama, 29:18.10
3. Connor McMillan, BYU, 29:19.85
4. Conner Mantz, BYU, 29:19.93
5. Hassan  Abdi, Oklahoma State, 29:20.73
6. Tyler Day, Northern Arizona, 29:25.35.
7. Robert Brandt, UCLA, 29:26.34.
8, Azaria Kirwa, Liberty, 29:30.88.
9, Gilbert Boit, Arkansas, 29:32.03
10. John Dressel, Colorado, 29:32.38
11. Paul Hogan, UMass Lowell, 29:42.60
12. Ryan Forsyth, Colorado, 29:47.90.
13. Nadeel Wildschutt, Coastal Carolina, 29:54.12
14, Brent Demarest, Virginia, 29:54.20.
15. Rory Linkletter, BYU, 29:55.21
16. Sean Burke, Boston College,  30:01.13.
17. Frank Lara, Furman, 30:09.94.
18. Ben Veatch, Indiana, 30:14.93.
19.  Adriaan Wildschutt, Coastal Carolina, 30:52.04
20. Iliass Aouani, Syracuse, 30:54.96.
21. Dallin Farnsworth, BYU, 30:58.64
22. Aaron Templeton,  Furman, 31:00.58
23. Connor Weaver, BYU, 31:11.05.
24. Lawrence Kipkoech, Campbell, 31:20.16.

***

Clayton Young’s new mentality — and an 85-mile week last week — helped carry him to his first NCAA title

This was Young’s eighth NCAA final on the track, and before tonight he hadn’t been known as a kicker. So how did he end up winning tonight with a sub-56 last lap?

“I think it was just a shift in mentality,” Young said. “In a 10k, it’s all about staying as relaxed as possible. And when I — shoutout to my father — when I stay as relaxed as possible, especially going into that last 400, I think that was what made the difference. I wasn’t spent by the last 400 to go. I knew I had more in me.”

Of course, staying relaxed doesn’t help if you’re already out of it with a lap to go, as Young was last year. One of the reasons Young believes he faded in years past was backing off his mileage too much late in the season. He recalled cooling down with Tulsa’s Marc Scott after both had qualified for NCAAs in 2017. After 20 minutes, Young finished, but Scott kept going.

“And he’s like, ‘You know, my coach wants me to hit 90 miles this week,’” Young said. “And I was like, ‘Holy crap, okay. I’ll see you later, peace out.’”

Scott went on to win the NCAA 10k title two weeks later, and two years on, Young has taken the lesson to heart: he ran 85 miles last week.

The Vaporflys hit the track — is Young’s 55.88 final lap the fastest they’ve ever gone in a race?

Nike’s Vaporfly racing flat has become a hot topic in marathon circles, but we haven’t seen them much on the track, where spikes are still king. But several BYU guys chose to wear the bright orange Vaporflys in tonight’s race, including Young.

Young admitted that, with rain in the forecast, he was worried about using flats in this race since spikes offer better traction, but ultimately he felt comfortable wearing the flats, particularly since he is doubling back in the 5k on Friday.

But those arguing that the Vaporflys boost performance on the track might not want to use Young as an example. He also wore them at NCAAs last year, when he finished 23rd.

Tonight’s 1-3-4 result was a dream result for Ed Eyestone, who was obviously thrilled with the way his guys ran today

“I’m still waiting for my alarm clock to go off right now, because it really couldn’t have turned out any better other than Rory [Linkletter, who finished 15th] had some heat issues,” said Eyestone after the race.

“You know it was tough [when Young finished 23rd last year]. That’s one of the reasons why tears were streaming down my face as I watched him kick home in 55, because sometimes you have to go through the tragedy before you can experience the jubilation of the triumph and so I was super proud with the way that he was able to find that gear.”

Eyestone admitted he didn’t know if Young would have a 55 in him at the end, and that’s why the 10,000 is such a great even in his opinion.

“I often tell people that the 10,000 meters in the most exciting event in track and field. They never believe me, but often it’s a 29-minute setup for a 55-second last 400, and there’s plenty of excitement.”

When we asked Eyestone what was the difference between this year’s great success at NCAAs in the 10,000 and last year’s disaster, Eyestone was honest.

“I don’t know to tell you the truth. I don’t think our preparation was that much different. Sometimes it’s just a roll of the dice,” said Eyestone who admitted they did “some tweaks” like keeping their mileage a little higher.

Eyestone said that when Vin Lananna, the Eugene resident and former Oregon coach, congratulated him after the race, he jokingly told Lananna that perhaps it was just  “getting out of Eugene” that proved to be the key.

NAU’s Tyler Day, who was 4th last year but 6th tonight, didn’t stay disappointed for too long

“Initially I was like, ‘Wow man, this sucks,’ but kind of re-evaluating, [I realized] indoors I had a way crappier showing in the 5k (Editor’s note: He was 13th). It was a really tough race for everybody, so just getting in there and digging it out and coming out All-American, I’m pretty proud to call myself that now,” said Day after the race.

With no more races to run in Austin, Day, who is the fastest collegian in the 5000 this year at 13:25 but didn’t qualify for the 5000 out of the West regional, said he’s now going to turn into a “fangirl” and go crazy supporting his NAU teammates for the rest of the meet.

After that, Day, who has two seasons of track eligibility left at NAU but none in cross country, said he’s going to try to run with the “big dogs” at USAs in the 5000, where he hopes to “punch a ticket for Worlds.”

As for the 5000 at at NCAAs, he said he views it as the premier distance race at NCAAs and thinks “it’s going to be a kicker’s race.”

When we asked him what happened at regionals in the 5000, he said he made some tactical errors but mainly he “just didn’t have it” at the end of the race.

UCLA’s Robert Brandt had no regrets about going for it

At the last two NCAA championships, UCLA’s Robert Brandt has finished in the final scoring spot, 8th, three times as he was 8th in the 3k and 5k indoors and 8th in the 10,000 outdoors. Tonight, he moved up one spot to 7th, but the place doesn’t accurately represent his performance as with 800 meters remaining he was the first to make a bid for glory, seizing the lead. He maintained that lead for most of the penultimate lap (he was 3rd at the bell), but ran out of gas over the final 400. He said he doesn’t think he’s ever felt pain like he did tonight and was proud of himself for leaving it all on the track.

“You know I feel pretty good about it. I went in wanting to go for the win, and with two laps to go, I kept telling myself, ‘Stay in it, stay in it I think I have shot.’

“The plan going in was just to make a hard move from like 600 or 800 out and that’s exactly what I did. I felt really good doing it, felt confident. And for a moment there, I thought I had it but the pain all just came crashing down really fast and that last lap I was just surviving,” said Brandt.

“It was a little bittersweet as I definitely wanted a little higher place but I can’t be beating myself up over another All-AMerican finish so yeah I come away pretty happy from this.”

NCAA runner-up Gilbert Kigen said he really wanted to get the lead before the final 200

Kigen said he tried his best to grab the lead before entering the final 200 but Young held him off and eventually Kigen threw in the towel. After the 5000 final on Saturday, Kigen still has one season of XC eligibility left but this is his last NCAA track meet.

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