WTW: 2019 Is The Greatest Year in US Women’s 1500 History, Meet Two US Studs You’ve Never Heard Of – Heather MacLean and Robert Downs – And More

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The Week That Was in Running, July 22 – 28, 2019

By Robert Johnson
August 2, 2019

After a few days of post-USAs downtime, the Week That Was is here. I realize I still have a few post-USA comments that I want to make.

Past editions of the Week That Was can be found here. Got a tip, question or comment? Please call us at 844-LETSRUN (538-7786), email us or post in our forum.

If you missed our coverage of last week’s 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships, catch up now:

LRC 2019 Toyota USA Outdoor Track And Field Championship coverage

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2019 Is The Greatest Year Ever For The Women’s 1500 in the US

After I saw an American run 4:06.19 and finish 9th at USAs, I wondered, “Was that the greatest US-only 1500 race ever run? Is this the deepest year for American 1500-meter running in history?”

I did a little research to try to answer those questions and the answer appears to be yes to both. In terms of the actual USATF final, what impressed me about the race was not only the depth — nine women under the Worlds standard of 4:06.50 — but also how close the top four were. While Shelby Houlihan won as expected, the 2018 World #1 (or #3, depending on whose ranking you are using) was only 0.54 of a second away from 4th place (Sinclaire Johnson) and failing to make the team.

Track & Field News‘ archives of past USA results goes back to 1986, and during that span, this year’s final was easily the deepest in terms of most sub-4:06.50s in a single race. The .54 margin between first and fourth was also the smallest since 2004, when the gap was just .51.

Number of Sub-4:06.50s and Gap Between 1st and 4th At USATF Outdoors, 2009-2019
2019 – 9 – 0.54
2018 – 2 – 2.85
2017 – 0 – 1.80
2016 – 4 – 1.45
2015 – 0 – 1.22
2014 – 2 – 3.61
2013 – 0 – 1.47
2012 – 3 – 2.79
2011 – 4 – 2.30
2010 – 0 – 1.68
2009 – 2 – 3.89

According to Tilastopaja, 17 Americans have broken 4:06.50 so far in 2019 — easily the most of any year in the Tilastopaja database (which goes back to 1996).

# of Sub-4:06.50 Women in America
2019 – 17
2018 – 11
2017 – 13
2016 – 12
2015 – 14
2014 – 10
2013 – 10
2012 – 6
2011 – 4
2010 – 7
2009 – 6

If you know a better year for US 1500-meter running or a better race than USAs this year, please email me and I’ll look it up.

MB: Fact: 2019 is the greatest year in US women’s 1500 history 

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Andy Bayer Makes a World Team

Bayer at USAs. Photo via @jaybendlinphoto. www.jaybendlinphoto.com.

With Evan Jager out, Andy Bayer, who was 4th at USAs in 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2017, was able to move up and grab third at the USATF Outdoor Championships on July 27 to make his first Worlds or Olympic team.

Assuming Jager gets healthy, Bayer will be facing a tougher task in 2020 than 2019. But Jager isn’t the only one Bayer has to worry about. Former UTEP star Anthony Rotich, who won three NCAA titles from 2013-15, now has his US citizenship and appears to be getting into shape. Last week, he became the first American winner of the Wharf to Wharf 6-miler in California since 1995, winning the race in 27:32. 27:32 for six miles is pretty good. It’s 28:30 10,000 pace.

After the win, Rotich told the Santa Cruz Sentinel that he had planned on running USAs in the steeple but his paperwork didn’t get through in time.

If Rotich had run USAs, might he have made the team? We’ll never know, but he would have had to have run very close to his 8:21.19 pb as Bayer was fourth in 8:23.23.

MB: Andy Bayer’s worst nightmare – 3-time NCAA steeple champ Anthony Rotich just became a US citizen 

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I Bet You’ve Never Heard Of These Two USATF Finalists

Everyone loves to root for the underdog. So I’ll highlight a couple here. There were two people in the finals of mid-d races at USAs that I’ll admit I’d never heard of: Robert Downs of the Garden State Track Club and Heather MacLean, who trains with Mark Coogan‘s New Balance team in Boston.

Heather MacLean Has Lowered Her 1500 PB by 12.09 Seconds This Year

Heather MacLean at USAs. Photo via @jaybendlinphoto. www.jaybendlinphoto.com.

MacLean, 23, is a first-year pro who spent five years at UMass Amherst. She’s definitely someone I would have heard of if I was still a college coach, as she did make it to two NCAA meets in track in college (9th in the mile in 2016, semis of 800 in 2018) and was an All-American once in XC (2017, 26th). But the reality is, she ended her collegiate career last year with PBs of 2:03.45 and 4:19.19. After NCAAs last year, she went to Europe and ran 4:17.36.

So she started 2019 with a 4:17.36 pb (her mile pb of 4:36.55 pb from 2016 was slightly better and equivalent to 4:16.03). Indoors, she only ran 2:05 in the 800 but she did run a 4:29 mile, which was a big pb. She ran USAs but didn’t make the final in the 1k after running 2:42.

Outdoors, her first race was a disaster — she was dead last at Drake in the 1500 in 4:26.98.

She was then just 9th at the Swarthmore meet, but did run a big PB of 4:14.53. Next, she headed to Europe and ran 4:10.28 in Poland on June 16. To run a 4.25-second pb had to feel amazing — until four days later, when she ran another 4+ second pb in Ostrava (4:06.21). So in the span of five days in June, she lowered her 1500 pb 8.32 seconds.

At USAs, she had the good fortune of being placed in the third preliminary heat and she went out and ran 4:08.35 to get into the final as the first time qualifier. In the final, she lowered her pb to 4:05.27.

So a woman who only made one final during her NCAA career and was never higher than 9th just finished 7th at USAs in the deepest year of the event in US history. Very impressive.

Just think, next year when she comes down another 12 seconds, she’ll be approaching the WR ;).

I reached out to MacLean this morning to find out more about her story. Heather said in high school she “didn’t really run,” although she was on the track team her junior and senior years and did XC as a senior as well, putting up pbs of 58.7 for 400 and 2:11 for 800. She remained low mileage in college as well.

“I knew I had a lot more in me because coming out of college I didn’t do a lot of mileage. I was mainly an 800 runner,” said MacLean, who added that she was running only 30 miles per week in college (maybe up to 35 in XC, with one day a week off every week) with no doubles and no long runs. She did do a lot of cross-training and she thinks that low mileage was good for her speed as she split 54 on the 4×400. “My main goal [for the year] was mainly to get stronger and get acclimated to the new environment. I needed to get used to [racing top pros]. That’s probably why I did so bad at Drake. I wasn’t used to racing runners like that.”

MacLean didn’t let the Drake disaster impact her though.

“I just pretend that race didn’t happen. I just told myself I can’t do that again. You got the bad race out of the way.”

The rest has been success after success.

MacLean said she was frustrated in college and that it never “made sense” to her why she couldn’t run a good 1500/mile even though she was running pretty well at 800/1k and in XC, but now thinks it was because she wasn’t running enough mileage. She’s doing much better now that she’s been able to build her mileage up to a high of 65 mpw. As for her goals now, she doesn’t want to limit herself.

“Obviously my goals started changing [as the season has progressed]. At first I was like, ‘I want to break 4:10,’ and then it was, ‘I want to get the Worlds standard (4:06.50).’ Then, ‘Be a finalist at USAs.’ Now I just want the Olympic standard (4:04.20). I’m just thinking the sky is the limit. I don’t want to set a limit on my goals.”

Coogan said MacLean and Elle Purrier are currently alternates for the women’s 1500 at the Birmingham DL meet on August 18.

Robert Downs Started the Year with a 1:48.68 pb But Made It to the USA Final After PRing in Three Straight Races

(Editor’s note: This part of Robert Downs originally ran in our USAs Day 4 recap)

Robert Downs at USAs. Photo via @jaybendlinphoto. www.jaybendlinphoto.com.

We know what many of you were thinking when you were scrolling down the results for the men’s 800: Who is Robert Downs?

As recently as 2017, Downs, now 25, was just a 1:51.45 performer for South Plains (Tex.) College (Tilastopaja also lists him running that same time in 2014). In 2018, he ran for Texas A&M-Kingsville, where he was 3rd at the NCAA DII meet indoors and 6th outdoors, producing a 1:48.68 pb. This year, he joined the Garden State Track Club in New Jersey and improved to 1:48.43 in April in Houston before lowering that to 1:47.73 at the Eastern Track League meet in DC on July 13. The PR train was just getting started, however, as at USAs he ran 1:47.03 in the first round before getting into the final on time with a 1:46.46 in the semis.

So in conclusion, this year, he’s PR’d by 2.22 seconds and at USAs, he PR’d by 1.27 seconds.

In the final at USAs, midnight struck on his Cinderella season and he finished last, but he’s had a heck of a year.

If you know more about Downs and his story, please email me.

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Canadian Champs: Mo Ahmed Owns Justyn Knight

The battle for the Canadian 5000 title between Mo Ahmed and Justyn Knight wasn’t close. Ahmed beat Knight convincingly, 13:54.92 to 13:56.98. If you pay attention to college running more than the pros, you might be surprised considering Knight won two NCAA individual titles at Syracuse and Ahmed never won one at Wisconsin. But Ahmed is the Canadian record holder, has had a far more decorated career overall (he was 4th at the 2016 Olympics and 6th at the 2017 Worlds), and has run 12:58 this year to Knight’s 13:09. That’s a big gap. They’ve now raced three times this year and Ahmed has won all three convincingly. For his career, Ahmed is 6-0 against Knight.

Ahmed vs Knight in 2019
Rome 5000m – June 6: Ahmed ran 12:58.16 for 6th while Knight ran 13:09.76 for 10th.
Pre Classic Two Mile – June 30: Ahmed ran 8:15.76 for 4th while Knight ran 8:19.75 for 9th.
Canadian Champs 5000m – July 25: Ahmed ran 13:54.92 for 1st to Knight’s 13:56.68 runner-up showing.

After the race, Ahmed talked to The Star about how rewarding it was to become the first Canadian to go sub-13 in Rome.

“With the pressure of breaking 13 minutes, I didn’t celebrate, it was more of a release for me personally, I felt a sense of freedom, lighter, I didn’t talk about it, I didn’t do any interviews, I just told myself ‘Enjoy it on your own,’” said Ahmed. “I think the Canadian distance fraternity celebrated it more, I hope, than I did.”

More: Mohammed Ahmed Outlasts Justyn Knight To Win Canadian Champs 5000m

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Lots of PRs In The Pan Am Marathon

Both the men’s and women’s championship records fell at the Pan American Games marathon on July 27, as a pair of Peruvians took home the gold. Cristhian Pacheco won the men’s race in 2:10:41 (old CR was 2:12:43) while Gladys Tejeda won the women’s race in 2:30:55 (previous record was 2:35:40).

Two of the four Americans in the race ran PBs. Fast times and lots of PBs may surprise you in July, but remember it’s currently winter in Peru. When the Pan American Games are held in South America, the weather can be conducive for fast distance times. You’ve got to feel a little sympathy for American Augustus Maiyo as he too broke the old championship record by running 2:12:25, but that PB only got him fourth (previous pb of 2:12:40). In the women’s race, Bethany Sachtleben of the US ran 2:31:20 for the second straight marathon (but the last one was on the aided CIM course) to nab silver as Samantha Roecker was fifth in 2:32:49 (Aaron Braun, the other American man, ran 2:21:55 for 14th).

The low in Lima on Saturday was 55F and the high was 65F — that’s pretty good for marathoning.

More: MB: Amazing: 2:31 US Marathoner Bethany Sachtleben had no idea that runners ran workouts when she started running in college

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Recommended Reads

To see our favorite reads from other weeks, go here.

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Quotes Of The Day And Last Week’s Home Pages

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