The Week That Was in Running, November 11 – 17, 2019
November 20, 2019
Most of this week’s edition of the WTW is devoted to the NCAA cross country regionals but there was one REMARKABLE result out of the Netherlands.
It actually appears to have been the most remarkable performance in women’s athletics history — and we’re counting Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 10.49 100, which most assume were drug-induced.
We’re actually ashamed we haven’t given this performance more publicity on LetsRun.com and likely will be giving it much more play in the days to come. A splash page for a week starting four days after the fact would not be overkill.
To be honest, we got an email about this result and didn’t think about what it meant. As we were preparing to put it in this column, we nearly had a heart attack once we analyzed it. It just proves our point that to really enjoy running, you really need help to be a fan as context is EVERYTHING.
So here we go. Let’s tell you what happened and give you some context.
Sifan Hassan Who? Brigid Kosgei Who? Letesenbet Gidey STUNS THE WORLD
On Sunday morning in the Netherlands at the 36th NN Zevenheuvelenloop 15K, aka the Seven Hills Run, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey, the 21-year-old who won World XC bronze and world 10,000 silver earlier this year, ran 44:20 to destroy Joyciline Jepkosgei‘s 15k world record of 45:37 (set in the midst of a half marathon) by more than a minute.
We know 15ks aren’t run that often so let’s try to put this in perspective for you.
That’s worth 1319 points on the IAAF scoring table. Flojo’s 10.49 is worth 1314.
According to the IAAF scoring table, Gidey’s time is the equivalent of a 10.46 100, a 1:51.53 800, a 3:46.25 1500, a 4:03.51 mile, an 8:31.51 steeple, a 13:42.33 5000, a 28:44.31 10,000, a 1:03:07 half marathon, and a 2:11:51 marathon.
If that doesn’t impress you, how about this?
Her first 5k split was 15:07. That means she ran 29:13 from 5k to the finish. Yes, 29:13 for 10k (Almaz Ayana has the track world record for 10,000 at 29:17.45).
That doesn’t seem possible until you realize that the course is hilly as hell — hence the nickname of Seven Hills Run — and is a loop course.
Here is a course profile from Run Infinity (elevation shown in meters).
As you can tell by looking at the course profile, the first 5k is roughly 46 meters uphill (that’s 150.9 feet).
According to John Kellogg‘s formula^ that every 10 feet in net elevation gain costs you 2.4 seconds, the first 5k would slowed Gidey down by 36.2. seconds. So her split of 15:07 isn’t slow at all: if you subtract 36 seconds from that, she basically ran a 14:31 effort for the first 5k. The final 10k is obviously a net downhill of 150.9 feet. For downhills, one only gains 1.8 seconds for every 10 feet in elevation loss so that would aid her by 27.2 seconds — but that is ignoring the impact of all the intermediate hills.
So her 29:13 final 10k is upped to a 29:40 effort on a flat course. So if you factor in the elevation, her splits are as follows: a 14:31 effort for the first 5k and then 29:40 on the way home when she was a bit tired.
On other thing: one messageboard poster pointed out her last 3k was reported to be 8:30. Admittedly, that’s way downhill, but Mary Slaney‘s US record is 8:25.
How could all of this be possible?
- Now that she has the 15k WR, Gidey could be considered the greatest talent in women’s running history. Remember, she won two world junior XC titles, which is incredibly hard to do. Just days after her 17th birthday, she won in Guiyang, China, in 2015 and then again when she was 19 in Kampala, Uganda, in 2017. Also last year at age 20, she ran 14:23.14 for 5000. That’s better than what the 5000 world record holder, Tirunesh Dibaba, ran at that age. In 2004, at 18, Dibaba ran the world junior record of 14:30.88 for 5000 but she never ran faster until 2008 — the year she ran her 14:11.15 world record at 22. Then in Doha this year, Gidey closed a 30:21 10,000 with a 4:03.68 1500. Yes, Hassan was better, but that’s quite special.
- She was wearing the Vaporflys. As one messageboard poster pointed out, the original Vaporflys got their 4% name as that was the average gain in efficiency. Some runners are super-responders and increased their efficiency by more than 6%. And that was with the first edition of the shoe.
As for the Vaporflys, John Kellogg estimates they are “a speed-up of about 2.2% to 2.4%, which we can say is almost exactly a minute (maybe give or take a few seconds).” While the course starts at the same elevation as it finishes, he thinks all of the ups and downs slow things down by approximately 25 seconds (scroll to the bottom for a full explanation). So he concludes that if she was running a 15k on a flat course in regular racing flats (non-Vaporflys) “the performance would probably be ‘worth’ about 44:55 or a bit faster on a flat course, ceteris paribus.”
44:55 is still incredible as according to the IAAF scoring tables, a 44:55 women’s 15k is equivalent to a 13:53.03 5000, 29:07.55 10,000, and a 2:13:55 marathon.
The NCAA XC Field Are Set – 7 Ranked Men’s and Women’s Teams From The Preseason Failed To Make It To NCAAs
The NCAA DI cross fields are set. 31 men and 31 women’s teams plus 38 individual qualifiers in each race will battle it out for glory on Saturday in Terre Haute.
What were the big surprises?
Looking at things broadly in terms of men’s teams, there were seven teams ranked in the top 30 in the preseason poll that didn’t end up making it to NCAAs: Oklahoma State (#7), Wyoming (#16), Colorado State (#17), Princeton (#21), UCLA (#22), Southern Utah (#25), and Air Force (#27). Since there 31 teams make it to NCAAs, that means eight teams that weren’t ranked at the beginning of the season made it to NCAAs. However, six of the eight unranked teams at the start of the year that made it were at least receiving votes in the preseason polls — Florida St (RV #32), Texas (RV #33), Middle Tennessee (RV #35), Harvard (RV #36), Furman (RV #40) and Utah State (RV #43). Only two teams that received no votes in the preseason polls — Georgetown and Virginia Tech — made it to Terre Haute. The following table shows you how all of the teams that were receiving votes in the preseason men’s poll did this season. Every team made it to NCAAs unless noted with a DNQ.
|Pre-Season Rank||Team||Current Rank or Result at Regional|
|7||Oklahoma St.||DNQ – 5th in Midwest|
|16||Wyoming||DNQ – 6th in Mountain|
|17||Colorado State||DNQ – 11th in Mountain|
|21||Princeton||DNQ – 3rd in Mid-Atlantic (RV #35)|
|22||UCLA||DNQ – 8th in West (top runner didn’t run, RV #37)|
|25||Southern Utah||DNQ – 8th in Mountain (RV #34)|
|27||Air Force||DNQ – 9th in Mountain (RV #33)|
|Unranked Teams With Votes||Regional Result or Current Rank|
|31||E. Kentucky||DNQ – 9th in Southeast|
|32||Florida State||RV – #31|
|34||Gonzaga||DNQ – 6th in West (RV #36)|
|37||Army||DNQ – 7th in Northeast|
|38||Minnesota||DNQ – 6th in Midwest|
|39||Michigan State||DNQ – 6th in Great Lakes|
|41||Bradley||DNQ – 11th in Midwest|
|42||Temple||DNQ – 4th in Mid-Atlantic|
|No Votes||Virginia Tech||21st|
For the women, just like the men, seven ranked teams from the pre-season failed to make it to NCAAs: Iowa State (#17), Oklahoma State (#19), UCLA (#21), Princeton (#23), Syracuse (#24), Dartmouth (#27), and Penn (#28). That means eight unranked teams from the preseason made it to NCAAs, four of whom were receiving votes in the preseason: Texas (RV #35), Boston College (RV #36), Indiana (RV #38), and NAU (RV #39). The other four didn’t get any votes at all: Illinois (now #21), Tulsa (now #24), Harvard (now #25), and Cornell (now #30).
|Pre-Season Rank||Team||Current Rank or Result at Regional|
|17||Iowa State||DNQ – 6th in Midwest|
|19||Oklahoma St.||DNQ – 4th in Midwest|
|21||UCLA||DNQ – 11th in Midwest|
|23||Princeton||DNQ – 4th in Mid-Atlantic|
|24||Syracuse||DNQ – 5th in Northeast|
|27||Dartmouth||DNQ – 8th in Northeast|
|28||Penn||DNQ – 6th in Mid-Atlantic|
|Unranked Teams With Vote||Regional Result or Current Rank|
|31||Georgia||DNQ – 7th in South|
|32||Florida||DNQ – 7th in South|
|33||Georgia Tech||DNQ – 8th in South|
|34||Oregon St.||DNQ – 7th in West|
|36||Boston College||RV (31st)|
|37||Duke||DNQ – 5th in Southeast|
|40||West Virginia||DNQ – 5th Mid-Atlantic|
|41||Eastern Michigan||DNQ – 9th in Great Lakes|
Who Went Home Devastated?
In terms of upsets, the biggest regional story for the men was the fact that #10 UCLA and #23 Oklahoma State did not qualify NCAAs. Oklahoma State will not be at NCAAs for the first time since 2002. Both teams have an excuse, however. UCLA’s #1 man, Robert Brandt (13:36/28:55) did not run at regionals due to an injury. Had he run and been his normal self (he was 5th at Pac-12s), UCLA would have finished 4th or 5th and qualified.
Oklahoma State’s #1 man Isai Rodriguez, who was 4th at NCAAs last year as a freshman, did run at regionals but he was a shadow of his normal self as he was just 5th for Oklahoma State in 65th. A string of minor injuries have kept Rodriguez from running for most of the last six weeks but he somehow managed to finish 3rd at Pre-Nats and 2nd at Big 12s during that time frame. The lack of training caught up to him on Friday, however. Rather than play it safe, he ran with the leaders past halfway before blowing up big time. The reality is that even if he’d won the race, Oklahoma State would have still been third and probably not qualified as the first or second team out.
The Syracuse women, who were ranked #29 heading into regionals, also have a good excuse for not qualifying. At the 4k mark of the Northeast Regional, they were sitting in second place in the team standings, but around 5k their #3 runner Rachel Bonner, who was in 21st, slipped on some ice on the road (the Northeast Regional in Buffalo had been moved to a road course as the XC course was unrunnable) hard and was seriously injured. She ended up being hospitalized after a DNF and Syracuse ended up missing out on NCAAs as their 5th runner was just 74th.
Cincinnati senior Aaron Bienenfeld won’t be at nationals either, but he most certainly isn’t devastated. Bienefeld hasn’t lost a cross country race all year, but the Great Lakes champion is skipping NCAAs to compete at the European U-23 XC Champs for Germany. Bienenfeld has pbs of 13:57 and 29:12 was 111th at NCAAs last year. We’re thrilled to report that the NCAA used common sense and let Bienenfeld decline his spot and he was replaced.
The Vaporfly Story Has Become So Absurd, They Are Now Somehow Impacting a Cross Country Regional
Since we’ve already talked about the Vaporflys and the Northeast Regional, let’s combine the two in this section.
The biggest overall storyline from Friday’s NCAA XC regionals was the fact that the Northeast Regional was switched to a road race as the golf course that was supposed to host the race became an icy mess after nine inches of snow fell earlier in the week. People in Buffalo can easily get rid of nine inches of snow. The problem is the golf course is basically a swamp when it gets wet, and there was a ton of ice to deal with. With the XC course being unrunnable, the race was moved to the roads and chaos ensued.
Friday’s race wasn’t officially moved to the roads until after 10 p.m. on Wednesday night. That resulted in some teams having a technical advantage over others as many of the teams had already left for regionals and didn’t have racing flats with them. Some runners ended up just pulling out the spikes from the spike plate and racing on the roads in their XC shoes, while others were able to get their flats. But some athletes raced in their everyday trainers as some schools don’t provide racing flats to their teams.
And some of the schools with big track budgets and Nike connections were able to get the Nike Vaporfly shoes. Harvard, wearing the Vaporflys, pulled off upsets to win both the men’s and women’s races, as coming in the men were ranked fourth in the region and the women fifth. We asked Harvard coach Alex Gibby how he was able to get his team outfitted in Vaporflys so quickly. He said that about an hour before his team left for the airport, he received an email saying the race might be switched to a road course, so he quickly alerted his team to bring their flats as insurance and a handful of them already had Vaporflys. As for the rest, he quickly went online and reserved them at a lock Dick’s Sporting Goods in Buffalo and then picked them up the next morning.
He said after the race that people were in a joyful mood but everyone — rival teams, coaches and even his athletes — were making comments along the lines of, “Don’t worry, people will give the shoes the credit, not Harvard for your effort.”
One of the Harvard male athletes had the response of the day, “Coach, I’ve looked at the results. We beat that field by more than 4%.”
In terms of the men’s team score, 59 for Harvard, 86 for Syracuse, and 96 for Iona, the Harvard runner was right as 86 is 45.8% greater than 59. However in terms of five-man average times, he was incorrect. Harvard’s five-man average was 29:07. Third place Iona’s five-man average was 29:18. Eleven seconds is just 0.63% of 29:18.
Let there be no doubt, Harvard ran great as the second-place men’s team in Buffalo — ACC champ Syracuse — was wearing the Vaporflys as well. But it’s quite possible that without the Vaporflys, Harvard might not have made it to NCAAs. If they had been third, they wouldn’t have made it.
In the women’s race, there was an even bigger surprise than 5th-ranked Harvard winning. 11th-seeded Cornell, which was just 6th out of eight at the Ivy League champs two weeks ago, finished second to grab the second auto spot to nationals. And yes, Cornell was outfitted in Vaporflys. Now once again, all of the credit shouldn’t automatically go to the Vaporflys as the women of Cornell and first-year women’s coach Mike Henderson deserve a lot of praise. For the second year in a row, they were remarkably improved from conference to regionals (last year, after finishing just nine points out of the cellar at Heps, they finished 4th at regionals) and some of the teams they beat, such as Syracuse, did have Vaporflys (and they would have beaten Syracuse even without Bonner’s fall).
Still, it’s hard not to see results like this and wonder, “Did the Vaporflys make the difference?”
We decided to let a really, really smart dude tell us what he thought about it all. Well, that’s not true. Bijan Mazaheri, who is a Ph.D in computing and mathematical sciences, voluntarily decided to crunch the numbers and run an algorithm or two on the women’s results in Buffalo. Mazaheri, who was an eight-time All-American at DIII Williams, where he amassed PBs of 14:11 and 29:39, and who has recently qualified for the Olympic Trials with a 2:15:26 marathon in Chicago, shared the results of his analysis of the Vaporflys’ impact on his website.
The stats reveal that the Vaporfly-wearing teams outperformed the non-Vaporfly-wearing teams. Mazaheri did it two different ways and the results show it helped by 17 or 24 seconds in the women’s 6k race, depending on how he looked at it. Let’s split the difference and call it 20.5 seconds. 20.5 seconds is 1.69% of the 20:13 Cornell team’s five-woman average — that’s pretty significant. Yes, it’s obviously below the 4% gain in efficiency that the Vaporflys supposedly give out and the theoretical 2.7% percentage that would result in increased performance, but one theory is it’s hard to turn while wearing Vaporflys and there were 12 turns in the women’s course.
In one of his two analyses, Mazaheri has Cornell finishing just 5th if they hadn’t been wearing the Vaporflys.
|Actual Top 10 Women’s Teams at NE Regional
1 Harvard 92
2 Cornell 126
3 Boston College 133
4 Columbia 160
5 Syracuse 203
6 Yale 203
7 Iona 233
8 Dartmouth 263
9 Connecticut 275
10 Providence 276
|Mazaheri’s Top 10 If No One Wore The Vaporflys
1 Boston College 114
2 Columbia 144
3 Harvard 147
4 Yale 182
5 Cornell 199
6 Iona 223
7 Dartmouth 236
8 Providence 254
9 Connecticut 256
10 New Hampshire 281
Now, we believe he ran the analysis only thinking Harvard, Cornell, and Syracuse had the shoes when in reality we think some other schools had them (like Dartmouth, if you know of any other teams, email us).
So what does it all mean? All we know is if we had been coaching, we’d have wanted our athletes to wear the Vaporflys.
That doesn’t mean the Vaporfly’s impact was only positive. Some are speculating that the Vaporfly’s high stack height could have been one reason why Bonner fell and was seriously injured.
Back to Cornell. We also reached out to Coach Henderson to ask him how he got his hands on the Vaporflys, which cost a small fortune ($250 retail) and why he even bothered as his men’s team is very young and the women were only ranked 11th coming into regionals.
He wrote back saying that he and the women’s team always believed they had a shot to make NCAAs (although he thought the way to do it would be to finish third and get pushed in). While disappointed with their showing at the Ivy League championships, he said it was the first meet all year he had let the women go hard from the gun and some had overdone it and paid a price. Knowing how they rebounded the year before at regionals, everyone thought it was possible to do so again in 2019, particularly since he thought his team had underperformed at Heps while a bunch of Ivy League rivals had had really good days and might be due for a pull back. As for only being ranked 11th, he said he never paid attention to the regional ranking as it wasn’t well thought out as they had destroyed one of the teams ranked ahead of them earlier in the year.
As for the Vaporflys, it ended up being a little bit of fate. Initially, Henderson thought they had things covered after they “had women trying on old rubberized waffle racers, leftover forever xc spikes that they could wear without putting the actual spikes in them, etc.” before getting on the team bus. But as they were driving to Buffalo, a phone call changed everything. We’ll let Mike tell it in his own words.
About half way into the drive to Buffalo, I got a call from one of the Nike reps that I have gotten to know while working at Green Mountain Running Camp. He said they were driving a bunch of the (Vaporfly) flats to the meet and that they could bring them to the hotel for us. I was obviously intrigued, but was not sure we would do it. I told him I had to call him back.
After that, I thought about it for a few minutes, and it seemed like fate was coming together for us and that we had to do it. I say that because, as you know (Editor’s note: Mike was emailing LetsRun.com co-founder Robert Johnson, who coached the men’s distance runners at Cornell from 2002 to 2012), our women have actually never had training flats. That was something I wanted to change, and right around Heps I was given permission to get flats for the women. I figured we were so far into the xc season that I would just wait to do it during track season. Then this opportunity presented itself, and it seemed like one of those moments where the world is trying to tell you something, so I called him back and said he could add our name to the list of teams getting them from him.
All this being said, I want to make it clear that I am not any kind of a shoe or tech guy. I have no idea if the Vaporflys give you the boost people claim. From what I saw, the research was comparing the Vaporfly to a Pegasus. Which wasn’t that impressive to me since what I really want to know is how they compare to another racing flat, not a training shoe. However, my background is in sport psychology, so while I had no insights into the efficiency ratings of a curved carbon fiber plate, I had no doubt in my mind that getting the team the shoes would send the message that we are going all-in on this race and that we fully believed in their readiness and ability to make great things happen. I am just glad they backed it up with the performance we felt they were building towards all season, and now I look forward to seeing how they compete in Terre Haute this weekend.
1k of the women’s 6k pic.twitter.com/OKEan8dPvS
— UB Track/XC (@UB_XCTF) November 15, 2019
More: Bijan Mazaheri: Vaporflys in the Women’s DI Northeast Regional
MB: Amazing: The Vaporfly Controversy Has Come To Cross Country – Vaporfly Wearing Teams Stun Fields at Northeast Regional
MB: Snowflakes win again? DI Northeast regional XC championships is changed to road race because it snowed
The Colorado Men (28 Straight NCAAs) and Stanford Women (27 Straight NCAAs) Are Streaking
Jonathan Gault had lots of free time on his hands over the weekend so he compiled some stats using the Track & Field News database about who has the longest NCAA streaks going and who is going to NCAAs for the first time after the longest hiatus. Here are the results that he tweeted.
Quote of the Week (that wasn’t quote of the day)
#1 Syracuse coach Brien Bell on how his team ended up with Vaporfly 4% shoes at Regionals
“We drove to Rochester to pick them up. We don’t have, carry, issue or train in flats. We asked for flats and that’s what they had. It wasn’t a specific request. I’m not a shoe guy. If you’re ready to run, you should be able to strap a sirloin steak to your feet and race.
“Nike called me the day before the race at noon offering the Next %, but we already had shoes. Did they help? Perhaps. I think they certainly helped with recovery.”
#2 Van Commenee calls a spade a spade
“Over the last 40 years, I have called a number of athletes fat, because they were.”
–Charles Van Commenee, the Dutch athletics head coach who was in charge of the UK team at the 2012 Olympics, responding to The Daily Telegraph when asked for comment in regards to allegations that he “questioned a number of female athletes’ weight in frank exchanges.” As for the specific allegations that he was insensitive to Jessica Ennis-Hill, Van Commenee gave a detailed denial, saying:
“I asked her in a formal review meeting, attended by her coach and Jess herself, after the Daegu World Championships whether she was in the very best [body] shape she could have been.
“Unfortunately body weight and fat percentage have a strong effect on the points score and the result in competition. She, as well as her coach, admitted that she was better the year before in that sense. A completely normal question to ask in any elite performance review.”
Other Results Of Note We Don’t Have Time To Talk About As We Have To Get To Terre Haute
- Jim Walmsley Wins World Mountain Running Championships “Long Race” In Argentina Walmsley ran 3:12:16 for the 41.5k course to win by almost a minute as Romania’s Cristina Simion won the women’s race.
*MB: Jim Walmsley World Mountain Champion!!
- US Gets Double Victory From Joe Gray And Grayson Murphy In World Mountain Running Champs 14k Race
Depth at yesterday's Ageo City Half, JPN's biggest and best university half marathon:
— Japan Running News (@JRNHeadlines) November 18, 2019
Salazar and Brown Appeal Their Bans
CAS Says Alberto Salazar’s Appeal Will Be Held In March At The Earliest Doctor Jeffrey Brown has also appealed his ban. They both “requested additional time to file their written submissions and evidence.”
- LRC The Road to Sapporo: Assessing the Women’s Field at the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials From Jordan Hasay (50%) to Stephanie Bruce (5%), we break down the odds for the contenders at the 2020 US Olympic Trials.
- LRC The Road to Sapporo: Where the US Men’s Marathoners Stand 3+ Months Out From the Olympic Trials
- LRC Commentary Don’t Believe The Spin, Nike’s Treatment Of Mary Cain Is Very Much In Line With Its #1 Core Value: Win At All Costs Since its inception, Nike’s #1 message has been win at all costs. Not a surprise since Nike was named after the winged Greek goddess of victory. But winning often doesn’t come easy, so sometimes people take drugs or purge themselves to get to the top.
- Sports Illustrated Writes 4,000+ Words on Cain’s Allegations on Salazar: Inside the Toxic Culture of the Nike Oregon Project ‘Cult’
- Exercise Scientists, Including Ross Tucker, Talk About The Facts And Misconceptions Surrounding Body Weight And Elite Sport Performance
- *MB: Amy Yoder-Begley tells NY Times Alberto Salazar asked her to sign a contract saying she would not befriend her NOP teammates
To see our favorite reads from other weeks, go here.
Quotes Of The Day And Last Week’s Home Pages
To see the quotes of the day from last week or last week’s home page or any home page, go to our archive page.
^ Editor’s note: The article was initially published saying John Kellogg said that every 10 feet in elevation gain/loss was worth 1.8 seconds. That is incorrect. John Kellogg wrote a lengthy explanation of how he believes elevation changes impact times. His full email appears below.