WTW: It Was A Good Week For Keira D’Amato, Conner Mantz, Lawrence Cherono, Natalie Cook, and Annie Rodenfels + Is Sara Vaughn the Second Coming of Sara Hall?

The Week That Was in Running, November 29 – December 5, 2021

By Robert Johnson and Jonathan Gault
December 6, 2021

Past editions of our  Week That Was weekly recap 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.

Talk about this article on our world famous fan forum/ messageboard. 

Article continues below player

MB: WTW 12/6/21: It Was A Good Week For D’Amato, Mantz, Cherono, Cook, & Rodenfels + Is Sara Vaughn the 2nd Coming of Sara Hall? 

Keira D’Amato & Conner Mantz Impress at US Half Champs

When Keira D’Amato ran 23:49 at the 4.748-mile Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving, it went relatively unnoticed. D’Amato’s time was eight seconds faster than Buze Diriba’s course record from 2017, but it was only good enough for second as winner Weini Kelati ran a phenomenal 22:55.

On Sunday at the US Half Marathon Championships in Hardeeville, S.C., D’Amato had the spotlight all to herself as she cranked out a 67:55 to finish well ahead of runner-up Natosha Rogers (69:36). D’Amato was aided by a pancake flat course, but conditions could have been better, as temps were in the low 60s (good) with 100% humidity (bad).

D’Amato’s run was notable for all sorts of reasons:

  • Her 67:55 time was a 62-second pb and moved her into a tie for fourth on the all-time US list with Jordan Hasay. Only Molly Huddle (67:25), Emily Sisson (67:26), and Deena Kastor (67:34) have run faster on record-eligible courses. D’Amato’s time was also just 14 seconds shy of Huddle’s American record for a women’s-only race.
  • It was the first national title for D’Amato, who turned 37 in October.
  • The move clinched a spot on the US team for the 2022 World Half Marathon Championships, which will be held in Yangzhou, China, in November.

That last point is a huge deal for D’Amato. Last year, D’Amato was selected to the US team for the World Half and wanted to compete, but USATF decided not to send a team to Worlds in Poland. D’Amato then set her sights on the US marathon team for the 2022 Worlds in Eugene, but USATF didn’t announce its selection criteria until after D’Amato’s fall marathon in Chicago; barring any injuries, she will be the first person off the team as Molly Seidel, Emma Bates, and Sara Hall are all ahead of D’Amato based on USATF’s criteria and plan to accept their spots.

The top two finishers in Sunday’s race were guaranteed a spot on the 2022 World Half team, and this time, D’Amato left no doubt in securing her place. Next year, at 38, she’ll wear the US singlet for the first time in China – unless she makes the Worlds team on the track before then.

In the men’s race in Hardeeville, two-time NCAA XC champ Conner Mantz made a successful professional debut, winning in a pb of 60:55. Though Mantz floated the idea of chasing Ryan Hall’s American record of 59:43 on the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast, he backed off of that ambition before the race, opting to focus on racing for the win. It paid off as Mantz outkicked Sam Chelanga – another two-time NCAA XC champ – to close out a terrific 2021 campaign.

Also last week, Mantz signed with Nike. LetsRun.com has learned that Mantz will remain in Provo and train under Ed Eyestone along with fellow NCAA champ Clayton Young and 2016 Olympian Jared Ward. He will graduate from BYU with a degree in mechanical engineering this spring.

If you are looking for news as to whether Mantz can run faster than he did on Sunday, we’ve got some for you. His 20k split was 57:57, which averages out to the 4:39.8 mile pace. He ran the 1.0975 km from 20k to the finish at 4:21.0 mile pace.


It’s crazy to wonder what Kelati would run in a half marathon right now. At Manchester, she beat D’Amato by 11.4 second per mile, which projects to 2:29 over the course of a half marathon. If you subtract 2:29 from 67:55, you get 65:26. Kelati was a late scratch from the Sound Running Cross Champs on Saturday.

Valencia: Lawrence Cherono Wins Again

This year, something unusual happened at the US major marathons as neither the Boston, Chicago, nor New York City marathons had their reigning men’s champion return to defend his crown. Lawrence Cherono, who won the 2019 Boston and Chicago titles in sprint finishes,  opted for the Olympics instead where he lost out in a three-way sprint for the final two medals and finished 4th in 2:10:02. He then signed up for Valencia which also was the marathon of choice of 2019 NYC champ Geoffrey Kamworor, who likely wanted more time to come back from his summer knee injury.

On Sunday in Valencia, Cherono was once again in a three-way sprint finish in the final 400, only this time the sprint was for the win and Cherono emerged victorious in 2:05:12 as Ethiopia’s Chalu Deso, who was only 24th in Chicago earlier this year after being announced in the field the week of the race, was second in 2:05:16 with Kenya’s Philemon Kacheran third in 2:05:19 (an improvement on his 2:06:05 pb). Kamworor was fourth in 2:05:23 (his first marathon pb since running 2:06:12 in his debut at 2012 Berlin).

We know the majority of our readers are American and thus likely didn’t actually watch the Valencia Marathon live at 3 in the morning. If you got up and just glanced at the results, you likely made the same mistake we did and assumed that Kamworor just lost out in a sprint finish at the end.

That’s not what happened. Despite talking pre-race about how he thought he could eventually run a sub-2 marathon, Kamworor was never in the lead pack in Valencia. Seven seconds back at 5k, he was 43 seconds back at halfway (63:02 versus 62:19 for the leaders) and nearly a minute back at 25k (58 seconds). However, Kamworor was fantastic between 30k and 40k, which he covered in 29:07 as he almost caught the leading trio (two seconds back at 40k).

You may have thought Kamworor had the edge at that point, and he didn’t fade at all between 40k and the finish. He was pretty much locked in to low 29-minute 10k pace as from 40k to the finish he averaged 4:41.5 per mile (29:09 10k pace). He only ended up 4th though, as the top three were able to pick it back up. From 40k to the finish, Cherono averaged 4:34.9 mile pace. Not bad for someone who told everyone after winning Boston in 2019 that he was a little surprised as he didn’t think he had a great kick.

The Curious Splits of Geoffrey Kamworor
Split Kamworor Cherono Gap
5k 14:51 14:44 7
10k 29:31:00 29:27:00 4
15k 44:33:00 44:20:00 13
20k 59:39:00 59:04:00 35
Halfway 63:02:00 62:19:00 43
25k 1:14:56 1:13:58 58
30 1:29:52 1:29:08 44
35k 1:44:43 1:44:11 32
40k 1:58:59 1:58:57 2
Finish 2:05:23 2:05:12 21

Cherono’s marathon exploits in recent years are pretty damn impressive. If it wasn’t for Eliud Kipchoge, people would be in total awe of this type of consistency.

Lawrence Cherono’s last 13 marathons
2016 Prague: 1st, 2:07:24 PB
2016 Hengshui: 2nd, 2:11:13
2016 Honolulu: 1st, 2:09:39 CR
2017 Rotterdam: 2nd, 2:06:21 PB
2017 Amsterdam: 1st, 2:05:09 CR/PB
2017 Honolulu: 1st, 2:08:27 CR
2018 London: 7th, 2:09:25
2018 Amsterdam: 1st, 2:04:06 CR/PB
2019 Boston: 1st, 2:07:57
2019 Chicago: 1st, 2:05:45
2020 Valencia: 2nd, 2:03:04 PB
2020 Olympics: 4th, 2:10:02
2021 Valencia: 1st, 2:05:12

A Much Improved Nancy Jelagat Wins Valencia Women’s Race

In the women’s race at Valencia, the woman with the 28th best marathon pb got the win as 33-year-old Kenyan Nancy Jelagat lowered her pb from  2:33:56 to 2:19:31.

Jelagat’s win wasn’t that surprising as she did run a 65:21 half in Berlin in August. That being said, she’s massively improved of late. At age 30, she had the following pbs.

Half marathon: 72:42
Marathon: 2:33:56 

Now she’s run 65:10 and 2:19:31. And it’s not like she was lightly raced prior to turning 30. Tilastopaja lists six half marathons and seven marathons on her CV before she turned 30.

Sara Vaughn’s Marathon Debut Is a Smashing Success

One of the most surprising performances of the weekend came at the California International Marathon, where 35-year-old Sara Vaughn made a very successful marathon debut, winning the race in a course-record 2:26:53. Only four Americans have debuted faster: Jordan Hasay (2:23:00 at 2017 Boston), Emily Sisson (2:23:08 at 2019 London), Kara Goucher (2:25:53 at 2008 New York), and Annie Frisbie (2:26:18 at 2021 New York).

Of course, we must point out that the CIM course features 344.5 feet of elevation loss (105 meters), which is going to help one by more than a minute compared to a perfectly-flat course.

Vaughn’s run reminded us a lot of the performance of another Sara: Sara Hall, who ran 2:28:10 to win CIM in 2017 at age 34. Like Hall, Vaughn ran a variety of events on the track (she has competed at USAs in the 800, 1500, and steeple) but was never a star – though she was better than Hall, as Vaughn has faster pbs at 1500 (4:04 vs. 4:08) and the steeple (9:38 vs. 9:39) and made a Worlds team in the 1500 in 2017. Also like Hall, Vaughn turned to the marathon later in her career (Hall debuted at 31 but it took a few years for her to find success). And as if that’s not enough similarities, they have the same first name, are both married to former pro runners who were on their team in college, and both have four kids (though Vaughn, unlike Hall, also gave birth four times).

It’s not fair to expect Vaughn to find the same level of success in the marathon as Hall – whose 2:20:32 pb is #2 all-time among Americans. But she displayed some insane range with her debut at CIM, especially considering Vaughn PR’d in the 400 in June ran 4:05.23 for 1500 (less than a second off her 1500 pb) less than five months ago.

Hometown Favorites Win Marathon Titles at CIM & Fukuoka

Speaking of CIM, the winner of the men’s race was Brendan Gregg, who ran a 17-second pb of 2:11:21. Not only was it Gregg’s first marathon victory in eight starts, but he got to do it in front of his family; he grew up in Davis, 15 miles west of Sacramento, and went to college at Stanford. This was his third time running CIM after taking 9th in 2016 and 5th in 2018.

Across the Pacific, another local son won the 75th and final Fukuoka International Marathon. Okay, so the winner, Michael Githae (2:07:51) grew up in Kenya, but his Fukuoka connections run deep. Githae came to Japan as a teen, went to high school in Fukuoka, runs for a Japanese corporate team (Suzuki), and was running Fukuoka for the sixth time on Sunday (he improved every year, starting out with a DNF in 2015 before finishing 13th, 8th, 5th, 4th, and 1st).

The win clearly meant a lot to Githae. We loved what he said after the race. From Brett Larner’s recap for Japan Running News

“In every race, there is a person who won the first time the race was held,” Githae said. “The person who won that race remains in history. So having won this race, being the last race in Fukuoka, the history will remain. Somebody from Kenya, somebody who came and studied at Fukuoka Daiichi H.S., won this race. And it’s Michael Githae who won this race. It will remain in history, it will be something for the future, and someday I can tell my kids, ‘I went to Japan, and there was a race in Fukuoka, and I won that race.’ It’s something, from my heart.”

Newbury Park Goes 1-2-3 at RunningLane

With Nike making the ridiculous decision to hold regional meets but not a national meet this year, most of the best high school cross country teams in America went to the RunningLane meet in Huntsville, Ala., last weekend.

And the Newbury Park boys — the greatest boy’s HS team ever – did not disappoint as, led by a 1-2-3 finish by Colin Sahlman, Leo Young, and Lex Young, they dominated with only 28 points in the team race.

28 is one point more than the Fayetteville-Manlius girls scored at the 2010 NXN meet. But at HS nationals, sometimes the team scores are a bit misleading as so many of the best runners are not on teams being counted in the team score.

How do the 2021 Newbury Park boys compare to the 2010 FM girls in terms of overall place?

2021 Newbury Park boys: 54 points (1-2-3-6-42)

2010 FM girls: 57 points (2-4-6-16-29)


Much has been made, including by one of our staffers, about the fact that the top four boys at RunningLane all ran faster than 14:10 — the unofficial best 5k mark ever recorded in a US boys’ HS XC race, which Dathan Ritzenhein did at the 2000 Michigan state meet.

Can we stop with this nonsense? Comparing times across XC courses isn’t a good idea, particularly since we have reason to believe the RunningLane course was short (more on that soon).

Quick: What is the all-time collegiate record for an XC 10k? Answer: No one knows as people didn’t used to be obsessed with times in XC.

Now that doen’t mean that the Newbury Park boys aren’t INCREDIBLY good. They are – they just went 1-2-3 on many of the best runners in the country. But can people stop with this nonsense that they embarrassed Ritzenhein?

MB: Was Ritz just a vastly overrated high school cross-country runner? His “great” 14:10 was made a mockery of today

While in HS, Ritzenhein DESTROYED both Alan Webb (who would run a 3:53 mile that spring in regular spikes) and Ryan Hall at Foot Locker finals, winning by 20 seconds. A few months later, he won a bronze medal in the junior race at World XC.

University of Michigan coach Kevin Sullivan put Ritz’s historical dominance in great perspective in this tweet:

Natalie Cook Dominates Girls’ Race

The most dominant performance at RunningLane came in the girls’ race where Natalie Cook of Flower Mound, Tex., won by 19 seconds. For her 16:03.9 win, Cook earned a 165 Tully speed rating — the highest in the country so far this year. Cook comes from a running family as her parents, Melissa (nee Gulli) and Andrew, both ran at Texas A&M and were Olympic Trials qualifiers (mom three times on the track, with pbs of 4:14/15:34/32:31), dad once in the marathon (2:19:48 pb). Both mom and dad are also high school coaches, with her dad being in charge of Natalie’s Flower Mound team.

Natalie will be running the Eastbay Champs this weekend and recently signed to run for Oklahoma State.

More: Parents’ coaching website – North Texas Flyers

PR of The Week

At the Boston University Sharon Colyear-Danville Season Opener, Annie Rodenfels of the BAA High Performance Team had a massive breakout race. Not only did she win the race, beating NCAA XC champ Whittni Orton Morgan in the process, she also lowered her pb from 15:35.18 to 15:08.80.

Very impressive for someone who was just supposed to pace the race for 3k (she paced the race for 3k and then won it). If you’ve never heard of the 25-year-old Rodfenfels before, she ran collegiately at the DIII ranks for Centre, where she was the DIII champ in the steeple and 5000 in 2019 (and steeple in 2018). Her collegiate pbs were 9:58 for the steeple and 16:35 for 5000.

Other News Of Note

While there were a ton of fast times in the distance events at BU, there was also a very fast mid-distance time at the Wooo Pig Classic at Arkansas. Texas A&M’s Brandon Miller opened his season by running 1:15.49 for 600m. The time was a world indoor U20 best, .11 faster than the previous best by 2013 world 800m champ Mohammed Aman. Miller’s time also puts him #6 on the all-time collegiate list (#8 if you count oversize tracks) and it’s the fastest time run by anyone, anywhere, in the month of December.

It’s only a 600, and it’s only December, but it’s still an impressive run by the 19-year-old Miller, who was the NCAA outdoor 800m runner-up in June.

Recommended Reads

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.

Talk about this article on our world famous fan forum/ messageboard. 

MB: WTW 12/6/21: It Was A Good Week For D’Amato, Mantz, Cherono, Cook, & Rodenfels + Is Sara Vaughn the 2nd Coming of Sara Hall? 

Got a tip, question or comment? Please call us at 844-LETSRUN (538-7786), email us or post in our forum.