Weekend Viewing Guide: Cross Champs, NXN, Blanks Chases Olympic Standard & Valby Sub-15:00 at BU?

The first weekend of December features a bunch of high-profile races

We’ve almost reached the dead period of the running calendar, the stretch from mid-December to mid-January when most cross country seasons have wrapped up but indoor track has yet to hit full swing. This weekend, however, is very much alive with racing. In the span of 24 hours, high school champions will be crowned at Nike Cross Nationals, almost every top NCAA 5,000 runner will race at Boston University in search of a personal best, and 5,000/10,000 world record holder Joshua Cheptegei will make his marathon debut in Valencia.

Our job at LetsRun.com is to keep you informed as running fans so that you can enjoy the sport as much as possible. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know ahead of this weekend’s action. We’ll have a separate article on Cheptegei and Valencia here.

Cross Champs

When: Thursday, 8:30 a.m. ET
Where: Camp Mabry, Austin, Tex.

Completed: See: HOKA NAZ Elite, Katie Wasserman, & Adriaan Wildschutt Are the Winners at Cross Champs in Austin

Nike Cross Nationals

When: Saturday, 1:05 p.m. ET
Where: Glendoveer Golf Course, Portland, Ore.

*Live stream (requires RunnerSpace+ subscription)

Robert Johnson already quickly previewed NXN in the Week That Was, so I’ll try not to repeat him here. Plus Bill Meilan of Tully Runners just published his in-depth preview and projections which which recommend you read here. In the boys’ race, Utah’s Daniel Simmons was 2nd last year, ran 8:34 on the track this spring, and is undefeated this fall. He’s the favorite but could be challenged by Byron Grievous (11th last year) and Montana’s Nathan Neil, among others. On the girls’ side, Elizabeth Leachman (NXR South and Foot Locker South) and Rachel Forsyth (NXR Midwest and Foot Locker Midwest) have won two major regional meets apiece and will square off at both NXN and Foot Lockers a week later.

The last four boys’ team titles have been split between just two schools, Loudoun Valley (Va.) and Newbury Park (Calif.), but neither school qualified this year. Utah rivals American Fork and Herriman are among the favorites, with American Fork winning narrowly at the Utah state meet (33-39) and by a bigger margin at NXR Southwest (79-121). Perennial powers Southlake Carroll (Tex.) and Christian Brothers Academy (N.J.) should also be in the mix.

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The girls’ race could also feature an in-state battle as Colorado schools Niwot and Air Academy were the two top-rated teams in DyeStat’s most recent rankings. Niwot, right next to Boulder, has a number of ties to elite running. US 5k/10k champ Elise Cranny is a 2014 Niwot grad, and many of the pros in the area use Niwot High’s track for workouts. Most notably, Niwot’s #1 runner is Addison Ritzenhein, the Colorado 4A state champion and daughter of — you guessed it — Dathan Ritzenhein.

BU Sharon Colyear-Danville Season Opener

When: Saturday, all day
Where: Boston University Track & Tennis Center, Boston, Mass.

*Performance list *Schedule *Live stream (requires FloTrack subscription)

Photo courtesy James B Daves/NCAA

The Sharon Colyear-Danville Season Opener at Boston University on the first Saturday of December has become what the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational at Stanford used to be: the place to run fast for collegiate distance runners. It’s now standard practice for the top finishers at the NCAA cross country championships to capitalize on their fitness and knock out a qualifier for the NCAA indoor championships before taking a winter break.

Nineteen of the top 20 finishers from the men’s race at NCAA XC will be running at BU this weekend (Devin Hart of Texas, where you at?), 16 of them in the 5,000. The numbers are a little lower on the women’s side, but NCAA XC champion of Florida Parker Valby will be there. Notably, NC State’s Katelyn Tuohy is not entered.

In the last four years, only one runner has won NCAAs and come back to win the 5,000 at BU two weeks later: Iowa State’s Edwin Kurgat in 2019. In each of the last two years, the BAA’s Annie Rodenfels has defeated the NCAA XC champ to win the women’s race, and Rodenfels — who won the US 5k road champs on November 4 — is entered this weekend as well.

Year Men’s winner NCAA XC finish Women’s winner NCAA finish
2022 Ky Robinson, Stanford 13:11.53 10th Annie Rodenfels, BAA 15:08.22 N/A (pro)
2021 Ollie Hoare, OAC 13:09.96 N/A (pro) Annie Rodenfels, BAA 15:08.80 N/A (pro)
2019 Edwin Kurgat, Iowa State 13:24.04 1st Taylor Werner, Arkansas 15:11.19 4th

Given how dominant she has been in 2023, one of the big questions we have about this race is whether Valby can become the first collegiate woman ever under 15:00 (the NCAA record is 15:01.70 by Jenny Simpson in 2009). Valby likely has the fitness to do it. She beat Alabama’s Doris Lemngole — a woman who ran 14:40 on the roads in March — by 33 seconds at SECs and 10 seconds at NCAAs. She beat NC State’s Katelyn Tuohy (who owns a 15:03 pb) by 12 seconds at Nuttycombe. But the race is being paced for 15:12. That probably means no sub-15:00 and no Olympic standard (14:52.00) for Valby, though her pb of 15:20 should go down.

Photo courtesy James B Daves/NCAA

On the men’s side, NCAA XC champ Graham Blanks said on this week’s LetsRun Track Talk Podcast that he’d like to hit the Olympic standard of 13:05.00 and believes there are multiple men in the NCAA capable of hitting that time. The top heat will be paced for 13:10, so sub-13:05 is doable with a good kick as long as someone steps up to keep the pace going once the rabbits fall off.

Sub-13:05 is faster than both the NCAA indoor record (13:08.28 by Lawi Lalang) and NCAA outdoor record (13:06.32 by Abdihamid Nur) but distance records don’t mean as much as they used to during the age of supershoes. Of the 10 fastest 5,000s in NCAA history, eight have come in the last three years. If Stanford’s Ky Robinson could run 13:11 last year after finishing 10th at NCAAs, it stands to reason he could go 6-7 seconds faster after finishing 3rd this year and winning a couple of NCAA track titles in between.

That’s not to say the Olympic standard will be easy. Sub-13:05 is at the upper edge of what might be possible for the best NCAA guys. But considering we have a deep field near peak fitness on a super fast track, Saturday’s race is close to a best-case scenario for times assuming the rabbitting is good.

The top four men’s finishers at NCAA XC (Blanks, New Mexico’s Habtom Samuel, Robinson, and Oklahoma State’s Denis Kipngetich) will all be in the 5,000 but the 3,000s are worth watching as well. The men’s race has NAU stars Drew Bosley and Nico Young as well as 3:34/7:36 Canadian Kieran Lumb and US pro Craig Engels. The women’s 3,000 is highlighted by a battle between NCAA steeple champ Olivia Markezich of Notre Dame and NCAA 1500 champ Maia Ramsden of Harvard and also features 2021 NCAA 1500 champ Anna Bennett.

Will anyone hit the men's Olympic standard (13:05.00) at BU on Saturday?

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How fast will Parker Valby run at BU?

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Sunday: 2023 Valencia Marathon Preview: 5K/10K World Record Holder Joshua Cheptegei Makes Historic Debut

Separate article at the link above.

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