Parker Valby (14:56) & Graham Blanks (13:03) Break NCAA 5,000m Records at Boston University

Valby is the first collegiate woman -- and youngest American -- to break 15:00

BOSTON – It’s one of those hypothetical running nerd questions. How fit, exactly, do you have to be to win the NCAA cross country title? If you put the NCAA champion on the track and gave them every possible advantage – fast track, perfect pacing, super spikes – how fast could they run for 5,000 meters with that XC fitness?

In 2023, we have two definitive answers: 13:03.78 and 14:56.11.

Those were the times run by Graham Blanks of Harvard and Parker Valby of Florida on Saturday evening at the Sharon Colyear-Danville Season Opener at Boston University, two weeks after each won the NCAA XC individual title in Virginia.

Both times were indoor collegiate records, with Valby’s being the fastest indoors or out. Valby is also the first NCAA woman ever to run under 15:00 and, at 21, the youngest American to break the barrier. Blanks’ time was also under the 2024 Olympic standard of 13:05 – just the third American to hit the mark in the qualifying cycle. If it was not already clear, Blanks and Valby represent the future of American distance running.

While BU’s super-responsive track – resurfaced ahead of the season – is well-known as the place to run fast, Blanks and Valby both benefited from excellent pacing, and not just from the official pacers. Rabbits Christian Noble and AJ Ernst took the men’s field through 3k in 7:56 – on pace for 13:13 (their target was 13:12 pace) But it was Stanford’s Ky Robinson, an Australian who also badly wanted the Olympic standard, who kept it going once Ernst dropped, splitting 3:09.47 for the next 1200 meters to keep sub-13:05 in the realm of possibility. Neither Robinson (2nd in a pb of 13:06.42) nor British pro Sam Atkin (3rd in 13:06.66) could quite hold on, but Blanks, who took the lead with a big move with 400 to go after Atkin briefly led, blasted a 1:57.59 final 800 (57.04 last 400) to get the win.

Blanks bowed to the Boston crowd after the race

“I owe some people some drinks tonight,” said Blanks, who might know some spots considering Harvard’s campus is just across the Charles River from BU. “I ran selfishly, but sometimes that’s what it takes. It played out perfectly. I had two people in front of me basically the whole race.”

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Blanks is a junior, and now is the time of year when Harvard students are thinking of summer plans. While his classmates pursue internships on Wall Street or Capitol Hill, Blanks has something different in mind. His program will begin with a week in Oregon in June, but he could extend it to Paris in August with good results.

“No internships this summer,” Blanks said. “I’m going to try to qualify for the Olympics.”

While Blanks was openly targeting the Olympic standard, Valby had no such dreams of sub-15. Initially, she was not even sure she would run in Boston, and when she did decide to race, her plan was merely to run fast enough to qualify for March’s NCAA indoor championships. 

There were pacers in place to achieve that, targeting a time of 15:15-18. But the B.A.A.’s Annie Rodenfels, the US 5k road champ who won this race in 15:08 in each of the past two years, was determined to run faster and elected to move ahead of the pacers after two laps. Valby’s coach, Will Palmer, instructed her to follow.

Valby, who is rarely anywhere other than the very front, was content to settle in behind Rodenfels, who towed her through 3k in 9:02 and 4k in 12:03. At that point, Valby took off, blasting the final kilometer in 2:52 to dip under 15:00 with plenty of room to spare. Rodenfels took 2nd in a pb of 15:03.97, well ahead of 3rd placer Ella Donaghu of Nike Union Athletics Club (15:16.97).

Despite her status as NCAA champion at 5,000 meters and in cross country, Valby is not a confident runner. This was just her third indoor race ever. For her first, in Kentucky in 2022, Valby was so nervous did not tell her parents about it ahead of time. Valby won the race by 16 seconds.

“When they found out I was there – they had tracked me on their phone – they were so mad!” Valby said.

Valby’s second indoor race, on this same Boston track in February 2023, would qualify as a success for most athletes – Valby ran 8:49.71 for 3000m, one of the 10 fastest times ever by a collegian to that point. But Valby, battling injury, was frustrated with the race and would not race again that season. She said that experience left her with “a little bit of PTSD from indoor.”

This time, Valby’s parents made the trip, and in the end she was glad to have them there to watch their daughter become the first collegiate woman ever under 15:00.

“Crazy,” Valby said. “I never thought that I could do that.” *Results

*Full results

Quick Take: Valby may have surprised herself, but it was clear she was in this kind of shape

The NCAA does not keep official records in track & field, so there were a couple of different marks regarded as the collegiate record before tonight. Providence’s Emily Sisson ran 15:12.22 on a traditional 200m indoor track in 2015, while Colorado’s Jenny Simpson ran 15:01.70 on Washington’s oversize 307m track in 2009. Now there’s no debate. Indoors, outdoors, oversize…no woman has run faster in a collegiate singlet than Valby.

(Lisa Koll ran 14:55.74 in July 2010 after competing for Iowa State that spring. But that race came a month after NCAAs, Koll wore a Nike pro kit during the race, and would never race again in the NCAA.)

Considering Valby beat Alabama’s Doris Lemngole – who ran 14:40 for 5k on the roads in March – by 33 seconds at SECs and 10 seconds at NCAAs in cross country, she was clearly in shape to run under 15:00 today. The question was whether she would attack a fast time or hang back and collect her NCAA qualifier. But with BU’s fast track and Rodenfels acting as a de facto pacer, Valby had a perfect opportunity to break 15:00 and took advantage. Valby said letting someone else take the lead was a nice “change of scenery.”

“I kind of liked it because I just looked at the back of her two [hair] buns the whole time,” Valby said. “It distracted me.”

Given how easily Valby gapped Rodenfels – she put seven seconds on her over the final kilometer – Valby may have been capable of even faster today. The Olympic standard is 14:52.00 and that is something Valby could achieve in 2024 if she can stay healthy and get in the right race.

Quick Take: Valby is the youngest American woman to break 15:00 by more than a year

The American sub-15:00 club has exploded in recent years. On January 1, 2020, only 18 women had done it. Now, less than four years later, that number is up to 31, spurred on by super shoes and super spikes that have supercharged training and racing.

Even with that advantage, Valby’s performance is worthy of immense praise. Not only is Valby the first collegiate woman to break 15:00 – Simpson and Tuohy are the only other collegians within even 10 seconds of her – but she’s also the youngest American woman to do it, period. Valby, who turned 21 on September 27, is 21 years, 67 days old – more than a year and a half younger than the previous youngest to do it, Amy Rudolph, who was 22 years, 294 days old when she ran 14:56.04 in Stockholm in 1996.

Quick Take: Graham Blanks wraps up perfect fall campaign with NCAA record

Blanks’ time of 13:03.78 is the fastest ever by a collegian indoors, surpassing the 13:08.28 by Arizona’s Lawi Lalang in 2012. And it’s the fastest 5,000, indoors or out, within the collegiate season, surpassing the 13:06.32 that Northern Arizona’s Abdihamid Nur ran outdoors in 2022.Lalang still owns the overall collegiate record given he ran 13:00.95 in the summer of 2013 while still a student at Arizona (and he returned to compete in the NCAA in 2013-14), but however you stack it up, Blanks’ time was super fast. But for Blanks, the big goal was the Olympic standard. The NCAA record was more of a means to an end.

“I knew whoever won that was going to have the NCAA record,” Blanks said.

Blanks, who was a guest on last week’s LetsRun Track Talk Podcast, did not get much of a chance to celebrate his NCAA XC title upon returning to Cambridge as he had to focus on this race. Now, finally, he has a chance to take a break from running. How will he spend it?

“I need to catch up on some homework and stuff,” Blanks said.

Not immediately, though. Blanks said he might find himself involved in some “activities” Saturday night. The euphemism isn’t necessary. Anyone athlete who’s done what Blanks has over the last three months – undefeated NCAA XC season, NCAA 5k record – is entitled to a little partying.

Quick Take: How long will these records stand?

Valby and Blanks are clearly mega talents but they’re also competing in an era where fast times are a constantly moving target due to the impact of super shoes and super spikes. Since the start of 2022, the NCAA men’s 3k (twice), men’s 5k (twice), women’s 3k, and women’s 5k records have all gone down. 13:03 and 14:56 are considerably faster than the winning times at BU a year ago (13:11/15:08), but who knows how long these records will last? Though we’re pretty confident that 13:03 will stand as the Ivy League record for quite some time – unless Blanks himself breaks it.

Quick Take: Ky Robinson says it was a little bittersweet to run a pb but miss the Olympic standard by 1.42 seconds

Robinson ran a great race, a pb of 13:06.42 that was five seconds faster than last year. His time is #3 all-time within the collegiate season, which Robinson deemed “something to be proud of.” The only unfortunate thing for Robinson is that he came tantalizingly close to the Olympic standard of 13:05.00, but with the way Olympic qualifying works now with World Athletics taking more athletes via world ranking, he may not need it. That said, the top finisher at the Australian Olympic trials in April — which Robinson plans on running — is guaranteed a spot on the team.


Earlier in the afternoon, there were some 3,000m races that would have been the headline at most other collegiate meets. Saturday at BU, 7:37 and 8:40 were the undercard.

Men’s 3,000: Nico Young uses huge final 100 to win in 7:37; doubles back and runs 13:22 three hours later

Blanks and Valby’s times deservedly earned the headlines, but Northern Arizona’s Nico Young did something almost as insane on Saturday: he won a stacked 3,000 in 7:37.73 (#3 all-time NCAA), then came back less than four hours later and won section 3 of the 5,000 in 13:22.96. Young and teammate Drew Bosley (who completed the same double in 7:43/13:29) were initially meant to pace teammate Theo Quax as long as they could in the 5k but wound up finishing the race (Quax ran 13:29.48). Young’s times should be enough to qualify him for NCAAs without having to race again this season.

Even without the 5,000, Young had an impressive day as he won a thrilling 3,000 by going from 4th to 1st over the final 110 meters, prevailing over Oklahoma State’s Brian Musau (7:38.04), On pro Kieran Lumb (7:38.39), and OSU’s Ryan Schoppe (7:38.80). Young is not known for a big kick, but he closed in 57.57 to run away from Lumb (3:35 pb, ran 1500 for Canada at Worlds this year) and Schoppe (anchored OSU’s NCAA-winning DMR in March). He said he was a bit banged-up during the 2023 track season but is feeling better – and faster – now.

“Now I feel I’m in a place where I’m strong enough to get to the end of the race with my legs underneath me,” Young said. “And that’s where that comes from. I don’t know if I have the best flat-out leg speed, but I can get to the end of the race at a better spot.”


Quick Take: Craig Engels runs 7:43 3k pb

Engels did not have the 2023 season he wanted, battling some injuries in the early spring and failing to make the final at USAs. He has still been dealing with some plantar fasciitis but got his track season off the ground by running a 7:43 3k pb tonight to finish 5th (previous pb of 7:53). 

“What does that mean, I got beat by three college kids?” Engels said. “Not bad.”

Engels, 29, was 4th in the last two Olympic Trials and 2024 represents his last realistic shot to make the Olympic team – something he still considers a possibility.

“Seven months sounds like a long ways away, but that’s like tomorrow,” Engels said. “Feels like yesterday I was still in college and now I’m in year 8 of pro. I’m well aware and I’m working as hard as I can every single day to make it, because I know Yared [Nuguse] and Cole [Hocker] are as well.”

Women’s 3,000: Markezich rips 8:40 to move to #2 all-time NCAA

Notre Dame’s Olivia Markezich has been brilliant over 3,000 meters this year. In March, she finished as the NCAA runner-up at the distance behind Katelyn Tuohy. Then in June, she dominated the NCAA 3,000 steeplechase by running 9:25.03, the #3 time in collegiate history. A month later, she ran a huge pb of 9:17.93 to finish 4th at USAs.

Markezich finished 3rd at NCAA XC two weeks ago and if her season opener today was any indication, the fifth-year senior could be set for an even bigger year in 2024. Running against a top field that included NCAA 1500 champion Maia Ramsden of Harvard, Markezich looked in total control and ran a 2:48 final 1k to separate from the field and clock 8:40.42 for the win. The time was a personal best by more than 10 seconds and moves her ahead of legends like Karissa Schweizer and Jenny Simpson on the all-time NCAA lists (though neither of those athletes had access to super spikes). Only Tuohy has run faster in NCAA history.

Markezich was particularly pleased to have won today from the front.

“I have a good kick but I think I’ve been relying on it too much the past few years,” she said. “Last year especially, I would tend to fall back a little bit and then kick and catch up. This year has been all about staying up ahead and keeping on pushing.”

Times were fast behind Markezich as the top nine (eight of them collegians) broke 8:55 with the top five under 8:50. Ramsden (8:46.84) and Duke’s Amina Maatoug (8:46.89) both cracked the NCAA’s top 10 all-time, moving to #7 and #8, respectively.

Time Athlete School Date
8:35.20 Katelyn Tuohy NC State 2/11/23
8:40.42 Olivia Markezich Notre Dame 12/2/23
8:41.60 Karissa Schweizer Missouri 2/3/18
8:42.03 Jenny Simpson Colorado 3/14/09
8:45.50 Hilda Olemomoi Alabama 2/10/23
8:45.97 Alicia Monson Wisconsin 2/9/19
8:46.84 Maia Ramsden Harvard 12/2/23
8:46.89 Amina Maatoug Duke 12/2/23
8:47.88 Lauren Ryan Florida State 2/11/22
8:48.77 Sally Kipyego Texas Tech 2/7/09


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