Q&A: Alicia Monson on Her Incredible 2023 Season, Chasing Sub-30 in the 10K, and Opening Her 2024 Season at Millrose
Monson will begin 2024 by running the 2-mile at Millrose on February 11By Jonathan Gault
Alicia Monson had a year to remember in 2023. The 25-year-old Monson, a native of Amery, Wis., who is now based in Boulder, Colo., as a member of the On Athletics Club, set American records in the 3,000 (8:25.05), 5,000 (14:19.45), and 10,000 meters (30:03.82). She finished 2nd in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the US championships in July. At the World Championships in Budapest in August, Monson took 14th in the 5,000 and 5th in the 10,000 — the latter was the best finish by an American woman in that event since Emily Infeld‘s bronze in 2015.
Monson was proud of that race as it represented a major improvement on her previous finishes at global championships — 13th at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo and 13th again a year later at the World Championships in Eugene. But the University of Wisconsin alum is not satisfied. As she begins her pursuit of a second Olympic berth in 2024, Monson wants to run even faster — she’d like to become the first American woman under 30:00 for 10,000 — with the aim of building enough strength to be in contention to medal at a global championship.
Monson will begin her 2024 season by running the 2-mile at the Millrose Games on February 11, which is the penultimate stop on the 2024 World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold. Millrose is an event where Monson has enjoyed plenty of success recently, winning the 3,000 in 2019, 2022, and 2023. This week, Millrose organizers made Monson available for an interview with LetsRun, where she discussed her record-breaking 2023 season, her aims for 2024 (and why she is planning on running The TEN instead of World Indoors or World XC), training with Hellen Obiri, and whether she’d trade an American record for a US title.
LRC: You’re running the 2-mile at Millrose. Why the 2-mile, and do you have a target time in mind?
AM: I have raced at Millrose three times, I’ve just always done the 3k and have really enjoyed it. This year it’s a 2-mile. I didn’t even realize it was a 2-mile until recently so I think it’s a fun switch up. I don’t really have any expectations going into it. I know it’s going to be a really good field. They’re probably going to have a good pacer and get us out. I actually don’t even know – do you know what the American record times are?
Yeah, I looked up the American record, it’s 9:10.28, which is the indoor record and also the overall record set by Elle St. Pierre a couple years ago.
Okay, gotcha. I can imagine that if the race goes out fast and if there’s enough people competing then it definitely could be within sight to hit the American record. Last year going into Millrose with the 3k, even in the fall, it had been like, I’m going after the American record. But this year it’s more like just getting in really good training all through the fall and winter and basically breaking it up with Millrose and then probably The TEN (on March 16). Basically getting in really good races to go out and compete so I can show up, hopefully, to Paris in the summer and be like, I’ve had these good races and this great year of training so that I can really prepare for that. Kind of keeping my expectations loose this year, I guess.
You did run a mile this past year indoors in 4:23. Did any part of you want to run the Wanamaker Mile at Millrose instead?
I have in the past kind of been like, Oh maybe that would be fun. But there’s so many good American milers right now that I think there’s definitely people who maybe deserve the spot in the Wanamaker Mile more than me. It’s always just been my thing to do the 3k and especially with us looking at doing The TEN this year in March, it wouldn’t make as much sense to do this really high-level mile when it’s only four weeks before The TEN. The 3k is a good distance to throw some speed in there and not have to change the training too much.
Will you run any other indoor races?
Just planning on Millrose, actually. I might be pacing a 5k at BU. A lot of our teammates are going there so I would pace people to the standard, ideally.
Would you consider running World Cross Country this year?
I don’t think that we’re planning on it. After last year, I placed 5th at Worlds in the 10k, it was like: I didn’t do anything wrong except for, if I want a medal, I have to get better. We’re taking the long game of getting in a really good year of training. I think some of my teammates are maybe going for World Indoors, but for me it’s having those landmarks of Millrose, The TEN, and getting into outdoor racing. So no cross country for me this year, but who knows in the future? It can be some fun racing, but with the Olympic year, it didn’t make sense for me.
You already have the Olympic standard in the 10,000 meters, right? So can you explain the logic of doing The TEN in the spring as your main big event?
I don’t need the standard for the 10k. I don’t need the standard for 5k if I were to choose to do that. So basically, it was just what can we do that would make me feel the most ready for the Olympics? And I feel like that’s running a sub-30:00 10k. I guess the plan would be to break the American record again (Monson ran 30:03.82 in 2023), but really it’s how fast can I run to feel the most prepared? Because obviously I’m running against people who can run very fast and [I need to] be prepared to run at a pace that feels easy to them and then kick off of it. So [The TEN] would be to see where we’re at in training and build confidence for the summer.
Gotcha. So obviously we’re still a few months away from that race, you haven’t done all the training you want to do for it yet. But what is a time at The TEN that would make you feel confident that you’re ready to take that next step?
First of all, seeing 29 at the front would be huge, just because no American has ever gone under 30:00. We’ve kind of thrown around 29:30, but obviously that’s a lot easier said than done. It’s going to be a really hard race. If I am under 29:50 and feeling good off of it, then I can feel like I can do it. We saw last year, [world champ Gudaf] Tsegay ran, basically, 29:30 at the [Ethiopian] trials. She can run that and then still feel good enough to kick.
I’ve been training with Hellen [Obiri] and Josette [Andrews] is really great for the speed side of things. So not really planning on a specific time yet because it’s so far away, but mid-29 minutes is a fair thing to say that, yeah, this person could be a legitimate potential for a medal.
When you visualize that and you say those times, how does it make you feel? Is it intimidating to be chasing such a fast time? Or exciting?
Thinking about that 29:30 means you’re running two 14:45 5ks in a row. That’s kind of insane. But I try to split it up – the times that I’ve run fastest is when I’m splitting it up lap by lap and trying to reset. So probably trying to do that. Then there’s a whole other thing of if we want to run that fast, we’d have to set up pacers and there’s only so many people who it make sense to do that. You’ve got people doing World Indoors, World Cross.
So I’m trying to take it one day at a time, basically. Trying to not get dropped by Hellen every day!
Those events like World Indoors and World Cross Country – I know you did World Indoors back in Belgrade in 2022. Are there things World Athletics can do to motivate athletes to run those events?
There’s definitely things they could do. We’ve got Worlds, where the winner gets an auto to the next Worlds, so maybe they could do something like that. But it’s hard to overlap with the Olympics. Cross country is difficult because there has, I feel, been less and less participation in that. Sometimes we don’t do it because it’s going to be messy and could end up getting you injured or something like that. So hard to say.
I’m saying that, but also some of my teammates are willing to go to World Indoors. So I think it really depends on your distance, also. That’s not to say you should never do it. But for me personally this year, it just didn’t quite make sense with the Olympic year.
You had a tremendous year in 2023: American records in the 3k, the 5k, the 10k, 5th place in the 10k at Worlds. What do you think was your best race this year and why?
I would say that the World 10k was probably my best race this year because I’ve had World and Olympic experiences in the past and I’ve never quite delivered on those. And I feel like I did this year with the 10k. It’s definitely a lot of pressure to stay in it for that long, and I basically stayed in it until the last lap when it kind of separated. That’s the defining point for me.
But then you look at, I ran the 10k record and the 5k record, which were definitely confidence-building races for me to go into the World 10k and be like, yeah, I can stay with them. But I would say it’s great to run fast and stuff but those aren’t necessarily the races that I feel like I really excelled, racing-wise. I was just proving my fitness. The championship races is where I’m looking at where I can improve.
I’ve got an interesting proposition, then. Because you set 3 ARs last year but you have yet to win a US title on the track.
If I said you could trade those American records for what Elise Cranny had this year – two American titles on the track – do you make that trade?
I would say I wouldn’t. Obviously, Elise had a great year and super impressive to take what maybe wasn’t her ideal spring and turn it around and come out on top in the US for both the 5k and the 10k, which is super impressive. But personally for me, it was more beneficial in the long term to know that I can run these American records. And that puts me in a position where I’m like, if I can pull it together in a race where it matters, then I can be there.
Hopefully, I’ll win a US championship someday, but I’m taking this year as a win in specific ways and definitely have areas to improve. And obviously Elise is an incredible runner, so it will definitely be an interesting Olympic Trials. I don’t know what events she’s planning on doing, but it’s a good way for us to measure up and make each other better for the Olympic stage.
Is your plan to double 10k/5k at the Trials? Or would you just focus on one?
As of right now, we’re thinking of just focusing on the 10k being that the 5k is first [at the Olympics]. I was glad that I doubled at Worlds this past year, because I felt like by the final of the 5k, I was definitely tired. I think the 10k is my better event, so I wouldn’t want to put myself in a position where I’m already tired toeing the line.
Obviously that can change. Last year, I said I wasn’t going to double and then I doubled. But as of right now, planning on doing the 10k.
How do you feel about where your kick is at right now? Because I remember a couple years ago watching you and Francine Niyonsaba battling it out right to the line in Lausanne. That was a kicker’s race at the end.
Well right now, specifically, I’ve been doing a whole lot of fall training, so I probably wouldn’t want to be in a kicker’s race at the moment.
Yeah. But when you’re ready?
I have confidence that my ultimate speed is good, it’s just I haven’t figured out how to do it at the end of 10k. And part of that is, in the 10k, the people that I was racing with and kicking with could run a minute faster than me. So I was already at my limit is the way I would say it. I’ve gotten good at pushing it to the limit across the entire race so I don’t have anything left to give with 400m to go. So that’s the stance we’re taking, is trying to get my fitness up there and trying to get it to this point where I’m not at my limit with 400 to go and I can kick with the rest of them.
I still have confidence. I know people will say that I don’t have a kick. But I know that I train with 1500m runners. So I wouldn’t say I don’t have it. I just think it hasn’t come around yet at the end of a race.
What’s your 400 pb? Do you ever run them all-out?
I have only ever run one hard one. We don’t really do hard 400s, to be honest. I ran one 400 at the end of a hard workout before Worlds this year. [Coach] Dathan [Ritzenhein] paced me through it. This is in Chiavenna, so basically sea level. It was 4 x mile, I think we must have averaged like 4:43 per mile, and then a 600 in…does 1:36 make sense? Is that a sensible time?
Yeah, like 1:36ish. And then I did a 400 in 59-flat, and that was the only time I’ve ever actually broken 60. It’s taken me a few years to actually get to the point of being fit enough to run a high-quality 10k. So now finally this year we got to the point where I can train my speed as well. So now that I’m fit enough, we’ve been sprinkling in more of that. Kind of exciting, but we still have a ways to go.
You mentioned training a little bit with Hellen Obiri. How often do you run with her, how often do you work out with her? And what’s that like?
It depends on what her marathon training schedule is. Earlier this fall, leading up to New York, I didn’t train with her at all because I was on a break. But last year I trained with her leading up to Boston. And recently I’ve been running with her a lot – and that’s basically doing workouts and long runs. But I can imagine once she gets closer to marathon training, she’ll be separating from my long runs.
Basically we’ve been doing a lot of base training stuff together recently, so, like, fartleks. We had a long run recently where it was like 8 miles of regular running and then 8 miles of threshold. So I did that with her. She jumped on the track with us – she and I did 8 by 1k and 4 x 400 this past weekend. It’s a good time for us because I’ve been building up my fall training and she’s been getting back into regular non-marathon training since she won’t be running a marathon for a little bit.
She’s so talented. It’s incredible that she can do a really hard workout over and over again. It’s the week after week that she’s able to do. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do with her, is just building up this really high-quality base. Not taking any one workout but just over time sticking with her and seeing what I can do.
Well Alicia, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. Anything else you wanted to mention about Millrose or anything else?
I guess I would just say I’m super excited to be back to Millrose because it’s always treated me well and treated the OAC well. The past two years, we’ve had wins and records and it’s always a good time. And the crowd is always super exciting and super loud in that indoor space. Hoping for good weather this year. But I think it should be a super fun time.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Discussion: After record-breaking 2023, Alicia Monson talks about running….. 29:30! for 10,000m
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