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Fast Women, June 24, 2019, Issue 25

Nell Rojas finishing 224th out of 253 runners at the 2007 NCAA Cross Country Championships. It wasn’t her highest NCAA Cross Country finish, but it’s the one I have a photo of. The reason I always took photos of every runner I could get at the NCAA Cross Country Championships was that they were all fast, even when that particular race wasn’t their best day. Plus you never know which of them will eventually be a 2:28 marathoner, president of her country, or famous for some other reason.

Nell Rojas breaks through at Grandma’s Marathon, earns Olympic standard

Heading into Nell Rojas’ marathon debut at the California International Marathon last December, she was shooting to break 2:45:00. But she felt good and ran 2:31:23. After years of bouncing around from the steeplechase to obstacle course racing to triathlon, Rojas has found her best event.

On Saturday, in her second try at the distance, Rojas not only went under the Olympic qualifying standard (2:29:30), but she also won the race*, running 2:28:06 (2:28:09 gun time, which is her official time). Rojas ran with the pack early on, but when she made her move, the race was over. After going through halfway in 1:15:08, Rojas ran the second half of the race in 1:13:01 and won by more than five minutes. She earned $10,000 for her victory and another $10,000 for breaking 2:29.

Another top U.S. marathoner is born. Yes, there was a bit of a tailwind on the point-to-point course, but a 2:28:09 doesn’t run itself, and plenty of people struggled in the conditions. Rojas was the only runner to hit the Olympic standard at Grandma’s.

It’s not as if Rojas, 31, came out of nowhere. She has been running at a high level since before she was in high school. She was a steeplechaser for NAU, and she has good running genes. It’s just that of the events she’s tried, the marathon seems to be the greatest fit for her strengths. In a little more than six months, she’s gone from not being well known to part of the Olympic Marathon Trials conversation.

Behind Rojas, 44 more women ran under the U.S. Olympic Trials standard, though some of them are not U.S. citizens and some of them were repeat qualifiers. I know many of them have great stories, which I hope we’ll hear more about in the coming days. (Marathon results)

Earlier in the morning, Katy Jermann of Team USA Minnesota won the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in a personal best of 1:10:27. Bethany Sachtleben ran a personal best of 1:10:43 to take second. Lexi Zeis ran 1:12:42 to take third, which qualified her for the Olympic Marathon Trials (a sub-1:13 half is a qualifier, and Jermann and Sachtleben already had theirs). Jordan Hasay was originally scheduled to run but skipped the race because she had “picked up a small injury.” (Half marathon results)

In the wheelchair race, Susannah Scaroni covered the course faster than the current marathon world record, but her 1:30:42 will only count as a course record, because Grandma’s is not a world record-eligible course.

*I take issue with the following line in the linked article: “Rojas still looks like an OCR athlete, with plenty of muscle, and that’s something that could make her a ‘darkhorse’ contender at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in March.” First, the Trials are in February, and second, if any prognosticators are discounting Rojas’ 2:28:06 because they have an overly narrow definition of what a fast runner looks like, that’s on them. And they should read Lydia O’Donnell’s piece published by TEMPO last week about the perfect runner’s body. (Spoiler alert, it ends with the line, “The perfect running body belongs to anybody who runs.”)

Heather MacLean hits the World Championships standard in the 1500m

Because I took an extended break from following the NCAA scene closely, I didn’t know the name Heather MacLean until she ran 4:29.74 to finish second at the Bruce Lehane Invitational Mile on the Boston University indoor track March 3. And when I found out that MacLean, who runs for New Balance Boston, was a recent UMass graduate (which is located in my hometown), I knew I was slipping, because the former me would have known the second a fast runner set foot in town, regardless of the fact that it’s been 10 years since I lived there.

But now that I’m paying attention, I’m impressed. Her 4:29 mile (which converts to a 4:09.83 1500m, according to one calculator) was an obvious indication that her 4:18 1500m personal best wasn’t going to last long. So far this season, she’s taken her 1500 time from 4:18, to 4:14, to 4:10 (June 16) and on Thursday in Ostrava, she ran 4:06.21 to hit the World Championships qualifying standard.

Reading this, it’s clear that part of the reason MacLean is improving so rapidly now is that it took her awhile to realize that she’s a distance runner (or, at the very least, a middle-distance runner). And reading this, it sounds like she has a good story and really took advantage of her college experience.

Why Nikki Hiltz being an openly LGBTQ runner is important

Though I don’t usually read the comments on Nikki Hiltz’s Instagram posts, last week, she highlighted a few of the more hateful ones in her Instagram stories. This post is representative of the types of comments she receives—mostly positive, including some people telling her how important her openness is to them, and some vicious.

Hiltz was quick to say that most of the comments she gets are positive. But the negative ones drove home how much work we still have to do. Prior to Hiltz (and her partner, Therese Haiss, and Addie Bracy and Corey Conner, and Matt Llano), there were absolutely LGBTQ professional runners, but I’m not aware of any who were out.

The more Hiltz wins, the more attention she gets, which is both awesome and can be a bit scary, she admitted. When Hiltz won the mile at the adidas Boost Boston Games last week and draped herself in a pride flag on national TV, she made an important statement.

In her post-race interview, she wasn’t asked about the pride flag she was holding, she was asked about the Brave Like Gabe sticker on her bib. But in her response, she could have been speaking about either item. “For me personally, Gabe taught me the power of vulnerability and being yourself, and letting the world share in your struggle,” Hlitz said.

Sammy Watson speaks out

Sammy Watson, who made the decision to turn pro during the indoor season and got a lot of criticism from LetsRun because of her timing, criticized the website for its coverage and message boards last week.

Watson, who won the 2018 NCAA Outdoor title, did an interview with LetsRun after last week’s adidas Boost Boston Games, but said she wouldn’t have had she realized that was who she was speaking to.

Watson said in the interview that she hopes to join Philadelphia-based Juventus Track Club, whose current team members include Ajee’ Wilson and Raevyn Rogers, but nothing is final yet.

Support for Alicia Vargo

If you’ve been following the sport for a long time, you’ll remember her as Alicia Craig, a two-time NCAA 10,000m champion for Stanford. Or you might know her as Alicia Shay, a professional runner who has already dealt with great loss. Now she’s Alicia Vargo, a running coach based in Flagstaff, Arizona. Vargo recently lost her son at one day old, and her friends are asking the running community for words of support or donations to help offset Alicia and her husband’s steep medical costs.

Gabe Grunewald Day run, and other tributes

Tomorrow, June 25, would have been Gabe Grunewald’s 33rd birthday, and the state of Minnesota will celebrate Gabe Grunewald Day. Her husband, Justin, posted about the 1.405-mile run being held in Grunewald’s honor in Minneapolis and encouraged people all over the world to join them virtually. If you’re in Rhode Island, Molly Huddle publicized this free 5K, also Tuesday, in Grunewald’s honor.

Last week, Mick’s Office, a bar in Minnesota, temporarily put a Brave Like Gabe burger on its menu and a portion of sales went to the foundation of the same name.

Last week, Chris Chavez released the audio from an interview he did with Grunewald in 2017. Though I felt myself not wanting to listen to it, it was surprisingly nice to hear Grunewald’s story in her own words, even though I already knew it.

Other results

  • At Sunday’s B.A.A. 10K in Boston, Kenya’s Fancy Chemutai, who has established herself as one of the world’s fastest road racers, won in an event record of 30:36. Aliphine Tuliamuk, who finished eighth in 32:27, was the top U.S. woman. Molly Seidel, who was running her first race in a year, finished 10th in 32:55. I appreciated Erika Kemp’s Instagram takeover of the @bostonmarathon account during the event, with the assist from Elaina Tabb, and Dana Giordano serving as a race announcer. It was a good use of the B.A.A.’s non-competing pro runners. (Results)

  • Morgan Arritola finished second to Canada’s Lindsay Webster at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 26K on Sunday and in doing so, earned a spot on the team that will represent the U.S. at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Argentina on November 16. Megan Kimmel won the previous day’s 52K race. (Results)

  • At the Harry Jerome Track Classic on Thursday in Burnaby, British Columbia, Hannah Green won the 800m in 2:01.76, and Shannon Osika won the 1500m in 4:09.76. Shalaya Kipp ran the steeplechase in 9:48.36, in a race won by Canada’s Regan Yee in 9:40.06. (Results)

  • At the USATF U20 Championships, we finally got to see the Athing Mu-Roisin Willis rematch in the 800m, and Mu won convincingly this time, 2:05.59 to 2:06.99. Both athletes qualified to represent the U.S. at the Pan Am U20 Championships in July, should they accept their spots. Other winners included Marlee Starliper (3,000m, 9:29.39), Samantha Corman (1500m, 4:29.81), Jessica Larson (5,000m, 16:47.66) and Lydia Olivere (steeplechase, 10:33.08). In the women’s distance events, it was a poorly attended meet, with only five competitors in the 5,000m, six in the 3,000m, and seven in the 1500m. (Results)

  • Recent UAA graduate Caroline Kurgat won a half marathon in 1:13:51 and took nearly five minutes off the previous course record.

Other news

  • I really enjoyed this episode of Pace the Nation with Josette Norris, who recently finished out her eligibility at Georgetown and earned her first All-America honor, in the 5,000m. She talked about overcoming injuries throughout college, and her tremendous confidence, despite never having run at an NCAA track championship before. And I thought the discussion of the adjustments she made to stay cool for racing in the heat of Austin was interesting. That included shortening her warmup to five minutes. Norris is coached by Julie Culley, who is married to Chris Farley, one of the podcast’s hosts.

  • Oregon’s (and Australia’s) Jessica Hull decided to give up her one remaining season of outdoor track & field eligibility and turn pro. She’ll make her debut in the 1500m at the Prefontaine Classic, which is where we’ll likely find out which shoe company she will be representing.

  • I appreciated this post from Abbey (D’Agostino) Cooper emphasizing that there’s no one path to success.

  • I finally got a chance to listen to this episode of the Global Sport Matters podcast with Victoria Jackson from a couple weeks ago. I thought Jackson, a sports historian and former pro runner for Nike, did a fantastic job of summarizing all of the pro running and pregnancy coverage up until that point (the episode came out June 7). If you’re looking for smart analysis of the issues in under 30 minutes, it’s a great episode.

  • Molly Huddle wrote about operating outside your comfort zone, for Runner’s World.

  • Speaking of being outside of one’s comfort zone, Kara Goucher wrote about her experience at the Leadville Trail Marathon and Brittany Charboneau wrote about her experience at the Leadville Trail Heavy Half Marathon (which includes a mention of Goucher).

  • I’ve been following Jen Bingham on Instagram (@localelite) for about as long as I’ve had an Instagram account, so I really appreciated this episode of the Ali on the Run Show, which filled in many of the gaps between Instagram posts. Bingham recently qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials, but that came after years of ups and downs, which she candidly discussed. The two themes that came across strongest in this episode were the power of both perseverance and rest, and how those things can coexist.

  • We heard about 2016 Olympic marathon silver medalist Eunice Kirwa’s provisional suspension after testing positive for EPO; now the AIU has given her a four-year ban. Because Kirwa’s positive test didn’t come until April 1, 2019, she gets to keep all of her results prior to that. It would take proof that she was doping prior to Rio for her to lose her Olympic medal.

  • Alexi Pappas and her husband Jeremy Teicher’s film, Olympic Dreams, has been acquired by IFC Films and is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2020. The article says getting to this stage took quite a bit of negotiating with the Olympics over rights to the footage.

  • Allison Goldstein writes (for Runner’s World) about Bridget Zapata, who qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials 35 years after her mother, Bonnie Zapata, did. Bridget’s father/Bonnie’s husband coached both of them.

  • Alia Gray was the guest on Lindsey Hein’s I’ll Have Another podcast last week and I thought she was very engaging. I appreciated her discussion of continuing to pursue ambitious goals in running without the support of a sponsor, and how she’s making it all work.

  • With the IAAF’s new rules about DSD athletes temporarily on hold, Caster Semenya will now run the 800m at next weekend’s Prefontaine Classic.

  • Sydney Masciarelli, who turned 16 last week, got some solid coverage from her local newspaper after winning the double at New Balance Nationals Outdoor.

  • After finishing sixth in the NCAA 10,000m, Anna Rohrer will return to Notre Dame for a fifth year.

  • Carrie Tollefson did a live show with Deena Kastor prior to the NYRR New York Mini 10K and released the audio last week. Kastor mentioned that she’d love to run 2:26 at the Berlin Marathon in September. She acknowledged that that might wind up being too much of a stretch in the end, but if she puts a big goal out there, she’s more likely to do the little things that will get her there.

  • With a proposed international marathon center, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, hopes to become the Cooperstown of running.

  • espnW published a good follow-up to the New York Times’ pieces about pregnancy and pro running last week, which includes sports beyond track & field. Most of the negative stories people are digging up are still coming from Nike. And as has come up before, even when sponsors treat athletes well, there’s a need for more communication between sponsors and athletes around the subject.

    I appreciated the closing quote, from Lauren Fleshman: “I think there's this feeling among women that because we entered a man's working world, we've been fighting for a place in that world. Now, we're on the cusp of changing the actual world, instead of changing ourselves to fit into it. In some ways, motherhood is the most obvious and powerful tool that we have, because it's such a common, shared experience."

  • Allyson Felix talks to the LA Times’ Helene Elliott about finding a stronger voice after the birth of her daughter. Felix also announced last week that she is now sponsored by Bridgestone (the tire company), which is notable given her sponsorship struggles with Nike.

  • Penn’s Nia Akins has apparently been selected to the NACAC U23 Championships team in the 800m. The meet takes place July 5–7 in Mexico.

  • Molly Bookmyer was the guest on the Rambling Runner podcast last week, and if you don’t already know her story, it’s worth a listen.

  • Dr. Tracy Beth Høeg wrote about bone health in adult long distance runners for iRunFar.

  • This New York Times piece on 103-year-old sprinter Julia Hawkins includes some good life advice, which is probably good running advice, too.

  • I haven’t written about transgender high school athletes much because thus far, there hasn’t been a significant impact on the middle-distance and distance events. But last week, when I saw this Hartford Courant article about three track & field athletes (with quite a bit of assistance from the adults around them) filing a discrimination complaint against Connecticut’s policy on transgender athletes, saying it possibly cost them college scholarships, I had to say something.

    I understand that this is a tricky issue and we clearly have work to do before it’s all sorted out, but bringing college scholarships into it is scapegoating. College coaches are smart enough to know that if you lose a race to a transgender athlete, you probably would have won if they hadn’t been there. And, speaking as a former college coach, I can say I’d be far more impressed by the kids who used the better competition to elevate their own performance, rather than using better competition as an excuse for not performing well. After all, college athletics is all about encountering better competition and stepping up.

  • Clare Elms set a pending world record in the women’s 55–59 mile last week, running 5:12.64.

  • The host of this podcast was something else, but Kim Conley had some good things to say, and I thought it was interesting to hear that she has been selected to the Pan Am Games team that will compete in Peru in August, and she is also going to try for a World Championships spot.

  • The U.S. Olympic Committee is changing its name to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, and the linked article discusses why that is important.

  • The Speed Project has a cool kids club feel to it that, to me, is a major turnoff, because that’s not what this sport is supposed to be about. But this Speed Project documentary was an interesting look at the teamwork that went into getting an all-women’s relay team through a 344-mile relay race, at 6:53 pace, no less.

  • Two more podcasts: Rachel Schneider was the guest on The Morning Shakeout, her first podcast, and Kate Grace made me laugh a couple times during this episode of What Were You Thinking, where Clayton Murphy was also a guest.

  • This is a fun blog entry from Ruth Brennan Morrey, who tried to qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday at Grandma’s 20 years after she first accomplished the feat. She didn’t quite get there yet, but good for her for being in position to try.

Something that made me laugh, smile, or cry


Because of renovations at Hayward Field, this year’s Prefontaine Classic takes place on Sunday, June 30 in Palo Alto, California. It should be a fantastic meet, and it will be televised beginning at 4:00 p.m. ET on NBC (as well as on NBC Sports Gold, for subscribers). Most of the start lists are here.

The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run begins on Saturday. Meghan Hicks has an extensive preview of the women’s race here.


Thanks, as always, for reading, and thanks to our Patreon supporters for helping make this possible. I always appreciate getting your thoughts and feedback via email and on Twitter. Have a great week!


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