Last Sunday Alexa Efraimson, a 17-year-old high school junior year from Camas, Washington, ran 1500m in 4:07.05 at the Adidas Grand Prix meet, finishing 10th in a field of professional runners that included the last two world champions among other outstanding runners. Her time was the second-fastest ever for a U.S. high school girl, trailing only Mary Cain’s 4:04.62 from last year.
The only three U.S. girls ever to run under 4:11 for 1500 — Efraimson, Cain, and Elise Cranny — were all in high school in 2014 (Cain and Cranny graduated this spring). In addition to these three, other current or very recent high schoolers have been re-writing the U.S. all-time lists. They include Wesley Frazier and Tessa Barrett (#5 and #8 on the all-time 5000m list, behind Cain’s #1) and Bethan Knights (#7 on the all-time 2-mile list, behind Cain’s #1). If we go back to 2012, there’s Ajee Wilson, #3 all-time in the 800 (behind Cain’s #1), and Cayla Hatton, #3 all-time in the 5000 and #2 all-time in the 10,000. Then there’s Sarah Baxter (two-time winner of NXN nationals in cross country) and Alana Hadley (2:41 marathoner, the youngest qualifier for the 2016 Olympic Trials).
Author Marc Bloom has written a long article for Runner’s World surveying the current generation of high school girls running middle and long distances.
One table from the article underlines the far-reaching improvement over the last two decades:
Year Sub-4:50 1600M Sub-10:30 3200M 1993 1 3 2003 12 12 2013 35 57
Bloom offers several explanations for the depth of female distance talent including better high school coaching, a different kind of parental support, better understanding of the role of strength and nutrition in long-term success, a multi-sport approach, and harder workouts.
He also notes that many of these athletes are choosing to by-pass the traditional high school and college systems, choosing to work with outside coaches, and/or forego collegiate eligibility to go pro (Cain, Wilson, and possibly Efraimson). Bloom sees these trends as positive developments, ushering in a more competitive but also healthier era for female distance runners.
I’m inclined to agree with his assessment, and I also think that a less-remarked-upon development is the fact that it’s no longer a matter of “Mary Cain and everyone else.” She has company in Wilson, Efraimson, and others, and that’s a good thing.