Those Funky Indoor Distances

(Today wraps up a week of posts inspired by the US Indoor Championships last weekend. One thing that made these championships unusual was the inclusion of events on the track that are not normally contested at the national championships. Instead of the international standard distances (400, 800, 1500, 3000), we saw races that would be familiar to Massachusetts high school runners but would never appear in a world championships (300, 600, 1000, 1M, 2M). This made for interesting and unpredictable racing, and a lot of excitement.)

One of the complaints that you sometimes here about swimming is that there isn’t a lot of difference from one race distance to the next, and that the same athletes are able to rack up medals (c.f., Mark Spitz, Michael Phelps) by basically doing the same thing over and over again. Never having been a swimmer, I can’t say whether this is a valid complaint, but I know that in running, it’s a lot harder to spread one’s talent among different distances.

Of sure, there are exceptions. Mo Farah can double in the 5000 and 10,000 and leverage his fitness, speed, and tactics to win both; Usain Bolt can out-sprint the best 100m runners in the world and do the same in the 200; but in general, doubling is hard because the specific distance of the race matters a lot.

When I used to coach both indoor and outdoor track at Newton North, I felt that there were profound differences between, for example, the 200 and 300, the 400 and 600, or the 800 and 1000. It was not guaranteed that a great 400 runner would be able to transition up to the 600, and sometimes a great 600 runner indoors would somehow be much less impressive outdoors when they had to move down to the 400 or up to the 800.

Anyway, for some reason, this year USATF decided that the indoor championships should include funky indoor distances. I expect it had something to do with there being no World Indoor Championships in 2015, but whatever the reasons, it made for some very entertaining races.

300m

In high school, the 300 is generally run with a two-turn stagger, which means that the first 200m is always a desperate race for the pole position, and the last 100m is always a desperate battle against deceleration and rigging up. Unlike the high school version, the pro version was run entirely in lanes. That, and the fact that heats were limited to three runners, probably saved us from seeing some truly horrific collisions. One of the weirdest things for a championship meet was having a two-section final, meaning that the finalists didn’t all race together. That’s common in high school, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it at the pro level.

In the end, there didn’t seem to be too much drama when Manteo Mitchell and Natasha Hastings, who took the men’s and women’s titles, respectively.

600m

If running the 300m in lanes minimized the chaos, the same could not be said for the 600. The three-lap 600 is a notoriously collision-prone event, as a pack of very fast people all fight for running room with little room for error. In the women’s 600, Alysia Montano (a chronically fast starter) seized the lead and stayed clear of the pack. Unfortunatley, Ajee Wilson, who entered the race as the favorite, was tripped on the second lap and fell hard to the track. Mantano would scamper home without a serious challenge, and Wilson, to her credit, would finish the race, although far behind everyone else.

Wilson’s fall in the 600 reminded me of the very famous footage of Heather Kampf (née Dorniden) falling with a lap to go in the finals of the 600 at the Big Ten Championships several years ago. I show this video to my teams every year, and if you aren’t familiar of it, it’s worth watching now.

In the men’s 600, Cas Loxom went out hard from the gun (23.76 at 200), opened a half-second lead on Erik Sowinski and over a second on the rest of the field (48.26 at 400m), and held on for the win and a new American record in 1:15.33.

I find it a bit hard to believe, but according to the Reggie Lewis Center archives, Loxsom’s time was also a facility record, breaking the old record held by — wait for it — high schooler Cas Loxsom, who won the 600 at the New England Championships and ran 1:18.72 as a senior at Wilbur Cross H.S. in Connecticut.

1000m

I’ve already written extensively about the women’s 1000m, no doubt putting many of my readers into a deep slumber. The men’s 1000 was interesting chiefly as a showcase for the re-emergence of Robby Andrews, he of the devastating late kick. Andrews led through the slow early laps (a leisurely 58.69 for 400m), relinquished the lead and held position as the pace heated up (1:56.09 at 800, compared to 1:55.55 for the leader), and then blasted a 25.82 final 200m to win going away.

It occurred to me that Andrews might be one of those runners for whom the 800 is a little too short and the 1500 a little too long. He sure looked good in the 1000,and I hope this win is a springboard to being competitive at the national level outdoor. Races are more interesting with Andrews in them.

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for the past thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. About a dozen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past eight years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, MA. I've been writing for as long as I've been running. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and after a two-year hiatus, began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. In my experience, writing about running is way harder than running itself. I also still have a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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