(RBR Archives) Swift and spirited distance races in New Balance Indoor GP, by Jim Gerweck

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Republished December 26, 2016. This piece is our friend, Jim Gerweck, on the 2016 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix. The 2017 version will be on January 28, 2017 at the Reggie Lewis center. What will the 2017 version bring us?

This is the first piece for RunBlogRun by one of my favorite writers and people, Jim Gerweck. Jim Gerweck, Paul Merca and I are Slap Central, a group of track nerds, sports fans and journalists who have found a way to make a living from this sport we love.

Seyaum_DawitFV-NBind16.JPgDawitt Seyaum, photo by PhotoRun.net

Sitting next to Jim at the New Balance Indoor GP is kind of a right of passage. He travels up from his home with Victor Sailer, Tabitha Sailer and Photo Run team. This time, Victor had arrived from an all nighter back from the LA Marathon Trials.

I asked Jim to write about the distance races, which resonate with the Reggie Lewis crowd.

I hope you enjoy the article from one third of Slap Central. I know I did.

Boston, MA - An Olympic year always presents a conundrum for track
athletes, especially distance runners. Sharpen your racing fitness too
much and you risk having those skills be blunted by the time summer's
Trials and Games roll around. And yet there remains the allure of the
concentrated frenzy of racing on a banked 200-meter oval in
cacophonous arenas, made even more enticing by this year's World
Indoor Championships at the new facility in Oregon.

So the approach to indoors is a delicate balancing act, getting fit
enough to race well and achieve qualifying times while holding enough
in reserve for the big push for Rio this summer.

That potentially schizophrenic outlook nonetheless made for some swift
and spirited distance races at the Reggie Lewis Track & Field Center
as the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix entered its third decade on
Valentine's Day 2016. In spite of temperatures outside in the single
digits, the action on the track was plenty heated as athletes looked
for a berth in Portland next month, with many achieving qualifying
marks on the speedy Roxbury oval.

Perhaps the most anticipated of the distance events was the women's
3,000 meters, where Ethiopia's Meseret Defar would be making her
return to racing after a three year hiatus during which she had a baby
then fought through several injury-plagued comebacks.

The two-time Olympic 5,000 champion had called this the biggest race
of her life, but she had to feel confidence racing in what she called
her second home; indeed, in eight appearances at this venue she won
seven times, establishing a meet record 8:30.05 in 2005.

No one expected her to approach that mark in her comeback effort but
after leaving the rest of the field half a lap behind with kilometer
splits of 2:51 and 5:43 it became apparent that something special was
brewing.

Missing the raucous support of the large contingent of local Ethiopian
expats who usually pack the stands for this meet, Defar continued to
ratchet up the pace over the last third of the meet, almost lapping
the field as she crossed the line in 8:30.83.

"For me the race was incredible," she said after. "I did a great
training coming in, but it was my first race so I didn't have the
confidence to push earlier - if I had I think I would have gotten the
meet record. But to run 8:30 in my first race back is amazing."

If Defar's run was a triumphant time trial the other distance events
were more competitive races typical of the indoor version of the
sport, with plenty of jostling and tactical lead changes. Nowhere was
that more clearly displayed than in the women's 1500 where a field of
a baker's dozen runners bounced around for several laps before a
collision sent several tumbling to the Mondo surface. Defar's
countrywoman Dawitt Seyaum and American Brenda Martinez, the poster
girl for this year's meet, had separated themselves from the carnage
and waged their own battle over the last two laps before Seyaum pulled
away to a 4:01.86 win. Even she stumbled on the rail midway through
the final turn, possibly costing her the sub-4 clocking and meet
record she was aiming for. "I didn't exactly get what I wanted, but it
was still a good race," she said. "Now I'll try to find another race
and get a qualifying time for World Indoors."

Martinez hung on for a 4:04.58 second place, and was pleased with her
effort in just her second race over the distance in more than a year.
"I wanted to get a good time and I thought it would be easier if I
just got on her and rode the train," she said. "I knew it was gonna
hurt but I didn't want to slow down and kick. I wanted to keep
pressing but she was just playing with me the last 400 -- I was just
trying to keep form and run through the line. I'm going to focus on
the mile this winter then back to the 800 outdoors."

The men's mile field was only half as big and Nick Willis, who had won
this race four times since 2009 including a meet record 3:51.61 last
year, figured to be the clear favorite to make it three in a row. "I
kind of feel like I'm defending my home turf here," he said after
pulling away from Kenyan Bethwell Berget with 300 to go to threepeat
in 3:53.27, his second fastest time in the meet. "Not bad for just
being a few days off the plane from New Zealand - no jet lag, a solid
run," he said. "Now it's time to focus on Millrose," where he'll seek
to win the Wanamaker Mile crystal vase that has eluded him so often.
"I had some good tussle with Lagat and Motram there back when the meet
was at Madison Square Garden - that's where the real history of that
race comes from. I've been third twice and second twice, still looking
for that win."

If Willis is as seasoned an indoor veteran as there is, another runner
from the antipodes, Australia's Brett Robinson, was at the opposite
end of the experience spectrum, having never been on an undercover
oval until the day before the meet. "It is different but it feels like
the race goes so quick," he said. "You're so close to the crowd it's a
great atmosphere."

Robinson pushed the pace from 2k and dropped everyone except defending
champ Dejen Gebremeskel, who zipped past at the bell to edge the
Aussie 7:42.94 to 7:44.29. "I was hoping we would be under 7:40 but
the pace got a little slow the second K," said the Ethiopian, who has
never finished out of the top three in the six years he's run here.
"It was my first race so I didn't know exactly where I was at. I'll
race in the Czech Republic next and try to run in the 7:30s, then get
ready for World Indoors."

That could result in a rematch with Robinson, who still has to wait on
the Australian selectors to pick the final squad fir Portland. "If I
make it, great," he said. "Either way, I have to get ready for the
Olympic Trials in April.

"I'm going home tomorrow but I wish I was staying," he lamented. "I
kind of like this indoor track thing."

Based on the cheers of yet another sold out house the meet, obviously
so too do the track and field fans of Boston, even in an Olympic year.

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