Updated February 26, 2017.
Congrats to Kyle Merber on his fine 3:52.22 for second behind Robert Cheserek (3:52.01) after BU Last Chance!
Kyle Merber has had a fantastic indoor season. Sabrinna Yohannes caught up with Kyle and here's the piece that she did for RunBlogRun.com.
A Relay World Record, PRs and More for Kyle Merber in 2017
Updated March 2, 2017
By Sabrina Yohannes
If his trademark headbands help you to locate Kyle Merber in a crowded race, you are not alone.
"It's easy for my mom to follow me," the native New Yorker Merber told RunBlogRun on Friday about his signature headwear. "I've been wearing headbands since high school. It's kind of like my 'Now it's time to race' thing. I don't wear them during practice. It's just race day, you put it on, and you know it's time to go."
It was go time at 7:45pm Friday in the New Balance Track and Field Center at the Armory in Manhattan, where Merber anchored his Hoka New Jersey New York Track Club team to a new indoor 4xmile relay world record of 16:12.81, erasing the 1993 mark of 16:16.67. (Technically, the mark is considered a world best as track's international governing body, the IAAF, does not maintain world records for the distance.)
Ahead of the start of his leg, Merber paced on the track and double-checked the markers for the baton exchange zone that is different for each relay leg on the 200m track. As third leg runner Graham Crawford ran past on his last two laps, Merber urged him on.
"I was just hoping Graham would get in as quick as possible and I would just have to run us under four flat, that was the goal from the beginning," said Merber. The first three NJNYTC legs were run in 4:05.4, clocked by Donn Cabral, 3:59.5 by Ford Palmer and 4:08.6 by Crawford, a last-minute replacement for Colby Alexander, for a total of 12:13.5, when Merber took over.
"I went out a little harder than I had originally planned to," said Merber. "After 800, I heard I came through in 1:57."
The crowd cheered him on as he circled the track, circumventing lapped runners from other teams at the Artie O'Connor Invitational meet. "It was really exciting, but it definitely was a bit chaotic out there, especially by my leg," said Merber. "I was passing guys constantly and so it's kind of like dodging traffic."
The adidas Garden State Track Club's anchor Tyler Melius made sure to stay out of Merber's path, though, running in the second lane as the NJNY anchor approached.
"These guys are the real deal," Melius told RunBlogRun. "That's why they're going for a world record; that's why they got it. If that means running in lane two part of the race, I'm more than happy to do it."
Racing in a white headband and the team's new outfit featuring the NYC skyline, Merber crossed the line in 3:59.3 to cut nearly four seconds off the old relay record. Following a lap of honor, the squad posed for a picture with NJNY head coach Frank "Gags" Gagliano seated in front of the clock showing the record, and his charges behind it.
"We're four guys who actually train together every single day, so to do a record like that is special," said Merber, who noted about his coach: "He was happy. ... The club's his baby. He's been working to assemble this crew that we have for so many years."
The unexpected member of the relay squad, Crawford, had recently been injured. "This is his first race of the year, so he's one for one on world records!" said Merber.
"I wish I could have contributed a little bit more, but it was pretty cool; it was awesome in here," Crawford told RunBlogRun. "A couple months ago, I didn't think I was going to have an indoor season, so this definitely salvages it."
Merber had initially hoped the team would run under 16 minutes, and said they are capable of running faster than they did.
"With the change of the team -- this is Graham's first race of the year, I think he ran like 4:07, 4:08 today, and Colby ran 3:55 last week -- in theory, there is quite a bit of seconds in our original team versus this team," he said, adding, "We're just lucky that we had Graham on the sidelines, even though he was hurt for a while, to be able to step up."
The new record is not Merber's first world mark.
"I have the distance medley relay from World Relays a couple years ago," he said, having run the lead-off 1200m leg outdoors in a U.S. team that clocked an official world record 9:15.50 at the IAAF relay championships in the Bahamas. "It feels great to have two. It's not an individual world record, but records are meant to be broken. It's a fun part of sport and as you can see, it gets the crowd really excited."
Of future attempts to better the new indoor 4xmile record, Merber said, "At least not this year." But an attack on the same record outdoors is in the works for this summer, he said.
Merber hopes to see fast times in individual races as well in 2017. He ran an indoor personal best in his first outing of the year, placing second over the less familiar distance of 3000m at the Columbia East-West Challenge at the Armory on January 28.
"You know if you open up a season with a PR, you have to be happy," said Merber, who ran 7:49.39 to improve on his 7:50.41 from 2016.
He went on to place third in 3:54.67 in the NYRR Millrose Games' signature Wanamaker Mile behind Evan Jenkins and Clayton Murphy, after surging into the lead with about a lap to go.
"That last 100 hurt so much," said Merber. "Maybe if I'd had another race under my belt coming in, I'd have been able to hold on a little better, but it's still a great start to 2017."
The former Columbia University standout spent part of the winter in Florida with members of his team, which recently acquired shoe company Hoka One One as an official sponsor.
"We've been training really hard," said Merber. "Been down to Tallahassee to get away from the cold weather in New York, and we were able to do some things in training that we definitely would not have been able to do up here."
He recently moved from New Jersey to Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester County in New York, not far from the home of the 79-year-old Gagliano in Rye.
"The team is spread out along the river towns in Westchester," said Merber. "We wanted to be closer to him, make it easier for him, see him more often."
"He's the best," Merber added, explaining that this was his fourth year with Gagliano, whose knowledge and experience he values, among other traits. "He always keeps you on your toes. ... He really knows how to motivate an athlete, get you to believe in yourself. A lot of coaches can just get you in shape. It takes a special coach to get you to believe."
Merber has a few goals he's setting his sights on being in shape for outdoors.
"I'd like to make the world team, represent the U.S., and cut a couple seconds off my 1500m PR," he said. "I need to try and get in some faster races and lower my PR of 3:34, but I think that'd require me to get to some Diamond League races and ... get pulled along. That's the hope." He ran 3:34.54 in 2015.
Merber's 2017 calendar also features an important date after the August world championships he hopes to contest in London and the end of the outdoor season, as he recently got engaged.
"She's a recreational runner now, but she ran at Stony Brook [University] and she's from Ireland," Merber said of his fiancée Patricia Barry. "I'm from Long Island and she was running at Stony Brook on Long Island, and so through mutual friends, we met six years ago."
Come October, the couple will tie the knot.