My excellent adventure; Sacramento Diary
Day Four: Huddle and Rowbury battle over 5,000 meters, by Larry Eder
The women’s 5,000 meters may have been the best women’s distance race that I have seen in North America, period.
Molly Huddle ran her AR for the 5,000 meters in August 2010, in Brussels, where she placed eighth. Molly ran 14:44.76. It was only after the race that Molly knew she set her American record. How tough is Huddle’s record? The top American women have made runs for it since 2010, and no one has really come close.
Records are not made to be broken. That is total rubbish. Records are that sweet space in time where an athlete, after years of training and racing, puts it all on the line. It is that perfect moment, where the competition and the athlete’s fitness comes together. A high level of fitness comes at a huge price: it is something that happens for perhaps a few weeks a year, if one is lucky, or, for once every few years when one is racing or competing in championships. Luck plays a part, fitness plays a part, and racing plays a part.
High level of racing fitness looks effortless, it looks beautiful. When two athletes, at the highest level of fitness can meet, then, you have a memorable race.
So, take Molly Huddle, who has run her first half marathon in March, a fine 1:09, for third place. Then, in April, Molly runs a 30:47.59 at Payton Jordan over 10,000 meters. Over twenty-five laps, Molly Huddle and Sally Kipyego were separated by no more than forty meters apart, by the end of the race.
In Rome, Molly Huddle ran a 5,000 meters the hard way. Going out in 76 seconds, the field cut it down until Genzeba Dibaba finished the victor in 14:34. Molly Huddle ran 14:55.90, her fastest race in about two years.
Sacramento was just about perfect conditions. A breezy night, and Molly Huddle took the lead early. Using her strength, Huddle took the lead from the beginning and started running 74-75 second laps. As the race developed, Shannon Rowbury, fresh off her AR for two miles in 9:20, was less than a step behind.
Molly Huddle has a wonderfully efficient and light stride. It belies her power and her strength. It also hides her determination. Shannon Rowbury is a distance runner with a miler’s kick. How many times have you watched Shannon just take off with 250 meters to go with no response?
Taking the pace down from 1600 meters to 3200 meters, Huddle kept the pretenders under control. But, Rowbury, Hall, Cuffe and Johnson were still holding on. But, not for long.
The pack up front was Molly Huddle, Shannon Rowbury and Murielle Hall. Right behind them was Aisling Cuffe, and Kellyn Johnson. Aisling Cuffe had been impressing us all season with her gutty racing. Marielle Hall ran an amazingly gutty race on her own, right with Huddle and Rowbury until the final kilometer.
Molly Huddle is a gritty runner. If one studies her face during a race, one sees the tension build in her face as she makes the race tougher and tougher. The key for a distance runner like Huddle is to break the pretenders only and build up the pace so that, when she takes off with a lap to go, her competitors are beaten mentally and physically.
Shannon Rowbury’s race tactics were quite obvious. A four minute 1,500 meter runner, as well as a fine 3,000m and 5,000 meter runner (pb of 15:00.51), Rowbury hoped to keep her kick within her, until it was time to shove off with 300 meters to go and take the title.
As the bell was hit in 14:02, Huddle and Rowbury were all by themselves. Huddle began to show her long run to the finish, with Rowbury on her shoulder. As they hit 300 meters, Huddle was in what seemed to be full sprint, and Rowbury was about to unleash her kick. Neither Huddle nor Rowbury were able to break the other.
Shannon Rowbury leads Huddle, photo by PhotoRun.net
At two hundred meters, Shannon Rowbury unleashed her kick and put three quick meters between Huddle and herself.
As distance runners, exhausted after 11 and 1/2 laps of racing, begin to kick, mistakes can happen. Rowbury began to move out of lane one, leaving lane one open. Huddle moved up next to her and then, Rowbury cut in, taking over the first lane.
Molly Huddle winding it up, photo by PhotoRun.net
As the crowd roared, Molly Huddle moved to lane two, and Rowbury moved out to lane two, cutting her off again. I do not say this as a negative, this is racing tactics. At the end of the race, if one can keep their cool and stay open, many times, there are opportunities to change one’s luck.
Molly Huddle had lead nearly all 4,750 meters of the race, until Shannon Rowbury took over. With a last inelegant lunge, Molly Huddle moved around Shannon Rowbury and took the championship in the last meters of the race.
A brilliant race! Molly Huddle showed once again, that she is the finest 5,000m runner in American woman’s distance running. Shannon Rowbury, a close second to Huddle, gave Huddle a battle that was one of the highlights of the USA Outdoors.
That is what happens when two great distance runners desire the same title. For track fans, it was a glorious battle.