Updated Novembe 2, 2016
For the past six weeks, since her fine AR at the Rio Olympics, Molly Huddle has been focused on one goal, a succesful debut at the marathon. Many think she will do well, perhaps top 3. I think she could do even better. If Molly can keep her head, and run in the 2:24 range, watch her challenge Mary Keitany over the TCS New York City Marathon course.
The first day of the Rio Olympics opened with a 10,000 meter world record by Almaz Ayana. Seventeen of the 32 runners in the 10,000m final ran personal bests. In fact, the top 13 runners all ran Pbs or NRs!
In that increadible race, Molly Huddle kept her cool and ran the American record for 10,000m, giving Huddle both the 5000m and 10,000m records!
Here is how she did it, and where she plans her next big race, the New York City Marathon.
Molly Huddle sets AR in WR race in Rio
The women’s 10,000 meters was the first final of the 2016 Rio Olympics. And the race did more than live up to any hype before hand. Ayana’s WR amazed many!
Almaz Ayana, the Ethiopian distance super star was doubling in Rio.
In June, running all by her lonesome, Almaz Ayana came within one second of the WR for 5000 meters, running 14:12.59. It was an amazing race to see, and, for many it suggested that fast times were possible in the 25 lap race, a race she was considering racing in Rio.
In her debut at the distance, Almaz Ayana ran 30:05! One of the fastest times ever, and it was in her first race over 25 laps it showed that her promise at 10,000 meters may be even more than at the 5000 meters. 9th place in that race, actually an Ethiopian women’s Olympic Trials, was 30:53!
In Rio, the race was hot from the start. The pace started out fast and just got faster. All the pretenders went off the back, as Almaz Ayana took off, with Vivian Cheruiyot chasing her the entire way. Alice Aprot Nawowuna, Kenya, was responsible for the fast first five kilometers, as Nawowuna ran 3:01.53 for 1k, 5:55.79 for 2k, 8:52.70 for 3k, and 11:49.79 for 4k. Nawowuna was still leading at 5k, when the pack hit the 5000 meters in 14:46.81!
This is where Molly Huddle showed that she was not pretending.
By 4000 meters the pace was so hot that, if Molly had continued at that pace, she might have broken the American record for 5000 meters, and still had 12.5 laps to go! Molly stepped back the pace a bit, and hit the 5000 meters in 14:55, while the leaders hit the 5000 meters in 14:46.81. A prudent decision.
Molly Huddle was in eighth place. She was running nearly all out, with the finest women distance runners in the world, and she knew that there was a fine line between running fast and falling apart.
Huddle is coached by Ray Treacy. Ray, the coach at Providence College, knows a thing or two about distance running. Many of the finest women in the U.S. have been coached by Ray. Old school is an understatement. From Kim Smith, to Amy Cragg, to Amy Rudolph, to Molly Huddle, the loyalty to Ray Treacy is tremendous. Tracy understands that nothing good comes easy and that a gradual buildup and gradual progression makes the most sense for elite athletes. Coaching is both art and science, and Treacy looks at building up over years to reach the best you can be. That is art. And, what is most amazing, like all of the great ones, Ray Treacy has athletes who not only listen to his every word, but love that he takes the time to make them better athletes.
Molly Huddle is one of the finest distance runners this country has ever produced. Her wins in the Olympic Trials, over both the 5000 meters and 10,000 meters, showed her focus and her racing talent.
Allow me a digression…
In 2014, I was in Monaco. I watched Molly Huddle break the AR for 5000 meters, and battle Shannon Rowbury down the final stretch, holding off Shannon, and taking the American record. This was a month after Molly Huddle battled back from Shannon Rowbury leading the US champs at 5000 meters and take the win, in a gutty run to the tape.
After the 5000 meters in Monaco, in 2014, I was stuck out at the Stade Louis, with no taxi. All of a sudden, I hear ” Larry”, and there is Molly Huddle and her manager, Ray Flynn. I interviewed Molly in the back of a taxi as we drove to the hotel. Molly was so excited after the 5000 meters. She knew that she had run a fine race, and battled her top challenger in the U.S., Shannon Rowbury. In that interview, I learnt that Molly Huddle understood her racing and her need to race. For Huddle, it is like breathing. She not only needs to race, she needs to excel. That is the life of the elite distance runner. That is Molly Huddle.
Huddle is forever an observer. Her racing style is about putting one lap down after another, as hard as she can. She will then finish them off with a fast last lap, and a run to the tape. That was why her fourth in the World Champs in 2015 was such an anomaly. After recovering from that race, Molly ran and won, US road champs from 5k to 20k, and then, blasted a fast half marathon.
Now, back to the 10,000 meters.
The 10,000 meters is one of the toughest races in track and field. Frank Shorter, the 1972 and 1976 Olympic gold and silver medalist at the marathon, noted that the 10,000 meters, run well, is a race of exquisite pain. Shorter noted that it is like cutting oneself with a very sharp knife, and feeling how deep one was cut, when it is too late. The 10,000 meters is about running as fast as one can, as long as one can, and somehow keeping it together.
In the race in Rio, Molly Huddle did more than keep herself together, she set an American record.
Almaz Ayana and Vivian Cheruiyot were at battle. Alice Nowowuna fell back, to second, then, third, and then, fourth, as Tirunesh Dibaba and Nowowuna were in battle for the bronze for the last two kilometers. And everyone else was just hanging on. The 5000 meters was passed in 14:46, a time that would win many races around the world. Ayana would run the final 5000 meters in 14:31, setting a new AR of 29:17.13. Vivian Cheruiyot took the silver, running 29:32.53, her PB and a Kenyan NR! Tirunesh Dibaba took the bronze, after having won the 10,000 meters in both London and Beijing. This was not an easy crowd! Dibaba set a PB in the Rio 10,000 meters, putting nearly ten seconds between her and Nowowuna in the last 800 meters. Nowowuna ran 29:53.51, for fourth, behind Dibaba’s third place in 29:42.56, a PB for Dibaba!
Molly Huddle knew better. She moved, from six kilometers to nine kilometers, running as close to the line as she could, and taking down runners who came off the Ayana-Cheruiyot track train. Huddle first passed Gelete Burka, a fine Ethiopian runner who defeated Shalane Flanagan in her 10,000m debut in 2015 at the Stanford Invite. Burka ran a 30:26.66 PB for seventh place. Then, Molly passed Yasemin Can, the 10,000m and 5,000m European champion (Can runs for Turkey), Can ran 30:26.41 PB. Molly Huddle put thirteen seconds on both Can and Burka.
Watching Molly Huddle push it during the Olympic 10,000 meters was a thing of beauty. Molly kept herself together over the last kilometers, and gradually moved back into sixth place, running the last lap as hard as she could.
30:13.17! A new American record. Molly Huddle is now the fastest American women over 10,000 meters. She now has the 5000m AR and 10,000 m AR with her name on them.
The strength work that she has done over the past two years, as she builds to her first marathon in November, gave her the endurance to put her name on the 10,000m AR.
The loneliness of the long distance runner?
Molly likes a little bit of that loneliness. Her racing is heroic. In Rio, she saw that she was among the six best women distance runners in the world. Three runners from Kenya and two runners from Ethiopia. And then, there’s Molly Huddle.
Molly Huddle is debuting over the marathon in November in New York. Let’s see what the next chapter for Molly Huddle’s racing life reveals. Do not be surprised if Molly Huddle has a wonderful debut over the marathon. With her light stride, her 10,000m and 5,000m times, and her 1:08 half marathon PB, a fine marathon looks like the next event on her to do list.