Tracktown, USA: Women’s 5K Preview, Anybody’s Race?

by Chris McClung

Review of the Basics

The women’s 5K has all of the ingredients for drama and great stories. The final tonight has 7 athletes (out of 16) who already have the A standard and another 4 athletes within 10 seconds of it. Of those with the A standard, 6 of them have qualifying seed times within 7 seconds of each other.

What does that mean? The race should be tight and incredibly tactical with all of the runners dancing around the track, waiting to see what the others might do. Expect a tight, close race with lots of drama through to the finish! Also, expect that your top 3 finishers will make your Olympic team, and that those 3 will all earn their first Olympic berths.

This won’t be the most talent-filled or fastest race, but it might be the most fun and interesting!

Sorting through the list of finalists, 3 clear favorites emerge – Julia Lucas, Molly Huddle, and Julie Culley. They all appear to be the most fit and ready to take top 3 in this race. Outside of this group though, there are a handful of relative “dark horses” who could spoil their party with a little help including Lisa Uhl, Magdalena Boulet, Elizabeth Maloy and collegiate Abbey D’Agostino.

Here are some of the stories:

Lauren Fleshman: The Lion

Lauren’s recent story is an inspiring one. She finished 7th in last year’s World Championships as the first non-African athlete and was at the top of her game just under a year ago. She went on from there to run her first marathon, finishing 12th at the 2011 NYC Marathon in a very solid 2:37. Not bad for a 5K runner! But, this effort would leave her with pesky IT band issues. Since New York, she has been cross training heavily and has managed to run no more than 12 miles TOTAL per week since February. To even make the final is an amazing story of courage and perseverance. She won’t be able to compete for the win tonight but expect her to leave everything on the track and fight until the end.

If you haven’t watched Lauren’s interview after the 5K prelim, then you must now. Here is the link: Inspiring! My favorite quote from the interview talking about fear of failure: “Failing doesn’t mean you are a failure… so why not try?”


Julia Lucas: Comeback Queen

Julia Lucas entered the professional ranks as a decorated collegiate runner in 2007 and expected her results to continue to build. They did not. ~3 years into her pro career, she was running times slower than her college years. At that point, she was dropped by her sponsor and struggling to survive as a pro. So, fed up and discouraged, she stopped running one day. One day turned into two days and two days into one week, until nine months went by with little to no running. It took a return to the basics and her college roots in Raleigh, NC where she spent the summer of 2010. There she trained with her old teammates and simplified her life – back to the basics of running, eating, and sleeping to regain fitness and her passion for the sport. Now, she trains with Nike’s Oregon Track Club and has the 2012 US leading 5K time. She is poised to make her first Olympic team, just 2 years after returning to the sport. Will the comeback be complete tonight?!?

Lisa Uhl: The Next Great US Hope?

You might remember Lisa Uhl (formerly Lisa Koll) from the 10K final last Friday. She is already an Olympian in the 10K and is looking to make her 2nd US team in the 5K, but in this race, she is not a favorite. When Lisa graduated from Iowa State in 2010 as a 4-time NCAA champ, she moved to Portland to train in the same group with Olympic Bronze Medalist Shalane Flanagan. Expectations were sky high… she was dubbed the “heir apparent” to Shalane’s dominance, expecting to jump right in and start competing on the world stage. It, however, hasn’t played out that way. She pushed too hard, too soon, trying to keep up with Shalane in workouts and ended up with a torn Plantar Fascia and stress fracture in her foot during her first year as a professional. Since then, she has been regaining fitness and is looking to compete on the world stage for really the first time. Tired from the 10K and still seeking her top form, she will likely not make the team in this event. But, expect her to assert herself at some point in the race and go for it. Can she re-kindle the magic of her college years?

Molly Huddle: American Record Holder

Molly is an athlete that just loves to run. In high school, her school didn’t have a cross-country team, so she created one. Coached by her father, she won the New York State Championship as a team of one.  At college at Notre Dame, she had continued success placing as an All-American 10 times at the NCAA level. Since turning pro, she has continued to get faster, setting the American Record for the 5K in 2010. Since 2010, however, she has dealt with foot issues and is only recently returning to her prior form. Based on her prelim result, she is looking fit and poised to race well tonight. Expect her to compete strongly for the win. Can she go from High School state champion to US champion?

Magdalena Lewy Boulet: The Old Lady of the Field

Magdalena (“Magda”) is the oldest woman on the start list at 37 years old. This is her last chance to compete for an Olympic spot. As a member of the US Marathon Team in 2008 in Beijing, she is a salty road race veteran. In January, she competed in the US Marathon Trials and was hoping to return to the Olympics as a marathoner. Her 10th place finish there wasn’t enough, so she turned to the track in hopes of making the team at the shorter distances. With a strong marathon training base, she PR’d at the 5K distance in 2011 and her seed time is the 5th fastest of those in this race. With her age and marathon experience, many would say that she has no business competing with the “young bucks” on the track. Magda doesn’t seem to care. Will she show the next generation how it’s done or will this be her swan song?

My prediction: This race will be “slow” and tactical from the gun. Expect the group to stay tightly bunched until late in the race, where the favorites will then start putting pressure on the field. Huddle, Culley, and/or Uhl will start forcing the pace with ~3-4 laps to go, and then it will be a race of attrition. From there it will string out quickly until there are 3-4 left with 1.5 laps to go. Your team will come down to who has the best finishing kick, and I think the favorites will rule the day by the end with Culley, Huddle, and Lucas making the team (3rd through 1st). Watch for the collegiate D’Agostino to snag a potential surprise podium spot if one of those 3 falter, but sadly, I don’t think the race will be fast enough to get her the A standard regardless of where she finishes.


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