On Sunday, April 28, Alistair Brownlee will run a 10K, but this time he won’t be swimming or biking first. And, for a change, he probably won’t win.
The Olympic gold medalist will be competing at Stanford University in the Payton Jordan Invitational track meet, a highly competitive race where Chris Solinsky set a surprise American Record in the 10,000m in 2011. The standard to race in the open 10,000m is 28:50 – or the athlete must provide a reasonable equivalent. Race director Joe Wagstaffe didn’t comment on Brownlee’s qualifying time or if special consideration was given to the world champion.
Brownlee ran a 29:30 10K last weekend on his way to winning the ITU World Triathlon Series race in San Diego. And, as most noted, he jogged the last 50-100m. His best recorded open 10K time is 29:15, but it’s been years since he’s run on the track or in an open running race. What, then, can he run this Sunday?
Online running and triathlon forums are abuzz with predictions and theories, speculating that some of his 10K splits might not be accurate and putting forward theories based on who he’s beaten.
“Assuming he recovers fully from his effort yesterday, I can’t see him going slower than 28:30,” wrote one poster on Slowtwitch.
“Normal is a 5% difference between triathlon running time and flat running time. Say he can run 29:00 then that would become: 1740 x 0.05 = 87; 29:00 – 87 = 27:33,” wrote another poster on LetsRun.
A number of runners also hope to settle the triathlete v. runner debate, arguing that if the best runner in triathlon is mid-pack in the 10,000m then that answers the question of which sport is harder. “He would have been lapped by [Mo] Farah and [Galen]Rupp once and they would have been closing on him for a double lap. He could barely beat the good Ethiopian women,” wrote one particularly hostile poster on LetsRun.
But, British Olympic coach Ben Bright thinks that whole debate is pointless. Clearly, Brownlee isn’t as fast as the fastest runners, who likely aren’t as good at biking or swimming.
“You’re talking two different sports: running and triathlon. Hopefully other sports can start to respect our sport as a whole rather than just looking at the component parts, because we’ll never compare favorably,” said Bright.
Previously, Brownlee said that he hoped to run a track 10K this year in an effort to qualify for the British Commonwealth Games team in 2014. That plan was, perhaps, changed when England announced surprisingly challenging standards for selection to the team. Brownlee would have to achieve at least the B standard of 28:10. The A standard is 27:50. In addition, he’d also have to beat out tough competitors, including defending Olympic 10,000m champ Mo Farah and top British runner Chris Thompson. And, as Brownlee noted previously to BBC, when it comes to running Farah and him are worlds apart.
As the track race nears, the British triathlete champion doesn’t want to comment on his hopes for the race or plans for the Commonwealth Games.
“Alistair is going to run hard and see what sort of time he can achieve, simple as that,” said Richard Downlee, his press agent.
The 10,000m winner at Payton Jordan typically runs in the low-27:00s, so few expect Brownlee to challenge for the top spot, but you should never count him out.
“If he was able to focus on just his running only I would see no reason why he would not have the potential to run well inside 28:00 for 10K,” said Chris Jones, who was previously the performance head women’s coach for British Triathlon and is now the coach for Triathlon Ireland. Jones believes Brownlee is capable of anything from a 7:50 for 3K up to 1:03:00 for a half marathon, but “if and only if he had the right time to prepare.”
However, with his main focus still on triathlon, Brownlee is certainly not preparing specifically for the track.
Complicating matters is the fact that Brownlee isn’t in the shape he was at the London Olympics, though that may be hard to believe. Before the San Diego WTS race, Brownlee noted he’s only been training since mid-January after having his appendix removed in the fall.
“I think Alistair running in a track 10K is him challenging himself to see how fast he can go more than whether he can make a team or how he stacks up against runners,” said Bright. And, he pointed out, this is a good time in the Olympic cycle to try new things that may make him even faster in the long-run. “He’ll open up the possibility to run even quicker off the bike, and that will be to his advantage in Rio.”
Heat sheets for the invite were just announced, and Brownlee was placed in the slower of the two 10,000m heats. He will run at 10:20 p.m. PT on Sunday. Live coverage can be seen at Flotrack.org.
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