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February 16, 2022

How Pro Runners Can Make Record-Breaking Performances Stand Out

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Lucia Stafford ran a huge personal best and the second-fastest indoor mile ever by a Canadian with her 4:24.42 victory at the Valentine Invitational. The only Canadian to ever run it faster? Her older sister, Gabriela Debues-Stafford. During the off-season the Staffords reunited as training partners and it seems to be working out well for both of them— a good sibling rivalry can be a hell of a motivator.

But there’s also a ton of inspiration to be tapped into when records come within reach, and right now the record books are something that Gabriela is quickly rewriting.

On Friday she set her sights on the twenty-five lap tango, where she battled it out against American teammate Elise Cranny for the title of “undisputed North American 5000m record holder.” Despite Cranny opening a several-second gap on Debues-Stafford late in the race, she was unable to distance herself quite enough to put the race away.

Debues-Stafford unleashed a massive — and lengthy — kick to reel Cranny back in, and ultimately put over a second between them in the final lap. Debues-Stafford’s final 1600m clocked in at 4:27, but even more impressive was that her final 3000m was 8:30 — faster than the 8:33 Canadian record she ran a week earlier at the NBIGP.

For many, the gut reaction upon hearing how quickly someone closed a 5000m (or any race) is generally, ‘wow they could have run so much faster had they just gone out quicker.’ But the truth is, the optimal way to run a distance race is generally with a big negative split. Take it from me, a guy who tried multiple times to go out hard and hold on — it just doesn’t work!

Elise Cranny’s time of 14:33.17 set a new American Record, taking down Shalane Flanagan’s 14:47.62 from 2009. If it feels like there’s been an inequitable amount of attention given to Fisher’s run in comparison to Cranny’s, a charitable interpretation is that Shelby Houlihan and Karissa Schweizer ran faster more recently The duo went 14:23.92 and 14:26.34, respectively, in 2020, albeit outdoors. Working in Fisher’s favor is that it’s been 11 years since an American man has run 12:53 outdoors and Fisher was only .13 seconds shy of breaking the outright record of 12:53.60.

Also, Debues-Stafford won.

As times have become faster it seems impossible for fans to stay on top of all the latest results and it’s even more difficult for athletes to break away from the pack in terms of recognition. Of course, if the goal is to only run for personal satisfaction and the never-ending challenge of seeing how far one can push their body’s limits, then I guess attention doesn’t matter! But for most professional athletes, gaining a little notoriety for all the hard work is probably part of the goal too, especially when it impacts their annual salary.

So how do you possibly stand out from the crowd, when even running an American Record isn’t enough to satiate the 24-hour running news cycle?!

Here are not one, not two, not even three, but five modest proposals for doing just that:

  1. Win. Posting a beautiful finish line Instagram of yourself breaking the tape is a fantastic way to remind fans, ‘hey, I am better than other people!’
  2. Run races people are already watching. Create a low barrier to entry for fans to realize that you exist. Like, if you had to pick a race to win, consider the Boston Marathon since everyone is going to be tuned in already. Only diehard fans watch heat 2 of a college meet that’s behind a paywall on a Saturday night.
  3. Go fast when no one else is. December and early January are great times to peak and hit the track before anyone else does. The early bird gets the worm and newsletter writers are starved for content that time of year.
  4. Make it personal. Tell us why you care about running fast to try and convince us why we should. If someone said, ‘I need to win this race so I can pay for my dog’s upcoming heart surgery,’ do you have any idea how invested everyone would be in the outcome? 
  5. Do something crazy. Go out insanely hard, throw in an impossible-to-maintain mid-race surge, kick like a madman, celebrate to the point of disqualification, punch someone in the face, punch yourself in the face! Pretend that the entire world is only willing to watch 30 seconds of your race. Think less about running fast and more about running viral.
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