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October 10, 2017

Should the NCAA add the half marathon?

Chris and I were bored on Tuesday morning and so we decided to trade a couple Slack messages about a random thought that came up in recent weeks between us: Should the NCAA add the half marathon?

This all spurred from a brief mention on the CITIUS MAG Podcast with Noah Droddy, where we geeked out about the Japanese running culture a little bit. It’s marathon season and there’s been some good performances by very young Japanese runners. They’re starting them young so why don’t we?

Check out the exchange below:


Chris: Hello, Stephen. Care to chat about the half marathon in the NCAA?

Stephen: Hey Chris. Good morning. Yes, those are two things I’m slightly more educated on than a below-average human so sure, let’s go.

Chris: I heard recently that you’ve been very fascinated by the Japanese running culture and their Ekiden season is just getting started. Man, I think it would be wonderful to have those in the U.S. It’s no secret that Japanese runners are thriving in the marathon. Their time on the roads in the 20s certainly has to play a factor. That got me thinking, wouldn’t it be awesome to have the half marathon contested in the NCAA?

Stephen: I love Japanese running culture. The reverence they hold for distance running – especially the marathon – is completely foreign to most Westerners. They respect the shit out of the distance and I think it shows in their results. If you look at the top marathon times for Japan (A TINY FUCKING ISLAND) versus the United States (A BIG FUCKING LANDMASS) it’s just stupid. They have such a denser list than us. I really do believe it has to do with the way they view the distance and the respect they bring into their preparations. A lot of Japanese runners train in Flagstaff and they go out and do two hour morning runs with an afternoon double BECAUSE NO ONE HAS EVER TOLD THEM THAT IS TOO MUCH. We can put a lot of limitations on our training because of our environment; however, on the flipside, have an environment without limitations can also expand capabilities. Wow. That didn’t answer your question. OK. YES! It would be awesome for the half marathon to be contested in the NCAA. Introducing the world of road running to our developing athletes could be huge in terms of long-term production of talent. It would probably keep a lot of talent within the sport longer, too. Do you think it should be open to freshman through fifth year, or some sort of age limit?

Chris: I think we let freshmen, sophomores and juniors duke it out on the track because in America, we seem to really love distances from 800 meters to 10,000 meters. I think we let the body develop in those crucial years and then allow seniors, fifth years and even those rare sixth-year athletes contest the half marathon. You don’t want to rush the legs into the pavement but I do think it could help some of those 10,000 meter athletes make the transition into marathon a little sooner like we see in Japan. I think I asked Craig Lutz on my podcast with me “How do we make the 10K into a sexy event again?” and it’s tough because it’s a lot of laps to watch and hold a spectator’s attention for. It’s also hurt some of the athlete marketability, I think. I don’t have any numbers or contract insight to back it up. But think about some of the NCAA 10K studs over the years. Unless they also run a really good 5K, then I think some shoe companies are hesitant on investing money into someone who runs a less popular track event. So why don’t we let those 10K studs garner a little bit of popularity by dominating a half marathon circuit or championship? The NCAA half marathon champion sounds a lot cooler than the NCAA 10K champion in my opinion. It also leads to some fans maybe starting to think ‘Hey, I want to follow the career trajectory of that NCAA half marathon champ into the marathon.’

I posed the question to a professional miler/5K guy who is just about to start the transition into the half and here’s what he had to say to me: “I wonder if our depth would be diluted by our focus on 800/1500. In Japan they really only care about 5,000 and up, so virtually every guy is training to be a longer distance runner from the start. They essentially replace cross country with Ekiden running in the fall, and the championship race at Hakone is essentially a 10 x half marathon road race. We’d almost have to replace cross country season with a similar road racing season, or make it a mix. Still, it’d be awesome to see the top NCAA guys and girls duke it out over 13.1”

Stephen: An interesting thing to consider is almost every athlete is asked to “move up” in distance after their collegiate years unless they are truly world-class at an event. So, the 10k group doesn’t have anywhere to go except to the roads. Giving them ample opportunity in college to hone their road racing could play out well in the long run. I don’t have any idea how this would work but an NCAA road racing circuit would be fantastic. Maybe giving redshirts the opportunity to compete?

Chris: Logistically, we still have a ways to go until we can go to Indianapolis, knock on the NCAA headquarters door and then pitch this idea to them. You’re a very good half marathoner. Do you think you could’ve run two half marathons well in a three months span of time?

Part of me thinks ‘Well, most long runs for college athletes are longer than 13.1 miles so it could be a breeze.’ Another part of me thinks, “You want to run this really well so just train hard and get ready to clock a good one and then race a championship race.” I think you set up a couple half marathons and limit the athlete to maybe being able to race three. We don’t need a Yuki Kawauchi in the NCAA Half Marathon circuit just ruining their legs with a hard 13.1 every week.

Stephen: Well, not off the mileage I was running college. And there’s the crux of it. Are we setting athletes up for burnout earlier by even giving this option? When I’m running 110-125 mile per week consistently it makes a half marathon not that big of a deal, but I imagine had I raced a half marathon off of my mileage in college it would have impacted me more. Having a fall/spring half marathon with some other distances (8k, 10k, 12k, 15k) thrown in the circuit could either be great or a disaster who the hell knows.

Chris: That’s a lot of money also involved in street closures and setting up those races so it would be a huge change in the NCAA’s running scene. You know what I just thought of too for the half marathon championships? Team scoring! That would be pretty cool.

Stephen: Chris, do not bother me with logistics. Well, what do you think? Have we agreed this would be badass?

Chris: We do agree. I’d be curious to hear what some coaches think and if they wanted to reach out to us, they can email us at [email protected] They can remain anonymous if they like, but I’m genuinely curious how they feel about this addition and whether it would hurt the NCAA scene for the benefit of the road racing scene. Or if it would cause burnout too soon. The Japanese runners seem to be running good times but the thing is they don’t win. We like winning in the U.S so maybe that’s where we take a hit. Even our president made a point of emphasizing that we don’t win enough anymore when he was a candidate. We just started winning major marathons so if it isn’t broke, then I guess we don’t have to fix it but we can make it more interesting!

Stephen: Trump/Rupp 2020

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