The indoor mile is one of the most exciting events in track and field. It’s a unique distance that consists of constant lead changes, unexpected surges, and massive kicks. Last year a total of 20 women qualified for the national championship meet with only two seconds separating the top seven women in the finals. Of the nine women in the final, five have graduated including the 2018 national champion Alicja Konieczek. Who will we see rise to the top in 2018?
Roisin Flanagan of Adams State is the top returner after finishing runner-up in 2018. She owns a mile personal best of 4:41 and is coming off of a solid cross country season where she finished 48th at NCAA's. On top of that, she was 5th in the 1500 during outdoors last year.
One thing that stands out about Flanagan is her range. In 2017, she finished 21st at the Cross Country National Championships, but also owns a personal best of 2:09 over 800 meters. That mixture of speed and strength benefits Flanagan in a race like the mile which requires both. Having raw foot-speed is crucial as the championship setting usually results in a slower pace and faster finish for races like the mile (the 2018 title was won in 4:49). Flanagan has yet to race this season, but should have no issues qualifying in the coming months.
Addy Townsend of Simon Fraser has an intriguing case that makes her one to keep an eye on during the indoor season. Her indoor best in the mile is "only" 4:54 which would not have even have qualified her for NCAA's last season (she redshirted 2018 indoors). However, she finished runner-up in the 1500 meters this past spring and owns a personal best of 4:22 (roughly a 4:40 mile). Should her indoor best be a reason for concern this year?
No, and here’s why.
Up until outdoors of 2018, Townsend had been predominantly an 800 meter runner. She owns a personal best of 2:06 and finished 4th at the 2017 indoor national meet, following this up with a 6th place run outdoors. Based on times, Townsend likely has the best foot-speed of any woman likely to make the final which should give her a leg-up in tactical racing.
She competed last weekend at the UW Preview where she DNF’d the mile. She initially took the lead from the gun, but roughly two minutes in faded hard to the back before dropping. She did not appear to be injured and came back to race the 4 x 4 later on, indicating whatever stopped her race likely was not too serious. With bigger meets approaching, expect Townsend to make herself a top name in the NCAA.
Adams State tends to send multiple women to NCAA's in the mile and while Flanagan is the most well known, Tiffany Christensen should not be overlooked. Christensen is in her first year at Adams State after transferring from Northern Iowa and is the current NCAA leader with a time of 4:53.
Christensen appears to be handling the school transition quite well after finishing as an All-American during the cross country season. While her NCAA leading time was a 5:09 before altitude conversion, she brings a best of 4:53 from her time at Northern Iowa to back her current mark. Right now, she appears as a bit of a wildcard given her mile performance is substantially better than the rest of her indoor marks. Regardless, running the top time in the nation does not happen by accident. Christensen will be one to watch in the coming months to see how she fares in other events, but if her cross country performances are indicative of anything, she should be toeing the line in March.
Rachael Walters of Grand Valley State is another top woman going through a transition this year. There is no guarantee Walters will compete in the mile indoors as up to this point she has opted to run the 800 meter distance. Still, she is a legitimate threat if she moves up in distance.
Walters currently holds the second fastest time in the NCAA with a 4:55 and owns a personal best of 4:50 from last indoor season. Even with these credentials, she is one of the best women over 800 meters in the past few years. In 2017, she was the runner-up for the half-mile during outdoors. In 2018, she repeated that performance with back-to-back 2nd place finishes in both track seasons. Her personal best of 2:04 puts her in elite company and makes a title favorite for the 800.
Despite all of this, her personal best for the mile is only two seconds off the winning time from 2018 and with her speed she would be the ideal candidate for the sit-and-kick style that is so common in championship settings. While the chances of Walters running the mile seem relatively low with her success in the 800, if she does transition over she could find herself vying for the first national title of her career.
Kristen Metcalfe of Embry-Riddle is another 800 meter runner who could shake up the indoor mile. Metcalfe has a somewhat unorthodox resume, listing personal best all the way down to the 200 meters on TFRRS. She started off running in the NAIA before transitioning to Embry-Riddle where she has had great success on the outdoor track.
In 2018, she really burst onto the scene by finishing 3rd in both the 800 and 1500 at the outdoor national meet. That meet was her first big performance for Embry-Riddle after qualifying for the 800 meteres indoors (but failing to make the finals). She owns personal bests of 2:05 for 800 and 4:22 for 1500 and has yet to race an indoor mile.
Similar to Walters, there is no guarantee that Metcalfe will compete in the mile indoors. That said, her credentials should immediately put her in contention this season and her background in the shorter distances would be beneficial for the setting.