Digits: The PJ Effect

Payton Jordan has been one of the premier American track meets for distance runners over the past few years. We've seen some phenomenal results from both professionals and collegiates who have established their long-lasting legacies and greatest achievements at this meet.

So what do the performances from collegiates at Payton Jordan say about their NCAA hopes? What can we take away from the times that we saw this past weekend? Are there are any trends from these results?

Thanks to results from RunnerSpace, runner profiles from Athletic.net, and historical NCAA results from USTFCCCA, we were able to analyze all of the distance results from Payton Jordan since 2005 and see how they relate to the Outdoor National Championships (for each respective year). That gives us a total of 13 completed years to evaluate.

Below, we took the top D1 collegiate from each distance event at Payton Jordan since 2005 and see how they ended up performing at NCAA's. Keep in mind that we are analyzing the top D1 collegiates at Payton Jordan. There were a few years where D2 and even D3 athletes finished as the top NCAA runners. We have not included them in this analysis.

Finally, keep in mind that for each event we only have 13 individuals that we are working with. That sample size is usually not large enough to give you a super accurate statistical measure. However, this is as much data as we had time to collect and we should still be able to identify trends. Keep that in mind as we move forward.

Let's take this event by event...


This past weekend, New Mexico's Michael Wilson was the top collegiate in a modest time of 1:49.26. Luckily, that is the not a death sentence for Wilson's NCAA qualifying hopes. 10 of the past 13 runners to finish as the top D1 collegiate at Payton Jordan (77%) have ended up qualifying for Nationals. In 2017, Colorado's Ben Saarel qualified for Nationals in the 1500, not the 800.

That's a great statistic for Wilson who will need to battle through a deep West region that is filled with elite talent such as UTEP's Michael Saruni and Jonah Koech, Texas Tech's Vincent Crisp and Charles Jones, and the three Iowa State men who have run under 1:49 this season.

Unfortunately, All-American hopes are a bit bleak for Wilson. Since 2005, there have been five different instances where the top collegiate went under 1:48 at Payton Jordan. Of those five different times, four of them became All-American (Loxsom did not in 2010). Ben Saarel in 2017 was the only top collegiate to not break 1:48 and still become an All-American. However, that was in the 1500.

Basically, if you didn't break 1:48 at Payton Jordan, you're not becoming an All-American in the 800. The top collegiate finisher at Payton Jordan in the 800 has never been a national champion (since at least 2005).


The 1500 at Payton Jordan was filled with a bit of madness, but Grant Fisher emerged as the top collegiate in a time of 3:41.

Since 2005, there have been five collegiates who were the top finishers at Payton Jordan who failed to break the 3:41 mark. Luckily, just like Michael Wilson, that won't be a problem for Grant Fisher.

Of those five collegiates who didn't break 3:41 at Payton Jordan, four of them still qualified for NCAA's. Of those four that qualified for NCAA's, three of them became All-Americans.

Keep in mind that Fisher probably won't even pursue the 1500 at NCAA's. There's a good chance that he'll run the 5k. It would be the first time since (at least) 2005 that the top collegiate 1500 finisher at Payton Jordan didn't run the 1500 at NCAA's.

But what about a national title? Does Fisher have a chance to earn another NCAA gold?

Based on history, the numbers aren't exactly in his favor. There has been only one runner in the past 13 years at Payton Jordan who went on to earn a national title. That was Chad Noelle in 2015 when he ran 3:38 to record the fastest time in the NCAA that season.


Justyn Knight did it again. He recorded another phenomenal time (13:18) to finish as the top collegiate in the field this past weekend. Much like he has for the past few seasons, he'll be the favorite to win it all next month.

Honestly, the numbers here don't tell us a whole lot as everything is relatively spread out. What we can say is that since 2005, the top collegiate 5k runner at Payton Jordan has always qualified for Nationals. The event is currently 13 for 13. Keep in mind that in 2009, Sam Chelanga qualified for the 10k instead of the 5k.

Of those 13 qualifiers, 9 went on to become All-Americans (69%). However, it's the national title conversation that becomes interesting...

Since 2005, the top D1 collegiate finisher at Payton Jordan has never gone on to win the NCAA title in that respective year. Yep, you read that correctly. Despite the incredibly fast times that we've seen from some of the NCAA's best, finishing as the top collegiate at Payton Jordan doesn't secure you an NCAA title. In fact, it almost bars you from winning. That's not a good sign if you're Justyn Knight who was the top collegiate finisher for the 2nd year in a row. Can he break the curse in 2018?


While most of the attention was on Matthew Baxter and 2017 10k silver medalist Rory Linkletter, Tyler Day quietly went to work this past weekend. He ran 28:04 and secured the top collegiate finish of the Payton Jordan 10k.

Much like the 5000 meters, the 13 top collegiate finishers at Payton Jordan since 2005 have always been able to qualify for Nationals. Stanford's Ian Dobson qualified for the 5k instead of the 10k in 2005. Yet, unlike the 5000, you're much more likely to become an All-American. 12 of the 13 runners have become All-Americans. The only runner to not become an All-American was Nef Araia (Stanford) in 2006. Of the 13 names we have recorded, Araia ran the slowest time of all of them (28:27).

Tyler Day is now one of four individuals since 2005 who was the top collegiate finisher and did not break 28 minutes at Payton Jordan. That, however, does not mean much. There have been three times when the top PJ finisher went on to become an NCAA Champion in the 10k. Sam Chelanga in 2010, Cam Levins in 2012, and Marc Scott in 2017. Of those three, Marc Scott was the only one to not run under 28 minutes. In fact, Scott was three seconds slower than Day when he ran at Payton Jordan.

3000 Steeple

One of the pleasant surprises of the 2018 track season has been seeing BYU freshman Matt Owens emerge from shadows to become the NCAA leader in the steeplechase. With back-to-back 8:39's, Owens has put himself in the All-American and title conversations.

Of the 13 individuals we reviewed since 2005, 12 of them have qualified for Nationals. However, the top collegiate finisher in 2007 (Mircea Bogdan of UTEP) didn't even race at the West Regional Championships that year and didn't have a chance to qualify. Basically, as long as you run at the Regional Championships, you'll qualify for Nationals in the steeplechase. That has to be comforting for Owens who is still young and will have to battle through an extremely deep steeplechase field in the West region.

Since 2005, the top collegiate finisher from Payton Jordan has only won the NCAA steeplechase title three times. However, all three of those runners ran under 8:35 at Payton Jordan. The slowest time someone has run at Payton Jordan and still won an NCAA title was 8:32 (Mircea Bogdan in 2005). That's not a good statistic for Matt Owens who is now one of five top collegiate finishers since 2005 who did not break the 8:35 barrier. Of the four names that came before him, two of them became All-Americans while the other two did not.


Let's suppose we combine the top collegiate finisher from every year, from every race, since 2005. That gives us a sample size of 65 individuals to work with which is close to a valid sample size. If we don't discriminate between times, year, or event, you get the following numbers.

Chances of...

Qualifying for NCAA's: 90.77%

Earning All-American: 61.54%

Becoming National Champion: 10.77%

Too Long; Didn't Read


- Didn't break 1:48? No problem, you still have a decent chance of making Nationals.

- Didn't break 1:48? Your All-American hopes are iffy at best.


- Didn't break 3:41? No worries, you still have a good shot at becoming an All-American.

- Your chances of becoming a national champion in this event are slim.


- If you were the top college finisher in the PJ 5k, then you just qualified for Nationals.

- It's not a super long time, but 13 years of history says you wont win an NCAA title.


- If you were the top college finisher in the PJ 10k, then you just qualified for Nationals.

- You have a better chance of becoming an All-American in the 10k than you do the 5k.

3000 Steeple

- If you run at the Regional Championships, you'll qualify for the NCAA steeplechase.

- You need to run sub-8:35 (actually 8:32 or faster) at Payton Jordan to win an NCAA title.