We are one week out from the start of the Indoor National Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico where the NCAA's finest will compete. Although these fields draw the best runners from around the country, they also bring a handful of different racing styles and tactics which will be on full display. Below, we highlighted runners, one from each gender, who are “most likely to” display a distinct trait at the National Championships.
Most Likely To...
Set an aggressive pace
Weini Kelati (New Mexico)
If Kelati does not lead at least 90% of the 5k, I will be shocked. The New Mexico star is notorious for leading races, whether it be on the track or in cross country, and she knows that she will hold an advantage over her competitors while competing at altitude.
Kelati trains on this track year round, so having to run hard with less oxygen will feel a lot more normal for her than someone like Katie Izzo or Bethany Hasz. Similarly, Kelati has lost (or almost lost) a handful of races by being out-kicked or being the victim of late-race moves. She will likely be looking to avoid that situation next weekend.
Tyler Day (Northern Arizona)
After sitting out during cross country season, Tyler Day made a big return to the NCAA scene by running an American Indoor Collegiate record in the 5000 meters at Boston University, finishing with a time of 13.16.95. Day will need to run hard from the gun if he wants a national title in New Mexico, as his personal best in the mile is only 4:08, indicating that he doesn’t have the closing speed of others such as Klecker or Kurgat (although he does have a 3:59 mile conversion from altitude). Look for the NAU duo of Day and Luis Grijalva to push the pace early-on in the men's 5k.
Win a national title with a strong kick
Dani Jones (Colorado)
Jones will likely be aiming to conserve energy this weekend as she will have prelims in both the 800 meters and the mile on the first day of competition, (likely) followed by the finals on the second day. The Colorado senior has the fastest mile PR of anyone in the field and is also one of the faster 800 meter runners. I would expect Jones to sit in second or third for most of her races, only to blow by her competition on the final lap (specifically in the mile).
Yared Nuguse (Notre Dame)
This really isn’t a surprise. Nuguse is the king of winning close races, as noted by his DMR national title in 2019, his 1500 meter national title last spring, and his recent victory over Oliver Hoare in the DMR at Alex Wilson. The more important question here is...which title will Nuguse be kicking to? He is set to anchor the Notre Dame DMR as well as run the 3k. Based on the fields, it seems more likely that Nuguse may be chasing his competition in the DMR, leaving him with the only option of executing a big kick in the final moments of the distance medley relay.
Have success at altitude
BYU Women (DMR)
The Cougars will be in stiff competition with Stanford, Washington and Arkansas for the DMR national title next weekend, but BYU is the only relay amongst them that trains at altitude. While it certainly is not the only factor to consider, BYU is at almost an identical elevation to New Mexico which should give the Cougars a leg up in this hotly contested relay. Having Whittni Orton on the anchor also doesn’t hurt.
Joe Klecker (Colorado)
Similar to BYU, the University of Colorado also sits just a hair over 5,000 feet and provides comparable training conditions to New Mexico. Klecker was a top finisher at last year’s indoor national meet and should have a slight edge considering that he'll be competing at altitude this season. Plus, he as run 4:01 for the mile in Boulder, Colorado, so we know that he can race at a VERY high level regardless of the altitude.
That said, remember that the Northern Arizona men are coming down from 7,000 feet for this weekend.
Implement the smartest race tactics
Alicia Monson (Wisconsin)
One could argue that Monson already has a head start on race tactics by opting to only run the 3k this year. Last season, she attempted to double in the 5k and 3k at Nationals which worked great for the first race (a 5k title) and very poorly for the second (10th in the 3k). Monson currently sits at the NCAA #2 position, but will need to run a very smart race if she wants to fend off the NCAA leader, Whittni Orton. Look for the Wisconsin senior to position herself near the front and try and get the inside track on Orton with one or two laps to go.
Edwin Kurgat (Iowa State)
During cross country, Edwin Kurgat was a master tactician. He never lost a race thanks to biding his time until just the right moment, then pulling away with relative ease. The question is, can he do it on the track? Kurgat has not been the overwhelming favorite that many fans thought he would be this track season, but championship season brings a different style of racing, one that weighs heavily on being in the right place at the right time. Look for the Iowa State senior to subtly move up as the race progresses and move into position over the closing laps.
Win their first national title
Whittni Orton (BYU)
If I had to bet money on anyone winning this weekend, it would be Orton. She has been on the bubble for “best runner in the NCAA” this indoor season and will have two great chances next weekend in the DMR and 3k. Although she will face a fresh Monson in the 3000 meters, Dani Jones opted out of the 3k and was arguably Orton’s toughest competition. The BYU senior has the top mark (by four seconds) in the event this season and also has the best finishing kick out of anyone in the field.
The entire men’s 800 field
No one in this field has won an individual national title before, although Dixon did win NCAA gold in the 4x400 relay last spring. While Dixon is certainly a strong runner, he is not having the year that many predicted him to have. In all likelihood, someone not named "Devin" is going to win this race and earn their first national title.
Remember what happened last year
Danae Rivers (Penn State)
No, I’m not talking about how Rivers won a national title in 2019. Instead, I’m talking about how she almost didn’t even make it out of the preliminary rounds in the 800 meters last winter en route to that aforementioned title. Rivers came in as the heavy favorite to win the event, but almost saw disaster strike when she finished 7th overall in the prelims, only one spot out of elimination. The Penn State senior also failed to move past the prelim rounds at the Outdoor National Championships in 2019, raising some concern on how well she does in tactile races. That, however, will certainly motivate the Nittany Lion ace as she'll move up to the mile this year.
Oliver Hoare (Wisconsin)
Like Rivers, Hoare was the clear title favorite in the mile last winter before falling to 3rd in what was one of the biggest upsets of the year. The Wisconsin senior is currently in the NCAA #5 position for the mile, but three of the four men ahead of him have scratched this event. But the NCAA #7 ranked miler has opted not to scratch is Geordie Beamish, the man who took down Hoare in 2019. There is no doubt that Hoare will have redemption on his mind when he lands in New Mexico and toes the line against Beamish.
Surprise a lot of people
Grace Forbes (Rice)
If you had asked me about Grace Forbes when the indoor season started, my immediate response would have been...who? The Rice freshman had a very solid cross country season, but has really found herself on the track this indoor season. She ran a massive personal best of 8:56 for 3000 meters at the BU Last Chance meet and comes in as the NCAA #8 collegian this season. If she can finish in the top eight (All-American), it would be the cherry on top of a phenomenal season.
Kieran Tuntivate (Harvard)
Tuntivate has made a name for himself over the last 12 months with his gutsy racing style and fearless attitude. The Harvard senior won an indoor title last season while running most of the race barefoot after he lost his shoe in the early stages.
So if everyone knows him, why would he surprise anyone?
For starters, many thought Tuntivate would likely opt to compete in the 3k rather than the mile next weekend. He is ranked one spot higher in the mile, but has been known as more of a true distance runner. His bold decision could pay off big time. The mile saw a lot of the top names scratch for other events and could be less predictable given the altitude. I predict that Tuntivate will pull a “Soratos” and throw in a big move at some point during the race to mix it up.