AFTER HISTORIC SEASON NUGUSE TO RACE KALAKAUA MERRIE MILE ON SATURDAY
By Rich Sands, @sands
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission.
HONOLULU (07-Dec) – On January 1, Yared Nuguse posted a training photo on Instagram with the caption “2023 is the year of growth, plan accordingly.” Twelve months later, those plans went even better than the 24-year-old American middle-distance runner could have hoped for.
In his first full year as a professional, training with Dathan Ritzenhein’s On Athletics Club in Boulder, Colorado, Nuguse put together a spectacular season, breaking national records, winning races, and establishing himself as one of the best milers in the world.
Starting with a U.S. and North American record over 3000 meters (7:28.24) at the end of January and continuing with an emphatic victory in the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games (setting another national and area record of 3:47.38), scoring his first USATF national title, racking up a pair of Diamond League wins, and finally obliterating the U.S. outdoor mile record in the season-ending Prefontaine Classic, it was an impressive year of fast running and savvy racing.
“My biggest highlight all around is just the consistency that I had all year,” Nuguse told Race Results Weekly in an interview here yesterday where he is preparing to race the Kalakaua Merrie Mile on Saturday. “Running 7:28 in January and then continuing to be on it until September was really comforting to me. The year before, my last year in college, I struggled with injuries popping up over and over again, so I really wanted to have a nice, consistent block. And I did just that.”
Did he ever. Using aggressive tactics, Nuguse was a fixture at or near the front of the pack in most of his 2023 races. He was rewarded with an American record in the 1500 at the Bislett Games in June, clocking 3:29.02 to finish third.
But it wasn’t all about record-breaking performances. Nuguse repeatedly showed the poise of a veteran, notably in winning the USA Outdoor Championships 1500 in July, pulling away from Joe Waskom and Cole Hocker in the final straightaway at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. A few weeks later, he notched his first Diamond League victory in London, a feat he matched at the end of August at the prestigious Weltklasse meet in Zürich.
In between those victories, he finished fifth at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, a result that would have been seen as spectacular a year ago but felt slightly disappointing relative to his newfound level of success. Remarkably, it was the only time he finished lower than third all season.
“I was a very smart racer for most of my season, but there’s always room for improvement. I feel like the only race where I wasn’t was Worlds,” Nuguse said with a laugh. “I’ll be looking back at that a little bit to remind myself of important things to keep in mind, racing-tactic-wise.”
Lessons were learned in the Notre Dame grad’s first global championship final. “You have to be ready for people to do greater things than they’ve done all year,” he recalled of the electric race, which featured a stunning upset win by Great Britain’s Josh Kerr. “It felt like a completely different race than anything I’ve raced before.”
Championship 1500s have become bold, fast-paced affairs in recent years —-thanks in large part to Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who won the Olympic title in 2021 and has been nearly invincible since– and while Nuguse prefers that style of racing, he was perhaps caught off guard in Budapest. “I could have gotten out harder so I wasn’t so far back and then have to make a push to the front,” he recalled. “And I could have been more aggressive with my positioning and fought more for getting right behind Jakob’s shoulder. The little things matter in a race like that.”
Still, fifth place at the World Championships is hardly a disaster. And Nuguse acquitted himself well in the final weeks of the season, winning in Zürich before waging an epic battle with Ingebrigtsen in the Diamond League final in Eugene. The Norwegian came out victorious but needed to run the third-fastest time in history (3:43.73) to do it. Nuguse was a step back in 3:43.97, smashing Alan Webb’s venerable U.S. record (3:46.91) that had stood since 2007. “I was really proud of that race because I didn’t think I was capable of running quite that fast, and I was able to do it at the very end of my season,” he said.
Following that race, Nuguse took about a month off from serious training. Now, after two solid months of base training in Boulder, he arrived here in Hawaii eager to have some fun in his first road race, which features a unique mixed-sex pursuit format. The elite women will start 30 seconds before the men, who will try to track them down along Kalakaua Avenue adjacent to Waikiki Beach. Prize money is awarded on the overall order of finish of men and women combined.
The race, a warm-up for Sunday’s Honolulu Marathon, has introduced a world-record bonus of $10,000. World Athletics only gave the road mile official world record status this year, and the current standards are 3:56.13 by American Hobbs Kessler and 4:20.98 by Ethiopian Diribe Welteji, both set at the World Athletics Road Running Championships in Riga, Latvia, on October 1. Kessler is among the competitors Nuguse will face in Honolulu.
“I think having the women in front is like a really strong motivator to push people a little bit,” Nuguse said. “I haven’t run any road races, so I don’t know how much harder it will be or how different it will be compared to racing in spikes. But it’ll be really fun to just go out, maybe even try for the world record if it’s within reach. December is a really weird time to do it, so what do you have to lose?”
After this Hawaiian interlude and the holidays, it will be back to business for Nuguse. He’ll kick off his 2024 racing season in late January, running the 5000 meters with several of his OAC teammates at the Terrier Classic on Boston University’s lightning-fast oval. “I have never been a huge fan [of the distance], but my training is obviously indicative of running a good 5K,” he said, sarcastically sighing at his lack of enthusiasm. “I probably could have gotten out of it, but I would feel left out when everyone else was running it.”
Of course, the primary focus will be earning a spot on Team USA for the Olympics in Paris and then racing his way onto the podium. “I know my training is only going to be better this year,” he said. “I’m feeling really confident. It’s just the little things that are in my control that I really need to check in and make sure I’m ready.”