While the Gate River showdown is going to be exciting, the US Marathon Championship is what I'm really looking forward to. There are a lot of question marks about the race and guys looking to breakthrough to the next level. And in the marathon, anything can happen.
The marathon in LA is going to be warm and rolling. Some people are freaking out about the heat but I really don't believe it will be too much of an issue. Race time temps should be around 60 degrees, with a very low dew point. But even with the moderate temperatures, if someone goes out a little bit over their head, it will come back for them later.
One interesting factor in the race is that while it's the US Championships, there are also some insanely fast foreigners in the field. And those other fast runners will definitely change the dynamics of the race. In a US only field, someone could break away and have it be a huge gamble since they would be all alone. But in this race, the "leader" could have help from foreign runners. If the US race was run separately, the results could look drastically different than what they will be on Sunday. So that will make the race more tactical and interesting to watch.
What I feel will affect the runners more than the weather is the nature of the course. Los Angeles is a net downhill that also has a lot of climbing as well. Almost like a less glorified and not as extreme, Boston Marathon course. .
So a big issue in this race will be who has specifically prepared not only for the marathon distance, but for nature of the course. You can't build LA Marathon specific marathon fitness on the track or flat roads. Looking at the NAZ Elite's logs, it seems they've placed a huge focus on being prepared for this course, which is going to pay dividends. There's not a lot of training info out on the other guys, so the picks are more of a gamble.
Trying to figure out the top 10 and especially the top five resulted in nothing but headaches. I've had Ryan Hall, Matt Llano, Scott Smith, Daniel Tapia and Jared Ward all winning the thing at one point. Or, if LA somehow had a major earthquake and debris was strewn everywhere, I had Max King winning the show. You always hear that you should go with your gut instinct, but I really don't know what it was. So this could be completely off, but I'll give it the old college try.
1. Matt Llano: I originally had Jared Ward winning but decided to switch. I feel that the NAZ Elite group is going to be very well prepared for this race and it will show. This is Llano's second attempt at the marathon. He had hopes of a 2:10 at Chicago last fall, but he struggled home in 2:17. I'm sure he hated life for a while after that but it's good to completely fall apart in the marathon. It teaches you to be more patient, reassess your tactics and training and to make a better go at it next time. He ran a decent half-marathon two months ago at the US Championships (62:22) and his training looks on-point for this one. I saw one workout he did where his training partner was going too hard and instead of going with him, he stuck back and did his own thing. That's the kind of patience and will-power you need to perform in a race like this weekend.
2. Jared Ward: A lot of people were pumped about Diego Estrada's Houston Half-Marathon performance, where he ran a 60:51. I was as equally impressed by Jared Ward's 61:42 because I feel he's better suited to the marathon distance than Estrada. This will be Ward's third marathon and in his last one, he finished 2nd at the US Marathon Championships in 2:14:00. In that race, he ran a patient, smart race which will really help out in warmer conditions, on a rolling course, like he's going to face in LA.
3. Ryan Hall: It seems like he has been dubbed the favorite but I don't really see why. Yeah, he has the American Record in the half-marathon, finished fourth at Boston in 2011 and ran 2:06 at London in 2008. But his last marathon was a 2:17 at Boston last year and his last completed marathon before that was over three years ago. But to be honest, I really have no idea what he will do. He's used to fighting for the win in big marathons and if he tries to do that in this race, he will pay for it. If he runs to win the American Title, he could potentially pull it off. He's always had a mystique about him but there are a lot of hungry guys out there who smell blood. But if I miss the race and hear the winner of the American race ran 2:09, I'd bet nearly anything it was Ryan Hall. He will be fun to watch and hopefully he competes well.
4. Daniel Tapia: His last marathon was the 2013 World Championships where he ran and a few months before that, he executed a perfectly paced/planned Boston Marathon to finish 9th. Five months before that, he won the CIM Marathon in 2:16, which had terrible wind and rain and a tough field. What do Boston and CIM have in common? They are both net downhill courses with constant rollers. And the Los Angeles Marathon fits perfectly into that equation. The last several months, he's been training full time in Mammoth with Andrew Kastor's group. It seems to be working well as he ran 63:52 at Houston in January. That may not seem too fast for someone competing for a national title but if he beats you in a half, he will destroy you in a marathon.
5. Scott Smith: This guy is starting to perform really well and is due for another big breakthrough soon. His training log shows the makings of someone who is ready to turn some heads and he also has the best first name in the field. When he made his big move at the 2014 US Marathon Championships, I thought he was an idiot and would pay for it later. I was the idiot because he finished in third place, running 2:14. His last marathon before that was a 2:16 at CIM in 2013, which is somewhat of a similar course to LA. I hate putting him fifth because he's a legit top three threat and I can't see him finishing much lower than this.
6. Sergio Reyes: He seems to be Mr. Consistency in marathons. He's a smart racer and he always shows up with strong performances in the big races. He's struggled a couple of times on this course in the past but living outside Los Angeles puts him in good position to train for the course, be perfectly adapted to the weather and have some hometown fan support. He is a former US Marathon Champion and set his PR of 2:13:34 at the US Championships in 2013.
7. Mike Morgan: It would be dumb not to put a Hanson's runner in here. It seems like they have both their fans and haters but they know how to train for the marathon and execute their race plans well. Morgan ran under 2:15 twice last year (Chicago and Boston) and should have another great performance this weekend.
8. Scotty Bauhs: Was one of the top distance runners in the US from 2008-2012. In 2012, he ran 13:28 for 5000m and 61:30 for the half-marathon before disappearing for a little while. Last Labor Day, he placed 5th at the New Haven 20k, less than thirty seconds behind the winner (Girma Mecheso) and ahead of guys like Sean Quigley, Fernando Cabada, Matt Llano and Jared Ward. Since he's a first timer, I'm being a little conservative here, especially on a course like LA. If he runs well, he could potentially be a top five guy.
9. Craig Curley: Had a good tune-up at the Houston Half in January (63:31) and is starting to find his gears again. He recently started being coached by Michael Aish, who has a wealth of distance running knowledge and experience and should have him ready to go. He set his PR of 2:15:15 at the 2013 US Marathon Championships, held as part of the Twin Cities Marathon and has been competitive on the US road racing circuit for the past several years.
10. Sage Canaday: I decided to have a little bit of fun with this pick. The guy catches some flak for his videos and promotion but he seems to be a smart guy who knows what works well for him. I'm somewhat of a closet ultra-fan and I enjoy following their races. When the race starts, you can catch a nap then do a little bit of yard work and you barely miss anything. And the the thing I love about it is that a guy can have a huge lead and then absolutely die and then lose not several minutes total but several minutes per mile. I feel like if the weather gets warmer than expected and the pack goes out a little too quick, Sage can roll some guys up later in the race. In ultras, the runners deal with more uncertainty and adversity, which I feel will be an advantage for this race. Regardless, if he doesn't get the OTQ here, he will catch some heat but you have to respect him (and Max King) for stepping out of their world for this one.