By David Monti, @d9monti (c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
As a group, American women are having their best-ever year in marathon running, according to statistics compiled by Race Results Weekly with assistance from the Association of Road Racing Statisticians.
Eighteen USA women have combined to break the 2:35 mark 26 times so far this year, the highest annual total by American women in history. The previous high was 24 by 19 women in 2012; the highest year before that was in 1988 when 16 women combined to break 2:35 22 times.
The lowest year was 2007 when not a single American woman broke 2:35.
According to coaches, the reason for the record number of quality performances vary from financial incentives, to better coaching, and even a psychology shift.
"I think that what we see happening with the U.S. distance runners on the women's side is not too dissimilar to their African counterparts," commented Terrence Mahon, who coaches the high performance team of the Boston Athletic Association. He continued in an e-mail: "The women are realizing that if you aren't among the very best on the track and vying for a top-3 spot to make either a World Champs or Olympic team, then there are not a lot of opportunities to stay afloat economically around the oval. So instead, these women are exiting college and making their living on the roads."
Without considering appearance fees and financial support from sponsors, American women in the middle of the sub-2:35 group are earning solid prize money and bonus payments at domestic marathons. For instance, Amy Hastings earned $22,500 for her fifth place finish in Chicago (2:27:03); Esther Erb banked $26,500 for winning the USA title at the Twin Cities Marathon (2:34:01); and between her second place finish at Grandma's Marathon and her third place at Twin Cities, Brianne Nelson pocketed $19,100 (2:34:44 and 2:34:24, respectively). In addition, these women all earned prize money at various USA Road Circuit (USARC) events which offer prize money to only to American athletes, a key form of ongoing financial support.
Alberto Salazar, who coaches the Nike Oregon Project training group in Portland, said that another reason was a new belief among American women that they can be competitive in mid and upper tier events.
"Just thinking about it over the last couple of days, I believe that in the marathon... they can be competitive," Salazar told Race Results Weekly in a recent telephone interview. He added: "They believe it more than the American men do. I think American women think they are closer to being on the podium than USA men. How many men are that close? How many American men can say that? We have a lot more American women that are close to the podium than the American men. I think there is just more hope there, more examples, that they are closer."
Salazar also said that women are getting better coaching now, and that coaches are less afraid to give women hard workouts. There used to be a fear of pushing women too hard in training, he said.
"My belief is that women shouldn't be coached any different than men, other than the fact that women, as a whole, can't do the same amount of mileage. If you took the top women in the world and compared the weekly mileage, it might be a little less. I think the relative intensity, how hard they push, it should be the same as men. In 1980 and 1990 that may not have been accepted."
At the top of the pyramid, five USA women --Shalane Flanagan, Desiree Linden, Amy Hastings, Lauren Kleppin and Annie Bersagel-- have combined to break 2:29 seven times, which is only one short of the record year of 2012 (that year included both the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games). Andrew Kastor, who coaches the Asics Mammoth Track Club, thinks we'll be seeing more improvements, driven in part by the "inspiration phenomenon" on social media.
"I know that the girls I coach all follow Kara, Shalane, Desi (on social media), and read about the workouts they are doing, the quantity and quality, and believe they can do it too," Kastor said in an e-mail. "The two Lauren's on our club (Jimison and Kleppin) are trying to keep up with Deena (Kastor) on a daily basis. This is making them stronger and they have the mental attitude that they too can be an Olympian one day."
2014 USA Women's Marathon Performances Sub-2:35:00
Time Place Name Date Venue
2:21:14 (3) Shalane Flanagan (OR) 28 Sep 2014 Berlin GER
2:22:02 (7) Shalane Flanagan-2 21 Apr 2014 Boston MA/USA
2:23:54 (10) Desiree Linden (MI) 21 Apr 2014 Boston MA/USA
2:27:03 (5) Amy Hastings (RI) 12 Oct 2014 Chicago IL/USA
2:28:11 (5) Desiree Linden-2 02 Nov 2014 New York NY/USA
2:28:48 (3) Lauren Kleppin (CA) 09 Mar 2014 Los Angeles CA/USA
2:28:59 (1) Anne Bersagel (MN) 27 Apr 2014 Dusseldorf GER
2:31:15 (15) Adriana Nelson (CO) 21 Apr 2014 Boston MA/USA
2:32:21 (6) Clara Santucci (WV) 12 Oct 2014 Chicago IL/USA
2:32:25 (1) Clara Santucci-2 04 May 2014 Pittsburgh PA/USA
2:32:27 (18) Serena Burla (VA) 21 Apr 2014 Boston MA/USA
2:32:44 (7) Sarah Crouch (NC) 12 Oct 2014 Chicago IL/USA
2:32:49 (19) Wendy Thomas (CO) 21 Apr 2014 Boston MA/USA
2:33:02 (10) Annie Bersagel-2 02 Nov 2014 New York NY/USA
2:33:15 (20) Esther Erb (NJ) 21 Apr 2014 Boston MA/USA
2:33:18 (11) Deena Kastor (CA) 02 Nov 2014 New York NY/USA
2:33:54 (9) Adriana Nelson-2 26 Oct 2014 Frankfurt GER
2:34:01 (1) Esther Erb-2 05 Oct 2014 Saint Paul MN/USA
2:34:09 (2) Heather Lieberg (MT) 05 Oct 2014 Saint Paul MN/USA
2:34:19 (9) Melissa White (MI) 12 Oct 2014 Chicago IL/USA
2:34:22 (1) Jodie Robertson (NY) 12 Oct 2014 Albany NY/USA
2:34:24 (3) Brianne Nelson (CO) 05 Oct 2014 Saint Paul MN/USA
2:34:38 (10) Lauren Jimison (CA) 12 Oct 2014 Chicago IL/USA
2:34:44 (2) Brianne Nelson-2 21 Jun 2014 Duluth MN/USA
2:34:47 (11) Sarah Cummings (NY) 12 Oct 2014 Chicago IL/USA
2:34:57 (22) Sarah Cummings-2 21 Apr 2014 Boston MA/USA
26 performances by 18 performers
PHOTO: Shalane Flanagan finishing the 2014 Boston Marathon in 2:22:02, the fastest time ever by an American woman at Boston (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)