Summer's official start is just around the corner, but NAZ Elite is already getting started on having fun in the sun.
Danielle Shanahan and Kellyn Taylor are set to run today's Adrian Martinez Classic 5,000-meter race at an outdoor track meet known for its hometown, fan-friendly feel. Meanwhile, teammate Ben Bruce will compete in today's Pacific Distance Carnival 10,000, another event looking to combine an appealing atmosphere to elite track competition.
After the races, NAZ Elite's runners can sign autographs, and chat and take selfies with the fans. That kind of interaction isn't normally the case during the track season.
NAZ Elite head coach Ben Rosario said meets such as the Martinez Classic are great for his runners and the sport.
"We get to do that a lot during road races because there are often opportunities to interact with fans over the course of the weekend," Rosario said, "but in track, I don’t know, sometimes it’s a little more businesslike.”
There's plenty of business to take care of at the races, however.
Shanahan, who is approaching the end of her rookie year with NAZ Elite, is hoping to keep producing PRs and get closer to the 5000m world championship time of 15 minutes and 22 seconds. The Loyola Marymount standout and first-year pro takes a PR of 15:37.27 into today's race.
In late March, Shanahan set a 10,000m PR at the Stanford Invitational at 32:22.59 -- not long after winner her first-ever race as a pro in the Baldy Castillo Invitational 1500m. Since joining the roster in late June of 2018, she achieved the goal of running with Team USA at the Great Stirling XC 4x1.5K Relay and has competed in a handful national championship races.
She has yet to break into the top 10 of a national title race yet, and she set her 5000m PR before officially signing with NAZ Elite.
“She’s gotten to experience a lot of big events," Rosario said of Shanahan in her first year. "She’s been a little disappointed about the results of some of those big events, but that’s part of it, so overall I would say it’s been a success because she’s gotten better.”
The field at the Martinez Classic, taking in Concord, Massachusetts, could help push runners to hit new highs, as it's a meet where elites sometimes chase the Olympic standard of 15:11. And despite rain in the forecast, runners will get cool temperatures to compete in.
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There might be some extra incentive for NAZ Elite's runners at the Martinez Classic. The event is presented by HOKA ONE ONE, NAZ Elite's major shoe sponsor.
Overall, it's another experience for Shanahan, who is in the middle of her own "season." It's also a start-up for Taylor, who is returning to competing after taking fourth place at the Prague Marathon on May 4.
“Very intimate," Rosario said of the Martinez Classic. "It’s a small public track and so the crowd is right up on it. I don’t even know if there are bleachers there, maybe just standing room only right around the track.”
Rosario said he's now familiar with a few track meets of the kind.
“It's a new idea that’s come about in the last decade or so, these smaller meets that are more community oriented in terms of being able to interact with the athletes," Rosario added.
Bruce also has work to do at a meet set to draw in a crowd.
“Ben responds well to that kind of stuff, but he’s trying to get the USA standard, which is 28:40," Rosario said.
Bruce, who also acts as an assistant coach for NAZ Elite, just missed hitting the 28:40 mark at the Payton Jordan invite in early May. He took 18th and crossed the finish line in 28:48.99.
“It’s a neat challenge for him because he knows it’s going to hurt and he knows he is going to have to dig down deep, but he’s good at that, so I think he enjoys that challenge," Rosario said of Bruce heading into the race takes place in Burnaby, British Columbia.
At least it never hurts to have a little fun.