NAZ Elite recently announced its spring marathon lineup, which has three different distance runners taking on three different courses all in April.
Futsum Zienasellassie will be the first to tackle a 26.2-mile event this spring as he is set to run in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on Sunday, April 16. The following day, veteran marathoner and Olympian Aliphine Tuliamuk is slated to battle in Boston. Capping off the marathon stretch will be Alice Wright, who is scheduled to run the London Marathon.
For Zienasellassie, who dominated his first marathon attempt at the USATF title race in early December just after resigning with NAZ Elite, Rotterdam will present an opportunity to see what kind of speed he can produce at the distance.
His debut at the California International Marathon -- which served as the USATF title race in 2022 -- was tactical and he didn’t run fast for a long time until he broke it open at the end to dominate the field.
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“He had a lot of running left in him," NAZ Elite Executive Director Ben Rosario said recently. "He was not really taxed through 23 miles there, and that was fine for his first one, and it was fun to win and get that confidence that comes from winning. But we want him to be a major factor at the Olympic Trails, and he’s going to need a fast race from the gun in order to prepare for that event. Because that could happen, it could be fast from the gun. He needs to be prepared for that physically and mentally. There is also confidence that comes from running fast."
Zienasellassie ran the CIM course in 2:11.01, producing the fourth-best men's marathon time in NAZ Elite's history. The runner-up at the event came in 51 seconds after Zienasellassie broke the tape.
Rosario thinks his runner has speed to show off, but needs the experience in order to grow as a more confident marathoner.
“There’s no other way to simulate running a marathon that fast without really doing it," Rosario said.
NAZ Elite has had a runner do just that at Rotterdam when Tuliamuk early in her time with the team came away with a 2:26.50 finish for third-place result. After getting that good and speedy marathon under her belt, Tuliamuk eventually went on to win the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials and punch her ticket to Tokyo.
Now Tuliamuk gets to make her Boston Marathon debut.
“She’s made for Boston," Rosario said.
With its edges, bridges and hills, Boston is much like the New York City Marathon, which Aliphine has had solid showings at over the years with NAZ Elite. She first ran the event with NAZ Elite in 2019, finishing 12th with a time of 2:28:12. She made her way back to the Big Apple's marathon in 2022 and finished seventh in 2:26:18 -- despite not being in the best shape of her long career.
She just recently won the USATF Half Marathon Championships in late February, claiming the title and registering a PR at 1:09:37 in the process.
“I’m not going to call them the same by any means; they are each unique," Rosario said of the Boston and NYC courses. "But I think there are enough similarities to believe that someone who has excelled at New York and enjoyed New York, like she has, will also excel and also enjoy Boston.”
While Tuliamuk has enjoyed performing at World Marathon Majors, Wright will experience her first when she takes on London for her fourth marathon of her career overall.
But Wright's been on the big stage before in marathons, so A World Major should not be too intimidating, Rosario said. In fact, London was one of the first marathons Wright was to compete in while building up for her debut at the distance years ago. Injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic made Wright and NAZ Elite change their plans back then, however.
What looked like a missed opportunity to compete at London then now looks like a blessing in disguise.
“Things have a strange way of working out, because I feel Houston was the best debut she could have had asked for, and, I think," Rosario said, "she is better prepared to run London now because of the other three races she has run.”