Gwen Jorgensen moved straight to the Varsity in her first competitive, this-is-for-real, footrace since becoming once again a pure runner. In the Husky Classic, in Seattle, WA, on Friday night, she ran 15:15.64 to place second to winner Emily Infield by twelve one-hundredths of a second.
Running at that pace wasn’t entirely unexplored territory. She’d been advised – if not coached – by Jerry Schumacher in her comeback. Mr. Schumacher was the men’s coach at the University of Wisconsin when Ms. Jorgensen ran there as a collegian; he was last year’s USATF Coach of the Year; and he heads up the Bowerman Track Club; the squad includes Ms. Infield, Courtney Frerichs, Shalane Flanagan, and Amy Cragg. Ms. Jorgensen had also recently run with some of the women in that group.
How times have changed for Ms. Jorgensen-as-pure-runner. Her 15:15 was a big PR: Her prior best was 15:52. The top two times in the Husky Classic were the fastest two indoor 5000 meter times in the world this young year for women.
The race began with Ms. Jorgensen getting, "a horrible start. If you watch I'm sure you will laugh. Rookie mistake." (The entire Husky Classic race, and the rest of the meet, and all the meets Flotrack covers can be seen live with a Flotrack subscription.) But she picked her way toward the front and settled in behind 2016 Olympic 10,000 meter runner Infield and last year’s World Championship 3000 meter Steeple runner-up Ms. Frerichs. In for a penny, in for a pound: Ms. Jorgensen was now in with American running’s A-listers.
As the withering pace shed top-caliber women, one by one, Ms. Jorgensen hung onto the shoulders of Mses. Infield and Frerichs. Then it was just Ms. Infield in front, shadowed by an unattached runner, clad entirely in black, no logos, and the only runner in the field to rock a pair of old-school split shorts.
One wants to avoid getting out over one’s skis but, by cracky, one envisions the U.S. finding its analog to Paula Radcliffe, the towering – figuratively and literally – swashbuckling heroine of the pace, just as England’s Dave Bedford was for the men a generation before. To be clear, the unavoidable tactical fact is that she followed, rather than led, this race. But is it hyperbolic to wonder whether Ms. Jorgensen’s very first footrace could be a foreshadowing of her brand? You may win, but strap in tight, because I’m going to make it a sufferfest.
Ms. Jorgensen’s Husky Classic race has been memorialized in a 5-minute video compiled by Talbot Cox (who also shot the images contained herein).
Gwen Jorgensen is on record as not returning to running, but returning to run the marathon. If this is her dream and her choice, it’s what she should do and she’ll be very good at it.
Still, there is no way to fake or finesse or luck into a 15:15, especially given she did so 6 months after giving birth, in her first race on the track in almost a decade, without any real sense of how fast of a pace she could handle.
If she were to decide to zero in on 5000 and 10,000 the capacity to do so is clearly there.