Allen Sumrall earned 16th in the US by running 64:13 for 13.1mi (4:53/mi) at the US Half Marathon Championships last weekend, a 2 minute and 17 second improvement from his personal best in his very first US Championship race. Here’s how it happened.
As Allen and I both like to say, running is pretty stupid. In modern society, why the hell would we spend hours of our day plodding around in short shorts only to end up right back where we started? Yet we do it almost every day. For us, at least, its not because we think running is flashy or cool, its because we get an incredible sense of self-improvement when we accomplish our goals.
That reason to run is important. In my opinion, its the reason Allen was able to accomplish what he did. If he defined himself by his results, or ran to seem “fast” or “pro” or something along those lines, I frankly don’t think he would have come close to what he just did. The hurdles in his path would have blocked it from view.
Allen left ATX in May after only a few months of working with RR. He had snagged a modest 10k PR (7 seconds) en route to getting 2nd to last in the B heat of a meet we only got him accepted into because of a particularly generous meet director (shoutout @therunnerpt). Shortly after that 10k, Allen was hospitalized with a non-running related illness and spent a week vomiting. Running a PR was the last thing on his mind, let alone entering a US Championship.
Then he graduated law school and moved to Albuquerque, NM to accept a very prestigious, but incredibly demanding job with a District Court Judge (big things in the legal world). I remember the last conversation we had before he left.
“I’m not sure I’m going to be able to run this year. Like at all.” he said.
My first thought was: that sure as hell isn’t going to help you qualify for the 2024 Marathon Trials. It was a goal we had talked abstractly about, but hadn’t yet planned. But I didn’t say that. Instead I said “That’s fine. Do what you can. Running is dumb anyway,” repeating Allen’s constant joke back at him.
Despite his demanding job, it turned out Allen was able to run. Probably not as much as he would have liked, but enough that I had the cajones to try and convince him to enter him into a race. But not just any race, the USA Half Marathon Championships. At first, he laughed at me, but as we talked more, Allen got excited for it. The race was in a good time of year for his work, he’d get an opportunity to race a competitive field, and if he ran well, it would be the perfect confidence booster to prove he belonged in national-class races.
“Go ahead and try to enter me.” Allen said, likely thinking he wouldn’t even get in. To be frank, I wasn’t convinced they’d let him in either. Looking at his PB’s, I probably wouldn’t. But I put on my best sales cap, flexed all my law school convincing muscles, and sent the best email I could to convince the meet director to let him in. Somehow, it worked.
Then came the hard part: the training. When I say Allen is busy, I mean he works quite literally every day, for about 70 hours a week to balance both his job and his PhD. That’s why he starts nearly all of his runs before 6am, not counting of course the runs he does in the evenings.
Slowly, and consistently Allen built into 70 mile weeks. Then 80 mile weeks. Then 90 mile weeks. All at the convenient 5,000 ft of altitude Albuquerque offers. Week in week out, he didn’t miss a run for 8 months. If he traveled to work, he ran. If he worked late, he ran. If he worked early, he ran. Days he didn’t feel good, he still ran, sometimes slower if he had to.
He took days off, of course, even multiple days in a row about halfway through the build. The goal was not to max him out every day, it was to stay consistent. Only two or three days did he push above 90%. Most kept him closer to 80-85%, and most days weren’t even 50%. But week in week out, he touched on everything from 400m pace to easy pace.
Even with very little time to spare, he made time for a coaching call every week, where we’d debate the next week’s training like only two runner nerds turned law school nerds can until we were confident we nailed it. If something went even slightly different than planned during the week, we chatted again, and debated again, until we were both satisfied with Plan B.
In the whole build, Allen only raced twice. At the end of August, he ran a 10k at 90% effort. He won by 5 minutes. About 10 days before his goal race, he raced a Turkey Trot 5k, the first true all out effort of the cycle.
That takes faith. To go through 8 months of training with a coach who is younger than you, who you’ve known for less than a year, without constantly feeling like you need to check your fitness? I don’t know many athletes that can do that.
And then came the race. 8 months of build and Allen had one day, 13.1 miles, and a little over an hour to see what 8 months of work had earned him. Even that didn’t come easy. Two days before, an absolute stud entered the race, Connor Mantz, fresh off an NCAA XC title announcing he’d be chasing the American Record. It’s the kind of announcement that can derail an athlete’s confidence.
“Who cares, it’s just running,” was Allen’s response.
It worked. 13.1 miles later, (but really, 8 months later) and Allen has become a new class of distance runner. He’s a top 20 finisher at a US Championships, and he did it with strength, leading the pack for the vast majority of the race. Considering 8 months ago, he was expecting to miss a full year of running? Not bad, not bad at all.
Congratulations Allen, what a hell of a day.
(all photographs courtesy of Matthew Owenby)