Storm-force weather produces timely reminder of quality indoor performances

Sharp camber of indoor track is compensated by guaranteed controlled climate

Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia wins the women’s 3000m during the XL Galan indoor track and field meet at the Stockholm Globe Arena, on February 6th, 2014. Dibaba set a new world indoor record of 8:16.60 . Photograph: Janerik/Reuters

Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia wins the women’s 3000m during the XL Galan indoor track and field meet at the Stockholm Globe Arena, on February 6th, 2014. Dibaba set a new world indoor record of 8:16.60 . Photograph: Janerik/Reuters


There is no such thing as bad weather, only weak runners. Noel Carroll always said that, and for years I believed him. Now after three straight weeks of hurricane winds and icy rain hurling derision at my efforts, I give up.

My morning run yesterday lasted only about half a mile and still ended about half a mile behind the point of original departure. It’s what happens when you’re caught in front of a 145km/h (90mph) jet stream with no meaningful weight on board; or another sign, perhaps, that my running career is indeed going backwards.

There was a time Coach Rothenberg would have reluctantly told us there is no such thing as weak runners, only bad weather – so we ended up doing a lot of our winter training indoors. It helped that we had a full-sized indoor running track to ourselves. This is why the Ivy League will always boast the cream of America: rich and thick.

Truth is some of my best running was done indoors – or at least faster than anything run outdoors. This might be the exception to the rule, but consider some of the other deviations: Eamonn Coghlan’s fastest mile was run indoors, his 3:49.78, run in 1983, only very marginally off the Irish outdoor mile record of 3:49.77, set by Ray Flynn, back in 1982.

Record breaker
Marcus O’Sullivan also ran his fastest mile indoors (3:50.94), and only last week, Genzebe Dibaba from Ethiopia

– the best female distance runner on the planet right now – set a new world indoor 3,000m record, clocking 8:16.60 in Stockholm. How fast is that? Seven seconds faster than the previous indoor record and faster than the African outdoor record.

In fact only three women have ever run faster, the Chinese trio of Wang Junxia, Qu Yunxia and Zhang Linli, all in 1993. And God only knows what they were on.

In other words, Dibaba’s 8:16.60 may well be the fastest 3,000m ever run, indoors or outdoors. What is certain is that she’s not done yet. She has just turned 23 and is the younger sister of Ethiopian distance running queen Tirunesh Dibaba. Dibaba also broke the world indoor 1,500m just five days before Stockholm, clocking an equally brilliant 3:55.17 in Karlrushe. And this afternoon in Birmingham she will target the two-mile record of 9:06.26. Unless Dibaba runs backwards she will break it and may well end up smashing the world outdoor record of 8:58.58 (check it out live on BBC).

In some ways this makes sense. The guaranteed perfect conditions of no wind and warm air should balance out the tighter and more frequent turns of the indoor running track, especially if a runner can master the art of leaning into and accelerating off of those turns, just as Coghlan did.

Prior to 2000, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had differentiated between world records set indoors and outdoors. Now, while they still carry a different set of marks, if, for example, someone bettered the world mile record of 3:43.13, set by Hicham El Guerrouj from Morocco in 1999 – by running a faster time indoors – that would count as the official world record.

Still, there is only one event where the world indoor record is actually better than a world outdoor record – although because it was set prior to 2000, it doesn’t count. But for the record, Sergey Bubka’s world indoor record in the pole vault (the 6.15 metres he cleared in 1993) is better than his outdoor world record (the 6.14 metres he cleared in 1994).

Three straight weeks of the hurricane winds and icy rain has also re-emphasised the importance of Ireland having a proper indoor running track. And Athlone Institute of Technology can once again take a bow with the staging of this weekend’s National Indoor Championships. No one there will break a world indoor record, but at least they do not have to worry about the conditions.

The same goes for Rob Heffernan. He flew into New York on Thursday, finding the city half buried under another pile of snow. For Heffernan, there is still no such thing as bad weather, so he insisted on training around Central Park yesterday, despite the icy paths.

Irish interest
No such worries this afternoon when he lines up for the indoor one-mile walk at the Millrose Games - the World 50km walk champion receiving a special invitation from Ray Flynn, now meeting director, and the same man who still holds that Irish mile record.

It’s good to see there’s still some Irish interest at the Millrose Games – the longest running indoor meeting in the world, set up in 1908 by employees of Wanamaker’s Department Store.

The headline event – the Wanamaker Mile – does not feature any Irish names this year, although Heffernan might still write some headlines.

In 2012, the Millrose Games were moved uptown from the old wooden boards of Madison Square Garden to the New York Armory, which is quickly proving to be one of the fastest indoor running tracks in the world.

There is no official world record for the indoor one-mile walk, according to my record books and the IAAF only recognises the 5km indoor walk for record purposes. However, there is an outdoor one-mile walk world record credited to Algis Grigaliûnas, from the former USSR, who in 1990, clocked 5:36.9.

Now, if Heffernan can eclipse that mark this afternoon it would make him a world record holder, both indoors and outdoors, but with the same time, which would be another record in itself.

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