WHO NEEDS COMPANY? Yared Nuguse is making a habit of carving his name into the collegiate recordbooks with solo efforts. He set the outdoor 1500 standard in a bold preliminary heat last spring and has now added the indoor 3000 at Boston University’s Hemery Valentine Invitational.
In that undercover race Nuguse ran most of the second half alone, closing quickly over the final laps to clock 7:38.13, more than 9 seconds ahead of the runner-up. That time snipped nearly half a second off the 7:38.59 that Arkansas’ Alistair Cragg set way back in ’04.
The Notre Dame grad student was actually supposed to be accompanied by a group of pro runners at BU, but when they were sidelined with illness he was left with just rabbits for the first mile.
“We still felt confident enough that I would be able to go out and do it, because I’ve run fast paces alone before,” Nuguse says of his planning with Fighting Irish distance coach Sean Carlson. “So with those rabbits we had, we had the pace I needed and then I had to just keep hammering at it.”
After hitting the 1600 in 4:05.81 he was slightly behind the required tempo. Ultimately, though, his final two laps of 29.51 and 28.52 were enough to get him under Cragg’s record, set at the Tyson Invitational in Arkansas almost 18 years to the day earlier. (Nuguse was not yet 5 years old at the time.)
Nuguse got a boost from the gathered athletes and coaches, who were initially slow to realize he was targeting Cragg’s mark. “It was fun to see everyone get hyped up to see a record get broken,” he says of a crowd that was anxiously awaiting the next event, the 5000, with several pros gunning for fast times and national records. “Honestly I like Boston because it doesn’t feel like a fancy track meet. It’s kind of high school-esque in the way that everyone is crowded in the center of the outfield and people on the outside are cheering, too.”
Nuguse set the 1500 CR in similar low-key fashion, busting a solo 3:34.68 in the ACC heats last year. “I mostly wanted the Olympic standard [3:35.00] but it just so happened that the Olympic standard was also the Collegiate Record,” he says of taking down Josh Kerr’s outdoor 3:35.01 from ’18 as well as the indoor 3:34.72 Sam Tanner had set a few months earlier.
And lest you think Nuguse is just a one-trick time-trial pony, he has also excelled in competitive races. He won the tactical ACC final two days after his 1500 record, and had bested Oregon big shots Cooper Teare and Cole Hocker on their home track a week earlier. In ’19 he took the NCAA 1500 title by just 0.003 over Michigan State’s Justine Kiprotich.
Of course there was also the savvy he showed last June at the Olympic Trials, kicking to a 3rd-place finish behind Hocker and Matthew Centrowitz to book a spot for Tokyo. “I don’t know what the right word is for races like that, maybe harsh,” the Louisville native says of the intense jockeying at Hayward Field that evening, when he went from 8th at the bell to kicking past Craig Engels for the final roster spot. “In college things are kind of easy, especially when you have reputation, so people don’t bump around much. But in races like that, there’s more bumping around and shifting places.”
Unfortunately his actual Olympic experience was anticlimactic. A freak injury to his right quadriceps during a light workout after arriving in Japan forced him to scratch. “I was just in the middle of a rep and my quad really badly tightened up and I couldn’t even finish the rep,” he recalls. “I had to stop. I haven’t gotten injured a lot in the past. It was impossible for me to run for like two days. And after that I could do some light running, but I couldn’t run fast at all without being in excruciating pain.”
He held out hope until the last minute that he might be able to toe the line. “It was getting better every day I was there and [the team medical staff] were all hopeful about it, but come the time of competition I couldn’t even do a stride without being in a lot of pain,” he says. “I probably could have done like 200 tops but I couldn’t go any more.”
Luckily he was able to resume training a few weeks later, and returned to Notre Dame to run cross country while pursuing a masters degree in business. He’ll get that degree this spring and plans to eventually go to dental school, but first will turn pro after wrapping up his college career. “I’ve been talking to different pro groups and just getting a feel for them,” he says. “Once outdoor comes around and finishes up I’ll have a better idea of where I want to go.”
In the meantime, he wants to add to his NCAA résumé, with a DMR championship this month his top priority. (He anchored the Irish to that title in ’19.) He’s still deciding between the mile and 3000 for an individual event at those championships.
He set a mile PR of 3:54.46 on Notre Dame’s oversized oval in January. “I was actually supposed to run 3:56,” he says of that race, a time that would have likely ended up leaving him shy of NCAA qualifying in this year of unprecedented depth. “It’s weird to think that if I didn’t do that, I’d have to go out at ACC [prelims] again and run something ridiculously fast.”
Speaking of the remarkable performances that are multiplying in the era of super spikes, Nuguse is hoping to improve his 1500 record before leaving South Bend. “Might be on the safe side,” he says with a laugh, “if I can get it down to 3:33 or 3:32.” ◻︎