A Tough Cookie Sticks In There For 5K American Collegiate Record

Tyler Day’s almost-10-second PR improvement found him replacing Galen Rupp in the recordbooks. (KEVIN MORRIS)

WITH MILER CRAIG ENGELS rabbiting the 5000 at the Thomas Terrier Classic, Tyler Day tucked into the pack and went along for a ride—a very fast ride that would find him claiming the American-born CR. “I felt really smooth, I felt really confident,” says the 23-year-old Northern Arizona senior. “It kinda hurt a little but I know I’m a tough cookie, so I just stuck in there. My big thing was I tried telling myself, ‘No gaps.’”

Engels had set a stiff pace from the start (kilos in 2:37.68 & 5:18.52) in what was the first indoor race ever for Olympic 10K silver medalist Paul Tanui at age 29. After halfway Engels was done and the Kenyan took over. He passed 3K in 7:59.16, with Eric Jenkins, Matt Baxter, and Day still hanging on. After 3200 (8:30.32), Day moved into 3rd, explaining, “Once I passed Matt, I was able to work back into the group and then latch on there and stick it out.”

Tanui kept the pack on target for the next K (10:39.81) before Jenkins shot into the lead. With 3 laps to go, Tanui moved back to the front with Day a step behind. The Kenyan had the better kick, covering the final circuit in 27.92 to win at 13:15.72. Day closed in 28.94 to clock 13:16.95 to become the fastest American collegian ever, indoors or out, taking almost 10 seconds off his PR.

Day admits that it hadn’t quite hit him that he had beaten Galen Rupp’s 13:18.12 from ’09. “I saw everyone kind of bewildered, looking at me like, ‘Holy crap.’ And for me, I was just, ‘I don’t know what I just did.’ I felt this kind of thing when we won our first national title [in XC]. It’s something you dream about for a long time, and then when it comes into focus, whoa! it’s like crazy, you know?”

Coached by Mike Smith, Day says that it was no accident that he got into world-class shape over the winter. A 3-time cross country All-America for the Lumberjacks, he first made A-A on the track with an 8th at the ’17 Indoor. The next year, after a 28:04.44 at Stanford, he finished 4th in the NCAA 10,000.

Last year was a bit of a disappointment, even though he lowered his 5K PR of 13:25.06 at Payton Jordan. He finished only 13th in the NCAA Indoor, then at the Outdoor, he took 6th in the 10K. “That was one of the hardest 10Ks I’ve ever done,” he says, “but as a whole I just felt like I had more to prove. I’m a guy who could run these fast times but I just haven’t been able to put it on for the big race. That 6th place kind of showed it. I was really kind of angry at that.”

The turning point really came after the indoor campaign he explains. “Smith took me aside and he was just like, ‘Hey man, I know you’re a tough guy. I know I’ve thrown stuff at you that I wouldn’t throw at anyone else and I know there’s more in the tank. You just need to take ownership on what you’re doing. You need to get out there and grind it out again. I know you can do it.’”

With no more XC eligibility remaining, Day threw himself into training for this Olympic year, revealing, “This cross season while the team was doing its thing, I tried to work my butt off. I’ve just been waiting, counting down the days when I could represent the Lumberjacks again on the track.”

As for the OT, Day says, “Our plan was 10,000 for sure. So Boston was great and everything, but for me that’s just a stepping stone to get to June and get on the line at the Trials. So I’m kind of up in the air on the 5K too. “We’re planning on trying to hit the Olympic standard [27:28.00]—most likely at Stanford—and then get a spot on the Trials line and see if I could be one of the three lucky dudes that represent the United States.”