Alicia Monson Passes An Important Test

Coming off a year in which she earned her first World Ranking Monson successfully examined her speed over a mile in the Armory. (KEVIN MORRIS)

THE AFTERNOON BEFORE she dominated a sterling field in the Dr. Sander Invitational mile, timed in 4:23.55, Alicia Monson told T&FN, “I’m definitely hoping to test that finishing speed a little.”

Did she ever! Running in her typical not-afraid-to-take-the-lead fashion, the 24-year-old Wisconsin native finished with a zippy 31.71 circuit after pummeling the sprint out of her competitors with a tough windup to the finish, covering her last 400 in 64.26, the last 800 in 2:09.32.

That big move from a long way out has become classic Monson racing style, and only has become more effective since she transitioned from her Badger days (where she won 5 Big 10 titles) and moved to Colorado to become a heady force in Dathan Ritzenhein’s On AC cohort.

“What we’ve learned just from my training is I can really lean on my strength a lot,” she explains. “For whatever reason, I’ve found a lot of success in keeping the race pace honest. In the past couple years, I’ve been still coming up to the pro level and so I don’t have as much confidence in that final kick.

“But I’ve been working on a lot of speed; I think my speed has improved a lot compared to my first year as a pro. But I think just the way Dathan writes the training, I have a lot of confidence in just being able to grind at a VO2 max pace, so that’s just where we go to with our races. We’re just going to make it hard and see who hangs on and how we can finish at the end.”

Still relatively young in her career arc, Monson has effectively staked a claim as one of the big names of U.S. running, leading the U.S. Rankings at 5000 and also getting No. 3 at 10,000. Her 5000 résumé also includes a No. 10 World Ranking, the result of racing very effectively on the Diamond League circuit.

Monson’s ’22 campaign left little room for disappointment. After winning the USATF XC title, her indoor season took her to Serbia, where she placed 7th in the World Indoor 3000. Then her 30:51.09 PR (No. 7 U.S. all-time) earned her 2nd in the USATF 10,000. She prepped for Worlds by becoming the No. 3 U.S. runner ever with her 14:31.11 in the Bislett 5000, placing 5th. At Worlds she managed 13th in the 10,000, matching her Tokyo finish. In Lausanne, she very nearly won the 3000, her 8:26.81 moving her to No. 4 ever among Americans. Then she made 6th in the DL Final 5000, clocking 14:38 on Zürich’s temporary road/track.

That Lausanne race she singles out as her best moment of the year, in that it revealed that she can truly contend at the highest level: “I came obviously very close to winning that race, and I feel like over the whole season I just kept on progressing with my performances and gaining confidence. I was like, ‘Alright, I can actually compete with the best in the world.’ After that I had more confidence, going into the Diamond League Final and then going into this year.”

Would she like a do-over of that final stretch, where a leaning Francine Niyonsaba caught her to take the win by a mere 0.01? “Yeah,” she says with a laugh. “I’m definitely going to be leaning in every single race I do from now on.”

The Wikipedia page for Amery, Wisconsin (population 2925), lists the Olympian as one of the small town’s “notable people.” She says of her beginnings, “If you’re a talented athlete from a small town, people are always like, ‘Oh, see you in the Olympics!’ But it was always kind of a joke. And then it came true. It’s definitely been cool to have the support from Amery over the years.”

As a prep, Monson clocked bests of 4:55.32m and 10:26.86m. Her junior year, she says she was training just 25–30M per week, “so nothing crazy.” She bumped that up to “maybe 50” as a senior only to tear her ACL playing basketball. Surgery followed, and she came back for the last few meets of her final season running for the Warriors, winning the State 3200 title some 5 months after surgery.

Looking back, she says, “I was good in high school but it became clear that there were a lot of better people when I went to college, so it was kind of a shock.”

The continued rebuild of her knee forced her into a gradual transition into collegiate training: “I was still slowly coming back, but obviously you’re in a whole new world when you’re racing against people who are way better than you, a hundred people deep in college. It was gradual, and so that was part of why by my junior year it seemed like I made a big jump. I had been training for a long time to get better. I just hadn’t performed that way yet.”

She placed 4th in NCAA cross country that year (’18), and came back in the spring to win the NCAA Indoor 5000. A runner-up finish in XC followed the next fall, and then the pandemic ended her collegiate career in anticlimactic fashion.

The move to Colorado to work with Ritzenhein made eminent sense, especially as Wisconsin announced it would not be allowing its athletes an extra year of eligibility because of COVID.

In hindsight, Monson says, there were positives to transitioning to the pros while much of the sport was in lockdown. “During the pandemic there weren’t that many races to do, and so it was a time for us to really make training jumps. Sometimes people in their first year of pro get thrown into races and are kind of in over their head. I feel like I had an extra 6 months to basically just train. There were some races, but they didn’t matter that much.”

Once again, a gradual transition paid off, and Monson placed 3rd in the OT 10,000, presaging a 13th in Tokyo against the world’s best. So, yeah,” she says, “It turned out well.”

She clearly has no regrets about choosing her current training situation: “Dathan’s been so good with so many people on our team about progressing and improving over the last few years. It just goes to show that Dathan, when we started this group, had a vision that we were going to be some of the people who are really competing at that world level, and he’s definitely delivered on that. Part of that is us trusting in his training.”

Over the fall, she gradually increased her volume, hitting some 90/95-mile weeks, “whereas last year it was 85-90M. I’m very slowly increasing it. Obviously, I’m hoping to have a long career, so we’re methodically increasing the training.”

Ritzenhein has tabbed her as a future marathoner, something she doesn’t dispute: “Even when I went pro, he had a long-term vision of me improving on the track and then eventually moving up to the marathon. We don’t exactly have a timeline for it. We’ll just see how things go on the track and how competitive I can be on the world level.

“From 2021 to 2025, we’ve had World outdoor years or Olympic years every single year; ’26 is the first year [with no major championship], so maybe I’ll start putting my eyes on the roads more.”

Till then she’s going to keep strengthening her skills as a racer. It’s a task that’s been made very enjoyable by working with her OAC teammates. “The best part of it is we travel everywhere together, travel around the country and the world, and I feel our team has been something special that not everyone has as a professional runner,” she says. “It just makes everything more fun.

“Obviously, it’s our job and we’re very competitive and training hard, but we’re having a good time doing it. I feel like it’s made us more successful because we actually are looking forward to our hard training days and going on trips together.”