JUST DAYS AFTER WINNING the Nike Cross Nationals title last December, Nico Young (Newbury Park, California) decided to target the U.S. under-20 and national prep records for the indoor 3000 at the Millrose Games. Stanford’s Chris Derrick set the ratified AJR of 7:56.31 in ’09 while Drew Hunter owned the prep standard, a 7:59.33 clocking from ’16. To get ready for the race—Young’s first against professionals—he and coach Sean Brosnan searched for video of every previous Millrose 3000 at the Armory they could find. “We watched ’em all and they were all pretty much perfectly paced [so] that we felt if he jumped in the back of the pack and got dragged along and didn’t get dropped, he’d be able to get the record or go close to 7:50,” says Brosnan.
The plan worked, with Young maintaining contact with the pack throughout the race and crossing the line in 11th in 7:56.97. Though he missed the loftier goal, he comfortably hit his top objective of getting the HSR. “I knew that even if I was in last place I could break the record,” Young says. “I just needed to stay on them for as long as I could.” (Pro Justyn Knight won the race in 7:46.36.)
Notably, this was just the second indoor race of the 17-year-old Southern Californian’s life (the first was a mile in Boston last year). “The laps feel like a lot quicker,” he says of the Armory’s “bouncy” 200m oval. “But towards the end it feels like there’s a lot more to go, because there are a lot more laps left.” The field, which included an Olympic medalist, presented him with the rare challenge of facing faster runners. After winning his cross country State Meet by 25 seconds and NXN by nearly 14 clicks, he can be forgiven for forgetting how to run in a pack. “There were a few tactical errors that I thought he made in that race that maybe would have saved him a second or two,” Brosnan says. “He tried to go around the guy in front of him, Hassan Mead, two or three times and made some surges that wasted energy. But ultimately he ran an almost perfect race.”
It was a remarkably evenly paced run, with kilometer splits of 2:39.20, 2:38.69 and 2:39.08. And though nervous beforehand, Young wasn’t intimidated in his first race against pros. “He doesn’t get rattled,” Brosnan says. “He handles pressure really well. I wasn’t too keen about putting things out there that he was going for the record, but once it leaked we were like, let’s just go with it. He’s going to have to deal with it a lot this year.”
Expectations were already raised last spring when Young won the big Arcadia Invitational 3200 in the 2M equivalent of 8:43.02, making him No. 10 on the all-time prep list. He followed that up with the State title. The momentum continued with an undefeated XC season, leading Newbury Park to the team title at NXN to go along with his individual win.
He had skipped the outdoor post-season to rest before preparing for the harrier campaign, and with a collegiate career in his immediate future might follow that same plan again. “We’re not big on setting goals really far out, which always surprises people,” Brosnan says. “Right now, this [3000 record] was our goal. We’re taking a step back and going to figure out where to go with his training and where to gear it.”
But one race that is on the calendar is a return to Arcadia, where Young will likely be targeting Lukas Verzbicas’s national record for 2M, 8:29.46 from ’11. “It’ll probably have to be an effort on his own out front,” Brosnan predicts. “There are other guys who are really good who can run with him, but the paces we’d like to see him run he’s probably going to be out front.”
A track 5000 against pros is also a possibility, where he could take a stab at qualifying for the Olympic Trials. “We’re aware of the record for that,” Young says of Galen Rupp’s 13:37.91, set 16 years ago. “But we don’t have anything set up for that. It kinda depends on how the season goes.”
Ultimately his plans for the summer will be dictated by his desire to immediately contribute to Northern Arizona’s quest to return to the top of the NCAA harrier podium after an upset loss to BYU last November. Young picked the Lumberjacks over Georgetown, North Carolina, Stanford and Virginia thanks to the program’s recent success (NCAA team titles in ’16, ’17 & ’18) and the opportunity to train with superior teammates at high altitude in Flagstaff. “Nico really wants to be part of a national championship team,” Brosnan says “He was part of one in high school. I think he would give anything up to be a part of that at NAU.”