Off-Distances Have Athletes Moving Up, Moving Down At U.S. Indoors

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. (21-Feb) -- For the third time at the Toyota USA Track & Field Indoor Championships, athletes will run "off-distances" of 300m, 600m, 1000m, one mile and two miles instead of the international standard distances of 400m, 800m, 1500m and 3000m.  Back in 2015, the national governing body decided to implement an off-distance program because athletes did not have to qualify for team spots for the IAAF World World Indoor Championships which are only held in even years.  The practice has stuck, and has given athletes the freedom to move up, or down, in distance when this year's three-day championships open tomorrow at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex here.

For 2016 Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy, who is equally gifted in both the largely anaerobic 800m and the much more aerobic 1500m, it presents the chance to run what might be for him the perfect distance: 1000m. Murphy, who turns 24 next Tuesday, won the national indoor title at that distance in Albuquerque in 2017, and is excited to run it again.

"I've always kind of enjoyed the thousand," Murphy told reporters at a press conference here today. "It's a good opportunity to kind of put the speed and the strength I've been working on this winter together."

Murphy has raced actively across his spectrum of distances this winter with excellent success. He's run sub-1:46 for 800m twice, including a personal best 1:45.92 on a flat track in North Carolina. He's run 2:18.64 for 1000m on an over-sized track, and at the NYRR Wanamaker Mile at the NYRR Millrose Games he set indoor personal bests for both 1500m (3:37.40) and mile (3:53.30). He said he enjoyed running fast, but he's excited to switch gears to championships mode which will better test is skills as a racer.

"I'm excited to get back into that championship setting," he said. "There's been a lot of time-chasing this winter and running for records, and whatever you want to call it. This is about winning a national title for me. I think for me it's a whole different mindset."

Murphy's Nike Oregon Project teammate Donavan Brazier will be stepping down in distance to the 600m. Brazier, who ran a USA indoor 800m record of 1:44.41 at the NYRR Millrose Games on February 9, currently owns the #2 time globally time at 600m for the 2019 indoor season: 1:15.46. Known for his low-mileage training when he competed at Texas A&M during his NCAA career, he said that stepping down in distance felt natural to him.

"I didn't think too much into it, I think," Brazier quipped when asked about how different it was to run 600m compared to 800m. He continued: "I mean, hopefully it's good. I just thought of it as a shorter 800. I didn't dig too deep into it."

At these championships in 2017, the last time the 600m distance was contested, Brazier won his heat, but finished sixth --and last-- in the final. When the standard 800m distance was run at last year's championships, Brazier came out on top.

For Raevyn Rogers, an 800m specialist like Brazier, stepping down to the 600m gives her a chance to run in her sprint spikes and work on her technique.  She won the 600m at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston on January 26, then was fourth at the NYRR Millrose Games in the 800m. 

"I say aerobically it still feels the same," she explained. "I think it hurts all the same. But, I definitely can use more speed or more technique in sprints. You know, put on my sprint spikes if I wanted to for the six, as opposed to running in sprint spikes for the eight."

She's anticipating a tough race.

"Yeah, I say it's the same ugly hurt," she said.

Murphy and Brazier raced each other in the 800m at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix. In that race, they reversed their usual roles with Murphy, a kicker, taking the lead while Brazier followed, kicking past his teammate to get the win. They don't mind racing each other, they said, but at these championships they can support each other, instead.

"I don't mind racing each other," Brazier said, smiling at Murphy. "The week after next, or next weekend, we might get another opportunity to race each other at this Boston meet. But, I think it's kind of nice from each other to just get a break from the eight, because I think right now we are the top two Americans in the 800."

Murphy agreed. "We train with each other every day, so I think it's fun to race off-distances," Murphy responded. "Obviously, with no 800, you've got to pick. Don is more of a four/eight and I'm more of an eight/fifteen, so it kind of fits us. We'll race our off-distances and both chase our own titles."

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