In 1992 I watched Jim Westphal circling the Notre Dame indoor track in a white Loyola singlet, my eyes shooting towards the scoreboard as he came around the last corner of the 5000m, the digits flipping from 13:43...13:44...13:45, at the north end of the facility the scoreboard showing 13:56.50 when he crossed the white line, all but guaranteeing him at spot at the NCAA Championships the following weekend.
That season the Oak Park native finished fast enough at the indoor national meet to earn his 3rd All-American award, ten weeks later the Rambler crossing the 5K line in 4th at the outdoor championship in Austin Texas. Jim was an astounding runner, achieving what no other Loyola athlete has ever done - selected as an All-American four times.
Since the early 90's performances like his have gotten steadily faster, the reasons many, yet the fact still undeniable. Today's athletes are good!
Eight days ago, at one of the first indoor meets of the 2022-23 season, Loyola's Ryan Martins (Nebraska transfer) ran a 13:33.45 (4:20 pace) in Boston on the lightening-fast banked track, breaking Westphal's school record by an amazing twenty-three seconds - yes, twenty-three seconds. It would have you believing he is top five on the collegiate rankings.
Not even close. Number one is 13:11.53!
Ryan Martins' mark is currently 16th on the TFRRS collegiate list - the final qualifying spot for the Indoor NCAA Championships. With ten more weekends of racing the chances of this time getting into the NCAA 5K on March 10-11 are not worth betting on. Slim and none.
Westphal's time from 30+ years ago would currently put him at 46th!
And don't think the women's performance list is any easier. The sixteenth 5K time is 15:43.98 (5:02 pace) the NCAA qualifying time from two years ago 16:01.26. Incidentally, NC State's Katelyn Tuohy was that #16 with a 15:41.51, her twenty-six second improvement in Boston standard fare last weekend.
Yet, as I always say (proof I'm old), this is a different era. A time of pacesetters, banked tracks, and spikes with a carbon plate. Even training is better. More scientific. Comparing times from decades ago is an untenable task. To prove this point, there were seventy-three men who broke 14:00 at Boston December 3rd. All of them would have had a fast enough time to qualify for indoor nationals in 1993.
I shake my head at the superlative efforts I watched on Saturday. The times were simply amazing - yet surprisingly, still not fast enough. There is no question if you plan to run at the NCAA Indoor Meet in Albuquerque it's going to take more.
So what's my guess to take to be in the top sixteen? 13:23.75. Yep. Think about it. Eight of those sixteen will need to run faster or they will be watching the national meet at home.