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Elite distance runners, Monmouth pole vaulter are chasing milestones

Barry McNamara
04/10/2017
Dan Evers ’18 clears the bar during an indoor track meet hosted at Monmouth College
Even those who don’t closely follow the sport of running have likely heard of the “race” to run the first sub-four-minute mile – a feat finally achieved by England’s Roger Bannister in 1954.

As the April 17 running of the Boston Marathon nears, there is a new milestone being sought in the running world – the first marathon (26.2 miles) in under two hours.

A website proclaims the milestone is “no longer a matter of if but when.” Nike and Adidas are also throwing their weight into the effort. Nike’s campaign, Breaking2, is trying to create the perfect storm of conditions, course and footwear to overcome “the most elusive hurdle in running.”

Recently, longtime Monmouth College track and field coach Roger Haynes sat down to discuss that hurdle, as well as the steps being taken closer to home to help Fighting Scots’ All-American pole vaulter Dan Evers ’18 rise to a pair of new heights – an NCAA championship (he was second at this year’s indoor meet) and clearing 17 feet (his best height to date is 16’10-3/4).

Haynes was a fan of track and field long before he began coaching the Scots in 1984. Two years before the 1982 graduate enrolled at Monmouth, he attended the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. In college, he recalled writing a paper for his athletic director predecessor, Terry Glasgow, on future world records in track and field.

“At the time, the European men were getting better,” said Haynes. “I predicted they’d break through. They had a lot of the 6-foot-3, basketball-looking-type runners. What I didn’t see coming were the African runners – about 5-8, 125 pounds, huge lungs, huge hearts, very little body mass.”

That basically describes the current world record holder – 5-7, 128-pound Dennis Kimetto of Kenya. Haynes said that it was not surprising that Kimetto set his record of 2:02.57 at the Berlin Marathon.

“Certain courses are set up for very fast times,” he said. “New York and Berlin are both very flat courses. Ideally, of course, there’d be a lot of slope in the second half of the race, although there are limitations for how much slope is allowed.”

Although the marathon is a distance race, top competitors have plenty of speed, too.

“The speed with which they can run is absolutely amazing,” said Haynes. “I watched the Olympic marathon last summer (won by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge). At first, he was running with 40 guys, then it was 15, and then 10. He just kept going at a pace the others couldn’t match, actually lowering his mile splits from in the 4:40s to in the 4:20s. He was running at an exceptional 10K pace in the middle of a marathon.”

Haynes said that an “efficiency” target for distance runners is to be at 85 to 88 percent of their best mile time during a race. That is also the target that Monmouth College cross country runners train to reach.

If the marathon goal is achieved, shoe technology could contribute to the feat, said Haynes.

“Temperature is a killer for marathoners,” he said. “The weight of the shoe and the ventilation contribute to keeping the foot fairly cool.”

Weather conditions are a factor, too. Haynes guessed that most marathoners would prefer to run in temperatures in the 40s. “That’s why you see the major marathons early in the spring or in the fall, when temperatures are ideal,” he said.

Another factor is “the coefficient of restoration,” which he said is another way of saying a given surface’s “rebound” effect.

Haynes also slipped in some physics terminology when discussing his top pole vaulter’s efforts to improve.

“With Dan, the biggest thing we’re working on is his parabolic path,” he said. “If you think of a fly ball in baseball, it takes a parabolic path. To go really high in the pole vault, you don’t want a path that’s pretty much straight up and down. We’re employing training that gives him a 17-6 parabola. He’s really excited about it.”

The winning NCAA vault last month was 17 feet and a quarter inch. To get those last few key inches, Evers may also move from a 15-foot-6-inch pole to one that’s 16-1.

“Right now, he needs a two-foot push from the top of the pole,” said Haynes. “The longer pole would cut that by seven inches.”

But that’s not as easy as it sounds.

“Timing is incredibly important,” said Haynes. “We talk about the vault in thirds, and Dan needs to get his first third better so his second third can be better. ... He’s a tuck-and-shoot guy. We want his hips to go sooner, but it’s not an easy thing to do.”

To improve his first third, Evers has done more “bounding” training and more sprint work, and the combination of the two paid dividends during the indoor season. Evers not only added three inches to his previous best college vault, but he also came away with the Midwest Conference long jump title.

To reach the 17-foot milestone, Evers could also benefit from Mother Nature. While his top vault came indoors, Haynes said, “Vaulters like a little bit of a tailwind. It makes the pole feel lighter.”

One might wonder how training from Monmouth’s coaches has helped Evers so far. Prior to coming to campus, Evers’ personal best was achieved at the state high school track meet in 2014. His height? 13-3.

“We really do know something about it,” said Haynes.

And that makes sense. After all, Haynes has been studying world-class athletes for more than 40 years.