The Four Big Storylines We're Watching Heading Into RTC3

Photo Credit: Gary Kinyanjui/MileSplit

Two weeks remain until the RunningLane Track Championships, which will be bigger, more ambitious and probably faster than ever in 2023. 

And not only are meet directors working hard behind the scenes to provide all the amenities of a national-class event -- like a host hotel and recovery rooms, not to mention newly-designed pacing lights and all the other entertainment, like blow torches along the home stretch -- but even the city of Huntsville is in on the action. 

There's a newly-resurfaced track ready for 2023. 

So what are the big storylines heading into this year's installment? 

Last year gave us new meet records, a near sub-4 and some crazy head-to-head matchups. 

We should anticipate all that again in two weeks. 

Related Links: 

What You Need To Know Ahead Of The RunningLane Track Championships

Are We On Pace For A Sub-2:05 Girls 800m? 

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The 800 meter is a notoriously difficult race to track. 

With the right field, a special effort could come. But if the right mentality doesn't present itself early, sometimes that fast time doesn't come. 

However, it's hard getting past the talent currently readying for the half-mile at RunningLane. 

Three athletes enter with sub-2:10 performances, including last year's runner-up, Nick Southerland, along with Cady McPhail and Elyse Wilmes

Then there's eight more girls who have run faster than 2:14. 

Cuthbertson's Justine Preisano, who was a part of the team's national indoor record in the 4x800, is a strong candidate to drop under 2:10, while Lucy Benton, who's been among Mountain Brook's top middle-distance talents, is also on the cusp of that mantle, too. 

But Southerland, McPhail and Wilmes are the top attractions. 

Southerland is just a junior and has already run 2:10 twice this season. She ran 2:08 indoors in March and 2:08 in this very race a year ago. 

McPhail, meanwhile, has had a career season and ran 2:08 indoors, 2:10 outdoors and compiled three state titles in her final Alabama State Outdoor Championships. 

Wilmes is the youngest as a sophomore, but she has run 2:10 outdoors this season and 2:08 last year. 

If this field tracks on 61- to 62-second first lap, then we could be on pace.

Either way, the girls 800m will be among the top races at RunningLane. 

Which Athletes Will Blossom Into The Stars Of Next Tomorrow? 

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RunningLane holds a special significance in another way. 

For the last two seasons, it's been identifying high-level prospects long before said talent has broken through. In 2021, the first year of the competition, Ventura's Sadie Engelhardt clocked a 15-year-old World record in the mile and has since then blossomed into one of the country's premier distance stars. 

Names like Addy Wiley, Will Sumner, James Donahue, Allison Johnson and Lex Young have all passed by. Alex Leath, a current senior at Vestavia Hills, is currently among the country's top half-milers and could break 1:48 this season. 

All of this is to say the stars of tomorrow could make their way to RunningLane once again. And for college coaches -- who are trying to identify talent early -- or for young athletes -- who are trying to make significant progress -- that's legitimately good news. 

So who will make the figurative leap this year? 

We could make some educated guesses. It could be any number of athletes, from Herndon's Gillian Bushee, to Herriman's Noah Jenkins, Celerity's Marcelo Parra and Franco Parra, Hurricane's Ty Steorts, Jesuit's Brady Mullen, Christ School's Dawson Reeves, Delta's Nicki Southerland or Santa Fe St. Michael's Raylee Hunt. It could be a variety of others. 

Of course, you have to stick around to see exactly how the races play out. 

Quite Simply, Sub-4

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What you don't see is the work. That's often what separates a good runner from a great one. 

Here's what we do know:

There's no doubt Devan Kipyego, a senior at St. Raphael Academy in Rhode Island, is a great runner. 

But will he break four minutes in the mile at RunningLane? 

That will be the storyline.

While the Iowa State signee may get more than one chance to end his senior season, he should be ready to go after the mark by the end of the month. Better yet, he'll be doing it on a resurfaced track, AND he'll have two experienced pacers to help him through it. He'll also have pacing lights. 

What's more, Kipyego could become the first Black prep athlete in history to break four. No Black athlete in an American high school has achieved the field yet. 

It will be an incredible moment if in fact he secures history. 

Now ... let's not just give it to the man. He won't be alone. Knox Young, William Horne, Jacob Laney, Max Hardin and Brian Gamble all will be in the field. Every single one of them has broken 4:09.

Charles Perry, Noah Jenkins and Dawson Perry, talented athletes from Alabama and North Carolina, have also both broken 4:10. 

The mile is a mischievous distance.

It can trick you into getting comfortable, and then all of a sudden you're off pace. So the effort will have to be honest. But if everything goes right, we could see a momentous mark. 

How Many Meet Records Will We See? 

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This year will mark the third year of RunningLane.

One of the meet OGs? It has to be Alex Leath, a senior at Vestavia Hills. The national-caliber half-miler -- who was a national runner-up in the 800m indoors at New Balance Nationals Indoor -- who won three individual events at the Alabama State Outdoor Championships recently, has been participating in the event for the last three years.

He holds the 800m record in 1:51.51. 

But this isn't just a regional competition. Athletes from all over the U.S. have flown to Huntsville to compete in one of the most entertaining meets in the country -- fire torches on the homestretch, infield play-by-play, WWE-style introductions and championship belts. 

Records haven't lasted very long. 

Both the boys' mile and 3,200 marks went down last year, while the girls 3,200m record was ousted a year ago. 

We've had all-time athletes like Will Sumner and Addy Wiley in previous iterations. Current athletes like Lex Young, Sadie Engelhardt and Kevin Sanchez have also been a part of the meet. 

The next athletes up? We guarantee you'll see a few of them this year. 

All-Time Records: 

Boys 800m: Alex Leath, Vestavia Hills, 1:51.51, 2021

Boys Mile: Rocky Hansen, Christ School (NC), 4:00.76, 2022

Boys 3,200m: Kevin Sanchez, Austin Vandegrift (TX), 8:50.00, 2022

Girls 800m: Morgan Monesmith, Hathaway Brown (OH), 2:06.89, 2021

Girls MileAddy Wiley, Huntington North (IN), 4:38.14, 2021

Girls 3,200m: Kayla Werner, Pacers (VA), 10:07.80