By Allison Schneider
Boston University News Service
Personal, school, collegiate, national and world records are meant to be broken at Boston University’s track, which is known as one of the fastest tracks in the world.
“[I] just went out there and had fun. Ran 25 laps, first time doing it,” said Parker Valby from the University of Florida, the new women’s collegiate record holder for the indoor 5,000 meter and NCAA Cross Country champion.
BU’s Track and Tennis Center hosted the Sharon Colyear-Danville Season Opener on December 2, 2023. This meet is notorious for its incredible long-distance performances for those just coming off of their cross country season. Many runners use this meet to their advantage to solidify their spot for the NCAA indoor championships held later this year.
The goal was “just to qualify for nationals. I just had fun with it, and the record came with it,” Valby said.
As Valby neared the last 800 meters of the race, the audience rumbled in cheers. Jaws dropped and peoples hands instinctively reached for their heads in disbelief. They were aware that they were on the brink of witnessing history, as Valby was on the trajectory of shattering the collegiate record.
Valby became the first woman in NCAA history to break 15 minutes, with a time of 14:56.11, which broke the previous 15:12.22 time set by Providence College’s Emily Sisson in 2015.
Both the men’s and women’s 5,000 meter collegiate records were broken at the season opening meet as Harvard University’s Graham Blanks ran a 13:03.72, breaking the previous 13.08.28 men’s record set by Lawi Lalang from the University of Arizona in 2012.
Both Blank and Valby’s times met the Olympic Trials Qualifying Standards.
The track was built in 2002, and upgraded last year to make it more appealing for the Patriot League Championships later this year as well as other meets and invitationals.
The facility’s 200-meter asymmetrical banked track with a wooden base beneath the Rekortan surface is known to the running community as one of the fastest tracks in the country, if not the world. It gives runners a quick and bouncy surface to run on, helping them to break records and labeling it as a “fast track.”
The build of the track attracts runners from all over the world to break records. Within the walls of the facility, Yomif Kejelcha of Ethiopia broke the men’s world record for the mile with a time of 3:47.01 in 2019. Now, the facility can claim the 5,000 meter collegiate records as well.
The first heat of the women’s 5,000 meter, the fastest heat, was stacked with NCAA cross country All-Americans, including Hilda Olemomoi of University of Alabama, Chloe Scrimgeour of Georgetown University, Rosina Machu of Gonzaga University, Kenzie Doyle of UMass Lowell, and Molly Born of Oklahoma State University. The heat also consisted of multiple professional runners.
“[We] started training in August, raced through cross country nationals on Nov. 18, and then trained through Thanksgiving before this meet,” Scrimgeour said. “Now we get a nice break to rest over the holidays and just hope that my time stays in the top 16 in the NCAA.”
Scrimgeour placed eighth at the NCAA Cross Country Championships and is on track for some great things in her career. Scrimgeour, a 20-year-old, broke her school record, which was previously held by Olympian Emily Infeld. Scrimgeour ran a time of 15:24.36, which was just short of the Olympic Trial Qualifying Standard 15:20.00.
“I hope that in my college career that I can win something like a national title. Any professional running opportunities after would be awesome, and hopefully I can make it to the Olympic Trials,” Scrimgeour said.
If Scrimgeour keeps up with her progress, she’ll be on track to qualify for the Olympic Trials, a major achievement in a runner’s career.
For the parents watching from the stands, the scene is energizing, wholesome and brings a different type of intimacy to the sport. The facility’s stands hold 1,200 spectators, while the facility itself has a total capacity of 4,500.
“You feel like you’re so close to the track,” said Chloe Scrimgeour’s mother, Katey Scrimgeour. “There’s something about the space that makes you feel like you’re a part of it.”
For cross country spectators, the indoor track season gives them the opportunity to see runners, specifically long-distance runners, challenge themselves in a different way.
“The collegiate runners who were running so well during cross country, you kind of want to see what they have in them for a 5k and 3k on the track. It’s interesting to see how their fitness from a cross country course translates to a track, especially the BU track,” said Katey Scrimgeour.
The collegiate runners utilize not just the track but also the competition to their advantage.
Katey Scrimgeour said that you get to see how competitive the collegiate field is when you see the top in the NCAA running against professional runners. She said that the professionals help to push the college runners to get better times, learn how to better pace themselves, and to develop more confidence.
“It’s fun to see your kid become confident in their skills, talents and abilities in their sport,” Katey Scrimgeour said.