John Aris calls Maegan Krifchin a diamond in the rough.
A miler and middle distance runner at Syracuse University, Krifchin is glittering with a rare intensity now that she has moved to much longer distances.
The top American at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Kavarna, Bulgaria, last month, beating the likes of Olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan, the 24-year-old Ithaca runner will be a heavy women’s favorite in the 37th annual Gazette Stockade-athon 15k on Sunday.
Although her team, Stotan Racing, will be gearing down on race training to some degree for the winter, Krifchin is talented and fit enough to break Lori Hewig’s 19-year-old race record of 51:34 simply by using the Stockade-athon as a hard training run.
She’s that good.
“I’m not trying to use that as any objective, but I know it’s there, and if I’m on and feeling good, sure, I’ll take a shot,” Krifchin said.
“Maegan isn’t going to be in the 49s, but there is a good chance she could go out and break the record,” said Aris, the Stotan Racing co-founder and co-coach with his father, Bill. “If she runs 52 and is happy with it — because we haven’t been doing strong workouts and hills — that’ll be fine.”
“If she shows up and runs the way she’s capable of running, I think she’s going to break Lori Hewig’s record,” race director Vince Juliano said. “Her resume, I could talk all day.”
That’s not because it’s a long resume, but it certainly is studded with sparkling performances.
Krifchin graduated from JFK Bellmore High School in Nassau County and was most proficient at distances like 1,000 and 1,500 meters at Syracuse.
As a grad student at Ithaca College, she explored the road racing circuit and was introduced to the Syracuse-based Stotan Racing, a Nike-sponsored team developed by the Arises in 2009.
She gradually increased the distance of her races and popped a 52:23 as the fourth female finisher at last year’s Utica Boilermaker 15k.
At the USATF 15k national championship (Gate River) in March, Krifchin finished third behind U.S. Olympian Janet Cherobon and Molly Huddle, who broke the U.S. 5k record in 2010 and was second at the 2012 U.S. Cross Country Championships.
In June, Krifchin finished second to 2008 Olympian Kara Goucher at the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in Duluth, Minn., posting a 50:36 15k split on her way to a 1:10:56.
“I had a good block of training, so I was confident in my fitness,” Krifchin said. “I knew a couple of the other competitors, like Kara Goucher. The race went off, and three of us were in the lead pack. I stayed there comfortably and did my thing, and kept pushing.”
That race got her on the plane to Bulgaria for the worlds as part of Team USA with Flanagan, the U.S. record holder at three distances, including 10,000 meters (30:22.22), which she ran to earn the bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games, only the second U.S. woman to medal in that event. Lynn Jennings was the first.
Flanagan was second at the 2010 New York City Marathon and won the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in a personal-record 2:25:38, then ran 2:25:51 to finish 10th at the London Games.
On Oct. 6, in 80-degree weather at the worlds, Krifchin paced off Flanagan before passing her on the third of four loops and finished 13th overall and first among the five Americans in 1:12:29.
“The race went off, and the Kenyans and Ethiopians pulled away early,” Krifchin said. “I hung back and went a little more conservatively and used my strength. The course was kind of tricky. There were numerous 180-degree turns, which takes you out of your rhythm.
“Shalane was in front of me, so I was feeding off her and could see that she wasn’t really pulling away, so I worked on getting closer and closer. At the same time, I was the newbie, so there wasn’t as much pressure on me to be up front. It was my first world event, so just see what I can do. I knew I was fit and ready. I was nervous and confident at the same time. It was a good time. I learned a lot.”
“For her to go and qualify for the worlds is a huge victory for her and our program, unspeakable for a team at this level to do that,” John Aris said. “We knew she was one of the best half marathoners in the country. At the same time, she held back a little. I think she over-respected Shalane Flanagan coming right off the Olympic Marathon. It’s a known fact she wasn’t in the best shape, and Shalane had a very, very bad day, so Maegan ran strong the last few miles. I give Maegan a solid B-plus, A-minus.”
Krifchin said she has embraced the principles Stotan Racing is trying to promote.
It’s certainly translated in her races.
“It’s all about running tough, being strong and thinking big,” she said. “And that’s how I am. I feel like, if I work hard and do all the little things, when it comes to racing, I’m all in.
“Maegan was one of these diamonds in the rough anomalies,” Aris said. “She was a pretty good middle distance runner at Syracuse, but one of those with very little promise over a mile. There was certainly nothing to indicate that she had marathon desire or potential.
“The first few months, we gave her a crash course in a variety of training. She showed tremendous aptitude for longer distances. Since she was fifth at Boilermaker [in 2010], she’s climbed up the ladder, third last year. We can’t take full credit, because she has the innate competitive drive of a champion. She will be an Olympian. Hopefully, it’ll be with us, but she will be an Olympian.”
“That’s the caliber of this woman; and she’s coming to the Stockade-athon,” Juliano said. “You could make the argument now, that if you were going to name stars of the immediate future in the next two or three years, she would be one of them. She’s that good.”