A closer look at the reshuffle at NAZ Elite
By Jonathan Gault
December 22, 2021. Posted on December 23, 2021
Last week four male members of HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite left the team, all marathoners. Scott smith retirement, Sid vaughnthe contract has not been renewed, and Scott Fauble and Rory linkletter chose to leave the team and change coaches, ending the NAZ Elite coach Ben Rosario described as a “difficult” 2021 season for the team. Earlier this year, the former US 5,000m champion Ryan hill also left the team after a brief injury-filled stint at Flagstaff.
In professional racing, contracts expire at the end of the calendar year, so upheavals at this time of year are not uncommon. But it’s rare for a group to be as affected as NAZ Elite, which now has just four male and eight female athletes. Before drawing any conclusions, it is worth considering each departure individually.
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“It’s really just Rory and I who made the decision to leave the band, âsays Fauble. “And I can see how from the outside, someone would think there’s some sort of clearance sale going on with NAZ Elite, and that’s just not the case.”
Smith, a 2:09 am marathoner, is 35 and has spent the last few years commuting between the team’s base in Flagstaff and Los Angeles, where his wife works as a medic. With the couple expecting their first child in January and Smith’s contract at the end of the year, retirement makes perfect sense.
Vaughn’s contract also expires at the end of 2021 and has not been renewed. Although Rosario says he still believes in Vaughn’s talent, the 27-year-old has struggled to stay healthy since joining the team in 2019. Vaughn has only started two marathons as a as a member of the team, both in 2020: he dropped out of the Olympic Trials and ran in 2:14:28 at the Marathon Project, finishing 25th.
“He and I have a great relationship, and we had spoken months ago [where I said], ‘Hey, I hate to say that, but you got to put on a performance, âsays Rosario. âAnd he knew it. And unfortunately, he got a little puncture again just before running first in Chicago, then US Half Champs.
Fauble and Linkletter are the two starts that surprised. Although the two made their decisions independently, the cause was the same: neither saw the improvements in outcomes they wanted and felt it was time for a change. They had time left on their HOKA contracts and Rosario both wanted to come back in 2022. But Rosario accepted their explanations and HOKA released them from their contracts (no new sponsor has been selected yet).
âI feel like I’ve hit a plateau in a certain way, physically,â says Fauble, 30. I needed new stimuli.
Heading into the Boston Marathon in October, Fauble estimated he was in the same type of physical condition as when he ran 2:09:09 there in 2019 to finish as the top American in 7th place. . But after struggling to finish 16th in 2:13:47 in October, Fauble walked out of the race feeling he didn’t have the tools to succeed in a marathon like 2021 in Boston, which featured a slow first half and a number of strong pushes through the hilly second half.
âThat’s when my initial considerations started,â says Fauble. âAnd I think when you’re wondering if a group situation or a practice situation is right for you, you have to find a way to be full or full. Being halfway is not good for anyone. And once I couldn’t get back on board, I decided it was time to go.
Under Rosario, Fauble finished 4th in the 10,000 at the 2016 Olympic Trials and posted points of 62:18 and 2:09:09.
âAt first I was disappointed [Fauble was leaving], says Rosario. âBut the truth is, sometimes you just need a change. And I think after six and a half years we’ve done so well, he’s reached such high heights. But it’s only sport … Tthis is sort of the next phase he’s heading into, and if he wants to make a change, he has to do it now.
âI still have a lot of faith that Ben and I will have a close personal relationship going forward,â said Fauble. “There is no disagreement between Ben and me. It was exclusively a professional decision.”
Going forward, Fauble will remain based in Flagstaff, where his fiancee works as a physiotherapist for a local hospital. He will be trained by Joe bosshard, and although their coaching relationship is mostly distant, Fauble plans to spend time training with Bosshard in Boulder ahead of big races.
âI kind of know what I want to do, but I also know that I can’t and probably shouldn’t train myself,â says Fauble. “So I thought there was a good balance between treating myself like an adult and providing advice without either of us feeling like we needed to micromanage every detail of my day.”
Likewise, Linkletter, who joined the team in 2019, felt he was not seeing the results he believed himself capable of. At the start of his tenure with NAZ Elite, Linkletter, 25, turned 61:44 for half in Houston in January 2020, the second fastest time ever for a Canadian. But in his three marathons since then, he’s run 2:12:54 (17th at Marathon Project 2020), 2:23:34 (36th at 2021 Boston), and 2:12:52 (2nd at CIM 2021). The latter, Linkletter admitted, was a solid result, but he hoped to see more progress by the end of his second full year with the team.
âI felt like there was a lag between the training I was putting in and the results I was producingâ¦ it was just this succession of disappointing performances,â Linkletter says, adding that he had no problem with Rosario as a person or one of his teammates.
Rosario raced for the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project from 2003 to 2005, and his stint with the Hanson brothers influenced not only his training philosophy, but also the way he leads his group. NAZ Elite is not just a training group where athletes come together to train, but a team, where members meet daily for races or gym sessions. Under this model, athletes develop a strong bond – Linkletter refers to his teammate NAZ Elite Nick Hauger, who finished right behind him at CIM, as a best friend – and receives a lot of practical training. Linkletter, however, wanted more word in his lineup, which influenced his decision to leave the group.
âIf we all train for the same race, we train the same and it’s very team-oriented,â says Linkletter. “And I think at a professional level the athlete knows his body the best and that just became my philosophy is that I had to do things the way I felt best for me and I had to find a situation where I could call mine some more shots.
Going forward, Linkletter will remain in Flagstaff (he bought a house there with his wife earlier this year) and will be coached by Ryan Room.
One question that needs to be asked, in the age of supershoes, is whether shoes were factored into the decision of Fauble or Linkletter. A recent study conducted by Dustin P. Joubert and Garrett p jones at Stephen F. Austin State University comparing running economy across seven carbon-plated shoes revealed that HOKA’s Rocket X was no better than a âtraditionalâ marathon running shoe, the Asics Hyperspeed, and much worse than Nike’s Vaporfly.
Fauble, who finished 12th at last year’s Olympic marathon trials in Rocket X, said HOKA’s shoes had nothing to do with his decision to quit the team. The top five in the men’s race at practice all wore Nike Vaporflys or Alphaflys, although only one of the top five in the women’s race wore a Nike shoe, and the winner, Fauble teammate NAZ Elite Aliphine Tuliamuk, wore the Rocket X.
Linkletter, meanwhile, said the shoes were a factor in his decision to leave the group – but it wasn’t the main factor.
âI think it’s important that you have the one piece of equipment in our sport that isn’t holding you back in any way,â says Linkletter. “And if I give a competitor wearing a different shoe some sort of time limit, it can mean a lot to my career.”
Linkletter believes running styles have changed due to the influx of super shoes, which reduce kick and leave athletes’ legs cooler in the later stages of a run.
âPeople come out more recklessly and don’t pay at all,â Linkletter says. âThese times are getting a lot faster, faster, and I think the shoes definitely play a big role in the dynamics of the race. So if you are not in a shoe comparable to the competition you are going to lose whether it is simply [is] strategic [and] you can’t run like they run, or in terms of time you just waste seconds, maybe more depending on distance.
Linkletter added that shoes are only one factor that contributes to an athlete’s performance, but he believes they have made an impact.
âThe guys I used to compete or beat regularly who now beat me easily and the biggest variable change was two things: my training and the technological change,â says Linkletter.
Now, of course, Linkletter and Fauble will be able to compete in any shoe they choose. Neither has a shoe contract, and as we have seen with Noah Droddy and Well true, which was not sponsored for the first 10 months of 2021, these contracts can be hard to find. Denying the guaranteed safety of a footwear deal for 2022 requires some judgment.
Fauble is the same age as Droddy at this time last year and has the same marathon bp, but has accomplished more in his career (two top-10s in majors, twice under-2: 10) and should be able to find contract. Fauble says his agent Josh cox had “good conversations” with brands, adding that he had saved enough on his HOKA contract to be able to survive without a sponsor for the immediate future.
“I am by no means very worried about this,” Fauble says. âIt’s not a big deal for me at the moment. This is something that I will let my agent understand and I will try not to stress about it.
Linkletter’s situation is more precarious. He doesn’t have the same marathon success record as Fauble (although his half-marathon is faster) and represents Canada internationally, not the United States. Linkletter may need to execute something quickly in early 2022 in order to prove he’s worthy of a contract.
âIt’s really scary because there’s no guarantee that I’ll get another deal in my life,â Linkletter says. âI like to believe that I will perform at a level that will put me in a position of power where I will get something, but there are no guarantees. So I’m just betting on myself.
NAZ Elite, meanwhile, will go ahead with its four remaining male athletes – Matt baxter, Tyler’s day, Alex masai, and Nick Hauger – and whoever he signs in 2022.
âOf course we did recruiting visits and people came to Flagstaff,â says Rosario. âWe’ve done both of these things, but these things take time. We are not rushing these signings. So maybe we’ll have a new athlete or two to announce [in January], maybe we won’t. But it won’t be long afterwards, because we are talking to a lot of people. “
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