From high school track to grueling ultramarathons, memorable moments abound in the world of competitive running in 2015. In the U.S., a few names stood out from the rest.
Competitor’s 2015 Runners of the Year took into account the calendar year of performances among distance runners who are living and training in the United States, regardless of where they competed.
Here are our winners:
High School Girls: Katie Rainsberger, 17, Colorado Springs, Colo.
The Air Academy senior and daughter of world-class distance runner Lisa Rainsberger has steadily improved over the years, displaying her best performances yet in 2015. After winning the class 4A individual cross country state championship for the second year in a row and helping her school team to win their first girls cross country state championship, she finished off the season strong with a win at Nike Cross Nationals in December. The win caps four consecutive runs in which Rainsberger placed 13th and then 6th twice before her victory at this year's meet in 16:56.8. Her time broke Allie Ostrander's 2014 course-setting record by 23 seconds and was off by only six seconds from achieving Alexa Efraimson's meet record. Not only has Rainsberger dominated the high school girls cross-country field, though, she's also made significant headway on the track, claiming state titles in the 800 meters, 1,600m and 3,200m this past spring. Recently, she announced she will be running for the University of Oregon next fall. (Photo: Pierre Robichaud)
High School Boys: Drew Hunter, 18, Purcellville, Va.
A rising star in track and field since last year, Drew Hunter kicked off this year with several national championship titles. First he won the 2-mile in 8:48.22 at the New Balance Indoor National meet. He then became the second male high school athlete in the history of the Penn Relays to win both the 3,000-meter and mile titles—the 3,000m being a second consecutive win after his national sophomore record of 8:16.31 set in 2014. At the adidas Grand Prix Boys Dream Mile in June, he lost to Grant Fisher by one second, but achieved a new personal best of 4:02.36. Later that month, the Loudoun Valley High senior redeemed his near win by beating Fisher in the final 100 meters of the Brooks PR Invitational 2-mile in 8:42.51 (another new PR). Although, Hunter excels on the track, his most impressive performance this year was his recent victory at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in San Diego, where he beat out the top 40 boys in the country in 14:55.7. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
College Women: Molly Seidel, Notre Dame
Molly Seidel had an amazing 2015, emerging as the dominant collegiate runner that many thought she could be when she was a dominant high school runner four years ago. Seidel won the 2015 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships on Nov. 21, surging away from Boise State's Allie Ostrander to win the 6K race in 19:28. Seidel, 21, from Hartland, Wis., became the first female high school Foot Locker Cross Country Championship winner to also win the NCAA meet. "I tried to go and make it hurt, squeeze that pace down," said Seidel, who also won the 10,000-meter run at the NCAA outdoor track championship in June by overcoming a 50-meter gap in the final 800 meters to win by nearly 7 seconds. "If somebody is going to beat me, I'm going to make them bleed to do it." In addition to winning four Atlantic Coast Conference titles in 2015, Seidel also earned ACC and USTFCCCA All-Academic honors. (Photo: Kirby Lee /USA Today Sports)
College Men: Edward Cheserek, Oregon
Edward Cheserek already has already racked up nine NCAA titles—more than Steve Prefontaine—in two and a half years in Eugene. The 21-year-old Oregon junior won his most recent title on Nov. 21 when he won the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships for the third straight year by running away from a strong field on the 10K course in 28:45.8. He also won the 5,000 (13:48.67) and 10,000 (28:58.92) at the NCAA outdoor track championships and the mile (3:57.94) and ran a leg on Oregon's victorious distance medley relay (9:30.53). Cheserek, a native of Kenya who was a record-setting high school runner in Newark, N.J., also won numerous Pac-12 Conference titles and other major meets. Only a second-place finish in the 3,000 at the indoor championship—when he was nipped at the line by teammate Eric Jenkins—kept him from a perfect 2015. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
Women’s Track: Emily Infeld, 25, Portland, Ore.
Emily Infeld (Nike) was the best U.S. story at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, surging at the end of the 10,000m to catch Molly Huddle at the finish line to grab bronze in 31:43.49—the only medal won by the U.S. in the distance events at worlds. The bronze was even more special considering Infeld’s long road back from multiple stress fractures that nearly ended her running career. She slowly worked her way back in 2015, culminating in a fantastic summer that saw her place third at both the U.S. championships and worlds. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
Men’s Track: (tie) Ben True, 29, Hanover, N.H., and Galen Rupp, 29, Portland, Ore.
These two have developed a pretty good rivalry, and their 2015 results are too close to call. True (Saucony) won the New York Diamond League 5,000m in 27:43 in June, then qualified for worlds in both the 5,000m and 10,000m with a pair of runner-up finishes at the U.S. championships. He finished sixth in the 5,000m at worlds. Rupp (Nike) won his seventh consecutive national title in the 10,000m, then ran both the 5,000m and 10,000m at worlds, finishing fifth in each race.
Women’s 5K-Half: Molly Huddle, 31, Providence, R.I.
Molly Huddle (Saucony) once again established herself as American running’s most dominating force. Her 2015 successes on the road are numerous, and she was nearly unbeatable—the spring was highlighted by Huddle becoming the first American to win the NYC Half (in 1:08:31) followed by a victory in the B.A.A. 5K that set a new American record at the distance (14:50). She spent the fall racking up USATF titles in the 5K, 10K, 12K, 20K and 10-mile. Her disappointment on the track at the world championships is well-documented (she let up at the end of the 10,000m and allowed Emily Infeld to slip past her), but it was one of the few blemishes in an otherwise remarkable year. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
Men’s 5K-Half: Ben True, 29, Hanover, N.H.
Not to be outdone by Ben True the track runner, Ben True the road runner had a great year as well. He set the American record for the road 5K with a 13:22 in winning the B.A.A. 5K. He also became the first American winner of the Healthy Kidney 10K in New York since 2007, when he outlasted Stephen Sambu in a time of 28:13.
Marathon Women: Desiree Linden, 32, Rochester Hills, Mich.
This year was a comeback year for Desiree Linden (Brooks). After finishing 10th in the 2014 Boston Marathon—the second American woman after Shalane Flanagan—this year, she regained the top American spot in fourth place, five spots ahead of Flanagan. However, it's not just her fourth-place finish that entitles her as runner of the year, it's her awe-inspiring performance of leading the pack for nearly 21 miles that had us gripping our seats; a reaction that hasn't been experienced since her 2011 Boston performance. Although, it's the only major marathon achievement of hers this year, her strong 2:22:38 Boston finish has her among the favorites for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trails Marathon on Feb. 13. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
Marathon Men: Dathan Ritzenhein, 32, Grand Rapids, Mich.
In his debut at the Boston Marathon, Dathan Ritzenhein (Nike) was the top American finisher placing seventh in 2:11:20. Meb Keflezighi, who finished one place behind Ritzenhein, may have had two strong marathon performances this year in Boston (2:12:42) and New York (2:13:32), but Ritzenhein's strong first-time Boston showing despite debilitating winds, and especially after not having competed in a major marathon since Chicago in 2013, was impressive. Ritzenhein raced plenty of shorter distances in 2015, as well, but he’s looking to make the 2016 Olympic team in the marathon. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
Women’s Masters: Deena Kastor, 42, Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
Deena Kastor (ASICS) is already all over the American record books, but she added a big one this fall. She set out to break the masters record in the women’s marathon in Chicago, a mark that had stood for 10 years since Colleen De Reuck ran a 2:28:40. Kastor smashed the record, running a 2:27:47 and placing as the top American woman at the Marathon Major race. It was her first sub-2:30 marathon in six years, and put her back in the discussion about the 2016 U.S. Olympic team.
Men’s Masters: Bernard Lagat, 41, Tucson, Ariz.
Meb Keflezighi had a great year at the age of 40, but Bernard Lagat (Nike) re-wrote the record books over and over in 2015. He set new over-40 world records in both the 10K (27:48 at the Great Manchester Run) and the 5K (13:40 at the Carlsbad 5000) on the roads, as well as several marks on the track including the mile, 2-mile and 3,000m. Now 41, Lagat heads into 2016 determined to make his fifth Olympic team. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
Trail Running Women — Megan Kimmel, 35, Carbondale, Colo.
Megan Kimmel (ASICS) lived a vagabond life during the summer of 2015, spending several weeks training and racing in the Alps. She won some of the year’s most grueling and competitive races—including the Dolomites SkyRace on July 19 in Italy (2:25:57), The Rut 25K in Big Sky, Mont., (1:46:31), the 39K Flagstaff Sky Race (4:29:42) on Oct. 3 in Arizona and the Moab Trail Marathon (3:28:00) on Nov. 8 in Utah (which doubled as the USATF Trail Marathon Championships)—and also won the U.S. Skyrunner Series. Kimmel, 35, the USATF 2015 Trail Runner of the Year (for sub-ultra distances), capped her season by winning The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-mile championship (7:13:52). She also placed 16th in the Zermatt Marathon in Switzerland in July and in June she ran three legs for the winning team at the Beat the Sun Relay that sent teams of runners from around the world circling the Mont Blanc mountain range in France, Italy and Switzerland during the longest day of the year to celebrate the Summer Solstice. (Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer)
Trail Running Men – Joe Gray, 31, Colorado Springs
Joe Gray (Merrell) remains the gold standard among American trail runners focused on sub-ultra distances. Although he finished third at the U.S. Mountain Running Championships, he turned in one of his strongest performances ever at the World Mountain Running Championships in Wales, placing fifth and leading the U.S. to a fourth-place finish. The 31-year-old Gray, who ran collegiately at Oklahoma State, also set a new FKT (Fastest Known Time) at the popular Manitou Incline in Manitou Springs, Colo., scaling the ridiculously steep 0.9-mile former railway—which has an average grade of 40.3 percent—in 17 minutes, 45 seconds, eclipsing the widely accepted mark of 18:31 set by mountain running legend Matt Carpenter in 1998. He placed second overall (and was the top American) in the 39K Flagstaff Sky Race (4:06:28) on Oct. 3 in Arizona, and placed second at the Moab Trail Marathon (3:09:00), which doubled as the USATF Trail Marathon Championships. Gray, a 19-time U.S. national team member, nine-time national champion and the 2015 USATF Mountain Runner of the Year, won the Mt. Washington Road Race in June for the second straight year, clocking a 58:15—the fastest American time ever and the second-fastest time in the event’s history. (Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer)
Women’s Ultrarunning: Camille Herron, 34, Warr Acres, Okla.
Camille Herron (Skechers) has taken an unconventional approach to ultrarunning by sticking to road races in 2015, but it’s hard to argue with her success. The soon-to-be 34-year-old (Herron’s birthday is on Dec. 25) smashed the legendary Ann Trason's 26-year-old U.S. Championship Record—and ran the fastest 100K ever on American soil—at the Mad City 100K in April, running 7:26:24 to capture her first national title of the year. Herron went on to win the world title in September, running 7:08:35, the fourth fastest 100K time in history, leading the American women to the team title in the Netherlands. In October, she set a new world’s best for 50 miles on the road, winning the U.S. title in 5:38:41. And just this month, Herron won the 50K world title in Doha, running 3:20:59.
Men’s Ultrarunning: Zach Miller, 26, Manitou Springs, Colo.
Zach Miller (Nike Trail Elite) didn’t race a ton in 2015 but when he did, he raced quite well. The hard-charger from Manitou Springs, Colo., led through 30K at Transvulcania in May before fading and eventually battling back to finish fifth overall. In August, he won the prestigious (and ridiculously mountainous) CCC in France, clocking 11:53 for the 100K distance to finish 13 minutes ahead of fellow American Tim Tollefson. Miller closed out the year with a dominating wire-to-wire win at The North Endurance Challenge Championships, covering the hilly 50-mile course in 6:12:37. (Photo: Franck Oddoux/UTMB)
Women’s Cross Country: Laura Thweatt, 27, Boulder, Colo.
Racing in her backyard of Boulder, Colo., Laura Thweatt (Saucony) crushed the competition at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in February, running 27:41 to win the senior women’s race by 31 seconds. She placed a solid 29th at the world championships on March 28, thirty seconds behind teammate Sara Hall, who finished 20th. Thweatt closed out the year with a close second-place finish at the U.S. Club Cross Country Championships in San Francisco, one second behind 2014 U.S. cross-country champion Amy Van Alstine. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
Men’s Cross Cross Country: Chris Derrick, 25, Portland, Ore.
Chris Derrick (Nike) three-peated at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in February, dominating the 12K race in 36:18—30 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Bobby Curtis. He went on to place 24th—and top American finisher—at the world championships in China on March 28. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)