Texas-based Canadian Calum Neff ran a 50K race in Houston over the weekend, posting a national record time of 2:51:27. He says he has had his eye on the Canadian record, which previously belonged to Andy Jones at 2:53:20 (a result that he ran at the same park in Houston where Neff ran on Sunday), for a couple of years. After a failed record attempt in 2019, he had no trouble beating Jones’s time on Sunday, running to his first national record.
Canadian National 50k Record Holder*
2:51:27 (5:32/mi) (3:26/km)
— Calum Neff (@CalNeff) January 17, 2021
Neff’s previous 50K record attempt came at the 2019 50K world championships in Romania. “We unfortunately had a bit tougher of a course in Romania than I did in Houston,” Neff says. “There was some more elevation and it was very humid.” He fell well short of Jones’s record that day, although he managed to grab a 16th-place finish in a PB time of 2:57:58. Even though Neff was four minutes off the record that day, he says he still believed it was within his reach.
Neff says his confidence grew even more after pacing Sara Hall at The Marathon Project in December. He helped Hall to a 2:20:32 finish (the second-fastest marathon ever run by an American woman) before crossing the line himself in 2:20:37, a PB of his own. “Having seen my marathon time come down, it all just lined up,” Neff says. “After I paced Sara, I knew that day I could’ve gone another five miles and been under record pace.”
While he felt as fit as ever, there was one glaring problem: Neff had nowhere to race. Refusing to let that stop him, he organized his own event, which was a new experience for him. “I’ve put on kids’ cross-country and track meets, but this was the first actual event I’ve race directed,” Neff says. Ensuring that the course was record eligible, he got it officially measured and certified by the USATF, and he was joined by about 20 other athletes (many of whom he coaches) on race day.
The course followed a roughly 5K figure-eight loop that featured about one metre of elevation gain. “It was pancake flat and fast,” Neff says — much better than the course in Romania. Feeling fit and ready to run, he says he was hoping to go a bit faster on Sunday, but he’s far from disappointed in his time. “I had targeted that sub-2:50 range, but I was just a little bit off my sharpness that I needed,” he says. “Still, I was able to take six minutes off my own PR and have one of those days.”
After he crossed the line in record-breaking fashion, Neff stuck around to cheer on the other runners as they pushed for the tape. “As a coach to half of the athletes running, that was really special to have my finish happen, then to turn around to watch my athletes finish.” Neff says several men he coaches ran under three hours for the first time, and multiple women ran times that qualified them for the American 50K team. “The U.S. mark is 3:33 for 50K. Two women went 3:19, one went 3:24 and another ran 3:25.”
Moving forward, Neff says he doesn’t have specific plans, and as much as he wants to race, he isn’t too eager to travel right now. With nothing set in stone, he says he does know that he wants to lower his record and break the 2:50 barrier in the 50K and run sub-2:20 in the marathon. “For now, I’ll just continue to focus on domestic races here in the U.S.,” he says. “Then play it by ear and see what opportunities come up in the future.”