Currently in his final year of college, competing at the highest level of the NCAA for the distance running powerhouse BYU, two-time cross country All-American Christian Allen is looking to mix it up with America’s best marathoners come February 3rd. Read on to discover how Allen combines international trail racing with elite road running, with a collegiate track career, all the while hoping to make the 2024 US Olympic Marathon team. For more on trail runners taking on the Olympic Trials, check out this recent piece from last month.
Meet Christian Allen, known to many as Slim, a multifaceted elite runner who refuses to be defined by the surfaces he races on. The 25-year old father of two and husband to Weber State standout runner Summer Allen, seems to do it all, juggling work, parenthood and family commitments, all the while being a full-time student-athlete at Brigham Young University (BYU).
In addition to year-round collegiate racing, recording track PRs of 28:26 in the 10,000m and 13:34 in the 5,000m, plus top cross country finishes, Allen has emerged as a tour de force on the trails and is a part of Andy Wacker’s The Trail Team. Since his 2022 trail racing debut, rarely has Allen finished off the podium both stateside and abroad, across a variety of distances ranging from the vertical kilometer (VK) to 50-kilometer. After winning the Speedgoat by UTMB 50-kilometer in July, having already exhausted his NCAA cross country eligibility, Allen extended his trail season into the fall. Making stops to race Pikes Peak Ascent as part of the Golden Trail World Series before heading overseas. Training and racing in Spain for a couple months, Allen’s first taste of European trail running proved worthwhile, seeing him finish 1st and 3rd in back-to-back Sky Gran Canaria races in October.
Taking track speed to the trails
Based in the mountains throughout late summer and early fall, the majority of Allen’s miles were logged on the trails. During this time his focus is squarely on vert and time-on-feet over pace-per-mile and weekly mileage. Earlier in the year Allen honed his speed with a Spring and Summer track season, something he believed benefitted him greatly on the trails. He found that his ability to pick up the pace helped separate him from the pack on flatter sections of races, and being able to turn his legs over quickly Allen could fly downhill at sub-4-min/mile speed!
And adding trail strength to the roads
Fall of 2023, back in Provo, Utah, Allen pivoted from mostly trails and solo training to focusing heavily on road running with his BYU teammates. After a break from splits and data metrics during his trail season, Allen enjoyed dialing back into specific paces on flatter terrains, getting comfortable running 5-min/mile pace, the equivalent of a 2:11 marathon. But even with an eye for speed and elite road running goals, Allen maintained a healthy dose of trail running, especially on easy days, as he does year-round. This works both ways: when trails are his focus, Allen still trains his flat speed with regular road and track workouts, believing that trail and road running complement each other nicely, and balancing both in training are keys to his success. In his eyes, raw speed gives him an advantage over pure mountain and trail runners on flatter sections of trails, often coming in the first few miles of major races; the muscular strength and endurance gained from ever-changing trail grades help him maintain efficient running form late in road races. Beyond these physical benefits, Allen credits his ability to push through pain and discomfort during his marathon debut with the mental toughness cultivated on runs over double the duration and in far worse conditions. Compared with some of his trail races, “only” 2 hours of potential suffering seemed a lot more manageable!
His summer and early fall spent predominantly on the trails, Allen believes, allowed him to take on his build to the California International Marathon (CIM) mentally refreshed and raring to go. While we may not all be elite trail and road runners, I think we can all take inspiration here and look to vary our own training to prevent burnout and boredom, as well as to maintain motivation and health.
Stressing out over hitting splits and chasing PRs? Take off the watch and try the trails! Tired of watching your footing every step of a run, or over constantly chopping and changing your stride on different grades and terrains? Pounding the pavement might be perfect for you!
Allen’s OTQ marathon debut
December 3rd, 2023, Allen lined up for his marathon debut finishing in 2:15:01, his mind and body, he believed, prepared to run under the Olympic Standard time of 2:11:30. Despite the best-laid plans and controlling the controllables, trouble can and did strike. As an elite athlete, Allen was afforded personal water bottles at fluid stations every 5 kilometers of the marathon, bottles he handed into officials the night before the race. Unfortunately, as Allen ran by fluid station after fluid station, he failed to find his bottles. Unlike non-elite runners, Allen was relying solely on these bottles for all his hydration and fueling needs throughout the race, rather than running with gels in his pockets. Ultimately, this left Allen grossly under-fueled and dehydrated for the majority of the race, something he paid the price for dearly in the closing miles of CIM. With the composure of a seasoned marathoner, Allen remained calm and on track for a 2:10 finish before “hitting the wall” 22 miles in. Reduced to (in his eyes at least) a snail’s pace, Allen “jogged” it in painfully, still clocking a mighty impressive 2:15 debut marathon and, most importantly, qualifying him for February’s US Olympic Marathon Team Trials, running well under the 2:18 time standard.
Building up to the Olympic Marathon Trials
Now only a few weeks out from the heralded US Olympic Marathon Team Trials, Allen will toe the starting line in Orlando hoping to do more than merely make up the numbers and collect his participation swag. Coached by two time Olympian Ed Eyestone, matching stride for stride with 2:07 and 2:08 marathoners Connor Manz and Clayton Young on the daily, Allen has his sights set on a top 3 finish. With confidence gained from his training partners’ performances, plus added wisdom from local Olympians like 6th place finisher in the 2016 Rio Olympic marathon, Jared Ward, don’t let Allen’s youth and inexperience fool you into writing him off!
Whether his Olympic dreams come true in 2024 or not, one thing’s for certain: Christian Allen is one to watch out for in the years to come. Mark my word, Allen is on the up, ready to challenge the World’s best on the roads, trails, and track.