Can Jack Rayner win the Zatopek:10 a third time straight?
Here's a pub quiz question for you: “Who is the only runner to have won the Zatopek:10 twice in a single year?”
The correct answer is Jack Rayner, who won the Australian 10,000m title event twice in 2022 when the 2021 race was carried over to January 2022 due to Covid restrictions. For Jack, it was just part of a sensational year, which also saw him smash national records in the 10,000m and 10K on the track and road, and set an impressive PB in the 5000m.
2023 is looking pretty good, too. In the past few months, Rayner has won the Australian cross country title, taken top honours in the Melbourne Half Marathon – a third win from three attempts – successfully gone back-to-back in defending his Burnie Ten crown, and won the 5km Noosa Bolt road race for a third time.
“There will be a good field this year, I reckon, and, with it being a national champs, it's always going to be the strongest guys in Australia competing for the title.”
Jack Rayner on the Zatopek:10
So, can Rayner nail the hat-trick when it comes to winning a third straight Zatopek:10 on Saturday 2 December? For spectators, it promises to be an exciting event, not only with Jack looking for a third gold medal but also with new sponsor On injecting some of the same carnival energy it’s been bringing to its worldwide On Track Nights series.
Before we get into that though, perhaps the most surprising thing to learn – after such a blazing 2022 and second half of 2023 – was that Rayner had what he considered a disappointing season in the northern hemisphere earlier this year and had come back to Australia hoping for a reset.
“I had my best ever year in the 2022 season. Setting the 10,000m record on the track and then running a quick 5000m as well [13:06.00 at the Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway]. I had really good races a couple of times,” he says.
“But when it came around to the championships, I think I was running on empty and wasn't able to perform as well as I would have liked to.” (He missed out on qualifying for the World Championships in Budapest this year.)
“When I was overseas, I somehow ended up getting low testosterone. I don't really know exactly how – maybe just pushing too hard. We were away at a training camp in Spain for a bit over a month and I think I was overtraining a little bit. Coming off that, I was pretty much into getting RED-S: relative energy deficiency syndrome [in sport]. So, I was borderline on that.”
“But coming back, and knowing I was in Australia, changed my mindset a little bit. Not having the pressure of these big European races where they were very, very fast was nice. Having that little step back to being at home.”
The reset is clearly working, judging by Rayner’s blitz of recent wins.
“The last couple of big resets I've had have been forced ones following injury, but this time there was no injury, which was great. I think I just had to change a few little things before I was back to running as well as I would have liked to.”
So, can he win the Zatopek:10?
“That's the plan,” he says when we caught up a couple of days before he headed to Falls Creek for altitude training ahead of the race.
“There will be a good field this year, I reckon, and, with it being a national champs, it's always going to be the strongest guys in Australia competing for the title.
“I think we're going to have Pat [Tiernan] flying back from the States to race as well. I think he’ll be the biggest challenger, and it will be good having him there. He's run the second quickest ever in Australia.”
(Before being bested by Rayner’s current 10,000m record of 27:15.35, Tiernan held the Australian record from 2020 to 2022.)
Jack is pleased with how his training is going in the lead-up.
“I’m not doing anything too different to what I have in the past, but training's been going quite smoothly. We haven't had a chance to get up to Falls Creek since the start of 2022, so it's coming up to two years since we've been up to Falls.”
“It will be nice to do Zatopek coming off altitude. I'm looking forward to that, and last year was a bit strange – they had Zatopek in January and then again in December.”
They sure did. Quizmasters take note.
If this article didn’t already have a rhyming heading, there was another obvious pun we could have used: “Jack of all trades”. Because, while Rayner is Australia’s dominant 10,000m athlete right now, he’s no slouch in other distances, from 5,000 metres right up to the marathon.
“It pretty much started when I was a junior. I was still struggling to find which distance I was best at because I was good at the cross country stuff and then the 5K. Never really anything below a 1500m, but now I've done decent enough from the 1500m up to the marathon.”
“Decent enough.” From behind that famous moustache, Rayner does a nice line in Aussie understatement.
“My best event is probably the 10K, on track or on the road. But I enjoy the half marathon as well. And I see myself, in the future, gravitating towards the marathon. I've already done a few of them and then you don't often hear people doing marathon and going back to doing track stuff.”
“I've run into a few little injury problems in the lead-ups, but I think with a few more years of experience behind me I will change the way I approach the next one.”
When will that be?
“I get asked that quite a lot. I would love to say I have one set but it's so hard to pick one when, obviously, my main focus next year will be qualifying for the Olympics in Paris on the track. So, I'll worry about that first and then maybe, potentially, I’ll do a marathon late next year, even like Melbourne or Sydney or something like that.
Rayner is hoping that a Zatopek:10 win will go towards securing his spot at the Olympics.
“With Zatopek being the national champs, it will be very important to run well there and secure decent points … [In Paris] my best shot will be the 5000m or the 10,000m. The 10,000m is tricky because there's a finite number of events that are quick enough to qualify. I’m still confirming which races I'm going to be doing post-Zatopek. Potentially, I’ll go over to the States like I did early last year when I did the Sound Running 10,000m in California [where he broke the Australian record].”
Just don’t expect to see him in the marathon in Paris. His shot at a do-over after Tokyo will have to wait.
“Definitely not next year. I reckon there's a high chance you’ll see me in the following Olympics targeting the marathon, but not this one.”
First things first, though. Jack Rayner is hunting a third Zatopek:10 gold.