May 4th, 2010

London Recap

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University of Wisconsin Eau Claire geography professor (and writer for Track & Field News), Sean Hartnett, is one of the sport’s keenest observers.  Below is a copy of the e-mail he sent with his take on this year’s Virgin London Marathon, which he watched from his lead motorcycle position.

“Yes London was another pace surprise (63:10 at halfway) although not the shocker like last year (61:35 halfway). After reviewing my photos, race video, and discussions with the athletes the slow pace reflected that it was was rough day for running.

“Most of the guys talked about slipping on the slick pavement, some even said that there shoes were not well suited for the wet pavement. I didn’t talk to Sammy (Wanjiru) after the race, but I think he had the same shoes as Chicago, and you can imagine those hard slap – slap shoes on wet pavement. The athletes also mentioned having water splashed on their legs causing some cramping.

“Like you – watching the race develop - I wondered what was going on. I double and triple checked the Pace Display sign to see if it was working. I got a thumbs up when pointed to the sign after 5K, and I saw a pick-it-up reaction from Sammy and Gharib after they saw the slow pace at 15K. I think that despite displaying Marathon Pace along with every mile split, the athletes still only trust the Km splits.

“All told I just have to think it was a slow day – just the opposite of Boston. The sight of a few runners in the lead pack who obviously didn’t belong there seemed to reinforce the slow pace theory, but that slow pace destroyed them as they all jogged home or DNF’d. It was a shame after all London had to cope with to get the athletes in place, and that a week of sunny San Diego weather turned to rain an hour before the race – again the opposite of Boston.

“Attached is the pace data displayed to the athletes. Splits were dead on as Hugh Jones was with us and we got splits right on the survey marks on the road.”

Here is a link to a London SlideShow

Thanks to Sean Hartnett for his unerring eye, and dedication to detail.

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Kenya’s Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot and Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia had already crossed the finish line as champions of the 114th Boston Marathon. But our WBZ-TV broadcast still had another forty minutes of airtime to fill.  This is when we turn our coverage toward the masses of runners who make up the bulk and base of the old town race.

Our reporter on Heartbreak Hill was busy corralling whomever he could for a quick interview as the field trudged up toward 21 miles.

“Hi, you’re on live TV,” he began with one woman.  “How do you feel?”

“Fine,” she replied.

“What are you running for?”

Without a second’s irony, she replied, “3:30,” and continued on her purposeful way.

The reporter came to a stop, seemingly caught off guard by her response.  3,30?  Was that some charity he hadn’t hear of?  What did “3,30″ refer to? Flummoxed, he let the woman go, and sought out another runner. Well, of course, the woman was telling the poor soul the time she was shooting for in this, the most prestigious foot race in the world.

Ever since the BAA instituted time qualifications in 1970 to retard the size of the fields, Boston’s qualifying times have become the holy grail of average marathon runners the world over. Qualifying for Boston is often referred to as the People’s Olympics, and if you’ve ever stood at the finish line of a marathon as the clock ticks toward the Boston cut-off time, the emotion on the faces of the runners who make it, testify to the glory attached to earning a Boston bib number over and above simply finishing a particular marathon.

Boston isn’t like every other Tom, Dick, and Harry marathon where $70 to God knows how much will garner you a bib number. No, at Boston you have to be a real runner. Or, at least, that’s how the policy’s unintended consequences have turned out.

Nowadays, however, the sport has so given itself over to charity fundraising that the very concept of running a race for a fast time no longer computes.  And what if Macbook running slow? In fact, there were some runners who qualified for Boston who weren’t able to run this year, because the race had “sold out” by November 2009, many through charity entry.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am among those who believe that the charity connection to running has become a wonderful, and richly rewarding addition to the sport.  But what was once a side dish threatens to become the main course.  What do you think?  Has the charity component gone too far in running? Does any reporter ever ask Kobe Bryant, “what are you shooting for?”  Let us know how you see it.

April 23rd, 2010

London Preview

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 First the Icelandic volcano to throw off delicate travel and taper schedules, and now a forecast calling for the warmest weekend of the year in London…I must say, the marathon gods must be restless.  Regardless, with fields as strong as Dave Bedford has put together, irrespective of the finishing times, the competition promises to be epic.

Talk of world records always attends London, though, in fact, they have only witnessed one on the men’s side – in 2002 when Khalid Khannouchi bested Paul Tergat and the debuting Haile Gebrselassie in 2:05:38.  But as we have seen over the last two years, Haile’s 2:03:59 from Berlin `08 is no cakewalk, and will not easily succumb, especially if the temperatures rise to near 70 degrees as forecasters predict.  Read more…

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The morning after the 114th Boston Marathon Meb was sitting in the Venetian Room of the Copley Plaza Hotel after the post-event press conference.  1990 Boston marathon champion Gelindo Bordin of Italy walked by, saying hi to an old friend on his way out.

“Who was that?” asked Meb.

“That?  That was Gelindo Bordin, the Olympic Marathon champion.”

“Oh, I’ve never met him.”

“Hey, Gelindo!  Come here I want to introduce you to somebody.”

It’s like Hollywood, everybody thinks anyone knows everyone else.  So that’s how the 1988 Olympic gold medalist met the 2004 Olympic silver medalist.  

Meb and Gelindo shared a few words in Italian.  Meb had spent a few years in Milan after emigrating with his family from Eritrea on their eventual way to San Diego.  Gelindo invited Meb back to play soccer in the old country sometime, colleagues. 

It was a nice moment. Any sport  needs to be lucky in its champions.  In Gelindo and Meb running has come out on top.

April 14th, 2010

The Long Road to Boston

 It is a long road full of ups and downs, twists and turns, and unforeseen challenges.  Then the starting gun is fired and the marathon spills out of Hopkinton on Patriot’s Day.  It’s always been true that the path to the marathon generates the greatest obstacle, and it isn’t just the eight-to-twelve weeks of marathon specific training which constitutes that long, arduous journey.

2008 was an epochal year in distance running.  In America a changing of the guard was underway, led by California’s Ryan Hall.  The previous year had seen his breakthrough, building off a series of record performances, including a majestic win at the Olympic Marathon Trials in November of 2007 in New York City.  He followed with a 2:06:17 fifth place finish in London in the spring, making him the fastest native-born American marathoner of all time, and a medal threat in Beijing. 

Fellow Mammoth Lakes Track Club teammate Meb Keflezighi found himself on an opposite trajectory.  He and Deena Kastor had turned America’s running fortunes around with their Olympic medal performances in Athens 2004, but by 2007 Meb’s fortunes had begun to sour.  Though he had podium finishes in New York City in `04 (2nd) and 2005 (3rd), and added another third place in Boston 2006, he was never able to notch the big win. Then a series of frustrating injuries, ailments, and mishaps began derailing his every step.  Read more…

We love sports because raw competition is there for all to see, unscripted, in the moment, neither burnished not tarnished by the money changers or middle-men.  Certainly the era of PEDs has put everyone on notice.  Any truth can fall prey to the dark forces of greed and lust.  And yet even though our faith has been shaken, we still want to believe, because, for all its frailty, sport fullfills man’s sense of exceptionalism. 

Tiger Woods is among the most self-possessed athletes in modern times. His record of golfing achievements stand in bold relief.  But Tiger Woods, the man?  I’m not sure we ever have, or will, see what’s behind the mask.  Not our right to know, except Tiger wants it both ways.  He wants us to follow, but not intrude, buy, but not pry.  But in accepting the former one forfeits the latter. Read more…

Congratulations are in order for Olympian Carrie Tollefson and husband Charlie Peterson who welcomed their first child into this old world Thursday afternoon April 1st in Minnesota at 3:08 p.m. central daylight time.  Ruby Anne Peterson weighed in at 6 lbs. 10 ounces, and stretched to 20″ in length.  According to mom all are doing great.  Can’t think of better people to populate the planet.  April 1st, too, but ain’t no joke. 

  The 25th anniversary of the Carlsbad 5000 is Sunday April 11th.  There will be a gathering Friday the 9th at 10 a.m. at the Four Seasons Aviara Golf Club.  Among those in attendance will be Elite Racing and Carlsbad 5000 founder Tim Murphy, and three-time champion and course designer Steve Scott.  A panel of current top athletes including 5km world record holder Meseret Defar will also be on hand.

I covered my first Carlsbad 5000 in 1989, the fourth year of the event, and in going back to review what was going on in the running world in leading up to that Carlsbad race, I found notes from a telephone conversation from Sunday December 4, 1988.  Read more…

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