EARLY NEW YORK LINE

New York City Marathon Logo TCSAs the marathoning world turns its attention to New York City, final stop on the 2013-2014 World Marathon Majors tour, we again hear goals expressed in terms of time. Perhaps victory is to be assumed as both two-time defending champion Geoffrey Mutai and his sometimes training partner and ex-world record holder Wilson Kipsang of Kenya have expressed their desire to erase Mutai’s 2011 course record 2:05:06 this Sunday morning.

Yet with Kipsang the lone wolf still in the hunt for the World Marathon Majors $500,000 series prize – he needs to win the race outright to leap over current points’ leader Dennis Kimetto – why the clock continues to be the focus of attention is somewhat baffling. Besides, from a public relations standpoint, the average Joe and Jane wouldn’t know a 2:05 from a 737. But a win’s a win’s a win in any time.

That said, for the men of the Great Rift Valley the sport has become something of an intramural contest. So confident are they that, in some ways, even the mighty TCS New York City Marathon has been reduced to a pissing contest among playful friends. Thus, in the closed world of Kenyan running, your time is your calling card, and going home with a less than scintillating time when your compatriots have just laid down a 2:02:57 world record in Berlin and a 2:04:11 in Chicago would be declasse.

Saturday rehearsal

Saturday rehearsal

But time may be a hard ticket to ride this Sunday morning. While the forecast calls for temperatures in the ideal range, 38F to 47F (3C to 8C), the prognosticators are also calling for a brisk NNW wind nearing 20 mph (33 kph) which would mirror last year’s conditions when Geoffrey Mutai won in a mere 2:08:24 — even though the effort may well have been close to his record of 2011. But that is how critical a role conditions play in this game.

Again this year I will be fortunate to be riding aboard the lead men’s moto analyzing the race for ESPN2. Recalling last year’s ride and this year’s forecast, I’ll be packing my winter gear. How well do I remember shivering across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, then growing increasingly numb up Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn through Queens into Manhattan and then the Bronx. The wind was a constant foe all the way till 35K when the course finally turned mercifully south for a mile along museum strewn Fifth Avenue and then for the final two rolling miles through Central Park. As a practical matter the conditions added a full kilometer to the distance. Continue reading

MORNING RUNS

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Those morning runs `cross fields of green,

Where the hills rolled high and low,

When the sun’s slant glazed with honeyed light,

and the dew was all aglow,

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We’ leap the gilded gullies,

And laugh when splash we did,

Watch flaring birds in cursive flight,

‘fore answering a challenger’s bid.

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Not just a surge or press of pace,

Gauntlets of heart and lung,

But the questions that once did fabulists ask,

Whether in rhyming tone or sung.

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The ones that spoke of purpose,

Asking why, and when, and how?

Queries which had no finite truth,

But in whose lee there lied the Tao. Continue reading

RUNNING FLAT RADIO

AthleticsCanadaRoadSummit

I delivered the keynote address at last week’s first Athletics Canada National Race Directors Summit in Toronto before an attentive audience of event directors, federation officials, suppliers and media.  In my talk, billed as Innovations in Road Running, I urged a closer working relationship between events, athletes, and the governing body in an effort to rebuild the Canadian racing brand, which, like the USA’s took a nosedive in the 1990s.

I recalled that it was the birth of Running USA in March 1999 that the U.S. began to turnaround its distance running fortunes.  Created “to improve the status of road racing in the United States through collective marketing and promotions, services to runners and events and the development of American world class stars,”  Running USA’s early efforts led to the development of Team USA California in Mammoth Lakes which, in turn, helped kickstart American performance we still see in evidence today  — though Running USA has become less focused on the sport aspect than when it first began.

The summit in Toronto was the first such gathering since Athletics Canada named John Lofranco Coordinator of Road Running just over six months ago.  That it was the governing body itself which called the Race Directors Summit was a step forward from the American model where the lead was taken by the industry support group.

Running Flat founder Chris Uszynski

Running Flat founder Chris Uszynski

Among the attendees and presenters at the Canadian summit was Windsor, Ontario’s Chris Uszynski, founder and president of RunningFlat, an event promotion company which stages nine well-crafted boutique events in and around Windsor in Essex County just north of Detroit.  A very creative fellow, Chris very forthrightly admitted that Running Flat’s focus isn’t on racing, rather is intent on “providing a great Event experience for our family of participants, while raising money for great causes.”

RunningFlatRadioChris and I sparred a little at the summit during a session during which he remarked that he was “awards averse”, while referring to Running Flat’s goal as “getting people off the couch and into the sport”.  I suggested that in staging events like Color Runs and other events that don’t award prizes for performance at all, that he was introducing people to the activity of running, but not to the sport.  It may be a subtle distinction, but that split between fun running and competitive racing is what has defined the last decade in running, leading to, I believe, a zero-sum game whereby the growth of running as an activity has mirrored the lessening of interest in racing.

With that as a backdrop, I joined Chris on his weekly Running Flat Radio Show this past Tuesday.  My segment begins at 24:45.

Running Flat Radio can be heard every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. on AM 800 cklw in Windsor.  Many thanks to Chris for having me on his show.

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TRANSCENDING HIS SPORT

Korir with Ryan and Sara Hall

Korir with Ryan and Sara Hall

Chicago, IL. — There is a deep vein of giving associated with the distance running community.  It can be seen not just in the billion dollars plus generated for charities by thousands of running events world-wide, but in the individual works of many of the sport’s top athletes, most of whom understand they have hit the genetic lottery jackpot.  American stars Sara and Ryan Hall’s Steps Foundation and Meb Keflezighi’s MEB Foundation come quickly to mind.

While these athletes use their fame and names to lift the veil of tears that shrouds millions of less fortunate fellow time travelers, 2012 Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir of Kenya has taken the concept of service to an entirely new level.  In America to run this Sunday’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Wesley is featured in a new documentary film, titled Transcend, which presents in moving and emotional detail the most important run of Wesley’s life, that for a seat in the Kenyan parliament even as he trained to defend his Boston title in the winter of 2012/2013. The film will screen tonight in Chicago, and feature a Q & A with Wesley afterwards.

“We hope it’s an inspirational film for all runners, embodying the spirit of what running can be for all who participate,” said Transcend’s producer Tad Munnings.

Motivated by the want he witnessed growing up in his rural home district of Cherangany deep in Kenya’s Central Highlands, a want personalized by the death of his younger brother, Eliud, who expired after being bitten by a poisonous snake too far from a medical facility to save his life, and further stoked by the tribal violence that followed the disputed 2007 national elections during which Wesley saw three of his friends killed by a machete-wielding mob, Korir decided to make a run for the district’s seat in parliament in 2013.

Even though he was still in the prime of his athletic career, and was unaffiliated with any political party, Wesley ran a disciplined, people-first campaign and emerged victorious over the well-connected five-year incumbent.  Imagine if Ryan Hall or Meb Keflezighi set aside their career to run for the U.S. Congress.

“I don’t run for myself anymore,” Wesley said.  “I run for the whole country.” Continue reading

OLD SCHOOL MEETS NEW WAVE

2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele

2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele

Chicago, IL. — The sport of marathoning is changing very fast around us. This Sunday at the 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon the 5000 & 10,000 meter world record holder Keninisa Bekele, 32, of Ethiopia will make his second career attempt over the long distance.  Yet through most of its century-plus history, the marathon has been populated by men of sturdy constitution, whose examination of the distance bespoke their tenacity and grit, but whose arsenals often lacked the speed necessary to excel at the shorter events on the track.

Oh, there were outliers, like Czech great Emil Zatopek winning his debut marathon at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, adding it to his collection of gold in the 5000 & 10,000 meters. And recall that Frank Shorter, the original father of the running boom, was every bit the top American distance track runner when he explored the marathon so successfully in the first half of the 1970s.   But the norm for the distance was more like Derek Clayton of Australia, who held the marathon world record of 2:08:33 from May 1969 to December 1981, the longest stretch the record has ever lasted.

Aussie great Derek Clayton

Aussie great Derek Clayton

The introduction of track men coming to the marathon came when large sums of money entered the game after the initial running boom. That is when the aging oval speedsters saw the benefit of torturing themselves over the longer distance. In fact, moving up in distance became one of the standard career moves a runner made. This weekend we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Steve Jones’ marathon world best in Chicago 1984 when, as the eighth-place finisher at the Los Angeles Olympic 10,000 meter final, Steve moved to the marathon with great success.

Paul Tergat marathon WRBut in more recent times we have seen the very best on the track make the move, highlighted by two former 5000 & 10,000 meter world record holders who went on to grab the marathon record as well.  Kenya’s Paul Tergat completed his record trifecta at the 2003 Berlin Marathon, which he won in a world record 2:04:55.  Five years later his great Ethiopian rival Haile Gebrselassie won Berlin in 2:03:59 to add the marathon to his long list of track and road world records. Continue reading

The Best of the Best: Chicago Marathon 1984

As the 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon steps to the line this Sunday morning, we go back to the event’s early years when Welshman Steve Jones brought marathoning into the spotlight along Lake Michigan with his 2:08:05 world record.  In those days, the sport was still heavily centered around the Boston – New York City axis.  The London Marathon had only been around for four years, and the Los Angeles Marathon was still two years from its beginning.  Bringing world-class competition beyond its East Coast roots was a major accomplishments, and an important factor in helping grow interest in the sport.

Jonesy’s stellar run in Chicago `84 also represented another turning point in the game.  It marked the last time the men’s marathon world record would be set without the aid of pacesetters. This Sunday Steve Jones will once again be in Chicago to commemorate his record run, and celebrate its 30th anniversary.  Here, then, is the contemporaneous race report from Chicago 1984, a day to remember in the annals of marathoning history.

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Steve Jones sets World Marathon Record in Chicao 1984

Steve Jones sets World Marathon Record in Chicao 1984

Chicago, IL. — And then there was the weather, forty-four degrees with a wind-driven rain like an icy finger tracing the back of your neck. Over 10,000 huddled runners jittered anxiously at the dual starting lines on Clark and Dearborn Streets for the 8:45 a.m. signal to begin the eighth America’s Marathon/Chicago (as it was known in those days).

On the front row stood some of the best marathoners in the world. “It’s the Olympics all over again”, said one punter as champions from every continent pawed the ground, anxious to be off on their heat-generating journey to Lincoln Park. This was no place for the skittish, rather an end-of-the-season, post-Olympic blowout engineered by Beatrice Foods sponsorship money and Bob Bright orchestration.

“The Games are over. We’ve nothing to lose. So let’s have a go,” was how Welshman Steve Jones prophetically put it the day before. Continue reading

ONE YEAR LATER: COMPETITION BACK AT COMPETITOR GROUP / ATHLETE BIZ SHOWS JETER THE WAY

One year ago the big story in the sport was Competitor Group Inc.’s decision to significantly cut its elite athlete program just weeks before the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. Ex-CGI CEO Scott Dickey wrote in this blog at that time: “We will always welcome the elites, we are just not going to spend in excess of 7-figures annually to simply have them show up. It represents a disconnect from the brand and the very promise of participating in a RnR event. We’re going to reinvest those dollars into entertainment, the experience, more staff to execute more flawlessly, and in our continued efforts to increase participation.”

A major backlash arose in the wake of that decision, and by year’s end Mr. Dickey had left Competitor Group while former golf executive David Abales quietly took the reins in early 2014.  Now, in the fall of 2014 CGI has not only reversed its direction of a year ago, it has ramped up its overall support for the professional end of the game significantly, returning it to the ranks of major players in the game. Continue reading