IN SEARCH OF THE DIFFICULT PLEASURE

Meb on top of the world at Boston 2014

Meb on top of the world at Boston 2014

I am a purist at heart, one who believes in the redemptive power of effort in whatever form it may take.  Through a combination of luck, pluck and timing, however, running became the expression of effort that engaged me most fully.  And it has been in the hold of that expression that I have remained for the great swath of my adult life.

Looking back over that now lengthening span, I see how once upon a time racing used to be so simple, so elemental: one foot in front of the other, beginning with either, counting neither.  Truly, it was a heroic sport of thinly clad fools bent on making the connection that critic Edmund Wilson once ascribed to Ernest Hemingway in 1927, “…all that seems to him most painful is somehow closely bound up with what seems to him most enjoyable.”

This apparent paradox of pain-as-pleasure is why it is difficult to explain the sport of distance running to the uninitiated. I have often asked runners at races, ‘what is it about running that those that don’t do it, don’t get?’ as  the concept of the difficult pleasure is beyond the scope of most for whom the passive, purchased pleasure is preferred.

Much like learning to play a musical instrument, learning to run well takes time, dedication and practice; there is no short cut.  Only after a painstaking apprenticeship does one reach a level of proficiency that allows pleasure to be extracted from effort.  Yet it is that very investment in time and discomfort which leads, eventually, to the feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the finish line. Continue reading

GAC 2014 WRAP

Sibaya Casino

Sibaya Casino

Durban, South Africa — The coastal winds blew hard across the rolling grass hills surrounding the Sibaya Casino and Entertainment complex yesterday as the inaugural Global Athletics Conference – shorthand GAC 2014 – concluded its two-day confab.

Inside the elegant Izulu Theater the question emerging from this first ever such conference in Africa was whether the winds of change might soon blow equally strong over the future of athletics, both here on man’s home continent, and around this troubled global sphere in general. Continue reading

SOUTH AFRICA STAGES GLOBAL ATHLETICS CONFERENCE

Along the Indian Ocean

Along the Indian Ocean

Durban, South Africa – In this year of 2014 South Africa has been celebrating the 20th anniversary of its transition from apartheid state to non-racial democracy.  On December 5th it will mark an especially moving moment in that celebration with the commemoration of the one year’s passing of its beloved father figure Nelson Mandela.  With the great divide of apartheid receding, the people of this proud land now look to the future for opportunities to showcase their country to the world, opportunities which were denied it during the long, painful road to freedom.

This weekend I am half a world away deep in the southern hemisphere in lovely Durban, South Africa, a warm, Miami-like seaside city which is playing host to what is being billed as Africa’s first Global Athletics Conference. The two-day GAC 2014 is the offspring of conference director, Lee-Roy Newton, a retired South African sprinter who was a member of his country’s 4 X 100m World Championship gold medal squad in 2001.

KwaZulu-Natal Athletics President Sello Mokoena welcomes media to GAC 2014

KwaZulu-Natal Athletics President Sello Mokoena welcomes media to GAC 2014

Today, Newton is owner of the Newton Agency, and vice-president of Kwazulu-Natal Athletics. Newton, along with KZN Athletics president Sello Mokoena have brought together a collection of the sports’ business, athletic and media leaders to help the sport’s South African stakeholders better understand the elements necessary to launch serious bids for future world athletic championships. The 2022 Commonwealth Games is among the international meetings on its immediate radar. Continue reading

THE ELIOT LOUNGE PRE-BOSTON MARATHON 1978

MeterMagazineIn recent months my friend Matt Taylor has launched a new clothing line called TrackSmith whose influences harken back to a simpler, more rudimentary time in the sport.  Among the projects associated with TrackSmith, Matt has come out with a new running publication called Meter.

I am proud to be among the contributors tor the inaugural issue of Meter, providing a look back at the legendary Eliot Lounge, that long lost and fabled runner’s bar in Boston’s Back Bay which shuttered its doors in 1996.

Yesterday, Matt put up on Twitter an audio clip I sent him from my old Runner’s Digest radio show in Boston that aired from 1977 to 1988. In this clip we find ourselves inside the Eliot on the Thursday night before the 1978 Boston Marathon. The place was teeming with runners from around the world as our favorite band, Heidi and The Secret Admirers, was closing the night in style.

As Heidi kicked off her final encore at about 1 a.m., Ian Gamble, a motor racing promoter from Auckland, New Zealand — who also organized New Zealand’s Choysa Marathon – made an offer to Greater Boston Track Club star Randy Thomas who is now the long time track and cross country coach at Boston College.

If you want to know what it felt like to be in the Hub of the running universe at the height of the running boom, perhaps the four minute clip below will give you a taste.

Eliot Lounge Meter Mag

2014 TCS NEW YORK CITY MARATHON REVIEW

On the bridge before the start

Starched flags fly on the bridge before the start

New York City Marathon Logo TCSNew York, New York — A cold, blustery day welcomed the 50,0000 runners at the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon.  Once again I was aboard the lead men’s motorcycle camera bike providing commentary for the ESPN2 television coverage. Here is how the men’s race played out from that close vantage point.

My misery index had been set the day before during a frigid, rain-drenched TV rehearsal, and I wasn’t going to be caught cold again.  In the 43 degree Fahrenheit conditions with NNW winds blowing at a steady 20 – 25 mph, gusting even higher, I wore so many layers on Sunday morning I must have resembled a Russian nesting doll.

From the racer’s standpoint such conditions are the functional equivalent of adding distance to the event. Last year the 48 degree temps and 15-19 mph headwinds tacked about one kilometer onto the standard 42.2K in terms of finishing time, as 2011 course record holder Geoffrey Mutai won his second title in 2:08:24.  Same guy, same course, same effort, but three minutes slower than his course record 2:05:06.  And since A-level male marathoners race at or near 3:00/km, conditions on November 2, 2014 might mean a full mile extra effort would be added to the already testing course. Continue reading

JEPTOO DRUG POSITIVE CASTS PALL OVER NEW YORK CELEBRATION

Rita Jeptoo in better times, winning her second Chicago Marathon title in October

Rita Jeptoo in better times, winning her second Chicago Marathon title in October

New York, New York — With a new title sponsor, a new logo, and a new mayor on board, the TCS New York City Marathon’s mood leading up to its 44th running had a happy Halloween joyfulness to it.  Then we awoke to news that World Marathon Majors Series women’s champion Rita Jeptoo of Kenya had reportedly tested positive for an illegal substance (EPO) in an out of competition drug test this September before her win at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

The news, coming just days before the World Marathon Majors was scheduled to award its $1 million dollar prize to its two 2013-2014 series  champions placed a cloud over New York’s pinnacle running weekend as the professional international field for Sunday’s race was being presented to the assembled press. It also had the World Marathon Majors scrambling to cancel its Sunday awards as more details regarding Jeptoo were being gathered.

The first person I saw in the hotel lobby this morning was Virgin Money London Marathon president and World Marathon Majors general counsel Nick Bitel. Nick just shook his head, knowing that his partners at World Marathon Majors had just signed their first ever title sponsor, Abbott, to a four year contract in Chicago. And now, the first big news after Chicago and in the world media capital was a positive drug test of their World Marathon Majors women’s champion? Not good.  And this is after two-time WMM series champion Lilya Shobukhova of Russia, three-time Chicago champion (2009-2011) as well as the 2010 London Marathon champ had had all her results annulled from 2009 on following an adverse finding on her biological passport indicative of drug use.

But at least Bitel was pleased, if that’s even the right word, that the test that uncovered the alleged drug positive by Jeptoo had come, in part, via funding provided by World Marathon Majors in cooperation with the IAAF. In the past, getting testers into the wilds of rural Kenya for out of competition testing has been quite problematic. Now, with WMM backing, the bitter fruits of  those labors have been harvested, it would seem a,s a spate of drug positives have come out of Kenya over the last several years. Continue reading

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