CARLSBAD MISSING ITS LEAD-IN

     The granddaddy of all marathons is less than three weeks away in Boston, but the progenitor of the modern road race is up this weekend in Carlsbad, California.  Entering its 27th year, the suntanned Carlsbad 5000 began buff and has never lost its P-90X shape. Sixteen world road records have been set on the glittering sea-side course north of San Diego.  Add to that innumerable national records and Carlsbad’s reputation as the “World’s Fastest 5K” is more than secure. Not that that was the original goal.

In 1986 American mile legend Steve Scott and New Zealand Olympic 1500 meter champion John Walker re-designed the original inland layout that race founder Tim Murphy had plotted.  Scott and Walker remapped the course into its current T-shaped seaside configuration.  Then Steve won the first three editions of the race, establishing 5K road records in two of those years.

Three-time CBAD champ Steve Scott

“John and I weren’t thinking in terms of a fast course,” said Scott, who will miss his first Carlsbad 5000 ever, as he takes his Cal State San Marcos team out of town all weekend for the Cal-Nevada Championships. “We were thinking of the visuals along the beach for ABC Wide World of Sports and news photographers.  Then the two world records in the first three years established it as a world-record course.  Like in Oslo (home of the Bislett Games), people had a mind-set that they were going to run fast. So they did.”

It is all legend now, but less we forget, before Carlsbad the 10K was the most popular road distance, and nobody thought people would even sign up for a race as short as the 5K.  How wrong they were. Today, the 5K is the #1 U.S. road race distance – or, should we say “Road Event” distance, due to the mega Race for the Cure series.

“The 5K is still handily the road race “King of the Hill” with nearly 4.7 million finishers (yes, another record in 2010),” explained Running USA stats and press guru Ryan Lamppa. “It had 36% of all race finishers in 2010; the universal 3.1 mile distance has been #1 in the U.S. since 1994 when it surpassed the 10K.” (See Table 1 at: http://www.runningusa.org/node/76115#76910.) Continue reading

DODGER’S SALE POTENTIAL WINDFALL FOR LA MARATHON

     Now that the Los Angeles Dodgers sale from Frank McCourt to the Magic Johnson-Stan Kasten group has been consummated for a record $2 billion – the highest price ever paid for a sports franchise  – the fortunes of both the Dodgers and the Honda LA Marathon just took a turn for the better.

Why is the Dodger’s sale a good sign for the marathon? Well, until today they were owned by the same man, and with all the turmoil surrounding the McCourt ownership of the Dodgers over the last two years, and his concurrent divorce from wife Jamie, the marathon was put on something of a back burner.  Not unexpected considering the value of the Dodgers, the amount of the pending  divorce settlement, $131 million, and the approximate worth of the marathon, $20 million, at best.

Though the McCourt Group separated its holdings into different bins, even as recently as last November there was some interest in unloading the LA marathon at the same time as selling off the Dodgers. But after a cursory look-see by a few interested parties, McCourt pulled the marathon from the sales floor. Now with the Dodgers well-disposed and the divorce almost final, the marathon might finally become a more prominent asset for the McCourt Group.

“When all this (sale of Dodgers and the divorce) settles down, he will settle on the marathon and focus,” Howard Sunkin, senior VP of the McCourt Group told me over marathon weekend.  “What I want is when people talk about the sport (of marathoning), they will say ‘Boston, New York, Chicago and L.A.  We don’t have to be the first name on that list, but we want to be part of that conversation.” Continue reading

HIGH JUMP HEROES

Valery Brumel & John Thomas

The two silver maples in our small backyard stood like sentinels some twenty feet apart as they guarded the house with their interlocking canopies of green.  During the brutal St. Louis summers when the heat and humidity would fight to reach 100F first – then stay the longest – the shade from those old squirrel-bearers represented the fringe ground of relief in a world bounded by torpor and sweat.

Strung at a height of around seven feet between the two trees ran a twisted rusty wire on which my mother used to hang potted flowers, part of the riot of colors she cultivated in our yard.  But that old wire always represented something more to my agitated young mind than a tree leveller or flower pot holder.

You see, I was a high jump enthusiast in my youth, just as I would become a running enthusiast in my adult years. So whether it was jumping up to touch the top of every door jamb I passed, hopping over the hedge mom had planted out front along the sidewalk, or paying a neighborhood kid a nickel to keep holding a broomstick for me to scissor over, my life was nothing but an extension of my athletic passions. On many a sweltering summer night as I lay open to the endless possibilities ahead, I dreamed of being able to leap over that wire in our backyard, because that was how high my heroes jumped.

During those growing years when athletes were still unseen giants of the imagination, two of my athletic heroes were Olympic high jumpers John Thomas of Boston, and his great rival Valery Brumel of the Soviet Union.  Between the two of them Thomas and Brumel exchanged the high jump world record nine times in the early 1960s (six for Brumel, three for Thomas) as they battled for leaping supremacy when Olympic sport was a highly-charged subtext of the Cold War. Continue reading

KTLA’s 2012 L.A. Marathon Coverage Attains High Ratings!

From Countdown to the Marathon to Post Marathon coverage, KTLA triumphed with dominant rating ranks among other Los Angeles broadcast stations! 

Peaking with a 4.9 rating/12 share as the Gender Challenge neared its completion, the 2012 Honda LA Marathon won the top spot in the LA media market in the 7a – 10a time slot.  It also ranked third for the day for all sports programming behind the two NCAA Tournament basketball games on KCBS, but easily bested both NASCAR and PGA Tour telecasts.

Station           Program                         HH/SH

KCBS NCAA  (StL & MI St) 12n-2:30p  3.2/7

KCBS NCAA  (Crght &UN-NC) 2:30-4:45p)  3.1/7

                                              KTLA L.A. Marathon 7-10a  2.8/9

KTTV Fox Sprint Cup 10a-1:15p  2.7/6

                                              KTLA L.A. Marathon Post Show 10-11a  2.5/6

KCBS NCAA (NC St& Geotwn)  9-11:45a  2.4/6

KABC BNP Paribus Open 11a-3p  1.6/4

KNBC PGA Tour Golf  Tampa 12n-4p  1.5/4

KCAL Dodgers (Angels&Dodg) 1-2:30p  1.3/3

                                             KTLA Countdown to Marathon 6-7a  0.8/5

KNBC NHL (Peng&Flyer)  9:30a-12:30p  0.3/1

ANTICIPATING SPRING MARATHON SEASON

Kirui Stands Tall in NYC

Talking about too many good shortstops…First, Athletics Kenya went through a politically bruising process before finally deciding (IMHO, properly) how to select its men’s 10,000 meter Olympic squad (ATHLETICS KENYA TO STAGE “MINI TRIALS” BEFORE PREFONTAINE TRIALS).  Now, if the half-marathon wars this past Sunday are any indicator, the Gordian knot that is the Kenyan Olympic Marathon team selection just got a little tighter, as well.

With Peter Kirui man-handling the deep NYC ½ field the way he did – 59:39 front-running win in a duel against former Boston Marathon champion Deriba Merga of Ethiopia – the expectations for his first serious marathon attempt in Rotterdam Marathon April 15th are sky high.  Add on Stephen Kibet’s blistering 58:54 win in the Hague Half, and their match-up against 2011 Boston Marathon runner-up and Chicago Marathon course record setter Moses Mosop in Rotterdam is going to set the bar awfully high for the rest of the spring marathon season to follow.

Coming out of the extraordinary 2011 marathon campaign, the provisional crop of Kenyan Olympic marathon candidates stood at six: Boston and New York City course record setter Geoffrey Mutai, London record taker Emmanuel Mutai, Berlin world record setter Patrick Makau, Frankfurt near-world record setter Wilson Kipsang, and two-time IAAF World Champion Abel Kirui. It’s exhausting just listing the excellence.

But with Peter Kirui and Mosop meeting up in Rotterdam April 15th along with debuting half-marathon monster Sammy Kitwara (58:58 PR) and Stephen Kibet, what happens if Kirui, Kibet, or Kitwara knock one out of the park?  Since Athletics Kenya is less than reliable when it comes to sticking with its public statements regarding Olympic selection (IBRAHIM HUSSEIN CLARIFIES KENYA’S OLYMPIC MARATHON SELECTION) all the athletes can do is put their officials behind the eight-ball, between a rock and hard place, or any other conundrum producing metaphor by performing in a manner which compels AK to bow to the excellence exhibited.

Recall that Kirui was the pacer for both Makau’s world record in Berlin and Kipsang’s near-record in Frankfurt one month apart last fall. In the latter he was only scheduled to go 25K since he was coming off the big pace effort in Berlin. But when all the other pacers fell away in Frankfurt at 18K, Kirui felt a loyalty to Kipsang.  So he caught back up after stopping for 30-seconds, and paced Makau all the way to 33K.  Then, feeling okay, he jogged the rest of the way to a 2:06:31 time. That’s why the upside seems so high. What happens when he really trains for 42K?

As it currently stands, Moses Mosop, Peter Kirui, Stephen Kibet, and Sammy Kitwara kick things off in Rotterdam.  The next day Geoffrey Mutai defends his Boston title against Wilson Chebet, winner of both Amsterdam and Rotterdam in 2011, the latter in 2:05:27.  Six days later the final four of Emmanuel Mutai, Patrick Makau, Wilson Kipsang, and Abel Kirui duke it out on the streets of London against Vincent Kipruto and former three-time London champ Martin Lel.

With the stakes this high, and given pliant weather conditions, there is no telling how far under 2:03 we may see the marathon record fall after April 22nd.  And doesn’t that make for an unparalleled spring season for us fans, no matter how hard it may be for the chiefs of AK?

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ATHLETICS KENYA TO STAGE “MINI TRIALS” BEFORE PREFONTAINE TRIALS

     The Athletics Kenya decision to stage their Olympic 10,000 meter selection in Eugene, Oregon at this June’s Prefontaine Classic has come in for some harsh criticism back home. Perhaps to tamp down some of that criticism and ameliorate disappointed fans, Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat has made a Solomon-esque decision. Today, he informed the agents who represent the 10,000-meter Olympic “A” standard qualified Kenyan men that they “must participate in the mini trials to be held in Nairobi on 17 April 2012 without exception.”

This message arrived out of the blue, leading to speculation that the addition of a “mini trials” comes in response to the backlash from the Kenya media and the National Olympic Committee.  The Kenyan Ministry of Sport had also made condemning comments about the AK’s handling of the Olympic selection process.

Regardless, it’s hard to argue with the logic of staging the 10,000m trials in Eugene. And it wouldn’t be the first time a Kenyan Trials selection was held outside the country, either as the 1992 Kenyan Olympic marathon team was selected out of the Boston Marathon.

But for the 10,000 meters, the atmosphere in Eugene at Hayward Field will be electric.  What’s more, the race will be conducted at sea-level, thereby mirroring the conditions the team will find in London at the Games.  As such, the need to experience and practice the kind of final lap sprint – that Kenyans are not well known for - and which could mean the difference between a medal and disappointment, is much more likely to come to pass in Eugene than at altitude in Nairobi.

Also, with a pre-selection race and a following Trials competition, the odds are greater that an experienced team will emerge, rather than include a one-trick pony who may rise in a single selection race at altitude, but then bomb out in London.  In any case, the intrigue continues, which will only build more attention for both races.

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PEGASUS WIRELESS ABOUT TO TAKE OFF IN L.A. 2012

    Though it is the most basic of all sports, running has always had a pretty high Geek factor, especially among its more serious adherents.   Whether it’s in shoe design, the latest moisture-wicking apparel, or the most sophisticated GPS or heart rate monitor, runners are always searching for that Holy Grail that might help get them from point A to point B even faster than before.

Over the years, the Los Angeles Marathon has ushered in a number of technological firsts for the sport.  In 1996, LA was the first major U.S. marathon to utilize a field-wide chip timing system. Then in 2009, LA became the first big city 26-miler to fully adopt social media outlets such as Facebook, YouTube, RSS, Flickr and Twitter.  Now again in 2012 L.A. will showcase another new technology. But this development, rather than being ancillary to the sport, is focused on directly on it. What’s more, it has the potential to unlock long hidden secret chambers that, once opened, could change the very nature of how runners train, avoid injury, while at the same time illuminate the competition for a television audience in a way never before possible.

This Sunday at the 27thHonda LA Marathon, wireless sensor technology will be utilized to monitor and analyze the stride characteristics of several runners, both elite and local, as they move from the start line at Dodger Stadium 26.2 miles to the finish line in Santa Monica.

Pegasus Sensors

Small motion-detecting sensors, weighing less than an ounce each, will be worn atop the shoe laces of the runners. Then, using a smartphone transmission, three distinct characteristics of their strides – Cadence, Ground Contact Time, and Kick Dynamic – will be uploaded to KTLA-TV which will then broadcast those metrics in real time via an on-screen dashboard for analysis and comparison.

“Through this technology, we can identify the changes in a runner’s stride dynamic over the course of the marathon,” explained Bill Kaiser, co-director of the UCLA Wireless Health Institute, and one of the inventors of the technology now licensed by Pegasus Sports Performance.“We can then analyze those changes to evaluate their efficiency as fatigue begins to take its toll, but which might yet be too subtle for the human eye, alone, to pick up.”

KTLA DASHBOARD

Cadence (strides per minute), Ground Contact Time, and Kick Dynamic (called distal leg lift) will be monitored on a continuous basis at a rate of 60-100Hz per second. These metrics will then be shown to the TV audience in real time on a graphic dashboard throughout the race – no different than how NASCAR illustrates the internal workings of their race cars on TV via dashboard displays.

Josh Cox Laces Up

Josh Laces up

“I’ve trained with the sensors several times, and competed in them once,” said Josh Cox, American 50K record holder who beta tested the sensors at last fall’s Rock `n’ Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon. “The advantages for the athlete are twofold. One, you can analyze the data post-race or post-workout, and fine tune your workouts according to what you’ve learned about your stride mechanics. But it’s a real eye-in-the-sky for the coach, who is able to coordinate and monitor an athlete’s stride characteristics during the workout itself. And while an athlete might have previously given his coach feedback like ‘maybe I went out a little too hard, but I felt okay on that last interval’, now the coach can just look at his smartphone and say, ‘Hey, your heart rate is up, your stride is beginning to change. You’re doing more harm than good. You’re done for the day’.”

Perhaps more impressive is the ability to actually monitor a workout in real-time off site. Say Meb Keflezighi was in Mammoth, California doing a tempo run, but his coach Bob Larsen was back home L.A. Bob could still monitor Meb’s workout in real time via his smartphone or computer as he watches Meb’s heart rate, cadence, ground contact time, kick dynamic, pronation, and supination 300 miles to the north. Then, with an escort alongside in a car or on a bike – as Meb so often has – coach Larsen could communicate his observations and instructions to Meb on the fly. Continue reading

BOUNTIES ON THE TRACK

    The NFL is now investigating the New Orleans Saints for paying bounties to teammates for injuring other team’s players. Some people, perhaps most, are horrified by the practice, but Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bizzinger is not among them.

Is it barbaric? Yes. Is it terrifying? Yes. Is it sick? Yes. So what? I’ve said it before and I will say it again: That is why we watch football. Because it is barbaric and terrifying and sick. Because we love good hits and kamikaze safety blitzes and a quarterback sitting on the field after a sack with visions of Tweety Bird dancing in his brain.”

The corollary of which is why people don’t watch running.  As Buzz so rightly points out, we Americans love violence. But rather than commit violence on one another, running studiously avoids that while perpetuating what is essentially a self-torturing methodology of pure effort and internal combustion which, over time, convinces our self-flagellating opponents to forego their own suffering in the face of our steadfast willingness to absorb even more.

Which is why, as a TV guy, I have long suggested that if running wants to grow the SPORT rather than the ACTIVITY something like a “full-contact zone” should be instituted at regular intervals during races to appeal to our fellow American’s primary urge to rubber-neck at the gruesome disassembly of others. Continue reading

PERILS OF THE PRESS TRUCK

     In order to get involved in the sport of road racing you have to get past certain things, like parental admonishments about not playing in the streets, or not standing up in the back of moving vehicles.  While those seem like fine cautions, playing in the streets is essentially the definition of road racing, while standing up in the back of a moving vehicle is how one reports on it.  Besides, most of what parents admonished us not to do is exactly what they ended up doing for fun once we were sent off to bed or shipped off to camp.

This is not to suggest that the entirety of Mom and Pop’s dictates were off base.  As a rule one should not play in the streets nor stand in the back of vehicles unless there are a lot of people in short pants pinning on race numbers in the vicinity  – or you see bulls trampling through the streets of Pamplona, Spain.  Even then, I have a sense that if running weren’t the politically connected sport that it is, it would be laughed out of every parade permit hearing in the land.  In fact, if the authorities took even a passing look at the situation, or more specifically the insurance industry understood what was going on, there wouldn’t be press trucks. Continue reading

JOHN MICHUKI: RUNNING ENVIRONMENTALIST

John Michuki (1932-2012)

It is understandably easy to forget in our own continental American sanctuary that the world is a rather more hostile place, where for the vast majority of people the concept of fitness is a luxury beyond their capacity to consider, much less achieve, a place where a puffy Achilles tendon or overly tight illiotibial band isn’t considered a problem.  It is in this light that I note the passing of John Michuki, a man who helped guide Kenya from its colonial past through its first five decades of nationhood, and in so doing laid the foundation for, then insured the rise and ongoing success of the Kenyan running phenomenon.

Michuki died from a heart attack last week in Nairobi at age 79.  I mention his passing not because he had any direct involvement with Kenya’s running excellence – in fact, he had none at all.  At the time of his passing he was serving his fourth five-year term as a Member of Parliament for his native Kangema, while also serving as the Minister for Environment and National Resources in the Kibaki government.

I mention Mr. Michuki because it was through men like him that Kenya’s runners were afforded the one absolute all athletes require to achieve their full potential, an environment of political stability and economic opportunity.   All we need do is consider the plight of nearby Somalia and Eritrea to see how a people can be haunted and hunted by the consequences of inopportune leadership in the delicate transition from colonial to independent rule, to witness how savage can be the whirlwind between chaos and civility. Continue reading