THE WILL TO OVERCOME

I more than suspect that New York City is deeply conscious of being challenged – that it feels the millibars of pressure exerted by Hurricane Sandy not only in the visible destruction left behind by the rampaging natural turbine, but in the strain on its famously elastic psyche, what Robert Greenhut, Woody Allen’s producer, called “a certain kind of vibrancy and tone that you can’t get elsewhere.”

It is that vibrancy that attracts people by the millions to the teeming metropolis, especially during NYC Marathon week when the entire panoply of culture, energy and diversity is laid out in mile and kilometer-marked precision.

While there is never a good time for a catastrophe like Sandy to occur – city services and personnel will be exhausted and stretched to the breaking point, and priorities like clearing debris, returning people to their homes, and opening the city’s vital transportation links will be manifest – in its own paradoxical way, given that city power and transportation can be resurrected in time, Sunday’s marathon would be the ideal test to show what this city represents.

Recall that when the five-borough marathon was first conceived in 1976, New York was both riddled with crime and in the midst of a fiscal meltdown. The federal government had told them to go fly a kite, not to look for help out of Washington.  So as the five-borough course founders considered the possibilities before them, there was real fear of how runners might be treated in the less affluent neighborhoods along the route.

“You can do it!”

Instead, what the city-wide marathon revealed in that Bicentennial year was that when the outer garb of privilege was stripped away, and pure effort and struggle were put on display, everyone related,  everyone got it.  Neither the city, nor the sport of marathoning has ever been the same since.

In the aftermath of 9-11 when the city’s psychic wound was much deeper than it is today, though its overall infrastructure less compromised, the marathon arrived in proud defiance of the terrorists’ desires, knitting the city together in a muscular display of remembrance and resurrection.

Yes, there are challenges aplenty in the purgatoried lee of Sandy’s passing.  But while New Yorkers are infamous for their no-eye-contact, “you talkin’ to me?” insularity, so, too, are they renowned for their willingness to pull relentlessly together in times of crisis.

Well, here’s a crisis for you.   This Sunday in New York City remnants of Sandy’s destruction will still be apparent, both at street level and on television screens around the world.  But given half a chance, the sheer humanity of New York City and its marathon will once again serve as a moving metaphor to the power of community and to the will of man to overcome.

END

NYRR BENDING TO THE FORCE OF HURRICANE SANDY

Hurricane Sandy Roars Ashore

Hurricane Sandy is pummeling the eastern seaboard of the United States with a storm whose scope has little to no precedence in modern times.  A population base of over 50 million is and will be directly effected, including the modest thousands who have signed on to this coming weekend’s ING New York City Marathon.

Whether this storm is yet another in a long line of evidentiary notices indicating a shift in global weather patterns is of little concern amidst the lashing currently at hand.

What we do know for sure is that the New York Road Runners, organizers of the NYC Marathon, have begun to reconfigure their schedule for this marathon week in light of Sandy’s dire presence. At present, however, the marathon, itself, seems safe.  This message was just received:

We want to alert you of changes to the ING New York City Marathon Race Week Media Events Schedule due to the weather. Below are a few important changes, but please stay tuned as changes are very fluid. We thank you for your understanding, and look forward to seeing you this week! 

(Well, I won’t actually be there this year, having been replaced on the new ESPN broadcast.  Notwithstanding…)

·         Tomorrow, Tuesday, October 30, our media session and credential distribution is cancelled.

·         Media credential distribution will resume on Wednesday, October 31  at the accreditation trailer (Central Park West at 69th Street). **Location subject to change

·         Wednesday’s media session will be held at the (New York) Hilton. This space will also be a functioning workroom for media. (1335 Avenue of the Americas/West 53rd-West 54th Streets, Concourse C down one level from the lobby)

·         We are hoping to return to the ING New York City Marathon Media Center at West Drive and 67th Street inside Central Park beginning on Thursday, November 1.

***

The marathon, even in the best of conditions, is a test of our human capacity to persevere and overcome.  The very same is true for those organizations tasked with staging the events.  That those who sign up to run these civic extravaganzas are ushered to and through the many miles not originally designed to be covered on foot en masse is a glowing testament to the men and women whose charge it is to create the illusion of normalcy in the face of overwhelming technical challenges.

Add in a freak nor’eater storm like the one experienced in Boston the weekend of the marathon in 2007, or the heat wave in Boston this year or experienced by Chicago in 2007, and the strain on organizers and city services becomes all but inconceivable.

Last year New York had a close call with a Halloween nor’easter that wreaked havoc in Central Park the Monday before the race.  But under the current circumstances, that storm seems little more than a Halloween trick or treat compared to the full-on fright show Sandy is staging.

More as the story develops…

Peter Gambaccini supplies this update via Runner’s World

END

DESK & DECK

I sit overlooking a serene Murphy Canyon in San Diego, now in repose beneath a warm buttery sun, wishing well all those bracing for the glowering presence of  Hurricane Sandy, a too tender name for a storm so harsh and heartless.  Last year at this time I was winging my way east to New York City as the entire northeast was coming off what was then considered a rare late October nor’easter that dumped as much as 31 inches of snow on parts of New England, though just two inches in New York’s Central Park.  Yet 1000 trees were felled in the park during the storm, causing city workers to struggle mightily throughout marathon week to clear the undressing the Halloween nor’easter had caused.  Imagine their week ahead this year.   

STATEMENT FROM PATRICK MAKAU, MARATHON WORLD RECORD HOLDER

STATEMENT FROM PATRICK MAKAU, MARATHON WORLD RECORD HOLDER

A story has surfaced in the international media, from a minority interest website in recent days, alleging my link to an establishment in Kenya, allegedly providing EPO. The original source is an allegation aired on German television some months ago. I personally have no knowledge if the story has any validity, but I know that nothing in it has anything to do with me.

The story falsely associates me with a particular retail store (located in the Hilton Hotel, Nairobi) and claims that I am a direct customer. This is not correct. I have never been on the premises. The only thing in that shop that suggests that I have anything to do with the store is an old national newspaper clipping with my photo, taped to the wall, together with many other clippings of other athletes’ races.

Absolutely false is the claim that I “patronized” a clinic in Kapsabet. I have never even been in this town.

For the sake of clarity, the shop located in the Hilton Hotel is, to the best of my knowledge, the only shop in Kenya which imported USN brand nutritional supplements (USN is a South African company with offices in Europe, including Germany and UK.). There have probably been hundreds of athletes that have bought USN products there. The USN product that I have used in the past is Recovery Max (a powered isotonic drink mix).  From time-to-time I have asked someone going into Nairobi to buy a Recovery Max for me. Of course, before using USN product for the first time, my IAAF AR, Mr. Zane Branson, wrote to USN to confirm their products safety/compliance with WADA List. In addition, an email was also sent to the IAAF medical department asking if they have ever received any warnings and/or complaints about USN products and the answer came back negative, a simple “No”.

I find it surprising that this non-story has surfaced in English just a day before the BMW Frankfurt Marathon and I felt a need to make my case clear, especially as I have vast respect for the organizers, for BMW as a title sponsor, for Adidas, and all joggers, runners, spectators and volunteers and all individuals and institutions that have invested in the BWM Frankfurt Marathon.

I am looking forward to a great event on a proven course and I will be racing with clear conscience.

Patrick Makau Continue reading

INNOCENCE UNVEILED?

KERIO VALLEY

18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–778) asserted that “…nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man.”

Rousseau’s beau ideal smacks hard against the doping allegations now coming out of Kenya, and leaves many saddened and disappointed, if not totally surprised by German Hans-Joachim Seppel’s investigation.

The Conventional Wisdom has always been that the talent pool in Kenya is so deep, the altitude benefits so consequential, the agricultural lifestyle so reinforcing, and the poverty level so motivating, that the crest of the wave-form generated by that calculus was naturally and understandably bound to reach the heights we’ve all born witness to these past twenty years.

To a large degree that calculation still holds true.  But as a complete theory it stands athwart history and defies Rousseau’s opposite, Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) whose “natural condition of mankind” states that all humans are equal, but this equality naturally leads to conflict among individuals for three reasons: competition, distrust, and glory (which is pretty much the definition of racing).  It is a theory which I have found in my years of travel to hold great, if unfortunate, merit.

Any time you introduce large sums of money – and in east Africa the money in running is equivalent to major league pro sports in the U.S., and look how drugs have infected those sports – it isn’t a stretch to presume the qualities of avarice and abnegation that mark all men as sons of Cain are as prevalent in Kenya as they are anywhere else.  To presume otherwise is to be willfully naïve.

Add to the calculation a Kenyan federation which the athletes do not hold in any regard as working on their behalf, and certain outside elements who view the world through a more relativistic lens where right and wrong in this regard are rendered morally indistinguishable, and the likelihood that the same corrupting influences which have led athletes from all parts of the world to give wing to their darker angels are not just likely here, but inevitable.  Continue reading

BEHIND ANOTHER SET OF BARS

BEHIND BARS?

I received a reply to my latest post TIME FOR TRUTH & RECONCILIATION from a fellow traveler, John Dehart, who suggested that criminal penalties and prison time should be instituted for doping violations in light of the recent fall from grace of Lance Armstrong, the now former seven-time Tour de France cycling champion.

“The present system is a joke,” wrote DeHart, “and a real insult to the hard working clean athletes.”

You are correct, John.  It is an insult, but also a fraud, an intentional deception made for personal gain.  The topic is both interesting and redolent given the amount of money involved in many of the sports where drugs are an on-going issue.

In the case of Armstrong, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme wants the $3.85 million returned that the Tour paid to Armstrong for his seven wins.   What’s more, insurance company SCA Promotions said it, too, will seek to reclaim $7.5 million it paid to Armstrong after a 2006 arbitration proceeding went against them stemming from its initial refusal to pay Armstrong a U.S. Postal Service team bonus after his sixth Tour win. At the time, SCA was skeptical of Armstrong’s performance, but proof of his doping was not as clear, concise and overwhelming as the current USADA report revealed.

Since performance enhancing drugs became a serious issue in the 1960s, it is beyond obvious that sporting sanctions and public humiliation alone have not been successful in dissuading athletes or their representatives from cheating.  What we are talking about here is making cost-benefit analyses, and for decades the users have weighed the penalties against the rewards for not getting caught, and decided overwhelmingly, “Yep, it’s worth it”.  Even today, we see athletes hit with two-year sanctions which, taken early or late enough in a career,  or in the middle of an Olympic cycle, allows for a minor down time for additional training before their return to competition as if no-harm, no-foul. Continue reading

TIME FOR TRUTH & RECONCILIATION?

With yesterday’s decision by cycling’s federation to bow to USADA’s comprehensive report of massive doping violations and conspiracy, UCI has stripped American cyclist Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles (1999-2005).   Now USADA is calling for an amnesty program similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in post-apartheid South Africa which would allow any cyclist to come clean about his use of performance enhancing drugs so that the sport might somehow pull out of its current death spiral.

“It is important to remember that while today is a historic day for clean sport, it does not mean clean sport is guaranteed for tomorrow,” read part of a USADA-released statement.

The South African TRC was a court-like body where victims of human rights violations came to give witness about their experiences, while perpetrators of violence and rights violators could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.   The TRC was credited, along with president and former political prisoner Nelson Mandela, for helping South Africa make the political and social transition beyond apartheid peaceful.

The cynic in me senses that the impetus for instituting a cycling amnesty program will likely be based less on USADA’s findings enumerating Armstrong’s guilt, or cycling’s refusal to self-correct, but in reaction to the Dutch company Rabobank’s decision to end its 17-year sponsorship of professional cycling.  As Watergate so truly reminded us nearly 40 years ago, follow the money.

“We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport,” said Rabobank board member Bert Bruggink in a statement. “We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future.

“The USADA report was the final straw,” he added later in a press conference televised live in the Netherlands. “The international sport of cycling is not only sick, the sickness goes up to the highest levels.”

Rabobank had been committed to the sport of cycling to the tune of €15 million a year in sponsorship.  And that’s just one of 22 teams which participated in the 2012 Tour. Compare that level of sponsorship with Virgin’s reported commitment of £17 million to the London Marathon between 2010 and 2014 – that’s £17 million total for five years, not £17 million per year.  Or, Samsung’s reported $2 million yearly investment in the Diamond League, the premier athletics tour in the world.  Samsung signed a new three-year extension this past January.

The sport of athletics battled internally for years before stepping gingerly out of its amateur past into a quasi-professional status in the 1980s.  But like Catholic girls of old, they never went all the way, and the sport has been on the margins of professionalism ever since.  The sport was further compromised after Canada’s Ben Johnson was stripped of his 1988 Olympic 100-meter gold medal in Seoul, Korea after failing a drug test.

With its constant drip, drip, drip of drug violations becoming the headline story for the sport rather than competition, one could say that athletics has never truly reached the heights achieved in the Cold War era when the sport sublimated the binary Free World and Communist World antipathy.

Even today with Jamaica’s Usain Bolt as its headliner, athletics is not viewed as truly professional by the general public, nor seen as worthy of financial backing on par with other world sports.  Bolt is, by far, the highest paid track athlete in the world, yet comes in as only the 63rd highest paid athlete on the globe. No other track athlete even nibbles at the edges of the list.

These are the long-term consequences of an ostrich-like stance.  One wonders if cycling will ever fully pull its head free in time to recover.

 

END

A PLACE WE COULD ALL CALL HOME

The Hub

Among its gentler parochialisms, Boston is called “The Hub”, or in full, “The Hub of the Universe” — a title conferred by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1858.  While a tad presumptuous given the size and scope of at least one other five-borough burg 220 miles to the southwest, it is nonetheless rather less disputable that The Hub of the running universe in the decade from 1977 to 1986 existed at 372-A Chestnut Hill Avenue in Boston’s Cleveland Circle, the address of the original Bill Rodgers Running Center.

For those too young to remember, even after the Running Boom hit in the wake of Frank Shorter’s Olympic Marathon gold medal in Munich 1972, we still bought our running shoes at regular shoe stores or general sporting goods shops.  Back then there were no such things as running specialty stores.   I remember buying my first pair – I think they were $9.00 ProSpecs – at a little hole-in-the-wall shoe store on Harvard Avenue in Brighton, Mass.  I was just quitting smoking, so I didn’t want to spend too much in case I didn’t like running.

But as one habit was exchanged for another, and the running wave continued to mount, Wesleyan grad Bill Rodgers appeared as a legitimate rival to ex-Yale Eli Shorter. And with that, the sport of foot racing surged into the mainstream of American culture and finally business, too.  There was a booming new market to service.  A generation which had once assembled for ‘sit-ins” during college was now meeting for fitness runs after work.

“Ready, Set, Sweat!” announced the cover of Time Magazine in the summer of 1977.

SI Cover Boy

Following his victories in the Boston Marathon in 1975 & 1977, then the first two (of four straight) New York City Marathon titles – when the five-borough course was still brand new – “Boston Billy” led running into its coming of age.  Thus, with his fame still budding, Bill and his older brother Charlie opened the first Bill Rodgers Running Center in the fall of 1977.

Cleveland Circle was an ideal location, on the western edge of the city, just one mile from the leafy Boston College campus, and terminus for the MBTA’s Green Line “C” trains.  A bustling urban neighborhood, The Circle also happened to join the Boston Marathon route as it passed the 22-mile mark as the route turned onto Beacon Street for the final four mile stretch into town.

I had moved to Cleveland Circle in February of 1976, and by the following spring had begun Runner’s Digest, the first radio talk show devoted to the sport of running. When Bill and Charlie opened the store just two blocks from my apartment, it all but became my production studio. Continue reading

LANCE IN DESCENT

Resigned

Massive brewer Anheuser-Busch joined massive shoe company Nike today in dropping sponsorship of cyclist and cancer fund-raising champion Lance Armstrong after USADA’s Pyrenees of evidence linking the seven-time Tour de France champion to serial performance enhancing drug use became public.  Though heavily suspected and accused for years, Armstrong’s fierce denials and fantastic cancer fund-raising had erected just enough of a firewall to maintain his corporate relationships.  Until now.

But corporate America has never been accused of spinal conformity when it comes to support for its pitchmen.  Like a fifteen year-old kid applying for his first job being told, “You have no experience”, often it takes one intrepid backer to get you off the schneid. In this case, one rejecter to open the flood gates of dismissal and discharge.

Of course, Armstrong has no one but himself to blame, though he remains defiantly jut-jawed.  Despite the avalanche of evidence against him, so powerful has his 70 million yellow Livestrong bracelet program been that he still has champions willing to cleave the sins of the cyclist from the redemption of his philanthropy.  And what, exactly, is the lesson to the young ones there?  Are ends and means really to be separated so easily?

Armstrong isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, to take image-piercing rounds from a corporate/ media firing squad.  An entire baseball generation, most notably Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire, has been a casualty.

In months following Tiger Woods’ admission of serial infidelity in November 2009, several companies re-evaluated their relationships with the 14-time major golf champion.  Though the most bankable athlete in the world, Tiger lost everyone from Accenture to AT&T, Gatorade and General Motors. Blade maker Gillette suspended advertising featuring the once unsullied Woods. Tag Heuer dropped Tiger from their ad campaign in the immediate aftermath of the scandal, and ended their relationship for good when their deal expired in 2011. However, in contrast to their abandonment of Armstrong, Nike continued to support Tiger.

Lesser celebs have also been sent off on a metaphoric ice flow in the wake of a social disgrace.  On January 16, 1988, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was fired from his 12-year CBS NFL football assignment after commenting to a local TV reporter at a Washington D.C. eatery that African Americans were superior athletes due to the breeding policies of slave owners before the Civil War.

Teaching moments are not the main concern of corporate titans.  As Morty Seinfield said, “Cheap fabric, and dim lighting, that’s how you move merchandise.” Continue reading

SUB-2:00:00? DO THE MATH

Kubrick’s Obelisk

Every year or so, the talk of the 2-Hour Marathon rises like some Kubrickian obelisk heralding the coming of a new age.  Most recently, NYRR featured a Head to Head between English commentator Tim Hutchings and ex-USA Today scribe Dick Patrick – and, boy, don’t we miss his presence at the national rag?  In Dick’s heyday in the 1980s through the 2000′s, each of the American marathon majors in Boston, Chicago and New York City would receive a full-page sport’s section preview with course map, athlete bios, and pace charts in the Friday edition before the race.  This past October 5th USA Today printed not one word about the marathon in Chicago.  It’s another striking confirmation how a once vibrant sport has been sundered by flatulent fun-run and charity fund-raising spectacles.

In any case, the 2-Hour Marathon.  Dick thought it would happen in his lifetime.  Tim thought not.  I like numbers.  Let them tell the tale.

Since Johnny Hayes ran 2:55:18 at the 1908 London Olympic Games to win the gold medal, the marathon distance has been officially recognized at 26 miles, 385 yards, or 42.195 kilometers.  In the 104 years since, Mr. Hayes’ mark has been “officially” improved upon 37 separate times.  Performances like Alberto Salazar’s 2:08:13 from NYC 1981 and Geoffrey Mutai’s 2:03:02 from Boston 2011 have come up either short on re-measurement, or deemed ineligible for record purposes due to point-to-point course layout.

So let’s stick with the officially recognized 37 world record improvement down to today’s 2:03:38 set in Berlin 2011 by Kenya’s Patrick Makau. Continue reading