2014 BOSTON ANALYSIS

Meb Boston 2014     How could the professional women in Boston produce a nearly two minute, 2:18:57, course record this past Monday at the 118th Boston Marathon, while the equally powerful men’s pro field only manage a 2:08:37, some five and a half minutes off the 2011 course record? It’s the mystery of racing, and the reason that pure, un-paced competition is so much more compelling than time-trialing — where everyone knows what’s ahead, the only question being whether the time can be attained or not. If ever there was a case for competition, Boston 2014 was it.

But let’s look deeper into the 2014 Boston Marathon, and explore how the tactics and personalities of each sex’s race contributed to the outcome that brought Meb Keflezighi to the finish as the first American male champion in 31 years, even as Rita Jeptoo of Kenya zoomed home with the first sub-2:20 women’s performance in Boston history — Buzu Deba joined her with a 2:19:59 in second place.

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Under excellent race day conditions  – low 40F temps and a light SSW tailwind at the start – the 2014 women’s field swapped places with the 2011 Boston men.  Three years ago under even more salubrious conditions Californian thoroughbred Ryan Hall went right to the front and kick-started the entire men’s pro field into a record pace: 4:38 for the first mile, 4:36 for the second, 4:39 for the third. Once rolling the pace never slackened on the way to Geoffrey Mutai’s spectacular 2:03:02 finish.

Ryan Hall, Meb, Abdi at the point

Ryan, Meb, Abdi at the point in the early miles

This year, under the strong lead of Marblehead, Mass. native Shalane Flanagan, it was the women who were similarly towed out hard, and never relented on their way to a record finish.

28 minutes later the men got underway with Americans Ryan Hall, Meb Keflizighi and Abdi Abdirahman striding to the front.  But Ryan hadn’t finished a marathon in over two years, while Meb and Abdi were well-aged vets who weren’t about to throw caution to that moderate tailwind.  As such, rather than release out of Hopkinton into Ashland, and with no African pushing through, the men started in a more controlled 4:48, 4:55, 4:54 opening three miles.

Races are idiosyncratic things that take on a tenor early, and generally maintain that particular attitude throughout.  With the character of the 2014 men’s race thus established at standard rather than flank speed —  insuring that a fast time was pretty much out the window — the men turned tactical with eye-balls on high swivel for the rest of the day.  That’s just how it works.

By contrast, Shalane Flanagan came to Boston 2014 with a plan of attack in mind.   She had tried sitting in with the great East African runners in the past, but found that tactic not just unsuccessful, but unsatisfying as it rubbed up against her natural racing personality.  So this year the plan was to apply pressure from the gun, try to break free, and hope the Africans wouldn’t realize their mistake until it was too late.  Keep in mind that Shalane has exhibited aggressive front-runner tendencies since her days at Marblehead High School and at the University of North Carolina.  This is who she is at heart.

By studying past performances, she and coach Jerry Schumacher believed a 2:22 would be enough to win. The hope was to go out hard, and in so doing, be given freedom by her competitors.  Then, by the time they realized what they’d done, Shalane would be away and uncatchable.

Shalane Goes For It!

Shalane Goes For It!

Not a bad plan in itself, in fact it worked like a dream for Meb, except for him it wasn’t a planned strategy. But in Shalane’s case it was a flawed plan due to the regard her opponents had for her.  The other big-time women in the field weren’t about to let her go, even though she blitzed the first three miles in 5:11, 5:12, and 5:17, faster even than the 5:20/mile plan.

“Wow, the American girl was running like a 10K,” said eventual champ Rita Jeptoo of Kenya afterwards with evident respect.

As a past Olympic bronze medalist on the track who had just set an American record for 15Km in Jacksonville, Florida in March, Shalane was looked upon as one of the top contenders, and not to be dismissed or slighted.   What she did mattered.  Therefore the other women were on high alert, and not about to give her open road. The entire echelon of elite women simply lined up, swallowed hard, and held on tight hoping Shalane would eventually burn out.

Besides, the Kenyans, especially, fight with each other in training on a daily basis. One day one prevails, another day, somebody else. Rita Jeptoo and Jemima Sumgong are training partners with Olympic silver medalist and New York City champion Priscah Jeptoo. They relish the game.  Shalane’s strategy failed to account for her own standing in the minds of her opponents.

In the end her aggressive, front-running tactic served as a de facto sling-shot for Jeptoo’s new course record.  The fact is Shalane was never going to beat Rita last Monday.  Jeptoo’s 4:45 24th mile and 15:44 split from 35 — 40Km was a wrecking ball of running excellence.  That Shalane PR’d by 3 1/2 minutes off such an aggressive first 30Km is a testament to the fabulous shape she was in. I’d still love to see her on a flat course where her more animated track form wouldn’t take as much out of her as it does on the downhills of Boston. But Boston for Shalane is beyond special.  So we shall see.  Meb’s win at age 38 should give Flanagan confidence that she still has time to build an even stronger aerobic house, and her dream of a Boston win is by no means beyond her reach.

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In the men’s race there was no discernible leader or plan whatsoever. Meb and Ryan went to the front early, but posted unremarkable splits in the early downhill miles as the big gun Africans eyeballed each other warily. That is the potential anytime you put together a field of such parity and strength. If one man of note would have gone, like Ryan Hall did in 2011, then all would have gone. But hesitancy breeds hesitancy, and so the miles slid by in moderation, all the while building tension in the pack.

Meb and Josephat Boit pull free after 8 miles

Meb and Josephat Boit pull free after 15K

Finally, when Meb and late entrant Josephat Boit opened a gap by passing up the elite aid station at 15Km,  two things happened that conspired to keep the chase pack in idle according to coaches and managers I spoke with afterwards.

“Some guys didn’t realize Meb was up ahead,” said Claudio Berardelli, coach of Paul Lonyangata and Joel Kimurer  (also Rita Jeptoo and Jemima Sumgong).

While seemingly hard to believe, in reflection it shows the intricate complexity of life within a World Marathon Major’s lead pack. Back-row guys may not have their heads up, or they could be watching someone nearby, sipping water or throwing away their bottles, and just not be keeping a sharp eye on the point of attack.  As long as they account for all the guys they think are the dangers, all is well as it is.

Recall that Catherine Ndereba didn’t realize that Constantina Dita was way out in front at the 2008 women’s Olympic Marathon in Beijing until the final kilometer when she saw Constantina on the other side of the road coming back into the Olympic stadium. Well, Catherine hadn’t joined the lead pack until after Dita had gone free early on, and no one ever mentioned the fact that somebody was up the road throughout the race. By that time she saw Dita, there was nothing Ndereba could do but graciously accept her silver medal. It happens.

But that was only one element that let Meb go free in Boston.

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Dennis Kimetto urging Markos Geneti to come ahead

Dennis Kimetto suggesting Markos Geneti assist with the effort. Desisa eyes Kogo in row 2 as Meb keeps building his lead  (courtesy:  PhotoRun)

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“(Joel) Kimurer (6th place, 2:11:03) told me two Ethiopians started to push and he went with them,” recalled Claudio Berardelli, Kimurer’s coach. “But after 2Km they slowed and returned to the pack. Wilson Chebet (2nd, 2:08:48) did the same thing. He pushed for 600 meters, then said, ‘why push by myself?’.  Boston is complicated.  There is a fear to go unless all go.”

That, perhaps, is another long-term consequence of guys learning their craft in paced marathons, via group training and group racing. There’s no thinking required in a paced race. It’s either can you do this or can’t you?  You don’t start seriously looking around till 35Km. That’s generally when the modern paced marathon begins its competitive phase. There is also the seniority thing to consider; there is a hierarchy in running.  People know who the Alphas are, and are loath to upset that order.  It’s not that anyone can’t win, it’s just that the pecking order of movement is sometimes overly constraining.

“I’m not going to go ahead of X, X is The Man, or X is my training camp leader.” This waiting for the Alpha to move can’t be discounted as a contributing factor.

We’ve seen this happen before. In 2007 James Kwambai seemed to let training mate Robert Cheruiyot go without a fight as the two headed into Kenmore Square in the final mile.   We saw it again in Berlin 2011 when debuting Dennis Kimetto deferred to his training camp leader Geoffrey Mutai in the final 200 meters.  But Kimetto, who was in Berlin because of Mutai, wasn’t about to try to topple the senior man.  In both cases the World Marathon Majors bonus of $500,000 was on the line for the top gun, as well.  So the protege wasn’t about to upset that apple cart.  Seniority still means something in other parts of the world. In that sense the lack of a timely counter-attack in last Monday’s Boston men’s race can, to a degree, be viewed through this cultural prism.

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YOU!  Yeah, YOU!

YOU! Yeah, YOU! (courtesy:  PhotoRun)

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On the other hand, America was founded on the concept of individual freedom, and we tend to act from that understanding.  Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezighi are veterans who train mostly by themselves. The loneliness of the long distance runner isn’t new to them, they are used to having open road in front and behind them.  While they may miss out on the very tangible benefits that big-group training does provide — particularly forming one’s blade then sharpening one’s edge on a larger stone — there is at least one plus to solo training,  a sensory comfort to being out there on your own, riding the wave unperturbed by the wake that’s forming behind.

Ryan Hall might not have had the day he was hoping for (20th, 2:17:50), but at least he finished his first marathon in two years and, according to reporting by LetsRun.com,  helped discourage any increase in tempo that might have come from the American contingent.  Even if that had little to do with the eventual outcome, it was a characteristically generous gesture by Hall.  Let’s hope Ryan can build off Boston to take another run at the top where he adds such interest and intrigue.

But there is a third, and possibly most likely, reason the pack didn’t give chase till too late.

“They all waited for Desisa,” said Gerard Van der Veen, manager of Dennis Kimetto (2:03:45 Chicago champion, DNF Boston) and Frankline Chepkwony (3rd, 2:08:50). “By the time they realized the defending champion didn’t have it (30Km), it was too late.  Dennis moved after Wilson Chebet did, but he pushed too hard, and his hamstring (which he pulled at the City Pier City Half in The Hague in March) went again.”

“Desisa was saying to the other Ethiopians, ‘let’s go, let’s go’,” confirmed his manager Hussein Makke of Elite Sports Management International.  “But Tilahun Regassa said, ‘no, no, no. He will come back.   We can catch him later. He is not dangerous to us. We have 4 or 5 minutes better PRs than him’.  Then, too, Tilahun got pushed from behind by Micah Kogo at the 15k aid station and went down flat on his face, and bruised his knee badly. He DNF’d at 19 or 20K.

To show how the fates have a hand in any such endeavor, according to Makke defending champion Lelisa Desisa twisted an ankle at the 25Km elite aid station, which caused him to compensate his stride, and that eventually caused him to drop out before 40K. Stuff happens when it’s not your day.

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Chasse pack, too little, too late Newton Lower Falls

Chase pack, too little, too late at Newton Lower Falls

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“Both Desisa and Regassa had bad luck,”  Makke  concluded, “but five days later, and I am still confused how the men’s race unfolded.  It was one of the most disastrous races I have ever seen. They didn’t give respect to a champion like Meb, but eight or nine guys just didn’t show up… I blame Kimetto and Desisa. They were the heavyweights in the field. If either one of them would have gone after Meb, everyone would have gone.”

But, but, but…

That’s racing.  You don’t get a Mulligan.  Of course, three-time Amsterdam Marathon champion Wilson Chebet finally did mount a late-race charge, but though he ran Boston in the hot year of 2012, taking fifth,  the rest of his marathon career has been spent on the flat, paced tracks in Amsterdam and Rotterdam.   The 1:21 lead Meb had built up by 30Km now required serious closing speed, and maybe some fading by Meb.

Forgetting about who else might come, Chebet threw in a 14:29 5K split from 35 — 40Km down Beacon Street into Kenmore Square.  Problem is, those downhill miles after all the early-mile downhills zapped his quads and drained his tank even as Meb kept a solid, even-paced tempo up ahead.  When Chebet finally got into the killing zone — 6.3 seconds back with a mile to go! — all he had left was a pocket full of air.  He was shot, now trying to fend off Frankline Chepkwony, coming in hard from third.   Meb had held form, fought nausea, and rode the crowd in, even-paced to the end.  It was a victory for resolve, reliability, and resolution.

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Gianni Poli New York City champ 1986

Gianni Poli New York City champ 1986

There is history to apply here, as well. In New York City 1986 the alpha-male in the field was Boston champion and course record setter Rob De Castella of Australia. In that New York everyone kept eye-balling Deek waiting for him to go. Somewhere along the way Italy’s Gianni Poli opened a gap that nobody covered. By the time they realized Deek in New York wasn’t the same guy as Deek in Boston, race over!  Big smile Poli!  Deek in second 37-seconds back.

Twenty years later it happened again. The Man in New York 2006 was Paul Tergat of Kenya, the world record holder and defending champion. 2004 Olympic champion Stefano Baldini of Italy was also there along with 2005 Boston champion Hailu Negussie of Ethiopia. But the pacers never got close to the 64:00 first half they had been contracted to run. They crossed the Pulaski Bridge in 65:30. Nobody wanted to venture out as there were too many major champions in the field to account for.

Nine men joined the hunt up First Avenue with Americans Meb Keflezighi, Dathan Ritzenhein and Alan Culpepper either unable or unwilling to respond. (Meb had twinged his hammy in his tuneup half marathon in San Jose that year).

Gomes Dos Santos flies free in NYC 2006

Marilson Gomes Dos Santos flew away in NYC 2006

During mile 18 Brazilian Marilson Gomes Dos Santos went to the front looking to thin the herd a little. Not among the major players in the pre-race build up — though he had set national records at 5000 & 10,000 meters that summer in Europe, and I was told to keep me eye on him by his manager Luis Posso — he opened a gap with a 4:48 19th and 4:53 20th mile. Nothing flashy there, but because he wasn’t considered a threat, none of the guys went with him.  Oops!  He opened a 38-second lead by 23 miles. And though Tergat and Stephen Kiogora eventually whittled Dos Santos lead to 10-seconds, they ran out of real estate, and Dos Santos hoisted the first of his two NYC trophies.

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These are the games athletes play. These are the decisions athletes make and the consequences which define championships and champions. The fact is, like Poli in New York 1986 and Dos Santos in 2006, Meb in Boston in 2014 wasn’t taken seriously by the Kenyans and Ethiopians, and it cost them the race.  Meb ran completely up to his potential on Monday, which is all any athlete can do.  The others didn’t and are now left to wonder “What if?”.

With his own intelligence, experience on the course, and the overwhelming emotional support from the throngs lining the roads, Meb was lifted to an historic win. The alpha-males: Lelisa Desisa (DNF) and Dennis Kimetto (DNF), and the secondary threats, Wilson Chebet (2nd, 2:08:48), and Micah Kogo (17th, 2:17:12), all ran with an implied arrogance that dismissed an aging, but still dangerous opponent.  This is not a first.  Meb has made a habit of feasting at the expense of better runners, but lesser racers.

This is why pure racing will always trump time trialing. If it had been a paced race, the odds are that Meb Keflezighi would not be the 2014 Boston Marathon champion, and the sport would be the lesser for it.

END

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63 comments on “2014 BOSTON ANALYSIS

  1. pjmorse says:

    Toni, this kind of analysis is what makes Boston 2014 the gift that keeps on giving. The story on the Americans “saving” Meb’s win is a little overdone; what’s notable about it is that they were able to recognize that they could screw things up for Meb and thus avoid doing so. A very unusual situation. Meb, as it turned out, had things right when he said (and I wish I could find this quote again) that you don’t need to beat all the hotshots in the field; a third of them wouldn’t be 100%, another third would take themselves out of contention with poor tactics, and he only had to beat the last third. Which he did. Now let’s try to get Dick Patrick to write two or three more chapters on the end of Meb’s book…

  2. Toni Reavis says:

    Yes, Parker, kudos to Ryan and the rest for thinking on their feet with their patriot hearts rather than egos. That’s still a powerful statement regardless how much actual effect it might have had. I think it boiled down to Desisa not having it, and everyone waiting too long for that reality to set in. The lead was too great by the time they got cranking. Then, too much effort was needed just to get Chebet close. By then the course had taken his quads and he had less left than Meb’s even paced effort. Racing is the thing! Hope the other World Marathon Majors take notice.

  3. Toni, spot on. Meb ran a smart race. The Kenyans and Ethiopians didn’t. I just wonder when they’re going to stop underestimating him. He may not be the fastest, but man, he knows how to race. And, yes, I’ll take a championship style race over a time trial any day. They’re so much more interesting, challenging and exciting to watch.

  4. Chris Mengel says:

    “Salubrious”? Only you and maybe Phil Hersh would ever use that word in a running context. Really enjoy your work, Toni. Also enjoyed chatting with you at the Fairmont about the potential of the TFAA and the plight of stellar elites who are not quite champions. Great seeing you again. All the best.
    ~ Chris

  5. Toni Reavis says:

    Thanks, Chris. I guess it’s the Jesuit education with its emphasis on Latin. Anyway, I see more and more people calling the Copley Plaza Hotel “The Fairmont”. Things change. Hopefully, the sport will too. I appreciate your comments and let’s keep the TFAA ball rolling. Best regards.

  6. Gabriel says:

    Great summary Toni. The race reminded me a lot about the 2013 worlds mens 50 k cross country skiing, where the Swede Johan Olsson went early, and the pack was unable to work together and he manage to keep the lead all the way to the finish. So much psychology there that is not really evident when you watch from outside… Anyway, great summary as always. Only problem with Boston marathon 2014 was that YOU did not handle the commentary stuff on TV!

  7. Toni Reavis says:

    Gabriel,
    Actually I did handle commentary for Monday’s race, but only on local TV, WBZ in Boston. But thanks for thinking of me, and giving another example of why racing beats pre-determined time-trials.

    • Eden J. Weiss says:

      Hi Toni,

      I almost never post, but felt compelled to do so after reading your excellent insightful race analysis. Since I have Cablevision, here in Brooklyn, I do not have Universal Sports Network. Luckily, I was able to watch Boston on the BAA website. What happened to Larry Rawson? I never expect much from Al Trautwig, but I was appalled at the emotionless and simply terrible coverage of one of the greatest athletic performances that I have ever seen, in Meb’s triumph. When you consider: Meb’s age and the Africans youth (10-15 years his junior), and the fact that many Africans, including the enigmatic Hall, had PR’s 4-5 minutes faster than him, it was a masterful victory! I was standing and screaming at the TV, with my laptop long cable-linked to it, in the last 5k, especially in the last mile, for Meb to hold on.
      It may have been the worst “flat” announcing job of a fantastic performance that I ever heard.
      It is so wonderful for long-time runners and road running/marathon fans to continue to have you tell us what is really happening in a race! Your analysis is unparalleled. Keep up the great work. When I finally got the web site up and running, my first question was: “Where is Reavis?”

      Thank s very much for your great work!

      Eden Weiss,

      • Toni Reavis says:

        Eden,
        Thanks for the kind words. Since I was on the local broadcast (WBZ-TV4), I didn’t get to hear either the Universal coverage or Larry and Al on the BAA website. Your reaction comes as a surprise. One thing Larry has always been known for is his emotional attachment to the sport and the athletes. I know in what high regard Larry holds Meb, so it come as a surprise that you found the race call “flat”. I’ll have to take a look for myself. Perhaps Larry and Al were trying to remain objective. I can tell you, Kathrine Switzer and I were pretty much homers over the final 5Km. But in any case, what a great Boston 2014. Thanks for reading and responding.

  8. Thom suddeth says:

    Keep doing what you do Tony. It’s great to have someone understand our sport….I still remember your support of the masters circuit(and commentary) 20 years ago!

  9. Don Allison says:

    Toni,
    Great analysis. Recall in the early 1990s Ibrahim Hussein ran a similarly savvy race in Boston, running ahead while the rest of the elite men’s pace eyed Douglas Wakihuuri, whom most considered a heavy favorite…Also if I am not mistaken there were a few official race vehicles between Meb and and Boit and the elite pack, making it easier to forget about him, not being able to see him. A question though: did none of the elite runners have some sort of support in the form of a coach, friends, or family that could tell them “you are 75 seconds behind?” It would seem that someone would tell them somewhere along the route. As you said, it all made for great racing. – Don A.

  10. Toni, really great analysis and commentating, and a compelling race on both sides. It could have been a better sporting experience if TV would figure out how to present it. As much as I enjoyed seeing Meb in front. We really needed a camera on the chase pack to see that they were not in serious pursuit until too late. The Tour de France does this well with the cameras on the peloton and break away with constant updates on the interval between.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Michael,

      Could not agree more. Problem is they don’t cover it primarily as a sporting event, but as a civic event with a sporting element. There is pool coverage of the lead runners, certainly not enough resources to assign cameras for several chasing packs. Accordingly, it is what it is, and we are often left in the dark about what is happening behind the leader. Frustrating.

      • Sam says:

        Thanks so much for the great commentary, Toni. Why is the addition of cameras so difficult for marathons? Is it really that expensive to add three or four mobile video feeds? I saw you mention that security made this difficult at Boston, but surely that excuse cannot hold for nearly all American coverage of marathons. Having a single camera trained solely on the lead male and woman not only destroys the drama that is happening within, it also misses any number of side dramas (top American, the fight for prize money, wheeled races, etc). These are all incredibly marketable stories that would take very little in terms of resources or framing coverage to make clear to wide audience.

        It strikes me that distance running desperately needs to take a hint from the Tour and add in the element of ‘carnival’ within it’s longer races. Why not have premiums for distances throughout the race? Money for fastest up Heartbreak hill? Famous runners meeting and greeting fans before the lead comes through in caravans giving out swag? A team competition like cross? There were hundreds of thousands of captive fans on the Boston roadsides and tuning in. We do a terrible job making our sport compelling to both consumers and potential sponsors.

        Thanks again.

  11. ejnshow says:

    Excellent analysis Toni! I loved the tactics in both races, and it’s something that I think is sorely missing from the sport today. The time trial stuff really doesn’t interest me at all. A race just isn’t the same without the strategy. It seems to be either time trials or super tactical championship races, but few fall in between. Imagine if The Majors got together and eliminated pacing? Things would get real interesting!

  12. Bob Guild says:

    Excellent article Toni! You have taken the baton from Kenny Moore, in your ability to bring a race to life, and put context and texture to the drama as it unfolds. Thank you! I echo Michael U’s wish that the tv coverage would be as compelling as your race analysis. I understand your reasons why that is not so.

    I was spoiled, living in South Africa for two years, and watching the Olympics and marathons on the BBC feed. In both places, the US and GB, the tv whizzes know their audience. With the BBC, it is a fandom who understands running, and is interested in the backstory being presented as the race unfolds (or “hots up”!). In the US, the audience is mostly people who are unschooled and uninterested in the race itself, and oftentimes unwilling to spend 2 plus hours watching the racers put one foot in front of another. We can be so impatient!

    You remind me of Vin Scully calling baseball games. Baseball, like a well raced marathon, is a game of patience and split second decisions. It unfolds over time, and a good announcer needs to make a connection with the audience. He (or she) needs to spend time telling us about what is unfolding, all the while ready to drop the banter when the action dictates. You do that, both on tv and in your analysis. Thank you and keep it up!

  13. Mike says:

    Very thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis Toni, thanks so much. Particularly appreciate your insight into the training methods of the American vs. East African runners, and how his “lone wolf” mentality allowed Meb to break away from the pack virtually unchallenged.

    I’m not sure Shalane exhibited a “fundamental misunderstanding of the psyche of her opponents” as much as did a fundamental understanding that her chances of winning decreased significantly the longer she failed to break away. It was clear that she wouldn’t be able to out-kick runners like Rita Jeptoo down the stretch, so she was really pursuing the only race strategy that gave her a reasonable shot at winning. And astonishingly, her personal-best 2:22:02 finish would have won the race in 12 of the past 13 years.

    I absolutely agree with you and Michael U. that USN’s coverage at Boston was lacking, not only in regards to the glitchy feed covering the elite women, but also in their failure to lend perspective to the men’s race as well. For quite a while, I had no idea where Meb was relative to the chase pack. Coverage could definitely have been better.

    Given your background with ESPN and depth of expertise on the sport, I wanted to share my thoughts on why now is the time for ESPN to step up and give running the exposure it deserves: http://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2014/04/23/dear-espn/

    Thanks for giving our sport the voice it deserves.

  14. Mike Lundgren says:

    Toni, great insight and style. Wish you’d been part of the baa internet coverage, too. That coverage was almost muted by me, given the comments that occurred. I don’t know why we cannot get talked to like we understand running in these shows, since we are the group that most often watches. Ah, well, hopefully, you will be going to Chicago and we can hear you there.

    We in the running store had on ESPN, and saw only 30 seconds of review of Boston, with no film of Meb winning, just the talking heads. There was more time spent on two baseball teams fighting than that that day!

  15. Claudia Piepenburg says:

    It seems to me that how our spot is marketed is the definition of insanity (or at least a failure to recognize that what you’re doing isn’t working out so well): doing the same thing the same way over and over again and expecting a different result. You and everyone else who posted here have got it right: if we can’t provide insightful, knowledgable commentary coupled with camera-work that actually shows the viewer that there’s a race going on, we’ll continue to have these same conversations year-after-year and the general public will never see road racing as anything more than a vehicle to raise money for charity and clog up the streets on Sunday morning.

    The commentary was dismal. Much like the race course, it started out going downhill fast. When the gun went off to start the elite men and the first wave of runners in the corral behind them, Al Trautwig said something like (I paraphrase here): “Well now the real race is starting.” Never mind that the elite women were already out on the course. The camera coverage was abysmal. At one point I actually screamed at the TV “where is Shalane? What happened to her? Does anybody care?”

    This is sport, people; what you’re watching are world-class athletes at the top of their game. It’s not just a bunch of folks who can run faster than your brother-in-law who ran a 10k once. I was sorry that I got up early enough to watch the coverage live from the West Coast, rather than just recording it because I couldn’t fast-forward through the whole mess. No wonder the average person doesn’t care to watch; the coverage made a mockery of our sport. So, what else is new?

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Claudia, It is still presented as a major civic event with a sporting nougat center. As such, the resources are limited. There aren’t enough cameras to sufficiently cover the event as a Tour de France type competition. Plus, the RF (radio frequency) that is used to transmit pictures from the course was interrupted by the added security measures put in place this year. Ironic that the measures used to insure the safety of the event came back to impede the presentation of it. But that’s the world we live in.

  16. […] 2014 Boston Analysis […]

  17. Jon says:

    Tony, this is a great article. I’ve enjoyed your work for a long time as you always bring in an insightful look into track and racing. I’d like your take on something. It has been brought up on multiple message boards and in the posts above about how abysmal tv coverage is for marathons. Why is that a huge company like NBC can’t figure out how to televise this event (or NYC) and not have cameras freeze/delays, yet they have OUTSTANDING coverage of the Tour de France every year? Is it production budget? Equipment? Lack of a big “market”?

  18. Micky says:

    Just wonder if some of those top Africans only wanted to run a hard 20miler, pocket the appearance money, and save themselves for a better pay-day soon?

    • Toni Reavis says:

      That’s a little too cynical, I think. The top guys just blew it, really. One of those days. Plus, Boston is a big payday and you don’t want a reputation as a racing slacker just looking for money. The World Marathon Majors athlete coordinators all share info. Don’t want to get on their bad list.

  19. Ken says:

    Great but don’t refer to the separate races as “each gender’s race. It’s each sex’s race. Gender is a role. Sex is male or female based on your reproductive organs.

  20. Flash20935 says:

    Toni, thought the analysis was spot on, I always loved to RACE and let the times take over! I have also enjoyed your various commentary on the events and state of things of this wonderful sport of ours. Any thought of you taking a more proactive stance and run for a position of making the change happening?
    Also, although the commentary by Bob and Larry was there, I really missed hearing you and the actual racing parts of a race, such as splits and projected times, that I’ve known you to cover more thoroughly.

  21. runnermatt says:

    Great analysis.. I can’t help but think Meb’s 2;23 in NYC gave the chase pack some reason to doubt his ability to hold.

    I read that Shalane expressed surprised that the other women went with her. …Really? Seems like the race plan was designed in a vacuum.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      The men didn’t take Meb seriously (or just didn’t know he’d gotten away), while the women were leery of Shalane, so wouldn’t let her get an inch. Great, intriguing races on both sides.

    • bosstonfan says:

      couldn’t agree with you more matt, she may have been able to win previous Boston’s just based off the time she ran, but as seen with Meb, finish time doesn’t always equal a win. Leading that field, one of whom which referred to her as “the American girl…” was probably not the best choice. She essentially paced them through to a faster time than they probably would have run without her leading – which was to her detriment because she could have reserved for her 10k closing speed to try and out-kick them. When the lead wasn’t being built at all, let alone the 30-40 seconds she would have needed, she should have backed off. Hindsight is always 20/20 though.

      • Toni Reavis says:

        BF,
        Shalane ran as she did, cause she’s tried the other way first, and that didn’t work. She’s still learning the distance, trying different things, while forming her marathon efficiencies. This was another marker in the road. She’s got the ethic and zeal. Have always liked her fire. Just needs to get it banking for a long burn. In any case, that was one hell of a lead-out she gave Rita and the rest, huh?. Epic.

  22. Mike says:

    Great work Tony. I think you did a great job explaining the tactics. Given Meb’s performance result at the 2013 NYC Marathon, it was understandable why they would not cover his move. Meb didn’t cover Baldini’s move at the 2004 Olympics because he knew the world record holder at the time, Paul Tergat, was behind him. He wanted to have something left in case Paul Tergat came after him. He made a wise decision to secure the silver.

    Meb is a very humble person. He doesn’t boast about his preparation or performances. He has accomplished quite a bit on the track, roads and especially in the marathon.

    1st 2014 Boston Marathon Champion 2:08:37
    1st at 2009 New York City Marathon (2:09:29) after nearly one and half years of rehab
    1st Olympic Trials Marathon champion (2:09:08) (67 or 68 days after running NYC marathon & less than ideal preparation due to a blister infection on his foot)
    2nd at 2004 New York City Marathon (2:09:53) (70 days after 2004 Olympics)
    2nd (Silver) at the 2004 Olympic marathon (2:11:29)
    2nd at 2004 Marathon Olympic Trials (2:11:47)
    3rd at Boston Marathon (2:09:56)
    3rd at 2004 New York City Marathon (2:09:56)
    4th in Olympic marathon (2:11:06) (behind bronze medalist & the now World Record holder Wilson Kipsing)
    5th at Boston Marathon (2:09:26) (ruptured quad but finished)
    6th at New York City Marathon (2:09:13)
    6th at ING New York City Marathon (2:11:38)
    7th at 2003 Chicago Marathon 2:10:03
    8th at Olympic Trials – Men’s Marathon (2:15:09) (Finished despite a stress fracture)
    9th at 2002 New York City Marathon (2:12:35)
    9th at 2009 London Marathon (2:09:21) Following year and half of rehab from stress fracture
    21st at NYC Marathon (2:22:02) (Fitter than in Athens but a severe food poisoning days before race. He never eats fettuccine before a race now)
    23rd @ NYC Marathon 2:23:47 (trained with calf injury. He still ran because of the impact of hurricane Sandy on residents of New York. “I’m still able to run, and some people cannot do that.” Meb)

    • Mike says:

      Sorry, it should have been 3rd at 2005 NYC marathon (2:09:56) instead of 3rd at 2004 NYC Marathon.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Mike,

      Very in-depth. However, I’m not altogether certain NYC 2013 was on the radar of the Boston pack in regards Meb. Like Coach Claudio Berardelli said, some guys didn’t even know he was up the road. But as long as Desisa was still in sight, along with Kogo, Wilson Chebet, Dennis Kimetto, they figured they were the main threats. That combination conspired to give Meb the room he needed to hold off that late Wilson Chebet /Franline Chepkwony charge. But all credit to Meb for taking full advantage of the opening and pulling off another career-defining win.

      • bobhodge1979 says:

        Hey Toni, seems Josphat Boit should get his due for his role in Meb victory. Theirs was the more important American teamwork. Interesting analysis of the lone trainers versus the group dynamic.

  23. djäveln says:

    So, it was just an accumulation of miscalculations that gave Meb the win? It just seems too odd that no one gave chase after only 10 miles, and then, too late to overtake him. Mark my words, the Africans will be back in force next year. Meb is done on the elite level. Shalane, no, she will be back. This was a sentimental “gimme” or an American “reset” after the bombings.

    • Mike says:

      Djaveln,

      I guess it wouldn’t be the first time Meb is written off at the elite level….perhaps you need to look at his marathon stats again (see below). He is hard to discount when healthy & in decent shape. He has finished on the podium 8 out of the 19 marathon runs & 90% of the time in the top 10.

      He said in his interview that his workouts leading up to Mammoth were not as fast because his goal was to show up healthy to Boston. The same for London Olympics. He is older so there is emphasis on cross training and not pushing the envelope.

      If you follow Meb closely you would know he has carefully orchestrated his career. He is a mastermind. Since Meb going pro in 1998, the marathon world record has been broken 8 times. Do you think people will care 50 years from now what those times were? Meb owned the 10K American record for 9 years (2001-2010) and it has been broken twice in the last 4 years.

      Don’t be surprised if Meb wins another major marathon AGAIN!

      1st 2014 Boston Marathon Champion 2:08:37
      1st at 2009 New York City Marathon (2:09:29) after nearly one and half years of rehab
      1st Olympic Trials Marathon champion (2:09:08) (67 or 68 days after running NYC marathon & less than ideal preparation due to a blister infection on his foot)
      2nd at 2004 New York City Marathon (2:09:53) (70 days after 2004 Olympics)
      2nd (Silver) at the 2004 Olympic marathon (2:11:29)
      2nd at 2004 Marathon Olympic Trials (2:11:47)
      3rd at Boston Marathon (2:09:56)
      3rd at 2004 New York City Marathon (2:09:56)
      4th in Olympic marathon (2:11:06) (behind bronze medalist & the now World Record holder Wilson Kipsing)
      5th at Boston Marathon (2:09:26) (ruptured quad but finished)
      6th at New York City Marathon (2:09:13)
      6th at ING New York City Marathon (2:11:38)
      7th at 2003 Chicago Marathon 2:10:03
      8th at Olympic Trials – Men’s Marathon (2:15:09) (Finished despite a stress fracture)
      9th at 2002 New York City Marathon (2:12:35)
      9th at 2009 London Marathon (2:09:21) Following year and half of rehab from stress fracture
      21st at NYC Marathon (2:22:02) (Fitter than in Athens but a severe food poisoning days before race. He never eats fettuccine before a race now)
      23rd @ NYC Marathon 2:23:47 (trained with calf injury. He still ran because of the impact of hurricane Sandy on residents of New York. “I’m still able to run, and some people cannot do that.” Meb)

  24. Toni Reavis says:

    Hodgey,

    Agreed that Josephat was a valuable wing-man for Meb during that early break from the pack. But Meb never did anything dramatic. He hit perfectly even splits throughout, and the fast guns never drew.

    Djavelin:

    Nobody “gave” Meb anything. He took. They just let him take. The day was there for the running. They got caught up, arrogantly, in one another. And when neither of the real Alphas, Desisa and Kimetto, went in chase, the others deferred too long and let the fish get away. It’s called RACING. Meb has always been a smart one. The Kenyans and Ethiopians know how to run fast, but sometimes they don’t know how to race smart. Not that they can’t, they just didn’t this time in Boston. And everybody is the better for it, including them. Cause Meb is generating the kind of post-race interest that might kick=start another Racing Boom, and bring more money and sponsors into the game.

    • djäveln says:

      You said it: They “just let him take” it. Which proves my point: it was a “sentimental” win for America.

      The Africans dominate all the tier one and two marathons all around the world; even local races. Why would they let one of the premier races slip away? Because they wanted it that way.

      Nobody who knows running shoes will buy a second pair of Skechers. Meb’s celebrity is now on the wane. He is not some new Frank Shorter.

      I know why you have to push your point of view; your salary depends on it.

      • Toni Reavis says:

        DJavelin:

        Man, you are a cynic. And I thought I was one. Just so you know, my salary is based on honest analysis, and shoe-leather reporting. I might like Meb, and understand quite clearly that an American win in Boston holds value to the sport. But guess what, I like Wilson Chebet, too. Been to his house, met the family. Same with most guys in the lead pack. I’m on the board of an Ethiopian Foundation. My race calls aren’t about favoritism. The integrity of the sport is what makes it special. This is meritocracy in its purest form.

        My post-race analysis was based on experience and conversations with the athletes, their coaches, and managers. They admit that they F’d up. But that’s what happens in races. Weird shit happens. Desisa was saying to the other Ethiopians, “let’s go, let’s go”, and they refused to go. “He’s not dangerous to us. We have 4-5 minute PRs on him”. That was the thinking, and it cost them.

        Occam’s razor cuts most cleanly here, as in most situations. As you probably know, Occam’s razor is a principle of parsimony, economy, or succinctness used in problem-solving devised by William of Ockham (c. 1287 – 1347). It states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions, i.e. conspiracy theories, may ultimately prove correct, but—in the absence of certainty—the fewer assumptions that are made, the better.

        In this case, Meb opened a gap, the big guns didn’t take him seriously, they waited too long to do something about it, Meb wins. But thanks for reading and responding, just the same.

        Toni

      • So, what, exactly, is your ‘ingenious’ thesis here, djav?

        Do you suppose that every one of a dozen guys from the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia, (where the average annual income is what, maybe $1000?) decided they really had no interest in a $150,000 prize,… because, umm, someone suggested to them it would be ‘sentimental’ for an American to win this year?

        So they just decided to jog it in?

        Or perhaps you think they were actually all bribed?

        Please, Oh Insightful One, explain to us naive idiots exactly what you think *really* happened?

        This should be fascinating.

      • ErinG says:

        Respectfully, I disagree. Even though the elites are from, and proudly represent, countries other than America, they are all runners first. It was going to be special and sentimental to win Boston in this year, regardless of your country of origin. Given the prestige of winning the Boston Marathon, I highly doubt that any elite runner would not try to win the race if he had it in him that day. Meb ran a smart race and others in the field did not.

        I also disagree on Sketchers running shoes. While it’s true that Sketchers first forays into running shoes were not well received, the current models actually appear to have quite a few fans, especially among the minimalist running folks. Personally, I prefer Brooks, but running shoe preference is distinctly personal – what works for one person does not work for another. Sketchers does appear to take runners’ feedback into account in developing their shoes, which is refreshing.

  25. […] 2014 Boston Analysis – Toni Reavis […]

  26. Steve L says:

    To be fair, Boston is a tough course to run smart. It seems to have gotten a bit of a rep as an easy run since Mutai’s incredible 2011 effort, but it isn’t, especially for someone like Kimetto, running it for the first time, and more accustomed to flat courses. In 2011, Mutai had absolutely everything going for him, terrific fitness, clouds, very cool conditions, a robust tail wind, and Ryan Hall running a blistering pace from the start, effectively serving as a pacer. Everyone I know had a PB of at least 5 minutes that day, and they weren’t anywhere close to being able to benefit from Mr Hall.

    But most years the course is tough, and given that you don’t have the benefit of people to pace you, you have to attack it with a bit of thought, like a good golf course. Yes, it has a net downhill drop of more than 300 feet; but most of that downhill is quite steep, particularly in the first five miles, and unless you run it carefully, the pounding will come back to haunt you. Then there’s the Newton hills, four fairly tough climbs and descents that hit you at an awful time, after you have already run 16 miles. Not the place to be trying to make up more than a minute.

    So I have some sympathy for those guys. Boston is a different beast from London or Berlin.

    And I find myself hoping that Kenenisa Bekele will choose to run Boston next spring, and maybe New York in the fall. With his combination of speed, smarts, and ability on the hills, if he can stay healthy and motivated he could own those two races for the next few years.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Steve,

      Good points, all. Tough is what Shalane was hoping for. Instead she gave them the ride of their life. And if we can get the top guys less focused on time, naybe Kenise would consider Boston or New York. Thanks for reading and responding.

  27. eelevol says:

    I can’t tell you how much this Boston Marathon breakdown means to me. I am a Boston native, living in Mongolia, at the end of my Peace Corps service. Before I came here, I lived and worked a mile and a half from Copley Square and every year I cheered the runners along the last 2-3 miles as I slowly made my way home. Obviously, I’m grateful I wasn’t present for the bombings last year, but being away from my city, as it was banding together, was difficult for me. I definitely feel like I missed out on the chance to do my part.

    In the weeks leading up to this year’s marathon, it was constantly on my mind. But I wasn’t just following the city’s recovery; I was also following the race. Yes, I was born in Boston, and came to Mongolia from Boston, but my teen years were spent in San Diego, where I graduated high school with Meb. I went to the 2010 Boston Marathon with a homemade sign: “Go Meb. SDHS supports you.” It mattered not at all to me that he probably didn’t know who I was. I knew who he was, I knew his story and I was proud. And this year, that feeling of pride for Meb and the homesickness I sometimes feel being so far away, were amplified by Boston Strong.

    My internet in Mongolia wasn’t strong enough to stream live video, so I spent the 2 hours refreshing the BAA webpage every few minutes and getting updates from friends. I’d compared the elite runners stats and, probably like most people, I too noticed the age gap and the difference in personal best times. But I held out hope. And when it happened, when Meb won the Boston Marathon, just after midnight in Mongolia, I was elated on all fronts. But, I was nagged by the question “How did it happen?” Not in the sarcastic sense, and not in the conspiracy-theory sense, but in the honest, play-by-play sense of someone who couldn’t see it. So, thank you, Mr. Reavis for answering my question so thoroughly.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Eelevol,
      I will definitely send your reply to Meb. I’m sure he’ll be warmed by it, as was I. I lived on Beacon Street up near Cleveland Circle for 23 years. It’s how I got involved in the marathon. Though I work many, many running events around the world, there is nothing that compares to Boston. The history, the people, the depth of its spirit. Thank you for your own service in the Peace Corps. Have a safe end of your journey, and welcome home when the time arrives. San Diego is a little overcast today, but still delightful. Best regards from a Bostonian and San Diegan.

  28. […] Letsrun Men’s Preview Letsrun Men’s Review Letsrun – The Story Behind Meb Toni Reavis Article Dick Patrick – Meb Strong Shalane Post Race […]

  29. Brett says:

    per usual, wonderful commentary Toni….I have been VERY fortunate to witness a lot of amazing things in running and T & F, but last Monday’s fairy tale ending might be one of the most “goose bump” inspiring moments I have been a part of in a long, long time. sitting with those crazy Torres twins, Matt Mc, and a few others, we were fortunate to have TV coverage on as we leaned out the window of the Charlesmark wondering if the improbable was going to happen on Marathon Monday? Chebet was closing and closing fast, but his body language quickly showed how much effort he put into his chase of Meb….there’s no way, Chebet is closing too fast, every little uphill Meb leaned forward and grimaced in pain, yet the turnover, grit, and determination continued on. all the way to the finish. the eruption on Boylston was sensational. what a day, and more importantly for “Team Meb” a HUGE congrats on continuing to win, even though somehow he is always painted as an underdog–is the even possible? thanks again for the great read and this year’s Boston Marathon is simply why I love this sport so much. what a day.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      With you all the way, Brett. Beyond words. There is real integrity and honor in this game, and you can’t buy it or receive it as a gift. The gift lies in preparation and racing smarts. Meb has a ton of each, and he makes the most of every race he enters. We can 20/20 this one for ages and see how any number of guys shoulda won. But Meb DID win. That’s the beauty and the wonder. See you soon, friend, I’m sure there are more thrills ahead.

  30. Bob Poulson says:

    Nice article. But please correct how you use hyphens. “eye-ball(ed)(ing)” is one word, no hyphen. 00-second(s) only requires a hyphen when it is an adjective — “lead to 10 seconds” — no hyphen.

  31. […] is a great analysis of the race, putting the women’s record setting race and the men’s upset into […]

  32. sfrunning says:

    I agree that racing is more interesting than time-trialing, and I hope the big marathons make some important changes to encourage it.
    In the classic time-trialing race, a lot of unknown pacer-guys hover around a few top guys you can barely see, almost all of whom drop off way too soon to get interested in them (Mo being an obvious exception in London), and at the end there are a few survivors and behind them a line of casualties, broken bodies showing injuries and pain, and many of whom give up and DNF. There is nothing much fun watching this, unless you like watching pain, and you have some fatal (to them) need for speed. (Really, can you tell the difference between 2:05 and 2:09 as it whizzes by?)
    In a good race, more guys are there at the end, and you have time on TV to get to like them, and for the announcer to tell you about them, to invest yourself in their eventual success or failure. Even the ones who take a gamble like Meb and go on ahead… And because they weren’t needed to push the pace to ridiculous speeds, no anonymous pacers. Just the guys who have a chance. Then, like a great track race, they all take whatever they have left and point their bodies and visible souls toward the finish. That’s good to watch, not the carnage option #1 above.
    Take out the pacers, take out the ridiculous time bonuses that crucify all but the super-lucky and fit, and give us an honest, human-scale race!

  33. […] is a great analysis of the race, putting the women’s record setting race and the men’s upset into […]

  34. […] that, it’s a matter of simple psychology. In an excellent piece on his blog, Toni Reavis has pointed out that many were focusing on defending champion Lelisa Desisa, waiting for him to make his move. […]

  35. […] here is a superb analysis of the race, placing the ladies’s report setting race and the lads’s upset into […]

  36. […] here’s a excellent analysis of the race, putting the women’s report setting race and the lads’s upset into […]

  37. […] this is a wonderful analysis of the race, placing the ladies’s report setting race and the lads’s upset into […]

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