Honolulu, Hi. — Monday dawned sunny and bright the day after the 2014 Honolulu Marathon. Such is the game of chance in the marathon world. For yesterday’s 42nd Honolulu Marathon a deep roll of clouds lingered over Oahu, bringing spells of lashing trade winds and screeds of warm rain in the pre-dawn darkness along the mid-section of the out-and-back course.
Yet the conditions didn’t chill the Aloha spirit offered or received by the thousands who embraced the warm but wild conditions — though fully 4000 of the 30,000 entrants who picked up their bib numbers at the Honolulu Convention Center failed to arrive at the Ala Moana Blvd. start line at 5 a.m. That number, however, is more a reflection of the spirit of the Honolulu Marathon as a destination event more so than, say, a Boston qualifier. Yet, the thousands who took up the challenge remained stalwart. The final finishers didn’t arrive at the Kapiolani Park finish line until nearly 15 hours into the race. Continue reading
Honolulu, HI. — The sport of marathoning has gone gaga for fast times. Since 2011’s 2:03:38 by Patrick Makau in Berlin the record has tumbled two more times, with the current clocking, 2:02:57, coming this September in Berlin by fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto. The 100th fastest time of 2014, 2:08:25, is nine seconds faster than Aussie Derek Clayton’s 1969 world best in Antwerp that lasted a dozen years.
But Sunday’s 42nd Honolulu Marathon will not be won in anything approaching a world’s best, or for that matter, even what might be considered a normally fast, world-class time. No, Honolulu is a throw-back, built for competition, not for speed. The fact that six-time champion Jimmy Muindi’s course record, 2:11:12, has stood since 2004 — and before that Ibrahim Hussein’s 2:11:43 lasted 20 years — testifies to the difficulty presented by 26.2 miles (42.2Km) of tropical heat and humidity over a course that requires two climbs over iconic Diamond Head before the finish in Kapiolani Park. Now add a tempestuous NE wind that may clock in at 30 mph or more Sunday morning, and this 42Km may run more like 50!
Notwithstanding the challenges, this year’s Honolulu Marathon has what many are calling its strongest field ever, a well-matched compilation of veterans and eager newcomers anxious to show their wares and earn berth in a 2015 Abbot World Marathon Major.
Last year under 72F temps and calm winds the main nine-man pack loitered through a 1:11:38 first half, some three minutes behind front-runner Saeki Makino of Japan, a training partner of Japan’s famed citizen runner Yuki Kawauchi. It took till mile 22 before Kenyans Gilbert Chepkwony and 2011 champion Nicholas Chelimo reeled him in. Chepkwony then put Chelimo away with back-to-back 4:36 miles at 22 and 23 on his way to a modest 2:18:47 finish. Chepkwony and Chelimo have returned in 2014, but will be hard-pressed to maintain their positions atop the podium. It has always been said that the best way to honor your champion is to invite a field that’s worthy of his best efforts. You could say that race director Jon Cross is honoring the bejeesus out of Mr. Chepkwony this year.
Honolulu, Hi. — It is easy to get lolled into a complacent repose here on the magical isle of Oahu. The rolling surf and easy trade winds loosen even the stiffest resolve, and one can forget, for the moment, the sulfurous zeitgeist which has come over the sport of athletics of late.
From the doping positives and allegations of wide-spread cheating and corruption coming out of the distance Eden of Kenya, the hardened realpolitik of alleged payoffs to cover failed drug tests in Russia — or to secure championship site selection by the IAAF — to the overturning of a mandate-level membership vote by a know-better USATF Board of Directors, and now the potential loss of root and branch events like the 10,000, shot put, triple jump, and 200 meters on the track at the Olympics, there seems to be a sense of a house on fire on all fronts of athletics.
Maybe this is the entropy any old and failed model eventuates toward. Maybe this is how the culture of greed and corruption loops back on itself in an ironic twist of Shakespearean delight. In any regard, it is clear that the sport has completely lost its way.
Those in charge seem less passionate about the game than about the easy rewards that come from positions within extra-national oligarchies that lack adequate oversight and deal in the murky world of international banking. It is why this sport is so attractive to so many of the wrong people as well as to so many great athletes and well-meaning supporters.
But there has always been the sense that the problem cannot be solved by simply rejiggering the NGB model or by replacing fallen men with more upstanding counterparts. Though every sport has its difficulties and foibles, other successful sports have both a national governing body element and a professional wing to balance and support their joint progress. Continue reading
Honolulu, HI. — With its clement trade winds and Aloha spirit, the Honolulu Marathon has long been one of the world’s most alluring marathons. Now entering its 42nd year, America’s fourth largest marathon has hosted more 680,000 finishers, including many of the great runners of their era. Another 30,000-plus have signed up for this Sunday morning’s sunrise run up over Diamond Head and into Kapiolani Park.
But this hard-earned legacy of hospitality and excellence isn’t a laurel that can be rested on lightly. Like any athlete training for the race itself, the Honolulu Marathon Association continues to seek a level of perfection that both challenges and eludes us all. And that includes in the realm of elite performance. Continue reading
The political season of athletics is upon us. This weekend in Anaheim, California USA Track & Field (USATF), the National Governing Body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States, convened for its annual meeting. While this family gathering has degenerated in past years into internecine squabbles, last night USATF CEO Max Siegel gave an encouraging State of the Sport address in which he presented several new initiatives across the USATF platform, while announcing two new sponsor partnerships with Hoka One One and Rosetta Stone.
Also, today we heard 1980s Olympic middle-distance champion Sebastian Coe of England announce his candidacy to replace retiring IAAF president Lamine Diack of Senegal in 2015. Lord Coe released a Manifesto in conjunction with his announcement, ‘Growing Athletics in a New Age’. Coe’s primary opponent for the IAAF top job will be another athletics icon of the 20th century, pole vaulter Sergey Bubka of Ukraine who also currently serves as an IAAF Vice President .
In light of these tidings, I thought I would release the contents of the keynote address I made to the Global Athletics Conference in Durban, South Africa in November as it speaks to many of the same issues which confront the leaders of this age-old sport. Titled “Media Matters”, these are subjects which I have written about in the past on this site.
Promotional banner for 1990 Borobudur Run 10K
In the late Eighties, early Nineties the Borobudur Run 10Km was the richest road race in the world, offering $1 million in bonus money on top of generous appearance and prize packages. Hosted by Indonesian businessman Bob Hasan — first as the Bali 10K, then as the Borobudur Run on the island of Java — the race brought together the very best distance athletes of the time to take on the world 10K road record in a setting of timeless beauty.
Staged at the spectacular 9th century Buddhist temple which lent the event its name, the Borobudur Run was featured on ESPN’s Road Race of the Month series. But the race, itself, was only the beginning of the adventure.
The twin-engine speedboat heeled low alongside the rotting wooden jetty as we loaded our TV equipment aboard the bobbing deck below. It was tricky work, but with legs braced along the gunwales for better leverage we managed to hand down the cumbersome gray cases one by one from the final wrung of the rickety ladder and slide them into position.
Back on the jetty a group of local men with skin the color of burnished wood and eyes dark and unreadable watched our progress in silence, passing among them an amber-liquid filled bottle lifted from the seat of one of the men’s pants.
We had waited for nearly an hour for the speedboat to arrive from the logging company base camp, and now with the sun setting a trembling orange into the Java Sea, we were anxious to be off before the light failed completely. Our destination was an estuary heading inland to the north and west to the logging company base camp some thirty-five minutes away.
With the last case positioned, the speedboat powered off onto Balikpapan Harbor churning low through a field of rusting oil tankers lying darkly at anchor. To the stern the twin Evinrude motors boiled the water to gray-white foam as the final rays of the setting sun inflamed the towering thunderclouds building off the western horizon.
As we pushed farther from shore the blue-orange gas flares atop the skeletal off-shore rigs shrunk from giant pilot lights to flickering match heads, leaving only their thick oily smell in the rapidly cooling evening air. Continue reading
Meb on top of the world at Boston 2014
I am a purist at heart, one who believes in the redemptive power of effort in whatever form it may take. Through a combination of luck, pluck and timing, however, running became the expression of effort that engaged me most fully. And it has been in the hold of that expression that I have remained for the great swath of my adult life.
Looking back over that now lengthening span, I see how once upon a time racing used to be so simple, so elemental: one foot in front of the other, beginning with either, counting neither. Truly, it was a heroic sport of thinly clad fools bent on making the connection that critic Edmund Wilson once ascribed to Ernest Hemingway in 1927, “…all that seems to him most painful is somehow closely bound up with what seems to him most enjoyable.”
This apparent paradox of pain-as-pleasure is why it is difficult to explain the sport of distance running to the uninitiated. I have often asked runners at races, ‘what is it about running that those that don’t do it, don’t get?’ as the concept of the difficult pleasure is beyond the scope of most for whom the passive, purchased pleasure is preferred.
Much like learning to play a musical instrument, learning to run well takes time, dedication and practice; there is no short cut. Only after a painstaking apprenticeship does one reach a level of proficiency that allows pleasure to be extracted from effort. Yet it is that very investment in time and discomfort which leads, eventually, to the feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the finish line. Continue reading