BOSTON REMEMBERS

Boston's Old South Church

Boston’s Old South Church

The bell of Boston’s Old South Church tolled mournfully today at exactly 2:49 p.m. , commemorating the exact time one year ago that the first of two bombs went off at the Boylston Street finish of the Boston Marathon. As thousands gathered for what was billed as a Tribute, pewter-gray skies opened in memory of the four dead and hundreds injured.  Even so, a continuing sense of recovery suffused the crowd lining the roadway, some who had returned for the first time since April 15, 2013.

It was a somber day of remembrance coming just six days before the 118th running of the grand old race. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, along with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and ex-mayor Tom Menino gave moving addresses, along with BAA executive race director Tom Grilk and four of the recovering victims of the bombing. Continue reading

IDLE BEACH THOUGHTS

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach

Honolulu, Hawaii — We had surfed along the wave of technological advancement for so long that it became, along with rock `n` roll and fast food, a defining element of our Baby Boom generation. We grew up with pre-Michael Jackson moon walks, the Neil Armstrong kind, and the advent of Texas Instrument calculation over the analog slide rule means of computation. We were the cutting edge generation, the “teach your parents well” generation who easily identified with Peter Pan, because our perpetual youth had its bounty extended well into our adult years.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I got to the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel for this past weekend’s Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon, and discovered a lifetime of learning in need of sudden, irrevocable discard. Continue reading

2014 HAPALUA, THE CHASE

 

Prepping for Hapalua

7 of 800 Japanese runners ready for Hapalua

First group of Team Hawaii about to start along Waikiki Beach, including winner Eri MacDonald on far left

First group of Team Hawaii about to start along Waikiki Beach, including winner Eri MacDonald on far left

Honolulu, Hawaii — Hawaii’s First Family of running notched another victory today as 33-year-old Eri MacDonald won the third edition of The Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon in a unique Chase format that pitted the top island runners against three invited world-class runners from Kenya. Beginning 21-minutes ahead  of Patrick Makau and Peter Kirui, Eri ran 1:25:21, which adjusted to 1:04:21 at the Kapiolani Park finish. That was enough to complete the 13.1 mile loop 29-seconds ahead of Big island runner Rani Henderson, 38,  a three-time Honolulu Marathon Kama’aina (island) champion who began in the same group with MacDonald.  The victory garned a $5000 first-place prize.

Long-striding Kenyan star Peter Kirui came roaring from behind to catch all but the top two.  He posted a gun time of 65:45 over the Honolulu course which included two climbs of the Diamond Head crater in the final 6km.  

“It was fun,” said Macdonald,who was a 13-time Hawaii state high school cross country and track champion at Punahou High school. “I ran the first year, and it didn’t go very well, but I started with a good group today, then took the lead coming back down Diamond Head.” 

Hapalua Chase champion Eri MacDonald and proud dad Duncan.

Hapalua Chase champion Eri MacDonald and proud dad Duncan.

A practicing attorney Eri also assists her dad Duncan who is head coach at Punahou High.  The islands’ best pure runner, Duncan remains Hawaii’s only sub-4:00 miler. He was also the first three years champion of the Honolulu Marathon, and a 1976 US Olympian at 5000 meters.

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Isabella Ochichi starts with top Hawaiin male runners

Isabella Ochichi starts with top Hawaiin male runners Santillan and Villagran

Under the Chase format, 24 Team Hawaii athletes in six separate groupings took off 21 to 4 1/2 minutes before Patrick Makau and Peter Kirui.  Fellow Kenyan Isabella Ochichi was linked with the top two local men, Leandro Santillan and Fermin Villagran, both of Hawaii Pacific University.

With that competition Ochichi went out aggressively, while Kirui and Makau opened conservatively under windy but cool (for Hawaii) conditions.  They hit one mile in 5:14, then a modest 16:08 at 5km. That’s not even a very good women’s time on the mainland. But Makau, who was last year’s fastest finisher at 65:28, is still returning from a long injury layoff, and it was obvious Kirui was helping the former marathon world record holder through the opening miles.

By 5km Isabella had dropped her two male competitors on the way to a 33:07 10km split.  Kirui and Makau hit that mark in only 32:06, as they maintained 5:10 per mile, 3:10 per kilometer pace.   

“10km to 17km there was too much wind,” said Peter who last week cranked a 59:22 half marathon personal best in Prague in the Czech Republic. “I only ran 80% until 15km today, then 90% to the finish.  I had more energy catching people.  The format was very nice. I think it is possible to run 61 minutes or 62 minutes on this course.”

2004 Olympic 5000 meter women’s silver medalist Ochichi finished in 1:10:24 which netted 1:05:54 in the Chase format. It was the performance of the day, though still only fourth in the Chase competition behind MacDonald, Henderson and Kirui.

“I would think Isabella’s time is worth 68 minutes on the mainland on a flat course,” said her manager Zane Branson of International Athletics Consultancy (IAC).

Hapalua Top 10

Hapalua Top 10

Kirui finally left Makau at nine miles as the course entered Kapiolani Park (46:11, 4:58 mile). From there to the finish he gobbled up the front-runners in bunches, passing 15 of them in the final stretch up and over Diamond Head to the finish. He blitzed his final 5km in 14:07 ripping off 4:30 miles at the end.  Even so, Peter didn’t pass Isabella until the downside of Diamond Head just three minutes from the finish line in Kapiolani Park. It is the same finish she hopes to cross again in December at the Honolulu Marathon.

“The course was very scenic,”said Isabella whose bright smile and easy charm won her many new fans throughout her time in Honolulu.  “You enjoyed chasing people and having people chase you. I was running alone after 5km, so I said today it is me and my road. I want to come back with my family and after the race go to the beach.” 

Former marathon world record holder Patrick Makau finished 15th in 68:42, still on the long climb back to the top. “I don’t have any problem with my knee,” he said after surrendering three minutes to Kirui over the final 4.1 miles.  “My body responded, and I have confidence to go back home and train hard again.”

Light showers cooled the record 4600 starters, an increase from 3000 in 2013 and 2000 in the inaugural year.  800 Japanese runners made the trip, an increase of 400% over last year as the legacy of the Hapalua and the MacDonald family continues to grow on the islands.

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CONNECTING AT THE HAPALUA

Peter, Patrick & Isabella Hangin' Loose at Paili Lookout

Peter, Patrick & Isabella Hangin’ Loose at Pali Lookout

Honolulu, Hawaii — After two days of sightseeing and public appearances, Patrick Makau, Peter Kirui, and Isabella Ochichi will get down to the business end of their trip to Honolulu Sunday morning as the 3rd Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon begins along Waikiki Beach (see start schedule below).

Makau ran the fastest time under 2013′s torrentialdownpour, 65:28, but because The Chase format was in play, where the top pros had to chase down 24 top local runners given head starts, Patrick only crossed the finish line in 16th place.

This year Makau is coming off an injury which derailed the rest of 2013, a year he saw his world record fall to countryman Wilson Kipsang in Berlin. The Hapalua will be Patrick’s first competition since a hollowed out 2:14 at the 2013 London Marathon last April.  He’s just now getting back to real training. Isabella Ochichi is on the comeback trail, too, after an endless seven year layoff.  With the Honolulu Marathon already on her December schedule, this first visit to Oahu is as much an audition as anything.  Strangely, there has never been a Kenyan women’s winner at the Honolulu Marathon.  The Hapalua will let her test the tropical conditions.  She is healthy now, but being sensible with her return to form.

Continue reading

HAILE CHALLENGES THE SPORT

Coming April 13, 2014

Coming April 13, 2014

Honolulu, Hawaii – Even as the Virgin Money London Marathon features a fearsome field of contenders for its 2014 edition this Sunday morning, former marathon world record holder, and Sunday London pacer, Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia has offered a bleak prognosis for the sport he bestrode for so many years.

“Athletics has to change a little bit, bring in new ideas, new concepts,” said the holder of 27 world records to the assembled London press corps. “Otherwise it’s going to be just a bit boring to watch.”

That’s a little ironic, perhaps, since Haile will play a key role in one of running’s most labored old ideas this Sunday morn, lead pacer in the marathon. New ideas? How about letting the athletes compete over the entire distance? Boring to watch? How about knowing for a certainty that NOTHING will happen for the first half of the race — Unless there is an error in judgement, like we saw in 2013 when they went through the half in 61:34, or in 2009 when they went through 10k in 28:30 on the way to the half in 61:36.  Those kind of errors just blow up the race, not the SOMETHING race organizers might be looking for.

Saying the health and well-being of the sport (meaning track & field) has been masked by the over-sized presence of Jamaican superstar sprinter Usain Bolt, Haile wondered what the sport would do in his absence?

“We have to upgrade the situation,” he concluded, “attract more of an audience (and give) what they like. We have to attract sponsors. If the sponsors think nobody cares about athletics, who is going to sponsor you?” Continue reading

NUMBERING UP BEKELE’S MARATHON DEBUT

2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele

2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele

After 31 year-old track and cross country champion Keninisa Bekele’s superb marathon debut in Paris today, 2:05:03 — course record, sixth fastest debut in history, fastest first-time marathon ever by a man over 30 — I thought it would be interesting to look ahead by looking back.  After all, records are the lattice upon which the sport of athletics grow, while giving fans a chance to compare and contrast athletes of different eras in much the same way baseball fans compare stats across time (at least until the steroid era kind of ruined that).

Before we glance back, however, let us look into the very near future as we await another highly anticipated debut, that of England’s own double Olympic track champion Mo Farah.   Also 31,, the 2012 5000 & 10,000m Olympic gold medalist will hope to thrill the home crowd at the Virgin Money London Marathon. And he will know how high the Bekele standard has been set.   But while Paris was a showcase for Bekele with a very good, but not great field, and his manager Jos Hermens riding alongside on a motorbike, Mo will have to negotiate a field of steely-eyed killers, record holders, and Olympic medalists in London.

So while Keninisa was able to pull free of his competition after 25k on his way to victory in Paris, one can expect Mo to be challenged much later into London’s 42 kilometer soiree next Sunday. At the same time, London is historically a faster layout than Paris, so it will be difficult to make a direct apples-to-apples comparison between the two.  But why should that stop us from having some fun with numbers?

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TENNIS MODEL

ATP_World_Tour LogoI received numerous responses to my last blog post — UNTYING THE USATF GORDIAN KNOT — about the current state of the sport, its governance, and the future of the fledgling athletes’ union, the Track and Field Athletes Association (TFAA).  One of the over-arching themes that emerged was the need for athletes to speak with one voice because so much of what they want for their future is still tied into the issue of governance.  After all, goes the argument, it is the elected officials of the national governing body (NGB) that make and enforce the rules of competition, head up relevant sport committees, and appoint officials to make the on-site rulings.  Individually, athletes simply don’t have the standing to help decide such issues, while collectively they would.

While that argument is absolutely true, it is only true as pertains USATF-sanctioned  events and championships.  Just as in tennis, golf, basketball, you name it, the job of  developing a sport, of contesting its national championships, and then selecting its Olympic or World Championship teams, is not one and the same as staging and presenting a professional version of that sport for its own sake.

ITF LogoTennis is governed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and its 210-member national tennis associations.  They sanction the four Grand Slam events, and operate three major international team competitions,  notably the Davis Cup.  But it is the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tours that control most other high-level professional tournaments.  This is the organizational hierarchy athletics and road racing don’t have, but are in need of.

In the public eye, as we’ve seen, there is no clear line between amateur and pro track and road running.  People still wonder how you can take prize money and still compete in the Olympic Games. And the quote from George Perry of the Austin TC that attendees of the IEG Sponsorship Conference had “no idea there was such a thing as pro track in the US”, stands as an indictment to us all.

My point is that until we have a fully professional model that is  readily distinguishable from the developmental aspect of track & field, we will continue to be unable to effectively explicate the sport to the public, or market it to its full advantage. But to create that distinction, we must, necessarily, move away from the single organizing umbrella model, while retaining and supporting the important and necessary functions required of the national governing bodies.

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UNTYING THE USATF GORDIAN KNOT

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety

With the end of the Cold War reawakening centuries old ethnic animus, and modernity exerting increasing pressure on limited resources, the reordering of the world continues along a rancorous course.  Whether we see it expressed in separatist referenda in Catalonia, Venice and Scotland, or via the ongoing crisis in Crimea, nationalist movements are on the rise as peoples affiliated culturally and linguistically seek independence from the larger nations that contain them.

For much the same reason the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 broke up the old Amateur Athletic Union (AAU)  — which had previously regulated all amateur sports across the board — and provided for national governing bodies for each Olympic sport individually.  In that restructuring, track and field, race walking and long distance running were lumped together under the same umbrella called The Athletics Congress (TAC), today known as USA Track & Field (USATF).

But just as nations undergo constant shifts in populations and affiliations, so has the relative scope of USATF’s component parts undergone fundamental change in the last three-plus decades.  Over that time road racing’s mature numbers have grown to dwarf those of track and race walking, such that road racing has become to track & field what black South Africa had traditionally been to white South Africa during the days of apartheid, a population majority holding a minority political base.

Days of yore

Days of yore

Part of this imbalance stems from the fact that road running was in its infancy when the AAU was broken up.  But today, over 30 million Americans are self-professed runners, 15.5 million of whom actively participate in road racing, more than a half-million in marathons alone. Yet, as of December 2013, USATF had a membership of 115,000, 67% of which came from its youth division.  What’s more, marathons in Boston, New York, and Columbus, Ohio, which once required USATF membership to gain entry,  have long since done away with that requirement, seeing no reciprocal benefit accruing to its entrants for the necessity.

Thus, the questions which culminated in South Africa’s first free elections in 1993 that brought Nelson Mandela to the presidency have, over the years, found their way into the circles of road racing, to wit: should road racing remain under the umbrella of USATF in its minority position, or should it attempt to strike out on its own to form an autonomous union with members of its own ranks, and in so doing allow USATF the freedom to better serve its more historically aligned constituencies? Continue reading

IAAF PRESIDENT NOMINATED FOR NOBEL PEACE PRIZE

 

IAAF president Lamine Diack

IAAF president Lamine Diack

The Norwegian Nobel Committee today has announced that IAAF president Lamine Diack of Senegal has been nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for his and his organization’s long and unwavering leadership in the promotion of cooperation through running around the world.

“The Nobel Committee has long believed that there is a close connection between health, fitness and peace,” said a committee spokesman in announcing the selection. “Such connections are a prerequisite for the fraternity between nations of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will.”

Over the past several decades the IAAF has made enormous progress in creating and sustaining running initiatives throughout the world, even as it hopes to culminate those efforts with their proposed Israeli-Palestinian Friendship Marathon Relay, which yearns to bring the long-time enemies into accord through the “Runners Without Borders” program.  The event would symbolically use as its finish line the proposed permanent border between Israel and the Palestinian state.

“No matter the differences between people, the act of running has been instrumental in showing us all the commonality rather than differences between us,” said Thorbjørn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee. “The IAAF has shown us all what’s possible in the realm of human cooperation through international sport. We would also like to make special note of the work done by the IAAF’s 212 national governing body members, which have become the ne plus ultra of competence and forward thinking. What would the athletes of the world do without them? We can only imagine.”   Continue reading

TONI’S CARLSBAD 5000 PREVIEW

CBAD LOGOSan Diego, CA — The Carlsbad 5000 has built its impressive reputation on record performances. To date 16 World and eight U.S. records have been notched on the sun-drenched seaside layout north of San Diego. Often scheduled in close proximity to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships – until the IAAF turned that annual test into a biennial – Carlsbad has benefitted from that close association.

For years Elite Racing’s legendary pro athlete recruiter Mike Long would net several World Cross medalists to come celebrate their titles with a romp along the beach. With Mike’s tragic passing in July 2007, the role of recruiter has been taken up by Matt Turnbull, who has proven equally adept at coaxing the best to the streets of Carlsbad.

Currently, both the men’s and women’s records are held in Carlsbad, and 46 of the fastest 50 men’s road 5Ks in history have been run here, 22 of 50 for women. And we certainly expect the cats to come out of the bag quickly in the 29th edition of the road classic.  But 2014 promises something more, shoulder-knockin’ competition.

CURRENT CARLSBAD RECORDS

World Record, Men 13:00 Sammy Kipketer (Ken) – 2000-2001
World Record, Women 14:46 Meseret Defar (Eth) – 2006
American Record Men 13:24 Marc Davis (USA) – 1996
American Record Women 14:54 Deena Drossin (Kastor) – 2002

 

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