In our time-conscious athletics world we sometimes forget that a championship — hell, any race – is first and foremost a competition amongst athletes, not simply a time trial. Thus, with pacers removed from the agenda throughout this past weekend’s USATF Indoor Championships in Boston, athletics fans got to see a myriad of tactical finals that produced some champions who might not have been considered favorites going in, or been winners if the races had been paced.
When a pacer is plugged into a race a number of things happen. 1) the brain is turned off as everyone — athletes and audience — knows exactly what is coming. The only question to be answered is, ‘can you run that pace or can’t you?’ 2) pecking order is an unspoken but powerful inhibitor, meaning the runner with the biggest appearance fee, and for whom the pace is being established, is automatically ushered into the catbird seat behind the pacer. Another competitor can break that rule if he/she chooses, but in so doing risks losing future invitations. 3) no actual racing takes place until the pacer steps off, erasing a lot of any surprise that might emerge from the proceedings.
As we saw in Boston, however, runners in non-paced races have gears and gas available to constantly reshuffle their positions, both in and out from the rail, as well as up and back in the pack. This is because they haven’t been stretched to the anaerobic edge by a predetermined pace. Instead the pack generates its own speed and constitution from amidst the roiling effort. As a consequence we got to see how the middle distance races in the USATF Indoor Championships became elastic bands of surge and resettle, then surge again as the packs reshuffled every time another racer or two hit the gas to ensure a better pack position for the final attack. This kind of racing keeps both the athletes and the audience in a state of rapt attention, precisely because they don’t know what is going to happen. Continue reading →
San Diego, Ca. — It’s been a busy week on top of a busy year for 2014 Boston Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi. After accepting two awards this past week, one last Friday night at the TRIpaloozaAwards Gala where he was recognized as the Endurance Athlete of the Year, and the other on Monday night when he was honored as a 2015 Star of the Year at the 69th Annual Salute to the Champions event hosted by the San Diego Hall of Champions, Meb was once again the center of attention this morning as the countdown to the April 20th Boston Marathon gains momentum.
Photog Emily Maye taking aim at Meb doing post-run drills
Today it was just a quiet photo shoot for Meter Magazine, the literate broadsheet and digital offering brought out by Tracksmith, the premium performance apparel company started by my friend Matt Taylor in Boston that celebrates the style and culture of running.
In the next issue of Meter Meb will be featured in a story I penned, so photog extraordinaire Emily Maye drove down from her home in Santa Barbara last night for the morning shoot in Balboa Park. Emily spends much of her time in Europe covering the cycling circuit, but is also responsible for most of the excellent photography featured in Meter.
As is almost always the case, even when pressed from this side and that, Meb was generous with his time and patience. This morning’s run was a no frills 10-mile recovery run as he looks ahead to the United New York City Half Marathon on March 15th, his sole test before he defends his title in Boston a month later. But I can tell you from a simple eyeball test, Meb looks to be in fine form. Continue reading →
Tampa, Fl. — Finishing under a warm butterscotch sun three-time U.S. Olympians Dathan Ritzenhein and Jen Rhines captured top honors today at the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic Half Marathon. Dathan and Jen both broke year-old course records in the process, Ritz’s 1:03:17 erasing Ryan Vail’s 1:04:09 from 2014, while Rhines’ 1:12:35 white-outed Lindsey Scherf’s 1:13:08 from the books. They each won $8000 for their victories, as well. But how they won their titles, ah, that is where their stories diverge.
The men lit out into the pre-dawn darkness at a modest pace under calm but humid 57 degree temps. A pack of seven soon formed as the course led over the bridge onto Davis Island for the first five miles. Four-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, just back from a six week training stint in Ethiopia, established the pace with Americans Ritz, Fernando Cabada, Ian Burrell, Brett Gotcher, Carlos Trujillo and 22 year-old Tampa resident Brian Atkinson all in easy contact. Mile two passed in a desultory 10:06, perfect from the Ritzenhein standpoint.
“The slower the better as far as I’m concerned,” Ritz told me during a chat on Friday. “I haven’t rested for this at all, and would rather not have to press early.”
Ritz is gearing up for his first run at the Boston Marathon on April 20, and only decided to run Gasparilla on Monday as record cold temperatures descended on his upper Midwest home in Rockford, Michigan.
“It had been a pretty good winter till the first of the year,” Ritz laughed. “But I’ve only had one long run outside since. You can tough it out, or I could have stayed indoors at Grand Valley State (where Ritz volunteer coaches), but I needed a longer rhythm run, and that wasn’t possible. So I decided to come down.” Continue reading →
Tampa, Florida — For native Floridians 43F might feel a tad chilly, but for the thousands of snowbirds watching Weather Channel reports of record cold and snow back home, 43F can seem downright balmy. So when long-time Gasparilla Distance Classic announcer Phil Stewart came dressed for the 38th annual winter classic dressed in a pair of chino shorts this morning , I was a bit surprised given that I, a wimpy Californian, arrived swaddled in four layers and gloved up like a member of Admiral Perry’s expedition to the pole.
Phil, myself, and Runner’s World Magazine maven Bart Yasso were working together to inform and (hopefully) entertain the crowds lining the Bayshore Boulevard finish at today’s Gasparilla 15K and 5K, day one of the weekend long Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic. Tomorrow’s 8K and half-marathon promise temperatures at least 10-12F higher for the 6 a.m. half-marathon start and downright waxy by midday as the final 8K finishers complete their journey.
In today’s 15K defending champion Jon Mott overcame a strong challenge from 2014 runner up Rafal Matuszcak to take his third Gasparilla 15K title since 2012 (he finished 2nd in 2013). Last year Mott bested Matuszcak by 20-seconds with a 48:44 clocking. This year Matuszcak challenged Mott all the way to the line, but came up five-seconds short, 47:49 to 47:54, in the excellent racing conditions.
Hanson Brooks Distance Project runner Megan Goethals dominated the women’s 15K. Her 52:07 took top honors by 3:50 over runner up Rebecca Howarth, 56:07.
Over 30,000 runners have signed up for the four weekend races, today’s 15K & 5K, and tomorrow’s half-marathon & 8K. All four races, in fact, sold out, a testimonial to 23 year race director Susan Harmeling and her staff who brought back pro racing to Gasparilla last year after dropping the top division following the 1997 race. Continue reading →
Attention IAAF Diamond League, USATF Championship Series, and other marketers and purveyors of track and field meetings. The NCAA DI Championships/Sports Management Cabinet (there’s a mouthful) announced February 17th that the 2015 and 2016 DI NCAA Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships will be contested on alternating days to better serve the viewing public, both television and on-site.
“Through collaborative efforts we now have a unique opportunity to enhance the championship experience for the student-athletes and fans as we continue to move the sport of track and field forward,” said Gina Sperry, the chair of the Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Committee and associate athletics director at the University of Rhode Island.
Whataya know, somebody out there is actually thinking about track and field presentation. According to the press release, committee members were unanimous in their endorsement of the new format, and were moved by the logic forwarded by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association that the new alternating days format would make the meet easier for fans to follow, especially team scoring. But the committee also emphasized that alternating days will also shine a more focused spotlight on each gender to better showcase their talents and performances.
One gender (which one not mentioned) will compete on days one and three, the other gender on days two and four. This will provide a rest day for each gender, which could further assist in elevating performance, as well.
I have long been an advocate for new formatting in post-collegiate track and field. Individual event staging that showcases talent, but doesn’t connect either events or athletes to one another, offers no perceivable stakes (much less significant ones), and doesn’t amount to anything at the end of the day, has proven to be detrimental when trying the build a sustainable fan base.
Congratulations to the NCAA for addressing this serious issue in a simple but elegant way. Professionals nota bene.
Among Bill’s points was “We need a Ross Tucker type (Science of Sport) to give us their input. What is the EXTRA time EPO gives a sea-level born marathoner and an altitude-born marathoner? Is it a 5% factor? Fun to speculate. ”
I e-mailed Ross in South Africa after my talk with Bill, and only now have heard back. As Ross explains, he has had a very busy opening to 2015. In any case, we greatly appreciate Ross’s thoughtful response, and hope that it assists in our more fully understanding excellence in today’s very competitive world of distance running.
Brendan Reilly in Kenya with two-time World Marathon champion Edna Kiplagat
In this talk we chat about last weekend’s USATF National Cross Country Championships in Boulder, the loss of focus on the World Championships, 1965 & `66 Japanese men’s champions at Boston, and the link between American star Shalane Flanagan and 2008 Olympic champion Constantina Dita of Romania, one of Brendan’s clients.