TRANSCENDING HIS SPORT

Korir with Ryan and Sara Hall

Korir with Ryan and Sara Hall

Chicago, IL. — There is a deep vein of giving associated with the distance running community.  It can be seen not just in the billion dollars plus generated for charities by thousands of running events world-wide, but in the individual works of many of the sport’s top athletes, most of whom understand they have hit the genetic lottery jackpot.  American stars Sara and Ryan Hall’s Steps Foundation and Meb Keflezighi’s MEB Foundation come quickly to mind.

While these athletes use their fame and names to lift the veil of tears that shrouds millions of less fortunate fellow time travelers, 2012 Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir of Kenya has taken the concept of service to an entirely new level.  In America to run this Sunday’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Wesley is featured in a new documentary film, titled Transcend, which presents in moving and emotional detail the most important run of Wesley’s life, that for a seat in the Kenyan parliament even as he trained to defend his Boston title in the winter of 2012/2013. The film will screen tonight in Chicago, and feature a Q & A with Wesley afterwards.

“We hope it’s an inspirational film for all runners, embodying the spirit of what running can be for all who participate,” said Transcend’s producer Tad Munnings.

Motivated by the want he witnessed growing up in his rural home district of Cherangany deep in Kenya’s Central Highlands, a want personalized by the death of his younger brother, Eliud, who expired after being bitten by a poisonous snake too far from a medical facility to save his life, and further stoked by the tribal violence that followed the disputed 2007 national elections during which Wesley saw three of his friends killed by a machete-wielding mob, Korir decided to make a run for the district’s seat in parliament in 2013.

Even though he was still in the prime of his athletic career, and was unaffiliated with any political party, Wesley ran a disciplined, people-first campaign and emerged victorious over the well-connected five-year incumbent.  Imagine if Ryan Hall or Meb Keflezighi set aside their career to run for the U.S. Congress.

“I don’t run for myself anymore,” Wesley said.  “I run for the whole country.” Continue reading

OLD SCHOOL MEETS NEW WAVE

2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele

2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele

Chicago, IL. — The sport of marathoning is changing very fast around us. This Sunday at the 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon the 5000 & 10,000 meter world record holder Keninisa Bekele, 32, of Ethiopia will make his second career attempt over the long distance.  Yet through most of its century-plus history, the marathon has been populated by men of sturdy constitution, whose examination of the distance bespoke their tenacity and grit, but whose arsenals often lacked the speed necessary to excel at the shorter events on the track.

Oh, there were outliers, like Czech great Emil Zatopek winning his debut marathon at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, adding it to his collection of gold in the 5000 & 10,000 meters. And recall that Frank Shorter, the original father of the running boom, was every bit the top American distance track runner when he explored the marathon so successfully in the first half of the 1970s.   But the norm for the distance was more like Derek Clayton of Australia, who held the marathon world record of 2:08:33 from May 1969 to December 1981, the longest stretch the record has ever lasted.

Aussie great Derek Clayton

Aussie great Derek Clayton

The introduction of track men coming to the marathon came when large sums of money entered the game after the initial running boom. That is when the aging oval speedsters saw the benefit of torturing themselves over the longer distance. In fact, moving up in distance became one of the standard career moves a runner made. This weekend we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Steve Jones’ marathon world best in Chicago 1984 when, as the eighth-place finisher at the Los Angeles Olympic 10,000 meter final, Steve moved to the marathon with great success.

Paul Tergat marathon WRBut in more recent times we have seen the very best on the track make the move, highlighted by two former 5000 & 10,000 meter world record holders who went on to grab the marathon record as well.  Kenya’s Paul Tergat completed his record trifecta at the 2003 Berlin Marathon, which he won in a world record 2:04:55.  Five years later his great Ethiopian rival Haile Gebrselassie won Berlin in 2:03:59 to add the marathon to his long list of track and road world records. Continue reading

The Best of the Best: Chicago Marathon 1984

As the 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon steps to the line this Sunday morning, we go back to the event’s early years when Welshman Steve Jones brought marathoning into the spotlight along Lake Michigan with his 2:08:05 world record.  In those days, the sport was still heavily centered around the Boston – New York City axis.  The London Marathon had only been around for four years, and the Los Angeles Marathon was still two years from its beginning.  Bringing world-class competition beyond its East Coast roots was a major accomplishments, and an important factor in helping grow interest in the sport.

Jonesy’s stellar run in Chicago `84 also represented another turning point in the game.  It marked the last time the men’s marathon world record would be set without the aid of pacesetters. This Sunday Steve Jones will once again be in Chicago to commemorate his record run, and celebrate its 30th anniversary.  Here, then, is the contemporaneous race report from Chicago 1984, a day to remember in the annals of marathoning history.

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Steve Jones sets World Marathon Record in Chicao 1984

Steve Jones sets World Marathon Record in Chicao 1984

Chicago, IL. — And then there was the weather, forty-four degrees with a wind-driven rain like an icy finger tracing the back of your neck. Over 10,000 huddled runners jittered anxiously at the dual starting lines on Clark and Dearborn Streets for the 8:45 a.m. signal to begin the eighth America’s Marathon/Chicago (as it was known in those days).

On the front row stood some of the best marathoners in the world. “It’s the Olympics all over again”, said one punter as champions from every continent pawed the ground, anxious to be off on their heat-generating journey to Lincoln Park. This was no place for the skittish, rather an end-of-the-season, post-Olympic blowout engineered by Beatrice Foods sponsorship money and Bob Bright orchestration.

“The Games are over. We’ve nothing to lose. So let’s have a go,” was how Welshman Steve Jones prophetically put it the day before. Continue reading

TOMMY LEONARD CELEBRATES 81ST BIRTHDAY

Tommy Leonard with Pittsfield, Ma. Hi School girls cross country team

Tommy Leonard with Pittsfield, Ma. Hi School girls cross country team

 

Falmouth, Ma. — Last year a multitude of fans and friends celebrated Falmouth Road Race founder Tommy Leonard‘s 80th birthday with a big surprise party at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel.  This year it was back to business as usual.  Last night Tommy was in his element hard along the bar at the Quarterdeck Restaurant on Main Street as old friends and new acolytes alike helped him toast his 81st birthday. As people wandered in to sign up for his 24th annual Falmouth Walk Saturday morning, like the pope of Falmouth Tommy sat atop his bar stool greeting visitors from far and wide.

“I cant’ hear anymore, and I can’t see,” said Tommy amidst sips from a savory brew. “But I can still laugh.”

Among those on hand were the girls of the Pittsfield, Mass. High School cross country team, led by their coach Theresa Apple. As the bar clogged and laughter rose, you could hear many a tall tale being told about the lovable guru of the Falmouth Road Race, and ex-barman of the legendary Eliot Lounge in Boston. But through it all Coach Apple’s story came as close to explaining the quality that has made T.L. such a rare paragon of the sport. Continue reading

2014 MAINE TRAVELS

It is back to Southern California today after our annual week in Maine for the TD Beach to Beacon 10K.  On our final day in the Pinetree state Toya and I joined our hosts Bill & Linda Nickerson on a day trip to New Harbor, Bristol, Brunswick and Christmas Cove in South Bristol.  Here are some of the sights.

 

Pemaquid Lighthouse

Pemaquid Lighthouse

Continue reading

REMEMBERING JOANIE, LOS ANGELES 1984

A Win for the Ages

A Win for the Ages

There is no champion like time itself.  Nothing moves as swiftly, nor as relentlessly.  It will outrun us all one day.  Yet it is hard to believe it has been thirty years since Joan Benoit won the inaugural Women’s OIympic Marathon in Los Angeles, California August 5, 1984. But calendars are rather dispassionate, not in the habit of subjective reckoning.

In the dark ages before the internet, or wide spread coverage of running, when Joan raced to a 2:22:43 win at the 1983 Boston Marathon — nearly three minutes faster than Norwegian great Grete Waitz’s world record set the day before in London at 2:25:29 — there were many who chose to believe there were other factors in play beyond the steely-eyed drive and talent of the Cape Elizabeth, Maine native.

This past week as Joanie welcomed thousands of runners to her 17th TD Beach to Beacon 10K, the hometown race she founded that traverses one of her old training loops, it is particularly timely to look back to where we stood those 30 years ago when women were about to first express their talents over the classic Olympic running distance. Continue reading