RITZ AND RHINES TAKE GASPARILLA TITLES IN TAMPA

IMG_446294836Tampa, 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

RITZ AND ABDI SQUARE OFF IN TAMPA

GasparillaTampa, 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

HONOLULU 2014 RECAP

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.

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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

2014 HONOLULU MARATHON PREVIEW

Honolulu 2014 logo 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.

Continue reading

HONOLULU MARATHON PREZ JIM BARAHAL: WHY ELITES?

IMG_439943180Honolulu, 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

GAC 2014 WRAP

Sibaya Casino

Sibaya Casino

Durban, South Africa — The coastal winds blew hard across the rolling grass hills surrounding the Sibaya Casino and Entertainment complex yesterday as the inaugural Global Athletics Conference – shorthand GAC 2014 – concluded its two-day confab.

Inside the elegant Izulu Theater the question emerging from this first ever such conference in Africa was whether the winds of change might soon blow equally strong over the future of athletics, both here on man’s home continent, and around this troubled global sphere in general. Continue reading

SOUTH AFRICA STAGES GLOBAL ATHLETICS CONFERENCE

Along the Indian Ocean

Along the Indian Ocean

Durban, South Africa – In this year of 2014 South Africa has been celebrating the 20th anniversary of its transition from apartheid state to non-racial democracy.  On December 5th it will mark an especially moving moment in that celebration with the commemoration of the one year’s passing of its beloved father figure Nelson Mandela.  With the great divide of apartheid receding, the people of this proud land now look to the future for opportunities to showcase their country to the world, opportunities which were denied it during the long, painful road to freedom.

This weekend I am half a world away deep in the southern hemisphere in lovely Durban, South Africa, a warm, Miami-like seaside city which is playing host to what is being billed as Africa’s first Global Athletics Conference. The two-day GAC 2014 is the offspring of conference director, Lee-Roy Newton, a retired South African sprinter who was a member of his country’s 4 X 100m World Championship gold medal squad in 2001.

KwaZulu-Natal Athletics President Sello Mokoena welcomes media to GAC 2014

KwaZulu-Natal Athletics President Sello Mokoena welcomes media to GAC 2014

Today, Newton is owner of the Newton Agency, and vice-president of Kwazulu-Natal Athletics. Newton, along with KZN Athletics president Sello Mokoena have brought together a collection of the sports’ business, athletic and media leaders to help the sport’s South African stakeholders better understand the elements necessary to launch serious bids for future world athletic championships. The 2022 Commonwealth Games is among the international meetings on its immediate radar. Continue reading