BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE

Winter Map    As the Hercules storm mounts the eastern seaboard, I am reminded that there once was a time when I loved running in the cold.  Not the piercing cold many around the country are currently experiencing, rather anything right around freezing when, after about ten minutes to get the blood flowing and system up to speed,  the feeling of well-being begins to spread like a juicy rumor in a closed-minded crowd.  Yes, that experience had a very specific charm about it all its own. Even better, with so many other primates remaining indoors to avoid the cold, more of this pristine real estate was left for me to explore at pace.

But like New Year’s Eve drinking, you had to know when to say when, because a sudden change in conditions (i.e. John Law) could lead to real difficulties, as I learned one unfortunate winter’s morn when I took off on an ill-conceived out-and-back twelve miler from my Boston apartment. Continue reading

GOLF SHOT

Mid Pac CC

Mid Pac CC

December 1997.  After a decent but rough-finding 3-wood drive on the Mid Pac Country Club’s 378-yard par 4 ninth — a deceptively long and testy hole that, as usual, was playing into a strong trade wind — I found myself facing a 165 yard second shot blocked by a row of tall pine trees.

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“HAPPY WEDNESDAY” AT DUFF’S

Duff's Restaurant, St. Louis

Duff’s Restaurant, St. Louis

This isn’t a running story other than I ran that day.  In fact, I did a rare double.  But running isn’t central to the memory, though perhaps a catalyst.

In August 1973 I moved from my hometown of St. Louis to begin a new life in Boston.  It was there that I took up running before combining it with broadcasting to mount what has become a career.

But during my final full year in St. Louis I found myself hanging out at a new restaurant/pub in the Central West End called Duff’s, eponymously named by its original proprietors Karen and Dan Duffy.  In the ensuing years, though I only visited home once, sometimes twice a year, every trip would include a visit to Duff’s.   Not just because old friend, and one-time fellow Bostonian Charlie Moseley bartended there for 25 years or so, or that his partner Nancy Kirby was the hostess, or that Nancy’s brother Tim had joined Karen Duffy as co-owner, or even that Tim, Charlie and I had attended St. Louis U. High together in the mid-1960s.

Barside at Duff's

Barside at Duff’s

No, it was more than that.  Perhaps something generational, as Duff’s came along as we Baby Boomers were reaching early adulthood, and like every generation was beginning to scout out its own territory.  Just as Boston’s Eliot Lounge would become synonymous with the running era, so was Duff’s a new kind of establishment for a new kind of crowd.

Though it  offered an inventive, seasonally changing menu, a splendidly stocked bar, family-like staff, and such a warm bohemian atmosphere — including its famous Monday night poetry readings — those high pressed-tin ceilings, wide wooden floors and exposed brick walls felt more like an extension of people’s homes than a place of business. Over the years our family (I’m sure like many others) celebrated births, graduations, anniversaries, and even wakes there, and never felt anything other than perfectly at home.

A few days ago another old St. Louis friend emailed saying Duff’s would be closing at the end of the month after a run of 41 years.  While it is the nature of restaurants to open and close, for tastes to change, and neighborhoods to transform, as I read the email I was flooded with memories while being reminded of what a single establishment could mean to a city and it s people.

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WHEN WORLD CROSS FIRST CAME TO POLAND

Bydgoszcz, Poland

Bydgoszcz, Poland

Tomorrow, Poland will host the IAAF World Cross Country Championships for a third time, the second in four years in the city of Bydgoszcz.  But in 1987 the Polish capital of Warsaw held the honor, and I attended as a radio and newspaper reporter from Boston.

Since it would be my first visit to Poland, I also brought along my mother from St. Louis, as she was a native Pole whose extended family still lived in the homeland. And though Perestroika had begun to unravel the Soviet apparatus to the east under Gorbachev, Poland remained locked in the long winter of Soviet domination, a full two years before spring revolutions would loosen the Communist grip once and for all.

The following is just one memory from my first trip to the a country long savaged by war, then demeaned by its outcome. Continue reading

FELIX LIMO’S “HOUSE OF UGALI”

Felix Limo Winning London 2006

Felix Limo Winning London 2006

     The night after the 2000 Carlsbad 5000 a number of athletes, Elite Racing staffers and friends had gathered at the Red Sea Ethiopian Restaurant in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood for a post-race celebration and send-off dinner.

The day before, America’s Deena Drossin had set a new American road 5Km record off her 15:08 win in the women’s race.  But the headline of the day belonged to Kenya’s Sammy Kipketer, who had destroyed the men’s field — and the eight year-old world record — with his sub-4:00 first mile, 13:00 torching of the famed, seaside course.

C’BAD 2000 comes to mind today because Kenya’s Felix Limo, who finished fifth in that year’s Carlsbad race, has announced his retirement from competitive racing at age 32.  After a marvelous career that peaked in 2004 with his pair of 2:06 wins at the Rotterdam and Berlin Marathons, Felix is now headed for stage two of his life.

Limo’s comet-like career was cut from classic Kenyan cloth, at once the fastest marathoner of 2004 (2:06:14, Rotterdam) and a subsequent winner in Chicago 2005 and London 2006, he then fell quickly back to earth when a chronic back problem began to limit his training in subsequent years.  And now, rather than continuing to compete at a level below that which he once knew, the Kalenjin tribesman has decided to unlace his racing flats once and for all.

But back in the spring of 2000 at that Red Sea dinner party, I was sitting next to a budding 20 year-old Felix Limo who was the lone Kenyan athlete at the party, and I fixed him with this question.

“Felix, why is it that in almost every city you go to around the world you will find an Ethiopian restaurant, but never, ever a Kenyan restaurant?  Don’t you find that odd?”

Of course, Ethiopian fare is world renowned for its spicy kick, while the basic Kenyan staple, Ugali – which is white corn meal – is particularly bland by comparison.  Felix took my question with a faux thoughtfulness, as he easily read through the kidding nature of the query.  Then, with a sweep of his hand as if to showcase the large neon sign he would erect, he replied.

“When I retire, I will open Felix Limo’s House of Ugali.”

Myself, and those sitting close by laughed heartily, while Felix smiled in his impish sort of way.

“Yeah, and you will promptly go broke,” I retorted, saluting him with a lift of my glass.

Well, I’m sure Felix doesn’t recall that particular dinner or exchange.  In any case, he was a great runner, and delightful dinner companion.  He made a name for himself, invested wisely, and we wish him well in his future exploits. But, Felix, I will anxiously await for any franchise opportunities in the Felix Limo House of Ugali chain.  All the best.

END

BOB BRIGHT: AFTER 25 YEARS NOTHING HAS CHANGED

The following is a response to my last post TRACK ATHLETES IN SEARCH OF ALAN LADD which outlined the political wranglings at last weekend’s Aviva London Grand Prix where American runners Nick Symmonds and Lolo Jones were barred by meet director Ian Stewart for being “liabilities”.

Today’s responder is none other than legendary 1980s Chicago Marathon race director Bob Bright who helped steer what was then a regional-quality event into the deep waters of the marathon mainstream.

With the backing of Beatrice Foods sponsor money, Bright brought marathon recruitment to a new level of sophistication. After taking the helm in 1982, he was the first scour the  European track circuit for marathon talent. On the continent Welshman Steve Jones caught Bright’s eye, and in 1983 he was lured to Chicago for a $1500 fee to try on the marathon for size.  After a DNF caused by a run-in with a pothole past half-way, Jones returned in 1984 ready, willing, evidently able.  Avoiding all hazards of the Windy City roads Jonesy bested the reigning Olympic champion Carlos Lopes of Portugal and 1983 World Champion Rob de Castella of Australia by breaking the marathon world record (2:08:05).  The following year Bright engineered the Joan Samuelson-Ingrid Kristiansen-Rosa Mota women’s battle that produced Joanie’s 18-year standing American record 2:21:21.

The following is Bob’s recollection of the 1986 Chicago Marathon and his behind-the-scenes tangle with Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen, at the time the women’s marathon record holder.  Evidently the more things change, the more they remain the same. 

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“Toni,  I read your last post with interest and it sparked memories of some long past shoot-outs.

After a 25 year walkabout, I have to agree with you, nothing has changed.  There appears to be zero leadership. With no leadership, meet directors become war lords. I liked the war part but never reached the lord status.

Meet directors cannot let athletes run over them, and athletes in some cases are vulnerable. A proper governing body would set standards, enforce rules and help solve problems similar to the recent London kerfuffle.  We will differ here; I would support the Ian Stewart position. Here is why and you might have some insight into this situation.

In the spring of 1986 I received a call from the Ingrid Kristiansen’s connections in Norway stating she wanted to try and break the marathon World Record in October. I flew to Oslo, met with Ingrid and her people for four hours in a bank with no lunch.  The deal:  a $40k appearance fee with travel and accommodations for five people. No Joanie, Rosa or any other heavy who would pressure Ingrid in the race. Just a greased skid where she could blast. The grease was $40K.

As October approached, I heard rumors from European contacts that she was slightly injured. I tried but couldn’t make contact with her coach or agent.  On Wednesday before the race her party (8 people) shows up.  They need rooms and travel money for the additional folks.  Ingrid hides in her room and sends her husband to collect her appearance fee. Not much luck with that stunt. The running gun-battle is launched. Alan Ladd has gone missing.  Lawyers, agents, hangers-on and journalists jump into the melee. I’m surrounded.

I have a slightly? injured athlete demanding her appearance money (not hiding but resting) and an agent representing IMG declaring she is under contract to wear a MAZDA racing singlet which will upstage a race sponsor.  Right there, I should have declared Ingrid a ‘LIABILITY’ and sent her packing.  Where was Ian Stewart when I needed him? Continue reading

HATE RUNS

Original Bill Rodgers Running Center -
Cleveland Circle

     In loving memory of our dear friend, Jim “Jason” Kehoe, assistant manager of the Bill Rodgers Running Center, who passed away at his home in Hull, Massachusetts Sunday June 3, 2012 of natural causes at age 64.  Jason worked at the store since it first opened in Cleveland Circle in the fall of 1977.  Before that he had grown up with Bill & Charlie Rodgers in Newington, Connecticut where Jason was the miler on the Newington High School track team when Bill was the star two miler.  With a piercing wit this wry purveyor of truth was an uncompromising contrarian who lived his life his way, the whole way.

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MBTA Green Line in Cleveland Circle

MBTA Green Line in Cleveland Circle

With the great herd of college students having long since migrated, and the remainder of native Boston either down on the Cape, or up hugging some warm New Hampshire shore line, it was on weekends that the city sank deepest into its long summer torpor. Out in Cleveland Circle only the MBTA Green Line trolley cut through the sludge of the afternoon hours, its trains pulling vacantly into their yard with the screech of forged wheels over curved rails, there to await their next run east down Beacon into town.

Across the way at the small running shop on Chestnut Hill Avenue another week of retail neared its end as the clock over the cash register tugged toward five o’clock.

“It’s brutal being polite to people all day,” said the assistant as he sat  on the stairs between the store’s two levels, elbows propped on knees, palms cupping a long bearded face framed by a mane of lank, sandy hair.  “In fact,” he concluded sardonically, “it’s not healthy.  You’re not being honest.”

Though the assistant manager carried his alienation like a badge of honor, with each turn of the clock his psyche continued to sag, until like descent into Dante’s imagination he had transformed from a public servant into a private avenger in need of a cleansing purge.  This was the price of retail, the slow captured grind.

At long last the closing hour came and went, the final customers ushered out.  With heads low, but spirits rising, the crew filed out back behind the stockroom into their small, two-stall shower room.  There they changed into their running gear before meeting out front to stretch anxious muscles in preparation for their weekly run to oblivion and back.

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The Rez

Sitting just west of Cleveland Circle  the Chestnut Hill Reservoir formed a natural break between the city’s hard surface and the leafy Boston College campus. Situated as it was, it had long been one of the area’s most popular running destinations with its  two grand waterworks’ buildings posing like art museums along the rim of its southern shore.

Many of the Saturday afternoon regulars would loop the one and three-quarter miles of the Rez as part of their daily routine.  But on these late Saturday afternoons it was no more than a link in a much longer span, as this was more than just another training run.  For most it took on the importance once reserved for religious observation, a service-at-speed to reawaken a deeply felt connection to a more visceral set of truths than could be found between the covers of a hymnal or hard upon the pew fronting any altar.

The first few miles out Beacon were for bringing systems to speed, monitoring past stresses, and initiating a rhythm.  Minor key exchanges accompanied those minutes, nothing serious or threatening, certainly nothing to point to the coming savagery.  That it would come was enough.  To speak of it was to corrupt it, like ballplayers discussing an impending no-hitter.  And so in the beginning, in the pregnancy of effort, with many miles before them shimmering in the distance, the pack remained little more than a moving meritocracy, poignant potentials of past strengths and weaknesses, each man a willing celebrant to the ritual’s paced liturgy ahead. Continue reading

THE CULTURE OF RUNNING IN EAST AFRICA

     Take away that they have grown up at an altitude higher than the New York Yankees salary cap, and cut the air like six-inch stilettos, one reason the Kenyans and Ethiopians kick everyone’s butt in distance running is, well, what are the options?

Go to any East African village famous for producing championship runners and you’re not likely to find assorted currency manipulators, arbitrageurs, or Bernie Madoff-like schemers. And that just might be the corollary to why America has only intermittently produced world-class distance runners. We produce world-class most everything else. Something’s gotta give.

A post-industrial society is not running’s ideal seed bed. Instead, running is better suited to individual achievement and general fitness. An agrarian society, on the other hand, especially one formed at high altitude, is running’s most fecund soil.

You spend a few hours a day tending the animals and crops, walking high-country dirt roads for transportation, eating fresh, unpolluted food, and dreaming big dreams in the black night air of winning thousands of life-transforming dollars at races in far flung capitals – like every fourth fellow in the village seems to have done – and maybe running tops your to-do list tomorrow, too. By the same token, find yourself with an underwater mortgage working part-time on stuffed-crust pizzas, maybe your chances of fleetness have deteriorated a tad.

“Anything is Possible”

A mural on the side of a building in downtown Addis Ababa shows Haile Gebrselassie in full stride.  Ethiopia’s iconic runner and one of, if not the best ever has his motto alongside, “Anything is possible”, writ large in Amharic, one of the principle languages of the country. Continue reading

9/11 RUNNING REMEMBRANCE

     The 24th Philadelphia Distance Run was scheduled for Sunday September 16, 2001. Our TV crew had planned to fly east on Thursday the 13th after completing our post-production work on the inaugural Rock `n Roll Virginia Beach Half-Marathon TV show. But the events of Tuesday morning September 11th would change everything, from our travel plans, to our conception of the world through which we traveled. Yet even then running would prove an invaluable ally in the struggle to make sense of it all.

The Beatles “Yesterday” played on the Elite Racing telephone line as I waited to speak with Mike Long about our travel arrangements. The song was eerily appropriate to the mood of the nation.  “…There’s a shadow hanging over me,” sang Paul McCartney. “Oh, yesterday came suddenly.”

“The uncertainty of everything,” was how Mike put it as he scrambled to reorder flights in the face of an ongoing FAA ban.  “There are so many conflicting issues of security and economic impact of a flightless United States.”

Philly race director Mark Stewart was scrambling, as well, feeling like he was slipping into a deep depression. There had been so many bomb threats that his secretary wouldn’t come to work. He was trying to do the right thing, but not quite knowing what the ‘right thing’ was.   Sporting contests throughout the country had been cancelled out of respect for the national tragedy.  These pseudo-battles of ours pitting mighty teams in titanic struggle upon well-groomed playing fields somehow became horribly inconsequential, if not a pure mockery of what true battles we were soon to visit. Continue reading

NEEDLES & NEEDLES

    I was at the doctor’s office this week to get some minor stitches in my arm.  As he approached with his hypodermic, the doctor and I got to talking.  He mentioned how surprised he was that young people who came into the office with tattoos or piercings all over their bodies were frightened at having to get a shot of local anesthetic.

     “They’ve had needles stuck into them for, at times, hours at the tattoo parlor,” he said in befuddlement.  “Why would they be afraid of my single needle?”

     “Because,” I countered, “when they go to the tattoo parlor, they are going by choice, maybe even under the influence of alcohol or drugs, to have a procedure done by someone they see as an artist, who is dressed much like they are.  Sure, there is pain, but it is braved in service of a ritualized enhancement. It’s simple cost-benefit analysis. The transitory pain leads to a worthwhile end. And they know that going in.

     “On the other hand, when they come to the doctor’s office, they see an authority figure clad in a white smock, speaking in a strange tongue, medicalese – who else would call a bruise an ecchymosis? – and the pain is associated with an injury or disease, the end of which is, to them, generally uncertain.  

     “So the fear stems from the vast difference in the psychological terrain between the edgy certainty of the tattoo parlor, and the sterile uncertainty of the doctor’s office.  Hey, they should’ve taught you such things in medical school besides that condescension they always stress in third year.”

     I winced as he stabbed me with assurance.

END