WHY BABY BOOMERS WERE MORE COMPETITIVE THAN GEN Y, or How getting fired helped Bill Rodgers become a great champion

Runners Digest Radio Logo     In a book coming out Oct. 22 from Penguin Press, The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature and the Future of Forecasting, former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan writes:  “Our highest priority going forward is to fix our broken political system. Short of that, there is no viable long-term solution to our badly warped economy. In America we are being pulled apart politically in ways unrivaled since the aftermath of the 1929 crash.”

Mr. Greenspan could just as easily be writing about the sport of running.  In my previous post, THE FESTIVALIZATION OF SPORT — Respite from the competition of life, I posited that today’s younger generation seems less competitive than previous generations, though, as always, there still exists a cadre of robust hyper-competitive types, for sure. One of my theories was that today’s youth are more stressed in their everyday lives than were the Baby Boomers in the 1950s & `60s, and therefore less free to explore recreation performance for its own sake – not to mention how the expectations of yesteryear and those of today do not nearly match up with one another either. Continue reading

WESLEY KORIR – MAN ON THE RUN

 “No man working 40-hours a week will ever beat me in a marathon.”  – Four-time Boston Marathon champion Bill Rodgers.

After winning the 1975 Boston Marathon in an American record 2:09:55, Bill Rodgers returned to his job as a special education teacher.  He’d been a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, and carried a sense of societal responsibility common to his generation.  But when his principal kept asking if it was really necessary that he train during his lunch break, Bill knew he had to choose.  He followed the path to running history, winning three more Bostons, four New Yorks and a Fukuoka (Japan).

Today, the depth of distance running talent is far greater than in Rodger’s era, and to say the world’s top runners live all but monastic lives to prepare for their major competitions is being generous to monks.  And yet, defending Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir of Kenya has recently taken on a responsibility that would leave even the affable Mr. Rodgers shaking his head in disbelief. Continue reading

FIVE BOOMER CHAMPIONS RETURN TO BOSTON

When Running was KIng

Boston Billy after 1978 at the center of the whirlwind

Man isn’t just a pattern-seeking animal, he is a goal-setting beast.  From breaking the four-minute mile to putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth, we have constantly striven to outdo our forefathers.  Accordingly, we have seen the standards of excellence mount with an almost linear progression through the course of time.

Today, the marathon performances of the Running Boom champions seem almost quaint by today’s standards, as far from world class as the exploits of their own predecessors seemed during their time in the sun.  At this year’s 117th Boston Marathon, five of its greatest champions from the Boom era will return to celebrate the anniversaries of their winning moments. Continue reading

CELEBRATING COACH SQUIRES AT 80

Talking Points with Coach Bill Squires

This Saturday, November 24, 2012 friends of Coach Bill Squires will gather at Boston College from noon till 3 pm for an 80th birthday celebration. From far out on the California coast, a toast and fond salute to the coach who famously led Boston State College and the Greater Boston Track Club during a career that carried many a runner and team to national and international titles, all with no budget or home track, while revolutionizing marathon training with athletes like Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar, Greg Meyer, Bob Hodge and Dick Beardsley.

But it wasn’t the Xs and Os of his training programs that made Coach Squires a New England running legend, or that earned him the Bill Bowerman Award from the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in 2002. It was much more than what he said.

How to best explain it?

Well, I guess I could go back to the early `80s and take you on the drive with the coach and New Zealand Olympian Kevin Ryan as we headed from Boston to New York for the Millrose Games, the drive that got the coach talking about his “date” with Hollywood starlet Natalie Wood – or as coach called her, “Natley”, in his clipped Arlington, Mass. born accent.

As the coach told it, the date had been arranged by Photo Play, or some such Hollywood magazine.  Squires was a miler at Notre Dame at the time, and he and another athlete in L.A. for the NCAA Championships were to escort Ms. Wood and Annette Funicello, the ex-Mousketeer, on a date for publicity purposes.

I could go on and tell you about Coach’s reaction after Kevin Ryan caustically remarked from behind the wheel, “Huh. No way a beautiful woman like that would go out with an ugly prick like you,” said as he downed another Foster’s while zooming at 80+ down I-84, and yet uncannily knowing when to slow down for a soon passing state trooper.

“ME-E?!! ” exclaimed the coach riding shotgun, his voice rising two octaves, accent straining in startled indignation. “I was handsome : six feet tall, 160 pounds, blawnnd crew cut hayuh (sic), 100 push ups a day – I had definition in my bawdy!  Are you kiddin’ me!!???”

I was left in a puddle of hysterics in the backseat.

Or, I could regale you with Coach’s story (again indignantly told on the same drive) about how he used to pee in his college dorm room sink in the dead of night, because he didn’t want to pad down the hall to the communal men’s room.  And how after his roommate complained to the good fathers of Notre Dame about the coach’s indecorous behavior, how the coach proceeded to present a paper at his disciplinary hearing detailing the disinfectant properties of urine as utilized by soldiers in the Boer War as a weapon’s cleaner.  And yet, notwithstanding this uncontested testimony, how the coach was firmly instructed never again to use his sink for anything beyond hands and face washing and tooth brushing, and that included no weapon’s cleaning.

Sure, I could do that, but why go back that far? Continue reading

THE PLAYERS MUST BE AT THE TABLE IF THEY ARE ALSO TO BE THE MEAL

     (The following editorial was written for and posted by the Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) on its website. It is re-posted here with their permission.)

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“The test of allegiance to a cause or people is the willingness to run the risk of repeating on old argument just one more time, or going one more round against a hostile, or much worst, indifferent audience.”  – Christopher Hitchens, from his memoir Hitch-22.

Amidst the swirling eddies and currents of a race a champion must possess more than just strength, speed, and endurance. He/she must also be able to “read the whitewater” to discern the fugitive line to victory. Those who lack this critical capacity are pulled under in the sweep of the flow or find themselves shunted to a limpid side-pool wondering what became of the moment.

Today, on their own political course, the athletes of track and field find themselves looping around again full circle – or full oval, if you must – to a line they seem to discover once every generation, the one separating ‘what is’ from ‘what might be’.

Spurred by an arbitrary decision by the USATF’S national office which instituted a policy of enforcing IAAF advertising regulations restricting the size and number of commercial and club logos on athletes’ uniforms, athletes gathered at the 33rd USA Track & Field Annual Meeting in St. Louis to voice their displeasure and concerns. Once there, however, the meeting of the Athletes Advisory Committee quickly turned chaotic once live-streaming to the internet was discovered.  Soon tempers flared, sponsor walk-outs ensued, the room was cleared, then re-opened, but with the media now barred.

Ultimately, however, the athletes prevailed, in as much as they convinced the USATF board of directors to adopt their position in opposition to the logo policy in domestic meets. The athletes’ cause was led by the Athletes Advisory Committee chairman Jon Drummond and attorney David Greifinger, the former legal counsel to the USATF board, now serving as the athletes’ advocate.  it was Greifinger who submitted a resolution that USATF lift its logo restrictions for competitions that are not classified as “international” by the IAAF or conducted by the USOC.

The takeaway message from that meeting was simple, if the athletes cohere, their voice will carry. Today, the Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) has taken up the megaphone on behalf of their current and nascent members, affirming that the operating model of their sport has not been designed with the athletes’ best interests in mind.

However, though bolstered by the logos-on-uniforms issue, TFAA is still a fledgling organization (founded in December 2009). Which beggars the question, what is the true nature of TFAA’s existence? Is it resolved to take some kind of intelligibly vertebrate stance, striving to become one among equals in the determination of its membership’s fate? Or is it only looking to work the margins, just another tender in a larger game beyond its capacity to engage much less control? Continue reading

WHETHER THE WEATHER FOR BOSTON MARATHON MONDAY

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If in real estate it’s location, location, location, in marathon running it’s weather, weather weather.  People are eyeballing the weather stations like tornado chasers for this Monday’s 116th Boston Marathon. With this being an Olympic year, and decisions on Olympic qualifying still up for grabs in Kenya and Ethiopia, the two preeminent marathon nations of the world, much will be decided from April 15th in Rotterdam to April 22nd in London.  And as Sean Hartnett of Track & Field News just reminded me, “the weather at all the majors was pretty perfect last year.”

Here in Boston, though, there’s been a pattern of a good weather year being followed by a real stinker – think 1975 Bill Rodgers American record, 1976 Jack Fultz “Run for the Hoses” 100 degrees.  Not a good sign for Monday where, at present, the forecasters are calling for a high of 84F / 29C.  If it comes up snake-eyes like that, pity the Geoffrey Mutai and Gebre Gebremariams in the field who know they need to impress their Olympic selectors to punch their ticket on to London for the Games this summer.

Without a single trials race to select their teams, the two east African federations will await the results of Rotterdam, Boston, and London Marathons from April 15th to the 22nd before making the calls.  Right now there are six provisional men on the Kenyan squad, and four for the Ethiopians, all of who were the top four finishers in the Dubai Marathon in January.

“People back home in Ethiopia are calling them “The Sitting Ducks”, joked Global Athletics president Mark Wetmore who represents 2011 Boston third placer Gebre Gebremariam.  “At first they said five would be named, then four. That’s why GG is here. Essentially, the Ethiopian federation said, the Ethiopian Olympic Trials will be in Dubai.  But they didn’t tell the athletes till a week after Dubai.”

As we’ve laid out before on this blog Anticipating Spring Marathon Season, the stakes at the top spring marathons in Rotterdam, Boston, and London are sky high.  Last year’s Boston runner up and Chicago champion Moses Mosop goes first on Sunday in Rotterdam.  Word around town is that it will take a world record for a Rotterdamer to make the London bus.  Mosop will be pressed by two very scary Kenyan debutants who have done serious damage in the half-marathon, Sammy Kitwara and Peter Kirui.  Then on Monday Geoffrey Mutai defends his best-ever 2:03:02 from last year here in Boston. I asked him today if there was a difference in coming in as the favorite this year with all the pressure as opposed to last year when he was just another one of the top guys. Continue reading

1982 BOSTON MARATHON, A REMINISCENCE

1982 Boston Marathon Press Guide Cover

Our Runner’s Digest radio show had put together a 75-station network for the 1982 Boston Marathon. This was back in the days when running was still consumed by a general public as primarily a sporting contest.  That Patriot’s Day I was stationed at the finish line above Ring Road adjacent to the Prudential Tower directly across Boylston Street from Hereford Street. We had six reporters out along the course giving live updates from the field. To help with their assignment, we put together what we believe was the first press guide for the Boston Marathon.  Four of those pages are contained in this post.

By Boston 1982 the running boom was thundering over the land at its highest decibel level.  But when word leaked out that Wayland, Mass. native Alberto Salazar was coming back from Oregon to compete for the first time in the hometown marathon, well, for those who have never experienced the excitement that foot-racing once caused, all I can tell you is that the needle was pinned to the far right of the gauge that year.

Al was homeward bound off two straight New York City Marathon wins, and what we thought was the marathon world record (2:08:13) the previous October.  Only later would the course be remeasured and found to be 149 meters short.  Notwithstanding, Al was at the height of his piercing focus and unwavering willfulness.  The week before Boston he had gone head up against 10,000m world record holder Henry Rono of Kenya at an Alberto-directed 10,000 meter track race at Hayward Field in Eugene, where Alberto had gone to school.  Henry (with a gut, I kid you not) barely edged Alberto 27:29 to 27:30. But Al had shown his fitness, and then some, and seemed ready for anything come Patriot’s Day. Continue reading

BILL RODGERS – ROUND JAMAICA POND

Winter at Jamaico Pond

Winter at Jamaica Pond

Our breath emerged in lung-heated plumes, our footfalls as soft crunches muted by freshly fallen snow.  January 4, 1982, out on a run with Bill Rodgers, long-time king of the American roads.

From his eponymous store in Boston’s  Cleveland Circle to Jamaica Pond and back was perhaps the training loop Bill had run more often than any other in his career.  I’m sure he could well have run it blind-folded, such was the comfort and familiarity of those now-wintered miles.

Pleased to be back into routine following the holidays, Bill admitted to getting in four solid 120+ weeks of training through December, including a couple sharpening track workouts as he prepped for the following weekend’s Orange Bowl 10K in Florida.  As it turned out Bill would run his road PR of 28:15 in Miami behind Alberto Salazar (28:03) and Greg Meyer (28:09).

While lapping the 1.5 miles of Jamaica Pond four times, Bill and I fell into our traditional roles with me peppering him with questions, and he as the modest responder.  As always, I carried a cassette recorder to tape our conversation for a later broadcast on my Runner’s Digest radio show. With the crunch of our footfalls as a backdrop, I asked what had he learned in 1981, given that it was the first year in seven years that he hadn’t won either the Boston or New York City Marathons.

“Even though I didn’t win Boston and didn’t even run New York City, I was pleased overall with my year,” Bill said amidst the easy pace.  “I got third at Boston in 2:10, but I began my season a lot earlier than in the past.  I ran Houston in January and Tokyo after that. So by the time I reached the end of the year, I learned that I can’t run 35 races a year anymore.”

Third at Boston Marathon 1981 (Matthew Muise Photograhy)

Third at Boston Marathon 1981
(Matthew Muise Photograhy)

Imagine one of today’s top marathoners running 35 road races in a calendar year? Times were different, and runners like Bill were still in the blossoming stages of the money era in running, anxious to take full advantage of even modest opportunities.

I bring up my old run with Bill because these past two days I’ve been in Chicago attending a Running USA Board of Directors meeting, and I wanted to know from someone who had to fend totally for himself as a runner what an organization like RUSA might be able to do for today’s athletes?  Continue reading

ROASTING ALONG THE RIVER

     Davenport, Iowa – It may not have been the record heat of a week ago when Midwest thermometers were topping out in the triple digits, but with the temperature rising fast from its 77 degrees start at the 8 a.m. and blanketed by 85% humidity the 37thQuad City Times Bix 7 Road Race proved to be a radical weight loss seminar for the 15,000+ runners and walkers testing the full seven-mile distance over the rolling out-and-back course.

Thousands thunder up Brady Street in Mile 1  

 Kenyans Silas Kipruto (32:36) and Caroline Rotich (36:42) took home top honors and $12,500 as champions , as the race returned to an international field format after two years as the U.S. 7-Mile Road Championship.  Arizona’s Abdi Abdirahman was the first U.S. male finisher in sixth place.  Neither 2009 champion Meb Keflezighi (out with a heeling Achilles tendon), nor 2010 winner Ryan Hall (announcing his running of the BofA Chicago Marathon) returned to Davenport this year.

Instead, both Kipruto and Rotich led predominantly Kenyan and American fields through the sweltering conditions to impressive wins.  Both champions established an early presence at the point of attack up the steep Brady Street hill as the race got underway. Then, as if on the same strategic wavelength, they stretched their respective fields to the breaking point down miles two and three as the course turned right onto rolling, crowd-lined Kirkwood Boulevard heading to the turnaround at 3 1/2 miles. Continue reading

37th BIX 7 WEEKEND UNDERWAY UP BRADY STREET

Bix legend Joan Samuelson welcomes women's masters to finish line at Brady Street Challenge. Davenport duo Kathy Evanchyk (gold) and Mary Toohill lean for the win.

The 11th Brady Street Challenge kicked off the 37th Quad City Times Bix 7 weekend here in Davenport, Iowa last night.  Seven races in all made their way up the 7% – 9% grade which constitutes the opening segment of the Bix 7 Road Race tomorrow morning. It’s a quarter-mile grind with champions earning $500 for the torture.  Makes you appreciate the 10%+ grades the cyclists of the Tour de France must climb.  But those guys use expensive geared machines. These folks have only their legs and the drive of their arms to propel them.

The Davenport air was all but liquid last evening, not in the sense of rain, but in terms of humidity.  As if the brutality of the hill wasn’t enough, the weight of the heated air itself added an even greater challenge.

Best race of the night was the first one, as three-time former women’s master’s
champion Kathy Evanchyk of Davenport inched past 2008 champ Mary Toohill by just .47 seconds in 1:29.69. Continue reading