Last Sunday morning November 3, 2013 mine was a Dickensian position, the best seat in town, the worst seat in town, riding aboard the broadcast wing of the lead men’s motorcycle giving commentary for ESPN2 coverage of the 43rd ING New York City Marathon on a raw, windblown day.  From that isolated outpost I had an unobstructed view of the entire race.

With my trusty I-Phone in hand I captured the following pics between TV reports.  So here is what the men’s race looked like up-close and personal.

5:27 opening mile to the crest of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, 4:40 second mile down into Brooklyn

Peter Kirui leads a 5:27 opening mile to the crest of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.  Joining in the middle is 2009 champion Meb Keflezighi and 2011 course record setter Geoffrey Mutai (in red) as they carve out a 4:40 second mile down onto Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue.  All the while the scourge of a north wind whips at their singlets at the left front shoulder, flags stiff from the northwest on the north running course.  My moto driver Sean Ricci has heated pants and jacket. Smart fellow.

Meb showing early form on Fourth Ave. in Brooklyn dead into the 15 mph wind

Meb Keflezighi showing early form on Fourth Ave. in Brooklyn dead into the 15 mph wind…Meb didn’t come into New York in top form, having lost training to a partially torn calf muscle…  Notwithstanding, he used what fitness he had to drive the pace and support the event as he’s done now for the eighth time in his career… Recall this is where he debuted in `02, ripping up First Avenue with Hendrik Ramaala of South Africa, only to come frozen to the line in ninth place at 2:12:35.

Geoffrey Mutai, Julius Arile & Meb on Lafayette Ave. in mile 8 (39:43, 4:47 8th mile

Geoffrey Mutai, Julius Arile & Meb on Lafayette Ave. in Brooklyn passing mile 8 in 39:43 off a 4:47 last mile, cruising to keep warm along the brick front gallery.

Italy's Daniel Meucci takes lead in mile 11 on Bedford Ave.
At 11 miles 2013 New York Half Marathon runner up Daniel Meucci of Pisa, Italy runs ahead along Bedford Ave. His gap grew to as much as three-seconds, but it didn’t last last long.
Geoffrey Mutai in 4:48 14th mile into Queens over Pulaski Bridge into stiff headwind culls the herd

Race favorite Geoffrey Mutai — The Raptor — goes hunting into Queens cutting against a stiff headwind.  Who’s serious?  His piercing 4:48 14th mile over the Pulaski Bridge at half-way culled the herd by one-third, dispatching, among others, Meb and 2003 & 2007 champ Martin Lel, an under-appreciated all-time great, who at age 35 may have sung his final tune in New York.

Olympic & World Champion Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda beginning to feel effects of third marathon in six months

Olympic & World Champion Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda beginning to feel his third marathon in six months.  His team are firm believers in the two-marathons-per-year model, but when you have a chance to win $500,000 you lace up and hope to find the magic… But after wins in the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World Championships Marathons, only the second man in history to hold both titles simultaneously — Gezahenge Abera of Ethiopia took gold in Sydney 2000 and Edmonton 2001 — maybe Stephen had already cashed in those chips.

London Marathon champion Tsegay Kebede leads over Queensborough Bridge, 25K 1:16:59 (15:18 last 5K)

2013 London Marathon champion Tsegay Kebede leads over Queensborough Bridge where the race always turns serious. 25K in 1:16:59 (15:18 last 5K). This is the eye of the storm before the thunder up First Ave., a brutal and defining stretch representing the second biggest climb on the course after the initial bridge crossing at the start…  You can see Jackson Kiprop of Uganda in internal monitoring mode.  The day was a punisher, there were no blistering miles. Didn’t need to be. The conditions effectively added a kilometer to the distance, and you can see the grind take its toll.

Kebede & Uganda's Jackson Kiprop in lock-step up First Ave.

Kebede & Uganda’s Jackson Kiprop in lock-step onto First Ave. up Thunder Alley.

First Avenue Slot Canyon 17 -- 20 miles; 4:40, 4:43, 4:45, 5:05 still fighting the breeze

First Avenue a slot canyon from 17  to 20 miles.  They fell in 4:40, 4:43, 4:45, and 5:05 as the headwinds gave no quarter.  Solid tempo here, not as incendiary as under better conditions. The race still looms.

Damage done:  Wesley Korir, Kenyan parliamentarian and 2012 Boston champ gives way

Damage done: Wesley Korir,(far right) Kenyan parliamentarian and 2012 Boston champ gives way.  Peter Kirui (yellow), Kiprop (light blue), and Kiprotich in orange laces getting strung out, as well.

Elite Eight still in it at 20 miles in  1:38:25

Elite Eight still holding tight at 20 miles in 1:38:25, two minutes behind 2011’s record. Of the eight only South Africa’s Lusapho April (yellow on left) and Kenya’s Julius Arile (yellow in center) were new comers to these ranks.  But their preparations indicated they were ready for a breakthrough.

Turning onto Fifth Avenue in the Bronx heading south for first time with the wind

Turning west at speed in the Bronx at the north end of the course. Not long before they’ll take another left south onto Fifth Avenue and have the wind assist for the first time…  Julius Arile has been a player all day.  He moved his training from Iten to Eldoret to join Wilson Chebet‘s big group.   Then he tuned up in the Czech Republic with a 27:42 10K ,which he won, and a 61:15 half, taking third.  Good confidence booster for the one-time “Millionth Face” for the U.N. Small Arms Treaty. In that role the one-time gun-toting cattle rustler had twice before been to NY to meet with U.N. general secretaries.  No peace today.

Mutai begins to make his presence felt, 35K in 1:46:42.. Last 5K in 14:58, fastest of the day

2011 record setter Geoffrey Mutai begins to assert his presence, 35K in 1:46:42, the last 5K in 14:58, fastest of the day.  That same 21.7 K marker had been passed in 1:44:01 in 2011 during his 2:05:06 course record. But 2011 was the ideal day, 42F, low humidity, calm winds.  Mutai lit up the final 10K in 28:45, the second half fell in 61:50, third fastest second half of a marathon ever…  We can see Stephen Kiprotich losing contact again, and so went his chance for the World Marathon Majors jackpot of $500,000.  He needed to win the race outright to claim the prize and hope challenger Tsegay Kebede did no better than third… But it was several bridges too far for the Olympic and World Champion who has room to grow in big city marathons.

Former AK-47 wielding cattle rustler Julius Arile eyes Mutai warily

Julius Arile eyes Mutai warily. He knows where lies the danger as they enter the killing territory.

Mutai & Kebede, a couple of Bronx Bombers.  22 miles in 1:47:49, last two miles in 9:36

Bronx Bombers — Mutai & Kebede.  Would have been nice to have these two on the same page. But Mutai has winning on his mind, Kebede wants the World Marathon Majors jackpot.  You don’t challenge the Raptor when he’s out hunting.  Second place is wing, win 500,000 times.  As long as Kipriotich remains in his rear-view mirror, the half-million is his.

Crossing Madison Avenue Bridge from Bronx into Manhattan Mutai begins his final assault. Only Biwott can answer

Crossing the Madison Avenue Bridge over the Harlem River, back into Manhattan.  Mutai begins his final assault. Only Stanley Biwott can or is willing to answer.  Before the race Mutai made his intentions clear, “When I decide to move, my body feels like it can run to the end at this speed.” … Verysimple.  From here to home, you and me. Ready?

Mutai presses, Biwott flexes. Biwott beat Mutai at Feb. 2013 RAK Half Marathon, 58:56 to 58:58, but this ain't no half.

The Raptor presses, eyes ahead, grim and determined. Biwott flexes, taking the ground rather than flinging it behind.  Look at that quad! … Stanley got the better of Geoffry in Feb. at the RAK Half Marathon, 58:56 to 58:58 — they were second and third.  This is no half…And Biwott has a fuel management history.  It happened in London this spring. Off a wicked pace through the half, 61:34, Biwott raised the stakes at 21 miles before flaming out and finishing eighth… Coach Claudio Berardelli had hoped lessons had been learned, and now longer tempo runs with short rest would smooth out his fuel issues. But today it is simply a case of being over-matched.  Biwott didn’t initiate any of the moves, just answered for as long as he could.  You have to admire his competitive spirit.

The break begins at 1:52:30

After only nine minutes together, the break begins at 1:52:30.

Entering Central Park at 90th Street alone and in control

Entering Central Park at 90th Street – 24 miles. The man who had one of the best marathon years in history in 2011, with unimaginable course records in both Boston and New York, followed with an off 2012… He dropped of of Boston’s roasting oven in April, leading to not being chosen for the Kenyan Olympic team for London, and finally he was hurricaned out of defending his NY title last fall… This spring in the Virgin London Marathon he was never a factor in a last-man-standing win by Tsegay Kebede. Mutai dropped out with a hamstring issue.  But since then he has been back in full form, and when that happens, no contest, really.

In full flight and heading for home. Victory number two in NYC

In full flight, a symphony of efficieny and heading for home. Victory number two in NYC.

Biwott still in 2nd

Biwott still in 2nd but broken.  It will be back to the drawing board to try to find the answer to those fading closing kilometers. He has all the will and speed, just needs to refine the mix in training so he doesn’t run low on fuel.

South Africa's Lusapho April and Tsegay Kebede closing fast

South Africa’s Lusapho April and Tsegay Kebede closing fast on Biwott.  April, pronounced like the month, is in fact named after the month of April. Not by his parents, but by the old apartheid government of South Africa.  Because of his complicated surname, a government official told him, “No, man, we can’t spell that. It’s April. So that’s now your name.”…  Two NYC champions have come out of South Africa, Willie Mtolo in 1992 — who was here in town with April — and Hendrik Ramaala in 2004…  April’s been with coach Karen Zimmerman since he was 14.  He had a sixteen week build up for New York. He came here rather than run in Frankfurt, because with a 2:08 PR he wanted a tough race more than a speed one. He’s good on challenging courses, and proved it again.

Kebede moves into second place at 25 miles, April in third

Kebede moves into second place at 25 miles, April into third…Biwott will fade all the way to fifth.

Camera's eye view. This is where I was perched all day behind camera ace Phillip Martinez with Sean Ricci driving

Camera’s eye view. This is where I was perched all day behind camera ace Phillip Martinez with Sean Ricci driving.

Final 100 meters

Final 100 meters, history awaits!

Kebede gallops toward a $560,000 payday and the 2012 -- 2013 World Marathon Majors title after twice finishing second in previous years

Secure in second place behind Mutai’s 2:08:24 win, Kebede gallops toward a $560,000 payday and the 2012 — 2013 World Marathon Majors title after twice finishing second in previous cycles.

It was a glorious day in the city. Cold as hell, but warmed by the spirit of the people and the grace and majesty of the runners.  Hope to do it again next year.  Till then, see you on the roads.  Next marathon stop, Honolulu December 8th. Still time to join the fun.



Geoffrey Mutai tunes up for New York in Udine Half Marathon in Italy

Geoffrey Mutai tunes up for New York in Udine Half Marathon in Italy

New York, New York — Alright, I’ve heard enough, I’ve seen enough, I’ve talked to all the players.  And here’s the deal, they don’t have a prayer.  Maybe in a best case scenario I might not wish it so, because I like close competitions, but Geoffrey Mutai is your winner of the ING New York City Marathon for 2013 right now.  And that’s from someone who has never been much of a predictor.  But it is what it is as surely as Al Salazar was the winner before the gun in 1981 – “my goal is to run 2:08 and to win.” So if you find someone that wants to take the field, take Mutai and put whatever money you have on him.  That’s the kind of form he’s on, and what I think of his chances. Now all he has to do is pull it off.

With London Marathon champion Tsegay Kebede and World Champion Stephen Kiprotich caught up in the World Marathon Majors drama and the $500,000 that goes with the series win, will either of them take the risk of trying to match a fully blooded Geoffrey Mutai for a chance at the $100,000 first place check?  Not likely.  In fact, Kebede has come right out and said in a race with 48,000 starters he’s only racing one man, Kiprotich. Continue reading


New York City Marathon start    There is even more on the line than usual at this year’s ING New York City Marathon.  From the city and New York Road Runner’s recovery efforts after last year devastation and race cancellation due to Hurricane Sandy, to the million-dollar payoff in the World Marathon Majors championship, there are stories of striving and overcoming that will make for a dramatic and emotional Sunday morning November 3rd.   Be sure to watch it live 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2, and from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. ET on WABC. It also will be streamed online at WatchESPN.com and the WatchESPN app. A two-hour highlights show will air on ABC later in the day.

My focus will be on the men’s race as I will call that competition from the lead TV moto.  It’s the first time since 2006 that I will be out on the course rather than at the finish line anchor location.  And though I will sorely miss calling what promises to be a compelling women’s race, the men’s lead moto is a wondrous perch, and offers by far the best view of the action.

Two story lines dominate the 2013 New York men’s competition.  The question is how, or whether, they will intersect? Continue reading


Cardinals v Red Sox 2013    Baseball, in some ways, is like the marathon.  Both sports require the ability to endure a long, grueling task, be it months of training and 26.2 miles of racing, or months of a 162-game season, and the intensity of multiple championship series.  Both sports take from low two-hours to five-hours plus to complete, and taken in small doses or out of context, can seem incomparably boring. Yet when followed closely throughout a season or a race, the drama of each competition builds to Shakespearean levels, until every pitch, every foot strike takes on the weight of the world, and the glory of accomplishment — sometimes even in defeat — can resonate for a lifetime and beyond.

And so as the baseball season begins its annual fall ritual tonight in Boston with the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals taking on host American League king Boston Red Sox, we await the culminating event of the 2012-2013 World Marathon Majors cycle on the first weekend of November at the ING New York City Marathon with equal anticipation.

This year’s Fall Classic promises to be a beauty, as the Cards and the Sox have proven their mettle — both teams completed their seasons with a record of 97 —  65.  Both have excellent pitching, powerful offenses, and legendary support from their iconic fan bases.  We can only hope to witness a level of drama at the ING New York City Marathon November 3rd that will approximate what is expected in Boston and St. Louis – America’s Best Baseball Town. Continue reading


At 22 miles - Kimetto & Mutai pulling free of Kitwara

Chicago at 22 miles – Kimetto & Mutai pulling free of Kitwara

Make no mistake, in foot racing like war it is axiomatic that the best laid plans rarely survive the instant of engagement.  That is also why in today’s Kenyan dominated world of elite marathon racing the competition isn’t limited to a specific race.  Instead, as many of today’s giants train together or in close proximity in the Rift Valley crucibles of Iten and Eldoret, competition stretches between and among races, as well.

And so, as we exit today’s TCS Amsterdam Marathon and head toward November 3rd and the ING New York City Marathon, the field there will not simply be competing against one another for the five-borough title, and/or the World Marathon Major cycle title.  No, 2011 New York champion and course record holder Goffrey Mutai and the lads will be competing against what has just transpired in Berlin, Chicago and Amsterdam over the last month and a half.  In fact, it was Wilson Kipsang’s world record in Berlin which spurred his sometime training mate, Geoffrey Mutai, into supposing that a sub-2:05 is possible in New York given the conditions. Continue reading


Kimetto captures Chicago in record time.

Kimetto captures $75,000 course record bonus in Chicago

Its fun to play with statistics, because like the bible, you can use them to support just about whatever position you’d like.  So while Spanish statistician Miguel Calvo sifts through the splits (via an English translation by my Italian colleague Alberto Stretti) comparing Wilson Kipsang‘s 2:03:23 world record in Berlin three weeks ago with countryman Dennis Kimetto’s course record 2:03:45 at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon last Sunday, I’m digging into the money game.

As I wrote last week, there is no contest in how running’s money plays out for a Kenyan versus an American runner in terms of impact and purchasing power.  But let’s make it more interesting and compare a top Kenyan runner, say Dennis Kimetto, with top business CEOs in terms of value for service. Continue reading


NYRR Pres. & CEO Mary Wittenberg

NYRR Pres. & CEO Mary Wittenberg

(Since 2005 Buffalo-born Mary Wittenberg has been president and CEO of the New York Road Runners, stagers of the ING New York City Marathon and dozens of other both world-class and local events in the five boroughs.  I spoke with Mary this morning about the Competitor Group’s recent decision to eliminate its elite athlete program at its U.S. races.)


Initially I was surprised by the immediacy of its impact, rather than say it would begin in the year ahead.  But in group dynamics sometimes you see one person say something that someone else takes as personal, but really it’s not about them at all.  So I think this move may have more to do with CGI than with the sport itself.  What would be a more concerning indicator is if we see World Marathon Majors or major not-for-profit events drop support for pro running.  Those are the real bellwethers of the sport.

But what is clear now, and not surprising, is that Elite Racing had a core passion for the sport in Tim (Murphy), Mike (Long) and Tracy (Sundlun).  But it’s likely that what the first group (Falconhead Capital) bought from Tim was the Rock `n` Roll series, not the whole of Elite Racing.  We’ve been fortunate to have CGI keep some semblance of the sport going for as long as they did.


Private equity has a piece of Major League Soccer.  They can play a role in building ventures, but ultimately they are hard-eyed business people.  And professional athletes need to have a return on investment (ROI). Continue reading



Hurricane Sandy’s vast power has been such that it has now tossed elite marathoners to the far ends of the globe in hopes of redeeming their 2012 fall marathon campaigns following cancellation of the ING New York City Marathon.

Today, Honolulu Marathon Association President Jim Barahal revealed that New York fave and Olympic bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang of Kenya will be taking his talents to the 40th Honolulu Marathon on December 9th.

“We are disappointed he was not able to compete in New York,” texted Barahal, “but we’re pleased to be able to offer another opportunity for him to run, and we’re excited to have such a phenomenal athlete go after the course record in Honolulu.”

Wilson Kipsang was one of the New York elites who publicly acknowledged the difficulty faced by the New York Road Runners in cancelling the marathon, saying “This is terrible, but it’s part of life. I’m not angry. People suffered misfortune.”

With the New York Road Runners and the city of New York deciding to cancel the 42nd ING New York City Marathon just 40 hours before last Sunday’s scheduled start, there has been very little time to consider options.

Now the 2012 London champion, and second fastest “official” marathoner in history from his 2:03:42 win from Frankfurt in September 2011, will test himself on one of the legendary courses in the world, although one which doesn’t often draw the world’s super-elite to its starting line due to heat, humidity and budgetary constraints.

While stars like Ibrahim Hussein, Benson Masya and Cosmas Ndeti were discovered in Honolulu, and 1993 champion Lee Bong-ju of Korea and 1995 winner Josiah Thungwane of South Africa went on to win Olympic silver and gold medals in Atlanta 1996, this will be the first time a reigning Olympic medalist will compete in Honolulu in his Olympic year.

According to Honolulu race director Jon Cross 2011 L.A. Marathon champ (debut, 2:06:35) and 2012 Dubai Marathon third-placer (2:04:54) Markos Geneti of Ethiopia will also join the festivities with more names to follow.  Stay tuned. Given the weather, always the key in Honolulu, we could be in for a record year.

The current Honolulu Marathon event record, 2:11:12, was set by Kenya’s Jimmy Muindi in 2004, in the fourth of his six Honolulu wins.




      Sandy was one of those freak storms (we hope) formed by separate weather systems merging into a sum-bitch beyond measure of its parts.  As a category 1 Atlantic hurricane came barreling up the eastern seaboard, a fast moving cold front whipped east from the northern plains just as an occluding front to the northeast blocked and turned Hurricane Sandy inland along the New Jersey-New York coastline. Together those three systems combined into the super-cell which left untold destruction in its path.

Well, the response to the storm by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Road Runners President and CEO Mary Wittenberg – “marathon on”, “marathon off”, all within 48 hours of the start – also created its own super-storm of criticism and anger which blew hard against the ING New York City Marathon, leaving the grand institution battered, shaken, and eventually cancelled for 2012.  And now, like those parts of the metro area still digging out of the ruins, the long term effect on the marathon will take time to assess.

A billionaire entrepreneur with an engineer’s mind wired for detail and fact, Mayor Bloomberg surveyed the situation in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and saw ‘back to normal’ as his guiding principle, not a Clinton-esque, ‘I feel your pain’.  NYRR chief Mary Wittenberg faced the crisis with all her Catholic school-girl earnestness, driven by her faith in the transformative power of running, a faith which has guided her own life and her stewardship of the NYRR.  She had witnessed the nurturing power of the marathon in the aftermath of 9/11, and been schooled on how the inaugural five-borough marathon had been born in response to the city’s deep fiscal crisis of 1976.  The marathon as a redemptive force was not just a personal metaphor, it carried societal implications.

Thus, the drive to make the great marathon the healing tool for a stricken city was, to her, a compelling charge for action not retreat.  Unfortunately, that very willfulness which had served her so well in her own marathon career – the willfulness that makes all who run awaken on chilly pre-dawn mornings to train, and then sustains us in the closing miles of the race when the body is wracked with pain and depleted of energy – had become a liability.

She so wanted the marathon to be a suture binding the wounded city that she became deaf to the pleas of New Yorkers still caught in the immediacy of their pain, and were in no mood for a metaphoric expression of overcoming odds when they were experiencing it first-hand for themselves. Continue reading



What had always been a unifying force in America’s melting pot city, the one thing that drew every New Yorker and visitor together, has now been blown apart by Hurricane Sandy.  So count the ING New York City Marathon as another victim of last Monday’s vicious storm, except this is a constituent that even FEMA can’t help put back together.

Last night’s decision to cancel the 42nd NYC Marathon by city officials and race organizers has left behind a nasty split.  A city already in tatters and tears is that much more divided than the day before.  Opposing sides in the marathon cancellation debate stare in shocked disbelief at the insensitivity of the other side, leading to arguments and recriminations posted on chat rooms, e-mails and text boxes world-wide.

From “it was the only thing to do”, to “what a wasted opportunity to rally the city”, the reaction has come as swiftly as the miles up First Avenue on race day, but as opposite as one curbside to the other. Needless to say, the overwhelming, though not 100%, view from the marathoner’s side is that the decision to call off the race was wrong-headed.

“I met a girl who flew 20 hours from Australia,” texted my friend Rich Jayne from the Haile Gebrselassie Marathon expo booth at Javitz Center which continued unabated today till 5 p.m.  “There was another guy with only a year to live and this was to be his last marathon.  When the announcement was made we had three foreign runners in our booth.  NYC is not making friends.”

While runners from the top professionals to the 40,000th placer are disappointed and upset for time and money spent and paydays lost, NYRR President and CEO Mary Wittenberg hinted at a graver concern at last night’s press conference in Central Park.

“We became concerned that runners would not receive the welcome they were used to,” she said, adding, “it’s been tough on the volunteers and staff, too, anyone associated with the marathon.”

The city’s mood had turned toxic.

“I heard organized violence was being planned,” wrote a friend in the city, “and runner’s safety was the main concern.”  Continue reading