HOW IMPORTANT ARE HEROES?

jim-ryunSI   There will be an interesting test this Thursday evening in San Diego as the running community gathers to celebrate and commemorate the 50th anniversary of Jim Ryun’s first high school sub-4:00 mile.  Local leaders Paul Greer, Tracy Sundlun and Josh Cox joined with Jim Ryun to stage the celebration at the former Balboa Stadium – now home to the San Diego High School Cavers – where Jim ran one of his most iconic races as a high school senior.

It was at the 1965 AAU National Track & Field Championships where the lanky senior from Wichita East High School in Kansas lined up against a truly world-class field in front of 20,000 fans (when track could draw that kind of crowd outside the confines of Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.)

On the heels of Dr. Roger Bannister‘s celebrated first sub-4:00 mile in 1954, Ryun became the twelfth member of the exclusive sub-4 club as a high school junior on June 5, 1964.  Running 3:59.0 while finishing eighth at the Compton Invitational just six weeks after his 17th birthday Ryun became a national sensation.  The following year in San Diego Ryun not only notched another sub-4:00 mile, he WON the national championship in an American record 3:55.3!  And he did it by out-gunning the reigning Olympic gold and silver medalists from Tokyo 1964, Peter Snell of New Zealand and Josef Odlozil of Czechoslovakia, and then American record holder Jim Grelle!  It was the performance of a generation, and still resonates a half-century later.

“Imagine an American high school kid doing that today,” marveled Marty Liquori, himself a member of the five-man U.S. high school sub-4:00 club. “An American  record in the national championship against the Olympic champion?  It would be impossible.” Continue reading

ROCK `n` ROLL HISTORY

Who knew what lie ahead in the wild open spaces of the first Suzuki Rock `n` Roll Marathon? Some even questioned the concept of rock bands strung along the marathon course. What does rock `n` roll have to do with San Diego much less the marathon, they asked?

Well, on June 21st 1998 the world heard loud and clear what rock `n` roll had to do with San Diego and marathoning.  With a resounding P-A-R-T-Y! the second running boom announced its arrival.

P-A-R-T-Y!

P-A-R-T-Y!

No longer a simple feat of speed and endurance, the marathon had been turned into a 26-mile block party by Elite Racing’s Tim Murphy, who could be rightfully called the father of the post-modern running boom. Even before its first steps were run there was the feel of a major marathon about it as Tim brought on high profile Hollywood investors and celebrity ambassadors to help generate funding and interest.  Runner’s World also helped turn out 6000 Team In Training runners for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Yes, there was a disconcerting 35-minute delay at the Balboa Park start due to parked cars on the course, leading many a  bladder challenged runner to anoint Sixth Avenue before the gun.  Then after they were set free, runners overwhelmed the first water stop in the subsequent heat, causing back of the packers to come up dry.  Yet the music rocking the sidelines for 26.2 miles caused an immediate sensation.  Afterwards the nearly 20,000 entrants from 30 countries and all 50 states passed the word, ‘You gotta try this one!” And that was before they got to the post-race concert that night featuring Huey Lewis and the News, Pat Benatar, and the Lovin’ Spoonful!

Late, great Mike Long, Elite Racing's legendary athlete recruiter with early RnR winners Irina Bogacheva and Philip Tarus

Late, great Mike Long, Elite Racing’s legendary athlete recruiter with early RnR winners Irina Bogacheva and Philip Tarus

 

So, too, was year one’s field a group of intrepid explorers, 55% of which were women, the largest such percentage of any marathon to date. The course, much around Mission Bay, had a new-car smell about it, or was that newly cut wood?  City business owners balked when the course design closed traffic on Harbor Island Drive, the main access to Lindbergh Field, San Diego’s major international airport.  The last-minute compromise was a temporary plywood bridge that took the runners up and over the traffic, but whose steep cost set Elite Racing back tens of thousands to build, and tested tired runners more than they might have hoped at 23 miles. 

Nobody knew how fast the route would be until young Kenyan Philip Tarus busted a 2:10 opener for the men, with Russian women Nadezhda Ilyina and Irina Bogacheva battling just nine seconds apart at the finish for the women in 2:34. That told the athletes of the world, ‘This one is worth having a go,” especially after all the Suzuki prizes and prize money checks were handed out.

No marathon had ever come on the calendar with such dramatic impact: the largest first-time marathon in history, the most ingenious show along the sidelines ever conceived, $15 million raised for charity – the largest amount ever for a single-day sporting event — and to cap it off world-class performances by its champions. Thus was the foundation set for what has become a global phenomenon. Continue reading

BOSTON 2014 – SMALL WORLD, WONDERFUL WORLD

John & Karen Odom, Boston Strong

John & Karen Odom, Forever Boston Strong

It’s a small world. And, as we saw last Monday in Boston, even amidst the cruelty, suffering, and heartlessness that sometimes arrives with shocking suddenness, it can be a wonderful world, too.

The emotions of the Boston Marathon may never, and for all the obvious reasons, hopefully never will, reach such heights as 2014 again.  It took 371 days for the emotions of Boston 2013 to find their full release on Patriot’s Day 2014. And the support, camaraderie, and unity of purpose that was on display throughout the year, and that came to such a dramatic and cathartic climax with Meb Keflezighi’s win in the 118th Boston Marathon, will stand as a symbol of Boston Strong and Running Strong for ages to come, a reminder of the power of love and community.

In that sense, then, one final story on this year’s marathon. Continue reading

2014 BOSTON ANALYSIS

Meb Boston 2014     How could the professional women in Boston produce a nearly two minute, 2:18:57, course record this past Monday at the 118th Boston Marathon, while the equally powerful men’s pro field only manage a 2:08:37, some five and a half minutes off the 2011 course record? It’s the mystery of racing, and the reason that pure, un-paced competition is so much more compelling than time-trialing — where everyone knows what’s ahead, the only question being whether the time can be attained or not. If ever there was a case for competition, Boston 2014 was it.

But let’s look deeper into the 2014 Boston Marathon, and explore how the tactics and personalities of each sex’s race contributed to the outcome that brought Meb Keflezighi to the finish as the first American male champion in 31 years, even as Rita Jeptoo of Kenya zoomed home with the first sub-2:20 women’s performance in Boston history — Buzu Deba joined her with a 2:19:59 in second place. Continue reading

RECORD RUN HIGHLIGHTS ROCK `N` ROLL SAN DIEGO

RnR 2013 Running Elvi

RnR 2013 Running Elvi

San Diego, Ca. — Road racing is a people-moving retail business. To keep your current customers happy while attracting new ones event organizers around the world search for that ephemeral quality referred to as “the runner’s experience”.  Yet the need for enough space to corral all the starters then re-gather all the finishers ultimately determines the parameters of the miles between.  Understandably, when race fields begin to exceed 20,000, the choices become quite small, and compromise between the runners’ experience and city inconvenience often redounds on the side of the non-running population.  Accordingly, locking in an ideal layout that meets the needs of both constituencies is a tricky business which may take years to engineer, if ever.

Today, in its 16th running, the founding Rock `n` Roll Marathon (& Half Marathon) in Competitor Group, Inc.’s hometown of San Diego, California may well have settled onto the courses which will define their future success.  Continue reading

RACING FOR THE PODIUM IN LONDON

2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Team

Houston, Texas – The U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials are over, and the focus now turns to the Games in London in August.  The American marathon team is strong and experienced – men and women both – as good as any in recent cycles.  And while the road in London will be long and fraught, and by no means a betting probability for the Americans, the self-selected six from Houston, especially the runners-up Ryan Hall and Desi Davila, raced as if Houston was no more than a stepping stone, with the next step up the Olympic podium itself.

The legacy left by reigning Olympic Marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya, the sadly departed spiritual leader of the recent Kenyan marathon boom “I AM SAMMY WANJIRU!”, was first seen in Sammy’s seemingly reckless, but gold-medal-winning attack of the Olympic Marathon course on a warm, sunny day in Beijing 2008.  His from-the-gun blitz changed the perception of how a marathon could be run and won, just as Tanzanian Filbert Bayi’s gold medal and world record (3:32.16) at the 1500 meters in 1974 at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand still quickens the heart as the turning point in that event’s tactical evolution away from a purely sit-and-kick to an early-race surge methodology.

And so while Meb Keflezighi may have won the U.S. men’s Trials race on Saturday in a new PR 2:09:08, Ryan Hall (2nd, 2:09:30) deserves the extra star on his collar for dictating a race tactic that he knows he, Meb, and Abdi Abdirahman (3rd, 2:09:47) will most likely have to answer in London on August 12th.  Ryan predicted it would take a sub-2:10 to earn a place on the London team despite all historic evidence to the contrary – the fastest previous third place finish in an Olympic Trials Marathon was 2:10:55 by Texan Kyle Heffner in 1980.  What we didn’t know at the time was that Hall was going to lay down a 2:06-paced charge through the first 20K (60:02, 4:50/mile), instantly separating the real contenders from the hopefuls, and even putting his top echelon rivals outside their comfort zone.  Only Hall and Abdi Abdirahman had sub-2:09 personal bests coming in – and Abdi’s (2:08:56) was over three years old at that.  So while the last miles slowed as the wind and fatigue rose (31:36 final 10k, 5:03/mile), the early pacing had long since defined the outcome. Continue reading

WRINGING OUT THE OLD

    As 2011 comes to a desultory close, with the race of 2012 shaping up to be the one for the White House in Washington rather than the podium in London, the IAAF’s annual ‘End of the Season’ marathon review by A. Lennart Julin (SWE) and Mirko Jalava (FIN) left the two statisticians with their mouths agape, writing…“what really made 2011 a year that will be considered of historical significance in the sport of marathon running was that it changed our perception of what is really possible. The best illustration is probably the fact that there were new course records set in all the five races making up the “World Marathon Majors.”

DISTANCE RACING HAS HIT THE WALL made a similar case back in November, but more than simply challenging our perceptions of WHAT was really possible, 2011 showed us unequivocally WHO it was possible by.

There were 182 sub-2:10 marathon performances world-wide in 2011, including those on downhill, point-to-point courses like Boston, which, despite its history and renown, is often left off the statistical lists by the Stat-Nazis in the name of purity over common sense. Of that 182, athletes from Kenya ran 110 (61%) led by Geoffrey Mutai’s 2:03:02 Boston masterpiece and Patrick Makau’s “official” world record 2:03:38 in Berlin.   For the rest of the world – including the mighty Ethiopians with 42 sub-2:10s (22%) - 2011 was the year of nolo contendere.  The U.S. was once again led by Ryan Hall (2) and Meb Keflezighi (1) with three sub-2:10s.

As the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials nears in Houston, Texas January 14th, a look back at where the sport was four years earlier gives us a sobering indication of why the sport of distance running has been transformed into an intra-mural battle among Kenyan camps rather than a world-class competition amongst evenly matched nations.  The tilt has become so severe, that the average jogger/runner has lost all contact with the exploits of their sport’s fastest purveyors as the running industry in the U.S. has settled on participation numbers, economic impact, and charitable contributions as their standards of excellence, speed be damned. Continue reading

STEP BY STEP

     In the classic Three Stooges episode, Slowly I Turned, first Mo – then Larry - smashes, hits, punches, and tears poor Curly’s clothing before knocking him to the ground, all for reminding him of his confrontation with Larry (then vice versa) in Niagra Falls over a woman.   After Curly innocently utters the offending city’s name, triggering the attacks, Mo and Larry’s refrain goes, “Niagra Falls! Slowly I turned, and step by step, inch by Inch…”  (Of course, all men can recite Stooges episodes by heart. Women think they are dumb. Men agree, but then remind them, “stupidity is the point. It’s purposeful stupidity, a whole different animal than the unintentional kind most often voiced by candidates running for President).

Well, Galen Rupp might not wear his hair in a bowler like Mo or a frizzed out ‘fro like Larry, but step by step, inch by inch the 25 year-old from Portland, Oregon is proving the American distance running equivalent the Stooges’ classic set piece.

Yes, I questioned the London 2012 Olympic medal chances of Mr. Rupp upon his seventh place finish in Daegu at the World Championships 5000 meters (RUPP‘S DILEMMA), but today at the final Samsung Diamond League meeting of the year in Brussels Rupp took another stride in his step-by-step, inch-by-inch approach to the London Olympic podium in the 10,000 meters. Continue reading

WEEKEND THOUGHTS

Proud Father

     Everyone was happy for Meb Keflezighi’s 62:46 win at Sunday’s Dodge Rock `n` Roll Half-Marathon in his hometown of San Diego. Though he’d run the nearby Carlsbad 5000 before, technically, it was Meb’s first race at home as a pro, and first since competing in the Aztec Invitational as a UCLA student 15 years ago – at least as best coach Bob Larsen could recall. And though matters turned into more of an exhibition run than competition for the hometown hero after Kenya’s Martin Lel dropped out after 10K, with so many old friends cheering him through the picturesque bayside course, and his proud dad Russom holding him aloft at the finish, it was a priceless day, nonetheless.  Continue reading