2014 TCS NEW YORK CITY MARATHON REVIEW

On the bridge before the start

Starched flags fly on the bridge before the start

New York City Marathon Logo TCSNew York, New York — A cold, blustery day welcomed the 50,0000 runners at the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon.  Once again I was aboard the lead men’s motorcycle camera bike providing commentary for the ESPN2 television coverage. Here is how the men’s race played out from that close vantage point.

My misery index had been set the day before during a frigid, rain-drenched TV rehearsal, and I wasn’t going to be caught cold again.  In the 43 degree Fahrenheit conditions with NNW winds blowing at a steady 20 – 25 mph, gusting even higher, I wore so many layers on Sunday morning I must have resembled a Russian nesting doll.

From the racer’s standpoint such conditions are the functional equivalent of adding distance to the event. Last year the 48 degree temps and 15-19 mph headwinds tacked about one kilometer onto the standard 42.2K in terms of finishing time, as 2011 course record holder Geoffrey Mutai won his second title in 2:08:24.  Same guy, same course, same effort, but three minutes slower than his course record 2:05:06.  And since A-level male marathoners race at or near 3:00/km, conditions on November 2, 2014 might mean a full mile extra effort would be added to the already testing course. Continue reading

BATTLE LINES DRAWN IN KENYAN TAX REVOLT

PAAK

PAAK

Taxation can impoverish as well as replenish, overturn empires or elevate kings. It is getting the balance right that counts.   Last Wednesday 400+ members of Kenya’s running nobility gathered in Eldoret, the center of Kenyan running in the North Rift Valley, to unite in opposition to an imposition, an imposition of a direct tax on their athletic earnings.

In one voice the athletes said, nay! we already pay indirect tax via the local levies on holdings, businesses, and the like.  (Athletes are the Republicans in this scenario, the trickle down, job-creators.)  On the other side sits the Kenyan Revenue Authority (KRA) which says the law is simple, all Kenya citizens must pay (30%) tax on all earnings.

But as always in Kenya, there is the law and then there is the policy.  For years Kenyan athletes have been seen as ambassadors for their country, elevating its world standing by their superb racing exploits. What’s more, their income was considered an engine of commerce as they poured their earnings back into their local economies.   And since those businesses and investments were always subjected to taxation, the athletes say the imposition of a direct tax on earnings would not only stifle future economic development, it would double tax them as their earnings are already taxed in the countries in which they race.

But there’s more to it than that.  Just 50 years free from British colonial rule, Kenya remains a young nation, and the ties that bind a nation together are not as developed as one might assume. What further underlies the athletes’ opposition to the new policy is the duplicity they see as coming from the government.

Kenyan Parliamentarians are among the highest paid in the world in a nation whose citizens earn an average $1800 per year.  Last summer the MPs succumbed to public pressure and agreed to drop their salaries by nearly 40%, but from $120,000 a year to $75,000!  Then they voted themselves exempt from paying any tax!  That’s good work if you can get it.

The argument from the KRA vantage point says that the policy of not directly taxing the athletes’ income was initiated decades ago when there was just a trickle of men running overseas. Today, that trickle has become a torrent, and the time for such a lenient tax policy has long since passed, and the athletes must now be treated like any other citizen.  Thus, what we see is one side looking to overturn tradition, while the other wants to maintain its legacy. Continue reading

2013 – YEAR IN REVIEW

BostonStrong     The biggest, as well as saddest, story in running this past year was the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April. Of such magnitude were the Boylston Street explosions, and of such duration their reverberations, that the episode represented the second most searched item on Google for the year — running only behind the car crash death of Fast & Furious movie star Paul Walker.

Bag Checks, the new standard

The new standard

The entire Boston bombing saga left the city, nation, and world seeking a new equilibrium as security was markedly ramped up at civic events everywhere — probably never to be returned to pre-Patriot’s Day levels for the foreseeable future, if ever.

Kenmore Square desolate at midday.

Kenmore Square stood desolate at midday two days after the Boston bombings.

The week following was a sober reminder of an unfortunate truth, terrorism works.  Not since the anti-war days of the late Sixties and early `70s had I witnessed anything as close to marshal law in the U.S. as I did during the week after the Boston Marathon — though in this case it was self-imposed.  During that interval when the two Chechnyan brother bombers remained unknown and at large, the Boston metro area was held in the grip of a palpable fear.

I do not envy the Boston Athletic Association its task of threading the needle between respectful commemoration and unintended validation come next Patriot’s Day.

Continue reading

PERILOUS PEAK OF PERFECTION

     Runner’s World Newswire put out a story October 23rd by Peter GambacciniFormer Elite’s Advice for Ryan Hall – in the wake of Hall’s pull out from the November 3rd ING New York City Marathon, the third straight major marathon Ryan has been signed to run, but been unable to start.  The advice ranged from “…go back to Kenya and get into a group that most of the top guys are training in and give it more than a few months,” from fellow 2008 Olympic marathoner Brian Sell, to “…You should focus on breaking the 4:00 mile,” from 1972 Olympic 1500m bronze medalist and 1983 New York City Marathon champion Rod Dixon of New Zealand.

Everyone has advice and an opinion, a testament to the regard the industry has for Ryan, the man, and the hope it carries for his position in the sport.  But maybe the best advice would be for Ryan, or any other American, to discover a time machine and dial it back about 30 years when being number one from sea to shining sea could be the same as being number one in the world.  Today that connection has long since been broken, in fact, the gap between the two continues to spread with each passing season and each marathon run. Continue reading

WILL 1500m SPEED DETERMINE MARATHON LIMITS?

Wilson Kipsang, world record grin

Wilson Kipsang, world record grin

The ink isn’t even dry on Wilson Kipsang’s new marathon world record (2:03:23) from last Sunday in Berlin, and already speculation has begun over what might be next for the iconic distance event.

Golfing legend Gary Player, winner of nine major titles and countless others world-wide, believes we have yet to see the best golf there is to play, notwithstanding Tiger Woods and the now more athletic generation that Woods has inspired.

“We haven’t seen a Jordan or a Shaq on Tour yet,” Player told ESPN’s SportsNation recently.  “And when we do they will hit 420 yards, and courses will be obsolete.”

Like golf, running has dipped its toes into a new pool of talent where we begin to question the definition of endurance.  This past Sunday in Berlin Kipsang broke countryman Patrick Makau’s two-year old marathon world record by 15 seconds on the same course that has hosted the last five marathon world records. But with double Olympic track champion Mo Farah of England about to give the distance a full go in London next April, are we on the cusp of a brave new world? Continue reading

2013 LONDON MARATHON – MEN’S PREVIEW

London 2013

London 2013

London,England – Of course, anything can happen, but on this final day before Sunday’s 33rd Virgin London Marathon the talk around the Tower Hotel hard along the rolling Thames River has turned to the what-ifs.  What if the men go for the world record?  Who will make the first break when the rabbits depart? What if Mo Farah, the double Olympic Brit track champ going along for the ride for the first half, does something beyond sit off the back and observe? What if the stacked field doesn’t go with the pacers and turns inward and tactical instead?  Ah, racing, that most unpredictable of all dramas.

The 2013 London Marathon has been billed as a world record attempt, but with this many top dogs in the hunt, the win is one for the ages, regardless of the winning time.  So for me, the men’s race comes down to motivation.  With the credentials of this field — five World Marathon Majors course record holders, ten sub-2:06 men, including six of the fastest ten in history — every contender has known big success.  But Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich already has the prize everyone else wanted, the Olympic gold medal from 2012.  Defending champion Wilson Kipsang holds the London title and the Olympic bronze, and is the second quickest marathon man in history off his 2:03:42 win in Frankfurt 2011, just four seconds shy of Patrick Makau’s world record (2:03:38) from Berlin 2011. Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede arrives as the 2012 Chicago course record holder and 2010 London champ.  But it’s Makau and the world’s fastest marathoner, Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02) from Boston 2011 who stand out as the two most invested in revenge, a powerful emotional tool. Continue reading

LONDON – PRECAUTIONS IN PLACE BUT READY FOR SUNDAY’S BIG RACE

London, England — VIPs from the running world gathered beneath the London Tower Bridge this evening aboard the luxury river yacht the Silver Sturgeon for a welcome celebration to the 33rd Virgin London Marathon.  But though the professional fields for Sunday’s races are the best in the world this year, and perhaps the best in London’s illustrious history, not surprisingly the topic most under discussion remained the terror attack at Monday’s Boston Marathon.

Race directors of America’s two largest marathons, Mary Wittenberg of New York City and Carey Pinkowski of Chicago, huddled together to consider what the industry as a whole might do in response rather than just what the six World Marathon Majors might put forward.  Then first year London race director Hugh Brasher, son of event co-founder Chris Brasher, addressed the crowd welcoming them to the city, but also remembering the loss suffered in Boston.  Hugh next introduced defending men’s champion and Olympic Marathon bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang of Kenya who spoke movingly in the name of his fellow athletes.

“We would like to express our condolences to those who lost loved ones in Boston,” he began standing on a staircase overlooking the crowd.  “But we will run feeling free. We won’t worry about security when we’re running.  We are ready to run well on Sunday, and maybe break the course record or even the world record.” Continue reading