MONEYBALL FOR THE MARATHON?

Lahaina, Maui – In 2003 Michael Lewis published Moneyball, a book about how the Oakland Athletics baseball team implemented a more efficient and cost-effective way to evaluate players and strategize game situations based solely on data analysis. Its approach led the Athletics to  player acquisitions  that other teams had overlooked or disregarded, but more importantly, led to success on the diamond.

When the book came out, many a baseball expert was dismissive. But at some point they couldn’t argue with the success the A’s were having using their new methodology.

In the ensuing years, people in many other fields have taken the Moneyball example to reevaluate their businesses, positing that if the old ways of analyzing baseball were in error, couldn’t other suppositions be open to reexamination, as well? Continue reading

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CHAMPIONS TO CLASH IN HONOLULU

Honolulu, Hi – Looking through the winning times of the Honolulu Marathon over the years can take you back to the days before the first Running Boom when 5:00 per mile pace was still the gold standard for world-class marathon running.

Sunset on the eve before the race

Even in today’s world where the race is on for the first sub-2 hour performance, the Honolulu Marathon record of 2:09:39, set last year by Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono, looks as modest as a peck on your sister’s cheek. But when you read the names of Honolulu’s champions, you begin to understand the challenge that heat, humidity, and hills can represent in what remains one of the world’s most iconic city marathons.

Dennis Kimetto feeling the Aloha spirit

This year, for the first time in its 45 years, the marathon world record holder will toe the Honolulu Marathon starting line tomorrow morning at 5 AM. Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto will be joined by over 27,000 fellow adventurers, only a handful of whom have any chance of beating the 33 year-old. But those handful are dangerous, indeed. Continue reading

COOLER WEATHER PREDICTING FAST TIMES IN HONOLULU

Honolulu, HI. – As the countdown to the 45th Honolulu Marathon continues and the hotels along Waikiki Beach fill up with runners, all who assumed that the world’s most tropical marathon would once again offer balmy conditions are now digging into their luggage for any long-sleeve shirt they might have brought along by mistake.

Waikiki Beach

“Only twice before in race history have we seen conditions like this,” said Honolulu Marathon president Jim Barahal as temperatures hovered around the mid-60sF. “In 1986 when Ibrahim Hussein ran a course record (2:11:43), and in 2004 when Jimmy Muindi ran 2:11:12.”

The conditions Dr. Barahal describes are light north winds bringing dipping temps with low humidity. Typical December weather on the islands call for temps ranging from 76F – 87F, rarely falling below 64F, with winds predominately from the east.

Last year with light breezes replacing the traditional trade winds buffeting miles 11-15 along  Kalanianaʻole Highway heading to the marathon turnaround in Hawaii Kai, Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono and 2014 champion Wilson Chebet dueled below the 2004 course record of 2:11:12. Cherono became the first man ever under 2:10 in Honolulu with his 2:09:38 win. Chebet took second in 2:10:50. Continue reading

MIND GAMES

These next two weeks will mark the end of the 2017 marathon year, first with the 71st Fukuoka International Marathon this Sunday in Japan, followed by the 45th Honolulu Marathon on December 10th (where I will be sending reports beginning next Wednesday).

But as the sport gears up for these big year-end competitions, I wanted to go back for one last look at what will go down as the defining race of the American running year, Shalane Flanagan‘s historic win at the TCS New York City Marathon November 5th.

Going back over the news coverage, I noticed an interesting observation in the New York Times story of the women’s competition.  And I was wondering whether other racers noticed it, or saw it as I did.  Here’s how the Times story led up to the moment of truth in the women’s race.

“After 21 miles, the lead pack whittled to three: Keitany, Daska, and Shalane Flanagan, a 36-year-old from Massachusetts, who finished second in New York in 2010. Keitany finally removed her sleeves. The race was on.”

Shalane leads Keitany and Daska down Fifth Avenue (Photo by Photo Run)

As I watched that critical stretch, Shalane, especially, had the contained but concentrated appearance of an athlete with horses at the ready, all controlled energy with a tight hold of the reins. To my eye at least, it looked like from the 20-mile mark on Shalane kept waiting for the real Mary Keitany to show up and throw down because she was poised to respond.

Both Mary and Shalane had come a long way since their marathon debuts in NYC 2010 – – where Shalane took second behind Edna Kiplagat by 20 seconds, with Mary in third, another 21 seconds back in 2:29:01.  Every race has its Alpha, though, and with Ms. Keitany coming in as three-time defending champion and women’s-only world-record setting London zephyr, there was no doubt as to who the leading lady in New York 2017 was.

But as Shalane, Mary, and Mamitu Daska battled down Fifth Avenue alongside the row of elegant apartment buildings on the Upper East Side this year (with Edna trailing in 4th place, BTW), Keitany’s face revealed a mask of just enough discomfort to betray a lost cause.  If she had been the Keitany of the last three years, one would have thought she would have tried to leave a long time ago – hell, last year she won by over 3 1/2 minutes! –  especially at what had been a desultory 2:32 marathon pace early on, no more than a tempo effort for the 2:17:01 winner in London this past spring.  Daska in her NYC debut was the wildcard.  Here’s the Times story again.

… as they made their way down Fifth Avenue, one runner began to break away. Surprisingly, it was not Keitany…In a bizarre decision, Keitany began to drift toward the east side of 5th Avenue, away from Flanagan’s tail, before zigzagging back into the customary route. At that point, though, it was too late to catch the runner from Massachusetts — .”

It’s that bold section I want to draw your attention to. Here’s the question, was it really a bizarre move? Unusual, yes, but –  Continue reading

MEB: WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Pride, rue, chagrin, the emotions any of us feel about our name can run a wide gamut. For instance, my name is Toni, but as you notice, it ends in an I, rather than a Y. That’s because in Poland, birthplace of my mother, they spell Anthony as Antoni, hence, Toni, not Tony (though I answer to both).

Since I reached my majority, no big deal, but as a young boy growing up in the American Midwest, having what my peers considered a girl’s name often proved challenging. In fact, it’s one reason why I started to run.  It was easier and less painful than fighting every time some chump chided me with my ‘girl’s name’ anomaly.

Which brings us to Meb Keflezighi, the American marathon star who was surprised  by several hundred friends, relatives, and fans Monday night (November 13, 2017) at San Diego’s Liberty Station two weeks after he concluded his remarkable career with an 11th place finish at the TCS New York City Marathon at age 42. The retirement  celebration also raised funds benefiting the MEB Foundation, which promotes health education and fitness programs for youth.

Meb arriving with wife Yordanos (photo by Bob Betancourt)

The evening brought into relief once again just how far the man has come. Not just through the long journey from war-torn Eritrea to Italy and finally America as a 12 year-old boy, or on the many ups and downs of his competitive career, from his days at San Diego High to UCLA all the way to the Mount Rushmore of American distance running. No, I mean simply in terms of culture.

Like the name Meb for instance.  The first time you hear it, sounds more like a distance than a name.

“How far did you run today?”

“I got in about sixteen Mebs, and threw in a couple of Hawis for good measure.”

But no matter the obstacle, be it cultural or sporting, Meb always found a way to surmount it and then triumph, while including many, many others in those triumphs along the way. Continue reading

RELENTLESS SHALANE WINS IN NEW YORK CITY

Like many a Boston Marathon finisher, Shalane Flanagan walked downstairs with a tender tred after the race. The Marblehead, Massachusetts native had attacked the old course with a willful intention on Patriot’s Day 2014, convinced that an unrelenting pace from the start would discourage her opponents and set her up for victory.  But now, after the savage pace she set on the rolling hills from Hopkinton to Heartbreak Hill in Newton had shredded her quads, the walk downstairs from the VIP room of the House of Blues to the main stage for that night’s award ceremony was proving to be yet another painful journey.

Once on stage, the top ten women were presented to the boisterous crowd. Shalane was number seven. Then, as the champion (now confirmed drug cheat) Rita Jeptoo of Kenya basked in the spotlight and applause gowned up like a beauty pageant contestant, Shalane stood behind her still unrelenting, still feisty and unbowed.

“You’re welcome,” Shalane said tartly from behind as I introduced Jeptoo to the crowd. We heard her.  It was an acknowledgment that Flanagan knew exactly what role she had played in the fastest Boston Marathon in history, her own 2:22:02 time in seventh being the fastest ever by an American in Boston.

Shalane Flanagan leading the charge in Boston 2014

The plan for Boston 2014 had been set months in advance by Shalane and her Bowerman Track Club coach Jerry Schumacher. And to a degree, it had worked, delivering the 33-year-old to the Boylston Street finish line in exactly the time she was trying to achieve. Unfortunately, it was nearly four minutes behind the drug queen, and two minutes off that which Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia fashioned in second place – 2:19:59.

“When I first heard of Jeptoo (drug bust),” remembered Shalane, “I was angry. But then I was relieved. I could do that two minutes.”

And she nearly did, six months later in Berlin, again gunning for time rather than place. This time it was Deena Kastor‘s American record 2:19:36 from London 2006. Continue reading

NEW WAY TO DEAL WITH PED USE

With Sunday’s running of the TCS New York City Marathon fast approaching, the fields are set, the course is ready, and the viewing parties have all been arranged.  All that’s left is an unsullied journey through the five boroughs with worthy champions awaiting to be crowned.

Only once in 48 years has there been a positive drug test of real consequence at the NYC Marathon, that being Toni Niemzcak of Poland, who finished second in 1986 behind Italy’s Gianni PoliNiemzcak failed a drug test which had discovered a banned steroid in his system.  His position was vacated and prize money not awarded.  There was one other drug positive in 2011, announced in 2012, of Ethiopian Ezkyas Sisay who finished ninth in his 2011 debut and later was found to have utilized the blood booster EPO.   He, too, was DQ’d.

The problem of PED use persists, as New York’s Abbott World Marathon Majors partners in London, Chicago, and Boston have all been repeatedly burned in recent years by Russia’s Lilya Shobukhova and Rita Jeptoo of Kenya.   In 2017, the AWMMs cut their athletic prize for the series title in half from $500,000 to $250,000, while only awarding a portion of that first prize award each year as a hedge against getting hit like they have in the past.  But what else can be done to end this scourge on all sports?  Here’s a tongue-in-cheek suggestion.

 

 

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