AUSTIN MARATHON MATCHING CITY GROWTH

Austin, TX. – At last week’s Running USA conference in Austin, Texas the question confronting the industry was ‘why the steady slide in road race participation over the last three years, and how to combat it?’

Pricing increases, calendar glut, and competition from other fitness platforms offer some insight into the reasons. But we have gone through almost 50 years of fitness and hard bodies as the Baby Boom generation moved like a cultural pig in a python through the second half of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries.

Perhaps a question to ponder: Was it inevitable that there was going to be a backlash against the Boomer’s cultural impact, and road racing is just another example?  What generation ever wants to do what their parents did?  After all, rock ‘n’ roll was supplanted as the dominant musical expression by hip hop, and the 2018 Winter Olympics ain’t nothing your grandma’s Lake Placid.

“All our events are bucking that trend,” countered High Five Events CEO Jack Murray the day before the 27th Austin Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K. “Our 3M Half (Jan. 21st) was up 1500 this year to 8000. And it was up 1000 last year, too. The Cap 10,000 when we took it over four or five years ago had 13,000, 14,000. Now we have over 20,000.”

One thing Murray has going, as well, is a city experiencing major population growth with a well established running community. According to Census Bureau figures, the Austin area’s population soared 19 percent from 2010 to 2016. During that time, the region added nearly 330,000 residents; close to the number of people living in the entire city of Corpus Christi.

“We also have a team that is up on new ways to attract entrants,” explained Murray. “Early Groupon, give aways, combos. During a 4-day period we donated all registration fees from the 3M Half and the Austin Marathon to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, which totaled around $55,000.

“Today people know what a professional event looks like via social media. So we are competing not just against other running events, but against every other kind of event. And we have to deliver a similar product.”

Tomorrow’s Austin Half Marathon is up 1000 entrants from last year, the 5K another 1000, while the marathon held steady as it introduced a new, faster course late in the sign up period. The prize money had also increased for the second straight year with High Five at the helm.  It is all part of a drive for Austin to host the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials.

The days of out-sized growth in the running industry may be gone, but just as the best runners maintain their careers by an unrelenting attention to detail and process, so, too, must the best events in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

You can watch live coverage of the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon live-streamed on Flotrack.org beginning tomorrow morning at 6:45 am. central time.

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WHY PEOPLE START RUNNING

Every religion has its Creation story.  All runners do, too. And while most very fast runners generally had their beginnings on organized track teams in school or clubs,  the vast majority of citizen runners we see in weekend races come to the sport later in life.  Personally, I began running because my mother was Polish.

First of all, it wasn’t like Mom had been a runner, or that the Polish people were necessarily fast in the same sense that Central Highland born Kenyans and Asela-generated Ethiopians were fast – although the Poles do have a couple great 800 meter men right now in Marcin Lewandowski and Adam Kszczot.  No, it’s because without realizing it, Mom attached to my small American male body what was considered by my peers to be a girl’s name, a combination that created issues that running seemed to address quite nicely, as in fight or flight.

See, my namesake is Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost items – “St. Anthony,  please, tell God I lost my lunch money.”  Anyway, A-N-T-H-O-N-Y is how we in the West spell that saint’s name. Thus the diminutive becomes TONY. But in Poland, they spell that saint’s name A-N-T-O-N-I.  Accordingly, TONI is what I now had for a handle. And that one single letter difference is why I began running. Continue reading

TIME, TIME, TIME, LOOK WHAT’S BECOME OF ME

There are those who put a lot of stock in birth order in determining a person’s psychological development. Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler (1870-1937) was one of the first in his field to suggest that birth order played a determinative role in how one approached friendships, love, and work. Later studies challenged his birth-order theory, but generally speaking first-born children were said to be more conscientious and achievement oriented, while laterborns were more rebellious, open, and agreeable. (Sounds about right in my sibling lineup)

But beyond in what order you may have been born within your own family, there is also something to be said for being born at the right time in the history of man in determining one’s future path. Not in the astrological sense, as in Mercury being in retrograde when mom spit you out, but in the sense of coming along when the world is prepared to appreciate and remunerate your particular skill set.

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Aussie great Derek Clayton

When Australia’s Derek Clayton reset the marathon world record in Antwerp, Belgium in 1969 at 2:08:34, he broke his own record of 2:09:37 set in Fukuoka, Japan two years earlier. But riddle me this? Who were the guys back in Nairobi, Ngong, Eldoret, or Iten, Kenya at the time who weren’t racing in Fukuoka or Antwerp?  Who were the guys that we never knew, never heard of, but may well have been the best marathoners of their generation but never were? Continue reading

WOMEN’S MARATHONING 2010 – 2017

Now for the women. As with the men, East African women populate the top ranks of the year-end distance running lists. However, in the marathon, the Kenyan women were not nearly as dominant as their men.

Ethiopian women have consistently  outdone their southern neighbors over the last eight years, notching 77 (35%) of the 220 sub-2:30 women’s performances in 2017, compared with 72 (32.7%) for Kenyan women.

But while only 14 nations produced a sub-2:10 men’s performance in 2017, 82.75% from Kenya and Ethiopia (actually a somewhat down year from more traditional 90%) 20 nations were on the sub-2:30 women’s list last year, with Japan at 16 (7.27%), and America 12 (5.45%).

The differences between men and women world-wide speak to the gaps in societal acceptance for, and/or promotion of women’s sporting opportunities. Continue reading

MARATHONING 2017 – BY THE #s

When the calendar flips I always like to do a deeper dive into the past year in marathon running, just to see what the numbers might suggest.  And from the looks of it, not much changed in 2017 other than the Breaking2 Project in Monza, Italy in May when world #1 Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya came oh, so close to 1:59:59.

Other than that, it was more general excellence out of East Africa,  undercut by yet another drug sanction of a TOP echelon athlete (2016 London and Rio Olympic champion, Kenyan Jemima Sumgong).  And, finally,  though their times weren’t any different than in previous years, there were two American breakthrough wins in Majors at the end of the season, Galen Rupp in Chicago, then Shalane Flanagan in New York City.  But in this post I focus on the men.

Here are the numbers, then, as I attempted to count them on the IAAF.org site, and a comparison with the earlier years of this teens decade in century 21.

BREAKDOWN OF SUB-2:10s 2017

Total – 186
Kenyan –   113 (60.75%)
Ethiopian – 41 (22%)
American –    2 (Galen Rupp, 2:09:20, 1st in Chicago)
TOP time – 2:03:32, Eliud Kipchoge, Berlin

2016
Total- 150
Kenyan –     98 (65.3%)
Ethiopian-  39 (26%)
American –   0 (Galen Rupp, 2:10:05, 3rd, Rio Olympics)
TOP time – 2:03:03, Keninisa Bekele, Berlin

2015
Total – 172
Kenyan –     97 (56.4%)
Ethiopian – 57 (33.13%)
American –    0 (Luke Puskedra, 2:10:24, 5th in Chicago)
TOP time: 2:04:00, Eliud Kipchoge, Berlin

2014
Total – 180
Kenyan –  106 (58.88%)
Ethiopian – 57 (31.6%)
American –    1 (Meb Keflezighi,  2:08:37, 1st in Boston)
TOP time – 2:02:57, Dennis Kimetto, Berlin

2013
Total – 189
Kenyan –    99 (52.4%)
Ethiopian- 61 (32.2%)
American –   1 (Dathan Ritzenhein, 2:09:45, 5th in Chicago)
TOP time – 2:03:23, Wilson Kipsang, Berlin

2012
Total – 220
Kenyan –  120 (54.5%)
Ethiopian – 64 (29%)
American –    5 (Dathan Ritzenhein (twice), 2:07:47, 9th in Chicago, also Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, Abdi Abdirahman)
TOP time- 2:04:15, Geoffrey Mutai, Berlin

2011
Total – 182
Kenyan –  110 (61%)
Ethiopian – 42 (22%)
American –    3 (Ryan Hall (twice), 2:04:58, 4th in Boston, also Meb)
TOP time – 2:03:02. Geoffrey Mutai, Boston

2010
Total – 144
Kenyan –     79 (54.86%)
Ethiopian – 47 (32.6%)
American –    0 (Brett Gotcher, 2:10:36, 7th in Houston)
TOP time – 2:04:48, Patrick Makau, Rotterdam

Conclusions?

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ONSET RUNNING AS WE ONSET 2018

As we exit Anno Domini 2017 and enter the new year of 2018, there are many here among us who have resolved to make a better man or woman of themselves in the coming twelve months.  And within that set of resolutionists are many who have chosen running as the means to their end.

To each who have made that choice, we rose-lipt maidens and lightfoot lads who made that same resolution long ago say, good choice and good luck.  But we also remind you that nothing good comes easily, nor would you want it to.  A better you isn’t something that can be wrapped and left beneath the Christmas tree.  Instead, it presents in the form of a long, drawn-out process that builds day by day, week by week, month by month.  Yes, the running hustle exacts a toll for its rewards and pleasures.

For that toll alone, it strikes many as amazing that any endeavor requiring discomfort and delayed gratification ever caught on in the first place in this ADHD society, much less that it swelled to the size that it has – which, BTW, is somewhat below its peak numbers of 2014.

Notwithstanding, as anyone who picked up running in their adult years can tell you, the first time you try it you end up overheating like a  `71 Ford Pinto, feel a severe pain in your side like Jesus being doubt-probed by Thomas, and possibly end up bent at the waist wheezing like you’re trying to make music through the broken toe of an old wooden leg.  And that’s before you ever get pushed, in which case there is likely to be vomiting involved. In other words, onset running is a lot like onset cigarette smoking.  That anyone continues either after day one, much less for decades, is stunning.  So, evidently, there has to be something there that isn’t apparent at the start. Continue reading

BAD SANTA 2

Times were lean in 1974. In fact, it had been a rough year all around. In the first months of that annus horribilis, the Arab oil embargo still had gas lines wrapped around the block for hours on end. Then, as we sweltered through August, President Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal, leaving the country in a state of political shock.  By year’s end the inflation rate had run up to 11.3%.

For me, a new arrival in Boston from St. Louis, though spirits were high, money in the kitty was low, meaning no trip back home for the holidays. But then a friend called, and said a friend of hers was in charge of seasonal hiring at Filene’s Department store in downtown Boston, and would I like an appointment?

Stepping off the Red Line subway train at Park Street station beneath Boston Common amidst the bustle of the holiday crowd, I could make out the plaintive strains of Harrry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle spilling out of a passerby’s boom-box, as Harry’s hit held down the #1 slot on the Billboard charts that Christmas week. Up the escalator, then two cobblestone blocks later I was in Downtown Crossing at Filene’s flagship store sitting opposite my potential benefactress.

“Most of the Christmas jobs have already been filled,” she informed me as she paged through a sheaf of forms. “But we do have an opening for a second shift Santa in the toy department.”

“Ho, Ho, Ho!,” I boomed in my best broadcaster’s voice, hoping that would offset my very un-Santa-like six-foot, 160-pound frame. Next thing I knew I was being fitted with a pillow-enhanced Santa outfit, and a Lysol-soaked Santa’s beard.

As I sat upon Santa’s throne on my first day on the job, elves at my feet, the store stood resplendent in its holiday dress, the line of children and their parents stretched as far as the eye could see. At first, I found it entertaining to take the little tykes upon my lap, ask them how they’d been that year, and follow on with what they’d like for Christmas. I quickly realized, however, that most children, especially the young ones whose parents most wanted a picture with Santa, were not only timid about coming near, much less touching Santa, many were downright afraid of the oddly-shaped, oddly-clad, oddly-odored Mr. Claus.

Crying, squirming, and outright bawling became the norm as I attempted to quiet their fears and hold them close enough for the photographer to snap the prize-winning $12.95 photo for the family scrapbook. On occasion, a particularly wigged out tot would pee on Santa’s lap. When it all became too much, I’d excuse myself with “Well, time go feed the reindeer up on the roof.”

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Bad Santa

A solid week of this Santa impersonating went by. I knew I’d reached my limit when instead sugar plums, the smell of Lysol and urine invaded my dreams. Then one day after seeing the line of children awaiting me stretch off into the distance as I awaited my shift in the Santa green room, it came to me while reading Carl Yung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, my Ah-Hah! moment of clarity.

After spritzing on a last coat of Lysol to protect me from the previous germ-toting Santa, and inserting that morning’s Boston Herald under my Santa pantaloons to protect me from the bladder challenged members among generation Y, I trudged up to my throne. As the first of what would be 100s of tykes took his place upon my lap, I began my newly enhanced line of inquiry.

“Ho, Ho, Ho, and what’s your name, little boy?”

“Charlie.”

“Well, tell me Charlie, have you been a good boy this year?”

“Yes,” he replied shyly with just a hint of trepidation, like he knew that I knew that he knew that I knew.

“Well, Charlie, you know it is my job to keep track of these things, and I can assure you that you have, indeed, been a very good little boy this year. So, don’t be shy, okay?”

And with that, I gazed out into the sea of expectant faces, both young and old, and declared for all to hear, especially the parents, “And Charlie, because I know you’ve been a very good boy this year, I, as Santa, the one who decides who’s been naughty or nice, can now inform you that you will get everything you want this year for Christmas. Every! Last! Thing!”

I allowed my gaze to linger until the full meaning of my declaration gained purchase with the entire audience, at which time I could see the line begin to evaporate from the rear.

“Honey,” I could hear one parent declare, “I think he looks too thin to be the real Santa. Let’s go over to Jordan Marsh.”

My days as Santa didn’t quite make it through the entire holiday season in 1974. When the college kids who had taken Quaaludes started coming around displaying the lack of skeletal rigidity necessary to remain seated upright on my lap, I threw in my beard.

Fortunately, I had made just enough to buy a plane ticket home to visit the family.

In 1975 I took up the sport of running, and never looked back, nor seriously entertained the idea of reprising the Santa role, nor mounting a serious portrayal of any of the other Holiday icons. But bad Santa or not, I always welcomed the chance to don the robes at least once.

“By the way. What’s that fragrance you’re wearing?” asked the folks when I returned home for that Christmas of `74.

“Oh! that. It’s called Ho! Ho! Lysol and Urine,” I replied. “Got it at Filene’s.”

Merry Christmas to one, Merry Christmas to all.

END

(First published Dec. 23, 2011)