NEW YORK 2019 PREVIEW – WELL TUNED

The marathon world is in the middle of a technological revolution these days, witnessing a new era of high performance. It will be interesting see if that revolution continues on the streets of New York City on November 3, 2019.

The revolution isn’t just coming from the ground up via the stacked midsole, carbon-plated shoes that have tongues wagging and federations investigating. Another developing change in the marathon world has been in the athletes’ total focus. Many men like world record holder Eliud Kipchoge and second all-time Kenenisa Bekele no longer do a tune up race at all before their marathons, while those that do are running them much faster than their predecessors.

For instance, last year Shura Kitata ran 59:16 in Philadelphia as part of his NYC buildup. That prepped him for a second place finish in NYC in 2:06:01 behind training partner Lelisa Desisa’s 2:05:59 win.

Back in the day it was rare for anyone to even break 61 in their half tune up for fear they would find themselves too sharp for the more conservative pace required in the double distance. Now that theory is another that seems to have been tossed into the dust bin of history. Continue reading

2019 KIGALI INTERNATIONAL PEACE MARATHON – VIDEO

As the biggest marathon of the year gears up for its 42nd running in New York City this Sunday, thought I’d post a video of an exotic marathon we covered from earlier this year in the central east African nation of Rwanda.

What’s the story of Rwanda?  Out of darkness -> light. Kwibuka – Remember, Unite, Renew.

So it is with the marathon. And so thousands of people from 55 nations lined up at Amahoro National Stadium to contend with 42.2 kilometers. Some to remember, others to renew, but all to unite.

The 15TH KIGALI INTERNATIONAL PEACE MARATHON                                        A story of remembrance, redemption, and renewal.

 

Check out their website https://kigalimarathon.org For more information about the 2020 Kigali International Peace Marathon,

 

END

NEW YORK CITY 2011 – LOOK BACK AT A RECORD RUN

With cool weather expected and the nature of the current game where no record is safe, thought I’d bring us back to 2011, the year Geoffrey Mutai set what still stands as the New York City Marathon course record, 2:05:06.  This account comes directly from journal #182, 6 November 2011.

New York 2011

40°F and clear, 48% humidity under calm flag conditions. Only going up to 56F, the perfect day for the 42nd running of the ING (now TCS) New York City Marathon.

Besides the NYCM title itself, two other factors will come into play on the men’s side today. Though unofficial, this will serve as an Olympic selection for several top Kenyans, notably Geoffrey and Emmanual Mutai (unrelated) the Boston and London course record holders.

With two-time world champion Abel Kirui and world record holder Patrick Makau already selected for London 2012, only one spot remains open. Kenyan Athletics chairman Isaiah Kiplagat has said the decision will be made after today’s race.

Another factor will be the completion of the 2010 – 2011 World Marathon Majors series. Five men remain in contention for the series title and $500,000 prize.

Emmanuel Mutai is in the best position, sitting second in the current standings just five points behind Berlin Marathon champion Patrick Makau, who has completed his season. A first or second place finish today would wrap up the series win for Emmanuel. If he takes third or worst, it opens the door for Geoffrey Mutai, Tsegaye Kebede and Gebre Gebremariam if they win.

The women set off first.

The big favorite is Kenyan Mary Keitany, the London Marathon champion looking to answer Russia’s Lilya Shobukhova’s 2:18:20 win in Chicago last month. Mary debuted in New York City 2010, but was a deer in the headlights, overwhelmed by the size of the city and the prospect of her first marathon. She finished third behind fellow Kenyan Edna Kiplagat and American Shalane Flanagan as all three played a cautious game until the end.

Today, fearful no more, the tiny terror lit out from Staten Island like there was a close-out sale waiting in Manhattan. She was alone by the time she turned right onto fourth Avenue in Brooklyn coming off Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

At 2 miles she was at 10:29 which was faster than the men’s 2 mile split in 2010 (10:55). It’s one thing not to be cautious….

Her 10K split, 31:52, which would’ve placed her second at the New York Mini 10K in June, crazy! At one point she was on 2:14 pace with a course record of 2:22:31 from 2003 by Margaret Okayo, that seemed  a tad excessive.

A half hour after the women the men begin, and this time with no pacesetters. The large contingent begins modestly, 24:40 at 5 miles which is just 2:09 pace. But as they weave through Brooklyn, they begin to knock off sub-4:50 miles (3:00/km) with regularity and slowly begin nearing course record pace.

Keitany stretches her lead with each passing mile, hitting the half in 1:07:56, a crazy split. Behind, a pack of four forms up, also under course record pace hitting a half in 1:10:08. They include Bronx-based Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba, fellow Ethiopians Werknesh Kidane and Firehiwot Dado, along with Boston champion Caroline Kilel of Kenya. 

Miles 14 and 15 through Queens took 5:26 and 5:37 for Keitany after her series of sub-5:10 miles earlier in the race. Her lead peaks at 2:21 as she crossed the 59th St. Bridge heading into Manhattan.

In 2001, Tesfaye Jifar of Ethiopia set the 2:07:43 course record in NYC, the longest standing course record of all five Marathon Majors. But with today’s deep field and ideal conditions, it seems all but sure we will see new ground broken.  Continue reading

SOLES DISCRETION

First of all, the athletes out-trained the distance years ago. In that sense, the mighty marathon has been brought to heel. No longer a spirit draining test of endurance, today the marathon has been reduced to just another speed event contested over a longish distance. It’s no longer, runner beware. It’s distance be damned!

We saw a reflection of that again this weekend when Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha won the Valencia Half Marathon In 59:05. A generation ago you would never have seen an athlete who set an indoor world record in the mile in March (3:47.01) transfer so fluidly to a sub-60 half-marathon in October of the same year (see list below).

Attitudes about the challenges in distance running have simply changed along with many other factors that continue to make headlines in and out of courtrooms.

These days for the marathon to grow its fangs back requires severe weather. And even then – as we saw in Doha at the World Championships in September – the very top echelon of runners are merely slowed rather than halted.

This coming weekend in New York City, the marathon will once again be finished by 95+% of its 50,000 starters, while up front a handful of contenders will race the entire distance and seem ready for more if the necessity arose.

To all of that, we now add a better mouse trap, the Nike Vaporfly shoes. This past weekend in Frankfurt, we witnessed a final four of identically garbed and footed runners battling into the final kilometer before a champion was decided.

Final four in final sprint in Frankfurt.

1. Fikre Tefera ETH 2:07:08
2. Dawit Wolde ETH 2:07:10
3. Aweke Yimer BRN 2:07:12
4. Martin Kosgey KEN 2:07:20

As long as all wore the same gear, then what ensued was indeed a test to determine who amongst them was the better athlete. But for those employing any other footwear than Vaporflys, the route was not level. The ones wearing the better energy transfer mechanisms were in another class. A different metabolic cost per stride was in play. Continue reading

FUTURE THOUGHTS

In this month of October 2019, the marathon world seemed to have turned a corner, or broken a barrier – however you want to put it – with the first sub-2 hour marathon for men in Vienna, Austria and an 81-second world record for the women in Chicago, Illinois.

The first performance was somewhat expected having come on the heels of a very close, but eventually unsuccessful attempt two years ago in Monza, Italy.  The successful second assault in Vienna was conducted like clockwork in a tightly controlled setting with pacers behind lasers that didn’t vary by more than four seconds per 5Km split on the repeatable route.

The second headline in Chicago came as something of a shock, considering the record it topped was already thought of as an outlier. But unlike the men’s sub-2 in Austria, the new women’s record in Illinois was run in a competitive setting (though without actual competition) led by two male pacers who went out way too hard yet managed to salvage the record at the end. Which leads one to believe there is more time to scrub from Brigid Kosgei’s 2:14:04 with more consistent pacing, much less other tweaks, official or otherwise.  And Kosgei herself has already posited a women’s 2:10 in the future, though for herself she set the limit at 2:12 – 2:13.

What both these performances had in common were the nationality of the two athletes, Kenyan, and the brand and model of shoes that were worn, Nike Vaporfly Next%, or prototypes built specifically for each.

And so after this seismic month of miraculous running, what’s next?  Already the IAAF is looking into the legality of the shoes based on a protest lodged by several elite runners accusing the Nike Vaporflys of producing an unfair competitive advantage. Though there is an initial belief that the shoes will be found to be within proscribed limits.

*

In 1989, American Greg LeMond won the Tour de France by eight seconds over Frenchman Laurent Fignon, the previous two-time Tour winner.

The eight-second margin made it the closest finish in TDF history, as LeMond was trailing Fignon by fifty seconds at the start of the final stage into Paris, and was not expected to be able to make up this deficit. But he completed the 24.5 km time trial at an average speed of 54.545 km/h (33.893 mph), at the time the fastest individual time trial ever ridden in the Tour. Fignon’s time was fifty-eight seconds slower, costing him the victory and giving LeMond his second Tour title by that scant eight second margin.

Greg LeMond in 1989 Tour de France

In that famous time trial, Lemond used aero bars clamped onto his traditional handlebars. The ‘89 TDF marked the first time such aero bars were used in competition. The aerodynamic advance proved to be the difference between first and second place. Now everyone uses aero bars, while overall bike technology has continued to evolve and improve ever since.

In sport, as in society, change remains the only constant. Trying to stem it is an exercise in futility. Continue reading

RUNNING HISTORY LESSONS WITH RAMON

We had a guy come over to the house yesterday to install a backup device on our computer by the name of Ramon, a fast fingered tech guy.

As he worked we got to talking about all the audio tapes on the desk from my old Runners Digest radio show in Boston and I went and showed him an interview I did with Bobbi Gibb in 1980 explaining how she was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1966 but how she had to sneak into the race cause women weren’t allowed to run back then and how all these years later a statue is going to be erected in her honor at the start line next April and, yea, she is actually the sculptor of her own younger likeness.

Old tapes waiting to be digitized from Runners Digest days

And then I told the story about how the following year another woman named Kathrine Switzer got entered by her coach from Syracuse University, not out of any devious plan, just that he had a bunch of people to enter and used their initials rather than first names. So the BAA didn’t know she was a woman when the entries arrived, so they just sent back the bib numbers for everybody when if they knew she was a woman they wouldn’t have sent one to her.

But then when they saw a real live woman actually running in their race with a bib number on her chest, well this one official had a cow and came charging out to try to grab the number from her. but he found out real quick that Kathrine’s boyfriend was a hammer-thrower who blocked this older Scotsman into the bushes and the whole thing was photographed by the media and instantly went viral worldwide and how that became a real marker in the early stages of the women’s movement.

And Ramon was a bit taken aback by it all, being as he was still in his late 20s or so, and hadn’t ever heard the whole saga.  

But then he wanted to know “is that the one that cheated?”

“Kathrine? Oh, God, no. That was Rosie Ruiz.”

And off I went telling him how Rosie had died recently, and how sad her whole story was and how she really didn’t mean to cheat to win back in 1980, she just wanted to cheat for a decent time, but jumped in too soon and then wouldn’t admit it after they gave her the olive wreath and medal, you know, a screwup, like Mulvaney.

Ramon consolidated more files and said, “I think I read something about that.”

“Which one?” I asked  “Mulvaney or Rosie?”

Before he could answer I told him “you know the women’s world record in the marathon was just broken last weekend in Chicago by a Kenyan lady Brigid Kosgei.”

“She beat Usain Bolt’s time, right?”

“No, Bolt ran the 100 and 200 and besides women can’t run with the best men, testosterone and all that.”

Which brought up the subject of the recent IAAF ruling on testosterone levels for Caster Semenya and the other inter-sex women athletes. And you try to explain that phenomenon to a computer technician. Anyway, on it went, one thing touching upon another.

Ramon’s head was beginning to spin by this time like the internal mechanism of that USB drive he was all but finished installing. 

Our two cats came over to check him out and  musta thought he was a good human cause they sidled right up. Ramon said he had seven cats of his own. I guess they could tell.

Ramon fixed us up real good on the computer, reset some folders, cleaned up the home screen. He was the kind of guy that knew his trade very well even knew some snippets of running here and there, but just enough to be completely confused. Like me with computers.

And so it goes.

Bobbi’s statue in her studio

END

SUB TWO-HOUR MAN

(Set to Don McLean’s tune Vincent)

 

Sub Two-Hour Man,

With your pacers in their split array,

Gazing out upon a misty day,

As they lead you toward a time beyond the pale,

*

Lasers on the road,

Markers for your rhythmic skills,

While wearing Vaporflys not espadrilles,

With soles that flex the carbon beneath your stride,

How easily you glide,

*

Before crowds along the tree-lined way,

An addition from that Monza day,

Stand anxious in Vienna’s autumn chill,

*

Now I think I know,

What you tried to do for me,

And how you were ridiculed for your audacity,

And how you tried to just let it be,

Skeptics would not listen, we did not know how,

Perhaps we’ll listen now. Continue reading