The tales of greatness are legion, some from this year of 2011 sure to become legend.  Yet for all the running success that comes pouring out of East Africa, so, too, are there thousands more humbling stories of dreams stunted, and lives that fall victim to the vagaries of some unknown benevolence withheld.

Athlete agent Gerard van de Veen of Volare Sports in The Netherlands has seen both sides up close.  His most famous athlete, Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya, stands at the very pinnacle of racing success as both Boston and New York City Marathon champion and course record setter in 2011.  Mutai’s 2:03:02 in wind-blown Boston was the fastest marathon ever run.

Yet within the same Volare Sports stable for the last eight years was another Kenyan runner, Peter Kiprotich Cherus, whose times might not have challenged the great Mutai, (his PR was 2:08:49, Frankfurt 2007) but whose steadiness afforded him a place at the front of many a marathon as both a competitor and an invaluable and respected pacesetter. That reliability, in turn, afforded him a steady income as well.

Peter winning 2011 Kinmen Marathon

In his time, Peter helped pace the great Ethiopian champion Haile Gebrselassie to his first marathon world record (2:04:26) at the 2007 Berlin Marathon.  In his own name, Peter won important races in The Netherlands, Scotland, and Taiwan, winning the 2011 Kinmen Marathon this past January.

As with just about every top Kenyan athlete, the spoils of racing success were never purely for personal use, but rather were spread to family and friends whose cups were less full, talents less marketable, opportunities less available.  Through his earnings, Peter Kiprotich took care of his wife, Shilla Jepchirchir, and their three children, eight year-old Brian Kimutai, and three year-old twins Eric Kipchumba and Marieke Jepchirchir.   He also shared food, clothing, medical expenses, and school fees with the rest of his family, and knowing that young running talent required time to develop, Peter provided funds for training and rent money for stints at high altitude for several upcoming athletes.

This, then, was the relatively comfortable (and generous) life of a dedicated professional Kenyan runner. Not a top guy, for sure, but a journeyman who took his talent where it would show well and pay best.  Peter Kiprotich Cherus had no illusions, no ill-considered dreams.  For his children he saw a future that could well outstrip his own achievements. But dreams can come with a price in Kenya.  The future is not a brightly lit road, but a darkly held secret, especially if one dreams at night out on the road. Continue reading


Lawi Lalang wins 2011 NCAA Cross Country title

Lawi Lalang wins 2011 NCAA Cross Country title

Politically incorrect or not, the truth is both indisputable and self-evident:  The utter domination of distance running by athletes from East Africa, a continuing trend which has seemed to peak in 2011,  has now begun to shrink the sport itself.  The atrophy is as evident as the hollows beneath Demi Moore’s cheekbones.

More evidence was on display again today at the NCAA D1 Men’s Cross Country Championship in Terre Haute, Indiana in the person of Arizona freshman Lawi Lalang of Kenya.  A wholly inexperienced distance runner who showed up on the Arizona campus last fall “with no competitive running experience whatsoever” according to his Wildcat bio sheet, Lalang was, nevertheless, an easy runaway winner in today’s national championship over his more seasoned competitors.

This stark difference in talent was a contributing factor which led to the recent departure of sub-4:00 high school mile star Lukas Verzbicas from the track program at the University of Oregon to train full-time for triathlon at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs – VERZBICAS CHOOSES TRIATHLON OVER RUNNING.  That was a particularly troubling loss, since it represented another strand of running’s DNA being torn away.  But young Lukas was quite straight forward about his decision.  After winning the ITU World Junior Triathlon Championship this year, he looked at what lie ahead, and didn’t see himself being able to run what he considered world-level times against the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners.  So off he swam /biked to triathlon where no such (dominant) competition awaited.  But the Lukas loss is just another example in an increasing trend that has diminished a once robust sport. Continue reading


     Just last week sub-4:00 high school miler Lukas Verzbicas
announced he was leaving the sport of running at the altar (quitting the University of Oregon after just two months) to run off with the sport of triathlon (enrolling at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs where in January he will join the US Elite Triathlon Academy).

The chat rooms are lit up with how Lukas jilted his Oregon teammates,
but one thing is for sure, this decision by Verbicas is a monumental semaphore waving in the face of running.  Wonder if they see it?

Track and field has been the signature sport of the modern  Olympics for over a century, the sport of the gods (Citius, Altius, Fortius) and yet here is only the fifth high school boy in  U.S. history to go sub-4 in the mile, and instead of embracing one of the most prestigious distance programs in the nation,  learning from one of its most respected coaches – before going on (one would assume) to a long pro career – young Lukas has instead decided to throw in with a hybrid-sport that began as a bar bet in Hawaii in May 1979.

It’s historic in its implications.  Never happened before. And as this seismic shock rolls through running, the sport itself  gears up for its annual governing convention in St. Louis arguing about club-level team uniform logo compliance.  Could it get any more Keystone Cops than that? And you wonder why Lukas  said, “so long, see ya”.

I’ve long been an advocate for pumping up the competitive side of distance running even as the participation, fun-run, charity fund-raising elements have come to dominate that world.  But this might be my turning point, too. When  we can’t even hold one of our historic young runners in our orbit, what’s left? Continue reading


     Theirs was the generation who fought so that we might explore our heritage of freedom without want in a relative peace.  The great majority of them have left us now, but what would they have made of the current America?  Would they be proud?  Understanding?  Sad?  Would they recognize our struggles as extensions of their own?  On this Veteran’s Day 2011, a salute to two soldiers through whom much life was generated, recalling the day when their own lives were first joined.


         A stinging snow had been whipping out of the east all day reducing Lublin to a cauldron of white. Now as Bisia huddled alone outside town attempting to hitchhike south to Krakow as per her orders, along with the toe-numbing cold came a sense of hopelessness, both in her own prospects for a ride, and in the plight of Poland’s future.

The Polish Home Army had been forcibly disbanded in November  1944 as the Soviet Red Army swept west pushing the Germans back toward ultimate  defeat.  Now under Soviet control Bisia’s unit  had been re-assigned to the newly created Berling Division, commanded by the  Polish General Zygmund Berling.  After two months of tank training near Lublin, she  had a short period to report south to the front for assignment.

As the sky slid from a brutish gray to an encompanssing black, Bisia pulled  her coat in tighter, then began walking back to the city through the wind-blown snow with her head down, beyond weary, arriving a little past 6 p.m.

I knew that my sister-in-law Gusia and our friend Olga Wiktor, whose husband had property not far from our home in Lesko, were in Lublin at the time, because it was not along the front lines.  So I headed to the Artist’s Cafe which was  where I knew Gusia would probably be.

The Artist’s Cafe occupied the first floor corner of a gray stone building at 1  Peowiaków Street a few blocks north of Plac Unia Lubelska, the main plaza in  town named for the union of Poland and Lithuania in 1556.  The cafe was run by a group of movie and radio artists who had no work because of the war. So they banded together to  run this small cafe.

The frigid wind whipped her hair as Bisia pulled open the heavy wooden door from the street.  Then, as she held aside the woolen blanket  that helped insulate the inner room, she entered the cafe proper where the clink and clatter of piano and conversation mingled with the cigarette smoke  hanging like a cloud from the ceiling.

Shaking the snow from her shoulders Bisia scanned the room and saw Gusia and Olga sitting together at a table on the right with some strange looking men in  very odd looking uniforms.  She gave them a little wave.  On the small stage to the left a man was singing, accompanying himself on piano.

“Bisia, what would you like for me to sing for you?” he asked as she came in.

As she unbuttoned her coat, Bisia recalled her cousin, Henris Rostworski, who was in an officer’s POW camp in Germany.  He was a writer, and one of his letters from this camp was a poem which they had put to music.  It was called “A Letter from the  Prisoner of War Camp.”  This is what she asked him to sing.



Isham  sat listening to the music as Billy spoke with the two Polish women who had joined them at their table. Then she walked through  the doorway.  Her hair was pure black and  rolled off a full, oval-shaped face from which two piercing brown eyes took in the room.  A centering widow’s peak added  to the look of a bird of prey.  She  wasn’t tall, in fact, rather petite, but she walked like there was no one above  her.  She was the most beautiful woman  Isham had ever seen. Continue reading



With so much opposition all around,

When everyone is against this thing or that,

And the ties that once bound us in union,

Hang loosened to trip us off track,


There comes the N-Y-C Marathon,

That gloriously democratizing event,

To renew our faith in what’s possible,

And connect us to what we best represent,


Those qualities that make us all human,

Each in our own flawed way,

As we strive to ennoble these vessels,

While holding time’s ravages at bay,


By taking on the difficult pleasure,

That no amount of money can buy,

That only can come from the doing,

Even as the cynics demand to know why?


Continue reading


Keitany wins in London

Kenya’s Mary Keitany came into the 2010 ING New York City Marathon in wide-eyed wonder.  Hailing from the Baringo District of Kenya the talented young athlete was visibly overwhelmed by the scope of the event and the sheer size of the city, itself. At the pre-race press conference she could barely whisper her answers to questions posed by the collected media throng.  Though she harbored fears of the distance, too, this being her debut at the marathon, it in no way compared to the anxiety engendered by the stage she had found herself upon.

On race day Keitany gave in to her fears, following the moderate pace (1:15:47 at the half-way mark), before falling victim to fellow-Kenyan Edna Kiplagat’s late-race winning surge and American debutant Shalane Flanagan’s Central Park kick.  Keitany finished her first marathon in third place in 2:29:01, looking every bit the frightened young woman who had first flown into town.

That all changed five months later in London.  A 2009 World Champion at 25K and the Half-Marathon, in February 2011 Keitany ripped a new half-marathon world record at the RAK Half-Marathon in the United Arab Emirates (1:05:50). Then, having processed both the marathon distance and the big-city atmosphere of New York, she was ready and willing at the 2011 Virgin London Marathon.  Mary knew exactly what lie ahead.  And what fear there was lie in the hearts of her competition. Continue reading


With David Powell & Bobby Curtis, NYRR LIVE




    • JO PAVEY


 11:05               JO PAVEY – 2011 Great Britain 10,000m champ…Debuted in London 2012, 19th place in 2:28:24…5th, 2004 Olympic 5000…4th, 2007 World Championships 5000m

 11:15               CELEBRITY:  JENNIE FINCH  – 2x Olympic medallist Women’s Softball…Running for Timex which will donate $1.00 to NYRR Youth Program for every runner she passes…Last year N.Y. Football Giant wide-receiver Amani Toomer ran 4:13 and passed 25,000 runners.

 11:25               JESSICA AUGUSTO – Portuguese runner who ran her debut in London 2011, finishing 8th in 2:24:33…Only two Portuguese women have ever run Top 10 in NYC, Albertina Dias in 1994 (8th), and former European and World Champion Manuela Machado who finished 2nd in 1995…Jessica’s dad, Arnaldo, used to call her “my little Rosa Mota”, for the 1988 Women’s Olympic Marathon champion…Dad died of cancer just six weeks after the London Marathon…Jessica has his name tattooed on her right arm…Her boyfriend, Eduardo Carvalho, was Portugal’s goalkeeper on the 2010 World Cup team.

 11:35               GBENGA AKINNAGBE – FROM HBO’S “THE WIRE” will be running for “All for Africa.”

 11:40               MOLLY HUDDLE & DATHAN RITZENHEIN – The two national champions will be running the NYRR 5K Dash to the Finish on Saturday morning…Dathan will update his progress heading toward the Houston Olympic Marathon Trials in January…Molly, Notre Dame High School in Elmira, NYC, then University of Notre Dame, too…American record holder 5000m…2011 USATF 5000m champion…She is the training partner of NZL’s Kim Smith in Providence, R.I…Dathan debuted in NYC 2006…8th in 2010 (2:12:33).

11:45               Buzunesh Deba – The Bronx-based Ethiopian has the chance to be the first NYC trained athlete to win the hometown marathon…Deba has already captured the Los Angeles and RnR San Diego Marathons this year, and is well aware that last year’s ING NYC Marathon women’s champion Edna Kiplagat won in L.A. before taking the NYC crown.

11:55             JOURNALIST: NEIL AMDUR Amdur covered countless marathons as a sports reporter for the New York Times, where he was sports editor for 12 years, and is still running—after 35 years) In his “Head to Head” on the Women’s Marathon World Record with Tim Hutchings on, he wrote: “Too much energy has been expended in recent years on rules and regulations at the expense of marketing the sport. As a result, track and field and road racing have virtually disappeared from the public consciousness outside of the few major road races that are staged in high-profile metropolitan areas. Yes, more participants are showing up for marathons and half-marathons, but there is no connect between these runners and issues such as mixed-gender fields, world bests, or world records. If more effort were spent promoting the unique personalities of world-class runners and the glories of the sport, if more energy were utilized to extol the healthy benefits of running, the IAAF and other governing bodies could really be providing a service.”