Month: December 2011

WRINGING OUT THE OLD

    As 2011 comes to a desultory close, with the race of 2012 shaping up to be the one for the White House in Washington rather than the podium in London, the IAAF’s annual ‘End of the Season’ marathon review by A. Lennart Julin (SWE) and Mirko Jalava (FIN) left the two statisticians with their mouths agape, writing…“what really made 2011 a year that will be considered of historical significance in the sport of marathon running was that it changed our perception of what is really possible. The best illustration is probably the fact that there were new course records set in all the five races making up the “World Marathon Majors.”

DISTANCE RACING HAS HIT THE WALL made a similar case back in November, but more than simply challenging our perceptions of WHAT was really possible, 2011 showed us unequivocally WHO it was possible by.

There were 182 sub-2:10 marathon performances world-wide in 2011, including those on downhill, point-to-point courses like Boston, which, despite its history and renown, is often left off the statistical lists by the Stat-Nazis in the name of purity over common sense. Of that 182, athletes from Kenya ran 110 (61%) led by Geoffrey Mutai’s 2:03:02 Boston masterpiece and Patrick Makau’s “official” world record 2:03:38 in Berlin.   For the rest of the world – including the mighty Ethiopians with 42 sub-2:10s (22%) – 2011 was the year of nolo contendere.  The U.S. was once again led by Ryan Hall (2) and Meb Keflezighi (1) with three sub-2:10s.

As the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials nears in Houston, Texas January 14th, a look back at where the sport was four years earlier gives us a sobering indication of why the sport of distance running has been transformed into an intra-mural battle among Kenyan camps rather than a world-class competition amongst evenly matched nations.  The tilt has become so severe, that the average jogger/runner has lost all contact with the exploits of their sport’s fastest purveyors as the running industry in the U.S. has settled on participation numbers, economic impact, and charitable contributions as their standards of excellence, speed be damned. (more…)

Advertisements

BAD SANTA

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 lined 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 train at Park Square station at 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.  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. (more…)

RESPONDING TO THE CALL

In response to December 13th’s blog, TEAM USA ARIZONA Receives Grant from 2011 Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon, I received the following e-mail.  Rather than place it in the comments section, I thought it deserved a post of its own.  While I have railed quite consistently on this blog about the need to re-address the sporting aspect of running in light of the fun-run tsunami which has swept over the hinterlands in recent years – not in the sense that one should be sacrificed at the expense of the other, but in a win-win way – race directors like Arizona’s John Reich and Steve Taggert, along with Maryland’s Steve Nearman have actually begun putting words into action.  This then, from John Reich:

     Dear Mr. Reavis,
     I have enjoyed your articles on something needing to be done to save/promote competitive distance running.  I am writing to let you know I completely agree with you, and let you know what our club is doing to try to help. 

TEAM USA ARIZONA Receives Grant from 2011 Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon

 cid:EF5694BA-11F7-49F0-8AE8-441F1C76E2EA@hsd1.md.comcast.net.

Partnership Between Professional Race and Elite Athletes Highlighted

     One of the first posts on this blog WOODROW WILSON BRIDGE HALF MAKES MAJOR AMERICAN PLEDGE outlined race director Steve Nearman’s plan to assist the development of emerging U.S. distance runners with a $1. per entry contribution from his October 2nd Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon. Today, Nearman made good on his pledge. announcing that Team USA Arizona would be receiving a grant of $3668 from the WWB Half presented by WillPower Sport & Wellness.

      In his press release announcing the grant, Nearman explained the impetus for establishing his fund, and his innovative use of the strength of the masses of new runners to help groom Olympic and World Championship distance runners. In addition, his race offered American-only prize money and a $1,300 bonus for any American qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Marathon trials next month in Houston.

In response to Nearman’s offer, Team USA Arizona sent Jordan Horn and Danny Mercado to Virginia, where the two young American runners qualified for the Olympic Trials Marathon.

“When you really analyze the sport, there are just a few Ryan Hall’s and Meb Keflezighi’s in distance running who can focus solely on running and not working other jobs to support themselves,” Nearman said. “Our sport is so hampered by this, which is a huge barrier of entry into the profession of elite distance runner. You don’t see the thousands of professional Baseball, Hockey, Basketball and Football players working second jobs to afford being a professional athlete.

“What I am trying to achieve is a partnership between race and training camp. So often, your invited top athlete(s) get injured and withdraw during the week or two before the race. In our approach, Team USA Arizona sent their healthy, race-ready professionals to our race and they both benefitted greatly. While professional teams have contracts with their players, our sport does not, except for appearance money for a very few who already have made it in our sport and have sponsors. Our partnership comes closer to the major sports model, with race directors committing money to the training camps which send them competitive athletes who then enhance their races. We totally support the efforts of Team USA Arizona and are excited and proud to have some horses in the Olympic Marathon trials race.” (more…)

WELCOME TO THE DUNCE-CAP CORNER

    

     What, is David Stern in his dotage bucking for the USATF CEO job now?  Unbelievable.  You’ve just come off a forced player lock-out which has already lopped 16 games off your NBA season.  You’ve pissed off the fans royally, lost revenue and good will, and now, knowing full well that five marquee franchises have been working feverishly for months to secure the services of New Orleans Hornets all-star point guard Chris Paul – who is going to be a free-agent in seven months anyway – and after the Hornets, Lakers and Rockets publicly announce their multiple-player swap, you nix the deal ex-post-facto? And why?  Cause the 29 NBA owners who collectively own the ownerless Hornets feel like Paul’s departure somehow lessens the franchises worth as they search for a new buyer?  Wow!

     Well, it’s good to know that even the major league sports can step in it.  Ironic, cause no sport has been more sure-footed over the last 30 years than the NBA since Mr. Stern took over from Larry O’Brien, and Magic and Larry turned the league around leading to the rarified air of MJ himself.    

     Maybe it’s just these dislocated times in which we live. All moorings seem to have been cast free.  I was kinda stunned when St. Louis Cardinal slugger supreme Albert Pujols chose to leave the friendly confines of Busch Stadium this week for the Orange County banality of the Anaheim Angels. And all for what, an extra $50 million and the chance to stretch his career via the American League’s “I-don’t-actually-have-to-play-baseball” designated hitter rule?  I mean, Albert, you have the chance to be the modern-day Stan Musial, maybe even more, and you opt for Anaheim?  What can you buy for $250 million that you can’t for $200 million, anyway?  Certainly not loyalty.

     Now, I feel sorry for my poor Laker-loving wife who, though disappointed by the seeming loss of petulant philanderer Pau Gasol and Kardashian B-teamer Lamar Odom, was eager to see how the Chris Paul/Kobe Bryant One-Ball-Two-Egos Challenge would work out this year.  And me, the long-time Celtic fan who wondered what C’s G.M. Danny Ainge was thinking when he made his own fruitless attempt at Chris Paul – which only sullied the front-office relationship with their own All-Star point guard Rajon “I can’t shoot straight” Rondo

     Notwithstanding, that’s all behind us now, and the story is one of idiocy, greed, and –  hell,  and you’d think that the NBA would see the trade as a PR godsend, coming off the lock-out with a big-splash three-team reshuffle, thereby taking the focus off that billionaires’ blunder. Instead, once-genius David Stern has allowed the PR monkey to get out of its cage and start throwing poop on everybody.  Well, all I can say is “bless your heart, Mr. Stern.  Running welcomes you to the dunce-cap corner.  Here’s spare roll of TP.”

END

RELEASING THE ATHLETE WITHIN

     Trends come and go, but despite a balky economy running events throughout the country have continued to experience a wave of women participants as the overall numbers in the sport show steady improvement year to year. According to Running USA, women filled 53% of event fields in 2010, men only 47%, a sea-change from the statistics found in the early years of the first running boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

     Notwithstanding this participation boom, and despite the fact that the world’s best runners have continued to produce faster and faster times at the tip of the running spear, there has been no echo boom in terms of competitive improvement in the everyday runner.  Participation alone has become the mantra of the masses.  

But as I found out when my wife Toya began coaching local runners in San Diego this year after receiving her ACE-certification in personal training and exercise science certification from UCSD, there are still runners who have an old-school desire to seek out their limits and discover what literary critic Harold Bloom calls “the difficult pleasure”.

     A mid-30’s marathoner with a demanding full-time job, Jesu Claridad was in many statistical ways today’s typical female runner.  She had run seven marathons with a PR of 4:50. Then she met Toya. (more…)