Tom Derderian

His career as a runner, coach, author and journalist is unique…Now Tom Derderian adds a political wing to his CV.  Last Sunday September 23rd the long-time Greater Boston Track Club coach, Boston Marathon historian, and sub-2:20 marathoner was elected new president of the USATF New England chapter.  I have known Tom over 30 years, and his passion for the sport of running is as great as anyone I’ve ever met.

In response to a column I wrote last week, “YOU DIDN’T BUILD THAT”, Tom wrote the following:  “We will have no sport if we let the free market do only whatever it needs to for its own business survival instead of the survival of the sport.”

In that regard, with the presumptive sale of The Competitor Group and its vast stock of Rock `n` Roll Marathons to the owners of the Tour de France, the link between love of the game and hunger for the gain has been stretched farther than ever before.

Consider that when Tim Murphy founded Elite Racing in 1988, he did so because he loved the sport and thought he could put on races which other runners would support.  First he gave us the seminal Carlsbad 5000, the race which introduced the concept of the 5K to road racing.  Then his idea for the Rock `n` Roll Marathon series germinated when Tim found himself all alone slogging along Friar’s Road through the final miles of one of the old Heart of San Diego Marathons.

The event started in Coronado, and finished in Mission Valley at Qualcomm Stadium.  Wouldn’t it be nice, Tim thought, to have some support out here in the middle of nowhere.  And slowly the Ah-HA idea – rock bands along the course! – took form.  But he wasn’t thinking as a businessman, he was thinking as a runner who identified a primary need.  Only later did his runner-born ideas turn into a lucrative business.  (He’s got another one cooking again.)

When Murphy sold his business to Falconhead Capital in December 2007, everyone knew how such capital investments worked.  Five years is the out-marker lifespan for such capital investments, and thus when word leaked that CGI was for sale, it made all the sense in the world; 2012 was the obvious time for Falconhead to cash out and move on.

Attracting business people into running is a good thing, but their goals, understandably, are purely market driven.  That’s why we need the custodians of the sport to maintain a semblance of focus on the sport’s heritage while developing its future. Yes, the next quarter’s spread sheet is important, but not more important than expanding interest in and the fan following for the actual sport itself.  Tom Derderian understands this distinction.  Here, then, is his view of what running needs in its oldest, and most ardent region. It’s this view which led to his election last Sunday. Continue reading


     One week from today the 39th BMW Berlin Marathon will kick off the post-Olympic fall major marathon season.  Part of the week’s menu in Berlin will be the announcement of the destination for the Mystery Marathon, the new adventure marathon event helmed by Elite Racing and Rock `n` Roll Marathon founder Tim Murphy.

While the official unveil of the Mystery Marathon’s destination isn’t scheduled until next Thursday, I have the inside track (disclaimer:  I’m part of the MM team!)  As such, I’ll have an exclusive sneak peak at the new Mystery Marathon website next Tuesday September 25th.  Look for that here on the blog.  The Mystery Marathon promises to be a unique and first-rate operation, without doubt!

Toni & Josh Cox on the call

Now to the Berlin Marathon itself.  American 50K record holder Josh Cox and I will man the booth for Universal Sports TV coverage of Berlin next Sunday September 30 from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. Pacific. And since the last four men’s marathon world records have been set in the German capital, the 39th Berlin Marathon portends mighty possibilities. Continue reading


     Beginning in 1992 in Newcastle, England, the IAAF staged a World Half Marathon or Road Racing Championship every year for 19 straight years.  By 2002 60 nations and over 200 athletes came to Brussels to compete in the 11th edition.  From that point forward, however, the event began to witness a diminished interest in the number of nations and competitors taking part.  The major cause for this loss seemed to be the continuing and utter domination by athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia.  By 2010 just 30 countries and 123 athletes participated in Nanning, China.

In the shadow of the 2010 event, the IAAF converted the Half Marathon Championship to a biennial schedule, meaning there was no 2011 championships at all.  A similar circumstance has also taken place with the IAAF World Cross Country Championships for similar reasons.

The only conclusion to draw from this scheduling is that the importance the IAAF placed on the World Half Marathon Championship (and World Cross) has diminished, and it/they are being pushed away.  For further proof we need only look to Kavarna, Bulgaria, this year’s host city.  Though founded in the 5th century along the Black Sea coast by Greek colonists, it’s not quite the most alluring venue one might consider for a world championship.

With road running at the people’s level being reduced to slowly moving block parties, and the top-end talent from East Africa continuing to pull farther and and farther away in front, we have seen the geometric shape of road racing change from a huge wedge to separated and distinct clusters.

On July 3rd I published a story OLYMPIC PETITION – ROAD RACING which argued for the inclusion of team medals in the Olympic Marathons, and the introduction of an Olympic Ekiden Road Relay for the purpose of elevating road racing to the status of an Olympic sport.  I also instituted a petition drive on-line to generate interest in the proposition.

Now, the same week USATF announced the teams which will represent the USA at the October 6th IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Bulgaria, the IAAF Athletes’ Commission has sent out the following survey to athletes around the world.  Continue reading


Ritz 3rd in Philly


Dathan Ritzenhein’s 60:56 third-place finish at Sunday’s Rock `n” Roll Philadelphia Half-Marathon sets him up well for his marathon in Chicago in three weeks time.  After his race he was quoted as saying that his goal in the Windy City was to able to run a 2:06 time.  But according to his coach Alberto Salazar, that pronouncement wasn’t at the heart of Dathan’s statement, nor is it how either one of them even approaches the sport.

“They took out the second half of his quote,” Al told me during a phone interview on Tueday.  “He said he’d love to run 2:06, but what he wanted to do in Chicago is be competitive.

“He’s been training with Mo (Farah) and Galen (Rupp, the Olympic gold and silver medalist at 10,000-meters.  Dathan finished 13th in London).  We don’t concentrate on time.  Dathan hasn’t run that super time (in the marathon), and until he does he won’t be competitive, but he wants to run with the guys.”

Having followed Dathan’s career since his days as a scrawny high school sensation in Rockford, Michigan where he won back-to-back Foot Locker National Cross Country titles and a bronze medal in world junior competition, I can attest that finishing position – the essence of cross country – rather than finishing time has always been his focus.  Though he briefly held the American record at 5000 meters, time trials have never been Ritz’s forte.

Following a stellar career at the University of Colorado, Dathan has so far topped off his pro career with a bronze medal at the 2009 IAAF World Half Marathon Championship in Birmingham, England in 2009 (PR, 60:00).  Through it all, however, Ritzenhein has been plagued by injuries, particularly foot problems.   But coming into Chicago 2012, Ritz is as healthy as he’s ever been for a marathon.

“We’ve been disappointed with (marathon) results in the past,” admitted Salazar, himself a former three-time New York City and one-time Boston Marathon champion. “But sooner or later, unless he’s just not suited to the marathon, he will run a (super) time.  Finally, we’ve come to the conclusion that 110 miles is the max per week he can train.  Every time we get greedy he gets injured.  But he’s been healthy over the entire last year.” Continue reading


     Since hosting the 2004 U.S. Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials, my hometown of St. Louis had drawn back into its well-established, but less than heart-thumping reputation as a city of running participation,  not racing competition.  So while many other cities in the Midwest had developed nationally (and even internationally) recognized races like the Chicago Marathon, the Hospital Hill Half Marathon in Kansas City, The Bix 7 Road Race in Davenport, Iowa, and the Twin Cities Marathon (and more) in Minneapolis, St. Louis maintained little more than a regional racing presence.  Now that may change.

Go! St. Louis, the estimable non-profit that specializes in providing fitness events and programs for the region on a year-round basis, has announced a substantial increase in the prize purse for their popular half marathon – presented by PNC Bank – which is part of the GO! St. Louis Marathon & Family Fitness Weekend, set for April 6 & 7, 2013 in downtown St. Louis.  Next spring the half marathon will award a total of $47,000, with a first-place check of $10,000 going to the male and female champions.

Explained Go! St. Louis president Nancy Lieberman, “Part of it was how to bring excitement back to racing in St. Louis.  We wondered what would it take to make the event a sporting event? And this is what we thought would work.”

While Go! St. Louis had offered prize money in their half-marathon before, it was little more than a token amount; $1000 for the win, $500 to place, and $300 for show.  There were also age-group awards of $100 each, but those, said Lieberman, went unnoticed.

With the added investment the event now jumps up to fourth place nationally in half-marathon prize purses. Only the New York City Half ($100,000 total, $20k for first place), the Garry Bjorklund Half – part of Grandma’s Marathon weekend in Duluth, Minn. – ($82,000, $12K for first), and Houston’s Aramco Half – positioned with the Houston Marathon – ($50,000, $10,000 for first) award more.  By comparison, the BAA Half in Boston offers $38,400 total with $6000 for the win.

“We want to return the sport to St. Louis,” emphasized Lieberman, long-time president of Go! St. Louis, and a nationally recognized leader in the sport.  “We still want everyone to run, but we want to champion the elites. Our mission is to make St. Louis one of the healthiest cities in America, rather than the 99th out of 100 most obese which is where it is ranked now.”

Lieberman admits to struggling to find sponsorship for her Go! St. Louis schedule of events.  “The mind-set in St. Louis,” she says, “values culture and the arts, but to get someone to sponsor a running event is like pulling teeth.”

For that reason, Go! St. Louis, itself, is contributing the extra funds to bulk up their half-marathon purse, hoping to prime the pump in the local business community with the heightened exposure an elite race might generate.  Continue reading


On one hand…

As the professional fields for the 2012 BMW Berlin and Bank of America Chicago Marathons have been announced, it reminds us that the marathon requires a different combination of strengths than its shorter-race cousins where contact is the name of the game.  In the longer race you can moderate early, and still strike late.  Last year in Chicago, Wesley Korir made the first major move at 30Km, but it was eventual winner Moses Mosop who made the last.  That said, it is very difficult mentally to allow others to “get away” without responding in the initial engagement or not to get too discouraged with one’s inability to match that first move.  Patience remains key in the marathon.

The same principle holds in politics where the instant response can, in the long run, be ill-advised or misguided.  We saw an indication of that this week when Mitt Romney issued a harsh condemnation of the Obama administration after the attacks at American embassies in Benghazi, Libya and Cairo, Egypt on the anniversary of 9/11.

“It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” the candidate said in a prepared release.

Of course, the response he denounced wasn’t released by the White House, but by the American embassy in Cairo where hostilities were mounting outside their compound.  Also, their statement came out before the assault in Benghazi which led to the death of American Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three others.

There is an old Washington adage that partisanship ends at the water’s edge.  In times of crisis, goes the theory, Americans of all political stripes rally to our elected leaders – like we did for President Bush 11 years ago on 9/11 – not only because they hold the constitutional reins of authority, but because they are privy to more information, so we must assume they know things we don’t which might color their decisions.

Therefore, even if we disagree with their response or policies, we wait to voice those disagreements until information clarifies the situation in the aftermath of crisis.  Only then do we assert our opposition and rally others to vote on our behalf.  But ambition is a powerful lure, especially in the heat of a presidential election, especially when you have recently come under fire from your own partisan punditry for lack of clarity on the financial positions you propose to adopt if elected.

“A slave has but one master,” wrote 17th century French essayist Jean de La Bruyère.  “An ambitious man has many masters as there are people who may be useful in bettering his position.”

This may well be the fault line of the Romney candidacy, a lack of fixed political views now subordinated to those who may be useful, but whose passions and prejudices outpace the wisdom required of the office he seeks. Continue reading


Image     Racing has always been the most lucid teacher, revealing hard truths with each carving stride.  The ways of God are more mysterious, as Ryan Hall has discovered since departing Coach Terrence Mahon and the Mammoth Track Club two years ago.  Racing is a heartless examination.  It is why the reality of one’s times are indisputable, inviolate and undeniable, as Republican Veep candidate Paul Ryan has learned after fibbing (by an hour!) about his one completed marathon in 1990.  Finishing times don’t ask how, whether or if, they only reveal the full measure of the effort between Point A and Point B, unmoved by consequence, conditions or commerce.  If only the rest of life were so stark, so pure, so honest.

Today, as we enter the final stretch of the Race for the White House, we are reminded once again that the game, as played in Washington D.C., is blood sport conducted by parties more interested in outcome than process, in demonizing rather than in engaging in honest debate.

In politics hard truths are rarely, if ever revealed, as candidates, small and large, play to the base instincts of envy, distrust and denial.  Purposefully skewed truth is the currency of value, and the consequential cynicism of the populace is, evidently, an acceptable by-product as long is victory is achieved.  Of course governing becomes a victim of the electoral process as opposition machinery is immediately tuned to the next election cycle.  But that doesn’t seem to upset the movers and shakers whose goals are narrowly cast along the win-loss continuum.

In the 2012 campaign “You didn’t build that” has emerged as the signature catch-phrase that captured the fluid dynamic of truth and consequences.    On July 13th, President Obama gave a speech at a fire station in Roanoke, Virginia, making his case for increasing marginal tax rates on the wealthiest Americans, framing his argument in terms of shared responsibility. Continue reading