Month: October 2014

JEPTOO DRUG POSITIVE CASTS PALL OVER NEW YORK CELEBRATION

Rita Jeptoo in better times, winning her second Chicago Marathon title in October
Rita Jeptoo in better times, winning her second Chicago Marathon title in October

New York, New York — With a new title sponsor, a new logo, and a new mayor on board, the TCS New York City Marathon’s mood leading up to its 44th running had a happy Halloween joyfulness to it.  Then we awoke to news that World Marathon Majors Series women’s champion Rita Jeptoo of Kenya had reportedly tested positive for an illegal substance (EPO) in an out of competition drug test this September before her win at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

The news, coming just days before the World Marathon Majors was scheduled to award its $1 million dollar prize to its two 2013-2014 series  champions placed a cloud over New York’s pinnacle running weekend as the professional international field for Sunday’s race was being presented to the assembled press. It also had the World Marathon Majors scrambling to cancel its Sunday awards as more details regarding Jeptoo were being gathered.

The first person I saw in the hotel lobby this morning was Virgin Money London Marathon president and World Marathon Majors general counsel Nick Bitel. Nick just shook his head, knowing that his partners at World Marathon Majors had just signed their first ever title sponsor, Abbott, to a four year contract in Chicago. And now, the first big news after Chicago and in the world media capital was a positive drug test of their World Marathon Majors women’s champion? Not good.  And this is after two-time WMM series champion Lilya Shobukhova of Russia, three-time Chicago champion (2009-2011) as well as the 2010 London Marathon champ had had all her results annulled from 2009 on following an adverse finding on her biological passport indicative of drug use.

But at least Bitel was pleased, if that’s even the right word, that the test that uncovered the alleged drug positive by Jeptoo had come, in part, via funding provided by World Marathon Majors in cooperation with the IAAF. In the past, getting testers into the wilds of rural Kenya for out of competition testing has been quite problematic. Now, with WMM backing, the bitter fruits of  those labors have been harvested, it would seem a,s a spate of drug positives have come out of Kenya over the last several years. (more…)

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EARLY NEW YORK LINE

New York City Marathon Logo TCSAs the marathoning world turns its attention to New York City, final stop on the 2013-2014 World Marathon Majors tour, we again hear goals expressed in terms of time. Perhaps victory is to be assumed as both two-time defending champion Geoffrey Mutai and his sometimes training partner and ex-world record holder Wilson Kipsang of Kenya have expressed their desire to erase Mutai’s 2011 course record 2:05:06 this Sunday morning.

Yet with Kipsang the lone wolf still in the hunt for the World Marathon Majors $500,000 series prize – he needs to win the race outright to leap over current points’ leader Dennis Kimetto – why the clock continues to be the focus of attention is somewhat baffling. Besides, from a public relations standpoint, the average Joe and Jane wouldn’t know a 2:05 from a 737. But a win’s a win’s a win in any time.

That said, for the men of the Great Rift Valley the sport has become something of an intramural contest. So confident are they that, in some ways, even the mighty TCS New York City Marathon has been reduced to a pissing contest among playful friends. Thus, in the closed world of Kenyan running, your time is your calling card, and going home with a less than scintillating time when your compatriots have just laid down a 2:02:57 world record in Berlin and a 2:04:11 in Chicago would be declasse.

Saturday rehearsal
Saturday rehearsal

But time may be a hard ticket to ride this Sunday morning. While the forecast calls for temperatures in the ideal range, 38F to 47F (3C to 8C), the prognosticators are also calling for a brisk NNW wind nearing 20 mph (33 kph) which would mirror last year’s conditions when Geoffrey Mutai won in a mere 2:08:24 — even though the effort may well have been close to his record of 2011. But that is how critical a role conditions play in this game.

Again this year I will be fortunate to be riding aboard the lead men’s moto analyzing the race for ESPN2. Recalling last year’s ride and this year’s forecast, I’ll be packing my winter gear. How well do I remember shivering across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, then growing increasingly numb up Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn through Queens into Manhattan and then the Bronx. The wind was a constant foe all the way till 35K when the course finally turned mercifully south for a mile along museum strewn Fifth Avenue and then for the final two rolling miles through Central Park. As a practical matter the conditions added a full kilometer to the distance. (more…)

MORNING RUNS

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Those morning runs `cross fields of green,

Where the hills rolled high and low,

When the sun’s slant glazed with honeyed light,

and the dew was all aglow,

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We’ leap the gilded gullies,

And laugh when splash we did,

Watch flaring birds in cursive flight,

‘fore answering a challenger’s bid.

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Not just a surge or press of pace,

Gauntlets of heart and lung,

But the questions that once did fabulists ask,

Whether in rhyming tone or sung.

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The ones that spoke of purpose,

Asking why, and when, and how,

Queries which had no finite truth,

But in whose lee there lied the Tao. (more…)

RUNNING FLAT RADIO

AthleticsCanadaRoadSummit

I delivered the keynote address at last week’s first Athletics Canada National Race Directors Summit in Toronto before an attentive audience of event directors, federation officials, suppliers and media.  In my talk, billed as Innovations in Road Running, I urged a closer working relationship between events, athletes, and the governing body in an effort to rebuild the Canadian racing brand, which, like the USA’s took a nosedive in the 1990s.

I recalled that it was the birth of Running USA in March 1999 that the U.S. began to turnaround its distance running fortunes.  Created “to improve the status of road racing in the United States through collective marketing and promotions, services to runners and events and the development of American world class stars,”  Running USA’s early efforts led to the development of Team USA California in Mammoth Lakes which, in turn, helped kickstart American performance we still see in evidence today  — though Running USA has become less focused on the sport aspect than when it first began.

The summit in Toronto was the first such gathering since Athletics Canada named John Lofranco Coordinator of Road Running just over six months ago.  That it was the governing body itself which called the Race Directors Summit was a step forward from the American model where the lead was taken by the industry support group.

Running Flat founder Chris Uszynski
Running Flat founder Chris Uszynski

Among the attendees and presenters at the Canadian summit was Windsor, Ontario’s Chris Uszynski, founder and president of RunningFlat, an event promotion company which stages nine well-crafted boutique events in and around Windsor in Essex County just north of Detroit.  A very creative fellow, Chris very forthrightly admitted that Running Flat’s focus isn’t on racing, rather is intent on “providing a great Event experience for our family of participants, while raising money for great causes.”

RunningFlatRadioChris and I sparred a little at the summit during a session during which he remarked that he was “awards averse”, while referring to Running Flat’s goal as “getting people off the couch and into the sport”.  I suggested that in staging events like Color Runs and other events that don’t award prizes for performance at all, that he was introducing people to the activity of running, but not to the sport.  It may be a subtle distinction, but that split between fun running and competitive racing is what has defined the last decade in running, leading to, I believe, a zero-sum game whereby the growth of running as an activity has mirrored the lessening of interest in racing.

With that as a backdrop, I joined Chris on his weekly Running Flat Radio Show this past Tuesday.  My segment begins at 24:45.

Running Flat Radio can be heard every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. on AM 800 cklw in Windsor.  Many thanks to Chris for having me on his show.

END

TRANSCENDING HIS SPORT

Korir with Ryan and Sara Hall
Korir with Ryan and Sara Hall

Chicago, IL. — There is a deep vein of giving associated with the distance running community.  It can be seen not just in the billion dollars plus generated for charities by thousands of running events world-wide, but in the individual works of many of the sport’s top athletes, most of whom understand they have hit the genetic lottery jackpot.  American stars Sara and Ryan Hall’s Steps Foundation and Meb Keflezighi’s MEB Foundation come quickly to mind.

While these athletes use their fame and names to lift the veil of tears that shrouds millions of less fortunate fellow time travelers, 2012 Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir of Kenya has taken the concept of service to an entirely new level.  In America to run this Sunday’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Wesley is featured in a new documentary film, titled Transcend, which presents in moving and emotional detail the most important run of Wesley’s life, that for a seat in the Kenyan parliament even as he trained to defend his Boston title in the winter of 2012/2013. The film will screen tonight in Chicago, and feature a Q & A with Wesley afterwards.

“We hope it’s an inspirational film for all runners, embodying the spirit of what running can be for all who participate,” said Transcend’s producer Tad Munnings.

Motivated by the want he witnessed growing up in his rural home district of Cherangany deep in Kenya’s Central Highlands, a want personalized by the death of his younger brother, Eliud, who expired after being bitten by a poisonous snake too far from a medical facility to save his life, and further stoked by the tribal violence that followed the disputed 2007 national elections during which Wesley saw three of his friends killed by a machete-wielding mob, Korir decided to make a run for the district’s seat in parliament in 2013.

Even though he was still in the prime of his athletic career, and was unaffiliated with any political party, Wesley ran a disciplined, people-first campaign and emerged victorious over the well-connected five-year incumbent.  Imagine if Ryan Hall or Meb Keflezighi set aside their career to run for the U.S. Congress.

“I don’t run for myself anymore,” Wesley said.  “I run for the whole country.” (more…)

OLD SCHOOL MEETS NEW WAVE

2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele
2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele

Chicago, IL. — The sport of marathoning is changing very fast around us. This Sunday at the 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon the 5000 & 10,000 meter world record holder Keninisa Bekele, 32, of Ethiopia will make his second career attempt over the long distance.  Yet through most of its century-plus history, the marathon has been populated by men of sturdy constitution, whose examination of the distance bespoke their tenacity and grit, but whose arsenals often lacked the speed necessary to excel at the shorter events on the track.

Oh, there were outliers, like Czech great Emil Zatopek winning his debut marathon at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, adding it to his collection of gold in the 5000 & 10,000 meters. And recall that Frank Shorter, the original father of the running boom, was every bit the top American distance track runner when he explored the marathon so successfully in the first half of the 1970s.   But the norm for the distance was more like Derek Clayton of Australia, who held the marathon world record of 2:08:33 from May 1969 to December 1981, the longest stretch the record has ever lasted.

Aussie great Derek Clayton
Aussie great Derek Clayton

The introduction of track men coming to the marathon came when large sums of money entered the game after the initial running boom. That is when the aging oval speedsters saw the benefit of torturing themselves over the longer distance. In fact, moving up in distance became one of the standard career moves a runner made. This weekend we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Steve Jones’ marathon world best in Chicago 1984 when, as the eighth-place finisher at the Los Angeles Olympic 10,000 meter final, Steve moved to the marathon with great success.

Paul Tergat marathon WRBut in more recent times we have seen the very best on the track make the move, highlighted by two former 5000 & 10,000 meter world record holders who went on to grab the marathon record as well.  Kenya’s Paul Tergat completed his record trifecta at the 2003 Berlin Marathon, which he won in a world record 2:04:55.  Five years later his great Ethiopian rival Haile Gebrselassie won Berlin in 2:03:59 to add the marathon to his long list of track and road world records. (more…)

ONE YEAR LATER: COMPETITION BACK AT COMPETITOR GROUP / ATHLETE BIZ SHOWS JETER THE WAY

One year ago the big story in the sport was Competitor Group Inc.’s decision to significantly cut its elite athlete program just weeks before the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. Ex-CGI CEO Scott Dickey wrote in this blog at that time: “We will always welcome the elites, we are just not going to spend in excess of 7-figures annually to simply have them show up. It represents a disconnect from the brand and the very promise of participating in a RnR event. We’re going to reinvest those dollars into entertainment, the experience, more staff to execute more flawlessly, and in our continued efforts to increase participation.”

A major backlash arose in the wake of that decision, and by year’s end Mr. Dickey had left Competitor Group while former golf executive David Abales quietly took the reins in early 2014.  Now, in the fall of 2014 CGI has not only reversed its direction of a year ago, it has ramped up its overall support for the professional end of the game significantly, returning it to the ranks of major players in the game. (more…)