Promotional banner for 1990 Borobudur Run 10K
In the late Eighties, early Nineties the Borobudur Run 10Km was the richest road race in the world, offering $1 million in bonus money on top of generous appearance and prize packages. Hosted by Indonesian businessman Bob Hasan — first as the Bali 10K, then as the Borobudur Run on the island of Java — the race brought together the very best distance athletes of the time to take on the world 10K road record in a setting of timeless beauty.
Staged at the spectacular 9th-century Buddhist temple which lent the event its name, the Borobudur Run was featured on ESPN’s Road Race of the Month series. But the race, itself, was only the beginning of the adventure.
The twin-engine speedboat heeled low alongside the rotting wooden jetty as we loaded our TV equipment aboard the bobbing deck below. It was tricky work, but with legs braced along the gunwales for better leverage, we managed to hand down the cumbersome gray cases one by one from the final rung of the rickety ladder and slide them into position.
Back on the jetty a group of local men with skin the color of burnished wood and eyes dark and unreadable watched our progress in silence, passing among them an amber-liquid filled bottle lifted from the seat of one of the men’s pants.
We had waited for nearly an hour for the speedboat to arrive from the logging company base camp, and now with the sun setting a trembling orange into the Java Sea, we were anxious to be off before the light failed completely. Our destination was an estuary heading inland to the north and west to the logging company base camp some thirty-five minutes away.
With the last case positioned, the speedboat powered off onto Balikpapan Harbor churning low through a field of rusting oil tankers lying darkly at anchor. To the stern, the twin Evinrude motors boiled the water to gray-white foam as the final rays of the setting sun inflamed the towering thunderclouds building off the western horizon.
As we pushed farther from shore the blue-orange gas flares atop the skeletal off-shore rigs shrunk from giant pilot lights to flickering match heads, leaving only their thick oily smell in the rapidly cooling evening air. Continue reading
Meb on top of the world at Boston 2014
I am a purist at heart, one who believes in the redemptive power of effort in whatever form it may take. Through a combination of luck, pluck and timing, however, running became the expression of effort that engaged me most fully. And it has been in the hold of that expression that I have remained for the great swath of my adult life.
Looking back over that now lengthening span, I see how once upon a time racing used to be so simple, so elemental: one foot in front of the other, beginning with either, counting neither. Truly, it was a heroic sport of thinly clad fools bent on making the connection that critic Edmund Wilson once ascribed to Ernest Hemingway in 1927, “…all that seems to him most painful is somehow closely bound up with what seems to him most enjoyable.”
This apparent paradox of pain-as-pleasure is why it is difficult to explain the sport of distance running to the uninitiated. I have often asked runners at races, ‘what is it about running that those that don’t do it, don’t get?’ as the concept of the difficult pleasure is beyond the scope of most for whom the passive, purchased pleasure is preferred.
Much like learning to play a musical instrument, learning to run well takes time, dedication and practice; there is no short cut. Only after a painstaking apprenticeship does one reach a level of proficiency that allows pleasure to be extracted from effort. Yet it is that very investment in time and discomfort which leads, eventually, to the feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the finish line. Continue reading
Durban, South Africa — The coastal winds blew hard across the rolling grass hills surrounding the Sibaya Casino and Entertainment complex yesterday as the inaugural Global Athletics Conference — shorthand GAC 2014 — concluded its two-day confab.
Inside the elegant Izulu Theater the question emerging from this first ever such conference in Africa was whether the winds of change might soon blow equally strong over the future of athletics, both here on man’s home continent, and around this troubled global sphere in general. Continue reading
Along the Indian Ocean
Durban, South Africa – In this year of 2014 South Africa has been celebrating the 20th anniversary of its transition from apartheid state to non-racial democracy. On December 5th it will mark an especially moving moment in that celebration with the commemoration of the one year’s passing of its beloved father figure Nelson Mandela. With the great divide of apartheid receding, the people of this proud land now look to the future for opportunities to showcase their country to the world, opportunities which were denied it during the long, painful road to freedom.
This weekend I am half a world away deep in the southern hemisphere in lovely Durban, South Africa, a warm, Miami-like seaside city which is playing host to what is being billed as Africa’s first Global Athletics Conference. The two-day GAC 2014 is the offspring of conference director, Lee-Roy Newton, a retired South African sprinter who was a member of his country’s 4 X 100m World Championship gold medal squad in 2001.
KwaZulu-Natal Athletics President Sello Mokoena welcomes media to GAC 2014
Today, Newton is owner of the Newton Agency, and vice-president of Kwazulu-Natal Athletics. Newton, along with KZN Athletics president Sello Mokoena have brought together a collection of the sports’ business, athletic and media leaders to help the sport’s South African stakeholders better understand the elements necessary to launch serious bids for future world athletic championships. The 2022 Commonwealth Games is among the international meetings on its immediate radar. Continue reading
In recent months my friend Matt Taylor has launched a new clothing line called TrackSmith whose influences harken back to a simpler, more rudimentary time in the sport. Among the projects associated with TrackSmith, Matt has come out with a new running publication called Meter.
I am proud to be among the contributors tor the inaugural issue of Meter, providing a look back at the legendary Eliot Lounge, that long lost and fabled runner’s bar in Boston’s Back Bay which shuttered its doors in 1996.
Yesterday, Matt put up on Twitter an audio clip I sent him from my old Runner’s Digest radio show in Boston that aired from 1977 to 1988. In this clip we find ourselves inside the Eliot on the Thursday night before the 1978 Boston Marathon. The place was teeming with runners from around the world as our favorite band, Heidi and The Secret Admirers, was closing the night in style.
As Heidi kicked off her final encore at about 1 a.m., Ian Gamble, a motor racing promoter from Auckland, New Zealand — who also organized New Zealand’s Choysa Marathon — made an offer to Greater Boston Track Club star Randy Thomas who is now the long time track and cross country coach at Boston College.
If you want to know what it felt like to be in the Hub of the running universe at the height of the running boom, perhaps the four minute clip below will give you a taste.
Starched flags fly on the bridge before the start
New York, New York — A cold, blustery day welcomed the 50,0000 runners at the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon. Once again I was aboard the lead men’s motorcycle camera bike providing commentary for the ESPN2 television coverage. Here is how the men’s race played out from that close vantage point.
My misery index had been set the day before during a frigid, rain-drenched TV rehearsal, and I wasn’t going to be caught cold again. In the 43 degree Fahrenheit conditions with NNW winds blowing at a steady 20 – 25 mph, gusting even higher, I wore so many layers on Sunday morning I must have resembled a Russian nesting doll.
From the racer’s standpoint such conditions are the functional equivalent of adding distance to the event. Last year the 48 degree temps and 15-19 mph headwinds tacked about one kilometer onto the standard 42.2K in terms of finishing time, as 2011 course record holder Geoffrey Mutai won his second title in 2:08:24. Same guy, same course, same effort, but three minutes slower than his course record 2:05:06. And since A-level male marathoners race at or near 3:00/km, conditions on November 2, 2014 might mean a full mile extra effort would be added to the already testing course. Continue reading