Month: October 2016

WHILE MUCH HAS BEEN GAINED…

Life is rarely black and white, all one thing and not somewhat another. Take for instance high school football.

I say high school football, because in America that is usually the first time we get truly associate ourselves with my school, my team.

So it’s Friday Night Lights, and out on the field are 22 young men exchanging energy in a game of offense against defense and vice versa. On one side of the field a group is watching that interaction and they are cheering, smiling, and clapping, it’s wonderful. On the other side of the field another group watches that same exchange of energy and mutters, clenches their fists, and pouts.

So which is it, a happy thing or a sad thing? Or does it all depend on the bias with which you entered the stadium?

As we prepare for the TCS New York City Marathon in just over a week’s time, we are once again presented with a men’s competition featuring top athletes from East Africa, with American stars Dathan Ritzenhein, Abdi Abdirahman and some talented rookies thrown into the mix for good measure. (more…)

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CUBS WIN!!!

  • The Chicago Cubs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 last night at delirious Wrigley Field to win their first National League pennant since 1945, a time that dates to the Greatest Generation. Now the northsiders will take on American League champion Cleveland Indians in the Fall Classic beginning next Tuesday.

Towns goes crazy! Historic Series awaits!

Better than food!
Better than food!

 

The Cubbies haven’t won the World Series itself in 108 years (1908), the Indians in 68 years (1948). It all reminds me of that night back in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino to end their own 86 years of World Series frustration.

My Chicago friends have always argued that the Cubs’ World Series drought was worse than the Red Sox because it was longer in duration (108 years to a mere 86).  But since their last appearance in the Series in 1945 the Cubs have been perennial losers, never really coming close, almost always out of the pennant race by mid-summer.

Oh, there was the Steve Bartman incident in 2003 when the Cubs were up 3-2 in the NLCS against the Florida Marlins, but the Red Sox have starred in any number of Shakespearean baseball tragedies. Line them up: 1946 and 1967 against the Cards in seven-game series, 1975 against Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, also in seven, and most horrically in 1986 against the N.Y. Mets. Agonizingly just one out away,  congratulations already up on the Mets’ scoreboard, then the grounder dribbles through Buckner’s legs and the champagne gets wheeled away.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the one-game playoff loss to the Yankees in 1978 for the AL East title on Bucky “effing” Dent’s home run off Mike Torres over the Green Monster.

So heartache and pain have long been etched more deeply into the soul of the New England fans than that of the hapless though hopeful Cubby faithful.

So let’s go back to the fateful night of October 27, 2004 when the Red Sox finally won it all against my hometown St. Louis Cardinals. Because this is what it might finally feel like in Chicago in a very short time.  (more…)

A TIME FOR HEROES

The marathon is an event designed for heroes, as the long grind strips away all our defenses, leaving only the nub of a person by its end. It’s why feelings are so raw, because the carefully constructed artifice that we’ve erected, that we’ve come to believe is the real us, like a chrysalis, has been shed, even as a glistening new me emerges in the bonhomie of the chutes.

That stripping away and revelation is part of what attracts people to the event. And for those who watch the final stretch from the sidelines, it isn’t the pain that inspires, it’s the feelings they see on display, those looks of inner satisfaction that transcend place and time, looks that plant the seeds for their own subsequent entry.

The long internal battle from first training days to final exultant step is also why grace and humility seem like an integral part of every marathon champion. It is also why every competitor, regardless of their time, can relive their journey with any other finisher with appreciation and empathy. (more…)

WALLS OF INTOLERANCE, BRIDGES WITHOUT SPANS

Last Thursday First Lady Michelle Obama delivered an emotional rebuke to Republican Party nominee Donald Trump after sexually aggressive comments he made in 2005 surfaced on an open-mic Access Hollywood video.  The week following the tape’s release nine women came forward telling of incidents with Mr. Trump that mirrored the behavior he bragged about 11 years before.

Mr. Trump has vehemently denied his accuser’s allegations, said his 2005 comments were just “locker room talk”, and then called the uproar that followed part of a sinister news media led conspiracy meant to take down his insurgent presidential bid.  His rabid followers began sharpening pitchforks and re-tarring their torches, but many on both sides of the aisle were deeply offended by the grabber in chief’s words, denials, and conclusions.

First Lady Michelle Obama‘s voice broke several times during the speech she delivered in New Hampshire as she categorized Mr. Trump’s conversation with Billy Bush in 2005 as “hurtful, hateful language.”

“Language that has been painful for so many of us,” she continued. “Not just as women, but as parents trying to protect our children and raise them to be caring, respectful adults. And as citizens who think our nation’s leaders should meet basic standards of human decency…It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.”

There is no doubt the First Lady was deeply troubled by Citizen Trump, as she probably has been since he first championed the Birther issue that questioned her husband’s legitimacy as president. But while it is easy to puncture the gilded pomposity of a man born of great wealth but an equal dearth of couth, perhaps Mrs. Obama knows now how the right-to-life movement feels about abortion and what it represents to their closely held beliefs.  Is it happenstance alone that the coarsening of American culture has coincided, not just with the emergence of a man like Trump, but with the Roe  v. Wade decision in 1973 (not to mention Watergate and the Vietnam War)?

So let’s all open our eyes and look around. There is more than one point of view. And if you are talking about equivalency, there are many who (evidently) would still take a loud-mouth lout who pushes himself on women, but who represents fundamental political change, over a status-quo candidate who “dissembles on an Olympian level”, “condones infanticide”, and enables her husband to push himself on women, too, all while serving as poster girl for the same/old, same/old. (more…)

DYLAN AWARDED NOBEL PRIZE

Dylan - American poet
Dylan – American poet

The times they are still a changin’. Today, the Nobel prize for literature has been awarded to American singer – songwriter Bob Dylan. The 75 year-old music icon becomes the first songwriter ever awarded the prize, and the $905,000 that attends it.

Reports say there was both applause and laughter in the hall when the Swedish Academy panel made its announcement,  Evidently, some still look at popular songwriting as a hybrid art form that shouldn’t be eligible for a purely literary prize. As Dylan himself said years ago, his words are no more important than his music. They are meant to be taken as one.

But according to the Swedish Academy Dylan was being honored “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. (more…)

COVER UP!

My wife is a coach, and you people are driving her crazy. So pay attention, because your issues tend to fall back on me when she gets home and has to deal with my normal idiot-husband tendencies. And I’m starting to run out of wiggle room.

Coaches are throwbacks, professional nitpickers with hearts of gold and hair-trigger tongues.  That’s why they give them a whistle, so they can blow off some of that steam after you rile them up.

David Lloyd (Manchester Wheelers') and Eddie Soens (National Coach).
David Lloyd (Manchester Wheelers’) and Eddie Soens (National Coach).

Anyway, one such coach I remember well was Eddie Soens, a Runyan-esque character out of Liverpool, England who mentored two-time Boston Marathon champion Geoff Smith, a fellow Liverpudlian who stayed in the U. S. after his career at Providence College.

When I met Soens he was 70, and had decades of experience as a top cycling coach back home. Whenever Eddie would visit New England as Geoff prepped for one of his Boston victories (1984-`85), I recall standing alongside as the old coach just shook his head as he watched American runners cool down after a race or hard workout.

“I cannot believe how they walk around with their legs still bare,” he’d vent in that deep scouse accent.  “There’s no attention paid to detail!  No attention atall!”

The tough-love spirit of Eddie Soens lives on in Liverpool every March at the Eddie Soens Memorial ,  a cycling race that is now in its 55th year. But recalling the words of Eddie is like hearing Toya at the end of every workout and race with her Team Toya or USD charges.

“You might feel warm, but your muscles don’t. The next day when you say, ‘I don’t know why my hamstring or calf feels a little tight, or I feel a little niggle’, well, when you walk around for an hour without covering up after a race or hard workout, that’s the danger.

Where are your sweats?
Where are your sweats?

“The first order of business is to get out of your wet clothes and into some sweats. Do you ever notice how the Ethiopians and Kenyans are always fully clothed when they aren’t competing, even when it’s hot outside?  Same with all the sprinters, they aren’t showing off their legs. They keep them covered up.  That isn’t modesty, it’s being attentive to the small things that avoid injury and lead to top performance.”

OK, there it is, another prudish prompt from an old-timer. So when Toya and all the other coaches out there say to put on a layer of sweats and not just wear your shorts ‘cause you feel warm, I don’t care what the temperature is, cover up!

Those coaches have spouses and significant others who are making enough mistakes on our own without having to bear the burden of your inattentiveness. So in the name of said spouses, Get on it!

Thank you.

END

CHICAGO 2016

Abel Kirui over Dickson Chumba in Chicago 2016
Abel Kirui over Dickson Chumba in Chicago 2016

For the second year in a row the Bank of America Chicago Marathon staged a no-pacesetters competition. And for the second year in a row the men dawdled throughout the majority of the course until the final miles where it became a compelling duel between eventual winner Abel Kirui (2:11:23) and defending champ Dickson Chumba (2:11:26) both from Kenya.

On a perfect morning for racing the men generated the slowest winning time since 1993 (2:13:14, Luiz Antonio of Brazil) when Carey Pinkowski was still trying to resurrect the event from a near-fatal loss of its title sponsor and the ashes of the previous management.  But moderate finishing times is what will most likely occur when winning is held to be more important than running fast. And you can tell which is more important by where the money goes. Just like we first heard during the Watergate scandal, follow the money.

The win in Chicago was worth $100,000 for Mr. Kirui, but time bonuses wouldn’t have kicked in until 2:08.  So with no pacers in place to generate early momentum, the course record bonus of $75,000 for a sub-2:03:45 (Dennis Kimetto, 2013) was all but erased from the get-go.  

The way the incentives were laid out — forgetting for a second the hidden appearance fee arrangements between athlete and race organization — the value accorded a win in whatever time, in this case $100,000 for a 2:11:23, was of much greater value, and much easier to attain, than an eyeballs-out risky go at an extra $75,000 for a sub-2:03:45. 

It’s called imposing the narrative.  So until time bonuses are more heavily weighted in financial terms than simple placings, a non-paced format is unlikely to generate a fast time.  That‘s why Sammy Wanjiru‘s 2:06 gold medal win at the Beijing Olympic Marathon in 2008 was so shocking. He ran fast under difficult weather conditions when there was nothing in it except risk to run fast. But that was Sammy. Ain’t a lot of him around, and unfortunately, not him either. 

But were people any less enthralled with today’s men’s race in Chicago?  Interestingly, this theory of incentives does not seem to hold for women, as Florence Kiplagat defended her title in a sparkling 2:21:32.  But except in mixed races, women have not had pacers to get the rolling.  As such, they have always been racers.  But a culture of pacing as standard issue has developed over time on the men’s side in this sport. So when you pull the rug out, it leaves everybody a little unsettled. The sport has not developed racers over the last generation, as much as it’s developed runners. Which is why Meb Keflezighi has stood out as a pure racer rather than a time-trialer.  Abel Kirui, too, has proven to be a championship style racer with two World titles and an Olympic silver medal to go with today’s Chicago win.

For their entire careers some men have prepared to run behind pacesetters developing the physical tools to run a very fast rhythm before settling, gathering, and then pushing for home. This is how they prepared physically and psychologically, because that is how we were incentivized to prepare. In that sense the sport had developed physical talents, but not psychological ones. 

We heard a similar give-and-take after Matthew Centrowitz won the Olympic 1500 meter final in Rio in 3:50 (equivalent of a 4:07 mile). Some people said, “oh, that’s racing, time doesn’t matter.” While others were frustrated that the race didn’t go hard and produce a Herb Elliott-like record in the Olympic final (Elliott set a world record in the 1960 Olympic 1500 at 3:35.6).

Today, in Chicago on a perfect day the men went out and tempo’d through a 1:06:50 first half, then failed to even break 2:11.  Some fans may be left feeling disappointed about an opportunity lost.  But the sport has been so wrapped up in world records and talk of a sub-two hour marathon that pure competition alone won’t get it done for some people. We have taught racers and audiences alike that the only thing that matters is how fast they go.  And fast is fun.  I have heard innumerable times from Kenyan guys that they would rather run fast and finish fourth than win in a slow time.  And don’t you think there may be a few performance enhancement consequences to such a time-based focus?  

Only an extended period of non-paced racing can break the hold that an only-fast-counts mentality has created.  You just wonder if a no-pacers format might better serve the long-term interests of the sport and the Abbott World Marathon Majors circuit, as only the three American marathons hold to that format now.

Ironically, only time would tell. 

END