New York, N. Y. — When you are riding a full load, when training has gone right and you carry a certain tonnage, baby, “let the games begin!”
At those rare times the race comes to you any way they want it, from the front, the middle, or sit and kick. What’s more, the uber well-prepared are usually anxious for engagement. Bring it on!
One of the fun exercises in the days leading up to the big race is to eyeball the contenders as they walk around the hotel and media center. And just pay attention to the way they stand, the way they look.
There’s a look that the very well-prepared have. For some it’s an ethereal calm, for others a fidgety caged presence. They just can’t hide the energy that’s coursing within them. Welshman Steve Jones had that look in his prime, including before his 2:08:20 win in New York in 1988.
Steve, along with 1983 champ Rod Dixon, women’s course record holder Margaret Okayo and Achilles TC founder Dick Traum were inducted into NYC Marathon Hall of Fame on Thursday. Long time New York Times scribe Jere Longman received the George Hirsch Journalism Award, while former NYRR CEO Mary Wittenberg was announced as the Abebe Bikila Award recipient for her extraordinary contributions to distance running. Congratulations to all. Well earned.
Assured but not cocky is the look when confidence has been developed in concert with training. Give me that machine, and I’ll take my chances with any driver.
I remember talking to an old boxing coach in North Philly who trained many a champion, pro and amateur alike. He told me that in boxing it’s the fittest man that wins 95% of the time.
In boxing you can get lucky with a single punch, but generally it’s the guy that drags his ass up before dawn every morning and gets in the miles. You gotta put in the work. Fitness, that’s what’s going to win you the fight.
It’s the same in the running game. Except you can’t get lucky with one punch. In running you have to drive people away from you over time, literally break their will.
But just like they say in football, it’s all about the execution. Just because you’ve got the tools doesn’t mean you’ve got the carpenter.
For instance, they could run the 2016 Rio Olympic 1500 meter final a dozen more times, and I’m still picking Asbel Kiprop every time. Yeah, I know, Matthew Centrowitz proved his mettle brilliantly, and Kiprop got caught up in the whitewater down the homestretch and finished sixth.
But over the last two years he’d run a total of 15 1500s and won 10 of them, including all seven in 2015 topped off by the World Championship gold in Beijing. Unfortunately, in 2016 he saved his worst race for Rio in the slowest 1500 of his career. That’s why a favorite isn’t a champion until he delivers on the promise once the dance is done.
Next up on the calendar is the TCS New York City Marathon November 6. Tricky game, the marathon, especially on that symphonic five/borough course.
Defending champion Stanley Biwott is back, along with two other A-listers, 2015 World Champion Ghirmay Ghebrslassie and two-time Boston Marathon champion and two-time New York podium stander Lelisa Desisa. There is also a sturdy group of Americans led by three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein.
In 2013 before the race even started I had Geoffrey Mutai pegged as the champion. You could see it, sense it. He had the look and the walk. No way he was losing that race.
There’s a chance we could see America’s Dathan Ritzenhein deliver in New York. He’s coming in off a near-PR second-place 60:12 half marathon at the Great North Run in September.
In 2009, Meb’s year winning New York, Dathan took the bronze medal at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Birmingham, England in 60 minutes flat. That fall he came to New York City as a spectator. But boy, did he want to lace up and go racing.
Even though he wasn’t specifically trained for the marathon, he was feeling great and just had that urge. His coach Alberto Salazar talked him out of it. Never a good idea to ignore your coach, but that has always stood as a big “what if?” in Dathan’s career.
That year Dathan had the look and the walk. Seven years later he is in as good a shape as he’s been in since that that time. So let’s see.
He’s got the experience, got the savvy and the fitness. Stanley Biwott and World Champion Ghebrslassie are on short rest from the Rio Olympics. They’ve never run three marathons in a calendar year before.
Just look what short rest did to Cub’s reliever Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning of Game 7, or how Indians’ starter Corey Kluber didn’t have the same stuff as earlier in the Series, or the Cleveland relievers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.
The guy with the full load is Lelisa Desisa who wasn’t chosen by Ethiopian selectors for Rio. Remember that last year Stanley Biwott did not run the World Championships in Beijing. His four main NYC competitors did. Guess who won New York City?
The American contingent was introduced to the media yesterday. The Internationals will walk before us today. Let’s see who has The Look. I will let you know what I see.