Month: March 2018

TO ASELA, ETHIOPIA – SEARCHING FOR DOCTOR YILMA

(From a long, long time ago, when travel called and we answered readily, “drinking life to the lees”, as Tennyson would have it.)

Meki, Ethiopia – At the unkind hour of 5:49 a.m., a gentle rap on my door stirred me from a fitful sleep. It was the morning after the wedding in Meki, and we were off to Arsi Province and needed to make an early start of it.

Our driver – a man we took to calling Big Belay to differentiate him from our friend and host, Belay Wolashe, the runner – was evidently suffering from a keening hangover, as we found him passed out in the back of the Range Rover incapable of assuming even an upright posture, much less his driving duties.

Big Belay in a world of hurt

“Big Belay, he sick last night,” said friend Belay, master of the obvious, in explaining the incense sticks burning throughout the car.

It soon became clear that the two Belays, cousin Andinet, and his friend had all slept in the car last night, as Mike Long, Rich Jayne, and I had taken the only three remaining single rooms at the tiny Ghion hotel.

Finding this out after the fact made us feel guilty as hell, but we hadn’t realized – nor been told – that there weren’t enough rooms to go around when it was suggested all three faranji (foreigners) bunk together in room # 8 last night.  After our protestations, rather than inconvenience their guests, our friends simply acquiesced and slept in the car.

By 6:20 a.m. we were on the road, a mangy collective of mouth-breathers until the warm air could divest the vehicle of Big Belay’s overnight involvements. We soon dropped Andinet and his friend off upon coming to the main road to Addis Ababa.  Then we continued on our way toward Asela.

After another hour, the Range Rover began to misfire, until we finally were forced to pull over to the side of the two-lane road.  Parked atop a high wind-swept vista overlooking the Awash National Park, we took note as the Range Rover’s starter churned unsuccessfully in its attempt to catch.

Tukuls

No Triple-A to call here, so the two Belays got out and stood peering into the engine compartment searching for clues with a clutch of woefully inadequate tools they found in the boot.  We were having another of what our Belay called, “oh, it is no problem” problem.

Conical thatch-roofed mud huts called tukuls, common in the countryside of the Arsi region, sat bunched some 100 meters off the road atop this pearl in the string of surrounding mountains.  The valley below spread for miles upon miles, a misty washed-out hew of brown grassland partially covered in scrubby bush and accented by airy-topped Acacia trees.

Finally, Big Belay emerged from the raised hood with the carburetor in hand, holding it up for inspection before blowing out the dust that had clogged it. Satisfied with his work, he quickly reassembled and refitted it.  Amazing. And off we went. (more…)

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AN ENCOURAGING WORD IN A VOLATILE WORLD

We were broadcasting the National Scholastic Track & Field Championships for ESPN from the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.  It was Sunday, March 11, 1990.  The very next day the Lithuanian parliament would vote 124-0 to secede from the Soviet Union, marking the first break from Moscow by a Baltic state forcibly annexed in 1940 – and the first independence vote of any kind in the 68-year history of the Soviet state.  The questions circling the Sunday morning news shows that day asked ‘how far would the 1989 revolution extend?’, ‘how would the United States play it?’, and ‘what shape would the world eventually take?’

Nearly 30 years later, those same questions still linger in an even more volatile world with Putin’s Russia still uneasy about the loss of her satellites, and the world anxiously wondering ‘how will the U.S. play it under President Trump?’.

Though I had been interviewing him for more than a decade, the 1990 National Scholastic meet was the first time I found myself actually working alongside 1972 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter.  During one of the breaks in our coverage as we prepped for the boy’s two-mile run, I asked Frank what his best high school two-mile had been.

“9:38,” he replied, recalling his days at Northfield Mount Hermon Academy in western Massachusetts class of `65.

A few moments later an eager-faced young man approached our broadcast location from the stands below.  Looking up, he tentatively called out, “Mr. Shorter?”

Occasionally prickly with his peers, Shorter had never been anything but gracious with young athletes.  And amidst their ensuing conversation, it came out that this particular young man had come to the Carrier Dome to watch the meet because he’d just missed qualifying for the nationals in this about to be contested two-miler.

“My best was only 9:36,” he told Shorter dejectedly, explaining how hard he had tried to make the standard.

“You know,” Frank replied, “that’s two seconds faster than my high school PR.”

The kid’s eyes opened even wider.

“9:38?  You mean I might not be finished yet?”

The world may change, invariably getting smaller, more crowded, more contentious.  Times may change, too, invariably getting faster.  But the incentives to achieve remain constant, whether for a people in search of national recognition or for a young athlete needing only an encouraging word from one of his heroes who has come before.

(From Journal #26 -> Tues. 27 Feb. to Thurs. 24 May 1990)

END

NAMING MARATHONS

Image result for los angeles marathon 2018Yesterday, some 24,000 runners from all 50 states and a score of foreign nations ran the 33rd Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon under ideal conditions – 47F at the Dodger Stadium start near downtown, to just over 50F at the Santa Monica seaside finish.  Though the men’s and women’s pro races weren’t the burners one might have expected under such clement conditions, both gender leaders did stage dramatic late-race competitions worthy of a Hollywood script.  Behind them came thousands upon thousands of stories of desire, redemption, and the life-affirming embrace of a personal challenge met and overcome.

It has been said, “there is no pain that empowers like that of childbirth.”  Perhaps that is so, but under current species regulations, it remains beyond men’s capability to take on that task, and accordingly, we must accept the truth of it from the mouths of our mothers, wives, and daughters.

Beyond passing a kidney stone, then, perhaps the closest we men can come to the experience of childbirth is the pain of the marathon. For it has also been said, “you don’t run a marathon, you give birth to one”. (more…)

SKECHERS PERFORMANCE LOS ANGELES MEN’S PREVIEW

Los Angeles, CA – The forecast for tomorrow’s 33rd Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon looks excellent, 46F (8C) at the 7 am start at Dodger Stadium near downtown, only creeping up to 50F (10C) by the time the leaders turn onto Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica 26 miles later, all under partly sunny skies. The high for the day will only be 64F (18C).  That is good news for all concerned, runners, officials, medical team, and spectators.

33 is an impressive number, what numerologists call an angel number, as it resonates with inspiration, honesty, discipline, bravery, and courage. Very apropos, don’t you think, for the marathon in the City of Angels.

In 2018 threes are wild in LA. The last three men’s champions return, Skechers Performance is back for its third year as title sponsor, the Students Run LA program (SRLA) is in its 30th year, and 3 × 3 = 9, with this being our ninth year on the iconic “Stadium to Sea” course flowing through LA, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica. (more…)

HALF-MARATHON PERFORMANCE LIST: NURTURE OR NATURE?

After Galen Rupp’s 59:47 win at the Huawei Rome Ostia Half Marathon last Sunday, 11 March 2018, I combed through the IAAF.org all-time half-marathon performance list to see what I could see.

To date, there have been 317 “official” sub-60:00 half marathon performances dating from Moses Tanui‘s 59:47 win in Milan in April 1993 (366 when we add what are/were considered the *aided courses like Lisbon ‘98).  Rupp’s own 59:47, though ineligible for record purposes due to Rome’s net downhill, point-to-point course, nevertheless was an excellent prep for next month’s Boston Marathon, as Rome mirrored the p-t-p, downhill Boston layout.

Historically, his 59:47 half-marathon PR places Rupp equal 211th best all-time (258th on all courses), but equal-fourth with New Zealand’s Zane Robertson on the all-time non-African related breakdown. (Again, noting Mo Farah, GBR, has a 59:22, 59:32, and 59:59 to his credit)

  • 1 Marilson Gomes Dos Santos – BRA – 59:33 – 7th, Udine, Italy `07 –  equal 137th best performance ever
  • 2 Antonio Pinto – POR – 59:43 – 1st, Lisbon `98 = = 226th best (all courses)
  • 3 Ryan Hall – USA –  59:43 – 1st, Houston `07-  =185th  best ever
  • 4 Zane Robertson – NZL – 59:47 – 2nd, Marugame `15 – =211th best
  • 4 Galen Rupp – USA – 59:47 – 1st, Rome-Ostia `18 – =211th best
  • 6 Sondre Nordstad Moen – NOR – 59:48 – 4th, Valencia `17 – = 221st  best
  • 7 Fabian Roncero– ESP – 59:52 – 1st, Berlin ‘01
  • 8 Dathan Ritzenhein – USA – 60:00 – 3rd, Birmingham `09 – =318th best
  • 8 Callum Hawkins – GBR – 60:00 – 1st, Marugame `17 – =318th best
  • 10 Jake Robertson – NZL – 60:01  – 1st, Lisbon `17 – =326th best
    (This January Jake Robertson won the Aramco Houston Half Marathon in 60:01 against a loaded international field to equal his 2017 PR).

The half-marathon world record has stood since 21 March 2010 when Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese won the Lisbon Half Marathon in 58:23, breaking his own previous mark by eight seconds set the year before on the same course (which had been slightly altered to comply with record standards  from the layout that Pinto ran his sub-60 on in ‘98).

To show the rapid improvement in – and scheduling of – half-marathon races, it is interesting to note that only six of the 317 (366) sub-60 half marathon performances to date were set in the 20th century: (more…)

JOHNNIE JAMESON – LA LEGACY RUNNER

When the 33rd Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon goes off this Sunday morning, among the 24,000+ lining up outside Dodger Stadium for the 26.2 mile jaunt to Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica will144 running for the 33rd time – just as I will be broadcasting the race for the 33rd straight year (locally on KTLA-TV, from 6 – 11 a.m., and nationally on WGN America, 7 – 10 a.m.  Pacific time).

This Friday at the pre-race press conference I will be joined on stage by one of those 144 LA Legacy Runners, Johnnie Jameson of Inglewood, California,  Having just turned 70 , Johnnie still works at the Bicentennial Postal station at Beverly & Curson Streets in West Hollywood.

Last week I called Johnnie to discuss what we might talk about this Friday, and soon found out that we had a lot more in common than 32 previous marathons in Los Angeles.  (more…)

SCRUBBING THE SPORT CLEAN

Nations have been turning citizens into soldiers for as long as anyone can remember.  And over time, no matter the nation, the process hasn’t changed a great deal, as it has proven tried and true.

First, the military breaks down the individual recruits – cutting off their hair, dressing them alike, housing them together in close quarters – in order to build a cohesive unit.  Then they teach precision through constant drilling until a finely tuned military force has been forged.

One of the first lessons in unit cohesion is everyone is responsible for everyone else. And if one makes a mistake, all pay the price. For instance, if one recruit decides he doesn’t want to take a shower every day in boot camp, it eventually falls to the other recruits to drag him to the showers for a late night cold water scrubbing with a hard bristled brush. It is not the drill sergeant who does this, it is the rank recruit’s own fellow privates.  That cold-water scrubbing tends to get the message across. If one recruit screws up in training, the entire platoon does extra pushups or low crawl. Eventually, life for the screw-up is made intolerable by his fellow recruits until he gets his act in order.

Bringing this analogy into the world of athletics, until the athletes themselves take some responsibility to deal with their own in this matter of doping,  the situation will never be resolved.  Every athlete only wants to train and race, total focus.  And that is fully understandable.  But that only works if the sport is in good health, and this one is not. (more…)