Author: Toni Reavis

TONI REAVIS has been informing and entertaining audiences for over thirty years with his signature baritone pipes, encyclopedic knowledge, and sharp wit. One of the most respected names in running journalism, Reavis today mixes his passion for sport with his wide-ranging interest in politics, media, and culture. Reavis currently lives in San Diego where he writes his influential tonireavis.com blog, while serving on the board of directors of the Entoto Foundation, a 501C3 charity that brings needed health care to Ethiopia. In 2009 Reavis was inducted into the Running USA Hall of Champions. *****

TO TRUST AGAIN

In this bitterly pitted world where truth and honor have fallen like so many past pillars of a once civil society, who can afford to take anything at face value anymore? 

And yet with his sun shiny day 2:01:39 marathon world record in Berlin this past Sunday, Kenyan marathon master Eliud Kipchoge has risen to new heights of acclaim and glory.  Already considered the best marathon runner in history, with ten wins in eleven starts, including the Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016 and an exhibition 2:00:25 super run in Italy 2017, the 33 year-old has long been recognized as a champion’s champion for his understated elegance and gentlemanly comportment. 

I have long said that a sport must be fortunate in those who become its champions, for such designations must be earned not conferred. Nothing against previous marathon record holder Dennis Kimetto, but in terms of PR value to the game, Kipchoge is a major upgrade, as was the tolkienesque Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie a decade ago.

Notwithstanding, despite all the hard-earned recognition that has come Kipchoge’s way, it is inevitable in these cynical times that some will raise questions about the legitimacy of the new record.  As one long-time associate wrote to me right afterwards:

“Sadly, in today’s world, where we know how easy it is to beat the system, we have to hold them all under a blanket suspicion of sorts. Micro-dosing EPO, meldonium-like drugs making the rounds that are not illegal (yet) but have big PED effects, other designer drugs, so many westerners training in Ethiopia and Kenya, where the testers don’t go. Not only the Africans, it’s everywhere, even in the good old USA. Cheaters have always been a step ahead, now they’re 2 steps ahead. 

“You’ve seen the WADA Report saying almost 40% of T&Fers have or are doping. Then that survey from the 2011 World Championships where 37% of athletes admitted to doping.”

Yes, it is all very unfortunate, but that is the world in which Kipchoge ran his new record. It is all a very jumbled up, mixed up world with very little in the way of universal conciliation.  (more…)

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WHO IS THE G.O.A.T?

Never Done Better

In light of his other-worldly 2:01:39 marathon world record in Berlin last Sunday, there are some who are hailing Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge as the G.O.A.T, the greatest of all time male distance runner.  Berlin was arguably the crowning achievement of his career, but does that mark added to the rest of his curriculum vitae  make a case for GOAT?  Let’s dig in and see.

GOAT Marathoner?  Yes, indisputably, with ten wins in 11 starts, which include an Olympic gold medal and a 2:00:25 fastest ever exhibition, there isn’t anyone who can argue that point. But GOAT distance runner? That, I think, may be a step too far, though certainly he is in the top five. 

A century ago the GOAT title was first held by Paavo Nurmi, the “Flying Finn” who dominated running in the early 20th century. Nurmi set 22 official world records at distances between 1500 meters and 20km, and won nine gold and three silver medals in Olympic competition. At his peak, Nurmi went undefeated in 121 straight races from 800 meters up, and was never beaten in cross country or the 10,000 meters.

In the 1950s the great Emil Zatopek, known as the “Czech Locomotive”, re-wrote the record books and introduced the concept of interval training. His Olympic Triple in Helsinki 1952 where he won the 5000, 10,000, and the marathon in his debut at the distance, all in Olympic record times, remains an unparalleled achievement. From there the GOAT crown moved south to East Africa where it resides to this day.  (more…)

BERLIN 2018 – YOWZA, YOWZA, YOWZA!

When Patrick Makau set his 2:03:38 world record in Berlin in 2012, he made a surge between 25 and 30K while zigzagging across the road to shake Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie from his tail. Then, after passing through the Brandenburg Gate on his way to victory, he had to hop over a roadside barrier to get on the correct side of the road for the men’s finish line tape break.

Because of those two elements, a tactical surge in the middle of the race,  and a little hop over a road sign at the end of the race, you knew there was another 30 seconds or so left in the world record after he crossed in 2:03:38. (And Godspeed to Mr  Makau who announced his retirement this past week).

But there is always a question after a world record marathon, what was left that didn’t go exactly right that might mean the world record has more time left in it?

Never Done Better

Today, the great Eliud Kipchoge broke Dennis Kimetto ‘s 2014 Berlin course and world record by 1:18 with a 2:01:39 finish time. Yowza, yowza, yowza!  But what didn’t go right? How much more can be squeezed out of that course? (more…)

BERLIN 2018 PREVIEW – DANGEROUS DISTANCE

Even in modern times, there are those of us who remember when people used to think running the marathon wasn’t just a challenge, but a risk.

Bobbi Gibb, Boston Marathon 1966

Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1966, had a father who thought the event was downright dangerous, and was angry at his daughter for even thinking about running it – “he thought I was mentally ill, but he didn’t know I had been training.”

Who could blame Bobbi’s dad in 1966?  After all, the entire mythology of the event was based on the Greek messenger Pheidippides running himself into his grave bringing word of victory in a battle against Persians 2500 years ago.

With a debut like that, it’s no wonder it took 2400 years before somebody attempted the distance again. But once it got going and they stripped away that ‘maybe you’re going to die doing it’ element, the marathon boomed because it came to represent the ultimate test of athletic endurance in an increasingly sedentary world. 

That’s the thing about consensus beliefs, tasks readily accepted today were once deemed unattainable. Such is the  scientific method and the manner of progress.  Observation and experimentation lead to the formulation and the testing of hypotheses, and thus does evidence accumulate and knowledge expand. 

Of course, there are always science deniers, the proudly lunkheadish, but people generally accept what the data indicates.

It wasn’t that long ago that there was a school of thought that believed trying to run the mile in under four minutes was as physically dangerous as trying to break the sound barrier in flight, another thought-to-be-impossible human endeavor. In fact, the frisson of danger was a big part of why people were intrigued by such monumental undertakings. 

Tragedy, after all, could happen, and you could be witness to it. There was a perverse car-crash appeal to such danger. “Playing at the edge” was the mindset for what a long, hard running effort might bring about.  (more…)

SUMMER IN THE CITY

Earlier this month it was the far west dealing with unrelenting heat that fueled devastating wild fires up and down the coast. This week it’s the east coast that’s broiling. Pity the poor players having to deal with the conditions at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens.

And while it may seem we are experiencing yet another indicator of that oft mentioned bugaboo Climate Change, these spells do come around every now and again on their own. I found the following recollection in one of my old journals that brought back a particularly wild ride one hot summer’s night in the city.

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Reeking tendrils of humidity stewed street stench wafted through the city like a hangover from the 1968 sanitation worker’s walkout.  The city sucked.  So off I headed to Boston to ride it out. Not that Boston was any bargain, but at least the beaches were proximate and, at the moment, free of medical waste.

The train, I figured – five hours from Penn Central to Boston’s Back Bay – a tranquil change from the jet whine life I was leading at the time. Plus, traveling by train felt like riding through New England’s backyard.

There was no real hurry, though no understanding, either, of how often the trains ran.  This was still pre-internet, pre-smartphone, but if the airline shuttles worked every half-hour, then the trains would probably go on a similar schedule, right?

I arrived at Penn Station at 6:40 p.m. as the last of the day’s commuters battled for already fouled air space.  Fixed-wing floor fans attempted to do what only an advancing ice age had a prayer to accomplish, cool the joint.  Instead, the fans fueled the street reek and knocked the walking weak off balance as they neared the piles of uncollected trash.  But I was already in a weekend state, oblivious to all the ill winds and foul moods, as well as one step ahead of the medical waste that was reportedly still bobbing off the Rhode Island coast. (more…)

2018 FALMOUTH PHOTO ESSAY

Little late, I know, but here’s a look back from the lead men’s press truck at last Sunday’s 46th New Balance Falmouth Road Race.

 

The calm before the storm in Woods Hole
A gray summer’s day for those heading to Martha’s Vineyard. 64F at the start.
Thus it begins
Great Britain’s Chris Thompson leads the way coming off 11th in the 10,000 & 9th in the 5000 at the European Championships in Berlin.
Chris Thompson, leads 2x Falmouth runner up Leonard Korir, Northern Arizona Elite’s Scott Fauble and US Army WCAP’s Haron Lagat in a strong early push.
Scotland’s Callum Hawkins (white over red) shows early interest, coming off 7th place at the TD Beach to Beacon 10k two weeks ago in Maine. Took 9th at the 2016 Olympic Marathon, 4th last year at the World Champs in London.
No damage to the pack after a 4:34 opening mile. But 4x defender Stephen Sambu in black enters the picture.
Sambu is the only 4x men’s winner in Falmouth history, and came in off a second place finish at the TD B2B 10k two weeks before. WCAP’s Haron Lagat in white and ZAP Fitness man Andrew Colley in blue on the left both have shown good form this summer.
Cheering fans help the runners through the first three miles of rolling hills.
As the course rolls down out of the tree cover, Sambu presses, passing three miles in 13:58 (4:40 3rd mile, off a 4:44 2nd). University of Michigan star Ben Flanagan falls in with WCAP’s Korir and Lagat, Colley and Fauble.
12 strong hit the flats as the boys roam the coast along Vineyard Sound. Callum Hawkins leaking off the back. Chris Thompson and GBR’s Ross Millington (yellow #9) still holding.
Four miles fall in 18:36 (4:37) as a steady headwind negates the clement 66F temperature. 10 still remain.
A well defined lead pack now separates, led by defending champ Stephen Sambu. Today’s splits right in line with the last three years when the winning time ranged from 32:10 to 32:17.
Chris Thompson (far left) finally gives way between 4-5 miles. This is the traditional place on the course when the finalists are determined. Philadelphia Med school student Martin Hehir (yellow on left) well positioned coming off 8th place at July 4ths AJC Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta. Colley in blue on the right took 6th there. 
Still 10 strong turning off the water and heading through the neighborhood section of the course.
Sambu still in front at 5 miles – 23:14 (4:38) – as the men begin picking through remnants of the pro women’s field.
The final six take a left and head toward Falmouth Harbor, Left to right: Martin Hehir, Ben Flanagan, Stephen Sambu, Haron Lagat, Leonard Korir, Scott Fauble. Toughest part of the course, too far out to smell the barn, but five-plus miles in and hurting.
Sambu had established a good lead by the time he reached Falmouth Marine in each of the last four years, but he’s a little under-raced this summer as he heads toward the Chicago Marathon in October.
With Falmouth Harbor off their right shoulder, the final six take one another’s measure. NCAA 10,000m champion Ben Flanagan took 2nd at the Bix 7 in Iowa after placing third at the Canadian Nationals at 5000m and winning a road mile in Ann Arbor. He’s the man with the speed.
Six miles in 27:52, 10k in 28:49, no records today, but we’ve never seen six men still together this late in the race. And the crowd drives them even harder toward home.
And it’s the rookie, The Wolverine, Ben Flanagan, flashing his heels and romping to the tape with a giant smile creasing his face. NAE’s Scott Fauble a breakthrough in second. Leonard Korir on the podium for the fourth straight year in third. Sambu relegated to fourth.
Happiest champion EVER!
Go Blue! Michigan Hugs all around.
Falmouth Road Race board member Scott Ghelfi and family hosted Ben during his stay in Falmouth. He just about lost his voice shouting out Ben’s win over the PA.
Saluting Canada’s first ever Falmouth champ.
And in they come, neatly 12,000 in all.
Just behind the finish line the Crow’s Nesters take in the action.
After his win, Ben heads to the Crow’s Nest to celebrate, while receiving a well-earned standing O.
Brad Hurst awards Ben his Crow’s Nest tee shirt, which, according to no less a source than Malmo himself, is Falmouth’s equivalent of the Masters green jacket.
2x Boston Marathon champion Geoff Smith hails a Commonwealth man’s win at Falmouth, a first since Dave Murphy’s double in 1984-‘85.
Kickin’ back, reliving the day. Many of the Crow’s Nest crowd raced against University of Michigan women’s coach Mike McGuire back in the day. Mac texted Ben the address and said go up and say hi.
Overlooking Falmouth Heights, a place Ben will long remember.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. See you next year.

 

END

SEPARATE AND EQUAL

With today’s announcement of the very strong pro women’s field gathering for the 2018 TCS NYC Marathon, another old idea resurfaced in the attempt to help focus attention on the actual racing side of the game. 

2018 NYC Women’s Field

Just as I recently posited how it might be fun (though impractical) to stage a pure match race between Galen Rupp and his former training partner Mo Farah in Chicago in order to truly focus public attention, I have always thought that the two U.S. Abbott World Marathon Major partners in the fall, Chicago and New York, should work together rather than compete for the same stock of athletes. 

Imagine if each event focused on just one gender at the tip of the spear where all the top female athletes go one place, and the best males line up at the other. Then, the following year they swap.  (more…)