HONOLULU MARATHON CAPS RECORD YEAR

Honolulu, HI – Imagine what old Pheidippides would have thought of this marathon year of 2019. The original marathoner, the one who expired after running 40k from Marathon to Athens in 492 B.C. to bring word of a military victory to the city fathers, how would he have wrapped his head around Eliud Kipchoge’s 1:59:40 exhibition in Vienna, or Brigid Kosgei’s 2:14:04 in Chicago, or now Titus Ekiru’s 2:07:59.02 in the heat, humidity, and hills of Honolulu?

Honolulu record setter Titus Ekiru

First of all, he’d probably lose his mind by just the idea of Hawaii as a place, but other than that he’d likely wonder if gravity had somehow been mastered or overcome. How else to explain such running?  Yet we don’t have to go back 2500 years to be gobsmacked by the current state of affairs.

“Who ever thought we’d see times like this here?” said long time Honolulu Marathon president Jim Barahal after watching Titus Ekiru’s 27-second course record at yesterday’s 47th Honolulu Marathon.

Barahal’s head-scratching bemusement distilled the feelings many have had regarding the tectonic changes this sport has been living through in recent years.

Nowadays, rather than the grueling endurance challenge of yesteryear, the marathon seems like just another race for the sport’s top talent. In fact, it doesn’t seem to give them even a moment’s pause whatsoever.

So when 28 year-old Titus Ekiru arrived on the island to defend his 2018 title coming off a three minute marathon PB in the spring in Milan, Italy, then tuned up for Honolulu with a big half marathon best in Lisbon in late October (60:12), the Honolulu record was definitely under threat, given the right conditions. Continue reading

FROM HONOLULU TO THE WORLD

Looking to Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach

Honolulu, HI – The Honolulu Marathon may not be a World Marathon Major, but it is a major world marathon. Now in it’s 47th year, the island classic began as more of an end-of-the-season lark for the handful of top local runners and a few island hopping elites brought over by their shoe company sponsor.  Winning times would generally fall just under 2:20 for men and 2;40 for women.  But it was always a fun time more than a fast time.  

Then something happened, and over the last 30 years Honolulu has become a springboard for some of the greatest marathoners of the modern era who utilized the Honolulu Marathon as a proving ground for greater glory on the world stage.

Ibrahim Hussein set new records in Honolulu and kick-started the Kenyan marathon revolution

Kenya’s Ibrahim Hussein was the first Kenyan champion in Honolulu, winning three straight from 1985 to 1987.  More than that, the University of New Mexico grad twice broke the Honolulu course record, slashing three-plus minutes off Dave Gordon’s 1982 mark of 2:15:30 with a 2:12:08 in 1985, then slicing another 25-seconds off in 1986.

Before Hussein the assumption was that Kenyans were not disciplined enough for the marathon distance. Attacking 26 miles as if it were 10K road or 12K cross country event, Kenyan athletes flamed out well before the finish lines of marathons far and wide.

Think of that assumption today in light of the last three decades of marathon domination that has emerged from training camps in and around the towns of Eldoret and Iten in the Central Highlands of Kenya.

Hussein went on to become the first Kenyan to win the New York City Marathon in 1987, then duplicated that first with three wins in Boston in 1988, ‘91, & ’92. Continue reading

NUN JACKED

As we head back to Hawaii for the 2019 Honolulu Marathon and Waikiki Merrie Mile,  I recall another such trip 30 years ago when travel was quite different and the distance to go much greater.

Oh, jeez! We just found out the plane sitting at Lindbergh Field’s terminal 2 gate 50 has a mechanical issue and we have to wait four hours for our next update!  Not the flight itself, mind you, just an update. Once again I’m reminded that travel is fun for those who don’t do it!  Anyway, here’s the way it worked back in 1989.

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The Continental flight to Honolulu lifted out of Newark’s Liberty International at 8:45 a.m.  I’d been up since five packing at the Hotel Wales on Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side.  Not that the Wales fit the exclusive Carnegie Hill neighborhood.  In fact, its main function appeared to be tryst-palace for the weasel-minded marrieds of the area. Redolent of bad blood and old lust, the bedding’s sheen frightened me into sleeping fully dressed on top rather than toasty, but tainted, beneath.

On the ride to the airport the next morning, sleep clung to the corners of my eyes like small shells left behind on the beach by the outgoing tide.  A day of travel, eleven hours in all, had me centered on the task of reducing the apprehension such involvement in close quarters required, meaning, lay off the coffee and resist the pull to fully awaken.

After all the airport preliminaries, the silver bird banked gracefully to the northeast revealing the deep thicket of Manhattan skyscrapers below.  From above, the towers transformed into the spiny defenses of a hunkered down animal in fear.  Not that I harbored any fear of flying.  In fact, I had always been something of a fatalist.  Send-offs like, “Have a good flight” had always confused me.

“I don’t think me having a good flight is gonna make much of a difference,”  I’d think to myself, even while saying out loud, “Thanks, I will.”  I figured it was pretty much up to the captain to have the good flight since it always seemed like the fellas with the hash marks on their gabardines had a hold of the controls.  Me, I was just going along for the ride.

Before long I drifted into the completion of last night’s abbreviated sleep, carried by the hum of the jet’s spinning turbines.  Hours later I awoke – the captain was still having a “good flight” up front – as the latest James Bond movie, “Living Daylights” rolled its closing credits while window shades lifted throughout the cabin.

Outside beneath a broken cloud cover the Rocky Mountains jutted skyward, while rivers meandered through the snow looking like chocolate syrup squeezed into a glass of cold milk.

As we glided into San Francisco over the fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge, we were told there would be a one-hour layover as the plane was refueled and cleaned for the final 5 1/2 hour flight to Honolulu.  Being a seasoned frequent flier I knew it was best to wait until the plane was fully boarded before re-entering, as the air-conditioning systems in airplanes never worked very well on the ground.  So sitting there in the back of the Continental flight to Honolulu partially boarded and not ready for takeoff would have been a rookie mistake.

Before off-loading, I left a “Seat Occupied” sign on my cushion, as well as my journal and magazines in the pocket below the tray table. But when I finally did re-board, lo and behold as I marched through the crowded compartment, there in full battle dress plopped comfortably in seat 34A – MY seat – was a nun.  Well now. Continue reading

ATHLETICS’ SISYPHEAN TASK

It is perhaps the most Sisyphean of athletics’ challenges, the movement to truly modernize the sport of athletics (track & field). Over the years, the boulder of professionalism has approached its summit on a number of occasions, only to see its fortunes tumble back down to the old status quo time and again.

Sisyphus by Titan

It’s as if the athletes were being punished for their sport’s leaders’ “self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness”, as was Sisyphus.  Yet the primary impediment to change has been the gravity of tradition, the weight of Olympic amateurism that defined the birth of organized sport in Victorian times and the consequent power vested in the federations-based model that grew to dominate the sport cradle-to-grave in the ensuing hundred-plus years. 

Attempts have been made to challenge the old order. In 1972, the International Track Association initiated a circuit of events in the USA and Canada featuring a coterie of well-known though aging stars. But the new association found itself unable to sign the stars coming out of the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games because the “amateurs” could still make more money from under-the-table appearance fees on the federation-led tour than they could as “professionals” in open prize money events on the new ITA circuit.

Then, in the early 1980s when road racing in America was in its first boom stage, the top road racers attempted a breakaway under the auspices of the Association of Road Race Athletes (ARRA). Their attempt at creating an independent circuit for professional road racing was eventually smothered in the cradle after the U.S. federation negotiated a semantic accommodation called TACTRUST which, though allowing the athletes to keep their winnings, retained the veil of amateur eligibility and federation control.

That temporary solution proved sufficient for the athletes of that era, but it left the old system in place and kept the sport from breaking free of its amateur chrysalis and perhaps taking flight as a truly professional sport.

In the meantime, the hallmark of the international system continued to be its inherent paternalism, a system that treated athletes first like serfs in feudal bondage and then as independent contractors without the collective bargaining power to determine their own fate via a more balanced system.

The persistence of financial corruption and self-dealing by past leaders of this federations-based system has been the one through-line that has defined its rule. And now under new leadership, the system’s solution to track’s shrinking viewer base is the elimination of events to reduce the sports’ TV window from two hours to ninety minutes. Continue reading

NEW YORK 2019 PREVIEW – WELL TUNED

The marathon world is in the middle of a technological revolution these days, witnessing a new era of high performance. It will be interesting see if that revolution continues on the streets of New York City on November 3, 2019.

The revolution isn’t just coming from the ground up via the stacked midsole, carbon-plated shoes that have tongues wagging and federations investigating. Another developing change in the marathon world has been in the athletes’ total focus. Many men like world record holder Eliud Kipchoge and second all-time Kenenisa Bekele no longer do a tune up race at all before their marathons, while those that do are running them much faster than their predecessors.

For instance, last year Shura Kitata ran 59:16 in Philadelphia as part of his NYC buildup. That prepped him for a second place finish in NYC in 2:06:01 behind training partner Lelisa Desisa’s 2:05:59 win.

Back in the day it was rare for anyone to even break 61 in their half tune up for fear they would find themselves too sharp for the more conservative pace required in the double distance. Now that theory is another that seems to have been tossed into the dust bin of history. Continue reading

2019 KIGALI INTERNATIONAL PEACE MARATHON – VIDEO

As the biggest marathon of the year gears up for its 42nd running in New York City this Sunday, thought I’d post a video of an exotic marathon we covered from earlier this year in the central east African nation of Rwanda.

What’s the story of Rwanda?  Out of darkness -> light. Kwibuka – Remember, Unite, Renew.

So it is with the marathon. And so thousands of people from 55 nations lined up at Amahoro National Stadium to contend with 42.2 kilometers. Some to remember, others to renew, but all to unite.

The 15TH KIGALI INTERNATIONAL PEACE MARATHON                                        A story of remembrance, redemption, and renewal.

 

Check out their website https://kigalimarathon.org For more information about the 2020 Kigali International Peace Marathon,

 

END

NEW YORK CITY 2011 – LOOK BACK AT A RECORD RUN

With cool weather expected and the nature of the current game where no record is safe, thought I’d bring us back to 2011, the year Geoffrey Mutai set what still stands as the New York City Marathon course record, 2:05:06.  This account comes directly from journal #182, 6 November 2011.

New York 2011

40°F and clear, 48% humidity under calm flag conditions. Only going up to 56F, the perfect day for the 42nd running of the ING (now TCS) New York City Marathon.

Besides the NYCM title itself, two other factors will come into play on the men’s side today. Though unofficial, this will serve as an Olympic selection for several top Kenyans, notably Geoffrey and Emmanual Mutai (unrelated) the Boston and London course record holders.

With two-time world champion Abel Kirui and world record holder Patrick Makau already selected for London 2012, only one spot remains open. Kenyan Athletics chairman Isaiah Kiplagat has said the decision will be made after today’s race.

Another factor will be the completion of the 2010 – 2011 World Marathon Majors series. Five men remain in contention for the series title and $500,000 prize.

Emmanuel Mutai is in the best position, sitting second in the current standings just five points behind Berlin Marathon champion Patrick Makau, who has completed his season. A first or second place finish today would wrap up the series win for Emmanuel. If he takes third or worst, it opens the door for Geoffrey Mutai, Tsegaye Kebede and Gebre Gebremariam if they win.

The women set off first.

The big favorite is Kenyan Mary Keitany, the London Marathon champion looking to answer Russia’s Lilya Shobukhova’s 2:18:20 win in Chicago last month. Mary debuted in New York City 2010, but was a deer in the headlights, overwhelmed by the size of the city and the prospect of her first marathon. She finished third behind fellow Kenyan Edna Kiplagat and American Shalane Flanagan as all three played a cautious game until the end.

Today, fearful no more, the tiny terror lit out from Staten Island like there was a close-out sale waiting in Manhattan. She was alone by the time she turned right onto fourth Avenue in Brooklyn coming off Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

At 2 miles she was at 10:29 which was faster than the men’s 2 mile split in 2010 (10:55). It’s one thing not to be cautious….

Her 10K split, 31:52, which would’ve placed her second at the New York Mini 10K in June, crazy! At one point she was on 2:14 pace with a course record of 2:22:31 from 2003 by Margaret Okayo, that seemed  a tad excessive.

A half hour after the women the men begin, and this time with no pacesetters. The large contingent begins modestly, 24:40 at 5 miles which is just 2:09 pace. But as they weave through Brooklyn, they begin to knock off sub-4:50 miles (3:00/km) with regularity and slowly begin nearing course record pace.

Keitany stretches her lead with each passing mile, hitting the half in 1:07:56, a crazy split. Behind, a pack of four forms up, also under course record pace hitting a half in 1:10:08. They include Bronx-based Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba, fellow Ethiopians Werknesh Kidane and Firehiwot Dado, along with Boston champion Caroline Kilel of Kenya. 

Miles 14 and 15 through Queens took 5:26 and 5:37 for Keitany after her series of sub-5:10 miles earlier in the race. Her lead peaks at 2:21 as she crossed the 59th St. Bridge heading into Manhattan.

In 2001, Tesfaye Jifar of Ethiopia set the 2:07:43 course record in NYC, the longest standing course record of all five Marathon Majors. But with today’s deep field and ideal conditions, it seems all but sure we will see new ground broken.  Continue reading