FALMOUTH CHAMPS NUKURI & SAINA READY TO ROLL AFTER RIO

Falmouth, MA. — In the early days of road racing it was not unusual for track athletes to come back from the European circuit to run the Falmouth Road race in August as a season-end topper.  The first man to do so was Marty Liquori, the great 1500 meter/5000 runner who was invited by his brother Steve through race founder Tommy Leonard to come run the second Falmouth Road race in 1974 as somewhat of a mini vacation on his way home to New Jersey from the continent.

Little did he know that rising local hero Bill Rodgers was trolling area shores ready to meet him head on over the seven-mile Cape layout. It was the Liquori scalp that elevated Rodgers (and the Falmouth Road Race) to stardom in the local media, and began Rodger’s final ascent to international recognition that culminated the following April when he won his first of four Boston Marathon titles in an American record time.

Over the years track men like Frank Shorter (1975 & `76 Falmouth champion); Craig Virgin (1979 champ); Rod Dixon of New Zealand (1980 winner); Mike McLeod of Great Britain (silver medalist in the 10,000 in L.A. `84 & 2nd to Al Salazar in Falmouth 1981), and more, came to race along the outer elbow of the Cape at the end of their track seasons.

As the sport developed, however, we saw the sport divide into distinctly parallel camps of road and track specialists with not much overlap between. This year, however, the 44th New Balance Falmouth Road Race will showcase a number of athletes returning from their Olympic experiences in Rio de Janeiro, including its last two female champions. Continue reading

TRUE HISTORY AT 2016 B2B 10K

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Cape Elizabeth, ME. — North Yarmouth, Maine native Ben True lessened the sting of not making the 2016 U.S. Olympic track team last month, unleashing a final kilometer sprint to pull away from fellow American Dathan Ritzenhein and debuting road race Kenyan William Sitonik to become the first American to ever win the prestigious TD Beach To Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

Over the event’s previous 18 years, 15 Kenyans, one South African, one Moroccan and one Ethiopian had turned the trick, and True himself had finished third two years ago. But this year in the event founded by Cape Elizabeth native and 1984 Olympic Marathon champion Joan Samuelson, True took the measure of the entire field. His winning time 28:16 bested American marathon star Ritzenhein by 11 second with 22 year old Kenyan Sitonik taking third in 28:31. Continue reading

BEAT DOWN AT BIX

Davenport, Ia. — So there was this little dustup between miles four and five at the BIX 7 Road Race yesterday in Davenport, Iowa. Teshome Mekonen of Ethiopia was clipping the heels of race leader Silas Kipruto, and two-time champion Kipruto became a tad tired of it. Anyone who’s been in a pack has had that situation happen to them. At first it’s frustrating, but soon, if it keeps happening, it has a tendency to piss you off.

Silas Kipruto lashes out at Teshome Mekonen (19 in yellow) as #11 Isaac Mwangi considers his options

Silas Kipruto lashes out at Teshome Mekonen (19 in yellow) as #11 Isaac Mwangi considers his options

So after a couple of head turns and stern glares from Kipruto, and a corresponding ‘go eff yourself’ from Mr. Mekonen, the 6’4″ Kipruto took a MMA backhand swipe at the much smaller Ethiopian, which backed him off, and caused all kinds of panic in the pack, which by that time was made up of two Kenyans and two Ethiopians, the Yankees-Red Sox of distance running rivalries.

As it so happens, all four of the guys in that lead pack had been racing against one another on the tour, and so were well aware of one another.

On July 10 at the Utica Boilermaker 15K it was Ethiopian Mekonen who took the win, with countryman Belay Tilahun in 5th, followed Kenyans Isaac Mwangi and Silas Kipruto.

Then last week in Santa Cruz, California at the Wharf to Wharf 6 Miler it was Isaac Mwangi outkicking Silas for the win with Mekonen in third. So these guys were not strangers.

Kipruto pulls away from Tilahun for the win

Kipruto pulls away from Tilahun for the win

Yesterday at Bix Kipruto pulled away with Belay Tilahun in tow as Mwangi and Mekonen succumbed on the infamous Kirkwood Boulevard hills in Mike 5. New father Kipruto finally went on to win the race in a last 800m sprint to notch his third BIX victory.

But Mekonen then filed a protest saying he had been interfered with. But it’s not like it all happened in a vacuum. Mekonen was causing the problem by clipping the heels of Kipruto in the first place. But in any case, this is exactly what we need in the sport. At least in America.

Every sport in America that is successful has a modicum of violence. The most popular sport, football, is predicated on violence. If you want to find an audience better find a way to incorporate some version of it. So here’s a proposal. In every 5 km of a race there ought to be at least 100 meters designated as a full contact zone. Let’s let them go at it MMA style and let the chips (and teeth) fall where they may.

Meb Keflezighi came into yesterday’s race wanting to get out of his comfort zone as he heads toward the Rio Olympic Marathon in three weeks time. And he did the early race leading with U.S. Army WCAP runner Elkahan Kibet.  But there is nothing that will get you out of your comfort zone quicker than a shot of adrenaline from a well thrown punch.

Oh, Mekonen’s protest was disallowed.

“Are you ready to rumbbbllle!!??”

Let’s get it on?

END
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LITCHFIELD CELEBRATES 40th ANNIVERSARY

It had quickly become a June tradition, the drive down from Boston to Litchfield, Connecticut for the Litchfield Hills Road Race.  The seven-mile event was co-founded in 1977 by Boston Globe sportswriter Joe Concannon in his hometown as an early summer bookend to the famous seven-mile Falmouth Road Race on Cape Cod, which had been the brainchild of Joe’s pal Tommy Leonard, he of Eliot Lounge fame in Boston.

Bob Hodge (left) battles Bill Rodgers at inaugural Litchfield

Bob Hodge (left) battles Bill Rodgers at inaugural Litchfield Hills Race

In year one most of the big guns of the Greater Boston Track Club had accepted Joe’s invitation, and with the world’s number one marathoner Bill Rodgers leading the way, Litchfield quickly established its racing bona fides, marked by the brutal Gallows Lane hill in the final mile.

In that first year I tape recorded the start of the race on Main Street, later using the starter’s long drawn out intonation, “R-u-n-n-e-r-s  R-e-a-d-y…” followed by the BOOM! of the First Litchfield Artillery canon and crowd cheering as the opening of my weekly Runner’s Digest radio show.

What defined Litchfield wasn’t just the friendship with Joe Concannon, who covered the sport for the Boston Globe at a time when that coverage helped create the sport of road racing in the public consciousness.  It wasn’t the nose-scraping elevation of Gallows Lane or the quality of the race field. Instead, what made Litchfield special was the raucous party atmosphere that draped the weekend like the high humidity that always seemed to arrive with it.  Led by co-race founder Billy Neller and race director Rick Evangelisti the Litchfield weekend soon became a fixture on the racing/party calendar for runners from the north and south alike, dividing the town into Red Sox and Yankee fandoms in the process.

Even race directors and co-founders ran in the early days

Even race directors and co-founders ran in the early days

Continue reading

ROCK `N’ ROLL MARATHON HISTORY

Suja Rock `n` Roll San Diego

Suja Rock `n` Roll San Diego

San Diego, CA. — Who knew what lie ahead in the wild open spaces of the first Rock `n` Roll Marathon? Some even questioned the concept of rock bands strung along the marathon course. What does rock `n` roll have to do with San Diego much less with running a marathon?

Well, on June 21, 1998 the world got its answer.  With the snarl of a blistering guitar solo, the tight rhythm of a snare drum and millions of accompanying footfalls, the second wave running boom announced its arrival in a rollick of music, endorphins, and sweat.

Even before its first steps were run, there was the feel of a major marathon about it. Elite Racing founder Tim Murphy had conceived the idea while running the final lonely miles of the Heart of San Diego Marathon one year out along Friar’s Road to Qualcomm Stadium.  Wishing there were some kind of support along the road to help out, Murphy thought, wouldn’t it be great to have music to run to.

It took a long time for his idea to gestate, but the seed had been planted, and after a decade of developing his reputation as an innovator, Murphy saw his grand design come into full blossom in 1998.

No longer a simple feat of speed endurance, the marathon had been transformed into a 26-mile long block party through America’s Finest City.  Though there was a 35-minute start delay at Balboa Park due to some traffic issues out on the course, which led to a water-dousing through the first aid station, the high-spirited music rocking the sidelines caused an immediate sensation.

Afterwards the nearly 20,000 entrants from 30 countries and all 50 states passed the word, ‘You gotta try this one!” And that was before they got to the post-race concert that night featuring Huey Lewis and the News, Pat Benatar, and the Lovin’ Spoonful!

So, too, was year one’s field a group of intrepid explorers, 55% of which were women, the largest such percentage of any marathon to date, and pivot-point in the history of the sport.

Mike Long, the late Elite Racing athlete recruiter with Rock `n` Roll 1999 champs Tarus & Bogacheva

Mike Long, the late Elite Racing athlete recruiter with Rock `n` Roll 1999 champs Tarus & Bogacheva

The course, mostly around Mission Bay, still had a new-car smell. Nobody knew how fast it could be run until young Kenyan, Philip Tarus, busted a 2:10 opener for the men, with Russian women Nadezhda Ilyina and Irina Bogacheva battling just nine seconds apart at the finish for the women in 2:34. That told the athletes of the world, ‘This one is worth having a go,” especially after all the Suzuki prizes and prize money checks were handed out.

No marathon except New York’s five-borough extravaganza in 1976 had ever come on the calendar with such dramatic impact: The largest first-time marathon in history, the most ingenious show along the sidelines ever produced, $15 million raised for charity – the largest amount ever for a single-day sporting event — and to cap it off world-class performances by its champions. Thus was the foundation set for what has become a global phenomenon, the so-called second running boom. Continue reading

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

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Lemi Hayle & Lelisa Desisa battling in Boston

Boston, MA. – Modern day conventional wisdom held that professional runners could optimally race only two marathons per year, one in the spring, one in the fall. With a full marathon training cycle taking 12 weeks or so, and a proper marathon recovery requiring one month, it was felt that two per year was the way to best schedule a marathoner’s career for both excellence and length.

But as the popularity of the marathon continues to spread around the world, and opportunities crop up in parts of the world outside the U.S. and Europe where the weather is conducive to marathon running in non-traditional months, we’ve begun to see more and more top athletes stretch their wings and open their calendars.

With the money that now attends these newer events, and with youthful runners who might once have gone to the ovals in Europe now running marathons as a primary profession, the two-per-year order has evolved.

Racing is not simply a trophy collection exercise, but a business opportunity. And youthful legs like those of Lemi Hayle, 21, who just won the Boston Marathon after taking second place in Dubai in January in a PR 2:04:33, don’t seem to experience a perceivable drop-off even with a shortened training regime and following recovery.

In 2015 Hayle won Dubai in 2:05:28 then came back in April to win in Warsaw in 2:07:57. And we can be fairly certain that if he is selected for the Ethiopian Olympic team for Rio (and why wouldn’t he be?) there’s even a chance he might run in the fall again, as well. Young legs and hungry hearts bounce back quicker.

Whether there are any other factors involved we will set aside for the moment. Though the cynicism that might have been decried in the past is hard to dismiss out of hand anymore.

But returning to the gist of the post: Last year two-time Boston champion Lelisa Desisa ran four marathons, taking second in Dubai (2:05:52), first in Boston, then seventh at the Beijing World Championships and finally third in New York City.  Yemane Tsegay ran three majors, second at Boston and the World Champs before fifth in NYC.

Those results didn’t appreciably slow them on Monday in Boston where they went second and third in slow conditions. And their countrywoman Titfi Tsegaye finished second at Boston in the women’s race coming off a 2:19:41 PR winning Dubai in January, which was get 19th career marathon.

What jumps out from this list is that it’s all Ethiopian.

“Most Kenyans still listen to us,” said athlete manager Federico Rosa, whose Kenyan, Paul Lonyangata, finished fifth yesterday. “It is in Ethiopia they want to run more. They want to keep rolling in races, but we don’t want to kill the body. We want the athletes to be 100% ready for their next race, and to have a long career.”

Exuberance and indestructibility are hallmarks of youth. Perhaps the old marathon isn’t such an endurance event anymore, but a speed test over a long distance.  Then again maybe it’s just luring youthful prey into its less than tender trap.  It will take a few more years to determine how sharp the old distance’s teeth still are.

Good recoveries and congrats to all the Boston finishers.  Let’s see what London has in store next week.

END

2016 BOSTON MARATHON PRESSER

Olympians Shalane Flanagan, Amy Cragg and Joan Samuelson talking prospects in Rio where Amy & Shalane just visited.

Olympians Shalane Flanagan, Amy Cragg and Joan Samuelson talking prospects in Rio where Amy & Shalane just visited.

Boston, Ma. –  U.S. Olympians Shalane Flanagan, Amy Cragg, Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall were an added attraction at today’s 2016 Boston Marathon elite athlete press conference. But with the top end Americans resting from February’s Olympic  Trials and preparing for Rio Games this summer, there are fewer marquee names in this year’s marathon field. Plenty of very fast runners, mind you, just not a lot of star power.

The biggest story in Boston 2016 is probably Lelisa Desisa’s attempt at a third BAA crown.  The 26 year-old Ethiopian has won two of his three Boston starts, 2013 and 2015. Only a DNF in Meb’s year of 2014, when Desisa stepped on a water bottle at 25K forcing him from the race at 35K, has seen him off the winner’s stand.  And speaking to his coach Haji Adillo, and his manager Hussein Makke, Desisa is laser focused on that three-peat.

“He is in top form,” said Coach Adillo, “better than ever, more mileage than before.  But after the World Championships (7th in Beijing in August) and third place at New York, we said, ‘enough’.  So we took it easy after November with only one race scheduled before Boston.”

Lelisa won that race, the Aramco Houston Half Marathon in January in a fine 60:37, showing he is in perfect position to become the ninth runner to take three Boston wins in a career, and first since Robert Cheruiyot won the third of four in 2007.

But Boston is a tricky race with no pacesetters, and a course as undulant as a Moroccan belly dancer.  Continue reading