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

image

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

2016 HAPALUA – THE CHASE IS ON

Honolulu, HI. – At a time when interest in the outcome of elite races is struggling to connect with an audience, the Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon has designed a format that brings the world-class into competition with the local-class, while making hunters and prey out of all. In today’s version of the Hapalua’s unique Chase format, Kenya’s Isabella Ochichi used her seven-minute head start over scratch runners Patrick Makau and Erick Kibet to notch the overall win and take home the Hapalua title and $5000 top prize. Former marathon world record holder Makau and 61-minute half-marathoner Kibet finished together in 1:05:35, which was only good for fourth and fifth in the Chase.

Isabella Ochichi wins 2016 Hapalua Chase

Isabella Ochichi wins 2016 Hapalua Chase

 

The Hapalua Chase brings 24 of the islands’ best runners together as Team Hawaii to compete against four invited professionals. Team Hawaii runners get  head starts, ranging from 23 minutes to six minutes, launching from Kalakaua Avenue in the heart of Waikiki Beach.

image

Kenyan stars Kibet & Makau (left) assess the start of Japan pro Ryotaro Otani who went off with a 3:00 head start.

2004 Olympic 5000m silver medalist and two-time Honolulu Marathon third placer Ochichi completed the challenging Diamond Head dominated course in 1:10:37, besting Japanese pro Ryotaro Otani – who was given a three-minute cushion – by 59-seconds.

Team Hawaii's Amanda Beaman takes 3rd in Chase.

Team Hawaii’s Amanda Beaman takes 3rd in Chase.

17 year-old Iolani High School senior Amanda Beaman finished third with a gun time of 1:25:23.  But with a 20-minute head start the 2015 Hawaii state cross country and 3000 meter champion was able to just hold off fast closing Makau and Kibet who ran the entire distance side-by-side.

“It was fun,” said Ochichi in the sun-spashed post-race gathering.  “You were running away from someone as well as running after someone.”

Two years ago Isabella came to the Hapalua, but was only awarded a five-minute advantage, which left her 1:10:24 gun time in only fourth place at the Kapiolani Park finish. Today, she caught Team Hawaii’s Amanda Beaman at 19K going up Diamond Head and cruised home the clear winner. Continue reading

HAPALUA 2016

Patrick Makau and daughter Christine enjoying the breezes at the Outrigger

Patrick Makau and daughter Christine enjoying the day at the Outrigger Reef

Honolulu, HI. — Former marathon world record holder Patrick Makau and 2004 Olympic 5000 meter silver medalist Isabella Ochichi, both from Kenya, have returned to Hawaii as the star attractions for Sunday’s fifth Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon. Organized by the Honolulu Marathon Association, the Hapalua features a field of nearly 8000 runners in 2016, 2000 of whom hail from Japan. Both categories represent significant increases in the rapidly expanding sister race to December’s Honolulu Marathon.

Hapalua logoThe Hapalua is best known for its unique Chase format in which Team Hawaii consisting of 20 top local runners from the islands are given a series of head starts ranging from 23 minutes to 6 minutes before four professionals including Ochichi, Makau, Ryotaro Otani from Japan, and Erick Kibet from Kenya, take to the chase.

Makau (PR, 58:52) and Kibet (PR, 61:10) represent the scratch runners in the field (Kibet more as a pacer to give Makau company in the early stages), while Ochichi (PR, 68:38) will have a six-minute advantage, and 25 year-old Ryotaro Otani (PR, 62:48) will begin at 5:58 a.m. a slim two minutes ahead of his Kenyan rivals. From there it is the first person across the Kapiolani Park finish line who will take home the $5000 first prize out of a total purse of $11,000.

15Hapalua Passing Johanna

Eventual winner Peter Kirui of Kenya (64:08) & runner-up Nicholas Kemboi of Qatar (64:09) pass Team Hawaii’s Johanna Apelryd down Diamond Head in the final mile of the 2015 Hapalua

Local runners won the first three Hapalua Chases, while Peter Kirui of Kenya finally took home the top prize for the pros last year in a course record 64:08.

2016 marks the third Hapalua appearance for Makau, whose 2:03:38 win at the 2011 Berlin Marathon stood as the world record for two years.  In 2013 Patrick ran 65:28 at the Hapalua, but only finished 16th in the Chase format.

Makua returned to Honolulu in 2014, coming off a chronic knee injury that had sidelined him for the remainder of 2013 following a 2:14 finish at London Marathon in April.  A the 2014 Hapalua he ran a conservative 68:42, good for 15th position in the Chase. This year he arrives with seven year-old daughter Christine after dropping out of the Dong-A Marathon in Seoul, South Korea on March 20th, felled by a stomach bug that knocked him out before he reached 10K. The former world record holder is aiming for a 63:30 on Sunday.

Isabella Ochichi set world 5K road record at Carlsbad 200

Isabella Ochichi set the world 5K road record at Carlsbad 2004 in 14:53 in same year as she won Olympic silver medal in Athens, Greece.

36 year-old Isabella Ochichi took a long seven year break from competitive running after a bronze medal finish in the 5000m at the 2006 World Athletic Final. Two Achilles tendon surgeries and a stubborn weight gain after the birth of her son Bernard in 2010 kept the 2004 Olympic silver medalist over 5000m sidelined.

She has finished third in the last two Honolulu Marathons, and fourth in the 2014 Hapalua Chase, even with a women’s course record 70:24.  Just last week Isabella finished fifth in the Prague Half Marathon running 69:03. Her goal is to run 71-flat.

Hapalua course map

The Hapalua starts at 6 a.m.on April 10 by The Duke Kahanamoku statue in Waikiki and finishes in Kapiolani Park just like its sister Honolulu Marathon in December.  The times on the Hapalua course seem slow, but that has as much to do with challenging front and backside climbs over the infamous Diamond Head in the final four miles as it does with the tropical weather.

I will be hosting a live Periscope feed from the lead vehicle once the sun comes up.  You can follow along on my Periscope (<— download link) at ToniReavis.

Periscope LogoPeriscope is a simple iPhone app by Twitter that lets you do live streaming or broadcast to all your followers on Twitter. You can also watch and follow other people doing broadcasts on it.  If a person you’re following is doing live broadcasts, you can easily see it from your main dashboard on the app.

END

 

 

CARLSBAD 5000 SETS A NEW COURSE

Carlsbad Logo 2015Beyond pure competition the beauty of racing lies in the absolute of distance in relation to the inarguable measure of time.  This weekend marks the 31st running of the Carlsbad 5000, billed, as always, as the World’s Fastest 5K.  And while that subtitle still holds true, as 16 world records, 8 U.S. records, and a laundry list of age-group marks have been set on the tranquil seaside course, it is true mostly in regard to potential for national and age-group marks, rather than the world bests.

Since Kenya’s Sammy Kipketer reeled off his two 13:00 wins in 2000 and 2001 — both years featuring sub-4:00 opening miles — no one has come within a javelin throw of his mark.  Last year on a newly designed layout Tucson-based Kenyan Lawi Lalang took the title in 13:32, equal fourth slowest winning time in Carlsbad history, and same as Steve Scott’s inaugural year win in 1986. U.S. master phenom Bernard Lagat finished third overall in a new world master’s record 13:40 (behind little known Wilson Too of Kenya, 13:35).

Lawi Lalang on his way to victory at CBAD 2015

Lawi Lalang on his way to victory at CBAD 2015 (courtesy, Betancourt Photography)

Lalang, an eight-time NCAA champion while at the University of Arizona, is back to defend in 2016, again taking on his training mate Lagat.  The two will test their mettle against American mile standout Will Leer (fourth in 2013, 13:36), two-time Australian Olympian Collis Birmingham, and Great Britain’s Andy Vernon who set his road 5K PR in Carlsbad in 2012 at 13:40.

On the women’s side, 5K road world record holder and three-time Carlsbad champion Meseret Defar of Ethiopia returns to Carlsbad for the sixth time overall, and first since her 15:04 win in 2010. Mezzy, now 32, is coming off a solid silver medal performance over 3000 meters (behind Genzebe Dibaba) at the recent IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland, Oregon.  The two-time Olympic 5000 meter champion will be inducted into the Carlsbad 5000 Hall of Fame this weekend, along with six-time women’s wheelchair champion DeAnna Sodoma. Continue reading