Category: Commentary

R.I.P. GABE

Pulitzer Prize winning historian Jon Meacham has written a new book with country singer Tim McGraw called Songs of America. In promoting his latest work, Meacham often says of America, “We are at our best when we live up to the words of Jefferson, ‘all men are created equal’.”

But within that founding sentiment we rarely ask how is it that all men are truly created equal. What is it that binds us all in this human family?

There is an underlying assumption that because our Creator is deemed good, and we have been made in His likeness and image, that there is dignity and value in all men and women, and it is that understanding that makes us all alike. But history and experience tells us something quite different. (more…)

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CELEBRATING GLOBAL RUNNING DAY ON FRED LEBOW’S BIRTHDAY

This Wednesday, June 5th is Global Running Day, and there will be celebrations and recognitions throughout the world. But perhaps Global Running Day should be recognized two days earlier on June 3rd instead. Why? Because June 3 is Fred Lebow’s birthday. 

While Frank Shorter is recognized as the Alan Shepard of the Running Boom with his victory in the Munich Olympic Marathon in 1972 igniting the sport’s growth in America, Fred Lebow was the man, perhaps as much as any other, who launched the sport of road running across the world from his offices at 9 E. 89th Street, headquarters of New York Road Runners Club just off 5th Avenue and Central Park.

In 2019, Fred would have been celebrating his 87th birthday. Sadly, he died of cancer in October 1994 at the age of 62.

Running Ringmaster Fred Lebow

Fred was not a great runner himself, finishing the inaugural New York City Marathon in 1970 in 4:12:09, placing 45th out of 55 finishers.  But he was a great running impresario at a time when the sport required intrepid pioneers willing to make something out of essentially nothing.

Back in the early days when running was making inroads into more and more people’s lives, it was Fred, bullhorn in hand and true belief in his heart, who became the sport’s primary front man and tub-thumper, the man who engineered the first five-borough New York City Marathon in 1976, taking what had been a quirky event making four-laps of Central Park and turning it into an international phenomenon.

Always looking to expand the sport, both domestically and internationally, Fred was a willing interviewee as well as a self-confessed “borrower” of ideas he discovered during his far-flung travels to see how others were staging races elsewhere.

On July 21, 1980, I sat down with Fred in his office for one of our many interviews for my Runner’s Digest radio show in Boston.  In this interview, we discussed the future of running as a professional sport. It’s fascinating to go back nearly 40 years and see where Fred saw the sport’s future heading.  I can only wonder what he would have thought of today’s running world. (more…)

KIPCHOGE ANNOUNCES SUB-TWO 2.0

The clock is ticking, or at least liquid crystals are silently reforming. And with that inexorable progress, time is running short for Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge – as it is for all of us now, all who came before, and all who may come after.

At age 34 (5 Nov. 1984) the marathon world record holder and 2016 Olympic champion has no time to waste. We are only in our prime for so long. Thus, even as the 2:02;37 effort from London this April 28th still lingers, Mr. Kipchoge  is already planning another assault on the sub-2 hour marathon. for this fall

This new attempt will not take place in Berlin, the Abbott World Marathon Major where the last six men’s world marathon records have been set – including Eliud’s 2:01:39 last September.  Instead, Kipchoge will attack sub-2 at a special event staged somewhere in London sponsored by INEOS, a large London-based manufacturer that has recently entered into the world of sporting sponsorship by taking over cycling‘s Team Sky.

It was in the spring of 2017 that Kipchoge first attempted to run sub – two. That effort was conducted on a Formula One race track in Monza, Italy that was closed to the public. The production was famously staged by Eliud’s shoe company sponsor Nike.

That attempt came tantalizingly close to its historic goal, just 26 seconds shy of the magical sub-2 mark. However, his finishing time of 2:00:25 was not record-eligible because the event used a rotating squad of pacers when  only pacers who start with the record attempter are deemed valid.

The understanding is that for this 2019 attempt in London, Kipchoge will again be set up behind a phalanx of rotating pacers. (more…)

SHOULDN’T A GOAT HAVE TO CLIMB?

The praise for Eliud Kipchoge continues to pour in from every corner. His masterful performance in London last weekend cemented his place as the preeminent marathoner of this and perhaps any era in most peoples eyes. But can we slow down for just half a second?

Greatest of all time?

Are we really ready to hand the title of Greatest of All Time to a man who has only run flat, paced races in near ideal weather along with one lab experiment in Monza, Italy? Certainly, Master Kipchoge’s Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016 was won without the aid of pacers on a warm muggy day. And his previous life as a track runner – especially in Paris 2003 at the IAAF World Championship 5000 – proved he can race with anyone. Nobody is suggesting otherwise.

But since he moved up to the marathon in Hamburg 2013, where is the variety? Where is the new challenge? Where is the ‘throw anything at me, I’ll take it on’ mentality?

In his 12-marathon career, Kipchoge has run four Londons, four Berlins, and Chicago 2014. Rotterdam 2014 was his other non-major.  Yet we just read today that Mr. Kipchoge said, “I trust that before I see the sport out that I will run all six major marathons.”

While that is wonderful to hear, there’s a difference between running all six and racing all six. (more…)

MO VS. THE ZEN MASTER – LONDON 2019

From afar, does Mo seem skittish to you? Could be that he’s never been more prepared, and is just raring to go. Or, does the prospect of staring down Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan master, have him unsettled?

Eliud v Mo (AP)

After four Olympic gold medals and six world titles, you’d expect an athlete of Mo’s experience to be beyond such considerations. But Eliud Kipchoge is deep, deep water. There is a serenity about him, a regal presence that Farah, for all his Olympic and World Championship hardware, doesn’t naturally posses.  Very few do.

There’s just an aura about certain people, and Kipchoge has it. Maybe 10 wins in 11 marathon starts, including the world record and the Olympic gold medal, develops such grace.

In contrast, there was Mo over at the London Marathon expo slap-dashing around trying to jump on the moving treadmill belt set at WR pace and flopping like a fish while an average Joe alongside in the next lane looked over startled by the tomfoolery. All in good fun, or a sign of nerves?

This, you could say, is truly a mano a mano contest between two of the highest profile runners of their era. The kind of potential crossroads match-race we rarely see in this sport.  (more…)

BRINGING TMZ TO RUNNING

All we tend to hear about in this crazy backwater sport are all the drug and corruption problems. Every great performance  is just as likely to raise questions as applause (sadly). But there’s one thing you had to give the sport of athletics, we never heard much in the way of other Premier League/Hollywood/Washington DC hi-jinx amongst its athletes, at least publicly, until now.

Mo and the Emperor exchange accusations

No sh*t. Multiple time Olympic track champions Mo Farah and Haile Gebrselassie have clashed  in a Don King like pre-fight boxing feud before Sunday’s London Marathon. Except Haile isn’t  racing against Mo, Eliud Kipchoge is.

Damn.

But not to worry. We are still new at this. We’ll get it right soon enough, don’t you fret.

Still, Mo v. Haile is better than nothing. Bad blood, ill will, and stolen money, it’s got all the bases covered except sex. And as in life, you can’t have it all. (more…)

PROFESSIONALIZING THE GAME

Ever wonder why average runners have to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but the elite runners don’t?

Well, for one thing, there is a competitive marketplace for the top athletes and invitations with appearance fees are the means of recruiting them. It’s a holdover from the sport’s shamateur (sic) past but one that has proven resilient to change, despite the introduction of prize money purses in the 1980s.

We have just gone through a small tempest at this year’s Boston Marathon after the Boston Athletic Association separated the “invited” men’s field from the Wave 1 runners for the first time – by two minutes – thereby bringing the invited men’s field into line with the elite women who have started 28-minutes ahead of the men for the last 15 years.

Depending on how you view the sport, this is either a welcomed and needed change or a travesty. Highly regarded scribe Jonathan Beverly in Podium Runner holds to the latter, calling the new separation policy “puzzling” and contrary to the spirit of the sport.

“It’s a seemingly minor change,” writes Beverly, “one that will economically affect only a few sub-elites who might have a breakthrough day. But it ensures that an anonymous runner will never stand on the podium, putting to rest the notion that we’re all competing together in the same race—a notion that is arguably one of the greatest aspects of our sport. Now, if you’re not one of the few pre-selected to be in the first start, you are, quite explicitly, running in a different competition.”

Jonathan has it exactly right except for the notion that we’re all competing together in the same race where the average Doheny is theoretically competing against the best in the world.  That has always been a misnomer. The thousands of citizen runners don’t run against or with the pros, they run concurrently.  Only a historic weather event like we had in Boston 2018 can wipe enough pros from the field that one or two “regular” runners can end up in the prize money positions from the mass field.

The example Jonathan gave of an uninvited runner winning the March 17th New York City Half Marathon missed the point that Ethiopian Belay Tilahun may not have been invited, but he was definitely elite.

Besides, Boston already makes a distinction between charity joggers, recreational runners, and Boston Qualifiers. That, among other things, is what makes Boston special.  But until the sport, in general, makes that same distinction between BQs and professional-class runners, we are going to have this amorphous amalgam that the public  doesn’t understand much less take seriously as a sporting event. Instead, they view even major marathons as more like, you know, the Pope’s visit, or the tall ships sailing into Boston harbor, primarily a big civic event. (more…)