Category: Commentary

DEFINING MARATHON PRs

It’s been another memorable year in the world of marathon running even as 2019 begins to rise with news that Chicago Marathon champion Mo Farah will once again run in London next spring, a race he finished third at in 2018. Though Cal International, Fukuoka, and Honolulu remain on the schedule for 2018, the bulk of the year’s work had been completed. 

Once again, the two East African nations of Kenya and Ethiopia dominate the top 100 times run during the year, Kenya leading the men’s list to date with 56 performances, Ethiopia topping the women’s ranks with 51 of the top 100. 

TOP 100 – Men

Kenya – 56; Ethiopia – 30; Japan – 6; USA (Galen Rupp) and GBR (Mo Farah) – 2; Turkey, New Zealand, Tanzania, Uganda – 1 each.

TOP 100 – Women

Ethiopia – 51; Kenya – 32; Japan – 6; Bahrain – 4; USA (Amy Cragg & Kellyn Taylor) – 2; So. Korea, Belarus, Morocco, Portugal, Australia- 1 each.

Kipchoge revels in new World Record in Berlin

Individually, World No. 1 was once again undeniably taken by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge. In 2018, he not only won London in the spring but then broke countryman Dennis Kimetto’s four-year-old world record in Berlin in September by a stunning 78 seconds, lowering the record to 2:01:39, a mark that some believe could stand up for quite a span. But who knows about such things, truly?  In today’s running world, there is a growing belief that anything conceived is now possible to achieve. And while that might make a mockery of history, like the 54-51 shootout at the Los Angeles Coliseum last night between the winning L.A. Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs in American football, a new dimension in barrier-breaking road running also seems to have been reached. 

But getting back to Mr. Kipchoge. He’s proven himself not just the ultimate time-trialist, but the ne plus ultra within the competitive arena, too, most notably with his convincing win at the Olympic Marathon in Rio 2016. And though he has embraced a “Berlin Forever” mentality that binds him to the German capital, don’t you think somewhere down deep that Kipchoge might want to test himself on one of the two grand non-paced marathons of the world, New York City and Boston?  Or is the new era in running beginning to define itself strictly along the paced / non-paced continuum? Recall how after a three-year absence, Chicago returned to a paced format in 2018, and instantly returned to 2:05 status after three years at 2:09, 2:11, 2:09. (more…)

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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…)

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 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…)

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…)

TIGER ROARS AGAIN

Tiger Woods celebrates after making a birdie putt on the 18th green during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Oh, the airtime and pixels that were dedicated to Tiger Woods’ second-place finish at the 100th PGA Championships in St. Louis last weekend. For those stuck in a cave somewhere, Tiger roared to a final round 64 at Bellerive Country Club outside St. Louis to place second to young stallion Brooks Koepka who won the third major of his career, while becoming only the fifth golfer to ever take the U.S. Open and PGA titles in the same year (Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen).  In the end, Koepka beat Tiger by two, and the field by three and more with his final round 66, 16-under total.

Still, it was the closest run Tiger  had made to a major win since Torrey Pines 2008, where he won the U.S. Open on a broken leg, the last of his 14 major titles. His run electrified the St. Louis faithful, and sparked a 69% increase in TV ratings over last year’s PGA.

But the greatest comeback ever, as some pundits were opining if he actually won? Don’t let Ben Hogan fans (or Tiger for that matter) hear you say that. Hogan almost died in a car crash driving home to Texas with his wife after the Phoenix Open in 1949. Docs said he might not ever play golf again, especially after a blood clot permanently closed the major vein to his lower extremities. And yet he came back to win the 1950 U.S. Open 16 months later. Now that is a legendary come back.  (more…)

NEVER MIND THE MATCH RACE

Well, so much for sticking my head inside the lion’s mouth outside the Chicago Art Museum. 

I’m getting hammered pretty badly across different fora and websites for my last blog post suggesting that the Chicago Marathon ditch its deep elite men’s field for a match race between defending champion Galen Rupp of the United States and his former Nike Oregon Project teammate Mo Farah of England. 

OK, I get it, bad idea.  And I even understand why. Sorry. At least I spurred a little extra interest in the race. (more…)