WHEN NECESSARY ISN’T NECESSARILY RIGHT

Sometimes something might not necessarily be right in one sense, and yet be necessary just the same in another. That seems to be the grounding principle being applied in Doha, Qatar at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships.

As the championships began yesterday, the extreme heat and humidity that defines that part of the world completely overwhelmed the women’s marathon to a degree that 41% of the field dropped out. The medals probably wouldn’t have changed much in another more traditional venue, as the very best runners did emerge. But contesting a marathon in ultra high heat and humidity in the middle of the night isn’t anyone’s idea of a proper test to determine the world’s best. But such are the trade offs in staging the games in a new part of the world.

We saw the same ‘not necessarily right, but necessary’ ethic being applied before the games as well when qualified athletes like two-time Olympic 1500 meter medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand were substituted out for unqualified athletes from countries without representation.

In both cases, staging and participation, something was given up on the high-end in order to spread the base at the low end. It’s not necessarily right in the sense that athletics is supposedly pure in its goal – citius, altius, fortius irrespective of skin color, religious affiliation or national origin. This is especially so at the pinnacle event in the sport.

Yet if that purity-alone metric had been applied consistently over time, women would never have been allowed to enter the arena in the first place because they would never have reached existing male-based standards.

So in order to grow the sport, trade offs in staging and participation become necessary though they aren’t necessarily right in their particular moment. Such are the hard determinations of leadership.

Or, in this case, did the IAAF (under now disgraced former prez Lamine Diack) just chase all that Qatari moolah and see all the athletes as just collateral damage? Because what really are the chances Qatar ever becomes anything other than a hotbed as opposed to a hotbed of track and field?  Empty seats tell their own tale. Continue reading

BELICHICK, BASKETBALL, AND RITZ

ESPN Pardon the Interruption’s Mike Wilbon thinks that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is “ruthless” and “will crush you”, as if it were a personal thing. His remarks came in the wake of the Patriots’ 43-0 drubbing of the Miami Dolphins last Sunday in week two of the NFL season. 

But the Patriot Way of “playing 60 minutes” and “doing your job”  have been the hallmarks of Belichick coached teams for nearly two decades now. And it is those mantras that explain why when his teams get to the Super Bowl – as they have nine times with six wins –  they’re already so steeped in the culture of playing 60 minutes and doing their job irrespective of the situation, that the Super Bowl becomes just another situation in which the Patriot players say, “I’ve been here all year. I’m  more prepared.”

This is the backdrop for last Sunday’s shutout of the Miami Dolphins in which the Patriots blitzed on the final play of the game to preserve the 43-0 snooker.  Pundits like Michael Wilbon were convinced it was further evidence of Belichick’s cold-cold heart – to borrow from Ken Burns’ excellent series Country Music currently airing on PBS – while I would see it more as Belichick’s relentless preparation and mindset.

This has always been the backbone of distance running training, the daily attention to detail. ‘What I do today has no value outside the context of what I did yesterday and what I must do again tomorrow’. It’s that continuum that breeds success, not the single killer workout or waiting for the Big Game to knuckle down. Continue reading

PURPOSE IN THE PROCESS

Let’s just consider running shoes for a second, shall we?  I mean, the name itself, not just their brands or models. “Running shoes”, as opposed to shoes that we wear while running. But doesn’t it seem like we are getting closer to the reality of that literal description with each passing marketing season?

The way modern running shoes are being designed it won’t be too long before some built-in flinging device will be inserted to take the nasty little requirement of generating our own power out of the equation.

Soon we will begin to hear about the first sub-1 hour marathon before Eliud Kipchoge has a chance to fully recover from his first sub-2. And everyone will applaud but like the proliferation of home runs in Major League Baseball this year, the performances in one era will be impossible to compare against another and something fundamental will be lost. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading