Category: Interview

AN INTERVIEW WITH PHEIDIPPIDES

With the Atlanta Track Club and USATF unveiling a map of the 2020 U. S. Team Trials Marathon course, I thought it might be a good time to reconnect (tongue firmly in cheek) with history’s original Marathoner, the one and only Pheidippides.

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Pheidippides in Athens

First, a little background.

Fame is a bitch! Take, take, take, that’s all she does (and why is fame a ‘she’, anyway?) But if fame is a handful, can you imagine trying to uphold the status of a legend?  

As has been proven time and time again, once the public gets a hold of you there’s a stiff price to be paid for any of the benefits that might come with such renown. All you have to do is ask Caesar, Lincoln, Elvis, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix or Michael Jackson, all of whom died of fame. So, you either nip such fame in the bud, like Dave Chappell, or find a way to accommodate it, because down that road has come many a man’s (woman’s) ruin. 

Take the case of Pheidippides, the legendary Greek messenger sent from the plains of Marathon to the city of Athens to tell the tale of the great military victory over the invading force from Persia in 492 B.C.  

Out of that single 40k run has come not only an Olympic event – and the Trials that precede it – but an entire industry, as well, as hundreds of such events are staged annually in cities worldwide for millions of avid runners. 

Yet in the case of Pheidippides and the Marathon, it took two and a half millennia for that history to finally come to pass.  That’s what happens when the first guy who does it dies. Takes a certain amount of fortitude for the next guy to step up. 

But back in 492 B.C. Pheidippides was no myth. He had a family and friends and people he worked with. Then, look what happened, one poorly paced run and he was marked throughout history. 

Being a day-runner, or herald – as it was then called – he must have been right behind the front lines while the actual battle against the Persians was raging. Then, when the tide turned in favor of the defending Athenians, he was called for what would become his historic assignment.

“Hey, you, Pheidippides. We need you to run back to Athens tell them we’re OK out here. Got it?  Tell them it’s good news. But you gotta hustle.”

Maybe his commanding officer didn’t know Pheidippides had already run over 250k to Sparta and back looking for reinforcements a few days earlier. Notwithstanding, the guy answered the call and ran back to Athens, announcing, “Rejoice we conquer!” before succumbing to his efforts. 

But as the late radio broadcast legend Paul Harvey used to say, there was more to The Rest of the Story.  And now we have The Man himself to ask. 

There have been mystical beings in every age, Highlander types, who lived beyond their eras. And who knew, Pheidippides was one himself? (more…)

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JOCK SEMPLE – BOSTON’S HEART & SOUL

Jock in his Salon de Rubdown in the old Boston Garden

To say that his office was tucked away in the labyrinth of the old Boston Garden is to understate the quest to find it. Yet to say that his office was the heart of the Boston Marathon would not be to overstate its importance.

Jock Semple’s Salon de Rubdown had been upstairs, past the gauntlet of the North Station bottle-in-bag regulars, and down the hall from the offices of the Boston Celtics for more years than most can recall, and to more thousands than chose to remember where the workhorse of the Boston Marathon was stabled.

“Well, I’ve been a willing workhorse, so it’s OK,” said Jock of 80 years in 1984, a step slower if no less zeroed in on the task at hand.

Just the month before he worked with the Scottish team as they competed in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in New Jersey.  That was in March. I visited his office in early April as the Marathon neared. (more…)

BILL RODGERS: SPEAKING OF ALTITUDE

Moses Mosop wins Xiamen 2015 (Jiang Kehong photo)
Moses Mosop wins Xiamen 2015 (Jiang Kehong photo)

The 2015 marathon year began where 2014 left off with Kenyans and Ethiopians sweeping the top places at the Xiamen Marathon in China. Moses Mosop, the big-engine Kenyan who had such an explosive 2011 campaign — but who had been beset by injury and personal issues in the last few years — returned to form in Xiamen with a course record 2:06:19 win.
2. Tilahun Regassa (ETH) 2:06:54
3. Abrha Milaw (ETH) 2:08:09
4. Robert Kwambai (KEN) 2:08:18
5. Tadese Tola (ETH) 2:10:30

Mare Dibaba goes sub-2:20 in Xiamen (Jiang Dehong photo)
Mare Dibaba goes sub-2:20 in Xiamen (Jiang Kehong photo)

On the women’s side, Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba continued her success from 2014 when she also began the year with a win in Xiamen before showing third in Boston then placing second in Chicago — though those places will likely move up one notch once the Rita Jeptoo drug positive has been adjudicated. Dibaba went 2:19:52 in Xiamen yesterday to destroy her competition & post the event’s first female sub-2:20.

1 Mare Dibaba (ETH) 2:19:52
2 Meseret Legesse (ETH) 2:27:38
3 Meriem Wangari (KEN) 2:27:53
4 Meseret Godana (ETH) 2:36:11
5 Cao Mojie (CHN) 2:43:06

At the end of 2014 I posted my analysis of the marathoning year.  Yesterday, I received a response from my old friend and oft-time running partner Bill Rodgers, the four-time Boston and New York City Marathon champion from the 1970s. Since I only lived two blocks from Bill’s old running center shop in Boston in those days, I would often tag along on Bill’s second run of the day as we spun the miles of Jamaica Pond beneath us in both foul weather and fair. Often during those runs we would discuss exactly the issues that continue to animate the sport to this day. With Bill’s permission, here is how yesterday’s back-and-forth went. (more…)

RUNNING FLAT RADIO

AthleticsCanadaRoadSummit

I delivered the keynote address at last week’s first Athletics Canada National Race Directors Summit in Toronto before an attentive audience of event directors, federation officials, suppliers and media.  In my talk, billed as Innovations in Road Running, I urged a closer working relationship between events, athletes, and the governing body in an effort to rebuild the Canadian racing brand, which, like the USA’s took a nosedive in the 1990s.

I recalled that it was the birth of Running USA in March 1999 that the U.S. began to turnaround its distance running fortunes.  Created “to improve the status of road racing in the United States through collective marketing and promotions, services to runners and events and the development of American world class stars,”  Running USA’s early efforts led to the development of Team USA California in Mammoth Lakes which, in turn, helped kickstart American performance we still see in evidence today  — though Running USA has become less focused on the sport aspect than when it first began.

The summit in Toronto was the first such gathering since Athletics Canada named John Lofranco Coordinator of Road Running just over six months ago.  That it was the governing body itself which called the Race Directors Summit was a step forward from the American model where the lead was taken by the industry support group.

Running Flat founder Chris Uszynski
Running Flat founder Chris Uszynski

Among the attendees and presenters at the Canadian summit was Windsor, Ontario’s Chris Uszynski, founder and president of RunningFlat, an event promotion company which stages nine well-crafted boutique events in and around Windsor in Essex County just north of Detroit.  A very creative fellow, Chris very forthrightly admitted that Running Flat’s focus isn’t on racing, rather is intent on “providing a great Event experience for our family of participants, while raising money for great causes.”

RunningFlatRadioChris and I sparred a little at the summit during a session during which he remarked that he was “awards averse”, while referring to Running Flat’s goal as “getting people off the couch and into the sport”.  I suggested that in staging events like Color Runs and other events that don’t award prizes for performance at all, that he was introducing people to the activity of running, but not to the sport.  It may be a subtle distinction, but that split between fun running and competitive racing is what has defined the last decade in running, leading to, I believe, a zero-sum game whereby the growth of running as an activity has mirrored the lessening of interest in racing.

With that as a backdrop, I joined Chris on his weekly Running Flat Radio Show this past Tuesday.  My segment begins at 24:45.

Running Flat Radio can be heard every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. on AM 800 cklw in Windsor.  Many thanks to Chris for having me on his show.

END

ATHLETICS CANADA TARGETS ROAD RUNNING

Winning!
Winning!

Following Meb Keflezighi’s improbable, highly charged win at the 118th Boston Marathon, could a renewed interest in the sport of distance running be about to take wing?   There was as similar spark after Meb and Deena Kastor won Olympic Marathon medals in Athens 2004, and following Meb’s win at the New York City Marathon 2009.  But with all the emotional weight carried into Boston 2014 by the horrors of 2013’s bombings, Meb’s win on Patriot’s Day generated even more electricity than had he simply been the first American man to win Boston in 31 years.

With Meb’s shining visage showing up in newspapers worldwide, then his appearances all around the country in the aftermath, the sport has a true red-white-and-blue hero to celebrate and for kids to emulate.  Even Shalane Flanagan‘s brave front-running seventh-place finish at Boston showcased the kind of spirit that seeds interest in the hearts of young ones.   Funny how heroes can make a connection and stir interest.

That sense of renewal in road racing as a sport may have already been in the zeitgeist, however, because I received the following e-mail Friday April 11th while I was out in Honolulu covering the 3rd annual Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon. (more…)

ATLANTA TRACK CLUB GOES RED, WHITE & BLUE FOR JULY 4TH

Peachtree10K     Last year Portland, Oregon trained Matt Tegenkamp won the U.S. Road 10K Championship in 28:25, but only finished sixth overall in the AJC Peachtree Road Race.  Flagstaff, Arizona’s Janet Bawcom took home the women’s USA title with her 32:45 clocking, but only placed eighth in the international field. This year the winner of the race will also become the USA champion.

The Atlanta Track Club announced yesterday that they were upping their prize purse some $40,000 to a round $100,000 for the 45th running of the Peachtree Road Race this July 4th. What’s more, the entire amount will be awarded to American athletes vying for the USA 10K Road Championships.  First prize for each gender will be $15,000.

Though this will be the sixth time Peachtree has hosted the men’s USA 10K Championship (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013), and the second straight year it will serve as the women’s championship, 2014 will be the first year the event will a U.S. only showcase.  This is the ATC’s first major announcement since the arrival of Rich Kenah as its new executive director.

I reached out to Rich to ask when the idea for an American-only format took form. (more…)