WHO KNOWS WHAT’S A RECORD ANYMORE?

My old Runner’s World friend and long-time chronicler of the sport Peter Gambaccini wrote on my FB page in response to “WHAT A WORLD!” (RECORD) about the first sub-two hour marathon this past weekend in Vienna: “I am much more impressed by the 2:01s Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele ran in “real” marathons (in Berlin 2018 and 2019) than I am by what transpired in Vienna (INEOS 1:59 Challenge).

“Marathon racing is supposed to involve decisions, and Kipchoge had very few to make last weekend. I was glad to see Kipchoge finish hard on his own, and I suppose we should be grateful that elite running got more coverage from the general interest media than it had since the days of Bolt.  But there’s no point in any more extravaganzas like Vienna, is there?”

I thought Peter’s question was worth sharing and answering. So here goes. Continue reading

BARSHIM FINALLY FILLS THE HOUSE

Flag-waving fans come to cheer the hometown hero

The IAAF World Championships finally soared last night, looking and feeling more like a world championships of old. It took till day eight of ten, but with a world record push in the women’s 400 hurdles, an epic drive in the men’s 3000 meter steeplechase, and an arcing, come from behind win by the home country hero in the men’s high jump, all performed before a rollicking flag-waving crowd, this Doha version of the IAAF World Athletics Championships truly became a member of the World Champs family of venues.

Throughout the first week, though, a major story line had been the  embarrassingly empty Khalifa Stadium.  Leading up, the IAAF had been defensive about the lack of ticket sales -reportedly only 50,000 were sold for the full  10 days – as critics pointed to past IAAF President Lamine Diack as having sold the meet to Qatar for personal rather than sporting purposes.

But it will be interesting to see if the wonderful atmosphere of day 8 can be reproduced on the last two days of competition. Because it wasn’t hard to figure why Day 8 stood out. Undoubtedly, it was the result of one man, Qatar’s own Mutaz Essa Barshim, the high jump superstar and 2017 world champion.

The Man – Mutaz Essa Barshim

In the previous seven days, the only time the crowds really came in numbers was when Kenyan and Ethiopian runners were performing in the distance events. And even then, officials had to paper the stadium (free tickets) to attract them.

As athletics attempts to get beyond the corruption and PED issues that have haunted the sport for so long and address the multiple challenges ahead, one thing to consider is that we don’t have track and field fans, we have track and/or field event fans. Only the most die-hard amongst us enjoy the entire panoply of events.

We saw this most strikingly just a few years ago in Sacramento at the USATF nationals where the penultimate event of the meet was the men’s 100-meter final followed by the 5000 meters. The second the 100 was finished, 98% of the stadium got up and left, leaving only the 5000-meter fans to muster along the rail for the last event of the evening.

So what we had were sprint fans and distance fans commingling. But as if in a centrifuge, they were quickly separated once the sprint fans had their measure and left.

Appealing to the next generation

When US national championships and the World Championships, two of the greatest athletics meetings ever, can’t draw casual fans, that’s a sign of a major problem.

The sport is littered with great athletes. Hopefully, the marketing folks at IAAF will come up with some novel solutions and not have to wait for another Barshim in Qatar or Usain Bolt everywhere else to come along to hold the game together between controversies.

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KIPCHOGE ROLLS ON IN LONDON 2019

Was it even a contest?  Or should the rest of the marathon world simply call, “No mas.”?

Today, in London, England Kenya’s marathon master Eliud Kipchoge constructed another dominate performance at one of his two home courses (Berlin is the other) at the 39th Virgin Money London Marathon.

On a breezy but cool morning in the English capital, the now four-time London Champion controlled the race from starter Andy Murray’s airhorn onward.

Taking his time as if a country gentleman out walking his dogs, Kipchoge put away his final three Ethiopian challengers along the Thames River in the final two miles and crossed the line in 2:02:37. It marked a London course record and second all-time performance over the marathon distance behind his own 2:01:39 world record in Berlin last fall.

At age 34, the former world track champion at 5000 meters some 16 years ago now has won 11 of 12 career marathons, and holds the two fastest times ever run, plus his unofficial 2:00:25 exhibition in Monza, Italy two years ago.

For all the hype the race generated, in the end it was business as usual. Kipchoge undisputed world #1, everyone else vying for #2.
Continue reading

2018 TD BEACH TO BEACON 10k PHOTO ESSAY

Cape Elizabeth, ME –  The 21st TD Beach to Beacon 10k presented the 7000 starters with the dreaded double of heat and humidity today, making for wet-banklet-like conditions over the rolling 6.2 mile run from Crescent Beach to Fort Williams Park.  Despite the oppressive conditions, New Zealander Jake Robertson arrived from his training base in Iten, Kenya anxious to take on the 2003 course record 27:28 set by Kenya’s Gilbert Okari in the first of three straight B2B wins.  Here are a series of photos from the lead men’s vehicle documenting the effort of Mr. Robertson and his followers.

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The finish line awaits at Ft. Williams Park , shot taken Friday at the B2B High School Miles

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The air horn sends the 7000 person field to their task at 8:12 a.m.

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Jake Robertson spoke of wanting to break the course record at the pre-race press conference, and put the boot in from the get-go, not waiting for any help. He used similar gun-to-tape tactics to win April’s Crescent City Classic in New Orleans in 27:28.

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No prisoners! A 4:15 first mile opened the winning gap. 2016 U.S. Olympian Shadrack Kipchirchir tried to follow, “but Jake was very tough.” You might think so after he knocked off five Kiwi national records in a six-week span early in the year, including a 60:01 win at the Houston Half Marathon.

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Mile 2 fell in 4:25 (8:40) and the road behind was already clear. “At the start Jake said, ‘are you ready to go with me, I’m going from the gun,“ said Steven Sambu, last year‘s fourth place B2B finisher and four-time Falmouth Road Race champion. “I said, ‘OK, let’s go.’ Then the 1st mile in 4:15, and in these conditions, it’s crazy! Way too fast for me.“

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Past 3 miles in 13:01 (4:21), 5K in 13:30 with a :34 lead on Sambu and Kipchirchir, Robertson was still rocking course record pace as he turned onto Shore Drive for the next three miles.

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4 miles fell in 17:31 (4:29) 16 seconds under course record pace. We could barely see Sambu and Kipchirchir in the distance with 2016 B2B champion Ben True moving into fifth behind Ethiopian Amedework Walelegn,  himself a 59;50 half-marathoner.

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Stern faced at 5 miles in 21:59, Jake took 4:28 for that 1609 yards, while Gilbert Okari ran a 4:16 in 2003. Only :04 under course record pace now, and paying the price for his early aggression and the high humidity. “At about 7.2 km I began to feel the conditions, “said Jake afterward. “I knew I had a gap and the win, but I came here on behalf of my family, my training partners, my sponsors, and everyone who supports me. Everyone has been so good to me in my time here in Maine, I wanted to give a performance that everyone was happy with.”

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Victory in hand! 27:37, tied for the third fastest time in B2B history. In these muggy conditions, Jake slowed over the final mile, but still won by 50-seconds, the largest margin in race history.  “I’m happy,” Jake told me in the media tent. “I was fearless and I delivered. If you set your mind to something and then deliver, you have to be satisfied. Sadly, no course record, but I gave it my best and I never want to give it anything but my best. ‘To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift’ is a Steve Prefontaine quote that I love. Hopefully, I can return to Cape Elizabeth next year and get that course record.”

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Race founder and 1984 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson greets a wobbly champion after his heroic effort.

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Fully recovered, Jake cheers in Stephen Sambu and Maine native Ben True in 2nd and 3rd. “I’m so happy for Jake,” said Stephen after checking the final times. “The way he trains, very serious. It’s amazing.” And that’s coming from the four-time Falmouth Road Race champion.

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A Viking ship sailed over Casco Bay behind the awards ceremony with Ram Island Light in the distance as another classic B2B was celebrated by the thousands lucky enough to have shared the course with some of the best foot-racers in the world. Thanks to the sponsors and record 878 volunteers who made it all possible. And to the host families who share their homes and hearts with all the invited runners. That’s olde tyme New England road racing at its best.

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WHAT IF WORLD CUP…

As I watch World Cup quarterfinal action from Russia, I can’t help but think how well an American team comprised of all the great NFL slot receivers or running backs, or someone like Julio Jones the Atlanta Falcons wide receiver, would do – given that they grew up playing futbol instead of American football.

Or think if you put NBA center Anthony Davis in goal? Imagine trying to score on that level of athleticism in that outsized body. 

I suggested the same thing before regarding athletics, in that the very best athletes in the USA don’t play futbol as they do in almost every other nation except China, which is also missing from World Cup action.  Continue reading

41st Publix GASPARILLA DISTANCE CLASSIC HALF

Tampa, FL – Warm Florida hospitality was matched by warm sub-tropical conditions at today’s Publix GASPARILLA Distance Classic Half Marathon and 8K, day two of a weekend fitness festival now in its 41st year.

US Army sergeant Elkanah Kibet and Redding, California’s Sara Hall took top honors in the two main races. But both had to battle all the way home to take the $8000 first-place prize.  Kibet out kicked University of Oregon grad Parker Stinson 1:03:39 to 1:03:41, while Hall nipped defending women’s champion Stephanie Bruce of Northern Arizona Elite by one second in 1:12:01, stripping 33 seconds off Jen Rhines’ 2015 course record.

“I was going for a breakthrough in the heat,” said Sara in the VIP tent afterward. “We went out easy. I learned my lesson last year in Houston (11th place). Now it’s up to Mammoth Lakes for some altitude training before the World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia (Spain) in four weeks.”

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In the early morning blush of dawn, women’s leaders Stephanie Bruce, Diane Nukuri, and Dara Hall head out Bayshore Blvd with two men alongside

Both Hall and Bruce are ramping up for a major spring marathon in April, Sara to Boston and Steph in London one week later.

“Anytime I can go toe to toe with Sara it’s a good day,” said Steph who was coming off a third place finish at February’s USATF Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee. “I’ve never beat her, but this was the closest I’ve ever been. I’d say the times were incredible in very oppressive conditions. I feel like I’m knocking on the door.”

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Hammering home: Stephanie Bruce leads Sara Hall in the final miles

The men’s race proved just as closely contested with four men locked together as they looped off Davis Island onto Bayshore Boulevard at mile 5. Leading the way was 26 year-old Oregon grad Parker Stinson making his debut run in Tampa.

In his slipstream were Elkanah Kibet, WCAP army teammate Haron Lagat, and Team Run Flagstaff’s Kiya Dandena, a 1:03 half-marathon man from 2017.

Parker Stinson opens an early lead, only to see it dissipate shortly after

Miles along the flat, bayside course began tumbling in the 4:52 – 4:55 range in the still, dark conditions. But throughout the morning, Parker kept surging like an unkinked garden hose, opening a stream of pace before closing back soon thereafter.

“I wasn’t worried about him,” said Kibet, who finished fourth here last year in 64:51. “I was worried about my teammate Haron Lagat because he had the fastest time (61:01 at January’s Houston Half). But I never imagined I could win. I thought number three, but when we dropped the other guy (Dandena), I said maybe number two.”

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Kibet and Stinson match strides as Dandena holds in third.

The Kenyan-born soldier stationed in Colorado Springs came into Tampa off so-so races at the USATF Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee earlier this month (13th place), and an 18th place in January’s Houston Half Marathon (62:29).

“I changed my training after that,” he said, specifically adding more fartlek sessions, which helped him withstand the surges thrown in today by Colorado-based Parker Stinson.

After Stinson’s blows dispatched all others on the homeward run up Bayshore, it was Kibet who made a move at 12.5 miles with the finish line approaching fast. Stinson responded to move number one, but the next charge by Kibet proved decisive, opening the margin of victory.

Next up for the champion is next month’s Gate River 15K in Jacksonville before a date with the Boston Marathon in April.

In all, 32,000 runners took part in GASPARILLA 2018, many running Saturday’s 15K and 5K then quadrupling back for today’s half-marathon and 8K.

WOMEN

1. Sarah Hall – 72:01 course record

2. Stephanie Bruce – 72:02

3. Diane Nukuri – 73:05

4. Sydney Devore – 74:21

MEN

1. Elkanah Kibet – 63:39

2. Parker Stinson – 63:41

3. Kiya Dandena – 64:09

4. Tyler Pennel – 64:17

5. Haron Lagat – 65:13

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ON MY WAY TO GASPARILLA

Sitting in 27c on the aisle with a nice magazine-reading lady on the window. The stream of fellow travelers continue to board the flight for Houston. I chat with one of the flight attendants about general passenger comportment, as she tells tales of one lady too persnickety to accept help in placing her roller bag in the overhead bin. It’s this way with air travel these days, fun for those that don’t do it.

So I’m just waiting for the final section 5 boarders, hoping for someone small and quiet to fill 27b, the middle seat. Then, magically, the head attendant announces over the PA that the front door has closed and locked, and “please direct your attention the TV monitors for an important safety demonstration.”

My row-mate and I glance over at one another with a sly grin betraying our feelings.

“You believe this?” We bump fists. “Here I was hoping for someone small and quiet, and instead we get vacant and non-corporeal.”

Travel as those of only a certain age can remember. Before air travel began to resemble bus travel. Now if only the young guy in front of me in 26c doesn’t lay back into my sternum, I may remember this United flight fondly.

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