BOSTON PRESSER 2018

Boston, MA. –  OK, quick analysis. I didn’t talk to everybody, because you simply can’t, too many people too little time. So for instance, I didn’t speak with the defending men’s champion Geoffrey Kirui, but assuming all is well with him, my first reaction is Rupp, Desisa, and Tamirat Tola. Those are the three that stood out in my conversations at the 33rd John Hancock elite athlete press conference at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel for the 122nd Boston Marathon.

Peaking over the shoulder of John Hancock VP Rob Friedman as defending champ Geoffrey Kirui received his bib.

With Galen it’s, if not now, when?  This will be his fifth marathon, second Boston, perfect build up, great tuneup race, experience on this course, it’s all there. He’s the fastest track runner in the field, is coming off a win in Chicago, nobody can run away from him, higher mileage than ever, tons of 25-milers, it’s all in place. Now it’s just a matter of performing on the day, and he’s had a track record, including two Olympic medals, of doing that quite well.

“ I feel like this is what I’ve been working for my whole life,“ said Galen. “Like this window right now. It’s not that I’m nervous, but this is what I’ve been working for, all this training, to enjoy the fruits of that training.  I feel good for where I am. I’ve been consistent. It’s a testament to my training. I’m  proud of how consistent I’ve been. No excuses.  When you’ve done the work you know you will perform well.”

That’s as confident as a distance runner can talk. But why wouldn’t he?  Winner in his debut in the 2016 Olympic trials, third at the Rio Olympics, second last year in Boston when his build up wasn’t ideal, and then a winner in Chicago last fall. He’s in his peak years, afraid of no one, faster than everyone (except in the marathon) but expecting a good battle with Kirui and the Ethiopians.

Two-time Boston champ Lelisa Desisa (2013 & 2015) is another guy in his prime.  In 2015, he won Boston in 2:09:17 in conditions which may be similar to those coming Monday, wind and rain. That year he broke away between 22 and 23 miles coming down Beacon Street after making the first move in mile 17 after turning at the Newton fire station coming onto Commonwealth Avenue. He has run 13 career marathons, won three, and been on the podium 10 times.

True, he only ran 2:14 at last May’s Breaking2 Project in Monza, Italy – the special Nike-sponsored promotion – but that just tells me this guy is a racer, not a time trialer.  He also has a brand new daughter, Nege, just one month old to further motivate him.  Add a 60:28 tuneup race at the RAK Half in February in the UAE, and it’s all systems go.

Tamirat Tola is 26 and looks 22. He trains with 2016 Boston champ Lemi Berhanu, and I guess we shouldn’t overlook him, either. He ran 4th last fall in NYC after a cramp hit at 28k.  The two Ethiopians ran a final 40k run together with their 30-person training group on a course outside Addis Ababa that mirrors the Boston course.  Tola and Berhanu dropped  everyone else between 32-35k. They wouldn’t say which was stronger than the other. I guess we will find out Monday.

Tola was also the silver medalist in last year’s IAAF World Championship Marathon in London behind Geoffrey Kirui, then PR’d by five seconds this January in Dubai (2:04:06).

”I have trained very well to be the winner,”  he told me.  “I don’t think about weather, only competition.”

There is much more reporting to do, but we will let that settle in for a while.  I had a good chat with Desi Linden, Madai Perez, Kellyn Taylor and Jordan Hasay, as well. I’ll post something on the women’s race tomorrow.

Tonight at 5 pm Eastern I will be hosting a Runners Digest podcast for two hours on LETSRUN.COM where we will discuss much of what we learned at today’s  presser.  Join us if you can.  Toni out.

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DANGEROUS DISTANCE

As we enter Boston Marathon week 2018, let us remember that people once used to believe that running a marathon wasn’t just a challenge, but a risk.

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.”

Bobbi Gibb, Boston Marathon 1966

When Gibb hid in the bushes near the start line in Hopkinton, Massachusetts in April 1966 (because women weren’t allowed to run the marathon back then), her sole aim was to run the distance because that is what she had trained to do. And since she had already run as far as 30 miles on training, it never dawned on her that the marathon was beyond her capability. Only male officials were of that opinion. 52 years later women’s competitions in major Marathons stand on par, and at times higher, than the men’s race. That is certainly the case in these next two weeks in Boston and London.

But let’s also recall that it wasn’t all that long ago when there was a school of thought that believed that 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 endeavor. That frisson of danger was a big part of why people were intrigued by long distance racing. Tragedy, after all, could happen, and you could be witness to it. (more…)

2018 HAPALUA HALF MARATHON REPORT

Honolulu, HI – Hapalua is the Hawaiian word for half, but today’s 7th Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon, was a full measure by anyone’s standards. Under unusually high humidity, defending champion Philip Tarbei of Kenya was able to overcome both the muggy conditions and the head starts afforded all 24 Team Hawaii runners to become the first person to win a second Hapalua title. His 64:14 winning time was 47-seconds slower than last year’s course record, and the outcome of the unique Chase format pitting Hawaii’s best against the Kenyan pros was not decided until the finish line banner came into view in Kapiolani Park.

Eventual champion Philip Tarbei closes in on Team Hawaii’s Patrick Stover in Kapiolani Park within sight of the finish.

“I was not sure I could win because of the high humidity,” said the 25 year-old Tarbei from Iten, Kenya, “I’ve never run in anything like this before.”

Though rain threatened throughout the morning, it never actually came. But in its stead, a heavy overlay of humidity clung to Oahu like a clammy shrink wrap, making racing conditions challenging for all 7000-plus starters.

After the 24 Team Hawaii runners took off from the pre-dawn Waikiki Beach start line on Kalakaua Avenue with leads of 24 to 8 minutes, Tarbei, his pacer Daniel Chebii and Kuaui native Pierce Murphy lit out giving Chase. (more…)

TOP HAWAII RUNNER TAKES ON KENYAN CHALLENGE

Hapalua chaser Pierce Murphy

Honolulu, HI – Tomorrow, the 7th Hapalua Half Marathon once again pits 24 of the top island runners against two invited world class Kenyans in a unique Chase format. But this year, the Kenyans will have local company for the first time. For how long will be the question.

24-year-old Pierce Murphy is hands-down the best runner to come off the Hawaiian islands since 1976 Olympian and three-time Honolulu Marathon champion Duncan McDonald. An eight-time All American at the University of Colorado, Kauai native Murphy has track PRs of 13:37 for 5000m and 28:48 over the 10,000. But he has only tried on the half-marathon distance one time before, that at the 2016 Los Angeles Rock ‘n’ Roll Half where he finished 2nd in a modest 67:47. He hopes to reduce that time tomorrow, even in the muggy conditions brought on by what locals call Kona conditions that have prevailed on Oahu all week.

“I like the longer stuff,” says Murphy. “The longer it is the harder it is, yes, but the easier it is in racing – if that makes any sense. You can cruise a 5K, but to do it 10 K, you have to train for the 10K. Hopefully, I can run in the 65s tomorrow, and if I feel good, maybe a little faster.”

Odds are he will have to post that time running a lot on his own. Last year splits of 14:40 and 28:48 for 5k and 10k led winner Philip Tarbei to a course record 63:27 in the Hapalua. But Pierce is used to running on his own. These days he does all his training alone, a habit he got into during his high school days on Kauai where he won numerous state crowns.

“I do about 80 miles a week consistently, and just tempo work on the roads, no track.” (more…)

TO ASELA, ETHIOPIA – SEARCHING FOR DOCTOR YILMA

(From a long, long time ago, when travel called and we answered readily, “drinking life to the lees”, as Tennyson would have it.)

Meki, Ethiopia – At the unkind hour of 5:49 a.m., a gentle rap on my door stirred me from a fitful sleep. It was the morning after the wedding in Meki, and we were off to Arsi Province and needed to make an early start of it.

Our driver – a man we took to calling Big Belay to differentiate him from our friend and host, Belay Wolashe, the runner – was evidently suffering from a keening hangover, as we found him passed out in the back of the Range Rover incapable of assuming even an upright posture, much less his driving duties.

Big Belay in a world of hurt

“Big Belay, he sick last night,” said friend Belay, master of the obvious, in explaining the incense sticks burning throughout the car.

It soon became clear that the two Belays, cousin Andinet, and his friend had all slept in the car last night, as Mike Long, Rich Jayne, and I had taken the only three remaining single rooms at the tiny Ghion hotel.

Finding this out after the fact made us feel guilty as hell, but we hadn’t realized – nor been told – that there weren’t enough rooms to go around when it was suggested all three faranji (foreigners) bunk together in room # 8 last night.  After our protestations, rather than inconvenience their guests, our friends simply acquiesced and slept in the car.

By 6:20 a.m. we were on the road, a mangy collective of mouth-breathers until the warm air could divest the vehicle of Big Belay’s overnight involvements. We soon dropped Andinet and his friend off upon coming to the main road to Addis Ababa.  Then we continued on our way toward Asela.

After another hour, the Range Rover began to misfire, until we finally were forced to pull over to the side of the two-lane road.  Parked atop a high wind-swept vista overlooking the Awash National Park, we took note as the Range Rover’s starter churned unsuccessfully in its attempt to catch.

Tukuls

No Triple-A to call here, so the two Belays got out and stood peering into the engine compartment searching for clues with a clutch of woefully inadequate tools they found in the boot.  We were having another of what our Belay called, “oh, it is no problem” problem.

Conical thatch-roofed mud huts called tukuls, common in the countryside of the Arsi region, sat bunched some 100 meters off the road atop this pearl in the string of surrounding mountains.  The valley below spread for miles upon miles, a misty washed-out hew of brown grassland partially covered in scrubby bush and accented by airy-topped Acacia trees.

Finally, Big Belay emerged from the raised hood with the carburetor in hand, holding it up for inspection before blowing out the dust that had clogged it. Satisfied with his work, he quickly reassembled and refitted it.  Amazing. And off we went. (more…)

AN ENCOURAGING WORD IN A VOLATILE WORLD

We were broadcasting the National Scholastic Track & Field Championships for ESPN from the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.  It was Sunday, March 11, 1990.  The very next day the Lithuanian parliament would vote 124-0 to secede from the Soviet Union, marking the first break from Moscow by a Baltic state forcibly annexed in 1940 – and the first independence vote of any kind in the 68-year history of the Soviet state.  The questions circling the Sunday morning news shows that day asked ‘how far would the 1989 revolution extend?’, ‘how would the United States play it?’, and ‘what shape would the world eventually take?’

Nearly 30 years later, those same questions still linger in an even more volatile world with Putin’s Russia still uneasy about the loss of her satellites, and the world anxiously wondering ‘how will the U.S. play it under President Trump?’.

Though I had been interviewing him for more than a decade, the 1990 National Scholastic meet was the first time I found myself actually working alongside 1972 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter.  During one of the breaks in our coverage as we prepped for the boy’s two-mile run, I asked Frank what his best high school two-mile had been.

“9:38,” he replied, recalling his days at Northfield Mount Hermon Academy in western Massachusetts class of `65.

A few moments later an eager-faced young man approached our broadcast location from the stands below.  Looking up, he tentatively called out, “Mr. Shorter?”

Occasionally prickly with his peers, Shorter had never been anything but gracious with young athletes.  And amidst their ensuing conversation, it came out that this particular young man had come to the Carrier Dome to watch the meet because he’d just missed qualifying for the nationals in this about to be contested two-miler.

“My best was only 9:36,” he told Shorter dejectedly, explaining how hard he had tried to make the standard.

“You know,” Frank replied, “that’s two seconds faster than my high school PR.”

The kid’s eyes opened even wider.

“9:38?  You mean I might not be finished yet?”

The world may change, invariably getting smaller, more crowded, more contentious.  Times may change, too, invariably getting faster.  But the incentives to achieve remain constant, whether for a people in search of national recognition or for a young athlete needing only an encouraging word from one of his heroes who has come before.

(From Journal #26 -> Tues. 27 Feb. to Thurs. 24 May 1990)

END

NAMING MARATHONS

Image result for los angeles marathon 2018Yesterday, some 24,000 runners from all 50 states and a score of foreign nations ran the 33rd Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon under ideal conditions – 47F at the Dodger Stadium start near downtown, to just over 50F at the Santa Monica seaside finish.  Though the men’s and women’s pro races weren’t the burners one might have expected under such clement conditions, both gender leaders did stage dramatic late-race competitions worthy of a Hollywood script.  Behind them came thousands upon thousands of stories of desire, redemption, and the life-affirming embrace of a personal challenge met and overcome.

It has been said, “there is no pain that empowers like that of childbirth.”  Perhaps that is so, but under current species regulations, it remains beyond men’s capability to take on that task, and accordingly, we must accept the truth of it from the mouths of our mothers, wives, and daughters.

Beyond passing a kidney stone, then, perhaps the closest we men can come to the experience of childbirth is the pain of the marathon. For it has also been said, “you don’t run a marathon, you give birth to one”. (more…)