INTERVIEW – DR. JIM BARAHAL, PRES. HONOLULU MARATHON ASSOCIATION

Honolulu, Hi – Now in his 32nd year as the president of the Honolulu Marathon Association, Dr. Jim Barahal is the longest serving CEO among the world’s top marathons. During his tenure Honolulu has grown from 10,000 entrants into the fourth largest marathon in the United States.

This week over 34,000 runners and walkers will take to the streets of Honolulu in three separate events, the Kalakaua Merrie Mile on Saturday, then the Start to Park 10K and the 46th Honolulu Marathon on Sunday morning. We sat down with Jim at the marathon expo at the Hawaii Convention Center yesterday to talk marathon business and sport.

Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal

JB: The challenge for us as the fourth largest marathon in the United States is we have the smallest metropolitan area of all the big marathons. New York, Chicago, Boston, we will never be as big as the very biggest races, and Los Angeles and Houston and Marine Corps in Washington DC also have much bigger markets to draw from than Honolulu. So for a long time our second market has been Japan. But there have been changes in that market in recent years with the rise of new citizen marathons, and that’s created big competition for us.

In the past, all the Japanese marathons were elite only. So the opportunity for average runners in Japan came here in Honolulu. But now with other opportunities back home, we’ve had to make somewhat of an adjustment.  How do we not only survive but thrive? What happen for us is we had to find growth beyond the marathon without cannibalizing the marathon.

All marathons now have other events on race weekend. But if you have a half marathon you find that it begins to overshadow the full marathon. So we asked several years ago do we want a half marathon? And we decided to begin a new, not companion half marathon which we call the Hapalua which is in April. It’s now in its eighth year and it’s been very successful. We have over 10,000 runners at the Hapalua and it’s become another destiination event for Japanese runners.  About 2500 of our Hapalua runners come from Japan. But that didn’t address the first week of December.

The trend in running has been away from fast running toward participation. To stay competitive, you have to attract novice runners looking for an experience. 

We realized two years ago, serendipitously, that on our course the first 10K basically ends at the marathon finish line in Kapiolani Park. That meant we could put on a 10K within the marathon and everyone could begin together, because the 10K is non-competitive. So it becomes an event with in the event. (more…)

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KIPCHOGE HONORED IN MONACO

Honolulu, HI. – It has been quite the last two years for the exceptional Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. After an unofficial but stunning 2:00:25 sub-2 hour marathon record attempt in Italy last year, Kipchoge dashed to a fully legal 2:01:39 world record in Berlin this September, breaking Dennis Kimetto’s 2014 mark by 1:18. The time represented the widest margin that record had been broken since 1967 when Australia’s Derek Clayton lowered the record from 2:12:00 to 2:09:36 in Fukuoka, Japan. And Kipchoge’s run in Berlin followed a clear victory at this April’s London Marathon against one of the strongest field’s ever assembled in the event’s rich history. 

Yesterday in Monaco, the 34-year-old Kipchoge was named 2018 IAAF Male Athlete of the Year for his efforts, joining Columbia’s triple jumper Caterine Ibargüen who was named Female AOY.

2018 marks the first time since the award began in 1988 that a marathon runner earned the prestigious AOY award on the men’s side (Paula Radcliffe of England took AOY honors in 2002 for women). 

Never Done Better , Kipchoge in Berlin 2018

Not only did Kipchoge’s record in Berlin break the old mark by a wide margin, it was also the second year in a row that Kipchoge topped the world list as fastest marathoner of the year.  (more…)

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…)

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 – YOWZA, YOWZA, YOWZA!

When Patrick Makau set his 2:03:38 world record in Berlin in 2012, he made a surge between 25 and 30K while zigzagging across the road to shake Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie from his tail. Then, after passing through the Brandenburg Gate on his way to victory, he had to hop over a roadside barrier to get on the correct side of the road for the men’s finish line tape break.

Because of those two elements, a tactical surge in the middle of the race,  and a little hop over a road sign at the end of the race, you knew there was another 30 seconds or so left in the world record after he crossed in 2:03:38. (And Godspeed to Mr  Makau who announced his retirement this past week).

But there is always a question after a world record marathon, what was left that didn’t go exactly right that might mean the world record has more time left in it?

Never Done Better

Today, the great Eliud Kipchoge broke Dennis Kimetto ‘s 2014 Berlin course and world record by 1:18 with a 2:01:39 finish time. Yowza, yowza, yowza!  But what didn’t go right? How much more can be squeezed out of that course? (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…)