Like many a Boston Marathon finisher, Shalane Flanagan walked downstairs with a tender tred after the race. The Marblehead, Massachusetts native had attacked the old course with a willful intention on Patriot’s Day 2014, convinced that an unrelenting pace from the start would discourage her opponents and set her up for victory.  But now, after the savage pace she set on the rolling hills from Hopkinton to Heartbreak Hill in Newton had shredded her quads, the walk downstairs from the VIP room of the House of Blues to the main stage for that night’s award ceremony was proving to be yet another painful journey.

Once on stage, the top ten women were presented to the boisterous crowd. Shalane was number seven. Then, as the champion (now confirmed drug cheat) Rita Jeptoo of Kenya basked in the spotlight and applause gowned up like a beauty pageant contestant, Shalane stood behind her still unrelenting, still feisty and unbowed.

“You’re welcome,” Shalane said tartly from behind as I introduced Jeptoo to the crowd. We heard her.  It was an acknowledgment that Flanagan knew exactly what role she had played in the fastest Boston Marathon in history, her own 2:22:02 time in seventh being the fastest ever by an American in Boston.

Shalane Flanagan leading the charge in Boston 2014

The plan for Boston 2014 had been set months in advance by Shalane and her Bowerman Track Club coach Jerry Schumacher. And to a degree, it had worked, delivering the 33-year-old to the Boylston Street finish line in exactly the time she was trying to achieve. Unfortunately, it was nearly four minutes behind the drug queen, and two minutes off that which Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia fashioned in second place – 2:19:59.

“When I first heard of Jeptoo (drug bust),” remembered Shalane, “I was angry. But then I was relieved. I could do that two minutes.”

And she nearly did, six months later in Berlin, again gunning for time rather than place. This time it was Deena Kastor‘s American record 2:19:36 from London 2006. Continue reading


Defending champ Nick Rose (r) battles Craig Virgin at 1975 NCAA XC at Penn State (Virgin wins, Rose 2nd)

Defending champ Nick Rose of Western Kentucky battles Illinois’ Craig Virgin at 1975 NCAA XC at Penn State (Virgin won, Rose 2nd, Wash. State’s John Ngeno takes 3rd)

Trying out a new sound feature here on the blog.  From my old Runner’s Digest radio show days in Boston I have untold hours of interviews and race calls from the first Running Boom era.  The show ran weekly from 1977 to 1988.

In this selection 1974 NCAA Cross Country champion Nick Rose of England discusses the use of fartlek training in a 1981 interview with me and Runner’s World editor Amby Burfoot.

Let me hear if you’d like more “Blasts from the Past”.



When Running was KIng

Boston Billy after 1978 at the center of the whirlwind

Man isn’t just a pattern-seeking animal, he is a goal-setting beast.  From breaking the four-minute mile to putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth, we have constantly striven to outdo our forefathers.  Accordingly, we have seen the standards of excellence mount with an almost linear progression through the course of time.

Today, the marathon performances of the Running Boom champions seem almost quaint by today’s standards, as far from world class as the exploits of their own predecessors seemed during their time in the sun.  At this year’s 117th Boston Marathon, five of its greatest champions from the Boom era will return to celebrate the anniversaries of their winning moments. Continue reading


1957 Boston Marathon champion

The great wheel turns, and thus are we all ground into dust.  Such is the Rib-Taker’s design, and so must we all be delivered.  I just returned home from covering the 34th America’s Finest City Half-Marathon here in San Diego, another celebration of the fullness of life, only to hear of the passing at age 80 of 1957 Boston Marathon champion John J. “The Younger” Kelley at his home in Connecticut.  An e-mail from John’s protégé, great friend and fellow Boston Marathon champion (1968) Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World brought the sad news.

Anyone who had been a part of the New England running scene over the last sixty years would have tales to tell of Young John, a man who would’ve been as comfortable in Revolutionary times – perhaps even more so -than in these currently devolving ones.   To fully understand and appreciate the life and legacy of John J. Kelley, I urge you to read Amby’s moving tribute. John J. Kelley, RIP, 1930-2011: 1957 Boston Marathon Winner; America’s First Modern Road Runner.

As his nickname implies, John “The Younger” was a man who shared a name (though no relation) with a marathon runner of even greater renown. Before Young John came Old Kel, John A. “The Elder” Kelley of Massachusetts, the legendary two-time Boston champion (1935 & `45) and 62-time Boston starter.  Both Kelley’s lived to run, were  two-time Olympians, and became as famous for their non-wins at Boston as for their victories.  Ten years spanned Old Kel’s wins, while Young John was the lone member of the BAA to ever wear the olive wreath of victory at his club’s grandest race.  Yet between the two they claimed twelve second place finishes at Boston (seven for Old Kel, five for Young John).

And so today, my sympathies lie with Tesfaye Alemayehu of Ethiopia and Ariana Hilborn of Scottsdale, Arizona, runners-up in the 2011 AFC Half.  Alemayehu came up just five-seconds shy of race winner Weldon Kirui of Kenya following a race-long duel through the cloud-covered skies of San Diego. Tucson, Arizona’s Ian Burrell claimed third position in an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying 64:22. Ms. Hilborn, 30, of Scottsdale gave way only in the final mile to California’s Mary Akor, who was competing in the AFC for the first time. Akor’s margin at the Balboa Park finish was ten seconds, 77:17 to 77:27.  San Diego’s Natasha Labeaud, 24, finished third in 78:15. Continue reading