“WHAT A WORLD!” (RECORD)

I mean, what can you say at this point? There’s no winning here. If you embrace this weekend’s marathon performances in Vienna and Chicago at face value, you have to be wearing pretty tight blinders because of what history has shown us in recent times shenanigans-wise. And if you poo-poo them, then you’re just a cynic and a hater and nobody wants to hear it.

Yesterday in Vienna, the wondrous Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to go sub-two hours over the classic marathon distance in a staged exhibition sponsored by the petro-chemical company INEOS.  In it, organizers shaved every impediment as close to the bone as possible, and then went into the marrow in several others like replacement pacers, so that Kipchoge’s 1:59:40.2 time was ineligible for record purposes. Not that they ever said they were going for a legit record.

Eliud Kipchoge goes sub-2 in Vienna!

Immediately after crossing the line, the Olympic champion celebrated by hugging his wife and friends before sprinting back up the course to high-five fans like he just finished the Carlsbad 5000 (which he actually did in 2010). No problemo.

And today (October 13, 2019) fellow Kenyan Brigid Kosgei tucked in behind her two male pacers at the BofA Chicago Marathon out on the ragged edge of 2:10 pace through 5K heading toward an unwavering 2:14:04 world record, even when one of the oldest adages in the sport says you can easily lose your marathon in the first 15 minutes by making an error in pacing. Evidently that rule no longer applies. Continue reading

BIX 7 HITS 45 AND SAYS SO LONG TO ED FROELICH

Davenport, IA. – The Quad City Times Bix 7 Road Race is one of the American Road Race classics. Now it is 45th year, the Bix 7 is celebrating the final year under the leadership of Ed Froelich who is in his 40th year at the helm as race director.

In his term, Ed transformed the BIX from a local/regional fun run to a national and internationally celebrated event while helping transform the sport of road racing from its amateur past to its professional present.

Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch announced Ed Froelich Way along Third Street near the Bix finish at today’s pre-race gala.

With the invitation of Marathon superstar Bill Rodgers in 1980 after the USA announced its Olympic boycott, the BIX field doubled in size. Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter also was an early contestant during the Froelich years, and when women’s marathon world record holder Joan Benoit Samuelson began her annual trek to Iowa in 1983, the legacy of excellence was set. International stars just kept on coming.

With the aid of his long time and beyond-able assistant Ellen Hermiston and a cadre of committee heads that Ed tasks then lets alone to do their jobs, the Bix has become a well-oiled machine and the pride of the Quad Cities.

With retiring T.C. Cornelis broadcasting his 40th straight Bix 7

I have been fortunate to be part of the broadcast team on KWQC-TV6 for 27 years, working alongside local legend Thom “TC” Cornelis who will be hosting his 40th and final Bix tomorrow morning.

Another great lineup of athletes will compete in the 45th Bix and you can watch a live stream on KWQC beginning at 7:30 a.m. central time.

Part of what makes the Bix special is its race course. Here’s a preview.

The Bix 7 miles

Mile one is dominated by the iconic Brady Street hill, a quarter mile beast with a 7% – 9% degree grade, similar to climbs Tour de France riders face in the Pyrenees and the Alps.

Mile two descends along tree-lined Kirkwood Boulevard, a blazing downhill that is a Siren’s call to speed. But beware, because mile three is a roller coaster, the first half after you turn off Kirkwood going uphill – and it’s a pretty severe little uphill at about 2 1/2 miles – before the next half of mile 3 is downhill as you approach the Mississippi River on McClellan Street.

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Statues of Bill Rodgers & Joan Samuelson were installed along the River in Davenport in 1999. Ed Froelich’s statue went up several years later.

Then we turn around just before McClellan intersects at State Street running along the river.  Now we go back uphill heading toward mile 4 passing many beautiful homes perched atop their well-groomed lawns.

But the climbing is far from over. Now there’s another hump requiring serious attention. No time to peruse the blossoming gardens. And I wouldn’t like to have to mow the lawns on these slopes, either.

Yep, the 4th mile is definitely back up again and then just after the fourth mile sign hanging over the road, you take a right hand turn back up onto Kirkwood where that second mile that you blitzed down is now a wall to climb in mile five.

The course finally flattens out as you pass 5 1/2 miles approaching the end of Kirkwood and the left turn back onto Brady Street. But there is no cruising ahead. Instead, it’s a screaming downhill after all the uphill running. And that steep a drop just pounds your quads as the thick crowds urge you on.

The stretch run down Brady Street

You blow by the start line before turning hard left on Third Street for the final half-mile to the finish line. But don’t be deceived by the huge Bix 7 sign hanging off the train trestle. That’s not the finish. You still have several blocks to go.

Yes, sir, the Bix 7 is a real race course, a real challenge, befitting one of the American road race classics. Congratulations, Ed, you’ve done yourself and your community proud.

Fast Eddie Froelich signing an autograph for 23-time Bix runner Dan Kedley of Lowden, Iowa.

END

CHICAGO 2018: TOO MANY CANDIDATES ON THE BALLOT

Though it was a Frenchman, Michel Bréal, who first suggested that a distance race be held in the 1896 Olympic Games and be called the Marathon, it may be that fate, too, had a hand in the formulation.  You see, Athenian democracy, described as the first known democracy in the world, developed around the same fifth century BC time frame as the myth of Pheidippides, the Greek messenger whose run from Marathon to Athens telling of a great military victory over an invading Persian force was the genesis of our modern sport. And what is the Marathon but the most democratic of all sporting events where all are welcome to participate and the winners are decided by open competition?  It is in the light of that history that I make the following observation.

The 2018 BofA Chicago Marathon has set up another great open field for October 7th.  Announced yesterday, it is loaded with past and current champions from around the racing world. 2018 Boston, Dubai, Prague, Paris, Rotterdam, and Tokyo champions have all signed on. But hidden deep within that collection of mostly anonymous talent is something this sport has longed for since the days when Bill Rodgers first challenged Frank Shorter in the short mid-1970s window when both were at the top of their game, a great mano a mano duel. 

Here we have defending Chicago champion Galen Rupp and his former Nike Oregon Project training partner Mo Farah signed and sealed. It’s something the sport (and track and field) has been starved for and lax in developing for years, a truly intriguing match race. The last such match race worth its spit was staged in 1996 when Olympic long sprint champion Michael Johnson of the USA took on short sprint champion Donovan Bailey of Canada over an intermediate 150-meter distance in Toronto following the Atlanta Games. And though the race itself fizzled with Johnson pulling up lame midway, the promotion itself was a big success.

Now, for the first time in memory, we have two well branded Olympic distance medalists, men who used to be teammates, going head-to-head for the first time in the marathon, both looking to bust a fast time on one of the fastest courses in the world. Accordingly, Chicago is reinstating pacers after discarding that crutch following the 2014 race. And it makes perfect sense because both Rupp and Farah are past track burners who have yet to break through in terms of marathon times on par with their 10,000 meters PRs.

Here, then, is a natural rivalry that people might actually want to see, one that can be marketed, Galen versus Mo,m. And then they go lard it up with all these admittedly fast but anonymous extras who do nothing but steal the spotlight from the one thing that might get average people to stop and pay attention. Why?  Cause we’ve always done it this way? Continue reading

MIND GAMES

These next two weeks will mark the end of the 2017 marathon year, first with the 71st Fukuoka International Marathon this Sunday in Japan, followed by the 45th Honolulu Marathon on December 10th (where I will be sending reports beginning next Wednesday).

But as the sport gears up for these big year-end competitions, I wanted to go back for one last look at what will go down as the defining race of the American running year, Shalane Flanagan‘s historic win at the TCS New York City Marathon November 5th.

Going back over the news coverage, I noticed an interesting observation in the New York Times story of the women’s competition.  And I was wondering whether other racers noticed it, or saw it as I did.  Here’s how the Times story led up to the moment of truth in the women’s race.

“After 21 miles, the lead pack whittled to three: Keitany, Daska, and Shalane Flanagan, a 36-year-old from Massachusetts, who finished second in New York in 2010. Keitany finally removed her sleeves. The race was on.”

Shalane leads Keitany and Daska down Fifth Avenue (Photo by Photo Run)

As I watched that critical stretch, Shalane, especially, had the contained but concentrated appearance of an athlete with horses at the ready, all controlled energy with a tight hold of the reins. To my eye at least, it looked like from the 20-mile mark on Shalane kept waiting for the real Mary Keitany to show up and throw down because she was poised to respond.

Both Mary and Shalane had come a long way since their marathon debuts in NYC 2010 – – where Shalane took second behind Edna Kiplagat by 20 seconds, with Mary in third, another 21 seconds back in 2:29:01.  Every race has its Alpha, though, and with Ms. Keitany coming in as three-time defending champion and women’s-only world-record setting London zephyr, there was no doubt as to who the leading lady in New York 2017 was.

But as Shalane, Mary, and Mamitu Daska battled down Fifth Avenue alongside the row of elegant apartment buildings on the Upper East Side this year (with Edna trailing in 4th place, BTW), Keitany’s face revealed a mask of just enough discomfort to betray a lost cause.  If she had been the Keitany of the last three years, one would have thought she would have tried to leave a long time ago – hell, last year she won by over 3 1/2 minutes! –  especially at what had been a desultory 2:32 marathon pace early on, no more than a tempo effort for the 2:17:01 winner in London this past spring.  Daska in her NYC debut was the wildcard.  Here’s the Times story again.

… as they made their way down Fifth Avenue, one runner began to break away. Surprisingly, it was not Keitany…In a bizarre decision, Keitany began to drift toward the east side of 5th Avenue, away from Flanagan’s tail, before zigzagging back into the customary route. At that point, though, it was too late to catch the runner from Massachusetts — .”

It’s that bold section I want to draw your attention to. Here’s the question, was it really a bizarre move? Unusual, yes, but –  Continue reading

RELENTLESS SHALANE WINS IN NEW YORK CITY

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

AMERICAN MASTER MEB SAYS SO LONG

 

Meb after 2009 NYC win

On that bright but chilly (38°F) November morning, I had the catbird seat aboard the NBC lead men’s TV motorcycle as the 2002 New York City Marathon entered its critical stage coming off the Queensboro Bridge at mile 16.  The final pace-setter, the metronomic Joseph Kariuki of Kenya, had just pulled off leaving the pack edgy, crackling with energy as Manhattan’s First Avenue stretched ahead like a provocation with all the history, speed, and power it portended.  Amidst the lead group ran marathon debutant Meb Keflezighi, the U.S. record holder at 10,000 meters (27:13). The day before Meb’s long-time coach Bob Larsen told me Meb would go with the pace until First Avenue then decide what to do.

The resurrection of American distance running had begun to take shape in that fall of 2002. Following successful maiden marathons by Dan Browne at Twin Cities (1st, 2:11:35) then Alan Culpepper in Chicago (6th, 2:09:41, tying Alberto Salazar’s American d­­­­­­ebut record from New York 1980) the anticipation for Meb’s debut in New York City was running sky high.

Sweeping off the bridge first sped Rodgers Rop of Kenya, third in NYC the year before, and reigning Boston Marathon champion.  By 66th Street Rop had a five-second gap, leaving remnants of the pack receding like fading dust motes.  Mile 17 fell in 4:36.

Realizing the danger, Boston runner-up Christopher Cheboiboch, 2:06:33 South African Gert Thys, and Kenyan deb Laban Kipkemboi bridged up to cover Rop’s move. And then Meb came rushing up hard from behind to join the fray.  Decision made!  He was going! The crowd bellowed its approval.  Next, amidst a 4:40 18th mile, Meb surged to the front, not satisfied just to answer, he was anxious to dictate policy.

“I remembered that Salazar had won New York in his debut,” recalled Meb years later.  “And maybe I got too emotional.”

Rodgers Rop went on to win that 2002 race in New York in 2:08:07 to join Bill Rodgers (1978 & `79), Alberto Salazar (1982) and Joseph Chebet (1994) as the only men to win Boston and New York in the same year (in 2011 Geoffrey Mutai would join the club).

Meb took a full 35 minutes and change for his final 10K (5:40/mi. pace).  Chilled to the bone, he arrived in ninth place in 2:12:35. Afterwards, his mother Awetash made him swear he would never do THAT again. Continue reading

BERLIN 2017: IS PAST STILL PROLOGUE?

In the past, it was the pure strength men, or those who couldn’t quite finish fast enough on the Olympic track to earn medals, who sought solace in the marathon. Back then the world record was less a goal than an outcome. Names like Derek Clayton, Ron Hill, Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Toshihiko Seko, Alberto Salazar, Rob de Castella, Steve Jones, and Juma Ikangaa are still venerated by old hearts.

Today, with the rewards to be made, young men come into the game totally fearless, all the progeny of the late Sammy Wanjiru, the mercurial Kenyan who announced a new era in marathon running when he attacked the 2008 Beijing Olympic course on a hot summer’s day as if he were on a 10k romp through a dewy meadow on a perfect spring morn. The following spring in London he goaded pacers to a 28:30 first 10k on the way to a 1:01:36 half and a brave, but fading 2:05:10 win.

Wanjiru forever changed the relationship between racers and the distance in those two races, stripping the marathon of much of its mystique, and arming marathoners everywhere with new courage at starting lines around the world.

We saw the full effect of the Wanjiru Era last May in Monza, Italy when former 5000 meter world champion Eliud Kipchoge came within 25 seconds of the two-hour barrier at Nike’s Breaking2 Project exhibition.  And now on September 24th in Berlin, Kipchoge, along with defending champion Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia and 2013 winner and ’16 runner up Wilson Kipsang of Kenya will meet at the 44th BMW Berlin Marathon, hunting for sub-2:02:57, the official marathon world record. It is a glorious matchup between two former track men moving up and one pure marathon man, each a past winner in the German capital.   Continue reading