Tag: Boston Marathon

ENDURANCE OR SPEED: THE MARATHON STILL SERVES UP A LITTLE OF EACH

The Marathon along with its half distance cousin is the only footrace that has a name rather than a distance as it’s calling card.  And in that name there lies multitudes because for more than a century that name has represented the great endurance challenge of the modern age, at times even a life-threatening one.  And why wouldn’t it? After all, it was born in the mists of myth and legend, then resurrected two and a half millennia later as an Olympic challenge.

Until the 1960 Olympics in Rome, however, the name Marathon stood for endurance alone, not speed. Only with the arrival of Ethiopia’s Abeba Bikila did the event give way to a runner who could attack the distance rather than simply survive its length. Still, until the first running boom of the 1970s, it was either-or, either you were a marathon runner or you competed at the shorter road, track, and cross country distances. Today, top runners move back and forth more fluidly, taking the opportunities as they present themselves.

Look at this year’s Standard Charter Dubai Marathon, always the bellwether of the coming year. Winner Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia was 25 when he ran 2:04:00 this January. His PBs include 13:17, 27:18 and 59:11 over 5000, 10,000, and the half-marathon distances, hardly the makings of a pure endurance athlete.  Dubai runner-up Leule Gebrselassie, also Ethiopian, also 25, carried a 13:13, 27:19, 59:18 resume. And third-placer  Tamirat Tola, again of Ethiopia, a year older at 26, had 26:57 and 59:37 credentials.  

In the past, the best runners avoided the marathon until evidence of their inevitable slowing on the track forced them to transfer allegiance to the roads.  For many, and still to a few like Kenenisa Bekele, Galen Rupp, and Mo Farah, the Marathon was the last stop on the career arc from shorter races to the more strength oriented 42k.  (more…)

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PRIZE DOLLARS AND SENSE

Monday’s 122nd Boston Marathon was one for the ages.  Epic you might say. I’ve seen local Boston TV hurricane coverage in the past that looked less nasty than the conditions confronting the marathoners this Patriot’s Day. And in its wet, rain-blown aftermath, the stories are beginning to be told.

There’s a Facebook post today by our friend and colleague Jim Gerweck linking to a story about Jessica Chichester, the Broolyn nurse who finished fifth on Monday. another of the improbable top finishers in the women’s race after the conditions wiped out the invited stars. The FB thread debates what to do about the three women who started in Wave one at Monday’s marathon, some 28 minutes behind the ”Elites”, but in the carnage that ensued in the brutal conditions, posted finishing times that placed them “in the money”. 

Former Runners World staffer Parker Morse explained that, “by the rules they didn’t earn it (the prize money) and everyone saying “different race” is correct…

“I think the classy thing to do would be to pay out by the rules first, then make some “special and unusual” awards to those three women. The positive press would probably be worth more than the prize money. I don’t think I’d fault them for not doing that, though.”

I reached out to the B.A.A., and received the following from Mike Pieroni, the B.A.A. Athletic Performance Director:

“The Elite Women’s Start competition was implemented here in 2004 to highlight the head-to-head competition.  Every AWMM event, and other leading prize money races have virtually the same policy as ours.

“From our web-site, and used in individual communications to/from athletes requesting information:
The Boston Marathon includes a separate start for top female competitors. Performances from the Elite Women’s Start (EWS) will be scored separately from women starting in the open field.

“Open and masters division women who consider themselves eligible for prize money in the Boston Marathon must declare themselves as a contestant for the EWS start. They may email ews@baa.org for further details on format, eligibility, regulations, and instructions.

“Race officials can assist in determining which start – EWS or 10:00 a.m. – is most appropriate. Prize money will be awarded to contestants in the EWS only. Women who choose not to start in the EWS waive the right to compete for prize money. Timing and scoring is done by Gun time.”

Well, there you have it, the rule spelled out in full. There was a choice to be made.  And since some of the American women were hoping for an Olympic Trials qualifying time on Monday, sub-2:45, they chose to stay with Wave 1 where there would be a greater mass of runners, thereby helping them make their OT qualifier.

But, at the same time, there is historic precedent for such a “special award”.  Wesley Korir entered the 2008 Chicago Marathon on his own dime, because he couldn’t wrangle an invitation.  The 2007 graduate of the University of Louisville had been a multiple time All-American, finishing seventh at the 2007 NCAA D1 5000.  But with no road credentials to speak of,  he was forced to start with the masses five minutes behind the Elite field. 

2012 Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir

Korir went on to win the mass race in 2:13:53, which turned out to be the fourth fastest time of the day overall.   

Chicago race director Carey Pinkowski took it all in, and in a gesture that said a lot about the guy, a former athlete himself, he quietly awarded equal fourth place money to Wesley ($15,000), even though, by rule, he didn’t have to.  It wasn’t done with any grand public fanfare, either, just out of a sense of fair’s fair. 

Of course, Wesley Korir went on to have a wonderful professional career, with back-to-back wins in Los Angeles, five more appearances in Chicago, including a 2:06:15 second place in 2011, and a career-defining win in the 2012 Boston Marathon. But Korir was not given a choice where to start in Chicago 2008, like all the women in Monday’s Boston Marathon were.  There’s your main difference.

The puddles are still drying in Boston, spring is still not in full bloom. The sport moves on, as it always does, this coming weekend to London.  Let’s see how things shake out after this most singular day in Boston Marathon history. Perhaps there are still stories to be written.

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INSTANT KARMA FOR DES LINDEN IN BOSTON

Boston, MA – According to Race director Dave McGillvray, 30,087 entered the 2018 Boston Marathon. 27,362 picked up their bib numbers. 27,042 started, and 95.5% of them finished, 25,882.  Another testament to the perseverance of the running community and especially the Boston qualifiers. One athlete showed particular, long term perseverance.

Des with John Hancock VP Rob Friedman and the fruits of her victory.

John Lennon wrote “Instant Karma”, and in her sixth try on the olde race course Des Linden experienced it yesterday. 

“I felt very bad early on,” the 2018 Boston Marathon women’s champion admitted at Tuesday morning’s press conference. “My gloves were saturated, I was making rookie mistakes. The day was setting up to be a disaster. So I thought, there was so much hype for the American women, let me help these guys out as long as I can.”

That’s why Des waited when Shalane Flanagan ducked into a porta-john between 11-12 miles as the course entered Wellesley. The pack was still only running 6:00 miles, so you could do your business and still have time to catch back up with a little help from a friend.

Then, when Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska pulled away with a 5:31 14th mike, fastest of the day so far, Des thought she could help Molly Huddle bridge the gap by breaking the wind for her. Because that’s what compatriots do, even if they are opponents, too.

“But when I turned around, I saw I was pulling away from everyone. Everybody was having a tough day. And I figured this was still the quickest way to get home, even if I blew up.” (more…)

TIME FOR AN AMERICAN WOMAN’S WIN IN BOSTON

Boston MA – What were the Pilgrims thinking? Did you feel it? Yeah, that was springtime that blew through Boston yesterday for about two hours from 9 till 11 am. Then winter came roaring back on a raw, east wind that had everyone scrambling back to their hotel rooms for more hats, gloves and turtlenecks. And with rain and even sleet coming today with temperatures never out of the mid 30s, maybe we should be thankful that Monday’s 122nd Boston Marathon only predicts temps in the 40-50s with rain and strong headwinds.

But that’s New England, always something to overcome, from its rocky earth to its unrelenting winters. But as Boulder Wave Agency head Brendan Reilly, an old Bostonian himself, said to his client, defending women’s champ Edna Kiplagat, “three hours after the start somebody is going to be standing up on that podium with the mayor receiving a trophy as champion.  So it might as well be you.”

Defending Boston women’s champion Edna Kiplagat displays her race number

Good, stoic New England advice, that, but hard to implement just the same.  Though training has gone very well, Edna does not like cold and rainy conditions, only placing 14th in her tune up half marathon in Japan in 73:45.  “I never ran in snow before.” Just the same, this is the most accomplished runner in the field, so never write her off, even at age 38.

Since this Boston women’s field was first announced, the feeling that this would be the year for an American woman to win this race for the first time since Lisa Weidenbach (now Rainsberger) in 1985 has been strong. Now with the withdrawl of the Olympic silver medalist Eunice Kirwa of Bahrain, and slight injury reports on Ethiopians Mamitu Daska (slight ankle problem after 3rd in New York last fall) and Buzu Deba (missed a week of training with a tweaked left knee), that leaves 3x Dubai champion Aselefech Mergia, 2015 Boston champ Caroline Rotich, newcomer Gladys Chesir and defending champ Edna Kiplagat as the main challenge to the four top Americans. 

But Rotich has dropped out of the last two Bostons, and hasn’t popped a good one since she won in the cold and rain of Boston 2015.  For her part, though she carries a 2:19:31 best, Mergia ran her PR six years ago and has only run one non-paced marathon with hills in her career (2nd, 2015 NYC),

Gladys Chesir is a newcomer, but hasn’t shown to be a winner in her track and cross country career leading into her 2:24:51 2nd place debut in flat Amsterdam last fall. 

When was the last time it would have been considered an upset for an American woman not to win Boston?  Certainly never in the prize money era. But that’s where we are before Monday’s 122nd Boston Marathon. (more…)

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…)

MONEYBALL FOR THE MARATHON?

Lahaina, Maui – In 2003 Michael Lewis published Moneyball, his book telling how the Oakland Athletics baseball team implemented a more efficient and cost-effective way to evaluate players and strategize game situations based solely on data analysis. This approach led the Athletics to  player acquisitions that other teams had overlooked or disregarded, but more importantly, led to success on the diamond.

When the book came out, many a baseball expert was dismissive. But at some point they couldn’t argue with the success the A’s were having using their new methodology.

In the ensuing years, people in many other fields took up the Moneyball example to reevaluate their businesses, positing that if the old ways of analyzing baseball were in error, couldn’t other suppositions be open to reexamination, as well? (more…)