FROM HONOLULU TO THE WORLD

Looking to Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach

Honolulu, HI – The Honolulu Marathon may not be a World Marathon Major, but it is a major world marathon. Now in it’s 47th year, the island classic began as more of an end-of-the-season lark for the handful of top local runners and a few island hopping elites brought over by their shoe company sponsor.  Winning times would generally fall just under 2:20 for men and 2;40 for women.  But it was always a fun time more than a fast time.  

Then something happened, and over the last 30 years Honolulu has become a springboard for some of the greatest marathoners of the modern era who utilized the Honolulu Marathon as a proving ground for greater glory on the world stage.

Ibrahim Hussein set new records in Honolulu and kick-started the Kenyan marathon revolution

Kenya’s Ibrahim Hussein was the first Kenyan champion in Honolulu, winning three straight from 1985 to 1987.  More than that, the University of New Mexico grad twice broke the Honolulu course record, slashing three-plus minutes off Dave Gordon’s 1982 mark of 2:15:30 with a 2:12:08 in 1985, then slicing another 25-seconds off in 1986.

Before Hussein the assumption was that Kenyans were not disciplined enough for the marathon distance. Attacking 26 miles as if it were 10K road or 12K cross country event, Kenyan athletes flamed out well before the finish lines of marathons far and wide.

Think of that assumption today in light of the last three decades of marathon domination that has emerged from training camps in and around the towns of Eldoret and Iten in the Central Highlands of Kenya.

Hussein went on to become the first Kenyan to win the New York City Marathon in 1987, then duplicated that first with three wins in Boston in 1988, ‘91, & ’92. Continue reading

RUNNING HISTORY LESSONS WITH RAMON

We had a guy come over to the house yesterday to install a backup device on our computer by the name of Ramon, a fast fingered tech guy.

As he worked we got to talking about all the audio tapes on the desk from my old Runners Digest radio show in Boston and I went and showed him an interview I did with Bobbi Gibb in 1980 explaining how she was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1966 but how she had to sneak into the race cause women weren’t allowed to run back then and how all these years later a statue is going to be erected in her honor at the start line next April and, yea, she is actually the sculptor of her own younger likeness.

Old tapes waiting to be digitized from Runners Digest days

And then I told the story about how the following year another woman named Kathrine Switzer got entered by her coach from Syracuse University, not out of any devious plan, just that he had a bunch of people to enter and used their initials rather than first names. So the BAA didn’t know she was a woman when the entries arrived, so they just sent back the bib numbers for everybody when if they knew she was a woman they wouldn’t have sent one to her.

But then when they saw a real live woman actually running in their race with a bib number on her chest, well this one official had a cow and came charging out to try to grab the number from her. but he found out real quick that Kathrine’s boyfriend was a hammer-thrower who blocked this older Scotsman into the bushes and the whole thing was photographed by the media and instantly went viral worldwide and how that became a real marker in the early stages of the women’s movement.

And Ramon was a bit taken aback by it all, being as he was still in his late 20s or so, and hadn’t ever heard the whole saga.  

But then he wanted to know “is that the one that cheated?”

“Kathrine? Oh, God, no. That was Rosie Ruiz.”

And off I went telling him how Rosie had died recently, and how sad her whole story was and how she really didn’t mean to cheat to win back in 1980, she just wanted to cheat for a decent time, but jumped in too soon and then wouldn’t admit it after they gave her the olive wreath and medal, you know, a screwup, like Mulvaney.

Ramon consolidated more files and said, “I think I read something about that.”

“Which one?” I asked  “Mulvaney or Rosie?”

Before he could answer I told him “you know the women’s world record in the marathon was just broken last weekend in Chicago by a Kenyan lady Brigid Kosgei.”

“She beat Usain Bolt’s time, right?”

“No, Bolt ran the 100 and 200 and besides women can’t run with the best men, testosterone and all that.”

Which brought up the subject of the recent IAAF ruling on testosterone levels for Caster Semenya and the other inter-sex women athletes. And you try to explain that phenomenon to a computer technician. Anyway, on it went, one thing touching upon another.

Ramon’s head was beginning to spin by this time like the internal mechanism of that USB drive he was all but finished installing. 

Our two cats came over to check him out and  musta thought he was a good human cause they sidled right up. Ramon said he had seven cats of his own. I guess they could tell.

Ramon fixed us up real good on the computer, reset some folders, cleaned up the home screen. He was the kind of guy that knew his trade very well even knew some snippets of running here and there, but just enough to be completely confused. Like me with computers.

And so it goes.

Bobbi’s statue in her studio

END

NEW STATUE COMING TO BOSTON MARATHON STARTING TOWN

Each Patriots Day tens of thousands of runners descend on the bucolic bedroom community of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, historic starting point of the Boston Marathon. But once the racers have been sent on their way, only four quiet stationary representatives remain behind.

These are the four statues that have already been erected over the years to commemorate special contributions to the world’s oldest continuously run marathon. Now a fifth member to the memorial family is being welcomed, and notably it will be the first woman. Continue reading

SHOULDN’T A GOAT HAVE TO CLIMB?

The praise for Eliud Kipchoge continues to pour in from every corner. His masterful performance in London last weekend cemented his place as the preeminent marathoner of this and perhaps any era in most peoples eyes. But can we slow down for just half a second?

Greatest of all time?

Are we really ready to hand the title of Greatest of All Time to a man who has only run flat, paced races in near ideal weather along with one lab experiment in Monza, Italy? Certainly, Master Kipchoge’s Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016 was won without the aid of pacers on a warm muggy day. And his previous life as a track runner – especially in Paris 2003 at the IAAF World Championship 5000 – proved he can race with anyone. Nobody is suggesting otherwise.

But since he moved up to the marathon in Hamburg 2013, where is the variety? Where is the new challenge? Where is the ‘throw anything at me, I’ll take it on’ mentality?

In his 12-marathon career, Kipchoge has run four Londons, four Berlins, and Chicago 2014. Rotterdam 2014 was his other non-major.  Yet we just read today that Mr. Kipchoge said, “I trust that before I see the sport out that I will run all six major marathons.”

While that is wonderful to hear, there’s a difference between running all six and racing all six. Continue reading

THE DAY AFTER BOSTON 2019

Boston, Ma. – The Marathon is such a challenging distance that most athletes have no desire to take it on solo. Instead, they form up in packs, serving as confederates through much of its length, working as one until they come to the final third of the course where the  real racing begins and the winning is generally done.

That’s exactly how the men’s race played out yesterday at the 123rd Boston Marathon with the outcome in doubt til the final 5 meters when Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono prevailed against two-time Ethiopian winner Lelisa Desisa. It was thrilling stuff, indeed.

But as my broadcast partner on WBZ-TV4 Shalane Flanagan said, “the women’s race was the polar opposite.”

In that competition, the short but powerful Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia gently but convincingly went to the front in Ashland and began to turn the screw after reaching  only the second of eight cities and towns that make up the historic Boston course.

Worknesh Degefa all smiles the day after

“After 4 miles the pace was too slow,“ 28 year-old Degefa said at today’s day-after press conference. “So I decided to take off. I kept going and that made me a winner.”

The last time we saw a move this bold this early in a major race was way back in 1984 when Maine’s Joanie Benoit pulled away from the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon field in Los Angeles at 5km and ran alone to win the first women’s Olympic Marathon gold-medal. Her time of 2:24:52 stood as the Olympic record for many cycles. It was only bested as the fastest time west of the Mississippi River this past March at the Los Angeles Marathon.

Yesterday it was with seeming ease that Worknesh Degefa gradually eased away from a pack that included four previous Boston women champions. They knew that this was the fastest woman in the field with her 2:17:41 performance at the January 25th Dubai Marathon. But maybe because it was her first attempt on the technically challenging Boston route with its rolling hills and iconic Heartbreak Hill, that they figured she would come back and they could reel her back in. Continue reading

TIME OF SECONDARY IMPORTANCE IN BOSTON

Boston, MA. – The clock. Yes, the clock. We watch it incessantly as it ticks relentlessly. But just like how three-point shots in basketball are worth noting – like last night when Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry passed Ray Allen for the most three-pointers made in playoff history – they aren’t the most important numbers. That designation falls into the category of wins and losses, like how the Warriors beat the L.A. Clippers 121 – 104 in game one of their opening round NBA playoff series.

In that sense, time is only of secondary importance in the outcome of a marathon like Boston, a classic race over a difficult course, unpredictable weather, and an absence of pacesetters.

As was proven again in 2018 with wild, wind-driven rain, Boston is primarily a race against other runners with the clock no more than an impassive attendant to the human drama. So while much of the marathon world focuses on the clock, at times slavishly so, Boston concentrates on racers.    Continue reading

2019 BOSTON PRESS DAY

Boston, MA – Other than too many people and not enough time, it all went perfectly well at the John Hancock elite athlete press conference for the 123rd Boston Marathon this morning at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel.

It was like old home week. There was Rob de Castella the 1986 champion here with his indigenous running team from Australia. There was ‘83 champ Greg Meyer hanging out with fellow Grand Rapids Michigander Dathan Ritzenhein. And three time women’s champion Uta Pippig with a wave and a hug still mourning the passing of her father.  Everywhere you looked was an old friend. 

But this was not a day to simply chat about yesterday. This was a press conference to see who might do what on Monday from Hopkinton to Boston. Continue reading