FUTURE THOUGHTS

In this month of October 2019, the marathon world seemed to have turned a corner, or broken a barrier – however you want to put it – with the first sub-2 hour marathon for men in Vienna, Austria and an 81-second world record for the women in Chicago, Illinois.

The first performance was somewhat expected having come on the heels of a very close, but eventually unsuccessful attempt two years ago in Monza, Italy.  The successful second assault in Vienna was conducted like clockwork in a tightly controlled setting with pacers behind lasers that didn’t vary by more than four seconds per 5Km split on the repeatable route.

The second headline in Chicago came as something of a shock, considering the record it topped was already thought of as an outlier. But unlike the men’s sub-2 in Austria, the new women’s record in Illinois was run in a competitive setting (though without actual competition) led by two male pacers who went out way too hard yet managed to salvage the record at the end. Which leads one to believe there is more time to scrub from Brigid Kosgei’s 2:14:04 with more consistent pacing, much less other tweaks, official or otherwise.  And Kosgei herself has already posited a women’s 2:10 in the future, though for herself she set the limit at 2:12 – 2:13.

What both these performances had in common were the nationality of the two athletes, Kenyan, and the brand and model of shoes that were worn, Nike Vaporfly Next%, or prototypes built specifically for each.

And so after this seismic month of miraculous running, what’s next?  Already the IAAF is looking into the legality of the shoes based on a protest lodged by several elite runners accusing the Nike Vaporflys of producing an unfair competitive advantage. Though there is an initial belief that the shoes will be found to be within proscribed limits.

*

In 1989, American Greg LeMond won the Tour de France by eight seconds over Frenchman Laurent Fignon, the previous two-time Tour winner.

The eight-second margin made it the closest finish in TDF history, as LeMond was trailing Fignon by fifty seconds at the start of the final stage into Paris, and was not expected to be able to make up this deficit. But he completed the 24.5 km time trial at an average speed of 54.545 km/h (33.893 mph), at the time the fastest individual time trial ever ridden in the Tour. Fignon’s time was fifty-eight seconds slower, costing him the victory and giving LeMond his second Tour title by that scant eight second margin.

Greg LeMond in 1989 Tour de France

In that famous time trial, Lemond used aero bars clamped onto his traditional handlebars. The ‘89 TDF marked the first time such aero bars were used in competition. The aerodynamic advance proved to be the difference between first and second place. Now everyone uses aero bars, while overall bike technology has continued to evolve and improve ever since.

In sport, as in society, change remains the only constant. Trying to stem it is an exercise in futility. 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

1:59 VIENNA REDUX

Early on Vienna’s Prater Park looked like a scene out of the Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary, light fog clinging to the trees half expecting a skirmish line to emerge with percussion cap rifles clattering with bayonets affixed.

Emerging from the mist

Instead, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge came charging out of that mist tucked neatly into the cockpit of his squadron of low-flying reverse-V pacers following green laser lines projected on the road soft-treading headlong into history.

However he did it – pacers, lasers, drinks, and shoes – he still did it! Eliud Kipchoge ran the marathon distance in 1:59:40.2 in Vienna, Austria at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge to become the first man ever to accomplish the feat of finishing 26.2 miles in under 2:00:00. And the world watched in rapt attention.

From Letsrun.com’s Jonathan Gault, concurrent livestream viewers peaked at 779,000 on Youtube while 4.8 million total views have been seen since. (The Red Bull Stratos space skydive in 2012 holds the concurrent livestream YouTube record at nearly 9 million viewers).

It was a simple goal but a monumental achievement, considering that it took over three years to accomplish when you add up the Nike Breaking2 Project that preceded the INEOS 1:59 Challenge. But in the end, the actual running in Vienna proved to be less of a challenge than it had been in Monza. Continue reading

“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

PEACHTREE 2019 PREVIEW

Atlanta, Ga. – For those too young to remember, the nation was even more divided in 1970 than it is today. 50 years ago an idealistic generation of Baby Boomers were still trying to change the world through sit-ins and political protest, primarily to end the war in Vietnam. That May 4th, the killing of four unarmed students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard mobilized student unrest across the country. 

Yet just two months later, 110 intrepid pioneers (107 men & 3 women) were on their feet in Atlanta running to change nothing more than their own lives. And in so doing, they helped begin a whole new social movement that one person and one step at a time accomplished what sitting-in as a group never could.

Thus was the first AJC Peachtree Road Race born, inaugurating a tradition and cause that now stretches half a century long and 2 million finishers deep.

With such a legacy to serve, the world’s largest 10K has welcomed back not just many of the Original 110 who ran that first Peachtree 10K, but has assembled perhaps the deepest fields of pro talent ever, with bonuses of $50,000 going to any one of the foot racers or wheelchair athletes who can break the very sturdy event records. Continue reading

2018 HONOLULU MARATHON PREVIEW

Honolulu, HI. – In both 2016 & 2017, the Honolulu Marathon produced the fastest men’s marathon times in the United States.  Perhaps some of that anomaly can be traced to the Chicago Marathon dropping pacesetters for three years. But in the last two years Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono (2:09:38 & 2:08:27) slashed almost three minutes off Jimmy Muindi’s 2004 Honolulu course record of 2:11:12, a record that itself stood for 18 years after Ibrahim Hussein brought Kenyan-style racing to  Oahu in the mid 1980s. 

This year both Cherono and two-time women’s champion Brigid Kosgei have not returned to defend their titles, leaving the 2018 Honolulu Marathon wide open in both genders. Continue reading

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. Continue reading