BERLIN’S DREAM RACE

This is one of those everyonevhasanopinion races.
Like the prize fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor August 26, or Triple G vs Canelo Alvarez last Saturday (16 Sept.), this coming Sunday’s BMW Berlin Marathon has something for everyone.

It is an interesting notation, however, that never in modern history have all the top marathoners in the world been on the same starting line at the same time. Even the Olympics limits competitors to three per nation. With so many events glutting the calendar, there is a natural leveling in the quality of all race fields, including within the Abbott World Marathon Majors, which all draw from the same talent pool.  This year, however, and perhaps for the first time, Berlin race director Mark Milde will showcase a trio of past champions that make his race the brightest light in the fall marathon firmament.

On September 24th defending champion Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia will again take on 2016 runner-up and 2013 champ Wilson Kipsang of Kenya, with 2015 Berlin winner, 2016 Olympic champion, and 2017 Breaking2 supernova Eliud Kipchoge adding to the thunder.  In this time of natural dilution, Berlin has gathered the dream (men’s) race everyone wants to see.

Last year Bekele and Kipsang battled to a near world record in the German capital, with Bekele besting his Kenyan rival by ten seconds, 2:03:03 – 2:03:13, Bekele just six seconds shy of Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 world record set in Berlin `14.  Eliud Kipchoge arrives off a historic 2:00:25 Breaking2 marathon exhibition in Monza, Italy in May. And last year he not only won the Olympic gold in Rio, but came within eight seconds of the world record in London in April.  All three men have been sharpening their pencils to rewrite the record book on Sunday.

To date, the Dream Race title holder is the 2002 London Marathon where America’s Khalid Khannouchi – remember him? – took on Kenya’s Paul Tergat and a debuting Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, with Special K taking the win, breaking his own world record by four seconds in 2:05:38, ten seconds up on Tergat and 37 seconds clear of Geb. Continue reading

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TWO MARATHONS PER YEAR?

Japan’s “Citizen Runner” Yuki Kawauchi is notably famous for his relentless marathon schedule. Since his humble start in February 2009 when he finished 20th at the Beppu-Oita Manichi Marathon in 2:19:26, the now 30 year-old school custodian has run 67 marathons, 22 of which have ended in victory. Twice, 2014 and 2015, he has started 12, and generally his time range has been from 2:09 to 2:18.

Kawauchi, however, is the outlier. The conventional wisdom has long held that at the very highest level professional marathoners optimized at two per year, one in the spring, one in the fall. The original cast of five Abbott World Marathon Majors was built on that assumption.

With a marathon training cycle of roughly 12 weeks, and a proper recovery requiring one month, it was felt that two per year was the way to best schedule a marathon career, with exceptions made for an Olympic or (possibly) a World Championships year, where athletes were willing to compromise their fall effort for a shot at Olympic or WC glory.

Wilson Kipsang breaks from Eliud Kipchoge in 2013 Berlin, the only loss in Kipchoge’s marathon career

The perfect illustration of this is the current world number one marathoner Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. Since the ’03 5000m world champion began with a win in Hamburg in April of 2013 (2:05:30), he has run two per year like clockwork, one in the spring, one in the fall, winning each and every race except his second career start in Berlin in September 2013 where he took second place (2:04:05) to Wilson Kipsang‘s then world record 2:03:23.

Even last year when Eliud won in London in April in a near-world record 2:03:05, then came back in Rio in August to claim Olympic gold, he didn’t force a fall start, saving himself instead for the mighty effort in Monza, Italy this past May in the Nike Breaking2 Project.

So, too, with rival Wilson Kipsang. His marathon career has stretched from Paris 2010 (3rd, 2:07:13) to Tokyo in late February 2017 (1st, 2:03:58). Only twice in that span has he added a third marathon, 2012 when he took bronze at the London Games, and 2015 when he DNF’d at the Beijing World Championships.

Ethiopia’s Keninisa  Bekele, too, has generally stuck to the two-per-year model since he began in Paris 2014 (1st, 2:05:04). However in 2015 he only made one start, DNF’g in Dubai in January as he worked through an injury.

But as the paydays continued to spread around the world and opportunities began to crop up where the weather was conducive to marathon running in what previously might have been off season, we have begun to see more and more athletes stretch their wings and challenge old assumptions. Continue reading

KIPCHOGE TO ATTEMPT OFFICIAL WORLD MARATHON RECORD IN BERLIN 2017

To nobody’s surprise Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge will make a world record attempt this September 24th at the BMW Berlin Marathon, site of the last six men’s marathon world bests dating back to Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie‘s 2:04:26 in 2007. That Kipchoge would run in Berlin this fall was always one of the probabilities coming out of Nike’s Breaking2  Project from this past May in Monza, Italy where the 2016 Olympic Marathon champion completed the marathon distance in a remarkable 2:00:25 in an unratified attempt to break the two hour barrier for 26.2 miles.

Kipchoge came so close to the sub-two hour barrier in Italy in May using a rotating stream of 30 even-tempo pacers, that a sub-62 first half in Berlin will seem modest by comparison. In essence Breaking2 will have been a speed session for Berlin.  Continue reading

WHERE TO NOW?

IAAF president Sebastian Coe is said to be seriously considering a proposal outlined at a recent European Athletics Council meeting which would erase all track & field records pre-2005, reasoning that’s when officials began saving blood samples for future testing.

“What we are proposing is revolutionary, not just because most world and European records will have to be replaced, but because we want to change the concept of a record and raise the standards for recognition a point where everyone can be confident that everything is fair and above board,” European athletics president Svein Arne Hansen said.

Arbitrary? Sure. Necessary? Lay out some alternatives. Unless, of course, you believe the current situation is acceptable and maintainable. And I would love to hear that argument.

Yes, any one-size program will not fit all. Not every pre-2005 record is tainted, and athletes whose records may be in jeopardy are not happy.  So maybe the sport just lists them as the pre-2005 records, while attaching no further moral judgements one way or the other. Don’t deny them, simply differentiate them from the records where blood samples are available to be retested. There isn’t going to be a way that perfectly threads this needle.

But the way it stands now, you’re damned if you don’t run fast, jump high, or throw far enough, but you’re doubted if you do. Plus, things are awkward out there, elite athletes can’t even say hi to their local pharmacist anymore, much less visit a doctor, without arousing suspicion.

At the same time, the sport can’t survive if every time they hand out awards like Olympic medals, prize purses, or World Marathon Majors titles, they just have to keep taking them back later because the supposed winners were dirty. And let’s not even begin about what constitutes females or males.

Today’s system doesn’t get it done; it’s a loser. Who wants a medal upgrade ten years later? That only looks good in your obit. Continue reading

BREAKING 2 STILL ALLURING?

And so the grand experiment has come to a conclusion. And, oh, so close did it come to its vaunted goal, just one second per mile short of history’s first sub-2 hour time for the marathon distance. Not for the marathon, mind you, but for its distance – because a marathon by its historic formulation is a competitive event. What we witnessed yesterday in Monza, Italy was a time trial/lab experiment, not a race. But that is nitpicking, though a significant nit.

Notwithstanding, a huge congratulations go out to Eliud Kipchoge and the entire Nike Breaking2 Project for such a grand experiment in human performance, footwear technology, and scientific experimentation.

But what did we come away with after yesterday’s 2:00:24 performance on the Formula One racetrack in Monza?  Certainly, more questions as well as some answers. First of all, we know that the sub-2 is now possible, more likely probable, because he damn near did it! But since he didn’t quite do it, what else needs to be done that this experiment informed us as still being required? Continue reading

BEKELE SIGNS ON TO DUBAI & LONDON

Bekele finishing 3rd in London 2016 signs on for 2017

Much of what push back there’s been against the three Sub-2 Hour marathon projects concerns their focus on time rather than competition.  Now comes word came that Ethiopian superstar Kenenisa Bekele has signed on to the April 23rd Virgin London Marathon, just days after being announced to run the Standard Charter Dubai Marathon on January 20th in what is likely a world record attempt.  Hmmm.

Now a cynic might conclude that with defending London and Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, along with former Boston champ Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia signed on to this spring’s Nike Project Breaking2 (at an as yet undisclosed location), London’s major name (if not two) has been stripped from the event marquee.  So, notwithstanding Bekele’s Dubai appearance 13 weeks earlier, London needed a big name to build its 2017 race around.  You can bet this isn’t the scenario the Abbott World Marathons Majors had in mind when they put together their series ten years ago.

But as the paydays of the marathon have continued to spread (if not actually grow), and the World Marathon Majors series title now paying off as a five-year $100,000 annuity rather than a one-fell-swoop $500,000 (because of Rita Jeptoo and Lilya Shobokhova stealing three Majors’ titles via drug disqualifications), we’ve begun to see more and more top athletes stretch their wings and challenge the old assumptions and the old-line events. Not only are the old warhorses like Bekele willing to squeeze more into less in terms of rest and recovery, youthful runners who might once have gone to the track ovals in Europe are now running marathons like they were halves.

With a marathon training cycle of 12 weeks, give or take, and a full recovery assigned one month, conventional wisdom has long held that two per year was the way to best schedule a top marathon career — with exceptions made for an Olympic year, where athletes were willing to compromise their fall effort for a shot at Olympic glory (World Championship not so much).  The original five Abbott World Marathon Majors built their series upon this convention. But racing is not simply an exercise in trophy collection, it’s a business opportunity with only so many years available to stake your claims.  Athletes like 22 year-old Lemi Berhanu Hayle is a prime example. Continue reading

SUB 2-HOUR MARATHON?

OK, how can I not weigh-in on the sub-2 hour marathon experiment by Nike? First, as to the potential. Alright, yes, based on every metric available, it is possible, barely, though not probable. As much of life is a matter of self-fulfilling prophecy, it is only when we think something is possible that it enters into the realm of the doable. After the belief it is a matter of execution.

There is no doubt Nike has the resources to make such an attempt valid, and the marketing savvy to maximize the public interest. The big question for me is the unintended consequences of the attempt. Continue reading