MARATHONING 2017 – BY THE #s

When the calendar flips I always like to do a deeper dive into the past year in marathon running, just to see what the numbers might suggest.  And from the looks of it, not much changed in 2017 other than the Breaking2 Project in Monza, Italy in May when world #1 Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya came oh, so close to 1:59:59.

Other than that, it was more general excellence out of East Africa,  undercut by yet another drug sanction of a TOP echelon athlete (2016 London and Rio Olympic champion, Kenyan Jemima Sumgong).  And, finally,  though their times weren’t any different than in previous years, there were two American breakthrough wins in Majors at the end of the season, Galen Rupp in Chicago, then Shalane Flanagan in New York City.  But in this post I focus on the men.

Here are the numbers, then, as I attempted to count them on the IAAF.org site, and a comparison with the earlier years of this teens decade in century 21.

BREAKDOWN OF SUB-2:10s 2017

Total – 186
Kenyan –   113 (60.75%)
Ethiopian – 41 (22%)
American –    2 (Galen Rupp, 2:09:20, 1st in Chicago)
TOP time – 2:03:32, Eliud Kipchoge, Berlin

2016
Total- 150
Kenyan –     98 (65.3%)
Ethiopian-  39 (26%)
American –   0 (Galen Rupp, 2:10:05, 3rd, Rio Olympics)
TOP time – 2:03:03, Keninisa Bekele, Berlin

2015
Total – 172
Kenyan –     97 (56.4%)
Ethiopian – 57 (33.13%)
American –    0 (Luke Puskedra, 2:10:24, 5th in Chicago)
TOP time: 2:04:00, Eliud Kipchoge, Berlin

2014
Total – 180
Kenyan –  106 (58.88%)
Ethiopian – 57 (31.6%)
American –    1 (Meb Keflezighi,  2:08:37, 1st in Boston)
TOP time – 2:02:57, Dennis Kimetto, Berlin

2013
Total – 189
Kenyan –    99 (52.4%)
Ethiopian- 61 (32.2%)
American –   1 (Dathan Ritzenhein, 2:09:45, 5th in Chicago)
TOP time – 2:03:23, Wilson Kipsang, Berlin

2012
Total – 220
Kenyan –  120 (54.5%)
Ethiopian – 64 (29%)
American –    5 (Dathan Ritzenhein (twice), 2:07:47, 9th in Chicago, also Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, Abdi Abdirahman)
TOP time- 2:04:15, Geoffrey Mutai, Berlin

2011
Total – 182
Kenyan –  110 (61%)
Ethiopian – 42 (22%)
American –    3 (Ryan Hall (twice), 2:04:58, 4th in Boston, also Meb)
TOP time – 2:03:02. Geoffrey Mutai, Boston

2010
Total – 144
Kenyan –     79 (54.86%)
Ethiopian – 47 (32.6%)
American –    0 (Brett Gotcher, 2:10:36, 7th in Houston)
TOP time – 2:04:48, Patrick Makau, Rotterdam

Conclusions?

END

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THE NEED FOR INTENTIONALITY

Lanai rising

Lahaina, Maui – Walking along Wahikuli Wayside Park, water to my right, the island of Lanai rising like a whale’s hump off the coast. Not too different, really, than running down off Memorial Drive along the Charles River looking over to the Boston skyline where the gold dome of the Statehouse sits framed by the towers of downtown. Same sort of feel to the traffic, too, streaming on my left along Honoapi’ilani Road.

“Come on, lads, put your back into,” comes to mind, Starbuck’s exhortation to his crew in the whaling boats out chasing Moby Dick.

Toya at turnaround prepping for another 400

After only 25 minutes I come to the end of the sidewalk before the turnaround. A rain squall hits, blowing down off the West Maui Mountain ridge. We have to stop. Toya is doing repeat 400s. With the wind against, I’m going to do one mile plus out and a mile plus back.

Along the walk back, I begin considering some of the results from the fall marathon season.  Among the realizations is that there has to be intentionality in the marathon. Every other race, too, but especially so in the marathon.

Heading back into the trade winds

For instance, stomach problems in Berlin September 24th stopped 2013 champion Wilson Kipsang in his tracks at 30K as Eliud Kipchoge drove on to victory in 2:03:32, the fastest official time of 2017.

Kipsang returned home to Kenya where he retooled for New York City in early November. There he came in a close second behind Geoffrey Kamworor. But that little extra that he had when he managed to put away Lelisa Desisa in NYC in 2014 was missing in ’17, still in Berlin recovering, I’d say. His intention this fall was Berlin, not New York, and in the end it mattered. Continue reading

LEAD PACK: FINDING THE CATBIRD SEAT

Do top marathoners ever watch tape on their opponents?  You know, like American football teams do, studying film from one game to prep for the next?  They always say what makes Tom Brady (quarterback for the New England Patriots American football team) arguably the best-ever to play the position is his commitment to the work, his preparation, including endlessly watching film.  So does anybody, or any management team in running do opposition research in the marathon game?  Should they? Or is it all about getting yourself as fit as you can, then just run the race, and the opposition will come along with the territory?

They say you can’t play defense in running, but is there nothing else you can do to prepare for your opponents except training your fanny off?

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We all know that every race has an Alpha, that one person every other runner pays special mind to.  Though there was a Big 3 in Berlin, I bet even Wilson Kipsang and Kenenisa Bekele kept a close eye on Eliud Kipchoge.  But I wonder whether if you deconstructed enough marathons you could learn anything by watching where the eventual champion took up his/her position in the lead pack? Is there an unrealized “catbird seat” that somehow gives one person an advantage in the critical later stages? Continue reading

BEKELE STILL TRYING TO FIND HIS GROOVE

Strange to see Kenenisa Bekele still having issues in his marathons after such a long run of success on the track and cross country.  After being widely recognized as the distance running G.O.A.T.,  you just expect each of his following steps to be equally agile and precise.  But after eight marathon starts in four years, this GOAT seems to be butting his head against a particularly stubborn foe.  To date he has only racked up two wins, one fewer than his total number of drop-outs.

The three time Olympic and five time World track champion has pledged that he will break the marathon world record before he retires, and said his DNF in Berlin September 24th had more to do with the cold and rain than with his  preparation. And he was “dismayed” after his manager Jos Hermens suggested to Letsrun.com that Bekele spent too much time concentrating on his business interests rather than training.

Several years ago I wrote some verse – THE END OF MYTH –  about the demise of the marathon as a truly scary distance for top tier athletes after Ethiopian track man  Markos Geneti ran 2:06 to win his debut at the 2011 Los Angeles Marathon. But every once a while, and notably with someone like Bekele, the old lady can still bare her teeth and say, “Not so fast”. Continue reading

MOTHER NATURE SAYS NEIN IN BERLIN

You can’t fool Mother Nature. If she doesn’t sanction it, nothing else matters. So despite the great field assembled by race director Mark Milde – including the Big 3  of former champions Kenenisa Bekele 2016, Eliud Kipchoge 2015, and Wilson Kipsang 2013 – despite the excellent pacing job that put the athletes right on record pace through 30km, when the start time temperature for today’s 44th BMW Berlin Marathon was in the mid-50s and the streets were puddled with rain – meaning high humidity – though it may not seem like an overly big thing, in fact, it was just enough of a thing to put the world record out of reach.

Berlin conditions

What’s the first lesson every coach drums into his/her athlete? Have realistic expectations. We have seen enough of these things to know that unless every piece of the puzzle falls into place – athletes, training, pace, competition, and conditions – all you can hope for is a great race.  And we sure got that today. In fact, this marks the nth time a great duel has emerged in Berlin in recent years. 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

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