NEW YORK CITY 2011 – LOOK BACK AT A RECORD RUN

With cool weather expected and the nature of the current game where no record is safe, thought I’d bring us back to 2011, the year Geoffrey Mutai set what still stands as the New York City Marathon course record, 2:05:06.  This account comes directly from journal #182, 6 November 2011.

New York 2011

40°F and clear, 48% humidity under calm flag conditions. Only going up to 56F, the perfect day for the 42nd running of the ING (now TCS) New York City Marathon.

Besides the NYCM title itself, two other factors will come into play on the men’s side today. Though unofficial, this will serve as an Olympic selection for several top Kenyans, notably Geoffrey and Emmanual Mutai (unrelated) the Boston and London course record holders.

With two-time world champion Abel Kirui and world record holder Patrick Makau already selected for London 2012, only one spot remains open. Kenyan Athletics chairman Isaiah Kiplagat has said the decision will be made after today’s race.

Another factor will be the completion of the 2010 – 2011 World Marathon Majors series. Five men remain in contention for the series title and $500,000 prize.

Emmanuel Mutai is in the best position, sitting second in the current standings just five points behind Berlin Marathon champion Patrick Makau, who has completed his season. A first or second place finish today would wrap up the series win for Emmanuel. If he takes third or worst, it opens the door for Geoffrey Mutai, Tsegaye Kebede and Gebre Gebremariam if they win.

The women set off first.

The big favorite is Kenyan Mary Keitany, the London Marathon champion looking to answer Russia’s Lilya Shobukhova’s 2:18:20 win in Chicago last month. Mary debuted in New York City 2010, but was a deer in the headlights, overwhelmed by the size of the city and the prospect of her first marathon. She finished third behind fellow Kenyan Edna Kiplagat and American Shalane Flanagan as all three played a cautious game until the end.

Today, fearful no more, the tiny terror lit out from Staten Island like there was a close-out sale waiting in Manhattan. She was alone by the time she turned right onto fourth Avenue in Brooklyn coming off Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

At 2 miles she was at 10:29 which was faster than the men’s 2 mile split in 2010 (10:55). It’s one thing not to be cautious….

Her 10K split, 31:52, which would’ve placed her second at the New York Mini 10K in June, crazy! At one point she was on 2:14 pace with a course record of 2:22:31 from 2003 by Margaret Okayo, that seemed  a tad excessive.

A half hour after the women the men begin, and this time with no pacesetters. The large contingent begins modestly, 24:40 at 5 miles which is just 2:09 pace. But as they weave through Brooklyn, they begin to knock off sub-4:50 miles (3:00/km) with regularity and slowly begin nearing course record pace.

Keitany stretches her lead with each passing mile, hitting the half in 1:07:56, a crazy split. Behind, a pack of four forms up, also under course record pace hitting a half in 1:10:08. They include Bronx-based Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba, fellow Ethiopians Werknesh Kidane and Firehiwot Dado, along with Boston champion Caroline Kilel of Kenya. 

Miles 14 and 15 through Queens took 5:26 and 5:37 for Keitany after her series of sub-5:10 miles earlier in the race. Her lead peaks at 2:21 as she crossed the 59th St. Bridge heading into Manhattan.

In 2001, Tesfaye Jifar of Ethiopia set the 2:07:43 course record in NYC, the longest standing course record of all five Marathon Majors. But with today’s deep field and ideal conditions, it seems all but sure we will see new ground broken.  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

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

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

NOTES FROM CHICAGO

Kimetto captures Chicago in record time.

Kimetto captures Chicago in record time.

Chicago, Ill. — Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto ran the fourth fastest record-legal marathon in history today at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, taking the win under ideal conditions in 2:03:45, just seven seconds in front of fellow Kenyan Emmanuel Mutai, whose time was the fastest losing time in marathon history and the fifth fastest marathon overall.  Kimetto missed Wilson Kipsang’s still fresh world record in Berlin, 2:03:23, by just 22 seconds.   Those 22 seconds were lost between 25 and 30 kilometers, the five kilometers after the final pacesetter, Simon Ndirangu dropped away, and over the final 2.2K after Kimetto had pulled free of Mutai.

Under cool, calm, low humidity conditions, the first five 5K splits fell in 14:45, 14:37, 14:39, 14:38, 14:37.  You could not script it any better.  A big pat on the back should go to American Jason Hartman who took the boys through the first twisty 5K through downtown in exactly the 14:45 that was asked. So, too, was Morocco’s Abdellah Fasil a metronome, taking the next three 5Ks over, and finally Simon Ndirangu of Kenya, the last pacer able to handle the near-world record tempo, managing a 14:37 from 20K –  25K.

But the split  between 25K and 30K took 14:48, slowest of the day as the athletes sought for a leader to carry the pace forward.  Eventually, after a 4:51 16th, 4:45 17th, and 4:48 18th mile, the battle for the win between Kimetto and Emmanuel Mutai was engaged between 30-35K.  That 5K fell in 14:34, the fastest of the day, and dispatched the other contenders, but thereafter the course turned north for the final 7K.  It was along that stretch on Michigan Avenue that the slight breeze that had helped through much of the second half turned against the guys.

The run back toward Grant Park along Michigan Avenue from 35 to 40K required 14:40.  But it was at the elite aid station just before 40K that Kimetto’s winning margin was made.  While he slowed just slightly in order to grab his bottle cleanly from the middle-of-the-road table, Mutai juggled his bottle — which sat just in front of Kimetto’s — and it fell maddeningly to the road.  As often happens, that momentary miss was a reflection of the two men’s remaining strength.

Though Kimetto said at the post-race press conference that he didn’t see Mutai miss his bottle, he certainly sensed the consequence, the small gap that formed.  And in that moment he pressed the accelerator and opened the margin that remained over the final 2.2 K to the finish.

The time from 40K to the finish required 6:30.  Wilson Kipsang’s record run in Berlin two weeks ago took only 6:11.  So, those 19 seconds and the few that were lost in the 25 – 30K stretch where there were no pacers, became the difference between a course record and a world record. It’s that fine a line at this world-class level of marathon racing.

 

NOT WHAT RITZ HAD HOPED

Emmanuel Mutai in fastest losing performance in marathon history

Emmanuel Mutai in fastest losing performance in marathon history. This was another runner-up finish for Emmanuel Mutai, perhaps another frustrating one.  Just as he was second in London this spring, he now has six second-place finishes at World Major Marathons, two in New York, two in London, and one at the World Championships to go along with today’s result.   Just as in London, here in Chicago Mutai was the aggressor in the third-quarter of the race.  He was the first to move when Simon Ndirangu, the final pacer, fell off at 25K.  He hit the throttle again at 30K.  Each time he moved Kimetto was first to respond. Third place finisher Sammy Kitwara and fourth placer Micah Kogo both answered the calls, but they never took a turn up front.  They were only hanging on.  Mutai and Kimetto were looking ahead.  Only when the course turned back north at 35K did Kimetto begin to turn the screw.

Dathan Ritzenhein was a disappointed fifth in the race, coming home in 2:09:45 in his eighth career marathon.  All the pieces seemed to be in place for Ritz today, two years of uninterrupted training, a tenth-place finish at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow over 10,000m, a two-month stint in Park City, Utah as marathon build up.  But it didn’t add up to success for Ritz.  At the post-race presser he said it wasn’t any consolation to finish fifth after last year’s ninth place finish in 2:07:47.

“Maybe if I ran three minutes faster in fifth,” he mused.

We did find out that Ritz had been suffering from a touchy plantar fascia for the last several months.  Perhaps not enough of an injury to compromise him, but enough that the pain never fully went away.  Ritz said his hamstring began to tighten after 25K, and keeping that together is what slowed him over the final miles of the race.

Coach Alberto Salazar told me just before the race that Dathan wore a spike plate on his road racing shoes during all his track performances this year to give his feet that extra little protection.  Dathan told us the pacing was perfect till 25K, but by 30K he began to “feel it’, meaning the effort of the race.  He also said he will change his racing routine for 2014, as 2013 was too full in retrospect.

“Last year worked well to have a full year,” he told the assembly, “because I missed 2011 with injuries, and needed to build up. But this year, though my workouts were good, I was tired on my rest days, so maybe I was tired by the end of the year.  Next year I will just have two blocks of training so I won’t be tired the whole year.”

 

Z-MAN STILL TO GET IT RIGHT

Just after the 15k mark in today’s marathon, world half-marathon record holder and five-time world half-marathon champion Zersenay Tadese faded from view, left behind by the large lead pack.  Never seen thereafter, the mercurial Eritrean hero still has found the marathon beyond his talents. This was the fourth marathon of his career and 2:10:41 in London 2012 remains his personal best.  With the two best half-marathons ever run, 58:23 and 58:33, a World Cross Country title and a bronze medal over 10,000m at the 2004 Olympics, it would seem obvious that the marathon world record might be in his sights. But evidently not.

One thing I noticed from the lead TV moto was an inefficient, back-and-forth roll to his stride.  Perhaps this isn’t critical over the shorter distances, but it may be for the marathon. At the same time it wouldn’t account for him falling off pace at 15K.  Merhawi Keflezighi, Meb’s brother, said Zersenay mentioned something of a stomach issue as the cause for his dropping off.

For some, Like Dennis Kimetto, success comes instantly at the marathon.  For others, like Tadese, it requires a longer apprenticeship.  One still thinks his time may come, but this is why we run the races rather than hand out awards based on the form sheets coming in.

 

A SAVIOR FROM LUO

It is often a problem getting young men and women from the countryside of Kenya to be articulate spokespeople in front of a hungry gaggle of reporters.  As such, the post-race press conference with Dennis Kimetto was turning into a “what did he say” type mangle as moderator Jim O’Brien kept helping Dennis hold the microphone closer to his mouth.  At last Jim sort of gave up attempting his own translation from Dennis’ almost inaudible English, and asked if there was anyone in the room who spoke Swahili.

Thank goodness for Don Owino, originally from Luo, Kenya, now living in Chicago.  He saved the press conference by striding onstage and interpreting both our questions and Kimetto’s answers.  With Mr. Owino’s assistance, Dennis was able to field and answer questions easily and with good humor.

Note to all marathon directors.  Please have a person fluent in Swahili and Amharic on hand to help both athletes and the media do their jobs.  We already know many athletes speak English quite well, but not all do.  By having a competent translator on hand, all, including the sport itself, would be well served.

Flying home to San Diego.  More on the blog tomorrow.  Cheers from Chicago.

END

CONVERSATION WITH CHICAGO MARATHON EX. DIRECTOR CAREY PINKOWSKI

Chicago Marathon Ex. Director Carey Pinkowski

Chicago Marathon Exec. Director Carey Pinkowski

The 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon kicked off today with the elite athlete press conference at the Chicago Hilton. Before the official goings on got underway, I sat down for a short chat with Carey Pinkowski, the executive race director for the last 23 years.  I began by asking the one-time sub-9:00 high school two-miler and Villanova grad how he orchestrated his professional fields, not just this year, but in general.

“Is there a formula?  No.  But it’s like casting a play.  What I like (in a field) is chemistry.  So you get some runners with experience (like Emmanuel Mutai), and some guys with inexperience (like Atsedu Tsegay).  I like risk takers. I like athleticism complimenting each other.  You know how I know I have done my job?  It is when I look at the list and see the outcome one way. Then when I look at the list an hour later I come to a completely different conclusion.  It’s when there are five or six scenarios possible that I know I’ve done it right.

But I must admit I do like young fearless racers and first-time guys.  Khalid Khannouchi is one example. Steve Jones is another.  There is something in Chicago’s history that plays to that kind of athlete. When Khalid Khannouchi first came to town I asked if he’d like to see the course.  He said, ‘yeah’.  And I thought, well, this will take three hours out of my day. But then he said he only wanted to see the final five kilometers. When I asked why, he said, ‘because that’s the only distance I’m going to race’.” Continue reading

ON THE ROAD TO LONDON: THE CATTLE DIP LOOP

Iten, Kenya – When we pulled up to the small ramshackle clump of buildings where today’s run would begin shortly after 6:00 a.m., the first dusty blue trace of the new day was beginning to limn the horizon to the east.  Inside our Landcruiser we ferried the three-man Kenyan Olympic marathon team who was beginning their journey to London for their August 12th date with destiny: two-time World Marathon champion Abel Kirui, 2011 London Marathon champion Emmanuel Mutai, and 2012 London winner Wilson Kipsang.  The three, along with the women’s Olympic team of Mary Keitany, Edna Kiplagat, and Priscah Jeptoo had taken up residence at the nearby Keiro View Hotel just yesterday for the final training cycle leading to London.

Gathering for Morning Run

As we spilled out of our vehicle, dozens of athletes were already massed by the side of the lumpy dirt road awaiting their heroes’ arrival.  Nearby a cock’s crow rose on the soft morning breeze.  Temperatures were chilly enough for jackets and tights and no less than long-sleeve shirts for the 22 kilometer Cattle Dip Loop, as the athletes call this traditional route around Iten, Kenya, the town dubbed “Home of Champions”.

Today’s run would also serve as a field test for a new wireless sensor technology developed at the UCLA Wireless Health Institute that holds the promise of re-ordering the level of sophistication that athletes and coaches can bring to their training.  Small accelerometers worn on the laces of each shoe would monitor, record and transmit the stride characteristics of Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang throughout their run.  With this information in hand they and their coaches will be better able to analyze the small asymmetries in ground contact time, back-kick dynamic, pronation and supination during the varied runs in their training regimen.

Lacing up Pegasus Sensors

As Pegasus Sports Performance CEO Bill Shea, an interventional radiologist by training, outfitted Wilson and Abel with the sensors and the small cell phone which they will wear to transmit the signal to the internet and onto our computers, another group of athletes came coursing by at flank speed, already fully into their morning’s training.

“On any given day 600 athletes will be in training in Iten,” said famed Italian coach Renato Canova, who lives in Iten eight months of the year to monitor his stable of athletes.  It is out of this culture of running that the great champions of Kenya have emerged since legendary Kip Keino first put Kenya’s Central Highlands on the map with his Olympic 1500 and steeplechase victories at the 1968 Mexico City and 1972 Munich Olympics.

As the run gets under way, the pace is easy and controlled.  Some 120 athletes, 40 from Wilson Kipsang’s training group, fill the narrow red-clay roads, making passing difficult for the few motor vehicles up and out at this hour. Continue reading