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

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MONEYBALL FOR THE MARATHON?

Lahaina, Maui – In 2003 Michael Lewis published Moneyball, his book telling how the Oakland Athletics baseball team implemented a more efficient and cost-effective way to evaluate players and strategize game situations based solely on data analysis. This approach led the Athletics to  player acquisitions that other teams had overlooked or disregarded, but more importantly, led to success on the diamond.

When the book came out, many a baseball expert was dismissive. But at some point they couldn’t argue with the success the A’s were having using their new methodology.

In the ensuing years, people in many other fields took up the Moneyball example to reevaluate their businesses, positing that if the old ways of analyzing baseball were in error, couldn’t other suppositions be open to reexamination, as well? Continue reading

CHAMPIONS TO CLASH IN HONOLULU

Honolulu, Hi – Looking through the winning times of the Honolulu Marathon over the years can take you back to the days before the first Running Boom when 5:00 per mile pace was still the gold standard for world-class marathon running.

Sunset on the eve before the race

Even in today’s world where the race is on for the first sub-2 hour performance, the Honolulu Marathon record of 2:09:39, set last year by Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono, looks as modest as a peck on your sister’s cheek. But when you read the names of Honolulu’s champions, you begin to understand the challenge that heat, humidity, and hills can represent in what remains one of the world’s most iconic city marathons.

Dennis Kimetto feeling the Aloha spirit

This year, for the first time in its 45 years, the marathon world record holder will toe the Honolulu Marathon starting line tomorrow morning at 5 AM. Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto will be joined by over 27,000 fellow adventurers, only a handful of whom have any chance of beating the 33 year-old. But those handful are dangerous, indeed. Continue reading

COOLER WEATHER PREDICTING FAST TIMES IN HONOLULU

Honolulu, HI. – As the countdown to the 45th Honolulu Marathon continues and the hotels along Waikiki Beach fill up with runners, all who assumed that the world’s most tropical marathon would once again offer balmy conditions are now digging into their luggage for any long-sleeve shirt they might have brought along by mistake.

Waikiki Beach

“Only twice before in race history have we seen conditions like this,” said Honolulu Marathon president Jim Barahal as temperatures hovered around the mid-60sF. “In 1986 when Ibrahim Hussein ran a course record (2:11:43), and in 2004 when Jimmy Muindi ran 2:11:12.”

The conditions Dr. Barahal describes are light north winds bringing dipping temps with low humidity. Typical December weather on the islands call for temps ranging from 76F – 87F, rarely falling below 64F, with winds predominately from the east.

Last year with light breezes replacing the traditional trade winds buffeting miles 11-15 along  Kalanianaʻole Highway heading to the marathon turnaround in Hawaii Kai, Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono and 2014 champion Wilson Chebet dueled below the 2004 course record of 2:11:12. Cherono became the first man ever under 2:10 in Honolulu with his 2:09:38 win. Chebet took second in 2:10:50. Continue reading

MIND GAMES

These next two weeks will mark the end of the 2017 marathon year, first with the 71st Fukuoka International Marathon this Sunday in Japan, followed by the 45th Honolulu Marathon on December 10th (where I will be sending reports beginning next Wednesday).

But as the sport gears up for these big year-end competitions, I wanted to go back for one last look at what will go down as the defining race of the American running year, Shalane Flanagan‘s historic win at the TCS New York City Marathon November 5th.

Going back over the news coverage, I noticed an interesting observation in the New York Times story of the women’s competition.  And I was wondering whether other racers noticed it, or saw it as I did.  Here’s how the Times story led up to the moment of truth in the women’s race.

“After 21 miles, the lead pack whittled to three: Keitany, Daska, and Shalane Flanagan, a 36-year-old from Massachusetts, who finished second in New York in 2010. Keitany finally removed her sleeves. The race was on.”

Shalane leads Keitany and Daska down Fifth Avenue (Photo by Photo Run)

As I watched that critical stretch, Shalane, especially, had the contained but concentrated appearance of an athlete with horses at the ready, all controlled energy with a tight hold of the reins. To my eye at least, it looked like from the 20-mile mark on Shalane kept waiting for the real Mary Keitany to show up and throw down because she was poised to respond.

Both Mary and Shalane had come a long way since their marathon debuts in NYC 2010 – – where Shalane took second behind Edna Kiplagat by 20 seconds, with Mary in third, another 21 seconds back in 2:29:01.  Every race has its Alpha, though, and with Ms. Keitany coming in as three-time defending champion and women’s-only world-record setting London zephyr, there was no doubt as to who the leading lady in New York 2017 was.

But as Shalane, Mary, and Mamitu Daska battled down Fifth Avenue alongside the row of elegant apartment buildings on the Upper East Side this year (with Edna trailing in 4th place, BTW), Keitany’s face revealed a mask of just enough discomfort to betray a lost cause.  If she had been the Keitany of the last three years, one would have thought she would have tried to leave a long time ago – hell, last year she won by over 3 1/2 minutes! –  especially at what had been a desultory 2:32 marathon pace early on, no more than a tempo effort for the 2:17:01 winner in London this past spring.  Daska in her NYC debut was the wildcard.  Here’s the Times story again.

… as they made their way down Fifth Avenue, one runner began to break away. Surprisingly, it was not Keitany…In a bizarre decision, Keitany began to drift toward the east side of 5th Avenue, away from Flanagan’s tail, before zigzagging back into the customary route. At that point, though, it was too late to catch the runner from Massachusetts — .”

It’s that bold section I want to draw your attention to. Here’s the question, was it really a bizarre move? Unusual, yes, but –  Continue reading

HAPALUA HALF: THE JOES AGAINST THE PROS

Honolulu, Hi. – With the continuing domination of East African runners, the task of connecting today’s pro runners to thousands of citizen runners is more challenging than ever.

This Sunday The Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon will contest its sixth running. Between 8500 and 9000 runners will participate, a bump up from the 7600 who ran in 2016, marking the fifth straight increase from the original 2000 who ran in the inaugural 2012 race.

But from its inception The Hapalua has established itself not just as another jog-a-thon following in the wake of a professional foot race. No, The Hapalua has been an industry innovator in the tricky sphere of athlete connectivity.

With its unique Chase format pitting  four invited professionals against 22 of the islands’ top runners The Hapalua has found a way to make the competition world-class and locally relevant all at the same time. 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