NEW YORK 2019 PREVIEW – WELL TUNED

The marathon world is in the middle of a technological revolution these days, witnessing a new era of high performance. It will be interesting see if that revolution continues on the streets of New York City on November 3, 2019.

The revolution isn’t just coming from the ground up via the stacked midsole, carbon-plated shoes that have tongues wagging and federations investigating. Another developing change in the marathon world has been in the athletes’ total focus. Many men like world record holder Eliud Kipchoge and second all-time Kenenisa Bekele no longer do a tune up race at all before their marathons, while those that do are running them much faster than their predecessors.

For instance, last year Shura Kitata ran 59:16 in Philadelphia as part of his NYC buildup. That prepped him for a second place finish in NYC in 2:06:01 behind training partner Lelisa Desisa’s 2:05:59 win.

Back in the day it was rare for anyone to even break 61 in their half tune up for fear they would find themselves too sharp for the more conservative pace required in the double distance. Now that theory is another that seems to have been tossed into the dust bin of history. Continue reading

WHO KNOWS WHAT’S A RECORD ANYMORE?

My old Runner’s World friend and long-time chronicler of the sport Peter Gambaccini wrote on my FB page in response to “WHAT A WORLD!” (RECORD) about the first sub-two hour marathon this past weekend in Vienna: “I am much more impressed by the 2:01s Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele ran in “real” marathons (in Berlin 2018 and 2019) than I am by what transpired in Vienna (INEOS 1:59 Challenge).

“Marathon racing is supposed to involve decisions, and Kipchoge had very few to make last weekend. I was glad to see Kipchoge finish hard on his own, and I suppose we should be grateful that elite running got more coverage from the general interest media than it had since the days of Bolt.  But there’s no point in any more extravaganzas like Vienna, is there?”

I thought Peter’s question was worth sharing and answering. So here goes. Continue reading

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

Eliud Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 Challenge

Here we go –  again.

Marathon Master Eliud Kipchoge (Runner’s World)

 But this time it’s different. This time it’s not only not improbable, it’s likely. 2:00:25 in Monza, Italy in May 2017 tells us that much.  So the awe factor, the mind-numbing conception of a human, in this case, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, running sub-two hours over the marathon distance has been somewhat diminished – perhaps even more after Ethiopian rival Kenenisa Bekele ran 2:01:41 in Berlin just two weeks ago, two meager seconds off Kipchoge’s 2018 official marathon record. Now Kenenisa feels like another legit sub-2 candidate. And whoever thought sub-2:00 might one day be considered prosaic?

On top of which, as much as they might like to present this as such, the first sub-2:00 marathon is not like the first sub-4:00 mile, or the first summit of Everest, much less the moon landing.  All those challenges carried in the public consciousness the possibility of death. This is a second chance marketing exhibition for a plastics manufacturer and springy shoes. Continue reading

PINKOWSKI ON KIPCHOGE & 1:59

Not too snappy a game in Chicago last night as the NFL’s “nobody-plays-preseason-games-anymore-and-it-shows” 100th season kicked off with a 10-3 snoozer between the league’s oldest rivals, Da Bears (3) and the Green Bay Packers (10). Hopefully, there will be more action in six weeks when the Bank of America Chicago Marathon starts its 43rd running.

When it was first announced that Kenya’s remarkable Eliud Kipchoge would forego another Abbott World Marathon Majors season to make a second attempt at a solo sub-2 hour run over 42.2 kilometers – staged as an exhibition under non-record eligible conditions – I expected that the AWMM men might be less than thrilled. After all, Kipchoge already tried this gimmick two years ago in Monza, Italy rather than defending his London Marathon title from the year before. And of course he got close at 2:00:25.

At the same time, the six Abbott events are trying to build a brand. And so far they have done a pretty good job of it. But when the unquestioned top athlete in their field decides to take his talents off their grid and perform in a pure exhibition instead — Like if Serena Williams decided not to play the U.S. Open in order to stage a Billy Jean King-Bobby Riggs type exhibition, how would the WTA feel about it?

Chicago Marathon Ex. Director Carey Pinkowski

So when I called and asked Chicago Marathon executive director Carey Pinkowski what he thought about the possibility of having Eliud Kipchoge make his 1:59 attempt near the same date as his Marathon, I expected some pushback. Instead, the kid that still exists deep in the DNA of the onetime sub-9:00 high school two miler out of Hammond, Indiana and Villanova All-American came through. Continue reading

WHO IS THE G.O.A.T?

Never Done Better

In light of his other-worldly 2:01:39 marathon world record in Berlin last Sunday, there are some who are hailing Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge as the G.O.A.T, the greatest of all time male distance runner.  Berlin was arguably the crowning achievement of his career, but does that mark added to the rest of his curriculum vitae  make a case for GOAT?  Let’s dig in and see.

GOAT Marathoner?  Yes, indisputably, with ten wins in 11 starts, which include an Olympic gold medal and a 2:00:25 fastest ever exhibition, there isn’t anyone who can argue that point. But GOAT distance runner? That, I think, may be a step too far, though certainly he is in the top five. 

A century ago the GOAT title was first held by Paavo Nurmi, the “Flying Finn” who dominated running in the early 20th century. Nurmi set 22 official world records at distances between 1500 meters and 20km, and won nine gold and three silver medals in Olympic competition. At his peak, Nurmi went undefeated in 121 straight races from 800 meters up, and was never beaten in cross country or the 10,000 meters.

In the 1950s the great Emil Zatopek, known as the “Czech Locomotive”, re-wrote the record books and introduced the concept of interval training. His Olympic Triple in Helsinki 1952 where he won the 5000, 10,000, and the marathon in his debut at the distance, all in Olympic record times, remains an unparalleled achievement. From there the GOAT crown moved south to East Africa where it resides to this day.  Continue reading

ENDURANCE OR SPEED: THE MARATHON STILL SERVES UP A LITTLE OF EACH

The Marathon along with its half distance cousin is the only footrace that has a name rather than a distance as it’s calling card.  And in that name there lies multitudes because for more than a century that name has represented the great endurance challenge of the modern age, at times even a life-threatening one.  And why wouldn’t it? After all, it was born in the mists of myth and legend, then resurrected two and a half millennia later as an Olympic challenge.

Until the 1960 Olympics in Rome, however, the name Marathon stood for endurance alone, not speed. Only with the arrival of Ethiopia’s Abeba Bikila did the event give way to a runner who could attack the distance rather than simply survive its length. Still, until the first running boom of the 1970s, it was either-or, either you were a marathon runner or you competed at the shorter road, track, and cross country distances. Today, top runners move back and forth more fluidly, taking the opportunities as they present themselves.

Look at this year’s Standard Charter Dubai Marathon, always the bellwether of the coming year. Winner Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia was 25 when he ran 2:04:00 this January. His PBs include 13:17, 27:18 and 59:11 over 5000, 10,000, and the half-marathon distances, hardly the makings of a pure endurance athlete.  Dubai runner-up Leule Gebrselassie, also Ethiopian, also 25, carried a 13:13, 27:19, 59:18 resume. And third-placer  Tamirat Tola, again of Ethiopia, a year older at 26, had 26:57 and 59:37 credentials.  

In the past, the best runners avoided the marathon until evidence of their inevitable slowing on the track forced them to transfer allegiance to the roads.  For many, and still to a few like Kenenisa Bekele, Galen Rupp, and Mo Farah, the Marathon was the last stop on the career arc from shorter races to the more strength oriented 42k.  Continue reading