BETWEEN HOPE AND INTENTION

Back home in San Diego now after another memorable Boston Marathon week. I flew back on the same flight as Marathon Grand Marshall and 2014 champion Meb Keflezighi who carried a Gronk-signed New England Patriots football helmet along with the good wishes of dozens of blue-jacket clad marathon finishers.

During the long, cross country trip I chatted with row-mate Elisa Wiggins, a native San Diegan and Brown University grad who was dealing with some dire quads after Monday’s race. 

But I also had a chance to reflect on what we had witnessed in the 123rd running of the world’s most famous long-distance race.

As in all sports, so too, in the marathon, there is a mighty fine line between winning and losing. That margin in Monday’s 123rd Boston Marathon men’s race, the difference between first and second, 2:07:57 for champion Lawrence Cherono and 2:07:59 for runner up Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia,  A difference of 0.0002% over a 128-minute span.

Nobody I’ve talked to saw anything close to a two-second spread.

“They were still shoulder-to-shoulder with 10 meters left,” said Gianni Dimadonna, the manager of decisive women’s winner Worknesh Degefa.

It makes no difference. Time was secondary. Cherono clearly won as Desisa slumped in his final stride, knowing his cause was lost.

So, did Cherono win, or Desisa lose?  Continue reading

THE DAY AFTER BOSTON 2019

Boston, Ma. – The Marathon is such a challenging distance that most athletes have no desire to take it on solo. Instead, they form up in packs, serving as confederates through much of its length, working as one until they come to the final third of the course where the  real racing begins and the winning is generally done.

That’s exactly how the men’s race played out yesterday at the 123rd Boston Marathon with the outcome in doubt til the final 5 meters when Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono prevailed against two-time Ethiopian winner Lelisa Desisa. It was thrilling stuff, indeed.

But as my broadcast partner on WBZ-TV4 Shalane Flanagan said, “the women’s race was the polar opposite.”

In that competition, the short but powerful Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia gently but convincingly went to the front in Ashland and began to turn the screw after reaching  only the second of eight cities and towns that make up the historic Boston course.

Worknesh Degefa all smiles the day after

“After 4 miles the pace was too slow,“ 28 year-old Degefa said at today’s day-after press conference. “So I decided to take off. I kept going and that made me a winner.”

The last time we saw a move this bold this early in a major race was way back in 1984 when Maine’s Joanie Benoit pulled away from the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon field in Los Angeles at 5km and ran alone to win the first women’s Olympic Marathon gold-medal. Her time of 2:24:52 stood as the Olympic record for many cycles. It was only bested as the fastest time west of the Mississippi River this past March at the Los Angeles Marathon.

Yesterday it was with seeming ease that Worknesh Degefa gradually eased away from a pack that included four previous Boston women champions. They knew that this was the fastest woman in the field with her 2:17:41 performance at the January 25th Dubai Marathon. But maybe because it was her first attempt on the technically challenging Boston route with its rolling hills and iconic Heartbreak Hill, that they figured she would come back and they could reel her back in. Continue reading

TIME OF SECONDARY IMPORTANCE IN BOSTON

Boston, MA. – The clock. Yes, the clock. We watch it incessantly as it ticks relentlessly. But just like how three-point shots in basketball are worth noting – like last night when Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry passed Ray Allen for the most three-pointers made in playoff history – they aren’t the most important numbers. That designation falls into the category of wins and losses, like how the Warriors beat the L.A. Clippers 121 – 104 in game one of their opening round NBA playoff series.

In that sense, time is only of secondary importance in the outcome of a marathon like Boston, a classic race over a difficult course, unpredictable weather, and an absence of pacesetters.

As was proven again in 2018 with wild, wind-driven rain, Boston is primarily a race against other runners with the clock no more than an impassive attendant to the human drama. So while much of the marathon world focuses on the clock, at times slavishly so, Boston concentrates on racers.    Continue reading

FIRST BOSTON PREVIEW BEFORE THE DELUGE

In last year’s IAAF Competition Performance Rankings for the marathon,

At number 82 Boston Marathon USA 16 APR 2018 515 3 7967 110 0 8482

Where we are headed

So, we have ourselves the first official Performance Rankings for athletics, road racing, and the marathon by the IAAF, a means, they say, to better follow the sport for we fans.  And according to those rankings, last year’s Boston Marathon ranked No. 82 in the world.  Really?

Anyone else think Boston 2018 wasn’t better than 81 other marathons worldwide?  I guess that’s the difference between a systematic ranking and an emotional expression.  Same date, same time, same competitive point standing, but none of the heart or soul.

People run Boston from the heart to the core of their being.  It’s a love affair.  Something about the place and the people, the history.  Boston isn’t a marathon, it’s The Marathon like Augusta is The Masters.

This will be Des Linden’s seventh time on the old course, first as defending women’s champion.  The two-time Olympian and Southern California native was one of the favorites going into 2018 regardless of the conditions, but her chances improved mightily in the lashing winds and stinging sheets of rain.

Yes, after initially thinking she would drop out, then deciding to help her fellow Americans Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle, somehow Des found her own rhythm instead and ran away with the race.

Yuki takes it in stride with Tommy Meagher alongside

Japan’s “Citizen Runner” Yuki Kawauchi was never, ever a favorite, even for a podium position on a normal day.  But in that cold and rain, he became master of his domain.

This year Des and Yuki will be tested the way all great events honor their champions, by facing a field ready to beat their brains out. Continue reading

2018 HONOLULU MARATHON PREVIEW

Honolulu, HI. – In both 2016 & 2017, the Honolulu Marathon produced the fastest men’s marathon times in the United States.  Perhaps some of that anomaly can be traced to the Chicago Marathon dropping pacesetters for three years. But in the last two years Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono (2:09:38 & 2:08:27) slashed almost three minutes off Jimmy Muindi’s 2004 Honolulu course record of 2:11:12, a record that itself stood for 18 years after Ibrahim Hussein brought Kenyan-style racing to  Oahu in the mid 1980s. 

This year both Cherono and two-time women’s champion Brigid Kosgei have not returned to defend their titles, leaving the 2018 Honolulu Marathon wide open in both genders. Continue reading

INTERVIEW – DR. JIM BARAHAL, PRES. HONOLULU MARATHON ASSOCIATION

Honolulu, Hi – Now in his 32nd year as the president of the Honolulu Marathon Association, Dr. Jim Barahal is the longest serving CEO among the world’s top marathons. During his tenure Honolulu has grown from 10,000 entrants into the fourth largest marathon in the United States.

This week over 34,000 runners and walkers will take to the streets of Honolulu in three separate events, the Kalakaua Merrie Mile on Saturday, then the Start to Park 10K and the 46th Honolulu Marathon on Sunday morning. We sat down with Jim at the marathon expo at the Hawaii Convention Center yesterday to talk marathon business and sport.

Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal

JB: The challenge for us as the fourth largest marathon in the United States is we have the smallest metropolitan area of all the big marathons. New York, Chicago, Boston, we will never be as big as the very biggest races, and Los Angeles and Houston and Marine Corps in Washington DC also have much bigger markets to draw from than Honolulu. So for a long time our second market has been Japan. But there have been changes in that market in recent years with the rise of new citizen marathons, and that’s created big competition for us.

In the past, all the Japanese marathons were elite only. So the opportunity for average runners in Japan came here in Honolulu. But now with other opportunities back home, we’ve had to make somewhat of an adjustment.  How do we not only survive but thrive? What happen for us is we had to find growth beyond the marathon without cannibalizing the marathon.

All marathons now have other events on race weekend. But if you have a half marathon you find that it begins to overshadow the full marathon. So we asked several years ago do we want a half marathon? And we decided to begin a new, not companion half marathon which we call the Hapalua which is in April. It’s now in its eighth year and it’s been very successful. We have over 10,000 runners at the Hapalua and it’s become another destiination event for Japanese runners.  About 2500 of our Hapalua runners come from Japan. But that didn’t address the first week of December.

The trend in running has been away from fast running toward participation. To stay competitive, you have to attract novice runners looking for an experience. 

We realized two years ago, serendipitously, that on our course the first 10K basically ends at the marathon finish line in Kapiolani Park. That meant we could put on a 10K within the marathon and everyone could begin together, because the 10K is non-competitive. So it becomes an event with in the event. Continue reading

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