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

LONDON 2018: PACING OR RACING?

Watching the races in London last Sunday I couldn’t help contrast forms, because in the marathon more so than the track (until you get to the kick at the end) the question of form is also the matter of fuel management, especially on the quivering edge of world record pace. As Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba wrote on her Facebook account afterward:  “Even though my training went very well, I misjudged the pace, and did not have the strength to finish.”

She didn’t misjudge the pace, she misjudged the conditions for the pace.  Maybe if the day had dawned overcast at 43F (6C) with calm winds, talk of a world record would have been very much in order. But it was 59F (15C) at the start!  And rising, going on to become the hottest day in London Marathon history.

Paula Radcliffe‘s 2003 world record 2:15:25 stood some 2:31 faster than Tirunesh had ever run (2:17:56 finishing second to Mary Keitany’s 2:17:01 last year, the second-fastest time in history). What did she think the odds were going out significantly faster than Paula Radcliffe had in 2003 in those conditions?  I know that modern runners have out-trained the distance, at least on a benign day, but can they be so dismissive of the distance and the records that they think basic physiological norms no longer apply?

You could see right away that Mary Keitainy had a tighter, more efficient form than Tirunesh, both above and below the waist. She also showed less core rotation per stride.  That difference in per-stride energy expenditure adds up. The fact that Mary staggered home at all in fifth place in 2:24:27 after falling off world record pace before 30K was a testament to her fitness and form. The fact that Tirunesh didn’t get past 30K after falling off Mary’s pace at 15K makes its own point. 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

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

2017 TD BEACH TO BEACON SET UP

Cape Elizabeth, ME. – After going through his final checklist, race director Dave McGillivray sprung a question on me at last night’s TD Beach to Beacon 10k organizing committee meeting at the Cape Elizabeth High School.

“Toni, what’s the fastest women’s 10k so far this year?”

The question was more than pertinent given the quality of the elite women’s field at this year’s 20th Beach to Beacon, led by three past champions including defender Mary Keitany of Kenya who set the course record in 2016 at 30:45.

2017 TD B2B 10k Organizing Committee (photo courtesy of Ann Kaplan)

Being out in California most of the year, I am more of titular member of the hard-working organizing committee, but like to join the final gathering on the race week at the high school cafeteria.

“Jeez, Dave,” I said softly – as one does when called out by a teacher after failing to do your homework – “I don’t know off the top of my head.”

My confession brought Dave to the edge of a guffaw and chiding ridicule.

“What! Toni doesn’t know something about running?”

The room joined in the good-natured hectoring (though it was nice to know they were under the impression that I generally knew what I was talking about).

In search of redemption, I quickly opened Safari on my iPhone and dove into the IAAF.org website searching for world leading times for 2017. Continue reading

HEADING BACK TO BEEF STEW?

What is it with money in this game?  While purses and contracts in every other sport have continued to grow well into seven figures, in this fish market the scale has either remained stagnant or just gone down.

For their Series XI, which began in London last weekend, the Abbott World Marathon Majors announced a drop in its top prize from half a mill to a quarter mill, while thumping a new charity component that outstrips the top athletic prize by thirty grand, $280k to $250k. Yet can you blame them?

What would you do if international diversity completely disappeared from the top end of your sport, or if half your women’s series champions turned up doped – then didn’t give the money back, so you had to pay out twice?  Not to mention all the negative PR that comes with the news. Not quite the idea you had in mind a decade ago when you began the series, then, is it?

And just today we read that the Abbott World Marathon Majors has announced a ten-year strategic partnership deal with Wanda Group in China to develop marathoning in Asia (outside Japan) and Africa with the emphasis on participation, charity fundraising, and economic impact.

“The World Marathon Majors Series was founded in 2006 to advance the sport of marathon running and to honor the world’s best male and female runners and wheelchair athletes,” read the press release. “Now, every year, more than 250,000 runners participate in the AbbottWMM races worldwide, raising nearly $150 million annually for good causes, and the Series celebrates its Six Star finishers, runners who have successfully completed all six races in the Series. Additionally, Abbott WMM is a world leader in anti-doping initiatives, financing the biggest private-funded drug testing program in sport.”

Notice the order of focus and intention. Sport is still involved, yes, but now it is last in line and focused on doping, no longer the centerpiece of the enterprise.

But that aside, why is the money in this sport still organized the way it is in the first place? Because for some odd reason we can’t shuck our amateur past where the illusion fostered was that there was no money at all, while the reality was there was no ‘visible’ money? Continue reading

2017 LONDON MARATHON: A VIEWER’S PERSPECTIVE

Kenya’s Mary Keitany is all smiles at London Marathon 2017

This is a strange game, isn’t it?  Here we see the great Mary Keitany winning her third Virgin Money London Marathon in 2:17:01, and for the rest of the morning we try to figure out where her performance stands in the list of best-ever women’s marathons.

Now, forgetting all this mixed-gender, women’s-only, point-to-point, downhill  or loop course qualifiers, Mary’s 2:17:01 is the second fastest women’s finishing time ever posted behind Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25, London 2003.  But on the coverage shown in the USA by NBCSN her time was referred to as the fastest time ever in a women’s-only race, bettering Paula’s 2:17:42 from London 2005.  But even that 2005 London time ranks behind Paula’s 2:17:18 from Chicago 2002. Confused?

When reading through the chattering class on LetsRun.com, and referring to my own 2002 journal when I covered the women’s race for NBC5 in Chicago, we remember LetsRun co-founder Weldon Johnson served  as Paula’s “escort”, if not rabbit per se.  But when Paula smashed that Chicago mark in London the following spring with her magical 2:15:25, she was also “escorted” by two Kenyan guys the entire way. Continue reading