FUTURE THOUGHTS

In this month of October 2019, the marathon world seemed to have turned a corner, or broken a barrier – however you want to put it – with the first sub-2 hour marathon for men in Vienna, Austria and an 81-second world record for the women in Chicago, Illinois.

The first performance was somewhat expected having come on the heels of a very close, but eventually unsuccessful attempt two years ago in Monza, Italy.  The successful second assault in Vienna was conducted like clockwork in a tightly controlled setting with pacers behind lasers that didn’t vary by more than four seconds per 5Km split on the repeatable route.

The second headline in Chicago came as something of a shock, considering the record it topped was already thought of as an outlier. But unlike the men’s sub-2 in Austria, the new women’s record in Illinois was run in a competitive setting (though without actual competition) led by two male pacers who went out way too hard yet managed to salvage the record at the end. Which leads one to believe there is more time to scrub from Brigid Kosgei’s 2:14:04 with more consistent pacing, much less other tweaks, official or otherwise.  And Kosgei herself has already posited a women’s 2:10 in the future, though for herself she set the limit at 2:12 – 2:13.

What both these performances had in common were the nationality of the two athletes, Kenyan, and the brand and model of shoes that were worn, Nike Vaporfly Next%, or prototypes built specifically for each.

And so after this seismic month of miraculous running, what’s next?  Already the IAAF is looking into the legality of the shoes based on a protest lodged by several elite runners accusing the Nike Vaporflys of producing an unfair competitive advantage. Though there is an initial belief that the shoes will be found to be within proscribed limits.

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In 1989, American Greg LeMond won the Tour de France by eight seconds over Frenchman Laurent Fignon, the previous two-time Tour winner.

The eight-second margin made it the closest finish in TDF history, as LeMond was trailing Fignon by fifty seconds at the start of the final stage into Paris, and was not expected to be able to make up this deficit. But he completed the 24.5 km time trial at an average speed of 54.545 km/h (33.893 mph), at the time the fastest individual time trial ever ridden in the Tour. Fignon’s time was fifty-eight seconds slower, costing him the victory and giving LeMond his second Tour title by that scant eight second margin.

Greg LeMond in 1989 Tour de France

In that famous time trial, Lemond used aero bars clamped onto his traditional handlebars. The ‘89 TDF marked the first time such aero bars were used in competition. The aerodynamic advance proved to be the difference between first and second place. Now everyone uses aero bars, while overall bike technology has continued to evolve and improve ever since.

In sport, as in society, change remains the only constant. Trying to stem it is an exercise in futility. Continue reading

BERLIN 2018 – YOWZA, YOWZA, YOWZA!

When Patrick Makau set his 2:03:38 world record in Berlin in 2012, he made a surge between 25 and 30K while zigzagging across the road to shake Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie from his tail. Then, after passing through the Brandenburg Gate on his way to victory, he had to hop over a roadside barrier to get on the correct side of the road for the men’s finish line tape break.

Because of those two elements, a tactical surge in the middle of the race,  and a little hop over a road sign at the end of the race, you knew there was another 30 seconds or so left in the world record after he crossed in 2:03:38. (And Godspeed to Mr  Makau who announced his retirement this past week).

But there is always a question after a world record marathon, what was left that didn’t go exactly right that might mean the world record has more time left in it?

Never Done Better

Today, the great Eliud Kipchoge broke Dennis Kimetto ‘s 2014 Berlin course and world record by 1:18 with a 2:01:39 finish time. Yowza, yowza, yowza!  But what didn’t go right? How much more can be squeezed out of that course? Continue reading

MOTHER NATURE SAYS NEIN IN BERLIN

You can’t fool Mother Nature. If she doesn’t sanction it, nothing else matters. So despite the great field assembled by race director Mark Milde – including the Big 3  of former champions Kenenisa Bekele 2016, Eliud Kipchoge 2015, and Wilson Kipsang 2013 – despite the excellent pacing job that put the athletes right on record pace through 30km, when the start time temperature for today’s 44th BMW Berlin Marathon was in the mid-50s and the streets were puddled with rain – meaning high humidity – though it may not seem like an overly big thing, in fact, it was just enough of a thing to put the world record out of reach.

Berlin conditions

What’s the first lesson every coach drums into his/her athlete? Have realistic expectations. We have seen enough of these things to know that unless every piece of the puzzle falls into place – athletes, training, pace, competition, and conditions – all you can hope for is a great race.  And we sure got that today. In fact, this marks the nth time a great duel has emerged in Berlin in recent years. Continue reading

REMEMBERING MIKE & ZANE

Davenport, IA. – I am in the Quad Cities this weekend for the 43rd QC Times Bix 7 Road Race, this year doubling as the USATF 7 Mile Road Championship.  I’ll have a preview later after today’s presser.

But as this sport of life and vigor looks ahead excitedly to the Bix 7 and the IAAF World Track & Field Championships in London next week,  it also remembers once again a difficult anniversary week.

Mike with pal Haile Gebrselassie and grandson Jack

It was ten years ago that we lost the incomparable Mike Long, the former elite athlete coordinator for Elite Racing, founders of the Carlsbad 5000 and Rock ‘n’ Roll Series of marathons and half-marathons. Mike passed in his sleep at age 65 July 18, 2007 at his home in South Mission Beach San Diego.

Then, just two years ago on July 25th the sport was stunned to hear that long-time athlete manager Zane Branson had succumbed to a heart attack while attending some of his athletes in Iten, Kenya.

Both Mike and Zane represented the best this sport had to offer, passionate commitment in the service of others and an abiding love of the game of running. Former New York Road Runners president Mary Wittenberg (now CEO of Virgin Sports) flew to San Diego for Mike’s memorial service ten years ago, and jokingly encapsulated proof of Mike’s status as the most beloved man in the sport.

“We (NYRR) think we are pretty nice people,” she said, “but we have to pay $50,000 for an athlete Mike would get for free.”

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

BREAKING 2 STILL ALLURING?

And so the grand experiment has come to a conclusion. And, oh, so close did it come to its vaunted goal, just one second per mile short of history’s first sub-2 hour time for the marathon distance. Not for the marathon, mind you, but for its distance – because a marathon by its historic formulation is a competitive event. What we witnessed yesterday in Monza, Italy was a time trial/lab experiment, not a race. But that is nitpicking, though a significant nit.

Notwithstanding, a huge congratulations go out to Eliud Kipchoge and the entire Nike Breaking2 Project for such a grand experiment in human performance, footwear technology, and scientific experimentation.

But what did we come away with after yesterday’s 2:00:24 performance on the Formula One racetrack in Monza?  Certainly, more questions as well as some answers. First of all, we know that the sub-2 is now possible, more likely probable, because he damn near did it! But since he didn’t quite do it, what else needs to be done that this experiment informed us as still being required? Continue reading

THE QUESTIONS OF A GREAT MARATHON

Boston, MA. – How’s the weather going to be? Will my foot hold up? Have I done enough long runs? The questions before a marathon add up like the string of long miles that stretch off into the gathering distance. And if you think those pre-race ponderables are numerous, just wait till the starter’s command sets you to the course itself.

In the face of such a devilish test one’s intentions become paramount. For as trained and resilient as the body may be, it is always the muscle, blood and bone that will be first to succumb when the questions mount faster than their answers, and wits grow short in their hour of greatest need.

“People who’ve dabbled in sports psychology say, ‘Well, the kid who’s the better performer, they think differently’,” says sports psychologist Dr. Stan Beecham in an article in Forbes Magazine speaking of the ‘secrets to a powerful mindset’.

But the reality, according to Dr. Beecham, is not that they think differently, it’s that they don’t think at all.

“It’s the absence of thought that defines sporting excellence, the absence of cognition, the absence of emotion. That really is the advantage.” Continue reading