Tampa, FL. — Certainly, I’ve been a critic over the years of the sport’s de-emphasis on competition in favor of fun-running and charity fund-raising, likening that trend to America’s de-emphasis on education in favor of grade-inflation and child buttering. Jerry Seinfeld did a great bit Tuesday night on Jimmy Fallon’s second night as Tonight Show host on this topic, saying, “when we were young our parents didn’t give a damn about us. They didn’t even know our names!”
But history isn’t linear, and pendulums have a habit of sweeping back in the other direction. Thus, a quick survey of recent moves in the sport lead to a conclusion that competition is once again being noticed, even appreciated, and highlighted.
This weekend I am here in Tampa for the return of the Gasparilla Distance Classic to the ranks of pro racing. It’s the first time Gasparilla has invited a pro field to the streets of Tampa since 1997. And its a welcome return to what traditionally had been the best field of the year during the 1980s and `90s when Gasparilla was the first race of the year and everyone was anxious to get out of the cold and into Florida for a blistering 15K burnout. This year it will be a pro half-marathon with an American based field, which I will break down after talking with the athletes as they assemble. (more…)
First, let me apologize for the continuing rants about the state of the sport. But when you’ve put in 30+ years, and see a lessening of interest in the very thing you’ve spend a lifetime trying to build, it can drive you to excess in one form or another. For sanity and health I’ve chosen to confront my demons through writing.
That said, after the initial surge of emotions that followed the Competitor Group’s elimination of its elite athlete program last week, the time for solutions should now take up the baton. I’ve had several conversations this week along those lines, but it is to the constituent stakeholders of the sport we look first, as it is they who are best positioned to take heed of CGI’s decision and then move the sport ahead in its wake. (more…)
It’s been six weeks since the bombings at the Boston Marathon, time enough for the first rush of emotions to have run their course, and for cooler more reasoned calculations to resume. Just yesterday, Marc Fucarile, 34, a roofer from Stoneham, Massachusetts, was released from Mass General, the last victim to be released from hospital into whatever semblance of normal now awaits him after the loss of his right leg.
And so as we settle into this brave new post-Boston 2013 world, the question arises like the morning sun, what is the new normal? In that light I was intrigued to read the Boulder Daily Camera article following Memorial Day’s Bolder Boulder 10K. In its story the Daily Camera quoted race director Cliff Bosley saying he thought the tragedy at Boston contributed to fewer people participating in Boulder this year, as entrants were down 5.7% from 51,681 in 2012 to 48,741 on Monday.
“I think some people made the decision not to come,” Bosley told the Daily Camera. “Just, ‘Let’s take a year off and see how it plays out’.”
Immediately, I wondered A) was it true that Boston was the cause for the drop off? B) if so, is Boulder an anomaly? C) Did Bosley overlook other potential factors? Or, D) is there evidence of similar declines in race registration or finishers which might be attributed to The Boston Effect? I made some calls to the other major races that followed Boston on the calendar. Here is some of what I learned. (more…)
Seattle, WA. — With Athletics Kenyareleasing news Thursday that three Kenyan marathoners face doping bans for failing drug tests, and former three-time steeplechase world champion Moses Kiptanui adding his voice to those expressing the opinion that there is more PED drug use going on in Kenya than previously believed, it was timely to find the World Marathon Majorsrelease a new drug policy this week. The World Marathon Majors is made up of the New York City, Boston, Chicago, London, Berlin and Tokyo marathons.
While not aimed at any particular nation or region, the new policy is an acknowledgment that the same temptations are in play in Africa as anywhere else. And having been to both Kenya and Ethiopia several times, and as recently as last year, I can tell you that the argument against the likelihood of drug use in East Africa has always been more about cost, availability and regimentation than the desire to partake. Plus, the number of talented athletes is so huge, and some regions so remote as to negate the practicality of widespread drug use.
However, all one need do is recall that when I first visited Africa in 1998 there were no cell phones, internet cafes or wireless technology whatsoever. In other words, things have changed; modernity rolls in quite quickly. And with more and more opportunities to perform around the world, the temptation to lift oneself out of poverty, by whatever means necessary, grows right along with them. Therefore, the need to increase testing should mirror that same pattern of growth.
But testing is expensive, not just in the form of the tests themselves, but in the human cost of placing testers in areas where athletes live and train. That’s why I found it interesting to note that a major World Marathon Majors initiative should be released under a London Marathon letterhead rather than a World Marathon Majors’ one. It points to the continued muddled nature of this sport from an organizational standpoint. (more…)
Thirty years ago most avowed distance runners still retained vestiges of the sport’s flinty, outsider’s origins. We were a congregation of pain seekers bonded by the depth and quality of our gut-wrenched racing performances. How hard you trained, and fast you ran, were blistered badges of pride held up against society’s more traditional conventions of convenience. Revolutions of the local high school track were regarded with more respect than the arc of one’s career track. Today, those times and that image have long given way to a spirit of tempered inclusion where running serves as a universal bond of health and community involvement. Or does it?
Running USA staged its annual conference this month in Houston in connection with the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. As a member of the Running USA board of directors, I had occasion to reach out to members of the running community to voice their observations (anonymously, to avoid recriminations) about the state of the sport. The following perspective comes from a former race director, club organizer, and current running world vendor.
“Here in our little world I have been involved with our running club for over 20 years, and I’ve seen a marked difference in engagement by the runners over time. New runners don’t know common etiquette. It used to be that you could call out for help of any kind and lots of runners would raise their hand and say, ‘I can do that’. Now it feels like there is much more of a ‘so-who’s-going-to-throw-the-next-great-event-for-me’ type of attitude.
Likewise, I’ve been involved with a local trails organization, a terrific ‘professional’ non-profit with a true working board and paid staff. It raises millions of dollars, creates both wooded and urban trails, raises non-motorized transportation issues within the community, grooms cross country ski trails, etc. They seem to have a lot of hands-on support from the biking and hiking communities, but they traditionally don’t get a lot of hands-on support from runners.
I don’t think our area has a lock on selfish runners (sorry for the negative bent here) as I suspect we are just a microcosm of the national scene. My point here is that runners just don’t seem to be as engaged outside of their next run or when they are out of Gu packets, yet any cyclist always seems to know what Lance had for breakfast yesterday. The numbers (and dollars) are with the numbers of runners at races all over this country (a positive), but I don’t think any solution will be found for running’s ills until we find a way to truly engage the masses.
It starts with a goal and a direction. There are lots of great ideas out there, but as we consider these great ideas every discussion should include the question, ‘how does it engage the masses?’
Just some musings for a Tuesday morning. Have a great day.
Thanks to today’s guest for the observations. If you’d like to add yours, either respond below, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Houston, Texas – Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition addressed the attendees of the Running USA Ashworth Youth Awards Luncheon yesterday. A dynamic speaker, Ms. Pfohl gave an impassioned presentation illustrating the vital importance of getting and keeping America’s youth active. She acknowlegded the need for assistance in returning physical education to the nation’s schools. Her message was clear and concise as she preached to what was essentially the choir. Later, I met Ms. Pfohl in the lobby of the hotel, and asked about the flight of societal hurdles facing today’s children which I’d measured in a previous post WHAT DIRECTION RUNNING USA?
I concluded, “The President’s Council has been around for nearly 60 years, through 11 presidents and spent billions of dollars. So how would you assess the overall impact of your agency in terms of the nation’s current health status?”
“I agree with everything you are saying,” she began. “But you see, that’s what everyone thinks, that we spend billions of dollars. Do you know what our annual budget is? $1.2 million!”
“You’re kidding? That’s it?”
No, in fact, she wasn’t kidding. The President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, which began in 1953 under Dwight Eisenhower as a cabinet-level position, is as substantial as the Hollywood back lot western town Mel Brooks used for Blazing Saddles. It’s a facade. Just for comparison sake, Corn Subsidies in the United States totaled $77.1 billion from 1995-2010.
If it weren’t so tragic, I guess it would be funny. Here we are proposing to spend a real $billion or more to combat Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia that causes progressive loss of intellectual and social skills, while at the same time we publicize home delivery of Burger King. We’ve become so busy/lazy as a society that we won’t even go out to the car and drive to the fast-food restaurant anymore? Are they going to pre-chew that Whopper for us, too? I’d say it’s a blessing we get Alzheimer’s; it makes us forget to just shoot ourselves.
Thousands of miles away old friend Jack Waitz is in Iten, Kenya witnessing first-hand the factory like manner in which the Kenyans from the Central Highlands continue to churn out world-class distance runners.
“Eye-opening, isn’t it, Jack,” I wrote on his Facebook page.
“For sure, there are mornings with 250!” Meaning 250 runners gathering to train.
“It’s a numbers/talent/economic/cultural equation that seems beyond the capacity of any other nation,” I replied. “Kenya builds distance runners the way the U.S. builds diabetics.”
And, evidently, Alzheimer’s patients – though Alzheimer’s is only the sixth leading cause of death in America behind such traditional gravediggers as heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. Good thing we have that $1.2 million from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition working for us. That ought to help make that Alzheimer’s initiative that much more effective.
Following this weekend’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston, Texas will be the annual Running USA conference set for January 15-17 at the Hyatt Regency Houston. This year’s conference theme is Passing the Torch: Running Toward the Future. The special guest speaker at Monday’sAshworth Youth Awards Luncheon will be Shellie Pfohl – Executive Director of President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
As Running USA is currently fashioning its own Youth Initiative, it might be instructive to look back at the history of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition as it relates to Running USA’s Running Toward the Future efforts.
After a report raised concerns about the physical fitness of America’s children relative to their European counterparts in the early 1950s, it was President Dwight Eisenhower (not JFK as many believe) who created the President’s Council on Youth Fitness, and confirmed it via cabinet-level status. The Executive Order specified “one” objective as the first Council identified itself as a “catalytic agent” concentrating on creating public awareness. And guess who was the first chairman of the Council? None other than Vice President Richard M. Nixon! Certainly not the man anyone would think of first when fitness comes to mind.
Notwithstanding, a plan of action was developed at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1957, and the first nationwide pilot study of 8,500 boys and girls ages 5 thru 12 resulted in the first national testing program which many of us who are old enough remember quite well. (more…)