The praise for Eliud Kipchoge continues to pour in from every corner. His masterful performance in London last weekend cemented his place as the preeminent marathoner of this and perhaps any era in most peoples eyes. But can we slow down for just half a second?
Are we really ready to hand the title of Greatest of All Time to a man who has only run flat, paced races in near ideal weather along with one lab experiment in Monza, Italy? Certainly, Master Kipchoge’s Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016 was won without the aid of pacers on a warm muggy day. And his previous life as a track runner – especially in Paris 2003 at the IAAF World Championship 5000 – proved he can race with anyone. Nobody is suggesting otherwise.
But since he moved up to the marathon in Hamburg 2013, where is the variety? Where is the new challenge? Where is the ‘throw anything at me, I’ll take it on’ mentality?
In his 12-marathon career, Kipchoge has run four Londons, four Berlins, and Chicago 2014. Rotterdam 2014 was his other non-major. Yet we just read today that Mr. Kipchoge said, “I trust that before I see the sport out that I will run all six major marathons.”
While that is wonderful to hear, there’s a difference between running all six and racing all six. (more…)
Ever wonder why average runners have to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but the elite runners don’t?
Well, for one thing, there is a competitive marketplace for the top athletes and invitations with appearance fees are the means of recruiting them. It’s a holdover from the sport’s shamateur (sic) past but one that has proven resilient to change, despite the introduction of prize money purses in the 1980s.
We have just gone through a small tempest at this year’s Boston Marathon after the Boston Athletic Association separated the “invited” men’s field from the Wave 1 runners for the first time – by two minutes – thereby bringing the invited men’s field into line with the elite women who have started 28-minutes ahead of the men for the last 15 years.
“It’s a seemingly minor change,” writes Beverly, “one that will economically affect only a few sub-elites who might have a breakthrough day. But it ensures that an anonymous runner will never stand on the podium, putting to rest the notion that we’re all competing together in the same race—a notion that is arguably one of the greatest aspects of our sport. Now, if you’re not one of the few pre-selected to be in the first start, you are, quite explicitly, running in a different competition.”
Jonathan has it exactly right except for the notion that we’re all competing together in the same race where the average Doheny is theoretically competing against the best in the world. That has always been a misnomer. The thousands of citizen runners don’t run against or with the pros, they run concurrently. Only a historic weather event like we had in Boston 2018 can wipe enough pros from the field that one or two “regular” runners can end up in the prize money positions from the mass field.
Besides, Boston already makes a distinction between charity joggers, recreational runners, and Boston Qualifiers. That, among other things, is what makes Boston special. But until the sport, in general, makes that same distinction between BQs and professional-class runners, we are going to have this amorphous amalgam that the public doesn’t understand much less take seriously as a sporting event. Instead, they view even major marathons as more like, you know, the Pope’s visit, or the tall ships sailing into Boston harbor, primarily a big civic event. (more…)
With today’s announcement of the very strong pro women’s field gathering for the 2018 TCS NYC Marathon, another old idea resurfaced in the attempt to help focus attention on the actual racing side of the game.
Just as I recently posited how it might be fun (though impractical) to stage a pure match race between Galen Rupp and his former training partner Mo Farah in Chicago in order to truly focus public attention, I have always thought that the two U.S. Abbott World Marathon Major partners in the fall, Chicago and New York, should work together rather than compete for the same stock of athletes.
Imagine if each event focused on just one gender at the tip of the spear where all the top female athletes go one place, and the best males line up at the other. Then, the following year they swap.(more…)
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.
“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.”
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 – FEARFUL NO MORE – MARY KEITANY – 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 – (more…)
Pride, rue, chagrin, the emotions any of us feel about our name can run a wide gamut. For instance, my name is Toni, but as you notice, it ends in an I, rather than a Y. That’s because in Poland, birthplace of my mother, they spell Anthony as Antoni, hence, Toni, not Tony (though I answer to both).
Since I reached my majority, no big deal, but as a young boy growing up in the American Midwest, having what my peers considered a girl’s name often proved challenging. In fact, it’s one reason why I started to run. It was easier and less painful than fighting every time some chump chided me with my ‘girl’s name’ anomaly.
Which brings us to Meb Keflezighi, the American marathon star who was surprised by several hundred friends, relatives, and fans Monday night (November 13, 2017) at San Diego’s Liberty Station two weeks after he concluded his remarkable career with an 11th place finish at the TCSNew York City Marathon at age 42. The retirement celebration also raised funds benefiting the MEB Foundation, which promotes health education and fitness programs for youth.
The evening brought into relief once again just how far the man has come. Not just through the long journey from war-torn Eritrea to Italy and finally America as a 12 year-old boy, or on the many ups and downs of his competitive career, from his days at San Diego High to UCLA all the way to the Mount Rushmore of American distance running. No, I mean simply in terms of culture.
Like the name Meb for instance. The first time you hear it, sounds more like a distance than a name.
“How far did you run today?”
“I got in about sixteen Mebs, and threw in a couple of Hawis for good measure.”
But no matter the obstacle, be it cultural or sporting, Meb always found a way to surmount it and then triumph, while including many, many others in those triumphs along the way. (more…)
Like many a Boston Marathon finisher, Shalane Flanaganwalked downstairs with a tender tred after the race. The Marblehead, Massachusetts native had attacked the old course with a willful intention on Patriot’s Day 2014, convinced that an unrelenting pace from the start would discourage her opponents and set her up for victory. But now, after the savage pace she set on the rolling hills from Hopkinton to Heartbreak Hill in Newton had shredded her quads, the walk downstairs from the VIP room of the House of Blues to the main stage for that night’s award ceremony was proving to be yet another painful journey.
Once on stage, the top ten women were presented to the boisterous crowd. Shalane was number seven. Then, as the champion (now confirmed drug cheat) Rita Jeptoo of Kenya basked in the spotlight and applause gowned up like a beauty pageant contestant, Shalane stood behind her still unrelenting, still feisty and unbowed.
“You’re welcome,” Shalane said tartly from behind as I introduced Jeptoo to the crowd. We heard her. It was an acknowledgment that Flanagan knew exactly what role she had played in the fastest Boston Marathon in history, her own 2:22:02 time in seventh being the fastest ever by an American in Boston.
The plan for Boston 2014 had been set months in advance by Shalane and her Bowerman Track Club coach Jerry Schumacher. And to a degree, it had worked, delivering the 33-year-old to the Boylston Street finish line in exactly the time she was trying to achieve. Unfortunately, it was nearly four minutes behind the drug queen, and two minutes off that which Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia fashioned in second place – 2:19:59.
“When I first heard of Jeptoo (drug bust),” remembered Shalane, “I was angry. But then I was relieved. I could do that two minutes.”
And she nearly did, six months later in Berlin, again gunning for time rather than place. This time it was Deena Kastor‘s American record 2:19:36 from London 2006. (more…)
With Sunday’s running of the TCS New York City Marathon fast approaching, the fields are set, the course is ready, and the viewing parties have all been arranged. All that’s left is an unsullied journey through the five boroughs with worthy champions awaiting to be crowned.