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

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

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC?

So far in this first week of the 2016 Rio Olympics they’ve raised the red, white and blue of the American flag more than any other. But by the end of the Games it may well be that the red flag of WHAT!??! could flutter most high and most often.

It’s getting harder and harder trying to keep track of the Olympic eye rolls. The minute you try to wrap your head around one thing another one pops up to replace it. Just when the focus was on the Kenyan official attempting to peddle advanced warnings on drug testing, we learn he got a row mate on the flight back to Nairobi when another Kenyan coach got booted for taking a random drug test under the name of 800 meter man Ferguson Rotich.

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But that was all off the field, along with the dirty green water in the Olympic diving pool. Now we’ve got Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia smashing the women’s world record in the 10,000 meters by 14 seconds (29:17.45) on day one in the Olympic stadium without as much as a furrowed brow or reliance on a turtle-based concoction of any sort.

The 10,000 world record, we recall, was set in 1993 by the Chinese runner Wang Junxia, a member of Coach Ma Junren’s Army who claimed his runners were fueled by turtle blood and caterpillar fungus until Wang later copped to being doped.

John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful asked in the bright summer of 1965, “Do You Believe in Magic?” Well, actually I did then, but I don’t now. And how could you? Continue reading

RUNNING VS BOXING: CONNECTING WITH THE SPORTING PUBLIC

Foot racing and boxing are two of the world’s most ancient and primal forms of athletic competition. Over the last 24 hours we have witnessed two great sporting contests, one in each of those sports, both pitting titans of their respective disciplines against one another. But only one registered outside its own arena and industry.

Mayweather remains undefeated, whips Alvarez

Mayweather remains undefeated, whips Alvarez

Last night boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather lived up to that moniker as he took home a guaranteed $41.5 million — with the potential payoff of $100m – winning a majority 12-round decision over 23 year-old Mexican superstar Saul Canello Alvarez at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.  Though one judge inexplicably saw the bout as a draw, the other two judges — and the viewing public — saw a clear win for the 36 year-old Mayweather.  The fight was the pinnacle of a lavish three –month long build-up that developed the bout into one of, if not THE, richest fights in history.

2013 Great North podium, Mo Farah, Keninise Bekele, Haile G.

2013 Great North podium,, (l-r) Mo Farah, Kenenise Bekele, Haile G.

The foot race, the Bupa Great North Run, was staged in Newcastle, England where veteran Ethiopian track and cross country superstar Kenenise Bekele halted England’s favorite son Mo Farah from wresting the title ‘undisputed greatest runner in the world’ by holding off the reigning double Olympic and World Champion over the final 800 meters of the half-marathon distance.  For spice, the man renown as the Greatest Runner of All Time, 40 year-old master Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia more than held his head high, finishing a respectable third after leading the contest for much of the way while establishing a new master’s world best for the distance (60:41).

But while Mayweather vs Alvarez was watched by millions on pay-per-view TV at $65 (standard definition) and $75 (high def), the contest between three of the world’s greatest runners was seen on BBC domestically in England, but was unavailable for viewing in the USA other than through a hacker website.  Continue reading

THE RIVALRY CONTINUES – DEFAR OVER DIBABA IN ZURICH

And down the stretch they come!

And down the stretch they come! (LetsRun.com photo)

Results from yesterday’s Zurich Diamond League meet showed the poles pulling apart as some rode the high of the 2013 Moscow World Championships, while others looked like the long season had caught up with them.

Eunice Sum, Nick Symmonds, Bohdan Bondarenko and Meseret Defar fell into the first category.  Asbel Kiprop, Ezekiel Kemboi, Mathew Centrowitz, Ivan Ukhov and even Usain Bolt found themselves joined in the second.

The most anticipated race of the evening was the 5000 meter showdown between former Ethiopian teen queens turned Olympic icons, Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar, the two most decorated women distance runners of their generation. Both arrived in Zurich as World Champions, Tiru at 10,000 meters, Mezzy in the 5000.

Since they first squared off at the 2002 Carlsbad 5000 as precocious teens (Tiru took 2nd in 15:19 to Mezzy’s 11th in 15:58) theirs has been the match up that has most intrigued yet frustrated running fans.  Though they have competed more than 20 times over the years, Zurich was only their third head-to-head clash since 2009.

In this first duel of the year Defar proved to be two-seconds sharper, 14:32.84 to 14:34.82.  Her 58-second last lap – that held more in reserve as I saw it — forced Tirunesh to lead out from 600 meters hoping to use her 10,000 meter strength to grind down Meseret’s 5000 meter closing speed.  Tiru’s sister Genzebe even aided the  family cause by pushing the pace past 4K in an attempt to set up her older sis. Continue reading

2012 CARLSBAD 5000

     No world records fell at today’s 27th Carlsbad 5000, but on a sun-splashed and windy day hard along the bright, blue Pacific Ocean, two previous champions from Ethiopia, Dejen Gebremeskel, defending men’s champion, and Tirunesh Dibaba, 2005 women’s champion, marked their readiness for the Olympic campaign ahead by posting impressive winning times over Olympic-caliber competition under less than ideal conditions. It was the second victory for each in the “World’s Fastest 5K”.

Men’s Race

13:11 at the line

Gebremeskel’s  winning time of 13:11 equaled the third-best time ever over the famous Carlsbad loop course, and tied the winning times from the previous two years when both he and today’s third-place finisher (second in 2011) Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya hit 13:11 in 2011 and 2010. Today’s runner-up, Hagos Gebrhiwet, just 17 years old, trailed just three seconds behind his countryman (13:14), leading places two through six to the fastest times for those places in CBAD history.  Ireland’s Alistair Cragg’s 13:26 in sixth produced the lone record of the day, a new Irish and European road 5k record.

“My plan was to run sub-13:10,” said third place finisher and 2010 champion Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya (13:14).  “But it was not possible because I could not feel comfortable with everyone on my back. I thought people would work together.”

And how many times have you raced against Ethiopians, Eliud?  Have they ever shown an inclination to assist with the pace?  Exactly.  You might make a note come London this August.

With the two-time Kenyan Olympic 5000m medalist- bronze in 2004, silver in 2008 – towing the field through the first two miles – 4:12, 8:33 (4:21) – the Ethiopians were content to draft in behind, thus saving energy for the long slog into the wind heading north along Carlsbad Boulevard after mile one.   But after passing through boisterous crowds along the center of the T-bar course, the road continues along a desolate stretch to the far turnaround.  It was on that silent patch of road around 4Km that Gebremeskel made his winning move. Continue reading