AMERICAN MASTER MEB SAYS SO LONG

 

Meb after 2009 NYC win

On that bright but chilly (38°F) November morning, I had the catbird seat aboard the NBC lead men’s TV motorcycle as the 2002 New York City Marathon entered its critical stage coming off the Queensboro Bridge at mile 16.  The final pace-setter, the metronomic Joseph Kariuki of Kenya, had just pulled off leaving the pack edgy, crackling with energy as Manhattan’s First Avenue stretched ahead like a provocation with all the history, speed, and power it portended.  Amidst the lead group ran marathon debutant Meb Keflezighi, the U.S. record holder at 10,000 meters (27:13). The day before Meb’s long-time coach Bob Larsen told me Meb would go with the pace until First Avenue then decide what to do.

The resurrection of American distance running had begun to take shape in that fall of 2002. Following successful maiden marathons by Dan Browne at Twin Cities (1st, 2:11:35) then Alan Culpepper in Chicago (6th, 2:09:41, tying Alberto Salazar’s American d­­­­­­ebut record from New York 1980) the anticipation for Meb’s debut in New York City was running sky high.

Sweeping off the bridge first sped Rodgers Rop of Kenya, third in NYC the year before, and reigning Boston Marathon champion.  By 66th Street Rop had a five-second gap, leaving remnants of the pack receding like fading dust motes.  Mile 17 fell in 4:36.

Realizing the danger, Boston runner-up Christopher Cheboiboch, 2:06:33 South African Gert Thys, and Kenyan deb Laban Kipkemboi bridged up to cover Rop’s move. And then Meb came rushing up hard from behind to join the fray.  Decision made!  He was going! The crowd bellowed its approval.  Next, amidst a 4:40 18th mile, Meb surged to the front, not satisfied just to answer, he was anxious to dictate policy.

“I remembered that Salazar had won New York in his debut,” recalled Meb years later.  “And maybe I got too emotional.”

Rodgers Rop went on to win that 2002 race in New York in 2:08:07 to join Bill Rodgers (1978 & `79), Alberto Salazar (1982) and Joseph Chebet (1994) as the only men to win Boston and New York in the same year (in 2011 Geoffrey Mutai would join the club).

Meb took a full 35 minutes and change for his final 10K (5:40/mi. pace).  Chilled to the bone, he arrived in ninth place in 2:12:35. Afterwards, his mother Awetash made him swear he would never do THAT again. Continue reading

ABBOTT WORLD MARATHON MAJORS: MAKING AN “IS” OUT OF AN “ARE”

Before America’s Civil War people said ‘the United States of America ARE’, thinking of the country as primarily an aggregate of individual states rather than a single national entity. Only after Robert E. Lee‘s surrender at Appomattox and the re-knitting of the Confederate States into the union did people begin to say, “the United States of America IS”.

The difference is subtle but instructive. For one might equally argue that the Abbott World Marathon Majors continue to be more an aggregate of independent events rather than a coherent series made up in six parts. They (as opposed to it) have unfortunately found their time together also running concurrent to a tainted era in the sport, as now four of their women’s series titles have fallen to doping disqualifications – that’s two Lilya Shobukhova’s , one Rita Jeptoo, and now one (sample A) Jemima Sumgong doping positives that have marred what was intended to be series celebrating athletic excellence.

Is it any surprise then that the six AWMMs just this year decided to draw down their top prize for Series XI beginning this weekend in London by half from $500,000 to $250,000, while earmarking a new $280,000 to charity? Yes, they have also included smaller payouts to second and third prizes in the series, $50,000 and $25,000, but overall the runner’s purse has been cut 35%.

Hard to argue the move.  You can’t keep publicly awarding prizes that a year later you have to take back because your winners have tested positive for banned performance enhancers. That’s not the message you want to be announcing.  After getting burned so many times it’s not so much a sport right now as much as it is a big mess.  And historically you sweep messes away.

I have already written how the sport might bolster its attack on the doping problem by increasing blood testing of the athletes till their arteries collapse – TESTING: PUTTING THE MONEY WHERE IT NEEDS TO BE – but let’s also look to the WMM competitions themselves. Boston down, London next. Continue reading

SOLINSKY’S GREATEST RUN

Even as the sport celebrates the 10,000 meter debut of American master phenom Bernard Lagat at last night’s Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto, California — a world master’s record win in 27:49 — we recall that six years ago today Chris Solinsky ran his own 10,000m debut at Payton Jordan in what turned out to be the run of his career.   Here is how I reported it on our old Runnerville.com website, created by by Tracksmith founder Matt Taylor.
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May 2nd, 2010

SOLINSKY AR 26:59.60!!!

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Solinsky in American Record form

Solinsky in American Record form

Well, they sold it as an American record attempt at 10,000 meters.  Just top-billed the wrong guy.  In a stunning debut in track’s longest event, former University of Wisconsin All-American Chris Solinsky shocked the field, the fans, and even himself with a sensational 26:59.60 win at the Payton Jordan Invitational 10,000, ripping 14 seconds off Meb Keflezighi’s 27:13.98 record set on the same track in 2001.

Galen Rupp, the Alberto Salazar-trained Nike star who the record attempt had been built around, ended up doing much of the second half pace work.  And though he achieved his goal of dipping under Meb’s old record, his 27:10.74 clocking could only garner him fourth place as a slew of records fell in the wake of Solinksky’s shocker.

”It hasn’t sunk in yet what I ran,” a surprisingly fresh Solinsky told the gathered media that surrounded him after his historic run.  “We came in hearing about Galen Rupp trying to break the record. This was a glorified tempo run.  This was just an indication race to see where I was, because we are going to Oslo for a 5K (June 4th).  This was my debut. No one expected it.  I didn’t expect it!” Continue reading

HARD CUTS

Fell Running

                 Fell Running

In Tracksmith’s inaugural quarterly, Meter, there was a fine story about what’s called ‘fell running’ in Northern England, which author Andy Waterman described as “a lot like trail running, only without the trails.”

I found Andy’s article particularly intriguing, because it reminded me of an urban expression of the same free-form philosophy that a few of us back in Boston in the days of yore sought to capture. While we didn’t have Northern England’s bleak desolation, as Andy put it, “all windswept moorland and steep-sided post-industrial valleys” to range over, we did have the serpentine streets and environs of Boston to negotiate, along with cemeteries, college campuses, and even the odd arboretum at our disposal.

Based on the premise that ‘shorts cuts don’t cut it’ in a sport defined by effort, and faced with New England’s wintry clime, we hearty band of running brothers began – without even knowing it at the time – a style of training that took the challenges of our sport and the season head on. Continue reading

FRIDAY IN THE PARK WITH MEB

San Diego, Ca. — It’s been a busy week on top of a busy year for 2014 Boston Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi.  After accepting two awards this past week, one last Friday night at the TRIpalooza Awards Gala where he was recognized as the Endurance Athlete of the Year, and the other on Monday night when he was honored as a 2015 Star of the Year at the 69th Annual Salute to the Champions event hosted by the San Diego Hall of Champions, Meb was once again the center of attention this morning as the countdown to the April 20th Boston Marathon gains momentum.

Photog Emily Maye taking aim at Meb doing post-run drills

Photog Emily Maye taking aim at Meb doing post-run drills

Today it was just a quiet photo shoot for Meter Magazine, the literate broadsheet and digital offering brought out by Tracksmith, the premium performance apparel company started by my friend Matt Taylor in Boston that celebrates the style and culture of running.

In the next issue of Meter Meb will be featured in a story I penned, so photog extraordinaire Emily Maye drove down from her home in Santa Barbara last night for the morning shoot in Balboa Park. Emily spends much of her time in Europe covering the cycling circuit, but is also responsible for most of the excellent photography featured in Meter.

As is almost always the case, even when pressed from this side and that, Meb was generous with his time and patience. This morning’s run was a no frills 10-mile recovery run as he looks ahead to the United New York City Half Marathon on March 15th, his sole test before he defends his title in Boston a month later. But I can tell you from a simple eyeball test, Meb looks to be in fine form. Continue reading

THE ELIOT LOUNGE PRE-BOSTON MARATHON 1978

MeterMagazineIn recent months my friend Matt Taylor has launched a new clothing line called TrackSmith whose influences harken back to a simpler, more rudimentary time in the sport.  Among the projects associated with TrackSmith, Matt has come out with a new running publication called Meter.

I am proud to be among the contributors tor the inaugural issue of Meter, providing a look back at the legendary Eliot Lounge, that long lost and fabled runner’s bar in Boston’s Back Bay which shuttered its doors in 1996.

Yesterday, Matt put up on Twitter an audio clip I sent him from my old Runner’s Digest radio show in Boston that aired from 1977 to 1988. In this clip we find ourselves inside the Eliot on the Thursday night before the 1978 Boston Marathon. The place was teeming with runners from around the world as our favorite band, Heidi and The Secret Admirers, was closing the night in style.

As Heidi kicked off her final encore at about 1 a.m., Ian Gamble, a motor racing promoter from Auckland, New Zealand — who also organized New Zealand’s Choysa Marathon — made an offer to Greater Boston Track Club star Randy Thomas who is now the long time track and cross country coach at Boston College.

If you want to know what it felt like to be in the Hub of the running universe at the height of the running boom, perhaps the four minute clip below will give you a taste.

Eliot Lounge Meter Mag