BEKELE SIGNS ON TO DUBAI & LONDON

Bekele finishing 3rd in London 2016 signs on for 2017

Much of what push back there’s been against the three Sub-2 Hour marathon projects concerns their focus on time rather than competition.  Now comes word came that Ethiopian superstar Kenenisa Bekele has signed on to the April 23rd Virgin London Marathon, just days after being announced to run the Standard Charter Dubai Marathon on January 20th in what is likely a world record attempt.  Hmmm.

Now a cynic might conclude that with defending London and Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, along with former Boston champ Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia signed on to this spring’s Nike Project Breaking2 (at an as yet undisclosed location), London’s major name (if not two) has been stripped from the event marquee.  So, notwithstanding Bekele’s Dubai appearance 13 weeks earlier, London needed a big name to build its 2017 race around.  You can bet this isn’t the scenario the Abbott World Marathons Majors had in mind when they put together their series ten years ago.

But as the paydays of the marathon have continued to spread (if not actually grow), and the World Marathon Majors series title now paying off as a five-year $100,000 annuity rather than a one-fell-swoop $500,000 (because of Rita Jeptoo and Lilya Shobokhova stealing three Majors’ titles via drug disqualifications), we’ve begun to see more and more top athletes stretch their wings and challenge the old assumptions and the old-line events. Not only are the old warhorses like Bekele willing to squeeze more into less in terms of rest and recovery, youthful runners who might once have gone to the track ovals in Europe are now running marathons like they were halves.

With a marathon training cycle of 12 weeks, give or take, and a full recovery assigned one month, conventional wisdom has long held that two per year was the way to best schedule a top marathon career — with exceptions made for an Olympic year, where athletes were willing to compromise their fall effort for a shot at Olympic glory (World Championship not so much).  The original five Abbott World Marathon Majors built their series upon this convention. But racing is not simply an exercise in trophy collection, it’s a business opportunity with only so many years available to stake your claims.  Athletes like 22 year-old Lemi Berhanu Hayle is a prime example. Continue reading

2016 INTO 2017

OK, we closed the books on the 2016 campaign, which was a bit of a momentous year both in the sport and around the wider world.  Now we move on into 2017, which is an odd year, but at the same time it remains all pink and fresh and unsullied. That won’t last for long, of course, but at present we are all once again full of potential and optimism.  As always there will be lots of ups and more than a few downs over the next 12 months, but as a grizzled curmudgeon there were a few lingering thoughts that rattled around year’s closing.  So here we go with a few random considerations.

#1.

nyc-crowd-first-avenue

Come on 2017! You can do it!

I know they mean well, but don’t you sometimes wish bad things on the good people standing on the sidelines while they blithely cheer on passing runners?  Yeah, they can be a godsend, but late in the race when things have gone sour, and you just want to be invisible and get the darn thing finished, that one-cheer-fits-all lack of effort, I mean, depending on your state of affairs, can’t they sometimes just make the long journey that much more arduous?

First of all, the only reason races like the six Abbott World Marathon Majors have crowds the size they do is because their courses run past peoples’ houses.  It’s not like folks drove to the game; they just walked outside.  And with races starting so early to avoid upsetting even more of the driving public, you run through entire neighborhoods where half the people are standing out there in their pajamas, scratching their private parts, drinking coffee while mumbling encouragement with half-chewed cheese Danish hanging from their yap.

And if you have already gone about 20 miles, you’ve burned through your glycogen stores, lost all contact with endorphins, have sore feet, achy legs, bad breath, and the formation of a chip on your shoulder the size of Rhode Island.  So when some normal in PJs yells out, “you only have six more miles left”, thinking they’re being part of your effort, what they don’t realize is if there was a gun handy, and you could reach it, you’d shoot yourself in the head (and maybe them as you fell).

Don’t be telling me I’ve got six more miles to go! That’s like Moses telling the Israelites, “Suck it up! You’ve only got the Sinai left to cross to get home from Egypt.”  Not helpful. Continue reading

ATLANTA TRACK CLUB CELEBRATING ALL-METRO RUNNERS

We are right in the middle of post-season for high school cross country. NXN was last weekend in Portland, Oregon, while the Foot Locker Nationals come up this weekend at San Diego’s Balboa Park. Tonight, though, I’ll be hosting the 53rd annual Atlanta Track Club All-Metro Cross Country Awards banquet, a celebration of excellence that goes all the way back to the start of the ATC.

The All-Metros continue to inform the club’s spirit of promoting a healthy and active lifestyle no matter where one is in their life-cycle. 42 young athletes representing 31 schools will be feted tonight as members of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd All-Metro Teams. Two coaches will also be recognized for their outstanding dedication to the sport.

Atlanta TC Executive Director Rich Kenah is just completing his third year heading the country’s second largest running club (28,000), and has continued expanding the club’s focus on  encouraging youth participation and rewarding its excellence. Congrats to all the 2016 Atlanta TC All-Metro Team selections.

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On the other end of the age scale, here’s something I’ve always wondered. Why do they call 40-year olds “Masters”?  Are they kidding? Believe me, by the time you hit the big 4-0, you’re no master, you’re losing your mastery.

Look, a master craftsman is one who gets better with age, I get that. But you don’t get better as a runner at 40 (much less 50,60, or 70). You just slower, if you can run at all. At the very least it takes forever just to find race photo that shows you with both feet off the ground. It’s pathetic, not masterful.

Anyway, everyone in the upper age divisions are always getting hurt, too. And not just little niggles from running. The one that gets me is when you start hurting yourself sleeping.

I get people asking all the time: “What happened to you? Why are you holding your neck like that?”
“I slept wrong.”
“Slept wrong? How, in the name of God, do you hurt yourself sleeping?”
“Yeah, well, maybe you should ask that all-loving God of ours. Seems to be one of His mysteries.”

Sure, I remember the days when I could feel the wind blowing my hair back when I stepped on the gas while racing. Kinda like Keninise Bekele and Wilson Kipsang must have felt in Berlin earlier this season (well, if they had long, flowing hair).

But add a few decades onto those two 34 year-olds, and they’ll be hoping to still have hair that’s not coming in tufts out of their noses and ears, or growing like a chia pet on their backs. I’ll tell you, the first time you go to the hair salon and the nice looking young woman starts clipping at your nose and ear hairs, well, that’s a crossroads day.

So I say enjoy it while you got it, kiddies. It ain’t no endless road. One foot in front of another is one thing, but blowin’ in the wind at some point just becomes another old Bob Dylan song.

END

WHILE MUCH HAS BEEN GAINED…

Life is rarely black and white, all one thing and not somewhat another. Take for instance high school football.

I say high school football, because in America that is usually the first time we get truly associate ourselves with my school, my team.

So it’s Friday Night Lights, and out on the field are 22 young men exchanging energy in a game of offense against defense and vice versa. On one side of the field a group is watching that interaction and they are cheering, smiling, and clapping, it’s wonderful. On the other side of the field another group watches that same exchange of energy and mutters, clenches their fists, and pouts.

So which is it, a happy thing or a sad thing? Or does it all depend on the bias with which you entered the stadium?

As we prepare for the TCS New York City Marathon in just over a week’s time, we are once again presented with a men’s competition featuring top athletes from East Africa, with American stars Dathan Ritzenhein, Abdi Abdirahman and some talented rookies thrown into the mix for good measure. Continue reading

MONDAY NIGHT RAW

Two titans in Berlin

Two titans in Berlin

What were they thinking — or not thinking, as the case may be? In a race that close, the stakes so high, I mean, why didn’t Wilson Kipsang invite Keninise Bekele’s goat-getter (maybe Mo Farah) onto the Berlin Marathon press truck just to needle him a little in the final kilometers? In a marathon 10-seconds is a blink. It wouldn’t have taken very much to throw him off his game. Didn’t these guys follow news reports between training sessions?

The BMW Berlin Marathon might have kicked off the 2016 Abbott World Marathon Majors fall campaign in real style (Bekele in 2:03:03 to Kipsang’s 2:03:13), but there’s no doubt which is the major race of the season. Continue reading

HAPPY BIRTHDAY WILSON KIPSANG

Wilson Kipsang sets world record in Berlin 2013

Wilson Kipsang sets world record in Berlin 2013

Happy birthday to Wilson Kipsang, the former marathon world record holder, who turns 34 today. Last year Wilson ran a strong second to fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge in the London Marathon, 2:04:47 to Kipchoge’s 2:04:42.  In today’s marathon world the two 30+ year olds are a bit of a throwback as youth (and drugs) has emerged as a dominant player.

We go through eras in sports, and unfortunately the current era in almost all sports will be linked to drugs (though institutional corruption is making a big play for attention, as well). The only good thing we might see ahead is that the era of drugs as the preferred method of performance enhancement is coming to an end as gene manipulation promises a strong future in the 21st century. Continue reading