The Meb Book

Maybe it’s because I don’t follow the message boards, but I’m surprised I haven’t seen more comments about Meb’s forthcoming book with Dick Patrick. I was wondering last week when Patrick was going to write a book, and now I know the answer. Meb has a great story and Patrick will do a good job with it. I’m looking forward to this one.

Posted in Mebrahtom Keflezighi, books, writing | No Comments »

Boston, marathon field caps, and demand

I wrote an article for the Boston Marathon official program about the marathon’s historically early registration closing, and the options available to the B.A.A. for tinkering with their entry process. Now that the marathon is over and the paying customers have their copies, I’ll archive a copy here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in boston, marathon, money, new york, road racing, writing | 2 Comments »

Slicing and dicing the marathon splits

If you’re watching the Boston Marathon tomorrow, it can be interesting to watch how the race is developing, but it’s not always easy to track whether the pack is picking up, slowing down, or chasing a course record.

As I did for New York, I’ve whipped up a spreadsheet for the Boston men and women which shows the course record pace (even splits, of course, which never happens in Boston) and will show how the pack fiddled with the pace for each stage of the marathon if you fill in the splits as they become available, either announced on the television broadcast or released on the marathon’s web page. I’ve also included the “checkpoint records,” the fastest times at which certain milestones on the course were reached–often, but not always, by an athlete en route to a CR.

You can download the spreadsheet in Excel format or in Open Document Format.

A note about checkpoint records: When Joan Benoit Samuelson ran a course record here in 1983 (2:22:43), splits at 5km intervals were not recorded. Joanie holds most of the checkpoint records for the five-mile intervals, up through 20 miles, and her 5km splits estimated from those five-mile splits are generally faster than the “official” 5km checkpoint records up through 35km, sometimes by as much as two minutes. To keep things simple, this spreadsheet shows the official checkpoint records, not Joanie’s marks.

Posted in boston, marathon | Comments Off

The third entry

Basketball teams talk about their home crowd as a “sixth man”, an advantage they have on the court. The biggest surprise to me about the 2010 World Indoor Championships in Doha has been Ethiopia’s third athlete in nearly all their events.

Unlike the outdoor championships and Olympics, where each country gets three entries (if qualified), the limit is two for indoors. The defending-champion “bye” doesn’t exist indoors, so there are never more than two athletes from any country in any race. But for some reason there are around 500 Ethiopian fans in the Aspire Dome every night. There was a small, vocal section for the rounds on Friday. There were three sections on Saturday, and they were chanting and cheering from the moment Meseret Defar stepped on the track until Deresse Mekonnen received his gold medal at the end of the evening. Competition isn’t due to start for the final session for another 45 minutes, but there are five sections full of Ethiopians who have been here over half an hour and have spent much of that time dancing, chanting and singing as though they were waiting for a football match and not a track meet.

They love their own team, of course, but unlike some meets with a large Ethiopian fan base (I’m thinking of the Boston Indoor Games) they’ve been more than happy to cheer athletes in events without Ethiopian entrants. They’ll clap for the high jump, chant for the hurdlers, and they’ve delayed the starts of more than one sprint race because they simply won’t be quiet for the start.

It’s not clear to me whether these fans are Ethiopian expats living and working in Qatar, or if they traveled here from Ethiopia (which is not so far away, really). Ticket prices are not steep; the primary expense of coming here is travel. Still, these fans are on the corners and in the upper deck: the cheap seats. basically. However they’re here, they’ve utterly transformed the atmosphere of the arena. This would not be the same event without them, and it would be much less than it is now.

Posted in doha, fun, iaaf, indoor track | Comments Off

What to watch from Doha

I was asked last night which events I was most excited about at the upcoming World Indoor Championships. Because not all of the world’s best compete during the indoor season (e.g. Usain Bolt) and many of the events have different technical demands (e.g. 60m as opposed to 100m, both flat and hurdles) the quality of finals in Doha is likely to be more uneven than it usually is in an outdoor World Championships.

That said, there’s some really good competition on the horizon in events where the world’s best are showing up.

  • In the distance events, the women’s 1500m should be interesting. Gelete Burka is the “defending champion,” but in Valencia she was robbed of her chance to cross the line first by a doped up Russian, and in Berlin she was just robbed, period, by someone running roller derby instead of athletics. Add neighboring Bahrain’s Maryam Yusuf Jamal, gold in Berlin and silver in Valencia, and we have a world class final.
  • Bernard Lagat said in February that if he and Galen Rupp were the U.S. team for the 3,000m, they would medal. Lagat won gold in this event for Kenya in 2004, but much depends on who Kenya, Ethiopia, and hosts Qatar enter; the last two golds have gone to the Bekele brothers, and Saif Said Shaheen took silver in Moscow ‘06.
  • Ethiopia is sending Meseret Defar, the 3,000m World Record holder. Kenya is sending Vivian Cheruiyot, the 5,000m World Champion and the woman who knows best how to beat Defar. (Have I mentioned my feature about Cheruiyot and Linet Masai in the recent Running Times?)

Outside the distances, which have to compete with the World Cross Country Championships for the best athletes, there are plenty of fantastic competitions.

  • Trey Hardee, the decathlon World Champion, will face off against Bryan Clay, the Olympic champion, in the indoor heptathlon. The multi-events at World Indoors, unlike the rest of the events, are by invitation only, and the IAAF gets the best eight multi-eventers available for a top-class competition.
  • Christian Cantwell wants to win a third shot put indoor championship, something nobody has ever done before. He also wants the world record. He’ll have to throw over Tomasz Majewski of Poland to do either.
  • The women’s 60m hurdles has more athletes at near-parity than any other event I can think of. Lolo Jones, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, and Damu Cherry all have a shot; so would Jessica Ennis, but she’s doing the pentathlon.

Unlike Valencia, where the track was fit inside the bowl of an indoor velodrome and therefore produced very dramatic and distinctive images, I have no idea what to expect of the inside of the Aspire Dome. More like the Tyson Center in Arkansas, the B.U. track, or what?

Doha is GMT+3, so they are eight hours earlier than U.S. Eastern time and eleven hours ahead of Pacific time. This means most evening sessions in Doha will be over before noon in the U.S. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to that part.

Posted in Running Times, doha, field events, iaaf, indoor track | Comments Off

World Indoors: An affordable ticket

According to the newsletter which came in this morning’s email, a day ticket to the World Indoor Championships costs QR10. At today’s rate of QR3.6 to $1, that puts the price of tickets for all three days of World Indoors (assuming they’re available) at about $7.50.

Of course, you need to buy plane tickets to Doha and maybe a hotel once you’re there.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Coming attractions

A few notes on coming assignments while I struggle to find time to complete other thoughts:

  • I’ll be at the Millrose Games a week from today, January 29th.
  • I’ll also be at the Boston Indoor Games on the 6th of February.
  • Capping that, I’ll be at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Doha in early March, including the IAAF council meeting immediately following. (Fear not, I am in no danger of being given any responsibilities not involving data.)

So far, I haven’t been able to justify the trip to Albuquerque for the USATF Indoor meet, and the NCAA indoor meet, while long a favorite of mine, conflicts with World Indoors.

Posted in boston, iaaf, indoor track, ncaa, new york, usatf, writing | Comments Off

R.I.P. Ardie Rodale

There were two big pieces of news in the running world today, although most of my Facebook feed is talking about just one of them. It’s big news that both Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall are running the Boston Marathon, and it should be. Just Meb or just Ryan would be OK news, but both Meb and Ryan means a better shot than ever that we’ll have an American winner. (Look at it this way: just Deena couldn’t do it, and just Kara couldn’t do it, but what if we had Deena and Kara one year?)

The other news, that may not be so widely discussed, was that Ardath “Ardie” Rodale died at her family home this morning at the age of 82.

If that name looks familiar to you, it’s probably because of the last name. Ardie’s late husband, Bob, was the son of J.I. Rodale, organic farming crusader and founder of what was then Rodale Press. Bob took over for his father and built a minor magazine empire, among other things buying and merging The Runner and Runner’s World and bringing the combined magazine to Rodale’s headquarters in Emmaus, a sleepy town just south of Allentown in eastern Pennsylvania.

Bob died in a traffic accident in Moscow while promoting organic farming in newly-opening Russia in the early ’90s, and with that Rodale became one of the biggest woman-run companies in the country. Ardie was the chair from Bob’s death until 2007 and CEO until 2002. (Her daughter Maria is now the CEO.) It might be coincidental that Rodale was frequently on the “best companies to work for” lists in that time, but I’m thinking not.

I worked for Rodale, and therefore for Ardie, from 1996 through 2001. (She handed me my five-year pin.) In all that time I never felt like I was a cog in a machine; in fact, I knew from talking to people at other magazine companies that the Rodale work experience was unlike that at any other publishing company. We didn’t work for an intimidating bully, but for the sort of grandmother who set high expectations and wanted you to reach them. I was extraordinarily fortunate to have had the privilege.

Ardie didn’t take as close an interest in Runner’s World as Bob had, and it’s unlikely that her passing will have a direct effect on it or the sister magazine Rodale bought several years ago, Running Times. (It’s worth noting that I have two articles in the December issue of Running Times.) But Ardie had a role in the running world for a long time, and her passing bears notice.

Posted in Publishing, Runner's World, Running Times | 3 Comments »

Lessons from the archives

I’m a bit of a pack rat when it comes to some things; I have convinced myself not to preserve, for example, printed results from most meets, but I do try to save my recordings from the mixed zone. My recorder does not come with Macintosh-compatible software, so I patiently play the recordings through 1/8″ audio cable into the microphone jack, re-recording them in Audacity and saving the files as MP3.

Some events produce dozens of short files, and the task is made more tedious by my distaste for listening to my own recorded voice. (“Who is that idiot asking the questions?”) Once I let go of the actual voices, however, I can listen to the rhythm of the meet and learn from the things which aren’t said.

For example, I’m clearing the 2008 Reebok Grand Prix now. I heard myself talking to Reese Hoffa while the crowd roared in the background; I could tell I was trying to show Hoffa that I was really interested in what he had to say, not what was happening on the track.

It’s also interesting to hear the tone of the interviews changing as the meet progresses. Early in a meet, the interviews are long and rambling, because nobody knows yet what the story of the meet will be, and the reporters want to cover all the bases just in case they wind up having to lead with the athlete standing in front of them. Later in the meet, we find one or two long press-conference type recordings which are The Story (can you say Usain Bolt?) and everything around them is brief and perfunctory. This becomes unfortunate when, for example, I dig back in the archives to find out what Linet Masai said after she beat Tirunesh Dibaba in 2009.

I hope this stuff turns out to be useful for someone someday, but right now its lessons for me are mostly secondary.

Posted in new york, writing | Comments Off

Filling the Boston Marathon

If you haven’t already noticed, the Boston Marathon has reached its entry limit and closed (late Friday or early Saturday, it hardly matters which). This is easily two months earlier than the Marathon has ever closed before.

First, hold the panic. There are still “guaranteed” entries floating around out there which were already counted under the entry limit. Those include charity fund-raising entries (e.g. “raise a few thousand dollars for our charity and you can run”) and club entries (the B.A.A. distributes numbers to area clubs in exchange for volunteers on race day, and of course B.A.A. members have their own entry route). If you’re planning to run through the Tufts President’s Marathon Challenge, for example, you probably still have a good shot at standing in a crowd in Hopkinton in April.

Second, though: there are thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of marathoners with qualifying times who didn’t get their entries in. Most of them haven’t even started training yet; Boston is five months away and four months is an average training cycle for a marathon. There are probably several hundreds of runners who expected to qualify for Boston 2010 in the next few weeks, and now it doesn’t really matter if they do. It used to be the case that a fall qualifying marathon would set you up for Boston in the spring, but if this trend continues qualifiers may have to be run as much as a year in advance.

The question is whether this is something which needs to be addressed or not. If the B.A.A. decides that action needs to be taken for future marathons–and they may not–they have a few options, including expanding the field and tightening the standards. (Ironically, it’s the qualifying standards which were put in place to control the field size which led to Boston becoming as popular as it is today.)

Boston faces constraints unlike any other marathon with regard to its field size. The traditional Hopkinton starting line is relatively narrow (particularly as compared to Chicago and New York City, which start on six- or eight-lane roads) and staging even the current thousands of runners through a small town on a Monday morning is a monumental enterprise which strains the bounds of roads and courtesy. Wave starts, which the B.A.A. has been experimenting with to some success in recent years, ease the congestion but prolong the time the course must be kept open to runners (and, consequently, closed to vehicular traffic).

The other route (not mutually exclusive with expanding the field size) would be tightening the qualifying standards, and that seems likely to be a monumentally unpopular move. Already, times are challenging for many runners; Christopher McDougall, in his recent bestseller Born to Run, referred to qualifying for Boston as “something 99.9 percent of all runners will never do.” Chop off five minutes, or ten minutes, across the board, and the B.A.A. would significantly dent the number of qualified athletes.

But that’s not really what they want to do; the B.A.A. is best off with a standard which is challenging but attainable. Tightening the standards might have to come with a lottery-entry system, not unlike New York’s. Many people are surprised to learn that the New York City Marathon has qualifying standards as well, and they’re actually tougher than Boston’s (starting at 2:55 for men under 40) though they do include a half-marathon standard (1:23 for those same under-40 men).

In New York, however, the standards aren’t for entry; they allow the qualified runner to bypass the entry lottery. Boston might wind up as The Race Where You Have To Qualify Just To Enter The Lottery.

Posted in boston, marathon, road racing | Comments Off