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I’ve never thought much about the Boston Marathon. There are friends who’ve striven to obtain a Boston Qualifier and who have basked in the thrill of heading up to run the race when they did. I’ve thought that was cool and a great thing for running. Beyond that, it was a spring marathon on an unusual, point-to-point course. Give me NYC.

I’ve disowned marathons now so I did not expect to have many further thoughts on Boston.

I was wrong. On both the having-further-thoughts and on the mundaneness-of-Boston fronts.

The former is self-evident. It led to the latter. From Steve Lastoe’s pre-race posts about how thrilled he was to be part of something special to the outpouring of post-explosion emotion. I love the NYC Marathon. But it’s just another big-city marathon. Like London, Chicago.

I think it a combination of history, tradition, and the idea of a BQ. For whatever reason, Boston is special. I don’t know, don’t think, that this was intended as an attack on the running community per se as opposed to a target-of-opportunity. although it of course was an attack on us as runners, as Sham eloquently notes, and an attack on us [full stop].

As runners, then, we all have a bit of Boston-DNA embedded in us, whether we knew it or not.

We had a discussion about this on a New York Running Show episode recorded Wednesday night.

I did not run Boston. I feel, though, that I endured, in some small way, the trials and tribulations of getting to the start.

Flo wrote eloquently (insofar as possible) about her empty Jif bottle on the bus but was strangely silent as to whether she actually needed it. (She writes, “I had my small bottle which I filled up twice during the race” but I think she’s talking about something else.)

Herb stepped into the breach. He’s only gotten to the start, but it was quite an adventure. Truly a descriptive masterpiece.

Plus lots of good race reports on Boston; just check the must-read links.

[Edited to add: I realize that I enjoyed Herb's race report for NYC 2009, another item definitely worth a read.]

What a great Boston. I wasn’t there. I followed a number of people who were, though, and as two of them put it afterward on Facebook, “so happy.”

The Elites

I watched the race on Universal Sports, and the coverage was awful. First sign of trouble: the men’s race began and the big question was “what will Hall do?” What was shown? Row after row of people crossing the start. When the leaders were finally shown, Hall was in the lead, which brought a chorus of “What are you doing?”s on Lets Run. Second sign of trouble: Hall is in the lead and some guys come to pass him. What was shown after this? I don’t remember, but it wasn’t the men’s race. When they finally cut back to the men, Hall was way off the back. Did they tell us what was going on? No. In fact, Hall was maintaining an even tempo, and a surge was going on, that’s what. So he caught up. That goodness for the Official 2010 Boston Marathon Update Thread on LetsRun, which included a during-the-race statement from Hall’s coach Terrence Mahaon (below). It didn’t work out for Hall, but it was great to get the info from LetsRun.

Read the rest of this entry »

The 5K

Pete Magill (who, if memory serves, ran a 14:50 5K at Cascade when he was 47) posted a piece from Running Times on the 5K, Solving the 5K Puzzle. He does not, however, want us to think he’s resuming his blogging. It’s an article in which there has been some demand. I did a 5000 on the track a few years back. I asked Erin, a teammate who ran for Wake Forest, for suggestions. She said, break it up into quarter segments and go through each. Great, I thought, until about 600 in I realized that I was barely into the first quarter of the race and couldn’t imagine how long it would take. I went into the lead — it was a Masters Race — at about half-way, and GD stayed on my shoulder until absolutely blowing me away with 400 or so to go. Still, it was an experience, albeit one I’m not ready to jump into again.


NYCRuns

I’ve added a link to NYCRuns.  It’s a project of Steve Lastoe to try to bring information about the NYC running community together. I’ve had a number of email exchanges with him, and he really wants it to be a valuable resource. Worth a look. (Full disclosure: Steve asked to use one of my posts on the site. I said yes.)


The Clock Strikes Thirteen At Midnight

I came upon the following “Correction” about my friend Matt’s DumpRunnersClub:

    On Episode 88 of my show this week, I mistakenly said that the “Dump Runners Club” referred to the toilet. When listening to that show, I mis-heard public works facilities as “public facilities”, which I took to mean toilets. I apologize to my listeners for my honest mistake.

Hey, how about an apology to Matt? I don’t know the difference between an honest and a dishonest mistake, but I wonder what the backstory is on this one. Matt has the only solo podcast to which I listen and he’ll be joining me on May 19 on the RunnersRoundTable for the topic, Reasons Not To Run A Marathon. In case you missed it, in addition to Flo, JT has been Mulling Over The Marathon. A few more and we’ll have ourselves a movement.

Speaking of Massachusetts — and bonus points if you got the connection — Monday is Patriots’ Day. If you know someone who’s running, you can get “Athletic Alerts” from various spots on the course. When I did NY 2006 I recall passing the 5K mat and thinking, “Now everyone knows I’m committed.” Right now I’m tracking Nos. 2384, 7073, 7774, 13897, and 15771. If you’re doing it and want another tracker, let me know.


Men and Women Racing

Here’s a piece from Science of Sport, “The abolition of gender categories in sport: a sound argument?” I threw a couple of comments up, including something interesting about horses from Slate, but I don’t think it makes sense for runners. I do like the idea of separate marathons though. I’ve long since passed from caring whether any women are ahead of me in races; in NYRR races, there will always be plenty of women ahead of me. Except at the Club Champs. Separate races.

Dear Steve,

I think we can agree on the absurdity of a Boston Qualifier as a means of deciding whether one is or is not a runner, “a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.” It’s an arbitrary, and sometimes changing, number relevant only to those relatively few who find themselves within haling distance of it. Where one “finds oneself,” of course, is similarly arbitrary, turning of factors like genetics. What matters is what one does with those genes.

I think your determination, expressed on last night’s RunnersRoundTable, to go sub-4 this year admirable and given your apparent history — of which I am blissfully ignorant — a realistic goal. For you. That’s, of course, what “racing” is all about. How fast can you go? How well do you work to reach that point?

So let’s hope with John’s help and your sweat you get there.

Let us go forward, Steve, and commit to avoid the phrase “Boston Qualifier” or the initials “BQ” as meaningless drivel. Let us enjoy our races, at whatever distances they may be, for themselves and for the opportunity that they afford to validate our efforts.

With regards and good wishes for a healthy year.
Joe

And, in the meantime, we can enjoy this clip:

Boston Closing Fast

I posted a while back on Boston and the impact of charity runners, expressing the view that insofar as a charity runner took the place of someone who qualified on time this was a bad thing. In a follow-up then, I said that Chris Russell thought that Boston, which traditionally closed pretty close to raceday, would likely close earlier than it had because of the influx of charity runners.

Comes news today (from a LetsRun thread) that an e-mail has been sent that, six months from raceday, the race is “rapidly approaching capacity.”

So it appears we have the conflict between a charity-runner and a BQer. I know I’d choose the latter over the former. Granted that BQs are soft, especially for us older folks, and that the race used to have a 2:50 male standard, but I know enough people who have worked very hard and are on the cusp of qualifying and I think they should get the chance to run. Let everyone with the BQ in the race, with, say, a Feb. deadline (as it is now, it appears that people with the qualifier will not get in) and then allocate the remaining available slots to charity-runners (and give them different bib colors if they don’t do that already). It’s the closest race we have to a meritocracy and it would be unfortunate — “a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham” — if a single runner who qualified and wanted to run couldn’t get in because of some four-hour guy running for Team-in-Training.

Velolib

I wrote about how wonderful the Velolibs — the bikes I saw all over town — were in my Report de Paris. Turns out they are not as universally popular as one would hope. According to an article in the Times, “Reality Proves a Setback for Cheap Bike Rentals in Paris,” there is resentment in some parts about them.

    With 80 percent of the initial 20,600 bicycles stolen or damaged, the program’s organizers have had to hire several hundred people just to fix them. And along with the dent in the city-subsidized budget has been a blow to the Parisian psyche.

    “The symbol of a fixed-up, eco-friendly city has become a new source for criminality,” Le Monde mourned in an editorial over the summer. “The Vélib’ was aimed at civilizing city travel. It has increased incivilities.”

    The heavy, sandy-bronze Vélib’ bicycles are seen as an accoutrement of the “bobos,” or “bourgeois-bohèmes,” the rich, trendy urban middle-class, and they stir resentment and covetousness. They are often being vandalized in a socially divided Paris by resentful, angry or anarchic youth, police and sociologists say.

    Bruno Marzloff, a sociologist who specializes in transportation, said, “One must relate this to other incivilities, and especially the burning of cars,” referring to gangs of immigrant youth burning cars during riots in the suburbs in 2005.

    He said he believed there was social revolt behind Vélib’ vandalism, especially for suburban residents, many of them poor immigrants who feel excluded from the glitzy side of Paris.

Speaking of Paris and vandals, incredibly there is opposition to those who would like to see graffiti removed from the buildings that line the High Line in lower Manhattan.

Dog Bites Man: Lance Armstrong is a Dick

Thanks to Tavia for this. Here’s her report on what was to be a Times forum with three great female marathoners — Waitz, Benoit, Kastor — that Lance Armstrong decided to crash. And the Times prostrated itself before him. The only person I know who’s met Armstrong is my brother. His assessment: he’s a jerk. Now that may be necessary to be the “Boss” of the peleton, but we don’t have to like it. Tavia softens on him, but this really was a dickish thing.

Of course now that I’m gone from Twitter, I missed being invited to a run with Armstrong tomorrow (although I was never among his followers). According to a LetsRun thread, “He’s in NY. He sent out a twitter message. He wants to meet Saturday morning at 9 AM at Niketown on 57th street. Should I go? What should I wear?”

Couple of follow-ups.

First, In the comments to my post on charities and races, there was a discussion of Boston and charity entries. I said that because anyone who qualified for Boston got in, provided they registered a few weeks ahead, I didn’t see a problem with giving extra slots to charity entries. In a follow-up conversation with Chris Russell (of RunRunLive), however, it was pointed out that Boston, in fact, may close much earlier. Seems that because it didn’t close, runners would naturally wait until very late to register. This year, however, it did close ahead of time. So going forward it may well result in runners registering early to reserve their slots which will lead to the race closing early which means that charity slots will take away slots for others. Given this prospect and the fact that anyone who qualifies for Boston should be able to run Boston, I would hope that the race doesn’t displace qualifiers with charity runners.

Second, in my review of “Born to Run” (the book not the album/song), I made reference to another book that I hoped to read, “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” by Richard Wrangham. In addition to it’s thesis about, well, how cooking made us human, it also touches upon how fire (or controlling it) made us runners.

Simply put, controlling fire did two things crucial to our becoming runners. As noted in “Born to Run,” a human’s ability to sweat to control body temperature is crucial to long-distance hunting. Other animals, however fast, must stop to cool down. Humans don’t. But we are able to sweat because we don’t need fur to keep us warm in the winter and we don’t need fur because we can warm ourselves by the fire.

We can also sleep on the ground because of fire. Apes and chimps sleep in trees so they are not at the mercy of predators. Chimps use their feet to make a bed in the trees. The human foot is incapable of such feats. But because fire can keep predators at bay, we needn’t sleep in trees. We don’t need chimp-like feet to make a tree-bed. Instead, our feet adapted to being used on the ground. And to be used for running on the ground.

In my review, I also noted that Cowboy Hazel (with whom I chatted at last Tuesday’s get together) was looking into testing the Nike Free. His experiment, alas, has not gone well. Not Jeff Goldblum bad (see below) but he (and his doctor) thinks his recent side-lining was hastened by the shoe [Warning: Gross MRI Images]. So that experiment is over.

I know from experience that when you stop late in a marathon, people go nuts when you start up again. Here’s a video from Boston. I can imagine him being perfectly clear in his head but with his legs simply not cooperating and calmly, internally summoning up the energy to start up. It’s not one of those zig-zagging/about to collapse things.

The runner is Kevin Alessandro, a 29 year-old from Louisville, who went out in 1:16:23 and came home in 1:36:21, for a 2:52:44.

There’s a thread on LetsRun, and he responded, saying,

Dear god this video is getting around. The funny thing is that running a 1:16 isnt a problem and wasnt the issue at Boston. I actually planned on going out in 1:15, but altered the plan b/c of the wind.

My problems resulted because of hydration. The wind made it feel like I wasnt as dehydrated as I obviously was, so.. Lesson learned.

Also on Boston, here’s a nice video (from mile 23) that shows what it’s like waiting for the lead runner in a major U.S. Marathon. It’s like this in New York, with the motorcycles clearing the road. It’s unlike Rotterdam which had all of these motorbikes zipping in and out with people yelling at the runners, like in a cycling event.

Merga looks good and he looks fast:

Edited to add: JT flagged this Boston race-report. Talk about cutting it close.

LetsRun did its analysis of/prediction for Boston. In reference to Bill Rodgers, it has something worth setting out separately.

A topic of discussion around LRC’s central offices this morning was about how people (well, at least people we know, including ourselves) limit themselves. With the emergence of Kenyans and Ethiopians on the running scene, it’s very easy to see the dropoff in American and European performances in distance running. Africans win the distance races. They run fast. They break the world records and run amazing times. They DOMINATE. But look at Cheruiyot. Is he THAT much better than little old Bill Rodgers? Yeah, he’s better, but if we take Rodgers and make him born in 1978, he’s almost as good as Cheruiyot if you go by the numbers.

We think, and this is one of the main reasons we do this site in the first place, that more people need to unfetter themselves from limits, need to dream big! Take away some of the science and history and expectation and just try to run like the best runners in the world. It’s certainly easier to grow up Ethiopian and see your countrymen beating everyone in the world and thinking: “I can do that,” than it is to be American and have very few real winners and champions to look up to. We think that’s one reason Ryan Hall does what he does, because he just runs with such unbridled joy and doesn’t worry too much about what his limits are (this is the same Ryan Hall who could not, for the life of him, break 4:00 for the mile while at Stanford; who would have predicted his marathon and half marathon success?).

This year could be a great year to make a new hero and inspire Americans to new heights (or old heights, like the heights Rodgers reached in the ’70s). While Boston Billy hopefully will complete Boston again, hopefully an hour ahead of him will be Ryan Hall putting the finishing touches on an amazing (even if he doesn’t win) Boston Marathon performance that millions will be able to see. Even if he doesn’t end up beating Cheruiyot, we’re pretty confident Hall will make a race of it, and just that should be enough to show American athletes that they too can run with the best in the world at the ultimate distance.

With Boston just around the corner, there is some great stuff out there.

JT clued me into the Science of Sport blog.  It has great articles on Boston (read the comments too):

(They recently made a reference to the Ashenden interview about which I wrote. They will comment on it after marathon season.)

Here’s the LetsRun preview of the women’s race. And now the men, from LetsRun.

Kenny Moore’s great “Best Efforts” is a compilation of Sports Illustrated articles, some of which I remember from the 70s.  A must read, newly available.

For anyone interested, my photos from the Scottish race are out.

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