As far as marathoning in America goes, last Saturday's Olympic Trials was our Super Bowl. There was tons of hype (relatively speaking), all of the best runners were there, the drama was palpable and everyone who follows the sport was talking about it.
The difference between our Super Bowl and the other Super Bowl is that the Olympic Trials occurs once every four years and is only open to folks who have been able to meet either the "A" or "B" standard. The A Standard is completion of a marathon in 2:20 or faster, which is an average of 5:20 per mile. Runners who meet this requirement are entered in the race and have all of their expenses paid to and from the site.
The B Standard is completion of a marathon in 2:22 or better (5:25 pace) OR a 5k on the track in 13:40 or faster or a 10k on the track in 28:45.
Aside from that, the only other way to get into the Olympic Trials Marathon is to win a medal in the Olympics, and this year (for a change), one guy in the field had done that (Meb Keflezighi).
Another difference between the football Super Bowl and the Olympic Trials is that the trials are always interesting and exciting even in bad years. Even in the 2000 Trials (which, for some reason, they held in Pittsburgh in May when it was oppressively hot and humid) were unique because only one runner came out of it eligible to run in the Olympics. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh doesn't even have a marathon anymore.
What self-respecting city doesn't have a marathon?
Anyway, the one thing that had always been odd about the Trials Marathons is that the USATF held them in weird spots. In 2004 it was Birmingham, Ala.; 2000 was Pittsburgh; 1996 was Charlotte; Columbus, Oh. had them for '92 and Jersey City, N.J. was the host in '88 after Buffalo, N.Y. hosted for 1980 and 1984.
The thinking on such sites (I guess) was to emulate the course and the conditions the runners would tackle in the Olympics, which makes it strange then that the '96 Trials weren't in Atlanta. But this time, they turned it into an event and held the big race in New York City a day before the New York City Marathon. More interestingly, the course snaked through midtown Manhattan for two miles before the runners looped through Central Park for the final 24 miles. Not only did this criterium setup give fans a chance to watch the race, but also it gave the runners great knowledge of the course - they always knew what was coming.
Plus, the New York Road Runners, led by Mary Wittenberg, smacked it out of the park. The event was about as perfect as imagined.
Except for that one part...
Be that as it may, here are the final observations on the big weekend before we put it away for a little while... the Olympics are nine months away.
Watching people run
Let's start with the coverage of the race, which for those outside of the New York City metropolitan area meant waking up earlier than usual on a Saturday morning and tuning into the Today show for the start before switching over to NBC's streamed Internet coverage.
Here are two points of view on that which probably don't have anything to do with each other:
Firstly, I'm pretty sure I haven't seen the Today show since Jane Pauley left and now I'm very certain why that is... seriously, people voluntarily wake up early to watch that. Look, I know most TV is very poor and it part of the reason why the rest of the world hates the U.S., but geez... can't they just pretend to a.) care and b.) be knowledgeable? When did it go bad for TV news?
Secondly, the web cast of the race was outstanding for many reasons. One was there were no commercials. Another was that Al Trautwig, Toni Reavis and Lynn Jennings with Ed Eyestone out on the course were excellent. Eyestone finished second in the event in 1988 and 1992, while Jennings dominated American women's distance-running track and field during the 1980s and ‘90s and won the bronze medal in the 10,000 meters in 1992. As far as Reavis goes, it's quite obvious that he loves the sport and it would be difficult to find a TV pro more knowledgeable about running. There's nothing worse than watching a running event on TV when it's clear the announcer was assigned the gig... it's just brutal. That clearly seemed to be the case with the two mushmouths who covered the web cast of Sunday's New York City Marathon.
Anyway, more on the media...
Interestingly, when news was breaking or needed a source/confirmation, there were two places I went to first and neither were Runner's World. Weldon and Robert Johnson'sLet's Run site was on top of everything, including the rumors which can be quite dangerous. Nevertheless, the first "media" outlet that had the confirmation on Ryan Shay's death was the Johnson Bros. site. In fact, the Shay family has been communicating with the running community through the site, which has a very tasteful, moving and well-documented tribute to fallen hero, Ryan Shay.
I could live to be 200 years old and I'll never be able to wrap my head around that...
Another spot I kept returning to was Mark Floreani's site, FloTrack. Armed with just a camera, access, the obvious questions and little journalistic savvy, FloTrack featured some excellent pre- and post-race interviews with the "People's Champ," Brian Sell and his Hansons' teammates.
All it takes is work
Speaking of Sell... wow. He ran a spectacularly intelligent race to take the third and final spot on the Olympic team on Saturday. Interestingly, he seemed to fool a lot of the so-called pundits who said he was a "strength" runner who needed to take the pace out hard and surge in the middle of the race in order to make the team.
Do these people pay attention or are they up early watching the Today show?
Yes, Sell is a strength runner because his strength is his strength. Pointedly, the dude is a bleeping horse and compensates for a lack of talent (read: speed and it's a relative term) with ridiculous amounts of effort and work. Plus, as has been well documented, he went to two small Pennsylvania colleges, grew up on a farm in Bedford County and works at Home Depot even during his preparation for big races. In fact, Sell told FloTrack that because he spent the weekend in New York City making the Olympic team, he would have to make up for it by working extra hours this week.
Remember when all of those people were complaining that Ryan Howard was only getting paid $1 million by the Phillies last year? Yeah, well did he get a part-time job so he could build a nest egg and help out with the mortgage payments?
Simply, Brian Sell is validation to the idea that good things happen to people who work hard.
Anyway, where were we...
Oh yeah, Sell is strong as hell, but in his best races (Boston and Chicago in 2006) he ran fantastic times to finish just off the lead because he ran an even pace and stuck to his plan. It was none of that silliness about him wanting to "turn this into a marathon of attrition... ." It's a marathon. Isn't that attrition enough? His plan was simple and solid - run as many steady five-minute miles as possible and then bring out the hammer for the last loop.
Just like when Sell ran a 2:10 in Boston and Chicago, the plan worked.
Quite simply, Ryan Hall's effort in the trials was chilling. In terms of excitement in a marathon, it could be better than watching Salazar in his debut in New York City; Rod Dixon catching Geoff Smith at the 26th mile in the 1983 New York City Marathon; or Khalid Khannouchi battling Moses Tanui in Chicago in '99.
"If Ryan Hall is shooting for anything less than gold (in the Olympics) he's crazy," Sell told FloTrack. "He's phenomenal. I think he's one of the top three (marathoners) in the world right now. Easily."
Watching Hall surge away from the best runners in America with 4:30s through the hilly course in Central Park was ridiculous. It was as if he were out for an easy Sunday morning jog. Better yet, it was like watching Jordan dropping 63 on the Celtics during the early days of his career when he hadn't quite figured it all out, but was clearly the best in the game. Hall is a lot like that because he has run just two marathons (the third will be in the Olympics) and he should have been under 2:09 in both of them... do you know how many people born in America have broken 2:09 in the marathon? Try three guys - that's it. Hall should have done it twice.
Nevertheless, Hall running the marathon is like watching Picasso paint. Better yet, he could be better at his sport than anyone else in the United States right now... and his coach (Terrence Mahon) is from Philly. Who would have known?
Just think if Hall ran for Nike instead of Asics...
You can't fake a marathon. In order to do one well, one has to put in the work. Despite this, Khalid Khannouchi nearly made the Olympic team and he still might as the first alternate by virtue of his fourth-place finish. If Hall, Sell or Dathan Ritzenhein drop out, Khannouchi is on the team and he says he's ready to jump in if given the chance.
Wait... wasn't Khannouchi supposed to be the mercenary who put paychecks ahead of running for the U.S.? Could he get there and win a medal? Wait and see...
It was pretty evident what Ritzenhein's strategy was in the race: follow Hall. Until Hall threw down his big surge at 17, Ritz did just that. In fact, when Hall took off his cap and cast it aside it took Ritzenhein a half a second to do the same thing. Just like that there were two perfectly good hats laying in the grass (with sponsors' emblems!) in Central Park.
Obviously, based on his second-place finish and his PR, Ritz's tactic was a pretty good one.
Dan Browne was the visual definition of the word "gritty" through the first 20-plus miles of the race before Sell passed him to take over the third spot. Battling injuries and stagnant training since the last Olympics, Browne threw it all out there to close the gap and remain amongst the leaders until his calf weakened. Still, Browne took it home for a sixth-place finish.
Olympic silver medalist Keflezighi also turned in a gritty performance though it would have been easier for him to drop out over the last 10k when it was clear it wasn't his day. But Keflezighi rarely takes a DNF. Last year he limped home in 2:20 at the New York City Marathon despite stopping off in the bathroom en route because of a bout of food poisoning he picked up as a souvenir in a Manhattan restaurant in the days before the race. I'd give my left one (or right) for a 2:20 and Meb went out and did it after a few pit stops and food poisoning.
Locally, a few runners performed admirably in Saturday's big race. Millersville University's James Carney, a 10,000-meter specialist, finished in 14th with a 2:16:54 in his marathon debut. Macharia Yuot, a "Lost Boy" living in Chester, Pa. following his great running career at Widener, finished 33rd in 2:18:56.
Michael McKeeman of Ardmore, coached by Mahon and a training partner for top women's runner, Deena Kastor, was 73rd in 2:26:15, while Matthew Byrne of the Philadelphia Track Club was 84th with a 2:28:40. Byrne's teammate Edward Callinan took a DNF to round out the local heroes' efforts.
CSN Olympic Trials coverage
* 'It cuts me straight to the heart'
* Two-time Olympian Culpepper looking for 'threepeat'
* Khannouchi still chasing the Olympic dream
* Breaking Down the Trials... Sort Of
* Counting Down to the Trials By Super Bowl we mean a term of great hubris... like Titanic. When people use the term titanic, they don't mean the ship that sunk in the North Atlantic. Obviously not the Philadelphia sports media. Way to be on it, guys!
There are 11 days to go before Christmas, it’s 60 degrees, humid and sunny here in Lancaster, Pa. and my thoughts are on running and today’s workout instead of the melting polar icecaps, global warming and our consumer culture.
Then again, it could be 60 below and my thoughts would be on running and how to complete the day’s workout.
Nevertheless, I stumbled upon a great site this afternoon that is sure to keep me motivated during the next year of training. The site? Flotrack, described by the publishers as:
An extensive video collection of the greatest Track and Field athletes from all over the country. Who you want, what you want, when you want it. Learn about the greatest athletes, their life stories, training styles, opinions, and philosophies. Get to know past legends, present stars, and the future faces of running. Follow coaches to practice and learn their strategies. View athletes before, during and after competitions. Listen to the sports most influential figures and be inspired by their stories.
There are also interviews with Alberto Salazar, Jorge Torres and Ed Eyestone.
For running geeks, Flotrack will quickly become the go-to site.
Anyway, last night I did 15-to-20 minutes of light yoga as a recovery aid and to help my all-around fitness. We'll see how it goes. I'm hardly the most flexible person, nor am I very adept at the poses. Right now the emphasis is on the form and getting a nice stretch.
However, if it gets in the way of the high-mileage training (if 100-110 miles per week can even be called high mileage anymore) I have planned for the next 10 months, then the yoga has to go-a. I feel a little trashed today, but we're going to try and get in 13 to 15 anyway.