There were a couple of things that stood out during Sunday’s New York City Marathon. Let’s start with Lance Armstrong first.
I was struck at the production surrounding Armstrong’s marathon debut that was magnified when the cameras panned back on the web cast and showed the famous cyclist and philanthropist running in a phalanx of security pals, famous Nike runners, a pace car and the “Lance Cam.”
In interviews Armstrong talked about how he was excited to be a mid-packer – which he kind of is with his 2:59:36 finishing time. But when was the last time a mid-packer had Alberto Salazar, German Silva, Joan Samuelson and Hicham El Guerrouj say anything other than, “you’re welcome for the autograph…” Forget about acting as a rabbit or handing over drinks or gels.
The absolute genius of Armstrong’s run in New York didn’t dawn on me until I was about 2 miles into today’s run (a 14-miler in 1:35:26). Asics, the sponsor of runners Deena Kastor and Stefano Baldini, was the “official” sponsor of the race. The shirts, jackets, caps, etc. that runners bought or were given at the expo were branded with the Asics logo. So too was the finish line area and mile markers. Asics clearly spent a lot of money to be the “official” sporting goods sponsor of the ING New York City Marathon.
But all anyone will talk about is the Nike guy and his Nike pals breaking 3-hours.
Nike knows marketing. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if Nike suggested to Armstrong that he run the New York City Marathon. Why not? Nike already had all of the top runners, how about the 3-hour guys, too.
Shrewd. Very shrewd.
Ready, set... uh... go?
The other thing that struck me was how passive and tentative the top runners were. Chalk this up to the deep field where every runner knew each other’s credentials and chose to err on the side of caution. When eventual winner Marilson Gomes dos Santos made his move on First Avenue before crossing in to the South Bronx just shy of the 20th mile, the ever-dwindling main pack of runners just allowed him to waltz ahead. It seemed as if everyone in the pack was watching Paul Tergat. When Tergat didn’t break after the Brazilian, no else did either.
That is until it was too late.
Afterwards, according to the Chasing KIMBIA site, Tergat told second-place finisher Stephen Kiogora that “we let him get to far away.”
The same thing happened in the women’s race, too, only the star-studded women’s field allowed the defending NYC champ build a 20-second lead after one mile that quickly turned to a minute for most of the race. By the time Jelena Prokopcuka was blowing kisses to the crowd in Central Park while jogging in the final mile, her name had already been engraved on her trophy.
Like Tergat, women’s favorite Kastor said the women’s race was too tactical.
“I think we were being a little tentative, and by the time it was ready to roll it was too late,” she told reporters. “I think out of respect to the other women. I think we were all tentative in seeing what the others wanted to do.”
Those tactics by some of the best runners in the world are baffling. After months of training, planning and hype, when it came time to get dirty and be aggressive, only two runners went after it.
“To win a marathon you have to have courage,” dos Santos said.
The 2006 New York City Marathon turned out to be just a typical outing for American runners. On the women’s side, Kastor finished sixth in 2:27. She chalked her disappointing finish up to just one of those days.
Meanwhile, stomach trouble ruined Alan Culpepper and Meb Keflezighi’s day. Culpepper dropped out in the Bronx after 20 miles, while Meb, who finished in second and third in the past two years, limped home in 2:22:02. According to The New York Times, Keflezighi got food poisoning in New York on Thursday and drank Pepto-Bismal before the race on Sunday morning.
It didn’t help.
Californian Peter Gilmore, who is not sponsored by Nike, adidas or Asics, was the top American in 2:13:13. That’s Gilmore’s second-best time ever, and a good encore for his seventh-place finish in 2:12:45 in Boston last April.
Wonder boy Dathan Ritzenhein ran 2:14:01 in his highly anticipated marathon debut. Ritzenhein ran a 61-minute half marathon in his tune up before New York, which made him a pre-race top 10 pick, but as veteran marathoners know, the race is fickle and tricky. If you have a weakness, the marathon will expose it.
That fact is the only guarantee about marathon running.
I can still remember the first time I saw the World Trade Center, Empire State Building and the rest of the Manhattan skyline. From the back seat of the family car it loomed there in the distance like the North Star. My sister and I pressed or faces close to the window as we traveled up the New Jersey Turnpike and stared as hard as we could like we were trying solve some sort of puzzle while the building come in and out of view through the smoke stacks, rusty bridges and industrial landscape that makes up the Meadowlands.
We had lived in Washington and grown used to the muted and stately skyline where the only the Washington Monument rose above the Capitol dome, so seeing New York City and its anything-goes architecture crammed as tightly as possible onto that thin slip of land was mesmerizing. How did that do that? Where did all of those buildings come from?
It’s just so amazing.
Twenty-three years later I stare the same way whenever I make the trip to New York City. The feeling has not changed though I still can’t get used to the current view of the skyline. Manhattan looks unanchored without those twin towers at the southern end of the island.
Nevertheless, the reason for that very first trip to New York City was for the marathon. My dad was going to run in the race that late October of 1983 and my mom, sister and me were going to do the touristy stuff all weekend and catch part of the race, too. We did it all – Times Square, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s, the Empire State Building, Macy’s, the Staten Island Ferry, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Tavern on the Green, breakfast in a non-tourist coffee shop…
We were just a few rubes in the big city for the weekend.
The draw, of course, was the marathon. Just the year prior, I watched rapt as Alberto Salazar won the ’82 marathon for the third straight year in 2:09:29. Little did we know then that the victory was the beginning of the end for Salazar’s running career. Still, his times – three under 2:09:41 on the difficult NYC course and a 2:08:52 in Boston in ’82 – still hold up.
The 1983 NYC Marathon (Manufactures Hanover was the title sponsor back then, but that stuff is really insignificant) was most remembered for the rainy and damp conditions, and Rod Dixon’s incredible comeback to beat Geoff Smith. Dixon, one of the most versatile runners ever – as well as one of the most interesting and fun based on interviews – overtook Smith in Central Park with less than a mile to go to win in 2:08:59.
Then, in the rain, came the celebration.
The Oct. 24, 1983 edition of The New York Times described the bliss thusly:
In an ebullient display of emotion after surging across the line, the lanky, mustachioed Dixon dropped to his knees, lifted his arms, kissed the wet pavement, again raised his arms and put his hands to his head. "I did want it very much," he said after extending his string of road-racing victories to 20 over the last 14 months. "And somehow you just express how you feel. I had tears."Dixon's time, despite a series of hamstring problems during the race, was the second fastest ever in New York, behind Alberto Salazar's world-best 2:08:13 two years ago. Only seven other marathoners have run faster than Dixon did yesterday, and his time was 10th best over all.
Man, did those old-timers ever run some good races.
Years later, what I found the most interesting was that Dixon, a New Zealander who trained with greats John Walker and Dick Quax from the long line of Arthur Lydiard’s storied stable and won the bronze medal in the 1500 meters in the 1972 Olympics, did his build up for NYC in Reading, Pa.
New Zealand or Reading, Pa.? Yeah, how about Reading? The most versatile runner ever trained for the biggest marathon in the world just off route 222?
Search as I might, I have not had much success in gleaning stories, articles or folk tales from Dixon’s days of training in Reading. However, I heard Dixon describe Reading as a place he felt comfortable training because of all of hills and anonymity. There are very few distractions in Reading, though we’re sure Dixon made a few stops in the Peanut Bar during down time in his training.
If Dixon were coming up these days I’m sure Central Pennsylvania would have never been a blip on his radar. Chances are he would have secluded himself in Colorado with all of the other anti-social running groups.
Anyway, if anyone has any stories or information regarding Rod Dixon from his days in Reading, I’d love to hear them.
Deep in 2006
As I’ve written many times on these pages, the 2006 New York City Marathon could be the deepest one assembled since those halcyon days. The names in both the men and women’s fields read like an all-star team or a who’s who of distance running.
Want to see the world-record holder, Olympic champ and runner up and all of the top American runners in one race? Try the streets of New York this Sunday morning.
Ubiquitous running site Letsrun.com offers a pretty good breakdown of the field, so I’ll just try to think of good reasons why Paul Tergat (the world-record holder), Stefano Baldini (the Olympic champ), and Hendrick Ramaala (the 2004 NYC champ) won’t finish as the trifecta.
I’d love to write that like Salazar in 1980, American Dathan Ritzenhein, just 23, would break through to win in his marathon debut. Certainly his 61:26 in the Great North Run half marathon, where he smoked Baldini, by more than a minute shows that Ritzenhein is fit.
I’d also like to write that American Meb Keflezighi, the Olympic silver medallist and NYC runner-up in 2004, is going to win his first major race this weekend, too. After all, Keflezighi ran a gutsy race and finished third in Boston in April. Despite his hamstring trouble last month, Keflezighi is definitely battle tested.
And of course I’d like to write that American Alan Culpepper is going to let it all hang loose and be risky instead of his typically intelligent tactics. Culpepper is always consistently steady, which produces great times but it isn’t exactly inspiring. To steal a phrase from baseball players, Culpepper doesn’t like to “get dirty.”
But then again, Juma Ikangaa is retired so don’t expect any wild man tactics at the always tactical NYC. For the top Americans, a smartly run race could be beneficial, though, as Baldini expressed in an interview this week, the race is on as soon as the runners cross over the 59th Street Bridge into Manhattan and First Avenue around the 16th mile.
How much fun would it be to see the American trio throw in a surge as soon as they make the turn onto First Avenue?
Nevertheless, here’s my predicted order of finish:
Ramaala beats Tergat in a less dramatic finish than the diving and sprawling duel to the end in 2005.
Two Americans will finish in the top seven. Maybe even three in the top 10.
On the women’s side I like Catherine Ndereba to win. American record holder Deena Kastor is definitely a top contender, but for some reason I don’t think she will finish in the top three.
Just a hunch. Nothing more.
* One of the announcers calling the race will make a reference to Simon & Garfunkel when the runners cross the 59th Street Bridge. The announcer will utter the line, “… feelin’ groovy… ” before laughing like a jackal or a typical TV stuffed shirt.
* During the past two races, there were six times better than 2:10. This year there will be at least five runners who break 2:10. Why? The weather. The forecast is calling for temperatures in the high 40s. With all of the tall buildings as a buffer, the 8-m.p.h. wind probably won’t be a factor.
Then again, weather, wind and water don’t really matter so much according to a story in The Times.
* Lance Armstrong will get more camera time than the women’s race. With Salazar, and Joan Samuelson pacing him, he should run well despite his downplaying his training. I think he’s sandbagging.
* The web cast of the race will be far more interesting than the network’s packaged and sanitized “program.”