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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Eddy Hellebuyck's doping story.  Back in 2004 he tested positive for EPO and vigorously fought it, all the way to the Court for Arbitration of Sport (and lost).  Now he's finally admitted it, breaking the news in a lengthy, even-handed and very interesting article in Runner's World.  If you care even one iota about drugs in sports, you should read it.  I won't try to summarize it; rather, take the time and read it.  The whole thing.  It's worth your time.

There is always more to any story than what gets printed, and almost always more to the story than what is told to a reporter.  I feel like there's a lot we're missing.  For one, it's presented that no one in this morality play besides Eddy himself had any influence on his decision to start using EPO, which I find hard to believe.  Hellebuyck is described in many ways, some complimentary and some not, but "headstrong" never enters the equation.

Marion Jones is sorry she got caught lied.  She's got a new book out, she's on some apology tour, blah blah blah.  And John Singleton's ESPN 30 for 30 film on her comes out this week.  Ennui does not even begin to describe my attitude towards Jones.  Even the Associated Press cuts right through all the BS in their interview:
Marion Jones wants you to know she's sorry.

Not so much about the performance-enhancing drugs she took — unknowingly, she says — when she was the most famous and lauded track athlete in the world, a winner of five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, medals she no longer owns.

What Jones really wants you to know is she's sorry for lying to federal investigators about her drug use. That, and her role in a check-fraud scam, are what landed her in prison for six months in 2008, during which she spent a month and a half in solitary confinement after fighting another inmate.
Do you think that maybe -- just maybe -- the RW story was published this exact week in order to make Jones look like self-serving jackass in comparison? Or is it just that she is a self-serving jackass even without being juxtaposed against real honesty?

The weakness in the WADA code.  By coming forward with at least some admission of using PEDs, Hellebuyck is putting himself at some financial risk.  Admitting that he was in violation of rules in the 2001-2003 time period means it's possible that he could be forced to repay part or all of the prize money and/or victories over those years.  Jones' steadfast refusal to admit any more than what the feds got out of her will allow her to keep her medals and her money she took home between 1997 and 1999. 

Forget the code of silence among crooks that will keep the vast majority of dopers from saying anything.  The system has greater penalties for being forthcoming about use than for maintaining the "I never did it" front.  This is a major, major problem.  Anyone who has the conscience and the guts to explain what they did must forfeit titles (and sometimes money) from the years as far back as they fess up to.  This is an additional penalty above and beyond a suspension.

Example: Kelli White told all on BALCO and got a two-year suspension plus an expurgation of the previous four years' results.  Regina Jacobs, on the other hand, fought it vigorously and lost nothing but her suspension.  And the general consensus is that if she wasn't using anything before her 2003 positive test, then Jerry Lewis is the f***ing King of England.

Who is fighting for the NCAA Cross Country Championships.  The five top-ranked men's teams going into Conference Championship Weekend were Stanford, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Iona and Oklahoma.  Stanford easily turned back Oregon 25-56 at the Pac-10; Oklahoma State dominated the Big XII with a 1-2-3-4 finish to tally just 19 points while Oklahoma ran third behind Colorado; and Iona had a Boise State-style roughshod run over the MAAC. 

By everything we've seen so far this year, only two teams have any real shot at the NCAA title, those being Stanford and Oklahoma State.  Both have very good front runners who have swept the top spots in good and deep races.  Who will win?  My gut instinct tells me OSU, but that doesn't mean anything because I'm an idiot.  What I do know is that I'll be there to see it and it will be exciting.

On the women's side, right now it looks like Villanova will have no challengers.  At the Big East championships, the Wildcats beat two top-ten teams by a healthy margin.  Over at the Pac-10, #2 Oregon ran third (and avoided fourth due to a sixth-runner tiebreaker), while #3 Florida State and #4 Texas Tech won their conference meets looking good but not great.

The animal conspiracy has spilled over to running.  Tim Bedore should have seen this coming.  Two weeks ago, a ten-year-old runner in Ontario got knocked over by a deer during a pre-race course walk-through.  Last week, a Wisconsin runner was knocked down by a deer during the run-in to the finish and narrowly missed qualifying to the state meet.  And during Saturday's Big 12 Championships, there were reports of a top-30 runner colliding with a deer.  All of this could have been avoided if Obama hadn't come for our guns, and the runners had been able to properly protect themselves.  They would have been rewarded not only with trips to the podium, but the meat locker as well.

The New York City Marathon knows how to work the press.  Maybe it's just that I'm more plugged-in to sports news than I used to be, but it seems like there's NYC Marathon news two or three times a day...and it isn't even marathon week yet.  Kenyan marathoners and Meb Keflezighi are on commercials aired in prime time.  And on and on and on...

Today the NYRR came out with an iPhone app which deftly combines coverage of the professional athletes and the ability to track multiple more ordinary runners, such as friends and/or family.  It's a great app.  Brilliant.

Everybody's a comedian.  In a TFN discussion about who the next sub-44.00 quarter-miler will be, we got this gem:
I'll be expecting sub 43 from [LaShawn] Merritt - now that he'll have a third leg and all....

Friday, October 29, 2010

What's On: The Weekend

Part 2
The Athens Classic Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, will trace the legendary ancient route on Sunday from the plains of Marathon to Athens’ Pathanaikos Stadium, site of the 1896 Olympics. This year marks the 2500th anniversary of the Greek victory over the invading Persians at Marathon. There will be a huge celebration, with approximately double the usual number of entries (12,500) and a really cool finisher's medal.

Kenyans, of course, are expected to dominate the men's race, specifically Jonathan Kipkorir and Jacob Yator. The women's stars are Russians Irina Permitina and Olga Glok and Japan's Eri Hayakawa.
Race website
IAAF preview / Eurosport preview / preview

The Commerzbank Frankfurt Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, will be run in the German city on Sunday. Alfons Juck reports that men’s entries include eighteen sub-2:10 runners, eight of them at sub-2:07:15. Leading women’s entries include World Half-Marathon silver medalist Dire Tune and Ethiopian half-marathon record holder Mare Dibaba.
Race website
IAAF preview

The Marseille Cassis Classique Internationale, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, will be run between the two French cities on Sunday. At 20.3 km, it’s just short of a true half-marathon.

Leading entries are Lelisa Desisa, who has run three quality half-marathons this year with a best time of 59:59, and Deriba Merga, who is a big question mark after dropping out of marathons Chicago and Seoul. Meseret Mengistu, 6th at the recent World Half-Marathon Championships, is favored to defend her title.
Race website
IAAF Preview

Track on TV
Pac-10 Championships Preview Show, 6:30 PM Friday at
Pac-10 Championships Live Coverage, 11:30 AM Saturday at
Endurance, 7:30 AM Saturday on The Movie Channel Extra
Prefontaine, 9:00 AM Saturday on The Movie Channel Extra
Running the Sahara, 8:45 AM and 4:35 PM Saturday on Showtime Extreme

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What's On: The Weekend

Part 1:
Conference Championships!
It's conference championship weekend in college cross country.

Flotrack has an XC Conference Central page, as does the coaches' association.

Major conference action follows, in chronological order.  Click on a team for a race preview.

Mountain West Conference
hosted by Wyoming at Jacoby Golf Course
Meet preview show on MountainWest Sports Network at 9 AM Friday (MT)
Meet website
Women: Noon EDT (10 AM local)
Ranked teams: #10 New Mexico
Analysis: New Mexico is the prohibitive favorite. But the location, 7200 feet of elevation at Laramie WY, means literally anything can happen.
Men: 1 PM EDT (11 AM local time)
Ranked teams: #12 New Mexico, #13 BYU 
Analysis: Obviously a two-team race, and a complete toss-up between them. The Lobos are the defending champions, but BYU has won eight out of the last ten. Expect this to be decided by two points or less. The sixth man for each knows he'd better run like hell.

Atlantic Coast Conference
hosted by Boston College at historic Franklin Park
Meet website -- Live results
Men: 10 AM
Ranked teams: #8 Florida State, #14 Duke, #16 NC State, #19 Virginia, #25 North Carolina
Analysis:  I'm calling it for Duke and Bo Waggoner!  This is not an "upset" pick, because I see no reason for FSU's men to be ranked higher than Duke.  The Blue Devils won the Roy Griak Invitational and have stayed out of the spotlight since, leading the poll voters to forget about them.  The meet is deep, with five ranked teams, and that alone will make things very interesting.
Women: 11 AM
Ranked teams: #3 Florida State, #12 Duke, #17 North Carolina, #24 Virginia, #25 Boston College, #28 NC State
Analysis: FSU should win.  Five more ranked teams make t a dogfight for second.

Big East Conference
hosted by Syracuse at Jamesville Beach Park
Meet website -- Live results
Women: 10:30 AM
Ranked teams: #1 Villanova, #5 Georgetown, #8 Syracuse, #13 Providence
Analysis: Villanova is a strong #1 in the national poll and it would be a big surprise if they lost.
Men: 11:15 AM
Ranked teams: #17 Syracuse, #21 Georgetown, #23 Notre Dame, #28 Louisville, #29 Villanova
Analysis: Syracuse is the top-ranked team and has the added advantage of being at home.  But this one looks wide open.

Big XII Conference
hosted by Oklahoma State at OSU Cross Country Course
Meet website
Women: 11 AM EDT (10 AM local)
Ranked teams: #4 Texas Tech, #7 Colorado, #11 Iowa State, #15 Texas, #27 Oklahoma State
Analysis: We'll find out if Colorado has been playing a waiting game, or just not up to the task.  Rarely can you tell with the Buffaloes until championship season arrives.  The Red Raiders are strong favorites to win their third straight title.
Men: Noon EDT (11 AM local time)
Ranked teams: #2 Oklahoma State, #5 Oklahoma, #9 Colorado, #30 Texas
Analysis: Oklahoma State is one of the two favorites for the national title, and it would be a very big upset if they lost. The Sooners are riding a big victory at Pre-Nats, but if Colorado follows their usual late-season improvement curve they may be able to bump Oklahoma for the runner-up spot.

Pacific-10 Conference
hosted by Washington at Jefferson Park
Live pre-race show on Flotrack at 6:30 PM EDT Friday (3:30 PM local time)
Live coverage on Flotrack beginning at 11:30 AM EDT Saturday (8:30 AM local time)
Meet website
Women: 1 PM EDT (10 AM local time)
Ranked teams: #2 Oregon, #6 Arizona, #9 Stanford, #20 Washington, #22 California
Analysis: Oregon is expecting to win. There are two more top-ten teams in the race, so it's not assured.  Washington is a real question mark, as they'll have Christine Babcock back from injury and Mel Lawrence in better shape. This is going to be a wild one.
Men: 11 AM
Ranked teams: #1 Stanford, #3 Oregon, #22 California
Analysis: War.  Stanford is a very good team, likely the best in the nation, led by three standout runners.  An unusual lack of depth in the Pac-10, though, opens the door for the Ducks.  This is because going 1-2-3 in a dual meet--which is what this will more or less be--doesn't provide as much of a points advantage as it does in a big meet.  And if A.J. Acosta can break up that triple-threat of Chris Derrick, Elliot Heath and Jack Riley, it gets much closer.  The weather is predicted to be wet, adding another question mark to the race.  Rest assured that over a thousand Duck fans plus the famous AJ Nation will be going almost literally berserk to get Oregon on top of the podium.

Big Ten Conference
hosted by Wisconsin at the Zimmer Cross Country Course (aka "Field of Dreams")
Tape-delay TV Coverage at 10 AM, November 21 on the Big Ten Network
Meet website
Women: 11:45 AM EDT (10:45 AM local)
Ranked teams: #16 Michigan State, #19 Minnesota, #21 Michigan, #29 Indiana, #30 Iowa
Analysis: There are no outstanding teams and any of four teams could win this. Minnesota has been consistently exceeding expectations all year, so maybe they're the ones to watch. Or maybe their luck will run out.
Men: 12:45 PM EDT (11:45 AM local time)
Ranked teams: #6 Wisconsin, #7 Indiana, #24 Penn State
Analysis: The Badgers are out for revenge. Indiana narrowly beat them at their home meet, the adidas Invitational. Top UW runner Mohammed Ahmed wasn't in top form yet back then, and he's much closer to it now. If the Badgers can pull it off, they'll have 12 straight Big Ten titles.

Southeastern Conference
hosted by South Carolina at Hilton Park
Meet website
Women: 10 AM
Ranked teams: None!
Analysis:  No ranked teams? In the SEC? I didn't think this ever happened in any sport.  The SEC would have nationally-ranked teams in curling.
Men: 11 AM
Ranked teams: #10 Arkansas, #26 Florida, #27 Alabama
Analysis: The Razorbacks should win their umpteenth conference title.  Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam thinks Alabama poses their biggest threat.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Conference Meets I Want To See

I can't be everywhere at once.  And as much as I try to minimize them, I do have other responsibilities besides going to meets.  So I can't even go to one conference cross country championship this weekend, let alone multiple meets.

If I could be at several places at once, though, where would I go?  Here's my rundown.

5. Mid-American (hosted by Western Michigan on Saturday)
There are no ranked teams in this meet, and only one--Toledo's women--have much chance of getting an NCAA Championships at-large bid.  But it's the conference in which I ran, and this meet always has meaning to me.

4. ACC (hosted by Boston College on Saturday)
#3 Florida State should win the women's title, as no other team is in the national top ten.  The men's side should be closer, as #8 Florida State faces #14 Duke, #16 NC State,  and #19 Virginia.  In terms of number of ranked teams, this is the deepest conference in the country, with 11 between the men and the women.  The Blue Devils are led by a former Toledo-area hero named Bo Waggoner, which is another reason why I want to see this one.

3.  Big XII (hosted by Oklahoma on Saturday)
#2 Oklahoma State is expected to win the men's title fairly easily.  We'll find out if #5 Oklahoma is for real, and if #9 Colorado is going to be a late-season factor or not.  On the women's side, #4 Texas Tech may get a challenge from #7 Colorado.

2.  Pac-10 (hosted by Washington on Saturday)
On the women's side, you have #2 Oregon against #6 Arizona.  It shouldn't be all that close.  On the men's side, however, you have two legitimate NCAA championship contenders in #1 Stanford and #3 Oregon.  It should be a war.  Flotrack will have live coverage beginning at 12:30 PM...which I'll miss because my team will be in transit to a meet.

#1. Big Ten (hosted by Wisconsin on Sunday)
There are a lot of reasons I want to see the Big Ten meet more than any other.  I live in the Rust Belt, so the Big Ten has always been the major local conference for me.  Also, both races should be very close: #16 Michigan State versus #19 Minnesota and #21 Michigan in the women's race, and #7 Indiana versus the home #6 Wisconsin for the men.

Besides that, the Big Ten has decided to make cross country a major sport in a way no other major conference has.  Last year the races were carried on the Big Ten Network (no word yet on this year), making them the only non-national-championship cross country meet available on a widely-avaible cable TV channel.  They hold the meet to Sunday, allowing local high school athletes and coaches who are busy on Saturday to travel and watch the "big boys" run.  And Wisconsin put some coin into a permanent cross-country course like the one at Indiana State--the only such course I know of outside the Missouri Valley Conference.

I'll miss it.  I wish I could go out and see the Badger fans run around in red-and-white overalls.  I doubt there will be a crowd like it at any other D-I championship meet.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

People are lawyering up.  Exhibit A: On Wednesday, former USATF CEO Doug Logan filed a lawsuit for the severance he believes he is due.  They say he was fired for cause, he says no.  If he's right, he's due the remainder of his base salary through the end of his contract, a cool $1.6 million.

You can just about tell the moment Logan hired a lawyer: the moment he stopped talking to the press.  He was never short of anything to say for a long time, but lately he's said nothing.

The details of the suit are public record.  I'm no lawyer, but I am a member of a public employee union, and so I have (barely) a little more knowledge of this kind of stuff than the average person.  Cause for being fired is not a nebulous thing, rather it is usually spelled out in the contract, and this case was no different.  The best guess from the small number of people objectively following this is that Logan has the upper hand. 

What I'd really like to know is what USATF's legal counsel advised, and whether the Board of Directors listened.  A competent lawyer would have told them they needed to cross all their t's and dot all their i's in terms of showing cause for dismissal.  Renegotiating a contract n such a way that Logan's severance pay would be increased, just weeks before giving him notice, is unlikely to be in line with such advice.

Exhibit B: LaShawn Merritt.  On Monday, it was announced that the defending Olympic 400 meter champion would serve a 21-month suspension for his positive DHEA tests.  The situation is a bit complex even above and beyond the circumstances.

Issue #1:  He will be eligible to compete by the 2011 World Championships, to which he has an automatic qualifying spot as the defending champion.  But the IAAF allows member federations to make requirements of such automatic qualifiers, and USATF rules state that all of them must compete at the national championships.  Merritt will still be suspended at the time of those championships.  This situation by itself could be a significant point of conflict.

Issue #2: He will not be eligible to compete at the 2012 Olympics, according to a relatively new IOC rule which bars all athletes serving a suspension of more than 6 months from the next Olympiad.  This is known as "Rule 45".

The rule is likely in violation of the World Anti-Doping Code, to which the IOC is a signatory, because it is a penalty above and beyond the suspension.  If challenged, it would almost certainly be struck down by the Court for the Arbitration of Sport.  But it has not yet been challenged, and probably can't be until an athlete submitted by a national Olympic committee is rejected by the IOC.  So this whole situation is up in the air.

Ryan Hall is making people suspect he is a flake.  On Thursday it became known that Hall, the 2nd fastest U.S. marathoner of all time, was leaving the Mammoth Track Club and coach Terrence Mahon.  It seemed obvious as to why, since his last few marathons hadn't quite been up to expectations and then this fall was a bit of a disaster.  The speculation centered on who he would choose as his next coach and/or training group.

There's an old saying that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.  The universality of top-level runners retaining coaches makes it appear to cross over to running as well.  Who will Hall's next coach be?  Himself.  Does this make Hall a fool?  It remains to be seen, but I think so.

Joe Battaglia certainly thinks so as well.
When you live to win, [determination is] how you react to disappointment.

But I can't shake memories of Hall's post-race press conference following the Boston Marathon this April. Yes, his time of 2:08:41 was the fastest ever by an American in the race. But beforehand he talked about winning a major, just like he always does before these races, and then finished fourth.

As he slouched into his chair on the dais, Hall was comfortably at ease with having lost to three guys, one of whom (Ethiopia's Deriba Merga) he may have caught had he given chase in the final meters instead of gliding into the finish with his arms extended like a child mimicking an airplane.

Hall was not upset because in his estimation he "ran free."

It became obvious at that moment, and is crystal clear now, that Hall's primary focus is no longer on winning, but coming away from his performances with some feeling of spiritual euphoria. As long as that happens, all is well in his world.

When Hall contends, as he did in his most recent blog, that he has decided to walk away from a proven coach and a highly successful training group, "with full faith that it will allow me to take my running performances to the next level," that next level he speaks of is not on the awards podium. He is speaking in existential terms.

In making this decision, Hall wrote that, "It takes faith and the courage to risk failure in order to realize one's destiny."

From this vantage point, it is looking more like Hall's destiny will not include becoming a major marathon champion, at least until he finds a steady coach that can help him regain that competitive drive.

In rationalizing this split, Hall said that he "has learned to trust his intuition."

I have come to trust my intuition as well.
Maybe Hall doesn't deserve this kind of criticism (although it's de rigueur for observers of any self-respecting major professional sport). But he must understand why--as someone who wears his Christianity on his sleeve, certainly he is familiar with Luke 12:48 ("to whom much is given, from him much will be required").

Let's Run is beating the big boys.  In all three of the above stories, Let's Run led the media pack. They got out front on the details of Logan's suit; they got a sports lawyer to explain the Merritt situation in detail;  and Hall leaving MTC was a rumor on the message board before being confirmed by Scott Douglas at Running Times.  Runner's World, Running Times, Track and Field News, and even web-based Universal Sports was left behind.

Oregon knows how to recruit. Or Vin Lananna does.  Somebody, at least.  On Thursday night, Oregon's #1-ranked football team handed UCLA a beatdown at Autzen Stadium.  Doug Binder tweeted this during the game:
Ryan Crouser is watching the track team presented with awards in the end zone with 60,000 cheering. "Come. To. Oregon."
Crouser is probably the single most sought-after track recruit in the nation right now. Think the Ducks will get him?

President Obama secretly loves track.  Maybe not so secretly.  In 2008 he stopped at the Oregon Twilight meet* while on the campaign trail.  This week he got a Washington Cross Country t-shirt while on the track at Husky Stadium (see left) and held a rally at Minnesota's indoor track.  It makes sense...all the news outlets I read say he's Kenyan.

*Only at Oregon would Andrew Wheating get top headline billing over the future POTUS.  Seriously--read the 2008 article.

Friday, October 22, 2010

New College Tracks

I maintain a website, College Ovals, dedicated to profiles of every outdoor college track facility in NCAA Division I.  If you haven't seen it, check it out.

We always think of college track being on the wane.  But not all outlooks are bleak: there are a lot of new facilities either currently being built or being planned for the near future.  Here's a rundown of what is going where.

Utah:  The Utes will have a dedication ceremony tomorrow for their brand-new McCarthy Family Track & Field Complex.  It's a great track, but the field is turf which precludes holding the throws inside the "stadium".  And the seating? "Lawn-style spectator seating", meaning no stands--plant your butt on the grass.  Maybe seating can be built in the future from Pac-12 money.

Oregon State: The other member of the future Pac-12 without a track facility is Oregon State.  A stadium is in the fund-raising and planning stages.  It's likely to be the largest and best of these future facilities.

Iowa State: The Cyclones have a track, but it "has deteriorated beyond repair" and a new one is in the works.  Approval to begin planning and financing was sought yesterday.

Boise State: The Broncos already have a track, and one that has hosted multiple NCAA Championships.  But the football team is now a fixture in the national top ten, and stadium expansion is planned.  You know what that means: removing the track.  This won't happen, however, until a new track/football facility is completed, one that may actually be better (for track) than the current Bronco Stadium.

Stony Brook: A new soccer/lacross/track facility is currently being built, with completion rather soon.  The first home meet likely won't be until 2012.  Again, the turf field will require the throws to be outside the stadium.

Vermont:  The Catamounts broke ground in August for a track-specific facility, with all field events in-stadium.  No word on how much seating.  Then again, how much can Burlington need?

Texas State: The Bobcats currently run in Bobcat Stadium, but broke ground for a new track-only facility in September.  All field events are planned to be in-stadium and seating is planned for 1,000.

Campbell:  The Camels are raising funds for a new track-only facility.  The bulk of the funds are already in, thanks to Irwin Belk (of Belk department stores).  The onetime North Carolina quartermiler has funded nearly two dozen high school and college tracks in the mid-Atlantic region.

Jacksonville: A multi-sport artificial turf facility is being constructed for football, lacrosse and track.  Completion of the track is slated for next summer.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What's On: The Weekend

The BUPA Great South Run, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, will be run on Sunday through the streets of the English city of Portsmouth. 
There are a couple of lower-level races, both IAAF Silver Label Road Race status.  Both the Venice Marathon and the Chosunilbo Chuncheon International Marathon will take place on Sunday.

Not much. 

The Rock N' Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon is on Sunday, but apparently has no pro-level entries.

College cross country is decidedly low-key this weekend, as conference championships come next weekend.

Track on TV
World Half Marathon Championships, 1:00 PM Friday on Universal Sports
Prefontaine, 10:10 AM Friday on The Movie Channel Xtra
Without Limits, 10:30 AM Sunday and 4:00 AM Monday on WGN

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Boston Marathon Sells Out!

Entry to the 2011 Boston Marathon opened at 9:00 AM Monday. At 5:03 PM no more spots were available.

This is nothing short of astounding. In 2008 the race didn’t fill until February. In 2009 it was full in January. Last year it took a month to fill up.

This is the Boston Marathon, which has qualifying standards. Not just anyone can get in, you have to run 3:10 (men) or 3:40 (women), with progressive breaks for age past 35. For all but a handful of the 40 or so years since limits were set, you just had to get your entry in before the early-March deadline. Thus the annual Last Chance for Boston race in late February...a race which is obviously a pretty pointless endeavor now.

What’s going on here? The Wall Street Journal decided last week that, like original sin, it’s all women’s fault. I pointed out the fallacy of that argument. To put it simply, even if it’s easier for women to qualify for Boston (and maybe it isn’t, and it certainly isn’t significantly so), they certainly don’t take up more than their share of entries. 41% of US marathoners are women, and 42% of last year’s field were women. A one percent difference does not make a race sell out 20,000 spots in eight hours.

A year and a half ago Amby Burfoot wrote up a history of Boston’s qualifying system, and the issues that created them, but he had no idea how things would turn between then and now.

So why are there so many more people who want to run the Boston Marathon?

More people are running marathons. There were approximately 464,000 marathon finishes in the USA and 1.31 million worldwide in 2009 (“finishes” meaning race results; individual runners could be counted multiple times). The domestic numbers are up nearly 50% since 2002, but the international numbers have more than doubled in the same time period.

Marathon finishers in the US and the world, 2002-2009
US Finishes
% increase
World Finishes
% increase



Why? That’s anybody’s guess. No one really knows. We do know that gym memberships are down significantly over the last few years, and the conventional wisdom is that the economy is bad and running is growing because it’s cheaper than any other fitness activity. But the growth in marathon numbers has been steady for over a decade, long before the economy imploded. It might be a generational thing, but the growth has been remarkably consistent across both genders and all age groups. It’s just one of those things.

More people are running them faster. Big numbers wouldn’t matter for Boston, with its qualifying times, if everyone ran them slow. But people aren’t.’s time breakdowns only go back to 2005, but in those five years the growth in men running sub-3:00 and women running sub-3:30 has been a lot faster than the overall growth in marathoning.

Sub-3:00 (men) and sub-3:30 (women) recorded in the USA, 2005-2009
Men <3:00
% increase
Women <3:30
% increase
5,400 (approx)
not available


2007 was the only setback, probably due in large part to that year’s horridly hot Chicago Marathon. If the trend continues through the end of 2010 – and there’s no reason to believe it won’t – then between 9,000 and 10,000 men and about 8,000 women will run these kinds of times. There weren’t even that many marathoners in the whole country until 1976.

Boston’s limit is about 20,000 runners (plus another 3,000-5,000 for charity runners and sponsor exemptions) and, due to issues of physical space, can go no higher. Looking at the number of US-based runners who beat the toughest standards by 10 or more minutes, plus foreign-based runners, plus older age groups with slower qualifying standards, you can see why there’s a crunch.

Note that overall US marathon numbers have never increased more than 10% in any year since the true boom years of 1974-1984. And that was the time when the Boston Marathon became so overwhelmed that it first required qualifying, and eventually tightened the standard down to 2:50 for men under 40 (since loosened 20 minutes). Consistent double-digit growth in fast marathoning has, apparently, again overwhelmed Boston.

What happens now? Runners World reports that the B.A.A. “will consider re-configuring the qualification and entry process for the 2012 marathon”. Let’s Run is having an unusually productive discussion about it. The only reasonable solution appears to be a time-based one.

There are a lot of options. The standards could be tightened across the board; for example, going back to the early-80s standards of 3:00 for open men and 3:30 for open women. Under this scenario, the race would probably not fill up. The B.A.A. probably doesn’t want this.

Another option would be to have tiered registration openings. In October the race would open to those who have beaten the current standards by ten minutes, and in December to those who have beaten them by five minutes, and in January to everyone else who has met the standard. (This, by the way, is exactly how class registration worked at my university back in the early 90s: academic scholarship students first, athletes and others with time restrictions second, and other tiers after that which I never paid attention to because I was in both of the first two groups.)

Whatever it is, Boston needs to do things differently. The race has always been about qualifications, not timing or luck.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What's On This Week

Basically, nothing. It's fall, there's no action besides cross country and road racing.

Track on TV
Prefontaine, 6:00 AM Monday and 10:10 AM Friday on The Movie Channel Xtra
Running the Sahara, 1:05 PM and 10:00 PM Tuesday on Showtime Extreme; 9:45 AM Thursday on Showtime Next
Continental Cup Day 1 rerun, 3:00 AM Tuesday on Universal Sports
Continental Cup Day 2 rerun, 3:00 AM Wednesday on Universal Sports
World Half Marathon Championships, 1:00 PM Friday on Universal Sports

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

How the top collegiate cross country teams sort out.  This was the weekend of the Pre-Nationals Invitational, and with two races each for men and women things were a little confusing.  Or not.

There were no head-to-head clashes between true title contenders at Terre Haute.  With one or two exceptions, those teams don't show up. They have nothing to gain.  They're more or less assured of getting automatic qualifiers to the NCAA Championships by finishing in the top two in their regional meet.  It's pretty much everyone else who comes.

On the men's side, #1 Stanford looked pretty good as they went 1-2-3 in the Blue Race.  But in Fayetteville at the Chile Pepper Festival, #2 Oklahoma State went 1-2-3-4.  You'd think Chile Pepper didn't offer up as much competition as the Pre-Nats, but there were 50 teams in that race including  #6 Arkansas and #7 Indiana.  Who is better right now?  Probably Oklahoma State, but we all know it really doesn't matter until November 22.

Other men's action at Pre-Nats saw Northern Arizona finish fourth in the Blue Race.  But that's without David McNeill, who just ran at the Commonwealth Games.  With him,  the Lumberjacks were likely second.  And two other of their top seven ran their first race of the season.  So getting a read on them is hard.

In the White Race, #16 Oklahoma pulled a bit of a shocker by winning over #19 BYU, #4 Colorado, and #8 Portland.  Bu the surprise was that Colorado finished third.  They were fourth in the team scoring at 5k and dropped 26 points in the last 3k.  That follows the Mark Wetmore strategy of not overextending early, a strategy that works better in 10k races and bad conditions than in yesterday's 8k under good conditions.  How much difference would another 2k make?  Not enough to catch Oklahoma, that's for sure.  But another part of Wetmore's traditional strategy is to not really be ready to go until the NCAA Championships.  I'd say it doesn't look like Colorado is a title contender...but stranger things have happened.

Over at the Dellinger Invitational in Oregon, the host #3 Ducks beat #11 Wisconsin handily.  The Badgers were holding out their top runner Mo Ahmed, though, and likely would have won with him in the lineup.  Wisconsin has to be considered a strong contender to win the Big Ten on their home course in two weeks, and an outside contender for the NCAA Championships.

On the women's side, things are not so complicated.  #1 Villanova dominated at Penn State, #2 Oregon dominated at home, #3 Florida State won their Pre-Nats race, and #4 Texas Tech dominated at Virginia.  My best guess is that the NCAA Championship will come down to Villanova and Oregon and no one else.

Zersenasay Tadesse can be beaten.  He was the four-time defending World Half Marathon champion but yesterday he was beaten by Kenya's Wilson Kiprop.  Note that Tadesse appeared injured at the end of the race, hobbling across the line and requiring help to the awards podium.  Even so, reigning African 10,000m champ Kiprop didn't pass him for good until the last 100 meters.

Florence Kiplagat is the best off-road runner who doesn't do marathons.  She won yesterday's World Half to go with her World Cross Country title in March.

Fast marathons are becoming mind-numbingly common.  Today saw the eleventh sub-2:06:00 of the year.  Getu Feleke ran 2:05:44 for a course record in Amsterdam.  If an American could run 2:06 it would be a huge breakthrough...and still would be well behind the best in the world. 

USATF is setting up its search for a new CEO.  An announcement was made earlier this week that a search committee has been formed, headed by Steve Miller, CEO of the Andre Agassi Foundation, a man who has been both a track coach and a marketing director for Nike.  Bialla Inc. is being hired as a headhunter, reportedly at between $200,000 and $300,000.  For that kind of coin, they'd better find a darned good CEO.

Subplots?  Well, it appears that any existing USATF Board member will not be part of the interview pool.  This is very good, because it means USATF President Stephanie Hightower from becoming the new CEO.  She is very much like Senator Harry Reid, a person who has gotten into positions of great power without being, you know, actually good at wielding it.  It's also allowed some critics to come right out and say exactly what they think.  Jim Dunaway wrote the following end-page editorial in USATF's own American Track and Field magazine.
To the Board of Directors of USATF:

In the last few months, you have done considerable damage to our sport.

Most recently, your clumsily carried-out dismissal of Doug Logan has given track and field a black eye. For many people in business and the media, track and field has become a laughingstock. Don't expect many new sponsors in the next few years.

What's more, you've done it all in secrecy, while the hundreds of thousands of people in the sport who care about its governance--elite athletes, officials, coaches, meet directors, agents, the shoe industry, journalists, and many, many fans--have been kept in the dark. Over and over in the past three months people have asked, "What the hell is going on?"

It's time to stop. USATF's leadership is fond of talking about "transparency," while practicing the opposite. Now it's time to walk the walk.

Here are two steps you can take immediately to begin to fulfill your obligation of keeping the track and field community fully informed about the governance of the sport.

1. Immediate and continuing publication of the complete minutes, verbatim, of all USATF Board meetings from January 1, 2008 on, to be published online--without passwords or encryption--so that everyone interested in the sport can learn what those who govern the sport have been doing over the past three years and are doing now, and will do in the future. If verbatim transcripts of the meetings aren't available, we need to know why.

2. Full disclosure of all meetings, conversations, correspondence, records, etc., concerned with the hiring of Doug Logan. We need to know, in detail, how USATF hired, for its most important job, an individual who knew absolutely nothing about the sport, had only three years' sports management experience, and whose previous employment for most of his business career was as a rock concert promoter.

That's a start on measuring up to your responsibilities.

Friday, October 15, 2010

What's On The Weekend

Domestic front -- Pre-Nats!

Track and Field Videos on Flotrack
The Brooks Pre-Nationals Invitational, the biggest meet of the collegiate regular season, will be held at Indiana State’s Gibson Championship Cross Country Course on Saturday.

Meet website
Cross Country Town USA site

Schedule (all times Eastern)
11:00 AM Women’s Blue Division (#3 Florida State, #6 Arizona)
11:35 AM Women’s White Division (#5 Georgetown, #9 Colorado)
12:10 PM Men’s Blue Division (#1 Stanford, #12 Princeton)
12:50 PM Men’s White Division (#4 Colorado, #8 Portland)

Flotrack will be doing a live webcast of the meet from 10:30 AM to 4 PM. They will be using a brilliant three-camera setup: one on the leaders, one on the lead pack, and one “eye in the sky” cam from atop the pressbox.

Flotrack’s preview show is scheduled for this afternoon.

Other college meets

Dathan Ritzenhein was going be tuning up for the ING New York Marathon at Sunday’s Rock N’ Roll Denver Half Marathon, but he dropped out due to a lack of competition.  So there's no reason to pay any attention to that race.  And there's pretty much nothing else on the domestic front either (save, of course, college XC action).


The IAAF World Half Marathon Championships will also take place on Friday night through the streets of Nanning, China. You can watch it live at (It's actually Saturday morning over there.)

Women's race: 8:30 PM EDT
Men's race: 9:00 PM EDT
Prize money, course, and other details
Press conference highlights

The men's race is tough, with World #1 Zersenay Tadese, #2 Sammy Kiprop Kitwara, #6 Wilson Kiprop and #7 Silas Kipruto.  IAAF men's preview and Joe Battaglia's five storylines

The women's race isn't quite as deep with just two top-ten runners: #9 Peninah Jerop Arusei and #10 Dire Tune.  #12 Florence Kiplagat is the favorite.  IAAF women's preview

Team titles are expected to be a war between Ethiopia and Kenya.

Three IAAF Silver Label Road Races go off this Sunday: the Amsterdam Marathon in Holland, the Intercontinental* Istanbul Eurasia Marathon in Turkey, and the Gyeongju International Marathon in South Korea.

*If you’re hoping for Dolph Zigler to show up and defend his championship, you’re probably thinking of the wrong Intercontinental title.

Track on TV
Diamond League Brussels rerun, 2:30 AM Saturday on Unviersal Sports
Endurance, 6:00 AM Sunday on The Movie Channel Xtra
Running the Sahara, 11:35 AM and 6:10 PM Saturday and 5:40 AM Sunday on Showtime Next