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 There has been a niggling feeling lurking around the murky depths of the running community for the past couple of months (possibly years). The whispering that goes on behind closed marathon doors. People only want to watch fast races and see fast times, the whisperers are saying. The perception that time is king and the actual racing is secondary. 

Are we so obsessed with time we cannot enjoy a race unless it is fast? No. This opinion undermines the intelligence of running fans. Everyone wants to see an exciting race. And what is more exciting than two or more people burying themselves late in a race in an attempt to get rid of their competitors? Nothing.

But running fast is also exciting. I don’t think fast running deserves the bad rap it seems to be getting from the learned running media.ryan hall finishing houston half

It is not, as many people would seem to have us believe, an on-or-off situation. Actually you can have your cake and eat it. If you love the racing you don’t have to hate the time. And if you love world record attempts you don’t have to hate racing. When you think about it, that is a ridiculous proposal anyway. But that is the choice we are told we are making.

Well I reject that choice. Distance fans are smart enough to appreciate a race and a course for what it is. No-one would say an elite marathoner who wins a race has run badly in that race because he was five or ten minutes slower than his Personal Best. Those guys run races to win. Fast times are secondary. In the choice between a fast time trial and a tough attritional battle between gladiators, as a spectator it is a no brainer. And for the competitors it is win first, time second. If you can win in a fast time, well that’s just dandy. But just as the two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive, they aren’t joined at the hip either.

What needs to be remembered is that writing off time as being pointless is just as foolish as saying it is all that matters. Sure you want a close race, but it has to be reasonably fast, by default. What does reasonably fast mean? That is the question. Not because we want it fast, but because if it is not reasonably fast you will have dozens of contenders for the win. We might not care as spectators but you can be sure the elite runners in the field will care. The top half dozen runners don’t want a bunch of guys they don’t know hanging around the lead pack waiting to show off their unheralded kicks. Fact is it has to be some form of fast. Fast doesn’t relate to an absolute pace. Fast in Berlin might be 2:03, but fast in New York might be 2:05, and fast in Honolulu might be 2:11. Fast in Mumbai might be 2:15. In road racing terms, speed is a relative thing.

In cross country, pace is completely arbitrary. Yet there again you know the pace is “fast”. You know this because top quality runners are being burned off left and right. Guys who have run 27 minutes for 10k on the track, which is fast by anyone’s definition, are barely in shot as the camera follows the lead pack. So you know it’s quick. More than that it doesn’t matter. It is all about the race.

 

sprint finish Pure racing taken to the extreme is just as bad as solo time trialling. In more 1500m and mile races than I care to remember, I have seen the group go out at a pace barely above crawling. They creep around for 3 laps and then blast the last lap. There are plenty of people in contention but I wouldn’t call it exciting. I don’t want to watch a bunch of 1500 guys trying to decide who the quickest 400 guy is. An honest hard pace for 3 laps and THEN a kick. That’s when the final lap split counts. Who has the quickest 400 once when your legs are full of lactic and your lungs are burning and you can taste blood in your mouth. That’s compelling racing and has both a time and a race element.

Let’s summarise if possible.

Two competitors repeatedly attacking each other over the final miles of a race IS incredibly exciting.

Mass sprint finishes CAN be exciting.

Solo races against the clock CAN be exciting.

I don’t see the need to write off races based on a pre-conception of “how races like this go”.

There is one rule that applies across the board. Racing must come first. But really this is the default position anyway. When Haile Gebrselassie was chasing marathon world records in time-trial fashion a few years ago, he went out hard with the clock and pacemakers as predetermined company. However when he hadn’t shaken off a competitor or a couple of competitors by the 20 mile mark he made that his priority. Win first, time second.  And he would state it afterwards. “once I saw I hadn’t shaken off x or y, I knew I had to forget about the world record and go for the win”. That’s not a direct quote but it is generally words to that effect. All professional athletes have this understanding.

I can say that with certainty even though I am far from a professional athlete myself. It is clear that winning trumps a fast time, every time. Moses Mosop ran 2:03:06 in Boston last year, second to Geoffrey Mutai in 2:03:02. Geoffrey took the bulk of the limelight but Mosop ran an incredibly fast time. If you have offered Mosop the win but said it would be in 2:04:06, a minute slower than he ran, what do you think his response would be? I know what I think. Winning is the thing. Bill Rodgers won Boston four times and New York four times. An amazing marathoner. A hero. Probably a lot of hard-core marathon fans know the times Bill ran, but outside of them, people tend to remember the winning. Grete Waitz, who held the world record for a while in the marathon, is remembered primarily for one outstanding achievement: Grete won the New York Marathon NINE times. Nine times! That achievement surpasses any of the quick times she managed, and she was quick.

 

 Road cycling teaches us this lesson in unequivocal terms.  One-day classics or individual stage wins in a three-week grand tour. It’s the winning that matters. When Mark Cavendish wins a sprint finish no-one cares about the time. It has no meaning. A great post which goes into far more depth on this, and on the odd occasion where people do pay attention to times in road cycling, can be found here, on the incomparable inrng website. Long breakaways or bunch sprints, the underlying principle remains: it’s the racing not the time.

However, while this is a good lesson, it is not one that running can swallow hook, line and sinker. Because running is intrinsically different. Track racing is track racing, and cycling has track too, so for sensible comparisons we will ignore the track elements of both sports.

Marathons are a very precise distance. 26 miles and 385 yards. Because of this standardised length, times are unavoidably compared. Courses are different and this is accounted for in winning times anyway. Every running fan can appreciate that a 2:04 marathon, no matter where it takes place, is incredibly impressive. But it doesn’t have to work the other way, i.e. that a 2:12 is NOT impressive. There are always factors on the day that have a major influence on time.

Then, on certain occasions you get great racing and great times. Sammy Wanjiru in Beijing is a great example of this. Dog-eat-dog racing with scant regard for race conditions, AND a three minute improvement on the Olympic Marathon Record.  The outcome was a very special event that people identified straight away as being something we will remember for a long time.

This shows that there are certain occasions, when the planets are aligned and the stars are shining brightly, when we can be treated to great racing which we get to watch unfold at record speeds.

Christmas Mile 2012

Today saw the second running of the world famous Christmas Mile. Numbers were up on last year with four hardy souls toeing the line. The weather played along by being cold, miserable and wet.

22 December 2012 10:15am University of Birmingham Athletics Track.

Results:
1. Ed Banks 4:39
2. Martin Matthews 4:55
3. Mark Ince 5:04
4. Kevin McMillan 5:30

(Kevin had run a hard 5k immediately before the mile, solid pre-race preparation in anyone’s book.)

A few laps cool down and we were off.

That was that. The conditions minimised any pre or post race banter. The mile was short, sweet and to the point. And so is this report.

Same time next year chaps.

20121222-181015.jpg

This will be the final in the series. We could get carried away here and I want to wrap it up.

I am bending the rules slightly by including two memorable moments in this post. A double whammy to finish it off.

 

11 March 2012

Bernard Lagat’s indoor Gold medal in the 3000m.

Bernard_Lagat_Istanbul_2012 from wikipedia

This happened early in the year, in March. Lagat is one of the all-time greats and deserves a full report on his career at the very least at some point in the future. For now, suffice to say that a man who has been winning races for well over a decade, and is now in his late 30s, who still has the drive and physical ability to compete with the youngsters on the track, is very impressive. Winning the 3000m indoor world title was a fitting way to acknowledge this. Bernard knows how to run a race tactically and how to turn it to his best advantage. To encourage the race to play into his hand. Add to that he has a sniper-like ability of timing his kick to perfection and of ensuring he is in the right place to execute the kick in the first instance. His all-round approach to racing is something all distance runners could learn from. Turning back the clock on a regular basis is another of his many admirable talents. We may not see another sub 3:30 from him over 1500m (his PB is a mind boggling 3:26.34) but I certainly believe we have at least another season or two of top flight entertainment from this top flight competitor.

Results.

Pos Athlete Country Time
1 Bernard Lagat USA 7:41.44
2 Augustine Choge Kenya 7:41.77
3 Edwin Soi Kenya 7:41.78

 

Footnote: How about the race for silver. 0.01 seconds separating 2nd and 3rd. Augustine Choge is another classy competitor, consistently producing high level performances over many years. (Who can forget Choge knocking Craig Mottram into 2nd at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006. Mottram was in top shape at the time having won a bronze medal in the World Champs 5000m the previous year, and now on home turf. But Choge with the middle distance pedigree, had the kick to comfortably take care of business on the bell lap. Choge’s winning time was an incredible 12:56 , with Mottram running 12:58 for second!)

 

6 October 2012

Zersenay Tadese’s World Half Marathon gold.

Zersenay Tadese 20th IAAF WHM from zimbio.com

In many ways the things to like about Zersenay are similar to the things to like about Lagat. They are both consistent at the highest level and almost always win their specialist event. They also both possess the wherewithal to do everything in their power to shape the race to suit their strengths. Zersenay is not a sit-and-kick kind of guy. But he is a winner. This combination means that in any race he runs he will at some point show up in the front, driving the pace on, attempting to to ride competitors off his wheel, cycling style. Relentless grinding to make sure no-one is left, and if they are, they have nothing left to kick with. A great tactic that has served him well in all formats of distance running, road, cross country and track.

 

He has been less successful on the track due to its tendency to favour kickers, on top of which, a certain Kenenisa Bekele was on the scene at this peak during many of Tadese’s bigger track races. Olympics, World Champs etc. The ominous Bekele and at least one of his compatriots were able to live with whatever Tadese dished out, knowing with certainty that if they could withstand the beating Tadese was administering, they would be able to kick past once the bell sounded.

 

But transfer those same skills to road running and suddenly Zersenay is in pole position. Road racing encourages and rewards hard running. And Tadese has shown time and again he is up for the challenge. Marathons are not his thing. Something in the chemistry is wrong. It may not be righted before he retires, but it shouldn’t blemish his road racing ability over the half marathon distance. If ever there was a marriage between an athlete and a distance, you would need to look hard to find a couple more suited than Zersenay Tadese and 13.1 miles. (Paula and the full distance jumps to mind, but she has not achieved the repetitive championship success Tadese has enjoyed).

 

This year’s race in Bulgaria was Zersenay’s FIFTH world title in the previous SIX editions of the event. (In 2006 the IAAF decided to make it a 20km event instead of 21.1, bless them. Tadese still won of course and thankfully the distance was returned to the standard half marathon the following year). Last year, 2011, was the year he didn’t win. He ran hard and fast, fighting to the end, and he lost in the final few hundred yards to Wilson Kiprop. If you watched the race you will remember that once he crossed the line he could barely walk. He limped off with assistance, and carried that injury for months after that. He had effectively raced the world half champs with the injury, and nearly secured the win regardless. Such was his determination and also such was his affinity with the event.

 

Zersenay Tadese is already a great in the running world, his World Cross Country Title alone ensures that status. But with the five world road racing titles to his name he is an all-time great. I would love to see him add a few more to that tally. Each year it seems more unlikely but each year he delivers regardless. So here’s hoping he can hold off the challengers, fierce as they are, for another couple of years.

 

 

Footnote: He also has six team silvers to his name from the World Half Marathon Champs

 

David MF Rudisha

 

Highlight number four keeps us in the Olympic Games for what was probably (definitely) the greatest track race of 2012.

 rudisha wr from london2012.com

 

 

 

Every now and then a track race comes along that makes you go “Hold on. What the hell just happened?”

 

I’d say the last time this happened was in 2008 in Beijing when Usain Bolt (up to then not even really focussing on the 100, far more of a 200m man) stunned the world with a chest-thumping, victory salute across the line 9.69 seconds after the starter’s pistol had fired. No-one could believe how fast he had just run, and how comprehensively he had won the race. And the manner in which he had done it.

 

But this post isn’t about that.

 

This is about David Rudisha in the Olympic Men’s 800m Final.

 

If Mo Farah winning gold in the 10,000m was my emotional highlight, Rudisha’s 800m gold medal winning performance and the performances it inspired in the rest of the field, was undoubtedly the athletic performance highlight of the year.

 

7 August 2012

 

Tuesday night, shortly before 8pm. Athletics history was made in no uncertain terms.

Reliving the race raises the hair on the back of my neck every time. It is incredible.

 

Rudisha is simply majestic in movement. For a few minutes he is invincible. There are no signs of the all-too-familiar lactic acid buildup that plagues the second lap of any 800m race. He is smooth, long striding power from start to finish.

 

It is rare that an athletic talent brings so much to the table so completely in the way Rudisha does. He has the talent, clearly. But he has the drive, he has the physical attributes, and when he is truly on top of his game, as he was in August, he has a look about him, an expression that says: This is all going to be ok. It is going to go well, you will see something special.

 

The rest of the field are world class athletes. In no way are they here to play an auxiliary role, and neither should they. They have made it to 800m running’s top table. The best of the best. It just so happened that when they got to this table there was someone already seated at the head. They may admit later that deep down they knew there was no chance of beating David that night.

 

But at the time, on the big occasion they all believed they had a shot. They had to believe they had a shot. And they did. But they didn’t really.

 

Of course no-one was going to stand off and let David Rudisha run a pair of victory laps before embarking on a real victory lap. He went out hard, but they went with him. Abubaker Kaki in particular, had a go. People have since said he ruined his chance of a good race by trying to beat Rudisha, poor tactics. I couldn’t disagree more. Kaki is not there for a “good race”. He is there to win the gold medal. At his best Kaki was one of the few runners with the pedigree to match Rudisha. In the preceding 12-18 months he may not have been his imperious self, but before that he could lay claim to being unbeatable to everyone bar Rudisha. He was looking for a return to strap-hitting form and why not now. He was there to win and he went for it. Hindsight being what it is, yes, his tactics cost him a medal. But so what? It is better to have tried and lost than to have not tried at all. Or words to that effect. And for someone with Kaki’s ability to settle for third before the starter’s pistol has fired is to not to try at all.

 rudisha celebrates from the telegraph

 

The magical race that night headed by David Rudisha dragged a field of world class 800m runners into a zone in which none of them had previously managed to venture. In the results below take a look at the column on the right hand side. World Record, National Record, Personal Best after Personal Best. Everyone smashed it. The only person without a lifetime best from the race was Kaki. And to my mind that is a double mark of respect. Firstly because it shows that he had the minerals, discipline and the courage of his convictions to stick to his guns and  to absolutely put everything on the table for the win, regardless of consequence, and secondly it is a mark of respect because 1:43.3 is a brilliant time, but hey he has run quicker. Class athlete.

 

So everyone else in the race had the performance of their life. At the same time. That is rare.

 

Last place in the race went to Great Britain’s own Andrew Osagie. A man who has been knocking at the door, not for long mind, and looking to step up in performance. Cometh the hour cometh the man. Last place maybe, but hardly shamed, and a 1:43.77 to boot. Of some comfort to Andrew, should he need any, is that his time in 2012 would have won the Olympic GOLD medal in the 2008 race (Kenyan Wilfred Bungei won in 1:44.65).

 

Nijel Amos from Botswana, what a future this young man has. He produced a staggering performance on the night. Running like a man possessed. I look forward to seeing him on the circuit over the next few years. Nick Symmonds always delivers a big race when needs be and has matured superbly into his role as 800m flag bearer in the US. Duane Solomon is a man on the rise according to those in the know. There is so much potential in the young men who made history in this race. Who knows where we will see the magic emerge again?

 

To wrap up, the results of the night stack up like this:

 

1 RUDISHA David 1:40.91 WR
2 AMOS Nijel 1:41.73 NR
3 KITUM Timothy 1:42.53 PB
4 SOLOMON Duane 1:42.82 PB
5 SYMMONDS Nick 1:42.95 PB
6 AMAN Mohammed 1:43.20 NR
7 KAKI Abubaker 1:43.32 SB
8 OSAGIE Andrew 1:43.77 PB

 

I think this will be my favourite 800m race for a long long time.

 

 

 Highlights of 2012. Part 1. NIA Indoor 2-mile

Highlights of 2012. Part 2. Big City Marathons.

Highlights of 2012. Part 3. Olympic Men’s 10,000m Final

 

 

Olympic Men’s 10,000m Final

 Mo with flag from article.wn.com

Part 3 of the year’s highlights finally brings us to the holy grail of global Athletics, the Olympic Games.

We may be making more than one stop at these Games before this highlights series is over. But this is the first, and this one is looking back at the Men’s 10,000m final.

4 August 2012

A magical Saturday evening in August. The height of summer. An incredible atmosphere swirling in the stadium of the blue riband sport of the Olympics.

Home ground advantage to Mo Farah. Years of build-up had come down to this. The challenge of the 5,000m may have loomed large on the horizon, but tonight was about only one thing, his first battle with sporting immortality, in the 10,000m.

Alongside him, and to the undoubted benefit of both runners, he had his training partner of recent years, and good friend, Galen Rupp. Their coach, Alberto Salazar was trackside, providing a calming influence on his athletic charges. Salazar was also there to shout splits and information during the race. His duo was taking on the might of distance running, currently residing in a small section of the planet we like to mark as East Africa. Kenya and Ethiopia. Mo and Galen would be attempting to wrestle a small portion of the global distance running magic away from East Africa and redistribute it in the western world, specifically in the UK and USA.

 

There are many excellent reports on the race itself and how it unfolded. Here’s what happened in a few badly worded sentences. The race went out slow; the Bekele brothers went to the front for a while and then slipped back into the pack. Then the Eritreans took up the running and Tadese took it out hard. You knew from then it was unlikely to slow much. Allegedly Galen was a bit antsy at this point and wanted to close the gap. Mo calmed him down and told him to save everything for the last lap. And so it went. The race ground everyone but the contenders out and on the final lap Mo unleashed his kick. The Bekeles went with him, Galen momentarily losing ground over the first 200. Galen came storming back over the final 200 as the Bekeles, first Kenenisa and then Tariku fell off Mo’s vicious kick. In the final 50m Galen was possibly the strongest of all, but Mo had it won and looked as though he may have had a drop more in the tank, albeit on the red line, should any “leaning over the precipice and looking into precisely nothing” be required.

Wikipedia’s typically factual and readable version is here. Here is another write up, by The Guardian this time. Or is the Telegraph more your cup of tea perhaps? The point is there are lots a great accounts.

And there are lots of great accounts because it was big news. Massive news. Huge news. The kind of news that turns runner’s names into household names, even if only for a few months until the football season starts up again. But I’m not going to be cynical. Mo’s run is worth more than that.

And behind him (and just behind him at that) Galen’s run was worth as much again. mo and galen from img.bleacherreport.netThe image of Galen beating everyone besides Mo was one of my favourite images from the Olympics. Let’s work through that again. He beat both Bekele brothers, Tariku and Kenenisa. He beat all the Kenyans. He won a medal at the sport’s highest table.

What about Alberto Salazar? Surely the last word has to go to him. His charges finished first and second. They took on the best the world had to offer and they beat them.

YouTube has the entire race archived for your viewing pleasure.

 

If you have the time I recommend watching it again. If you live in the UK, it is mandatory. Watch it now or face the downright unpleasantness of me turning up at your front door tonight to find out why you didn’t. The reason better be good.

The race was special and the moment was special. For Mo, for Galen and for their many supporters who had followed their respective paths to witness this night, at the pinnacle of their craft.

I don’t have much more to add. This was my emotional highlight of the Games and of the year.

Here are the results to savour one more time.

Pos Name Nationality Time Notes
1 Mo Farah Great Britain

27:30.42

 
2 Galen Rupp United States

27:30.90

 
3 Tariku Bekele Ethiopia

27:31.43

 
4 Kenenisa Bekele Ethiopia

27:32.44

 
5 Bedan Muchiri Kenya

27:32.94

 
6 Zersenay Tadese Eritrea

27:33.51

 
7 Teklemariam Medhin Eritrea

27:34.76

 
8 Gebre Gebremariam Ethiopia

27:36.34

 
9 Polat Arikan Turkey

27:38.81

PB
10 Moses Kipsiro Uganda

27:39.22

 
11 Cameron Levins Canada

27:40.68

 
12 Moses Masai Kenya

27:41.34

 
13 Dathan Ritzenhein United States

27:45.89

 
14 Robert Kajuga Rwanda

27:56.67

PB
15 Nguse Tesfaldet Eritrea

27:56.78

 
16 Thomas Ayeko Uganda

27:58.96

 
17 Moukheld Al-Outaibi Saudi Arabia

28:07.25

 
18 Mohammed Ahmed Canada

28:13.91

 
19 Matthew Tegenkamp United States

28:18.26

 
20 Ben St.Lawrence Australia

28:32.67

 
21 Diego Estrada Mexico

28:36.19

 
22 Yuki Sato Japan

28:44.06

 
23 Ayad Lamdassem Spain

28:49.85

 
24 Daniele Meucci Italy

28:57.46

 
25 Christopher Thompson Great Britain

29:06.14

 
26 Mykola Labovskyy Ukraine

29:32.12

 
  Ali Hasan Mahboob Bahrain

DNF

 
  Bayron Piedra Ecuador

DNF

 
  Wilson Kiprop Kenya

DNF

 

 

 

Highlights of 2012. Part 1. NIA Indoor 2-mile

Highlights of 2012. Part 2. Big City Marathons

Big City Marathons.

The second highlight in this series is going to the big city marathon season.

I’m going to focus on one in particular, one that usually gets overlooked in these conversations. And that is the first one of the year: Dubai.

 Dubai Marathon 2012

For the rest, Rotterdam, Boston, London, Chicago, Berlin, Frankfurt, New York, they were all very exciting and there were some great talking points. Sadly, New York was hit by an event that makes any trivial pastime like this pale into insignificance. But there was Boston’s heat, Berlin’s “sprint” finish, Chicago’s Kebede renaissance, and the Spring DNF’s of Geoffrey Mutai in Boston and Patrick Makau in London.  I’m not sure they delivered the blow-your-head-off performance that many of their 2011 counterparts had. But perhaps that 2011 bar had just been set too high?

Either way the big city marathons in 2012 were headed into with a LOT of hype.

2011 had been an incredible year for men’s marathon running. Times had plummeted, the number of truly world class performances sky rocketed, and in fact the definition of a “world class time” had changed by virtue of the volume of staggering performances between January 2011 and December 2011. One country did the lion’s share of the damage. Kenyans took the marathon world by the scruff of the neck. 2:04 men, 2:05 men, 2:06 men. Every time a weekend passed by there were another half-dozen new performances on the all-time top 100 list. At the forefront of this incredible wave were two men who had emerged head and shoulders above the rest of the elite pack. Patrick Makau and Geoffrey Mutai. Behind this duo were plenty of elite Kenyan marathoners just waiting for them to put a foot wrong. The Kenyan Olympic marathon selection became headline news amongst the running community. Who would they pick? Who should they pick? Why was their selection criteria so complex? Why wouldn’t they commit? Why would they commit? Back and forth it went.

2011 had been a watershed year in marathoning, the likes of which would be unlikely to be seen again soon, nevermind in the very next year. But that didn’t stop the hype and the hope.

27 January 2012

 Ayele Abshero in Dubai

Dubai opened the year up and was a cracker. If this was how 2012 was going to start, there was much to be excited about. Three unheralded Ethiopians took the podium spots in record times left and right. Ayele Abshero won in 2:04:23. Dino Sefir was second in 2:04:50 and Markos Geneti was third in 2:04:54. If 2011 had been the year of Kenyan marathoning, 2012 might become the year Ethiopia took the power back.

Dubai’s official marathon website race report had this to say:

Ayele Abshero, the 2009 Junior Cross Country World Champion, also established himself as a leading contender for Ethiopia’s Olympic trio – if not victory at London 2012 – as he headed an Ethiopian 1-2-3, with Dino Sefir second in 2:04:50, and Markos Geneti third in 2:04:54, both personal bests.

 The quality of the performances was such that based on the final finishing times, the $1 million race featured the greatest marathon field in history. Never before in marathon history have more than three men broken 2:05 on a legal course yet here in Dubai four men broke that mark. Best marks-for-place were set for positions from third through to 17th, making it arguably the greatest marathon ever in terms of depth.

We were set for an unstoppable assault on all sorts of time barriers. Here we go, strap yourselves in. But in fact, Dubai, as far as times went, was as good as it was going to get. And it was pretty good.

The times were hellishly fast. Abshero was the new marathon kid on the block. With a run like that he had marathon fans the world over wondering what he might do in subsequent races. Geneti, a seasoned campaigner over other distances, had now marked his marathon card with a world class performance. It also seemed to signal a rapid changing of the guard in Ethiopian marathon running. The Olympic selection committee went on to pick all three of the Dubai finishers for the Olympic squad, displacing the established trio of likely’s: Gebre Gebremariam (NYC Marathon winner), Tsegay Kebede (London and Chicago winner) and Haile Gebrselassie (there’s not enough space here, but he’s done a bit, take my word for it).  

The selection seemed a rash decision even at the time, and with hindsight’s infallibility it has been exposed as being just that. Why would you disregard seasoned, proven big stage professionals like Gebremariam and Kebede, arguably at the height of their powers? Haile might have been a sentimental selection, but the other two surely were unlucky to miss out. As it turned out, none of the Dubai trio finished the Olympic marathon, which goes to show not only that you can’t judge from single performances, but also how difficult the sport of marathon running is.

The women’s race in Dubai was equally amazing. Aselefech Medessa from Ethiopia took the win in 2:19:31, with Kenyan Lucy Kabuu second a few ticks back in 2:19:34 and Dibaba Hurssa rounding out the top 3 in 2:19:52. Three women in sub 2:20 in the same race. Incredible.  

From the marathon website race report as earlier :

Medessa and Kabuu provided a thrilling end to the women’s marathon.

 I know the course so I felt confident,” said Medessa, who edged out Kabuu by just three seconds. “I prepared well and I’m delighted with 2:19. I’m now the best Ethiopian – and with a time like that, I hope to be selected for the Olympic Games”. 

It was the first time in international marathon history where three women have all ran under 2:20:00 underlining the event’s IAAF Gold Label status and its standing as one of the greatest marathon stages in the world. As with the men’s event, the women’s race saw incredible depth and best marks-for-place were set for positions third through to ninth.

To absorb how good the times in Dubai were, the top ten results are below.

Men

Pos Name Country Time
1 Ayele Abshero Ethiopia 2:04:23
2 Dino Sefir Ethiopia 2:04:50
3 Markos Geneti Ethiopia 2:04:54
4 Jonathan Maiyo Kenya 2:04:56
5 Tadesa Tola Ethiopia 2:05:10
6 Yami Dadi Ethiopia 2:05:41
7 Shami Dawit Ethiopia 2:05:42
8 Deressa Chimsa Ethiopia 2:05:42
9 Seboka Tola Ethiopia 2:06:17
10 Yemane Tsegay Ethiopia 2:06:29

Women

Pos Name Country Time
1 Aselefech Medessa Ethiopia 2:19:31
2 Lucy Kabuu Kenya 2:19:34
3 Mare Dibaba Ethiopia 2:19:52
4 Bezunesh Bekele Ethiopia 2:20:30
5 Aberu Kebede Ethiopia 2:20:33
6 Lydia Cheromei Kenya 2:21:30
7 Sharon Cherop Kenya 2:22:39
8 Atsede Baysa Ethiopia 2:23:13
9 Mamitu Daska Ethiopia 2:24:24
10 Isabella Andersson Sweden 2:25:41

It was an incredibly stand-out set of results with a number of excellent performances further down the line.

In one of these, the legendary Hendrick Ramaala showed that turning 40 is no obstacle, and ran 2:12:12 for 19th place. With this run he secured the qualifying time for what would have been his fifth Olympic games. Sadly the South African Olympic committee chose not to select him for the team. But that in no way detracts from what was yet another top quality performance from our old team mate.

So Dubai opened the book on 2012 marathoning. It paved the way for some great racing in the subsequent Spring and Autumn big city marathon season (and of course in the Olympic marathons). But none of them were able to produce the staggering set of results to match those in Dubai.

Highlights of 2012. Part 1. NIA Grand Prix 2-mile indoors here

NIA Grand Prix 2-mile indoors

 

This will be the first in a series of highlights from the 2012 season.

There are many things that make something a highlight, and with any series like this you leave out more than you include. But that’s no reason not to do it. Let’s relish in the performances we loved from the year.

 

Mo

 

Saturday 18 February

 

Without the promise of a world cross country champs in March, the powers that be having decided it was more suited to a biannual championship –  a shame in my opinion – the first real highlight of the early year elite distance running scene was Mo’s 2 mile race indoors in the Birmingham Grand Prix.

 

There’s no bias with it being in Birmingham, it was simply the first time he was lined up against some real competition, in the year when it ALL mattered. The Olympic year.

 

How was he doing? How had winter training gone? Was he handling the pressure of being world 5k champion and favourite to win the 5 and 10 in London? Everyone was itching to see him in action. Birmingham provided the platform.

 

The grand prix in Birmingham has been regarded as the biggest indoor meeting in the world for a number of years. The entry lists are always strong and this year was no different. Mo was up against Tariku Bekele, perennial high quality performer Eliud Kipchoge and Moses Kipsiro, with pacing by Remmy Limo and Gideon Gathimba. In addition there was domestic British interest in Johnny Mellor toeing the line as well. He might not have been contesting for the win, but the fact that he was lining up against these guys was an indication of how far he had come and the fantastic form he had been showing in recent times.

 

galen 2 mile ARA week before this race, there had been another 2 mile race, in the US. Mo’s training partner Galen Rupp had run an incredibly strong and almost entirely solo 8:09.72 for the win and the American record. Since they had been training together Mo was expected to be in similar shape. Galen had taken the record from Bernard Lagat incidentally, who was in the Birmingham meeting, but was running the 1500m. If there is one thing Bernie (and his coach James Li) know how to do, it is shape a season. Starting out with a 1500 instead of going head to head with your main Olympic 5k rival is a sensible decision both from a racing position and from a training position. Sharpen up with some under distance races early season.

 

Back to the 2 mile race. The race was touted as being Mo’s attempt on the long standing British record (8:17 John Mayock) as well as the 39-year old European record (8:13.2 Emile Puttemans). But in reality these records didn’t mean much. They were sugar coating on the cake of the actual race. What the fans wanted to see was Mo versus the guys on the track. The guys who could challenge, push and perhaps beat him. The race got underway and the pace was brisk. The world record was never going to be troubled, but Gathimba took them through the opening mile in 4:04 so there were no passengers. Arne Gabius from Germany was running an incredibly courageous race and was hanging onto everything he could. He really stood up that day.

 

midrace 1Once the final few laps approached, the contenders shuffled around trying to position themselves to stick in the winning strike for home. The last lap burn up was just that and coming off the final bend Mo, Eliud, Tariku and Kipsiro were covered in that invisible blanket cliché. Eliud Kipchoge has a history of starting seasons well so it should probably not have been too surprising that he held the others off for the win. Mo managed second with Kipsiro and Bekele third and fourth. Less than a second separated them.

 

2 MILES – Men   OFFICIAL RESULTS
1 Eliud Kipchoge KEN 8:07.39 PB
2 Mo Farah GBR 8:08.07 NR
3 Moses Kipsiro UGA 8:08.16 NR
4 Tariku Bekele ETH 8:08.27 PB
5 Arne Gabius GER 8:10.78 PB
6 Jonathan Mellor GBR 8:40.50 PB

 

 

Finishing in 8:08.07, Mo had broken the British record and the European record. He had also bested his training partner by a second. But tellingly he hadn’t won the race. The media naturally chose to run with that story. What happened Mo? Where was the kick Mo? Are you overtraining Mo? The usual none-too-deekipchoge win 2p journalistic type inquisitions that they think the public wants to read about. (Perhaps the public do want to read that kind of stuff, who am I to know?)

 

Fact is, all keen fans of distance running had seen what they wanted to see. A strong Mo kicking hard and racing hard. The fact that he had been edged out was neither here nor there. This was February. It didn’t matter. It matters in August. In many ways, being beaten here in his first high profile race and in his home country, may have been a good thing. When is getting beaten a good thing? Well, when it takes some of the pressure from an expectant public off your shoulders it is a good thing. And when it shows the world that just because you won the 5000m world champs the year before, it doesn’t mean the rest of the professional distance running world are simply going to hand you wins. They will race you even harder, and want to beat you even more. It showed everyone that winning in August was going to be tough. But it also showed everyone that Mo had trained well over the winter and was in a great position (possibly the perfect position) leading into the transition from indoor to outdoor season. He was up for the challenge.

 

The running year was underway. The unavoidable conveyor belt to the Olympics had begun. This 2 mile race cracked open the 2012 distance season, and what a season it turned out to be.

 

Were we sure that Mo could do the double? No. But by gosh we knew we were in for an exciting ride.

 

Footnote: Lagat didn’t win his 1500m, but ran 3:36 and probably got what he needed from it. A month later he went to world indoors and won the 3000m gold medal.

Footnote 2: Johnny Mellor held on for an 8:40.5 Personal Best. Great run Johnny.

 It’s not often I get to talk about “that time I won a race”.

 

I suppose that is not strictly true as I can *talk* about it as many times as I want (collective sigh) but what I mean is that I don’t often win the damn things.

 

So going into last Tuesday evening’s Roon the Watter 6 miler in the lovely Gatehouse-of-Fleet in Scotland I was not expecting to come out on top. I had decided a top 5 was on the cards, given that I had finished 6th two years earlier. That was after a fairly poor performance with some asthma issues (excuses alert!). I knew I had to go back and race it properly. Cue 2012. We were in that part of Scotland on holiday, visiting Bec’s dad, Jon, himself an experienced runner.

 

Roon the Watter is Scottish speak for “Around the Water” I think. Scotland doesn’t bother with new-fangled metric nonsense, preferring to stick with the good old fashioned 6-mile races. Not conforming to current running society’s more favoured 10km. No complaints from this end, since it provided me a good opportunity to improve on my rather weak PB set two years earlier at the same race. Hey it’s the only other 6 mile race I have done.

 

The day was great, ideal conditions for running, possibly not spectating. It started raining about an hour before the evening start. The starting horn was sounded and off we charged. I had looked around on the start line for a few recognisable faces who I thought might be there for the win. I couldn’t see them and guessed they might be a few rows back or something. Once we got going however, it was very clear that no-one was going to take the pace out. It was never my intention to set off in the lead but it happened by default. About half a mile into the race I was a good 10 or 20 metres clear. The first mile marker went by in 5:44. A sensible start after all. I had been wondering if I was somehow sprinting like an idiot. Where was everyone? In the second mile I stopped hearing any other footsteps and started to think this might be a canter home. I lost concentration a bit as a result and slowed to a 6:12 for the second mile.

 

Then things started to get more interesting. During the third mile I heard someone gaining on me, and gaining pretty fast. Oh well, this is it, I thought. If they’re closing me down this quickly they’ll go straight past. I told myself second was still a good position and felt a bit silly for thinking I could win the thing. The guy caught up with me shortly before the third mile marker, which I’d run in 5:42. Halfway in 17:38. I decided that I owed it to myself to at least try and stick with him for a few minutes, so I latched on.

 

The route is pretty hilly throughout and I noticed that on every uphill he slowed a lot. So much so that I thought he might be trying to psyche me out and wondered if it was tactic. I didn’t push hard on the hills but I seemed to stretch away on each one before he caught up on the downhills. We yo-yo’ed like this for the next mile or so, on a very undulating section of the course. I came to realise he just wasn’t very strong on hills.

 

Having a memory like a sieve I did not remember much of the course from my run two years earlier, but luckily I had spoken to Jon earlier who was also running it that day. He told me that mile four to five is uphill and the final mile, five to six, is flat and downhill. I formulated a ropey plan. I would hit it hard as soon as we passed the 4 mile marker and would work my ass off for that mile, get a lead and run the final mile as hard as I could so (hopefully) the guy wouldn’t be able to close the gap on the downs of the final mile. I did it and it worked a treat, which I was thankful for, because the effort on the hills had floored me and I knew if he caught me now I’d be cashing in my chips.

 

Running the final mile back into town and down the high street was a very cool experience. I knew Bec, Jodie, Abby and Teri would be watching somewhere on this road and it felt awesome to be the one following the lead car through this part of the course. I turned into the final right hander up the road to the finish, crossed the line and that was that. J

 

At the prize giving I was awarded a floating trophy, a big shield with the race winner each year engraved onto it. They did nervously confirm that I would be able to return the following year to give the shield back, being that I was coming all the way from England (the deep south). I also got a mini version of the shield which I get to keep, and a voucher for the local pub in Gatehouse.

 

I may not get to experience this kind of thing again so I made sure to savour the moment.

 

Thanks to my able support crew, cheering in rain or shine. And well done to Jon who comfortably completed the race, using his “start sensible, finish strong” approach meaning he crosses the line looking like he hasn’t run yet.

 

 

My mile splits went 5:44, 6:12, 5:42, 5:56, 5:58, 5:20. Halves of 17:38 and 17:14  for a finishing time of 34:52.

21 June 2012.

Showtime.

The media build-up was done.

The mindgames were behind us.

It was now time to hit the track. All that was left to do was drink and run (and projectile vomit).

Four brave athletes toed the startline. Timmons, Gracie, H-Bomb and therealmince. Both of the former title holders were in the race this year.

It was messy, it was tough, we dug deep.

It was loads and loads of fun.

Thanks to everyone. Fellow competitors, handycam operator, interviewer and cameraman Niceguy Eddie, and spectators encompassing family and friends.

The video footage can do a better job of telling the story, so without further ado…

show me the money

 

Finally, a couple of parting shots.

Scary what a race victory can do to a man. Or indeed what not winning can do…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the all-important splits.

 

 

 

 

 

London Marathon is this Sunday and a lot of the pre-race hype has been (rightly) focussed on the quartet of A-list Kenyans on the start line. Selection of the Kenyan Olympic Marathon squad has been an international talking point in running circles. Who will they pick, who won’t they pick, what do they need to run? And so on.

 

But enough about that. I want to talk about a little Eritrean named Zersenay Tadese.

Anyone worth their salt knows a pretty rock solid rule about marathoning. To be a good marathoner, you need to have run a good 10k (and half marathon). Name any great marathoner and look at their 10k. It will be the business. Arguably the world’s best over 26.2, the late Sammy Wanjiru, went well under 27 minutes on the track before he stepped up. However, and this is the point, the converse is not true. Being a quality 10k and half marathon guy does in no way guarantee you success over a marathon. The fact is no-one really knows how they will fare over a marathon until they actually run one. There are probably a few high-profile distance men and women who haven’t reached their marathon potential. (In as much as “potential” is determined by 10k and HM performance) but none are as high profile as Zersenay Tadese.

 

If ever there was textbook case to highlight the lack of conversion rule, it is Zersenay.

 

Remove his marathon attempts from this discussion and his distance running CV becomes pretty much as good as it gets. Kenenisa Bekele may have had his number of the track thanks to an indomitable finishing kick, but Tadese didn’t do too badly behind him.

  • A 10k in less than 27 minutes? Check.
  • A half marathon in less than 60 minutes? Check. In fact a half marathon in less than 59 minutes. In fact the WORLD RECORD HOLDER in the half marathon in 58:23.

Ok, how about championship racing?

  • Any medals on the track at global level? Check. (No titles maybe, as time and again KB put paid to any chance of that). But he has a bronze from the Athens Olympics 10k and a silver from the 2009 Berlin World Champs.
  • Any medals at World Cross Country level? Check. In the toughest race of them all, the World Cross Country Championships, Zersenay beat the world, and KB, in 2007 (KB dropped out of the race with a lap to go). He also has an individual silver and two individual bronze medals in World Cross to go with that gold.
  • Now, the final question, what is he like on the road? I’m glad you asked. Ignoring the marathon, he is probably the greatest road runner of all time. World HM Record Holder, four-time World Half Marathon Champion and a World 20k title for good measure.

 

It’s a pedigree anyone would aspire to. So imagine the buzz around the running world when he decided to run his first marathon. It was a few years back, London 2009.

 

The world waited with baited breath.

 

Zersenay’s debut in the marathon coincided with a big step-up that was currently taking place in the world of international marathoning. He arrived on the scene, with marathoning on a big and aggressive up-curve, and was caught out by experienced marathoners, led by Wanjiru. They aggressively attacked at all points in the race and pushed a ridiculously fast early pace. Zersenay lasted as long as he could before dropping out.

 

The following year, 2010, he returned, to a similarly aggressive racing environment. With slightly more battle experience, this time he finished. But his 2hr12 was widely accepted as nowhere near a true indication of his capabilities, and again the field had beaten him up and left him behind.

 

In 2011 it seemed he decided to take a break from London and move his focus back to the areas in which he had excelled and enjoyed success, the 10k on the track, and the half marathon.

 

Skip to the announcement of the 2012 London Elite Field and his name is back on the list.

 

In early 2012 he ran the Lisbon Half Marathon, the course where he set the current world record, 58:23. It was billed as a World Record Attempt but he ended up running about a minute off that pace, finishing in 59:34 for his third title in a row. The gurus at LetsRun have spoken at length about proper focus on a marathon resulting in a runner that should not be sufficiently sharp to run a half marathon PB in their marathon buildup. If this is true, and I personally subscribe to the same belief, then Tadese may just be perfectly poised for this year’s London.

 

Most of us love to see hard-running, hard-working athletes perform at the highest level, and Zersenay Tadese is the hardest working, hardest running of them all. Over the years he has become one of my all-time favourite and most inspirational athletes.

 

Come Sunday morning, I will be hoping he gets into his familiar groove, seen so many times at the front of races around the world, in the lead pack and survives, or ignores, any suicidal pace changes during the race.

 

In amongst the Kenyan whirlwind of class and ability, and pressure, I would love to see nothing more than the little Eritrean powerhouse slide in under the radar and knock 5+ minutes off his best time, and get his marathon time down to the level befitting a guy of his pedigree.

 

Heck I hope he wins the entire race. It’s a long shot, but optimism never killed anyone, right?