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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

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We’re talking Olympics 2012. Of course we are.

The early selection conundrum. Where do you go with it? UKA have made it clear what the A-standards are that need to be achieved, but they have not made it clear as to how they will assess those performances for selecting the team, and particularly for the early selecting that will take place and that has recently taken place.

Looking at the women for the moment.

The first wave of selections have just taken place. The winners are obviously Paula and Mara who got selected. But it closes the door just that little bit on all remaining candidates. There is now only one spot available. Jo Pavey, Liz Yelling, Claire Hallisey, Louise Damen and possibly some others I’ve forgotten about are all fighting for that one spot.

Spare a thought especially for Jo, who has run 2:28 twice this year, including on the acknowledged tougher course of the New York Marathon. The difference between her and Mara must have been marginal. Mara has the better pedigree (2:23 and a 6th place in the previous Olympic Marathon) but she has struggled for the past year or two. I don’t think she would dispute that. By contrast Jo has had a great year since her return from having a baby.

Clearly the selectors couldn’t have pre-selected all three athletes in the early window as that literally would have shut out any potential candidates who had lined up an early 2012 marathon to qualify.

Paula’s selection is beyond debate. With her pedigree and critically with her current form, a 2:23 in Berlin, she should have been inked into the team sheet at the first opportunity. Mara has the pedigree but not the form. Or rather, not the form that is significantly better than Jo’s. indeed Jo’s 2:28 in New York could be argued to be the better mark. But then it does start to get subjective. Which is sort of the point. It’s a close call, so why make it now?

But they did and Jo gets the short straw and now needs to decide what to do. Surely a third marathon in a 12-month period would be a tall order, especially considering that if it went well it would lead to a FOURTH and the most important of all, the Olympic Marathon, a few months after that. Yet that is effectively what she is being told she has to do. I have nothing against Mara, I’m a big fan, as we all should be. She is a great runner and a great advert for British running, as a person and as an athlete. But the fact remains that of Jo is being asked for a third indicator of form, perhaps she should have been asked for a second. Doing that would also give the remaining 5 or 6 athletes mentioned earlier, slightly more encouragement as two of the spots would theoretically still be up for grabs.

London Marathon announced their elite women’s field for 2012 a few days ago, and notably, Jo’s name was absent. This could mean a number of things of course. She could be thinking about a different marathon, she could simply have not yet confirmed to London, indeed she could have packed it all in. But in a world of conspiracy theories and armchair experts (guilty) surely the noticeable absence of her name from the entry list could be read as a reaction to the snub of not being selected early, or of selecting Mara early. If the selectors want to keep her guessing as to her fate, then this could be her way of keeping them guessing as to her intentions.

Unfortunately in these situations, there is only one losing side and it is always the same side.

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Half life

Knocking big chunks off PBs is not something that happens to me very often. Generally speaking, I am past the “big improvement” section of my running career.

However, yesterday at the Birmingham Half Marathon, I did exactly that.

Before the race my half marathon PB stood at 1:20:12. I wanted to break the 80 minute barrier quite badly. (I first ran an 81-minute half marathon in 1993 – so had been staring at the 80-minute door for quite a while…)

After yesterday’s race my PB was 1:17:36. 🙂 What more can I say? Lots probably, but I’ll try not to. In a sentence: I went out sensibly, sped up a bit in the middle (not sure why that happened), then slowed down towards the end before managing a glory-hunting, final mile sprint down Broad Street. I would say it went perfectly, aside from the slight wobble between miles 9 and 11, but in my defence they were mostly uphill.

Our club had an excellent day out. First home was the legend that is Paul. 67 minutes in his first ever half marathon. What?? And he’s only 18. Next up was my training buddy Niceguy Eddie, who smashed his 75 minute target with a low 74. (His current form could have seen him a minute or two quicker, but he had some hamstring issues towards the end of the race and had to remove one of his legs and run with it under his arm, from what I heard). Next home was Matt, an 800m man, doing a nice gentle 76 minutes. Then there was another club mate who I don’t know, and then me. Richard just behind me in 78 minutes (coming back from injury) and Mr Dependable, Andy, running a solid 80 minutes and change. So we had 7 guys home in 80 minutes or quicker. Stand back Oregon Track Club, here comes Birmingham Running Athletics and Triathlon Club (that’s not a mouthful at all).

Here are my splits:

Mile       Time                 Split
1          00:05:42        00:05:42
2          00:11:37        00:05:55
3          00:17:31        00:05:54
4          00:23:25       00:05:54
5          00:29:17       00:05:52
6          00:35:02       00:05:45
7          00:40:32        00:05:30
8          00:46:41        00:06:09
9          00:52:39        00:05:58
10        00:58:46       00:06:07
11        01:05:30       00:06:44
12        01:11:37        00:06:07
13        01:17:04       00:05:27
13.1    01:17:36       00:00:33

Ave pace 00:05:55 min/mile
00:03:41 min/km

I came 56th (out of just over 11000 finishers).

Here are the full results.

Thanks to my support team, brilliant as always. Bec, Jode, Abs, Jon&Teri. And Gracie. (Although next time Gracie, get your shoes on and come racing).

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