Episode 50 is all about the New York City Marathon…and breaking three hours, of course. Imagine doing that as a nine-year-old. Gregg chats with Wesley Paul, who in 1977 zipped around the five boroughs in 3:00:39 at the tender age of eight, then went sub-3 the next year. Paul offers a childhood peek at the race and wise advice both for young runners generally and for adults looking to run their best at 26.2. Brenn will take Cloud259’s next crack at sub-3 at the NYCM on Sunday, and he bubbles over with pre-race denial about just how awful those last six miles will be.
For those willing to look through the clouds hanging over the sport, there were bright blue skies in Birmingham, U.K. on Sunday and a welcome chance to focus on running, jumping, and throwing. In the third Diamond League event in eight days, several British stars rose to the occasion and other top athletes made statements with 11 weeks left until World Champs in Beijing.
For dramatic finishes, the event of the day was the women’s 200 meters, where Allison Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh brought back memories of their tie for third place in the 100m at the 2012 Olympic Trials. Tarmoh once again got out to the quicker start, and they again crossed the line in unison, with rising U.K. superstar Dina Asher-Smith just a sliver behind. This time, Tarmoh was the winner in the photo finish. She and Felix ran 22:29, with Asher-Smith a hundredth behind in 22:30.
For the 19-year old Asher-Smith, it was a personal best of more than three-tenths of a second and came after she became the fastest U.K. woman ever with by running the 100 meters in 11.02 seconds at Hangelo, Netherlands, last month.
Other Brits sparkled as well, notably Adam Gemili, who first set a new best of 10-flat in round 1 of the 100 meters and came back less than two hours later to run 9.97 for second place to American Marvin Bracy (9.93). He is now the first U.K. athlete to break 10 seconds in the 100 meters and 20 seconds in the 200.
Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill, and long jumper Greg Rutherford will forever be linked by a Saturday night three years ago when each won Olympic gold in front of a roaring home-country crowd. While the first two withdrew from this meet, Rutherford held up his end of the bargain with a victorious 8.35-meter second jump. “I am chuffed to bits,” Rutherford said afterward. He also received the afternoon’s loudest ovation from the fans.
In distance events, the men’s 5,000 went out fast with a 2:33 first kilometer (12:45 pace) from the pacemakers. From about midway on it was a two-man affair as Thomas Longosiwa, the bronze medalist at this distance in London 2012, tucked in behind the younger and taller Isiah Koech. With about 480 meters to go, Longosiwa surged to the front, gained separation by the bell, and won handily with a 57-second-final lap – not the swiftest close by recent standards, but evidence that the wind and fast early pace had taken a toll. Australia’s Collis Birmingham made a bid for third in the final few laps but faded late to a finish seventh in 13:36. The stadium announcer pointed out that Collis was the only athlete with Birmingham written twice on his race bib.
In the men’s 800, Nigel Amos was his usual arm-flailing dynamo in the final meters, and took the win in 1:46.77 ahead of a late charge from Adam Kszczot of Poland. If we were grading outfits, Kszczot would have finished dead last with his green t-shirt beneath a purple singlet with black bottoms. Britain’s Guy Learmouth was tripped just past the midway point of this race and splayed out on the track as the back of the pack had to negotiate over and around him. American Eric Sowniski, who has high hopes to make the U.S. team for Beijing, said it rattled the field but the bigger factor in the slow times was the stiff wind on the backstretch.
Since turning 40 in December, Bernard Lagat has been gobbling up master’s world records like Pac-Man (who himself turns 40 in a few years) and added another in the men’s 1,500 with a 2:41:87 for 8th place. Lagat has looked sharper in longer races this year, including a road 10K in Manchester, U.K. But this race made his best 1,500s such as his classic duels with Hicham El Guerrouj seem like eons ago. James Magut won in 3:37.61 and probably would have had a difficult time beating Farah, but it’s hard to know for sure.
Kenya’s Eunice Sum won the women’s 800 with a 1.59.85, one week after winning a nail-biter with Ajee Wilson at the Pre Classic. Behind Sum was yet another strong performance by a Brit as Laura Muir set a personal best of 2.00.42.
But it wasn’t all wine and roses for the British contingent. One athlete who left Birmingham disappointed was Jessica Judd, who in the U.S. is sometimes called “England’s Mary Cain.” A year older than Cain, Judd similarly took a brief pause from her training a year ago at age 19. Judd is now back and focused on the 1,500 but was looking to run quicker than her 4:12 for 10th place on Sunday.
We’re joined by Desiree Linden in episode 31, just days after her fifth place finish at the New York City Marathon. The uber-cool elite describes her windblown NYC race and outlines the Hansons-Brooks training approach that turned the 2:44 debutante into a 2:22 runner and one of the world’s best. Elsewhere, we recap pros who took flight in the fall marathon season, those whose wings were clipped, and a few missing in action. Brenn details his NYC race where the proof was in the pudding, and Gregg gets on the soapbox to draw inspiration from a race walker.
In Episode 30, we preview the New York City marathon with a focus on Tatyana McFadden, the indomitable wheelchair athlete who is seeking a Grand Slam of four major marathon wins for the second consecutive year. Tatyana discusses her road from a Russian orphanage to the pinnacle of track, marathoning, and cross-country skiing. We preview the rest of the elite NYC marathon fields, relay advice from local runners who smashed the three hour barrier at Chicago, and get set for Brenn’s next attempt at 26.2 miles. Finally, Gregg climbs on the soapbox to skewer Russia’s international adoption ban.
Shalane Flanagan’s mindset as she readies for the BMW Berlin Marathon this Sunday is familiar to far less accomplished runners. Instead of focusing on the win per se, Shalane’s focus will be on a specific time.
Of course in Shalane’s case, the time happens to be 2:19:35 or better, which would make her the fastest U.S. women’s marathoner ever, breaking Deena Kastor‘s record set in London in 2006.
What this means is Flanagan has no doubt been obsessed with a certain number, namely 5:19, the pace she needs to crank out every mile on the fast, flat course in Berlin. Just like those of us trying to break 3 hours, for example, have 6:52 etched in our brains.
And for all runners, stretching our limit from the get-go can be nerve-racking.
“I may epically fail, but at least I’ll find out whether I have what it takes. It’s a daunting task,” she told Runner’s World recently.
Shalane’s willingness to openly discuss her record ambition is atypical, as most runners tend to be coy about specific time goals (an exception would be our recent guest Christo Landry who is looking for a 2:10:51 or better in Chicago to become the second fastest American this year). But Shalane seems to enjoy laying it all on the line, leaving little mystery. Typically, her strategy has been to attempt to break her competitors’ will with relentless front-running, such as at this year’s Boston Marathon. Her competitors at Berlin know they will have to run fast to win.
This Sunday, she’ll be tuning out the other women and, for the majority of the race, staring at the shoulder blades of personal pacers Ryan Vail of the U.S. and Rob Watson of Canada, who are both training for fall marathons.
Some may say that even splits with pacers and no surges makes for a boring race to watch. But like any marathon, the drama will build. Will she be able to hold on in the latter stages of the race? If she is in the hunt for a win (which she should be if she is running 2:19 pace), how will that affect her race? It’s hard to believe that she won’t also try to bag a World Marathon Major win, the first by an American female since Kastor won Chicago in 2005.
Flanagan chose Berlin over Chicago, another pancake-flat course, mainly because of the greater predictability of the weather. She has some company in Dennis Kimetto, one of the favorites on the men’s side along with Tsegaye Kebede and Emmanuel Mutai. Kimetto ran a sparkling 2:03:45 course record in the Windy City last year but has said that he believes Berlin is faster. The weather appears favorable though not ideal, with high-50s to low-60s temps, little wind, but also little cloud cover forecast.
Our guess for Flanagan? We think she has the ability to break the record, and she said she’s fitter than ever for the marathon, so we’re giving her at least a 50-50 shot. Her 2:22:02 at this year’s Boston was under perfect conditions, with a slight tailwind, but the flatter course of Berlin should yield an additional couple of minutes. She was on sub-2:19 pace halfway at Boston. With a slightly slower first half and even splits, she could still set the record.
We also think there’s at least as good a chance she wins the race outright. Of the other main contenders, notably Ethiopia’s Feyse Tadese and Tirfi Tsegaye, none have a personal best better than 2:21, and the absolute best in the world are elsewhere, with Rita Jeptoo and Florence Kiplagat running Chicago and Priscah Jeptoo and Mary Keitany running New York.
On the other hand, being in great shape gives a runner a chance at a breakthrough performance, but it doesn’t guarantee one. Further, both Tadese and Tsegaye know Flanagan’s hand. Their response may be to hop on board the Flanagan-Vail-Watson train and wait to strike with a hard surge with a few miles left. Will Shalane have the strength and speed to respond? Either way it will be fun to watch.
In Episode 28, we digest the daylong street festival of running that is New York City’s 5th Avenue Mile. We’ve got post-race interviews with the pro race winners Jenny Simpson and Jordan McNamara, as well as Brenda Martinez and Irishman Paul Robinson. We also chat with Central Park Track Club masters runner Daniel Gercke, who shares keys to his remarkable improvement after a late start in the sport. Elsewhere in the show, Brenn recounts his double mile, and the recently relocated Gregg offers his first impressions of running in the U.K.