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Episode 53: Olympian Blake Russell makes another run at Boston

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Among the Americans to cheer at the Boston Marathon on April 17 is 2008 Olympian Blake Russell. The 41-year-old mother of two is fit and hopes to add an outstanding result to a career that includes wins at the 2003 and 2015 U.S. marathon championships. After Gregg grills Blake, Brenn grills Gregg on his preparation for the London Marathon, which takes place the following week. Elsewhere in the episode, Gregg speculated on what will happen at the Nike-sponsored attempt to break 2 hours at the marathon, and whether (or not) Jordan Hasay will beat Desi Linden at Boston.


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Episode 47: Esther Atkins and the Spirit of Competition

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Esther Atkins at the 2015 World Marathon Championships. Photo courtesy Esther Atkins.

In Episode 47, we cover the recently completed Boston Marathon and upcoming London Marathon. Our guest, 2014 U.S. Marathon Champ Esther Atkins (nee Erb), discusses how to accomplish even pacing over 26.2. In a wide-ranging interview, she also covers the business side of the sport, the “Erbbot,” and her plans for the future (hint: Tokyo Olympic Games, 2020). We revisit the issue of the harassment of women’s runners, and provide shout-outs to listeners whose impressive performances all ended with a “9”.

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Episode 46: Ian Burrell aims for top 10 finish at Boston

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Ian Burrell and his daughter. Photo courtesy Ian Burrell.

In Episode 46, we let our guests do (most of) the talking. Ian Burrell describes to Gregg his approach to the April 18 Boston Marathon, his recent sponsorship changes, running with Tourette’s syndrome, and the daily routine of an elite distance runner who’s also a family man and a partner in a law firm. In our second interview Polly Jones speaks out about the troubling and pervasive issue of the harassment of women runners.

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Episode 36: From Boston to London to the Abyss

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Gregg and Brenn highlight the ups and downs from Boston, focusing on Meb, Desi, and the guest from our last podcast, Nate Jenkins. In a departure from the usual upbeat banter about running with an elite guest, Gregg and Brenn take turns on the analyst’s couch to find answers for lagging health and motivation. Before all hope is lost, we hint at where to place your bets for the London Marathon.

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Episode 35: Nate Jenkins and the 2015 Boston Marathon

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Photo courtesy Nate Jenkins

If ever there was an inspiring comeback story, we’ve got one in Nate Jenkins, who hopes to make a long-awaited return to the marathon in Boston on April 20. Years after finishing 7th at the Olympic Trials in 2007 and losing coordination in one of his legs, Nate discusses his long recovery, his current training, and his hopes for Hopkinton. After the chat with Nate, Gregg and Brenn recap the indoor track season and delve into political issues in the sport. Gregg gives a race report of his Dubai Marathon, where camaraderie trumped competition.

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Amazing races: Meb and Shalane at the Boston Marathon

A great deal in a marathon is beyond a runner’s control: cramping, upset stomach, injury, race-day illness, or just “not having it” can keep a runner in the best shape of his or her life from achieving a personal record.

If Shalane and Meb were, like amateurs, focused on PRs, Shalane might be happier about her race, given that she cut her PR by three and a half minutes, while Meb sliced his by 36 seconds. But of course they are not amateurs. Elites whose goal is to win face a different obstacle from the rest of us, namely, the performance of other elites.

Meb and Shalane ran generally similar front-running races at the Boston Marathon. One reason why Meb won and Shalane finished 7th is that Meb’s competition, including Lelisa Desisa, Dennis Kimetto, Micah Kogo, and Gebre Gebremarian, drastically underperformed (Kogo was the only one of the four to finish, in a time of 2:17:12), while on the women’s side, Rita Jeptoo, Buzu Deba, and others outdid themselves.

Shalane’s time of 2:22:02 is 13 minutes, 25 seconds slower than Meb’s winning time of 2:08:37.  Besides this year, there have been only three Boston marathons when the difference between the men’s and women’s winning times were 13:25 or less (1991, 2002, and 2005). Looking at all marathons, Meb’s time was the tenth fastest by an American male, Shalane’s was fifth fastest by an American woman. Though seventh wasn’t the place Shalane was targeting at Boston, it is a place higher than how Mo Farah finished at London.

Meb and Shalane both ran from the front, but Shalane took it to the competition from the very moment the race started. Even at the fluid stations, she quickly regained the lead after grabbing her bottle. These mini-surges didn’t help her in the end, but they were likely part of a larger psychological strategy that gave her the best chance to win – give the competition no break. Shalane tried to exert a modicum of control over the biggest uncontrollable element, the performance of her competitors, by forcing a fast race. Jeptoo admitted after the race that she didn’t feel well early on. Perhaps if she had felt just a touch worse, she would have fallen back, and the rest of the chase pack would have had to decide whether to go with the American contender or stick with the returning champion.

Meb exerted looser control over the men’s race. He was near the front of a much larger pack until he and Josphat Boit moved up between eight and nine miles in. For a short time Boit had a small lead. When Meb looked back late in the race, he may have been surprised to see that it was Wilson Chebet giving chase, not Desisa or Kimetto. While Shalane’s competitors took her as a serious threat, Meb’s competitors seemed not to worry.

Not only was Meb’s victory unforseen by his competitors, it was unforseen by the press. Like other running media outlets, we targeted Shalane as having the best chance among Americans to win. Heading in to the race, Meb’s marathon PR was only the 15th fastest among the men (Shalane’s was 16th fastest among the women), but his prior Boston PR of 2:09:26 from 2010 was faster than the times of the top three – Desisa, Kogo, and Gebremarian – at last year’s race. Kimetto and Desisa’s 2:03- and 2:04-handle races had come on flat courses. Boston is famed for its hills.

Why did we discount Meb? The competition and his age, 38, teetering on 39 (Shalane is 32). For amateurs, a newfound focus on running can lead to improvement in the late 30s, into the 40s, and beyond. Better training trumps natural physical decline. For pros, new PRs at ages closer to 40 than 30 are highly unusual because the pros generally spend much of their adult lives training hard, so improvements in training that offset natural physical decline are more difficult to achieve. Meb ran the 10,000 at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, won the silver at the Athens Olympics in 2004, and came in 4th at the London Olympics in 2012. Suddenly, we don’t see Rio 2016, assuming Meb doesn’t retire now at the top of his game, as out of the question for him.

Episode 22: Taper and the Toad

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It’s taper time for Boston marathoners, and Tyler McCandless makes a quick return to cloud259 with advice on how to spend the last week before a race. Elsewhere in episode 22, we ponder how Ryan Hall and Shalane Flanagan will run at Boston, recap the crowning of Wilson Kipsang at the London Marathon, and tell the tale of a toad that stole the hearts of Manchester, England.

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