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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 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 7: Patrick Rizzo and the London Marathon

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Photo by Dustin Whitlow

In episode 7 we have the good fortune to catch up with Patrick Rizzo, the top American finisher (12th overall, in 2:16:10) at the London Marathon. Patrick describes the tense pre-race atmosphere on the heels of the Boston tragedy, hiccups he faced during the race, and running as a pacer in London last year. Rizzo shows a true distance runner’s grit in his attitudes about facing top competition and making a living by running. Elsewhere in the episode, we offer lessons from the spring marathons, Gregg shares exemplary post-Boston writing, and Brenn critiques coverage that fell short. That means you, New York Post.

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London Marathon Preview & Picks

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Race organizers and many previews are calling Sunday’s London Marathon “the greatest field ever assembled.” We have no reason to dispute the claim – the men’s field has 10 sub-2:06 runners, a total of 15 World Marathon Majors wins, and the course record holders from every one of the marquee races.

Will the deepest field ever produce the fastest race ever? The pacers, including Mo Farah, are planning to take the lead runners through halfway in 1:01:45, just below world record pace. For perspective, Lelisa Desisa reached the half at last week’s Boston Marathon at 1:04:55, over three minutes slower.

Only nine American-born runners in history have run a half marathon as fast as 1:01:45, but there may be 10 guys in the lead pack at midway Sunday. The weather looks favorable, if slightly cold, with mid-40s temperatures and low winds forecast.

The favorites have to be the three 2:03 guys: Patrick Makau (world record holder with a 2:03:38 in Berlin 2011), Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02 at Boston 2011 on the non-record-eligible course), and Wilson Kipsang (2:03:42 in Frankfurt 2011). . Other top contenders include 2010 London champion Tsegaye Kebede and Ugandan Olympic gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich. Patrick Rizzo is the top American. His 2:13:42 PR is the 20th fastest in the field.

Though the women’s race isn’t getting near the attention it would had Tirunesh Dibaba not been a scratch (perhaps Dibaba and Mary Keitany will go head-to-head next year), it still boasts a deep field. Olympic gold medalist Tiki Gelana from Ethiopia is the favorite, with three top Kenyans Edna Kiplagat, Florence Kiplagat, and Olympic silver medalist Priscah Jeptoo also headlining. Edna finished third at London two years ago, and second last year, before finishing a disappointing 20th at the Olympics. Renee Baillie, the top American heading in, is a scratch with the flu. Now for the staff picks:

Gregg:

  • Difficult to pick against Makau or Mutai, but I’ll go with Kipsang for the win. He’s the only one of the three to have performed well on the London course, winning last year, and he looked suitably fit in his New York Half victory in March.
  • I’ll take Geoffrey Mutai for second. However, I don’t have Makau third. If the pace Sunday goes out as fast as planned, it will be a race of attrition on the second half. That could open the door for a somewhat lesser-known talent to pick off runners late in the race and make the podium. I’ll take Stanley Biwott for third. Biwott won Paris in 2:05:11 in 2012 and was considered a top pick for NYC last year before that race was canceled.
  • As for the world record, I’d love to see it, but I think the field is too stacked. Most of the recent world records have been in races with narrower fields, either Haile Gebrselassie’s time trials in Berlin or Makau’s effort over Haile on the same course. And although London has a reputation as a fast course, Emanuel Mutai’s course record of 2:04:40 in 2011 is now only the 13th fastest performance of all time.
  • On the women’s side,  and I’ll take Tiki Gelana for the win with Edna Kiplagat rebounding with another strong second this year. I’ll take Jeptoo for third.
  • Patrick Rizzo is our next scheduled guest on the podcast. I predict he’ll run a 2:12 PR and crack the top 15.

Brenn:

  • In a tactical race I’d like the favorites, but given a blistering pace from the gun, I’m going to tilt the advantage toward the young guys over the storied vets. Tsegaye Kebede for the win. Kebede, who won bronze at the Beijing Olympics way back in 2008, is still only 26 years old. Kipsang and Mutai are 31. A pair of 22-year-olds, Ayele Abshero and Feyisa Lilesa, for second and third. When Wanjiru won Beijing in 2008, suddenly the marathon became a younger man’s game, and I foresee a return to that theme.
  • On the women’s side I’ll go with Jeptoo to make it two Jeptoos in two weeks, Gelana in second, and Florence Kiplagat in third.    
  • The British sportsbook William Hill lists Patrick Rizzo as a 200-1 longshot to win. An American in Britain who wishes to place a wager on Rizzo may note that the New England Patriots were also 200-1 longshots to win the Super Bowl the first season that Tom Brady took them to the promised land. I won’t be so bold, but I say Rizzo picks off a few of the disposed runners from the lead pack en route to a PR.

With Rise of “Other Kipsang,” Have Mutais Been Eclipsed as Fastest Name in Distance Running?

We previewed four upcoming star-studded half marathons a week ago, and the first of them, Friday’s RAK Half Marathon in the United Arab Emirates, didn’t disappoint. A record three runners broke 59 minutes, led by Geoffrey Kipsang in 58:54, followed by Stanley Biwott in 58:56 and Geoffrey Mutai in 58:58.  It was only seven years ago that the emperor Haile Gebrselassie first broke the 59 minute mark, and already it’s been achieved by 12 other men, 10 of them Kenyans.

On the women’s side, Lucy Kabuu won a similarly fast race in 66:09. Three other women broke 67 minutes, also a record.

Back to Geoffrey Kipsang: He’s just 20 years old and has the potential to be a marathon star, judging by his half and XC performances. He’s run only one marathon, a 2:06:12 third-place finish in Berlin last year. Geoffrey is not related to Wilson Kipsang, who might be the best world’s top marathoner right now.  In addition to his Olympic bronze medal from the London Games, Wilson beat a stellar field at the London Marathon last year in 2:04:44 and won Frankfurt the year before that in 2:03:42, only four seconds off the world record.

So who would win a duel over 26.2 miles, the Kipsangs or the Mutais?  Geoffrey Mutai ran that wind-aided 2:03:02 at Boston in 2011, the fastest marathon ever run, although it wasn’t on a record-eligible course. He then set a course record at New York the same year (2:05:05), and won Berlin last year in a swift 2:04:15.  Emmanuel Mutai (not related to Geoffrey) has a long list of credits including the London Marathon course record of 2:04:40 which he set in 2011.

It’s tough, but we’ll give the slight edge to the Kipsangs, who appear to have more momentum in the last year or so.  The Mutais were world-beaters in 2011, and while we can’t say Geoffrey Mutai is in a slump after a 58:58 personal best at 13.1 miles, his namesake Emmanuel finished 11th in the same race today in 61:32.

Wilson Kipsang and both Mutais are scheduled to run London on April 21.  No info yet on Geoffrey Kipsang’s next marathon attempt.

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