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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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2014 NYC Half

Photos by Andy Kiss

On the Road Again – NYC Half and Gate River Run

The elite running scene shifts from Mondo to asphalt this weekend with two marquee events. Many of America’s best will be either at the Gate River Run in Jacksonville, Fla. on Saturday, or the NYC Half on Sunday, headlined by internationals Mo Farah and Geoffrey Mutai.

The Gate River Run doubles as the U.S. 15K Championships. Ben True is the defending champ and told us in a recent podcast that he’s fit, but a bit tentative after skipping indoors with a balky hamstring. Expect to see Chris Derrick, coming off X-C victories both at Edinburgh and in the U.S. Cross Country Championships at Boulder, mixing it up with True. Bobby Curtis, who was runner-up to True last year, should also be in the hunt.

Shalane Flanagan, prepping for Boston, is the class of the River Run women’s field, which also features Janet Bawcom, Amy Hastings, and Amy Van Alstine, coming off an upset win over Jenny Simpson at XC Champs at Boulder. Look for Shalane to roll early, in patented fashion, and also hold off the lead men in the “equalizer” competition, which gives the elite women a six-plus minute head start.

At the NYC Half Farah and Mutai, the clear frontrunners, will give us a sneak preview of next month’s London Marathon. Mo won the NYC Half in 2011 and has a PR of 1:00:10 in the distance. Mutai has a 58:58 personal best in the half (on a faster course) and ran 2:03:02 at the wind-enhanced Boston marathon. Mo is the world’s best 10k runner, and Mutai is the world’s best marathoner. We give the edge in this race to Mo, since we think the half marathon is closer to a 10K than a marathon. For Mo to win, he needs to stay close to Mutai and then unleash his superior kick; whereas Mutai would need to work harder to gap Mo and then hold Mo off. We suspect Mutai would gladly trade a loss in NYC for a win in London.

Besides those two, Meb Keflezighi is back in form having just won the U.S. Half Marathon Champs in Houston with a 1:01 in January. Matt Tegenkamp will be making his half marathon debut.

The women’s side is tougher to call. The two best PRs in the field are Hilda Kibet (1:07:59 last year at the Roma-Ostia Half) and Caroline Kilel (1:08:16 at the World Half Marathon Champs in Birmingham, U.K. in 2009). There are at nine women just behind them with 1:09 or 1:10 PRs, including Desiree Linden (formerly Davila). Molly Huddle, the American record holder in the 5,000 meters, is making her half marathon debut, as is Sally Kipyego who won silver in the 10,000m at the 2012 Olympics. Huddle showed great form at the end of 2013 and recently ran a 15:13 5,000m indoors.

Among runners we’ve interviewed in our podcast, True, Nick Arciniaga, Jeannette Faber, and Tyler McCandless are racing in Jacksonville, while Reid Coolsaet, Jeffrey Eggleston, Jason Hartman, and Lisa Stublic are in the Big Apple.

The Season of the Kick

A year after Mo Farah won double Olympic gold with explosive final laps in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, the world’s best track runners seem obsessed with showing off their closing speed. It looks as if the elites are trying to send messages to Mo nearly every race, whether he participates or not, and the reigning champ has made a few super-quick statements of his own.  We’ll see who has the last word in Moscow this August.

One consequence of the kick-happy trend has been slower times overall. In 2012, 16 different runners broke 13:00 in the 5,000, for a total of 21 sub-13 performances.  An amazing 11 of them were at one race, the Paris Diamond League event, which was won by Ethiopian Dejan Gebremeskel in a world-leading 12:46.

So far in 2013, there have been only three sub-13s, all in the Rome Diamond League meet won by Ethiopia’s Yenew Alamirew in 12:54. His countryman Hagos Gebrhiwet was second in 12:55 and Kenyan Isaiah Koech was third in 12:58. None of them would have cracked the top 7 at the 2012 Paris race.

But oh, those kicks: In every big 5,000 over the past few months, the winner has closed in at least 53 or 54 seconds. To put that in perspective, the world-leading 800 meter race this year was Duane Solomon’s 1:43:27 at the U.S. Champs. In that race, Solomon ran his second lap in 53:17.

Here, in reverse chronological order, is a rundown of the Season of the Kick:

Lausanne Diamond League (July 4)  Alamirew runs a final lap of 54-flat and a sensationally fast final 200 in about 24.1 (according to the timers at LetsRun.com) to beat Gebrhiwet in 13:06.69.

Birmingham Diamond League (June 30) – Farah runs a final 400 of 53.4 and a final 200 of 25.8 with Alamirew and Gebrhiwet in hot pursuit. Mo’s winning time is 13:14.24

U.S. Track and Field Champs (June 23) – Bernard Lagat blitzes by Galen Rupp toward the end of a 54.22 final lap, but Lagat’s winning time is just 14:54.16 after a super-slow opening two miles. N.C. State’s Ryan Hill finishes third with the second quickest final lap, 54.57.

European Team Champs (June 22)  Farah runs the fastest final lap he has ever run in a 5,000 meter race, closing in 50.89. Still, Farah’s winning time is a pedestrian (for him) 14:10.

Rome Diamond League (June 6) – Alamirew’s world leader of 12:54 is punctuated by a 54.02 final lap ahead of Gebrhiwet and Koech.

Prefontaine Classic (June 1) – Kenya’s Edwin Soi closes in 53.5 or 53.6 (again according to LetsRun.com) to take down Farah, who was coming off an unspecified illness. Soi’s 13:04 win hands Farah his first loss in an outdoor track event in two years.

NEXT UP: The next major international men’s 5,000 is July 19 at the Diamond League meet in Monaco. The World Championships men’s 5000 is August 16 in Moscow.

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