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Twin Cities Marathon: Tyler Pennel hopes first time’s the charm

Tomorrow’s Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon offers an intriguing twist: the favorite on the men’s side, 26-year-old Tyler Pennel, has never raced the distance before. Pennel boasts the fastest half-marathon PR in the field, with a 1:01:44 at this year’s USA Half-Marathon Championship in Houston. Pennel also ran 1:02:20 at the World Half Marathon Championship in March.

Pennel seems prepared to avoid the classic debutant’s mistake. In an interview on usatf.tv, Tyler said that he’ll “try and stay relaxed and attack the last 10k.” When he says, “every time I move up, I tend to run better,” he echoes a younger Ryan Hall.

Tyler McCandless, who is coached by U.K. marathon record holder Steve Jones and who led during much of last year’s race, is among those likely to mix it up with Pennel. Sergio Reyes, who won Twin Cities in 2010 and finished 4th last year, is the top returning finisher. Sean Quigley has a 2:14:12 marathon PR and won the 2014 U.S. 7-mile championships.

On the women’s side, 2012 champion Jeannette Faber is back, though dealing with plantar fasciitis. She will likely be challenged by Esther Erb, Meghan Peyton, and Brianne Nelson.

The Twin Cities Marathon doubles as the USA Marathon Championship, and though the entrants include only longshots to make the 2016 Olympic Team, a surprising performance or two could change that. At the very least, it is a decent undercard to the upcoming World Marathon Majors in Chicago and New York and offers a glimpse at possible future stars at 26.2. Chilly conditions are forecast.

The races will be broadcast live Sunday on usatf.tv at 9:00 a.m. EDT.

USA Outdoors Start Lists, And The Winners Are…

The distance events at the USATF Track & Field Championships kick off Thursday in Sacramento, and there are clear favorites in most of the races. In an “off” year with no Olympics or World Championships, it’s all about winning, as second or third won’t win you a ticket to a larger stage.

If Galen Rupp runs the 10,000, he should cruise (his qualifying mark is full minute faster than the next fastest, Ryan Vail‘s 27:44). Jenny Simpson and Molly Huddle should handle the 1,500 and 5,000. Evan Jager and Emma Coburn are heavy favorites in the steeples, and Duane Solomon should take the men’s 800. The women’s 10,000 also boasts a heavy favorite in Shalane Flanagan, but this is where things get interesting.

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Kim Conley en route to a PR of 8:44 in the 3000m at Diamond League NYC

Also in the women’s 10,000, which starts at 8:20 PM PCT on Thursday night (11:20 EDT) is Sacramento’s own Kim Conley, who ran 31:48 at Payton Jordan and who more recently set a PR in the 3,000 at the adidas Grand Prix in New York. She and Jordan Hasay, who ran 31:39 at Payton Jordan, will hope to be within striking distance of Shalane and utilize their track speed towards the end. It may not be as easy for Shalane to break these two as it was for her to break the field in a hot race at U.S. Outdoors in Des Moines last year.

Will Galen Rupp run the men’s 5,000, and if so, will he be challenged? The 5000 is the day after the 10,000. If Rupp doesn’t scratch after the 10,000 (and if he’s not busy attending to newborn twins), he’ll be facing relatively fresh competition. Bernard Lagat ran an un-Lagat-like 13:31 at Pre, but historically Lagat has had Rupp’s number, including at last year’s 5,000 at USAs when Rupp was seen as the favorite. Hassan Mead should also be in the mix. Missing from the race is Ben True, who is hoping to run a fast 5000 at the Diamond League race in Paris on July 5.

The men’s 1,500 and the women’s 800 are both wide open. Without Matt Centrowitz, the men’s 1,500 will likely go to Leo Manzano or Will Leer, with David Torrence in the mix. Brenda Martinez and Channelle Price go head to head in the women’s 800. It will be interesting to see what  Maggie Vessey will be wearing, and after her strong performance and fashion statement at the Prefontaine Classic, whether she’ll compete for the win.

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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Group therapy begins for Salazar, USATF

From one angle, the US Indoor Track & Field Championships was another strong weekend for Nike distance running. Eight of the 12 qualifiers for the World Indoor meet in the 800m, 1500m, and 3000m represent the brand, including five of the six men. Four of the five competing athletes from Alberto Salazar’s elite Nike Oregon Project finished first or second and qualified for World’s. As track goes, Nike prides itself on performance and the NOP is its premiere group. Check, check.

From another angle, never has an indoor track meet been such a public airing of a company’s dirty laundry. Not only did Salazar by numerous media accounts lose his cool, to put it mildly, but he was able to merit a DQ of another Nike coach’s athlete on no evidence, pointing a spotlight not only on the discord between the competing Nike training groups but more so on the inability of the USATF to govern the meet. The USATF is largely funded by Nike. And we haven’t even mentioned the Gabriele Grunewald fiasco that started the whole mess.

The more you look, the uglier it gets. In a statement on Grunewald’s ruling reversal USATF CEO Max Siegel either weakly defended or sold down the river those who made the initial ruling to DQ Grunewald as people who “volunteer their time to serve the sport.” Are we to take this as an explanation for what happened, that those making the initial ruling were unpaid citizens, perhaps with insufficient knowledge of track? That’s not exactly a Nike puppet state, that’s no state at all.

The good news: the off-the-track action was so egregious that the athletes and journalists have gone on record criticizing Salazar and the USATF, which is a touchy business given possible repercussions in terms of access to meets and athletes. Popular ex-Nike athletes Lauren Fleshman and Nick Symmonds had previously called for change in the sport, but when Nike’s current superstars Shalane Flanagan, Will Leer, and Lopez Lomong speak out and when the primary media site for track and field news letsrun.com gets in on the act condemning behavior and demanding answers, it signals the dam has broken. Kara Goucher has signed on to the budding T&F Athletes Association. Expect more to follow. The runners are unifying for change.

Salazar is a remarkable character, seemingly sketched out of a Greek tragedy. Having literally come back from the dead, he has forged a legacy both as athlete and coach transcending running. He’s Vince Lombardi but with MVPs from an actual playing career. It is ironic that what has brought about the public condemnation was Salazar getting his way. His ability to defend his athletes beyond reason and to exert absolute control over the results (initially) was his undoing in Albuquerque.

Salazar is coaching some of America’s (Galen Rupp, Mary Cain, Jordan Hasay) and the world’s (Mo Farah) most precious distance runners. Nike executives may forgive the dark side of his behavior for the sake of winning to a point, but the implosion last weekend is a distraction they (and one would guess, the parents of Mary Cain) may not tolerate again. For Nike, the athletes are the ones selling the brand, not the coach.

It is difficult but not impossible to imagine Salazar offering a public apology and the USATF, having hit rock bottom, changing for the better. The on-the-track distance running action at the Indoor Champs was thrilling, capping a surprisingly robust season for the sport in the U.S. The one race that wasn’t close, the women’s 1500m, was won by rising superstar Cain, only 17. This train wreck should help the sport grow on more stable footing.

Nothing controversial about it

If you haven’t yet, watch the tape. There was clearly no foul. The question: Why did Gabriele Grunewald get disqualified? The answer: The force of Alberto Salazar’s will is stronger than the backbone of the USATF, an organization Nike influences with its outsized funding. The ruling embarrasses both Nike and the USATF and violates the integrity of the sport. Things will now change. You may be able to control a race, but you can’t control a movement.

2013 US Track Nats performance by sponsor

Nike dominated the leaderboard at the outdoor US Track & Field Nationals. Looking solely at the distance events (800, 1500, 3000 steeple, 5000, and 10,000), 16 of the 30 athletes (53%) who finished first, second, or third are sponsored by Nike. Nike’s men filled 11 of the 15 medal slots (73%) and won 4 of the 5 events (Duane Solomon‘s victory over Nick Symmonds prevented the sweep. Solomon represents Saucony).

The women’s results were more “balanced” thanks in part to New Balance’s Jenny Simpson and Brenda Martinez and also because Alysia Montano, whose contract with Nike was up at the end of last year, is now signed with Asics. Nike women won two of the five events and took 5 of the 15 medal slots (33%).

Here is the tally among those who finished first, second, or third:

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Nike also had the most participants in the finals of any shoe company, but its lead was less pronounced here. Nike fielded 12 of the 71 finalists for women (17%), 28 of the 63 finalists for men (44%) , and 40 of the 134 finalists overall (30%). Note that the data include runners at the starting line on the day of the event, not those who scratched.

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Meantime, off the track, sales of running shoes are booming, according to a running industry report by Running USA. And, among “core runners,” Nike here is not dominating; rather Asics (21.8%) and Brooks (21.6%) lead the pack. But if you look more generally at running shoe sales and apparel sales, according to data presented last year by SportsOneSource, Nike’s dominance off the track is in line with its performance on it.

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