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I woke up at 4 AM to watch the Flora London Marathon yesterday over UniversalSports.com’s live video stream. While my laptop booted, I brewed coffee and toasted bread. And then, there they were, the elite women, already charging through the suburbs of London, hell-bent and determined to get to Buckingham Palace in two hours and twenty minutes. Irina looked strong, and led with Mara Yamauchi (I somehow missed her sixth-place finish at the 2008 Olympics, and expected her to be Japanese rather than an English Rose) and Olympic bronze medalist Zhou Chunxiu from very early on, with all the lettered vets in a second pack behind them. I was psyched to see Zhou up there for so long–don’t you think she’s kind of like the Terminator?–but this time her cold got the better of her and she finished 12th. Mara’s stunning performance on her home turf was a thrill; she set a huge “pee bee” (as the Brits call our PRs) by 1 minute and 51 seconds. My predictions were crap; I only called the winner (a no-brainer). Kate O’Neill, the top American seed, came in 14th, in 2:34:48. 

Women’s Race (Prediction / Actual)

  1. Irina Mikitenko / Irinia Mikitenko
  2. Gete Wami / Mara Yamauchi
  3. Svetlana Zakharova  / Liliya Shobukhova

The men’s race was exciting, primarily because of the speed. The lead pack went out very fast, at sub-world record pace. I am not quite sure why they asked the rabbits for that, did Sammy really think he was going to set the world record? Maybe this is where my staunch belief in the negative split falls away–at this level of racing, they don’t use such strategies because they are just that good? Or maybe the pacers just screwed up. When the pack of three leaders broke off–Wanjiru, Kebede, and Gharib–I must admit I was disappointed Goumri wasn’t with them. He ultimately finished 6th. Wanjiru broke the course record, and 4 men finished under 2:07. Again, my predictions were el stinko, since I called the winner (again, a no-brainer) but bombed the 2-3.  I do think that Tadese will podium in a major marathon soon–even though he wasa DNF yesterday.

Men’s Race (Prediction / Actual)

  1. Sammy Wanjiru / Sammy Wanjiru
  2. Abderrahim Goumri / Tsegay Kebede
  3. Zersenay Tadese / Jaouad Gharib

I had one misty moment when the cameras panned the starting line for the men’s race. They showed the hordes of runners all packed in for hundreds of yards back, and the announcers went on about “36,000 runners today…” One tear snuck out before I chided myself, Do you think Paula’s sitting at home with her broken foot sniffling into her tea? No! I mean, really, TK: move on! 

One thing that made this spectating experience fun was that I was also logged in to Twitter the whole time. After a while, the chorus of tweets from @PatriceMalloy, @joegarland, @flotrack and others began to feel like we were all sitting around on the ass-magnet couch in my loft, drinking beers, just a bunch of friends watching a big “game” together and talking distance running. Normally, I’d have been emailing frantically back and forth with my girl TS, but she was out on the course with her camera getting some fabulous action shots. Recommended reading: her from-the-curb spectating report , replete with amazing photography.

So let’s talk about pacers. Really, why must the WMM races keep the pacers? These athletes are professionals, they spend every waking hour preparing to race the marathon. Don’t you think they should manage their own pace from the start? New York City has no pacers–and we have had remarkable races here. Not to mention that the rabbits block the view of the runners for those of us watching at home. It just seems like a little too much pampering, too much of an assist tot he elites, especially now when finishing times are faster than ever. The IAAF condones the use of pacers; others do not; and here is some history on how pacemakers came to be common practice.

At 7 AM I shuffled back to bed, satisfied with the knowledge of Sammy’s win and Meb Keflezighi’s 9th place finish (Dathan cramped up, and came in 11th. Poor kid). One of my predictions, though, was spot-on: as I snuggled in for an early-morning nap, Husband grumbled, “What was all that shouting?”

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….”And who is this upstart wearing a numbered bib? An American… with pigtails and a pink singlet… sprinting past Mikitenko and Wami… they are stunned by this runner they’ve never heard of nor seen before… wow folks, this is the sports story of the century… look at her pigtails fly behind her as she breaks the tape!!”…..

Oops, wrong post. This is my Flora London Marathon predictions post, not my fantasy post.

Yes, I am getting up at 4 AM EST to watch the live stream on UniversalSports.com.

Yes, I will probably sniffle quietly into my coffee cup as I mutter damn adductor brevis over and over again.

Yes, I will definitely wake up Husband sometime around 6 AM as I cheer from the kitchen table.

Men’s Race (updated 6:30 PM 4/25)

  1. Sammy Wanjiru
  2. Abderrahim Goumri
  3. Martin Lel Zersenay Tadese

When Wanjiru first hit my radar, I was a little put off by his boastful nature. But then, I was won over by his audacity and confidence, despite his young age (he’s 22). I was converted once & for all when he won the Olympic Marathon by training for the heat and humidity, and winning as a front runner, leaving WMM champions dropped and broken behind him. I will always root for him to win, unless he’s running against Ryan. I wish I could pick Goumri to win, as I love love the Underdog, but Sammy’s just got too much going on; I don’t know if Goumri is hungry enough to beat him. @6:30 PM–I just scratched Lel as he has withdrawn from the race due to his hip problems (Martin I feel your disappointment!). I’ve put Tadese in his place instead, who makes his debut for the distance but I like the idea of a marathon newbie taking third and leaving everyone else grumbling. I also predict that Meb Keflezighi will finish in the top ten. Based on last year’s top ten finishing times — all under 2:11:44 — Dathan Ritzenheim has a chance to finish in the top ten as well if you consider his PR (2:11:07) and Olympic showing (#9), but that’s if some of the other faster guys in the field burn out and he turns in another PR. (Also, why did I think Khalid Khannouchi was running this marathon?)

Women’s Race

  1. Irina Mikitenko
  2. Gete Wami
  3. Svetlana Zakharova

I like the idea of Irina winning London two in a row; Gete, last year’s WMM Champ, should never be underestimated; and for third place I couldn’t decide between Ludmila Petrova and Zakharova. I ultimately went with Zakharova for third primarily because I think Svetlana is a super name. Do you think her friends call her Lana for short? That’s kind of sexy. Or maybe they call her Zak. Would it be cruel or cool to name your baby girl Svetlana in today’s USA? (Sorry for this strange digression. Blame this.)

Go here for more great info on all the elite runenrs in tomorrow’s race:

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Knowing Me…

Hypothetical situation. Let’s say the doctors tell me I can participate in the Flora London Marathon, but I can’t race it (or maybe even run the entire thing)? If you were me, with all my goal-oriented competitiveness; but also with my sweet romantic relationship I have with our chosen sport, what would you do? Also to consider: a) there would be the chance of worsening my injury, b) I am traveling to London all by myself, c) travel costs can be recouped if I don’t go, and d) my fundraising for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s reasearch in honor of my friend Dan. Now: VOTE.

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Did you know that in the UK, most of the amateur racers in marathons are fundraising for one charity or another? It’s the rule, rather than the exception. Here in the US, running for charity is becoming more and more popular. I have run two marathons as a member of Team in Training, and in fact, my first race ever (The Run to Home Plate 5k) had a charity component (I raised about $300 for the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation).

I’ve been donating to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research for many years, and I get their email newsletter. That’s how I learned about Team Fox. Not just for runners, Team Fox supports citizen fundraisers of all types–people who hold community pancake breakfasts, organize cruise trips, or climb Mount Everest to gather funds that the MJFF can use to finance research. I’m amazed at some of the ideas fellow Team Fox members not only dream up but execute. (I wish I’d thought of this idea first…) Me, I was instantly jazzed the second I heard that Team Fox will get me entry to any of the five World Marathon Majors races, if I promise to raise $5,000.  That, I thought, is what I’m going to do for Dan. After I saw Ryan Hall’s spine-tingling performance online (yes, I watched the whole race on my laptop, cheering like a crazy person) last April, I knew I had to trace that course as well.

I registered with Team Fox the second I heard registration was open for the 2009 Flora London Marathon, convinced that runners would be elbowing each other out of the way for a chance at guaranteed entry. I was so psyched (yes, psyched!) to sign on with Team Fox that I didn’t even feel silly when they told me (in October) that I would be the first on the list for a bib, as soon as they got their entries from the race organizers. As it turns out, I am the only Team Fox runner headed to London, from the whole of the US!  With Team Fox, there aren’t any group runs, or coaches who hold your hand through training and taper, but they do give you this nifty blue plastic portfolio to corral all your fundraising papers, and help you promote your events by mentioning them in email newsletters and on their blog. Also, I’ll get to race in a Team Fox singlet, which I think is cool. Their offices are in the Financial District, and my contact is no-nonsense and very helpful (and also a speedy runner–she finished the London Marathon just several minutes over three hours).

I like the way, instead of holing up away from the public, Michael J. Fox started this foundation to quickly finance research to find a cure. I like the foundation’s mission, and I like that Fox is deeply involved, rather than merely lending his name for publicity.  Full disclosure: he remains one of my favorite actors, I never missed an episode of “Family Ties” or “Spin City” because of him, and Back to the Future still makes me laugh. His memoir, Lucky Man, is a great read, and takes you through his rise to fame but more importantly, through the first years in which he lived with Parkinson’s.

We all know Parkinson’s Disease sucks. If someone dear to you has it, well then you know first hand the practical implications of the facts I’m going to list now. Nearly 5 million folks suffer from its effects. It’s a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder whose symptoms progress, unrelentingly. There’s no cure, and current treatments just minimize the symptoms without halting the disease’s progression. Symptoms I’ve seen include involuntary tremors, depression, speech difficulties, decreased mobility, imbalance and dry eyes.

I leave you with a video of Fox cheering on members of his team at the 2008 New York City Marathon. I remember this part of the race (Mile 24), but don’t remember passing the Team Fox cheering station. But by that time, I was a “little dazed,” though I prefer the word “focused.”

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London Calling

Sometimes I don’t dare get excited about what’s to come. Sometimes it’s too much to hope for future joys. But in the case of the Flora London Marathon, on April 26, 2009, I can’t help myself. I’ve barely recovered from NYC and already I’m having visions of myself jetting across the ocean, getting ready to dash through the London suburbs and city streets, an impetuous American girl cheekily beating the Brits on their own course. This is the first in a series of posts about London, and running in London, and the 2009 Flora London Marathon, as I slowly acclimate towards my next 26.2-mile endeavor over the next half-dozen months. 

My friend, runner, and fellow follower of the elites TS moved to London (her job shipped her off, lucky lady) several months ago. She blogs about her efforts to unwrap the place at Tea Knee Goes to the UK (added to my blog roll a few weeks ago), and has generously allowed me to excerpt one of her posts, about a recent run through the royal city. I’ve been begging her for details about her London runs, as one of my all-time favorite runs was while on vacation there with Mom a few years ago. For the four or five days we were there, every morning I’d head out along the south side of the Thames, from Borough Market all the way past the London Eye, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, up to Big Ben and Parliament, then turn around and head back to our hotel. 

So. Here is TS’s narration of her first foray as a runner on the streets of London. Take it away, TS! 

October 21, 2008: On Wednesday, on the suggestion of my director, I decided to venture off the treadmill and run in the open air. The idea was to run along the embankment up to Westminster and then cut across into the city and run through St. James Park up to Hyde Park around the Serpentine and back to the office. “Idea” being the operative word. I started out on the wrong tone, taking a left when I was supposed to take a right, so I ended up taking the round-a-bout way to the embankment path. From there I paced myself off an attractive Brit gentlemen (his Englishness being an assumption here, since the only things I knew about him were that he was attractive and we ran at the same relative pace). I ended up following my new friend until he stopped to tie his shoe (which was awkward ’cause I could not pretend that I just happened to be on the same course as him and had to continue). Note to anyone who is thinking of following this course of action: DON’T!!! I wound up discovering that he did not have the same route idea as me and as such I was completely off course. Rather than running towards St. James Park, I ended up running towards The Victoria Tower Gardens. Realising [Note fancy British spelling. -PF] this, I started to make my way into the city stopping every so often to ask the kind people of London how to make my way to St. James Park. Oh let me tell you, they were NOT HELPFUL! Just like NYC, no one working in London is actually from London. I did manage to find my way to Buckingham Palace (approaching it from the west rather than the east) and ran around Green Park, through St James Park and back to the gym. It was quite the adventure, but it was enjoyable. I am going to start adding outdoor runs to my training schedule. Hopefully next time around I won’t get lost, but I truly like the idea of being able to run by Big Ben, the Thames, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, etc on a normal afternoon training run. I don’t even have to go far, within a 9K loop I can immerse myself in loads of London attractions and history. If the future runs are anything like today, then I definitely am going to need to start running outside-9K on a treadmill is simply awful regardless of how fast you try to run it.

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Lots of odds and ends to share tonight. But first, may I simply mention that I’ve taken off every Friday in August?

Runner’s Lounge Take it and Run Thursday post is up, and Julie is inviting all runners to post their Six-Word Running Memoir… Hhmm wonder where she got that idea?…. Thank you Whitey for tipping me off to this article by one of my favorite writers about one of my favorite runners. I totally cadged by boss’s copy of The New Yorker off her today so I could read its entirety… My TNT coach, Ramon Bermo, successfully ran his 100-mile Ultra Marathon last month, and has raised over $59,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Here is his amazing, inspiring and fascinating race report, as filtered through the Nike Running Blog (separately, he emailed all his donors the in-his-own-words version, which printed out to seven pages). 100 freaking miles, people! I also found this one… Speaking of raising money, a month or so ago I signed up with Team Fox to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation (for a cure for Parkinson’s Disease), and in exchange they will get me my bib to the Flora London Marathon in 2009. Stay tuned for more, but I probably won’t start fundraising until immediately after NYC…. The New York Times Book Review gives What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami a poor review, saying things like, “There are flashes of quality,” and “the potential readership… is 70 percent Murakami nuts, 10 percent running enthusiasts and an overlapping 20 percent who will be on the brink of orgasm before they’ve even sprinted to the cash register.” Yours truly gave this book a much kinder review here…I am so psyched for the Olympics, even though I acknowledge that there will be doping athletes competing, and that some of them will win medals & go undetected despite testing…There’s a ton of coverage already online, and in print, regarding last-minute athlete updates and predictions. I feel like I need a vacation to absorb it all…Even though he’s not a runner, Michael Phelps is hard to resist, I think (for me) it has something to do with his excellence… Names: Paula Radcliffe, Ryan HallLopez Lomong, Leo Manzano

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What a cool experience, to watch the London Marathon — the whole thing (yes I sat here for three hours working & watching) — over my computer.  Husband quickly wearied of the British announcers’ voices and my cheering, grumpily turning the volume up on his TV to levels appropriate for a nursing home. No matter, I loved every minute of it, and reveled in being able to see those clutch moments of the race when athletes would break away or fall back from the pack.

Three men finished in under 2:06, which is amazing — it’s been a while since any runner’s finished in under 2:06 at all, forget three in one race!  And, they all broke the 2:05:38 course record set by American Khalid Khannouchi (man-on-deck for the Men’s 2008 Olympic Marathon Team). Lel won London for the third time, (he also won the NYC Marathon last year) in one of the most beautiful, smooth sprints to the finish I’ve seen in my few years of avid fandom.  In the women’s race, Mikitenko won in what is only her second marathon ever (she came in second in Berlin, after Wami, last year). Agan: amazing.  Wami finished third after taking a tumble a little over halfway through the race. 

And Ryan Hall ran an exciting race, hanging in the lead pack for the first half, when they were running at world-record pace.  He finished fifth, achieving a personal best time of 2:06:17 by nearly two minutes.  I was thrilled to see him race so strongly, and recognized his even stride from the Trials in Central Park this November. This USA Today coverage & post-race inerview with Hall is good reading.

And, all the athletes finished in the pouring rain.  Even through the pixilated video from WCSN.com I could see how slick and shiny their bodies were as they crossed the finish line and slowed to a stop. 

I’d love to run this race — maybe next year, as part of Team Fox.  The course looks fantastic, as you run through charming outlying neighbrohoods with small gardens, over the Tower Bridge (where they allow crowds to line the perimiter and cheer), passing Parliament, the London Eye, Cutty Sark, and Big Ben and finishing just past Buckingham Palace.

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