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Sammy Wanjiru, while he was a braggart, treated his wife poorly, and perhaps assaulted those in his service, he still was an amazing runner and inspired many of us regular folks in our own training… Sammy’s performance in the marathon at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 was an amazing, splashy arrival of a formidable talent. I am sad that I won’t be ale to see how much he could have achieved on the roads…. The New York Timese quoted Haile Gebrselassie’s tweetsabout Sammy’s fatal fall. Even though Sammy publicly stated he was going after the world record, Haile was respectful and sorrowful to hear of Sammy’s death…. I was just wrapping up the most recent episode of the New York Running Show when news about Sammy’s death broke. Now the show seems silly, but at the time we had a great conversation about the Forest Park 4 Mile Classic… Still thinking about elite runners, I thought I’d let it drop that I am attending the adidas Grand Prix IAAF Diamond League Track Meet as an accredited member of the press corps! Thank you NYCRUNS for helping me to get credentials… last weekend while I was in Colorado I bought myself a ticket package to attend the U.S. Olympic Trials for Track and Field at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Now you all know where I’ll be the last two weeks of June, 2012… My ex-husband still occasionally sends me links to interesting bits of running news. Most recently he shared this inspiring story, and these song lyrics (which I would like to dedicated to Sammy)… <off-topic> One recent evening I came home and my roommate was playing “Lake Street Dive” by Lake Street Dive, and I instantly fell head over heels in love with the singer’s jazzy, jaded voice and the band’s fantastic melodies glued together with sweet, swirly notes on a Leslie organ. You all should check them out…. Running by swank hotels always gets my thoughts, er, racing, and this one, with its rooftop bar and glowing, supine decor tempts me to put on my fancy heels and show up for a cocktail… </off-topic>

R.I.P. SAMMY WANJIRU
You can do a lot in a lifetime
If you don’t burn out too fast
You can make the most of the distance
First you need endurance
First you’ve got to last…
–“Marathon” by Rush

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First thing this morning I spent four excellent hours immersed in the Chicago Marathon’s live stream of the elite race and tracking my friends’ splits via the marathon’s superior tracking program. For a fan like myself, the next-best-thing to cheering on the sidelines at a World Marathon Majors race is watching it on my computer while tweeting back and forth with similar fans. It might even be better, in a certain respect: from the curb I see a snippet of the race, but from my desk I see the whole thing. In any case, the dramatic finishes by Sammy Wanjiru and Liliyana Shobukhova had me shouting out cheers at my monitor.* They are both pretty wealthy now, thanks to the champion purse of $500,000 they will each take home from the World Marathon Majors. Also happy news: the strong performances by top American female finishers Desiree Davila and Magdalena Lewy-Boulet. Also inspiring: how my friends who were out there on the course persevered through the blistering heat that took over the course starting around 10 AM.  A few even PRed, high five kids! Other good stuff: a whole bunch of New York runner friends who raced the Staten Island Half-Marathon today either nailed their marathon pace or PRed. And, my coach from Nike Speed won the whole darn thing! I think that makes her famous. Ah, I really do love the fall marathon season. By 11 AM I had decided that the organizers of the Get to the ‘Point! 5k Run were brilliant to have scheduled their race for 1 PM, since I could spectate from my desk and then turn around and invest that inspiration right away in my own performance.

It was an absolutely beautiful afternoon in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I cabbed it from Sunnyside, Queens since the race was literally just 2 miles away up Greenpoint Avenue but there were no direct buses or subways, and I wanted to save my legs for the race so jogging over wasn’t on the table. I got there with plenty of time. I ran some warm-ups and then leaned against a fence, observing the crowd and basking in the sun. It was an interesting mixture of off the boat/first generation Polish people, and Brooklyn hipsters. There were the guys from the Polish Running Club (I need a punchline here), and there were the North Brooklyn Runners (who showed up to run wearing their team singlets, tattoos and aviator shades. NB most of them beat me).

I was really impressed with the way this race was organized. It was a great size — just a few hundred runners, and the mix of community members and visitors made for a laid back crowd. Lined up at the start were runners from St. Stan’s School, members of the parish (including 2 nuns in wimples), members of the community, and the random runner like myself from another borough. The volunteers were helpful and cheerful, race-day registration took me 5 minutes, and bag check was done with a deck of playing cards (I was 7 of hearts). We even got D-tags for our sneakers, though they did not have timing mats at the start, just the finish. I have to admit, I was a little tense waiting for the race to start. I was wondering how well I’d PR, how much speed I could maintain and how much pain my body could withstand. But finally we were off, and I consulted Little G frequently to see where my pace was. I knew I didn’t want to go any slower than 7:50’s, but how much faster than that I could sustain I wasn’t quite sure. Finally, we were allowed to run.

After 2 minutes on the course I realized that the lead runners had broken away but that I was hanging tough with a group of guys. No women passed me during the first three miles, and one tall, older man from Jamaica, Queens ran next to me and every now and then we’d have short, gaspy conversations. We were nearly even the entire race, and it was nice to have the push-pull going with him. I kept monitoring my comfort level (lungs, legs, shoulders) everything stayed pretty much relaxed (though not easy) until I had about half a mile left. The course was really charming, with leafy trees and cute buildings to look at. Because the day was so gorgeous, a lot of Greenpointers were out on the sidewalks either cheering or sitting in sidewalk cafes, keeping us company. There were enough turns to keep the mostly flat course challenging. I was surprised by my first mile split: 7:28. Since I didn’t feel like I was going to puke or bonk (which is worse? The jury’s out) I cut myself a little slack but not too much, just tried to lock in to the pace. Second mile: 7:36. Okay, still breathing. Legs still lifting. Shoulders still low. Just one mile left! I started slowly passing a guy here, another guy there. I passed this one woman, but I had a feeling she wasn’t going to stay passed since she tried to respond to my move. No biggie, I was running for a PR, not to beat her. With about half a mile to go, I was starting to feel the burn of the effort. My legs were a little heavier, I was seriously panting, and my mantra had become “Shoulders Down Dammit!” since they kept hunching up. As I always do at this point in the race, I thought of Matt’s sage advice that the best way to keep speed is to keep form, so I focused on my form and trusted that would maintain pace for me.  Third mile: 7:25.

At last we rounded the corner for the last tenth of a mile, and I could see the finish line. I locked my gaze on the banner and dug in for a little extra speed. Breathing had become optional since it was kinda ragged. My arms did a lot of work. That one woman passed me, but I knew I was running as hard as I could so all I could do was congratulate her at the finish. Final time, according to Little G: 23:11, which gives me a 7:29 pace. (As I tweeted to AG afterwards, I guess I can drop down to the 7:30 pace group at Nike Speed now.) I was really excited by my performance, since it’s an improvement of 1:23 over my Eisenhower Park race. Gave handshakes to Older Chatty Man and Younger Speedy Woman; they had been my competition and they pulled me forward.

Afterwards, I caught up with SL from NYCRuns, and tried to hang around for the party and awards ceremony but couldn’t wait any longer; it grew into nearly an hour of standing around and I needed to go home and get on with the rest of my day. SL was teasing me because I wanted to know if I placed in my age group or not but they didn’t post the results anywhere. To be honest, I am still wondering if I placed (the chick who passed me at the finish was 27, I asked her how old she was. Hilarious, right?). I jogged home, tucking my Blackberry and iPod into my shorts’ hip pockets and slipping my key pouch onto my shoe. I wore the free tee-shirt we got over my singlet, and took it nice and easy at 10 minutes per mile up Greenpoint Avenue, a grin on my face as I thought with every step, I am making progress, and I am happy right now. That’s more than I was hoping for so I felt lucky!

[UPDATE 10/11/10: official results are now posted. D-tag time = 23:15, 7:30 pace. Overall: 108th. 7th out of 39 in my division (women 30-39).]

*Do you think my shouts of “Sammy! Come on baby!” alarmed my neighbors? How about “My God Lil you are amazing!”

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My marathon, my 26.2, my London is in 8 days.  But first, I am going to Boston to spectate. I will stand at the finish line and cheer for the elite men, then the elite women, and then finally for the speedsters, my friends, the riff-raff and the charity runners. This is one of the touchpoints of my annual cycle as a runner. One year, I will be there as a qualified racer, but for now, I must go, cheer and draw inspiration and motivation from the fastest among us. Normally I like to arrive Saturday night so I can poke around the Expo on Sunday–lots of companies use it as their launch for new products (it’s where I first set my sights on the Garmin Forerunner 405 in 2007)–but this year life’s twisted around to prevent me from leaving before Sunday afternoon.

This morning I ran 8.14 miles (let’s not forget the 0.14 miles, kids!!) and nearly the entire time I thought of my friends who will be racing the epic, historic course. Elyssa. Sarah (also a GMR teammate). Barb, a long-time blog reader who I hope to one day meet. Jeff. And Michael, who owns the PT clinic I use when I must. Robert and Antonia (also GMR teammates). Goodness gracious I am positive I’ve left folks off. Perhaps now is the time for me to say I love my network of NYC runners, it makes me so happy every year when I pull a few more quality people who run into my orbit. One day I want to have a massive party with everyone, where we celebrate our accomplishments and talk about running all night long. I digress.

The elites. Predictions. Yah, me & strict predictions is always a mess.  So I will tell you who I am rooting for, which is tricky. I am rooting for Meb and Ryan equally, since I love them equally. This is the thing about marathon runners: the closest thing we’ll ever get to a grandstanding athlete like baseball’s Manny Ramirez, football’s* Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson or Terrell Owens (ugh, end-zone dancing), or basketball’s Dennis Rodman is Sammy Wanjiru, who has publicly said he wants to break Gebreselassssie’s records. Which goes to show: Meb and Ryan play nice. they train together, they race together, they each hope to win but manage their victories or disappointments solo.  I guess deep down I want Ryan to win, the golden child, but I would still jump for joy if Meb did, too. I would like to see last year’s winner, Deriba Merga, run a strong race as well. Even though he won Boston last year, I still consider him an underdog, given his past racing results. As far as the women’s race goes, I am not so invested without Kara in the field–in fact, the only American LetsRun.com mentions in the bios is Michelle Frey, and I’ve never heard of her. (Perhaps that is my bad.) Nevertheless, I will root for Tune and Kosgei.

I ran this morning, my last chunky mileage run before race day (anything less than 15 really doesn’t count as a long run, does it?). It was nice, easy and humid. It’s the humidity that gets you, that’s what we said in Baltimore but it’s true for wherever there is moist air. It really does make the effort harder. Nevertheless, I managed to pull out a decent showing as I ran from Sunnyside to Astoria Park, around the park with a loop of the track, and then back home again. This is my “Hell Gate” route, since it takes me alongside of and next to the Hell Gate Bridge (and the Triboro). I like to run familiar routes the closer I get to my big race, because their familiarity makes me feel like the mistress of my universe, and therefore boosts my confidence.  8.14 miles in 1:16:40. Average pace 9:25; fastest mile 9:05; slowest mile 9:48

*I must admit I got these football names from Husband. But the baseball & basketball references are my own.

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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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