Food poisoning? Big Deal… Flanagan gets bronze

Shalane Flanagan, the top American distance runner who came down with food poisoning this week at the Team U.S.A. track camp in Dalian, China, seemed to be OK this morning in Beijing. In fact, Flanagan was feeling good enough to take the bronze medal in the 10,000-meters finals.

Flanagan finished in 30:22.22, which lowers her American record she set last May 5. She also became just the second American woman to medal in the 10,000, joining Princeton’s Lynn Jennings.

Flanagan finished behind Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia, who finished in an Olympic-record 29:54.66 and Turkey’s Elvan Abeylegesse, who ran 29:56.34.

Americans Kara Goucher finished 10th in 30:55.16 and Amy Begley came in 26th in 32:38.28.

Both Flanagan and Goucher will run in the 5,000-meters, which begin Tuesday.

However, just a couple of days ago Flanagan’s participation in the Olympics were in doubt. Tuesday morning Flanagan woke up at 2 a.m. with stomach distress that delayed her trip to Beijing and left her coach John Cook thinking that she may have to skip the 10,000 in order to get healthy to concentrate on the 5,000-meters.

“Today the world kind of collapsed a bit,” Cook told NBC Universal. “She didn’t sleep at all last night. It just came out of nowhere and she spent most of the night in the bathroom.”

Flanagan laid low for the rest of the week leaving experts to suggest that she was in too weak to be a threat despite the fact that she owned the best 10,000-meter time in the world in 2008 with a 30:34.49. Actually, reports from Beijing were that Flanagan was going to race halfway and decide how she felt. If she wasn’t feeling good, Flanagan could step off the track and prepare for the 5,000.

Obviously, she was feeling pretty good.

Flanagan and the lead pack in the 31-women field went through the first mile in 4:49 thanks to lower humidity for the 10:45 p.m. start in the Bird’s Nest in Beijing. The pack stayed together through the first half of the race with The Netherlands Lornah Kiplagat, Dibaba, Abeylegesse and Ethiopian Mustawet Tufa pulling the runners.

The pack strung out into a single-file line past halfway and Flanagan dropped back a bit around 8-kiliometers, falling to sixth place. She quickly rallied after two laps and was within striking distance of third place with less than a mile to go.

But with approximately 800-meters to go, Flanagan surged into third place and held it to the bell lap. From there, Flanagan ran the final lap in 68 seconds to smash her American record and win the bronze. However, when Flanagan finished the race she had no idea she was in third place. Because she had lapped so many runners while driving for the tape, she didn’t know if she was passing contenders or stragglers. When she crossed the finish line, Flanagan asked, “Did I do it?”

Much to her surprise, she had.

“I had no idea I was even in third,” she said after the race. “I was praying I was, but I thought I might’ve been in fourth, and I didn’t know whether to celebrate.”

Her pre-race plan worked.

“My plan going out was just to go with the flow, zone out, and then go for it at the 250,” Flanagan said, noting that she wanted to “fall asleep for as many laps as you can and just give it a go.

“It was enough,” she said

Flanagan also wasn’t aware that her time was good enough for another American record. In the past year she has set the American standard in the 3,000-meters, 5,000-meters and the 10,000-meters, twice.

“Wow, I’ll take that,” Flanagan said. “I had food poisoning a couple of days ago — at least I don’t know if it was food poisoning but it wasn’t pretty — but they took good care of me and they got me rehydrated.”

Can Flanagan make it two in the 5,000? Heading into the 10,000, her coach Cook said she was in really good shape.

Results
1 Tirunesh Dibaba ETH 29:54.66 (OR)
2 Elvan Abeylegesse TUR 29:56.34 (AR)
3 Shalane Flanagan USA 30:22.22 (AR)

4 Linet Chepkwemoi Masai KEN 30:26.50 (WJ)
5 Mariya Konovalova RUS 30:35.84 (PB)
6 Inga Abitova RUS 30:37.33 (SB)
7 Lucy Kabuu Wangui KEN 30:39.96 (PB)
8 Lornah Kiplagat NED 30:40.27 (SB)
9 Kimberley Smith NZL 30:51.00
10 Kara Goucher USA 30:55.16 (PB)
11 Kayoko Fukushi JPN 31:01.14 (SB)
12 Joanne Pavey GBR 31:12.30 (PB)
13 Sabrina Mockenhaupt GER 31:14.21 (PB)
14 Ejegayehu Dibaba ETH 31:22.18
15 Hilda Kibet NED 31:29.69
16 Yingying Zhang CHN 31:31.12 (SB)
17 Yoko Shibui JPN 31:31.13
18 Penninah Arusei KEN 31:39.87
19 Tatyana Khmeleva-Aryasova RUS 31:45.57
20 Yukiko Akaba JPN 32:00.37
21 Xue Bai CHN 32:20.27
22 Anikó Kálovics HUN 32:24.83
23 Kate Reed GBR 32:26.69
24 Nathalie De Vos BEL 32:33.45 (SB)
25 Preeja Sreedharan IND 32:34.64
26 Amy Begley-Yoder USA 32:38.28
27 Dulce María Rodríguez MEX 32:58.04
28 Xiaoqin Dong CHN 33:03.14
29 Isabel Checa ESP 33:17.88
DNF Mestawet Tufa ETH
DNF Asmae Leghzaoui MAR
DNS Nataliya Berkut UKR

Meanwhile, Americans Bernard Lagat, Lopez Lomong and Leo Manzano all advanced in the 1,500-meters, while Jenny Barringer and Anna Willard advanced to the finals in the women’s 3,000-meters steeplechase…

The best one? Flotrack went to Michigan to hang with marathoner Brian Sell at The Home Depot. Yes, between his twice-a-day workouts that peak out at 160-miles per week, Sell works in the garden department. Watch it.

Are we a nation of distance runners or what?

Beijing 2008: Logging on and tuning out

Some have presumed that the reason why the Olympics have lost some of its luster isn’t because it’s a professional sporting event as opposed to one showcasing the top amateur athletes. After all, even in the old days there was hardly such a thing as a true “amateur athlete.”

During the Cold War the Soviet Union and the East German teams were loaded with pros. Behind the Iron Curtain elaborate sports schools complete with special training and special “vitamins” weren’t just part of the sporting culture, they were accepted training practices.

Meanwhile the specter of the Soviet monster was the perfect foil for the U.S. and international athletics. It was very difficult not to look at that menacing and simplistic “CCCP” on the front of a jersey and not be scared shitless. Everyone knew what it meant, which was, “get ready – this might hurt.”

Coming from the United States it’s difficult to understand if that splashy and decorative, “USA” had the same affect. Oh sure, anyone can admit that the “U-S-A!” chant was obnoxious and annoying, but was it fearsome? Did strike worry into the opposition?

Who knows? Americans were always taught that “CCCP” was pure evil, while the Soviets saw the amateurs from America as weak.

It’s kind of funny – in an ironic way – that t-shirts or trinkets with “CCCP” on them are now viewed as “kitsch” or vintage throwbacks to the old days.

Sigh.

But the dissolution of the classic Cold War didn’t ruin the Olympics, either. Neither did the inclusion of non-traditional and fringe sports to the games like beach volleyball or BMX, events that took center stage in past television broadcasts. Instead it was NBC’s decision to focus less on the actual competition and more on the human-interest dramas. Apparently, NBC felt that sports – even Olympic competition – was not enough.

Not only that, NBC decided that the sports they did telecast would not be in real time. Worse, they chopped up the recordings of the events, edited out the nuance and details, and presented them as it would an episode of “Friends.”

For someone who remembered watching Sugar Ray Leonard and Bruce Jenner in Montreal in ’76, the Miracle on Ice in ’80 and the avalanche of American victories during the Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games in 1984, the made-for-TV vignettes forced down viewers’ throats was insulting.

Worse, it was a turnoff. Literally.

But for the Olympics starting today in Beijing, NBC won’t have the built-in excuse of time zones inconducive to American-viewing audiences. For the 2000 games in Sydney and the 2004 games in Athens, it was rare for fans in the U.S. to see a live event. Worse, Michael Johnson’s epic run in the 200-meters in Atlanta wasn’t even shown live.

But for the Beijing Olympics NBC can go live all the time. One reason is that the time difference is convenient. When it’s 7 p.m. in Beijing, it is 7 a.m. in Philadelphia. Sure, people have to go to work in the morning, but a die-hard sports fan can easily get up to watch the competition.

Better yet, more so than any other time in history technology will play an instrumental role. The proliferation of the Internet makes it impossible and even stupid to stage made-for-TV events. Apparently NBC knows this because it will stream events live on its web site. Plus, along with the growth of Internet, cable television has grown since the last Olympics. As a result, NBC will show 23 ½ hours of Olympic coverage a day on its various networks ranging from MSNBC to CNBC to Universal HD to Panavision.

Plus, NBC has to know that its reputation and culpability are on the line if they don’t give American viewers an honest, un-filtered presentation. A bad showing could push sports fans to the Internet in droves. Everything else will be on NBCOlympics.com – not that new high def TV you just bought.

Who could have predicted Twitter in 2004?

Nevertheless, by the time NBC got around to broadcasting the Opening Ceremonies on Friday night, all of the debris, smoke from the fireworks and debris had been swept away, the people had all gone home and the Olympic Stadium, called the Bird’s Nest, was being prepared to host its first events.

Aside: And no, when NBC showed President Bush talking to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, they were not talking about the drum number as Bob Costas suggested. It was probably something more like Putin’s decision to invade former Soviet republic, Georgia, on Friday.

Nice try, Bob.

But according to The New York Times, seven events will give medals on Saturday, but NBC will only broadcast two of them live. This begs the question:

How can an American broadcasting corporation be almost as restrictive as the Chinese government?

Maybe it’s time to get a satellite dish in order to get the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s unbiased, live and unpretentious coverage?

OK, nobody really gives a crap about Bob Costas or NBC. (In best Jim McKay voice) We, as sports fans, want the unparalleled human drama that is only captured in the Olympics. Once every four years athletes have a chance to capture immortality. Imagine having to wait that long for the World Series or the Super Bowl.

Moreover, just rooting for your home country isn’t enough. In a global society where more American products are made in China than around the corner, we root for the hometown heroes.

They say all politics is local. So too are international athletics.

Certainly those of us who write about sports in Philadelphia have plenty of topics. Here are the local folks to keep an eye on:

Kobe Bryant – Yeah most people have heard of the Lower Merion High grad who also is the diva of the NBA. After flopping with his Lakers in the NBA Finals against the Celtics, Bryant and LeBron James are in charge of returning the gold medal to the U.S. in basketball. Most pundits have picked Team Nike USA to win it in Beijing, but if they don’t expect plenty of criticism for the very precious Kobe.

Sarunas JasikeviciusThe Lithuanian basketball star made his fame when he torched the U.S. during the 2004 Athens Olympics. This time around he was the flag bearer for his home country. But aside from playing collegiately at the University of Maryland, Sarunas played his high school hoops for Solanco High in Lancaster County. Back then he was secondary offensive option for a prep team that featured short-lived Temple star, Johnny Miller.

Needless to say, it looks as if Sarunas has done OK for himself.

Jen Rhines ­- Coached by her husband and fellow Villanova All-American Terrence Mahon, Rhines has defied the distance runner evolution. After competing in the marathon in Athens in 2004 and the 10,000 in Sydney in 2000, she is running in the 5,000-meters in Beijing. Chances are Rhines will struggle to make the finals in a deep event, but berths on Olympic teams in three different events is pretty amazing.

Brian Sell The true cult hero in the running world. Though Sell didn’t even break 10-minutes for two-miles in high school, ran collegiately for Division III Messiah College near Harrisburg before transferring to little know D-I St. Francis in Loretto, Pa., he kept on running. As a result he improved year after year as the marquee runner for the Michigan-based Hansons-Brooks project.

And as Sell, from Woodbury, Pa., continued to improve by routinely ticking off upwards to 160-mile weeks, he got married to a girl from Lancaster County, had a daughter, bought a house, put off dental school and continued to work at Home Depot.

How many Olympians do that?

Sell isn’t expected to crack the podium in the marathon in Beijing. In fact, he’s not expected to be the top American finisher in the event either. Ryan Hall is America’s hope for gold. But Sell is looking for a top 10 finish after logging those 160-mile weeks in nasty conditions in anticipation for the heat and humidity of August in China.

“I’m hoping for the worst conditions possible,” Sell told Runner’s World. “It could be a big equalizer.”

Amanda Beard – She’s not local, but why not?

Michael Phelps – The new Golden Boy is kind of local. He’s from North Baltimore, which is closer to a lot of places considered part of the Philadelphia viewing area than Philly.

Other subjects of interest:

  • China – The Olympics are the biggest thing that happened to this mysterious country since Richard Nixon visited. It also sounds as if it’s just as important as all of the U.S. companies moving its manufacturing centers there.
  • Pollution/environmental issues – A few athletes, like Haile Gebreselasie, have backed out of the games because of health concerns. Reports are the Chinese government is pulling out all the stops to lower the smog and pollution rate, but how much is sure to be an issue.
  • Politics – Naïve types like to say that the Olympics are not about politics, but athletics. Yeah, right. If that was the case there would be no parade of nations – just the top athletes regardless of their nationality. Nevertheless, be prepared to hear about Darfur, Tibet and various other human rights issues… it’s about time.
  • Censorship – Marcus Hayes from the Daily News told me in an e-mail that he couldn’t access his web site from the media center in Beijing. Americans and journalists traveling to China for the games expect restrictions on civil liberties, but how much they stand for will be an interesting sub plot.
  • Doping – yeah.
  • Corporatization – Coke, Nike, General Electric, NBC, Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, and Visa. Try this out: on the U.S. basketball team, 11 players are sponsored by Nike, one is with adidas. Nike is also the official sponsor of Team USA… and probably the entire games. That is if Coke lets them.

So now the choice is ours. Do we log on and tune out or just allow the pretty high-def hues on tape delay from NBC wash over us?

Breaking it down

Brian SellThe Philadelphia Marathon is set for this Sunday, which means there are a few folks around these parts conserving energy, bouncing off the walls and trying as hard as they can to relax.

That’s the hard part, of course. Relaxing is always one of those things that is easier said than done in almost every situation. It’s almost like telling someone to “just say ‘no.'” Yeah, well if I could say no or relax we wouldn’t be in this situation. Who can relax after months of training and the idea of self-flagellation and masochism looming? Better yet, people actually pay money to run marathons. Good money, too. I’m told the Philadelphia Marathon costs more than $100 to enter, which, frankly, is a crime.

The folks charging good-natured runners that much cash should be forced to get out there and run the marathon, too. Get moving John Street…

Anyway, it’s taper time for some folks making the jaunt through the city this Sunday and that’s always a tricky time. Most people taper for two weeks, which, truth be told, is too long in my book. But, because most people aren’t exactly Bill Rodgers (who used to taper for three days… maybe) and get their training plans off the Internet from some silliness presented by Jeff Galloway or Oprah or whoever else is telling people they can hurl themselves 26.2 miles by running less, then by all means, do your two weeks.

Want to know what I do? Well, it’s my site and I’m going to tell you anyway.

Here it is:

Thirteen days before the race I do my last long run, which is anywhere between 22 to 24 miles. I continue to train normally the next two days, and then I start to bring it down a little bit. For instance, since I usually take it to 105-110 miles per week when getting ready for a marathon, I’ll just go 20 miles on the Thursday and Friday. I just go 20 miles in those two days because I’m going to do a race (either a 5k or 10k) eight days before the marathon as a gauge of my fitness.

After that fitness-gauging race I get into a taper which goes like this:

* 10-13 easy
* 10 easy
* 7 miles at race pace
* 1 miles warm-up/cool down + 5 miles faster than race pace (if I can do it in 27, I’m ready)
* 4-5 miles easy
* 3 miles easy
* 4 miles easy
* Go run a marathon

This was discovered through trial and error, though, I’ve done a few two-day tapers where I ran 16 miles a day until two days out before cutting back to 5 and then 5k. Interestingly, “The People’s Champ,” Brian Sell, does something a little similar.

At least that’s according to Sell’s log on the Athleticore.com site where the Hanson’s dudes post their workouts. In the week before the Olympic Trials where Sell finished third in 2:11:40, he did a 10-miler in 66 two days out and a 10-miler in 52 the day before.

That comes after doing 46 miles in four sessions the three previous days to the pair of 10s.

You’re darn right that’s pretty impressive. Then again, after piling on routine 150-mile weeks, a 10-miler at 5:12 pace is probably a day off.

Here’s something else people won’t tell you about running marathons… when you’re out there, put some time in the bank. That’s right bank it because you’re going to slow down late in the race no matter what.

Week of November 5-11
(22 weeks to the National Marathon – March 29, 2008)

Monday
15 miles in 1:39:08

Felt pretty strong the entire time and easily could have gone another 20 minutes without batting an eye. My form was good and all of that, however, I noticed that the pace dipped a bit on uphills. The effort didn’t change, but the pace was bad. On flat ground I’m really decent.

Tuesday
15 miles in 1:41:53

I did the same exact run as yesterday, though it was much slower. I felt strong, though, and a little better on the hills. But I definitely was tired during most of the run. The good part is that it was a strength run and I felt strong.

Wednesday
10 miles in 65:04

I ran steady 6:30 pace and it felt easy. Actually, I was a little bummed I had to stop. I felt pretty good. Still, it’s a little too early to push it too much. I’m still trying to figure out whether or not I should run on Sunday.

splits:

1st 5: 32:25
2nd 5: 32:39

Thursday
1st run: 11 miles in 1:14:22

2nd run: 3.8 in 26:59

This was kind of tough. My legs were tight and tired from — I guess — not sleeping well last night and waking up early. Plus, I’m putting on the miles again and maybe I’m not adjusted yet.

splits:
1st 5: 33:24.11
2nd 5: 33:44.86

Added an easy run at night. I went out later than I wanted because Brad Lidge was traded to the Phillies, so what are you going to do? Anyway, I went 3.8 miles in 26:59. I fought the slightest urge to run hard — the point of adding the short and sweet second run is not to run too hard. I’m going to have to teach myself to go light.

Friday
10 miles in 64:58

My stomach bothered me for the first six miles, but my legs felt great. Maybe there’s a difference between drinking coffee in the morning instead of Red Bull? You can’t mix coffee with vodka, though.

Either way, I felt great and the running felt easy. I think I’m into it now… we’ll see what happens.

splits:
1st 5: 32:34
2nd 5: 32:24

Saturday
10 miles in 67:31

My stomach bothered me again — I think it might be the ibuprofen. Other than that, it was a slight drag to get out of the house. Still, I ran rather well and my legs felt decent. I didn’t push the pace really at all… I just kind of settled in.

I think I’m going to try to get up tomorrow morning and go to Harrisburg… we’ll see.

Sunday
10 miles in 58:23

I ended up staying awake all last night with a stomach ache where I worried about whether or not I OD’d on ibuprofen. Either way I’ve officially decided that I’m finished with ALL drugs. And I mean ALL drugs.

Anyway, I pushed myself out the door and ran to Mountville. I started out solid but not spectacular though I really ran hard from about 2 miles away and broke my course record. Interestingly, I paid attention to the terrain and noticed that there were a lot more hills than I thought on the route.

It was a pretty good run.

Better yet, my stomach isn’t bothering me as much as it did yesterday, though I’m starting to get a headache… it’s always something.

Wrapping up the Trials weekend

The Big ThreeAs far as marathoning in America goes, last Saturday’s Olympic Trials was our Super Bowl. There was tons of hype (relatively speaking), all of the best runners were there, the drama was palpable and everyone who follows the sport was talking about it.

The difference between our Super Bowl and the other Super Bowl[1] is that the Olympic Trials occurs once every four years and is only open to folks who have been able to meet either the “A” or “B” standard. The A Standard is completion of a marathon in 2:20 or faster, which is an average of 5:20 per mile. Runners who meet this requirement are entered in the race and have all of their expenses paid to and from the site.

The B Standard is completion of a marathon in 2:22 or better (5:25 pace) OR a 5k on the track in 13:40 or faster or a 10k on the track in 28:45.

Aside from that, the only other way to get into the Olympic Trials Marathon is to win a medal in the Olympics, and this year (for a change), one guy in the field had done that (Meb Keflezighi).

Another difference between the football Super Bowl and the Olympic Trials is that the trials are always interesting and exciting even in bad years. Even in the 2000 Trials (which, for some reason, they held in Pittsburgh in May when it was oppressively hot and humid) were unique because only one runner came out of it eligible to run in the Olympics. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh doesn’t even have a marathon anymore.

What self-respecting city doesn’t have a marathon?

Anyway, the one thing that had always been odd about the Trials Marathons is that the USATF held them in weird spots. In 2004 it was Birmingham, Ala.; 2000 was Pittsburgh; 1996 was Charlotte; Columbus, Oh. had them for ’92 and Jersey City, N.J. was the host in ’88 after Buffalo, N.Y. hosted for 1980 and 1984.

The thinking on such sites (I guess) was to emulate the course and the conditions the runners would tackle in the Olympics, which makes it strange then that the ’96 Trials weren’t in Atlanta. But this time, they turned it into an event and held the big race in New York City a day before the New York City Marathon. More interestingly, the course snaked through midtown Manhattan for two miles before the runners looped through Central Park for the final 24 miles. Not only did this criterium setup give fans a chance to watch the race, but also it gave the runners great knowledge of the course – they always knew what was coming.

Plus, the New York Road Runners, led by Mary Wittenberg, smacked it out of the park. The event was about as perfect as imagined.

Except for that one part…

Be that as it may, here are the final observations on the big weekend before we put it away for a little while… the Olympics are nine months away.

Watching people run
Jane PauleyLet’s start with the coverage of the race, which for those outside of the New York City metropolitan area meant waking up earlier than usual on a Saturday morning and tuning into the Today show for the start before switching over to NBC’s streamed Internet coverage.

Here are two points of view on that which probably don’t have anything to do with each other:

Firstly, I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen the Today show since Jane Pauley left and now I’m very certain why that is… seriously, people voluntarily wake up early to watch that. Look, I know most TV is very poor and it part of the reason why the rest of the world hates the U.S., but geez… can’t they just pretend to a.) care and b.) be knowledgeable? When did it go bad for TV news?

Secondly, the web cast of the race was outstanding for many reasons. One was there were no commercials. Another was that Al Trautwig, Toni Reavis and Lynn Jennings with Ed Eyestone out on the course were excellent. Eyestone finished second in the event in 1988 and 1992, while Jennings dominated American women’s distance-running track and field during the 1980s and ‘90s and won the bronze medal in the 10,000 meters in 1992. As far as Reavis goes, it’s quite obvious that he loves the sport and it would be difficult to find a TV pro more knowledgeable about running. There’s nothing worse than watching a running event on TV when it’s clear the announcer was assigned the gig… it’s just brutal. That clearly seemed to be the case with the two mushmouths who covered the web cast of Sunday’s New York City Marathon.

Anyway, more on the media…

Interestingly, when news was breaking or needed a source/confirmation, there were two places I went to first and neither were Runner’s World. Weldon and Robert Johnson’s Let’s Run site was on top of everything, including the rumors which can be quite dangerous. Nevertheless, the first “media” outlet that had the confirmation on Ryan Shay’s death was the Johnson Bros. site. In fact, the Shay family has been communicating with the running community through the site, which has a very tasteful, moving and well-documented tribute to fallen hero, Ryan Shay.

I could live to be 200 years old and I’ll never be able to wrap my head around that…

Another spot I kept returning to was Mark Floreani’s site, FloTrack. Armed with just a camera, access, the obvious questions and little journalistic savvy, FloTrack featured some excellent pre- and post-race interviews with the “People’s Champ,” Brian Sell and his Hansons’ teammates.

All it takes is work
Brian SellSpeaking of Sell… wow. He ran a spectacularly intelligent race to take the third and final spot on the Olympic team on Saturday. Interestingly, he seemed to fool a lot of the so-called pundits who said he was a “strength” runner who needed to take the pace out hard and surge in the middle of the race in order to make the team.

Do these people pay attention or are they up early watching the Today show?

Yes, Sell is a strength runner because his strength is his strength. Pointedly, the dude is a bleeping horse and compensates for a lack of talent (read: speed and it’s a relative term) with ridiculous amounts of effort and work. Plus, as has been well documented, he went to two small Pennsylvania colleges, grew up on a farm in Bedford County and works at Home Depot even during his preparation for big races. In fact, Sell told FloTrack that because he spent the weekend in New York City making the Olympic team, he would have to make up for it by working extra hours this week.

Remember when all of those people were complaining that Ryan Howard was only getting paid $1 million by the Phillies last year? Yeah, well did he get a part-time job so he could build a nest egg and help out with the mortgage payments?

Simply, Brian Sell is validation to the idea that good things happen to people who work hard.

Anyway, where were we…

Oh yeah, Sell is strong as hell, but in his best races (Boston and Chicago in 2006) he ran fantastic times to finish just off the lead because he ran an even pace and stuck to his plan. It was none of that silliness about him wanting to “turn this into a marathon of attrition… .” It’s a marathon. Isn’t that attrition enough? His plan was simple and solid – run as many steady five-minute miles as possible and then bring out the hammer for the last loop.

Just like when Sell ran a 2:10 in Boston and Chicago, the plan worked.

2:09:02!
Ryan HallQuite simply, Ryan Hall’s effort in the trials was chilling. In terms of excitement in a marathon, it could be better than watching Salazar in his debut in New York City; Rod Dixon catching Geoff Smith at the 26th mile in the 1983 New York City Marathon; or Khalid Khannouchi battling Moses Tanui in Chicago in ’99.

“If Ryan Hall is shooting for anything less than gold (in the Olympics) he’s crazy,” Sell told FloTrack. “He’s phenomenal. I think he’s one of the top three (marathoners) in the world right now. Easily.”

Watching Hall surge away from the best runners in America with 4:30s through the hilly course in Central Park was ridiculous. It was as if he were out for an easy Sunday morning jog. Better yet, it was like watching Jordan dropping 63 on the Celtics during the early days of his career when he hadn’t quite figured it all out, but was clearly the best in the game. Hall is a lot like that because he has run just two marathons (the third will be in the Olympics) and he should have been under 2:09 in both of them… do you know how many people born in America have broken 2:09 in the marathon? Try three guys – that’s it. Hall should have done it twice.

Nevertheless, Hall running the marathon is like watching Picasso paint. Better yet, he could be better at his sport than anyone else in the United States right now… and his coach (Terrence Mahon) is from Philly. Who would have known[2]?

Just think if Hall ran for Nike instead of Asics…

Other randomness…
Dathan RitzenheinYou can’t fake a marathon. In order to do one well, one has to put in the work. Despite this, Khalid Khannouchi nearly made the Olympic team and he still might as the first alternate by virtue of his fourth-place finish. If Hall, Sell or Dathan Ritzenhein drop out, Khannouchi is on the team and he says he’s ready to jump in if given the chance.

Wait… wasn’t Khannouchi supposed to be the mercenary who put paychecks ahead of running for the U.S.? Could he get there and win a medal? Wait and see…

It was pretty evident what Ritzenhein’s strategy was in the race: follow Hall. Until Hall threw down his big surge at 17, Ritz did just that. In fact, when Hall took off his cap and cast it aside it took Ritzenhein a half a second to do the same thing. Just like that there were two perfectly good hats laying in the grass (with sponsors’ emblems!) in Central Park.

Obviously, based on his second-place finish and his PR, Ritz’s tactic was a pretty good one.

Dan Browne was the visual definition of the word “gritty” through the first 20-plus miles of the race before Sell passed him to take over the third spot. Battling injuries and stagnant training since the last Olympics, Browne threw it all out there to close the gap and remain amongst the leaders until his calf weakened. Still, Browne took it home for a sixth-place finish.

Olympic silver medalist Keflezighi also turned in a gritty performance though it would have been easier for him to drop out over the last 10k when it was clear it wasn’t his day. But Keflezighi rarely takes a DNF. Last year he limped home in 2:20 at the New York City Marathon despite stopping off in the bathroom en route because of a bout of food poisoning he picked up as a souvenir in a Manhattan restaurant in the days before the race. I’d give my left one (or right) for a 2:20 and Meb went out and did it after a few pit stops and food poisoning.

Locally, a few runners performed admirably in Saturday’s big race. Millersville University’s James Carney, a 10,000-meter specialist, finished in 14th with a 2:16:54 in his marathon debut. Macharia Yuot, a “Lost Boy” living in Chester, Pa. following his great running career at Widener, finished 33rd in 2:18:56.

Michael McKeeman of Ardmore, coached by Mahon and a training partner for top women’s runner, Deena Kastor, was 73rd in 2:26:15, while Matthew Byrne of the Philadelphia Track Club was 84th with a 2:28:40. Byrne’s teammate Edward Callinan took a DNF to round out the local heroes’ efforts.

CSN Olympic Trials coverage
* ‘It cuts me straight to the heart’

* Two-time Olympian Culpepper looking for ‘threepeat’

* Khannouchi still chasing the Olympic dream

* Breaking Down the Trials… Sort Of

* Counting Down to the Trials


[1] By Super Bowl we mean a term of great hubris… like Titanic. When people use the term titanic, they don’t mean the ship that sunk in the North Atlantic.[2] Obviously not the Philadelphia sports media. Way to be on it, guys!

‘It cuts me straight to the heart’

Ryan HallNEW YORK – It was supposed to be American marathon running’s greatest day. It was the day where American marathoners were going to send a message to the rest of the world that they were – once again – a force to be reckoned with during the Olympics in Beijing next August.

In one regard that was very much the case. As evidenced by Ryan Hall’s inspirational victory in a blistering 2:09:02 over the unforgiving rolling terrain in Manhattan’s Central Park in Saturday morning’s Olympic Trials marathon, American marathoning is, indeed, back.

Big and brassy.

So how can a day that began with so much promise and with so many dreams end so tragically? How can one bear so many contrasting emotions?

How can so many great performances by some of the best in the sport be rendered so meaningless? And how can life be so cruel sometimes?

A run for the ages
Oh, but let’s begin with the heroes so we don’t go crazy…

“I didn’t expect to run this fast on this course, especially after previewing it,” said Hall, America’s great new hope in the marathon. “I didn’t care how fast we ran the first half, I wanted to close fast. It was a good run for me. I was trying not to get too excited too early, but I saw myself achieving my goal in the last lap. The last mile, I knew I was going to be OK.”

During his inspired run to shatter the previous American Olympic Trials marathon record by more than 70 seconds on a criterium-styled course that some experts and runners predicted would gobble up the runners and send them limping in no better than 2:13, Hall announced his presence on the world marathoning stage. In just his second marathon, the 25-year old Stanford grad training in Mammoth Lake, Calif. under the tutledge of ex-Villanova runner and Delaware Valley stalwart, Terrence Mahon, showed that he just might be the next American runner to win gold in the Olympic marathon.

Hall threw down the gauntlet around the 17-mile mark and surged away from four other runners in the lead pack with a pace no one could match. Better yet, Hall went through the first half the race in a modest 1:06:17, before turning it up with a 1:02:47 during the second half… talk about negative splits.

Hall’s surge was a 4:32 mile, followed by a 4:41, and a 4:34. For the 20th mile, Hall ran a 4:40, followed with a 4:51 at 21, a 4:42 at 22. He ran miles 23 to 25 in 14:28 just in case anyone might have doubted his intent. During the last loop of the course when it was clear that no one was going to be able to catch him, Hall pumped his fist, directed spectators who dashed onto the course, pointed to the sky and waved to the crowd.

It was domination with flair.

“I felt like today what I did was more impressive than London,” said Hall, whose 2:08:24 effort in London last April was the fastest marathon ever by an American-born runner.

Judging from the response of his competitors, Hall might be right on the money in his assessment.

I looked at some of the mile splits and honestly, I was blown away,” said defending trials champion Alan Culpepper, who was forced to drop out of the race at the 16th mile with hamstring trouble. “I think he could run three minutes faster on a standard marathon course.”

Said fellow Olympian Brian Sell: “I think he’s one of the top three marathoners in the world right now.”

Hall predicts the best is yet to come.

“I know I can run considerably faster,” he said. “There’s definitely more gears in there. I’ll get to test those in Beijing.”

Meanwhile, 24-year old Dathan Ritzenhein from the University of Colorado finished in second place in 2:11:07, and Pennsylvanian Brian Sell rounded out the Beijing-bound trio by finishing in third place in 2:11:40.

Two-time marathon world record holder and top American qualifier, Khalid Khannouchi, turned in a gritty performance to finish as the first alternate in fourth place with a 2:12:34 after two years worth of injuries limited his training before the trials.

Working-class hero
More than a simple reemergence of the American marathoner, Saturday’s trials showcased a dichotomy in racing style, and pedigree. Both Hall and Ritzenhein were high school all-Americans who were highly recruited by all of the big-name running schools as well as the top shoe companies following their highly decorated college careers. Hall ran a 4-minute mile in high school, but struggled with that event at Stanford before moving up to the 5,000-meters.

Less than a year after finishing up at Stanford, Hall won the U.S. Cross Country championship, set the American record in the half marathon with a 59:43 before his epic marathon debut last April in London.

Ritzenhein, the youngest runner in the field, was a collegiate 5,000-meter and cross-country specialist, who won the U.S. Cross Country championships in 2005 – not even a year after he ran the 10,000 meters in the Olympics in Athens.

But Sell was a product of little St. Francis College in Loretto, Pa. after starting out at even smaller Messiah College near Harrisburg. His high school two-mile times were, he says, more than a minute slower than his new Olympic teammates’. A self-proclaimed late bloomer, Sell joined up with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project based in Rochester Hills, Minn. where he developed as a marathoner. A strong performance in the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials, coupled with even more impressive runs in the Boston (2:10:55 for fourth place) and Chicago (2:10:47 for sixth) marathons in 2006 solidified his standing in running circles.

More than that, Sell became the de facto “People’s Champion” of marathoning because of his penchant for piling on the miles – running upward to 160 per week with most of them faster than 6-minute pace – and his so-called “blue-collar” ethic. Despite running all of those miles per week during his marathon buildups, Sell still found the time to put in his 30 hours working in the garden department at Home Depot.

“I hope every kid out there who’s not a state champ or district champ looks at what I achieved today and says, ‘Hey if I put in the work, I can do this,'” Sell said. “This is the happiest ending I can think of.”

Even his effort on Saturday morning in Central Park personified his ethic. Not blessed with the turnover of the former miler Hall and the all-American Ritzenhein, Sell stuck to a simple plan of running as many 5-minute miles as he could. While running most of the race with the chase pack – sometimes a minute off the pace set by the lead five of Hall, Ritzenhein, Meb Keflezghi, Abdi Abdirahman and Dan Browne (all past Olympians) – Sell says he had no other choice but to stick to his steady-as-he-goes strategy. Had he dipped down ever so slightly to a 4:50 pace, or attempted to chase down the leaders, Sell says he likely would not have finished the race.

“When we were out in 11 flat for two miles, I knew I had to keep it honest to have a chance at all,” Sell explained of his off-the-pace strategy, one he used to run good races in Boston and Chicago in ‘06. “Honestly, I was trying to run around five-flat. I didn’t have too many miles above five-flat. That tells you how fast these guys were up front. I was just fortunate to pick up the carnage from these two. I was just trying to keep relaxed until the last lap, then attack. When I saw them with a lap to go, I just didn’t want to go too hard. I’m just happy I timed it right.”

Had he not qualified for Beijing, Sell told The New York Times he was ready to hang up his Brooks trainers and head off to dental school.

Instead he has at least one more race to train for.

“It’s been 13 years in the making for me, so this is one of the greatest days of my life aside of the birth of my daughter,” Sell said.

But Sell related that elation in a subdued manner. The same went for the guys sharing the podium with him, too.

“Today was a dream come true for me. I’ve been dreaming about this moment for 10 years,” Hall said. “But as great as the moment is, my heart and my thoughts are with Ryan Shay and his family.”

Death in the family
Brian Sell Distance running, and marathon running in particular, is as beautiful as a sport can be. Bathed in simplicity, running is as pure as athletics can be. But it’s also a cruel sport. Often, every weakness is exposed during a competition no matter how strong or well prepared a runner is.

But then again, that’s part of why we love the sport so much.

Running, too, is a small, tight-knit community. If there are six-degrees of separation in regular society, cut that in half in running. After all, even a beginning runner can catch up with Brian Sell at the Home Depot.

Amongst the sports’ best, the dividing line is even narrower. At one point or another, the top American runners cross paths for regular training runs, let alone races on any weekend in any back road hamlet across the country. Between all of the training and racing it’s more than a common language or a shared lifestyle that runners share, it goes much more deeper.

That’s why Ryan Shay’s death in Saturday morning’s race – just 5½ miles into the run – sends tremors through the community.

Ryan Shay, a 28-year-old veteran marathoner, collapsed during the race in Central Park and was pronounced dead at Lenox Hill Hospital. No cause of death was given. The Michigan native was a graduate of Notre Dame and was competing in his second Olympic Marathon Trials. In 2003, Shay was the national champion in the marathon and won five total national titles in distances ranging from the 5,000-meters to the marathon.

Shay was considered a darkhorse contender for the Trials race, though was well off the pace through the first five-kilometers.

It is, after all, a small group. Shay was recently married to Alicia Craig, who was a Stanford classmate of Hall and Hall’s wife, Sara. In fact, Sara Hall was a bridesmaid in the Shay’s wedding last July. Hall and Shay lined up next to each other at the starting line of Saturday’s race.

Tragically, Shay’s body was transported in an ambulance past Hall and the frontrunners near the nine-mile mark of the race.

“It cuts me straight to the heart,” Hall said, clearly having a more difficult time grasping the reality of his friends’ death in the race than the realization that he had accomplished his goal of making it to the Olympics.

Shay trained at altitude in Flagstaff, Ariz. with Abdirahman, who told reporters that he warmed up before the race with his friend and kept looking for him on the course as the race progressed.

“I warmed up next to him this morning,” Abdirahman told The New York Times. “I was the one complaining instead of him. He was looking good. In the race, I was looking around at 10-13 miles to see where he was. I expected him to come up because I knew he was in good shape.”

In trying to make some sense of what had happened to their friend, runners were quick to point out Shay’s ability to pile on a heavy workload. In fact, Shay revealed in a Runner’s World interview before the race that he had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and had finally recovered enough to train hard(er) for the Trials. After the race, Shay’s father Joe told The Associated Press that his son was told he had an enlarged heart as a teenager, but had been cleared to run by doctors. Those doctors, the elder Shay said, claimed the larger heart might have helped him become a champion runner.

“The thing that made him such a great runner may have killed him,” Shay said. “But he never complained about it.”

Shay was born May 4, 1979, in Ann Arbor, Mich.. He is survived by his wife of nearly four months, his father, Joe and mother, Susan, both high school cross country coaches. He is also survived by four older brothers and sisters and three younger ones, as well as his large family of runners.

“He achieved through hard work and effort goals and dreams that most people will never realize,” Joe Shay told the AP. “He was a champion, a winner and a good person.

“He used to say, ‘Dad, there’s a lot of guys out there with a lot more talent than me, but they will never outwork me.'”

More: NBC’s complete race coverage

Full results

It cuts me straight to the heart

Just Barry being Manny

Barry BondsAs far as updating his Web site goes, Barry Bonds is no Curt Schilling. Like a teenage girl with a Facebook profile, Schilling is always quick to update everyone on the latest news. Whether it’s revealing which teams called him during the preliminary stages of the free-agency period or what it feels like to win the World Series for the third time, Schilling has it covered.

In fact, Schilling updates his site so regularly that he supercedes the writers looking for fodder for those ubiquitous “sources” and “rumor rundowns” that have turned the sports pages into a glorified version of People magazine.

Sometimes the stuff doesn’t even have to be true.

But with Schilling, it goes directly to the horse’s blog… and when a horse says, “Nay,” it means nay. Schilling has always been known to say or write whatever is on his mind, unless, of course, he’s in front of a Congressional committee.

Bonds, on the other hand, used to do this, too. Because he chose only to speak to the press when he absolutely had to, Bonds posted all of his updates and news on his Web site, too. Unlike Schilling, Bonds updates his site like a teenage boy with poor grammar skills and trouble paying attention. But like Schilling, the so-called home run king (with his train wreck of a reality show) often provided his own scoops by going direct to his site instead of to the sporting press.

Frankly, I’m surprised more jocks haven’t copied this model… but then again, maybe they think writing is hard or something.

Anyway, Bonds appears to have given up on his site (unless he’s selling silliness like autographs or something) because he went directly to Jim Gray and MSNBC for an interview last night. Instead of saving it for a blog entry, Bonds told Gray that he “has nothing to hide,” and that the doping allegations are “unfair to me.”

He didn’t say whether the possibility for indictment by a grand jury for perjury in the BALCO case was “unfair” though.

The most interesting part of the interview – the part that the Associated Press grabbed onto – was where Bonds said he would boycott his potential induction into the Hall of Fame if the museum chose to display the ball his hit for his 756th home run. The reason is because the purchaser of the ball decided to affix an asterisk to it before donating it to the Hall of Fame museum.

Apparently, more than the possibility for indictment, the asterisk is offensive to Bonds.

“I don’t think you can put an asterisk in the game of baseball, and I don’t think that the Hall of Fame can accept an asterisk,” Bonds said. “You cannot give people the freedom, the right to alter history. You can’t do it. There’s no such thing as an asterisk in baseball.”

This is a cop out, of course. It’s just Bonds taking a pre-emptive strike against the Hall and the Baseball Writers Association of America, who (for some reason) are the electors for enshrinement. Perhaps Bonds is just saying, “Go ahead and don’t vote me in because I’m not coming…”

Then again, maybe it’s just Barry being Manny?

Anyway, Bonds is a free agent and is unsure where or of he will play next season. If he doesn’t play anymore, that means he would be eligible for election to the Hall-of-Fame in five years. Surely Bonds has the statistics needed to get into the Hall no matter how he achieved them. However, we all know that politics are just as important as mere numbers. Whether or not Bonds played that game well enough remains to be seen.

***
Brian Sell We’re quickly approaching the most-anticipated Olympic Trials marathon ever and the papers are loaded with stories and predictions It also brings up another point… with distance running as popular as ever and more people running marathons than ever before, why isn’t there more coverage of the sport? Oh sure, The New York Times and other big-city papers (excluding Philadelphia) cover the sport regularly, and so do the running hot beds, but what gives?

Anyone…

Then again, it seems as if there is a media overload of stories ahead of tomorrow’s big race. When the diehards are so used to getting next to nothing from the mainstream press, the recent coverage feels like standing next to a fire hose turned on at full blast.

Be that as it is, I enjoyed the one in the Times on current people’s favorite, Brian Sell. Read it for yourself here.

The quote I liked from Sell (a Pennsylvanian) is: “If you lose a race, that just means some guy worked harder than you.”

That sounds a lot like the famous quote from another Pennsylvanian athlete known for his heavy-volume workouts:

There’s only one rule: The guy who trains the hardest, the most, wins. Period. Because you won’t die. Even though you feel like you’ll die, you don’t actually die. Like when you’re training, you can always do one more. Always. As tired as you might think you are, you can always, always do one more.

Yeah.

Breaking down the Trials field… sort of

Hall, Khalid, MebFor some reason ESPN the Magazine is delivered to my house every two weeks. I don’t know why this is because I never ordered it and I don’t really think I particularly want it, either. In fact, I even called a number I found inside of the magazine to ask them to stop sending it to me and they politely yet forcefully told me, “No.”

So I continue to get the ESPN the Magazine.

Occasionally I even look at it because I have a few friends who work there and I like to keep up with them.

That’s just the way I am… I am a supporter.

Supporter or not, I think I am pleased that the magazine comes to my house because there was a quarter-page capsule/preview for the Olympic Trials Marathon, which is quickly approaching on Nov. 3 in Manhattan. Written by Alyssa Roenigk (she has a cool web site), the preview outlines the chances five of the top runners have to make the Olympic team for the 2008 games in Beijing.

It was nice marathoning in an ESPN sponsored publication.

However, there were a few glaring omissions within the five top runners previewed. Included are Abdi Abdirahman, Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, Khalid Khannouchi and Brian Sell, which is good and correct. Any top three could (should?) include at least two of that bunch.

But how did Dathan Ritzenhein get on the pay-no-mind list? Or what did defending Trials champion and current national cross-country champ Alan Culpepper do to be excluded? Excluding Ritz and Culpepper is kind of like having a baseball season without the Yankees or Red Sox. Sure, they can be beaten, but chances are they will be with near the top of the standings at the very end.

Meanwhile, some of the capsules on the runners explain how some might miss the top three because of the hilly nature of the course. Two of these runners who don’t like such terrain are 2:08 marathoners. Now I don’t know much about anything, but I know that 2:08 marathoners are rare in America. In fact, in the history of running, only six American men have run 2:08. That’s six, as in one more than five. Of those six, only three – Hall, Dick Beardsley and Bob Kempainen – were born in the United States. The other three – Abdirahman, Khannouchi and Alberto Salazar – were born elsewhere. That doesn’t make them any less American, but the point is, 2:08 American marathoners are not common and they won’t be bothered by the rolling course.

Anyway, with a little more than a week to go before the big race, here’s my top 3, which I am liable to change in the days leading up to the race.

The Top 3:

1.) Ryan Hall
2.) Dathan Ritzenhein
3.) Abdi Abdirahman

Watch out for Sell. ESPN says “he loves hills and will push the pace, keeping opponents honest from Mile 1.” But in Boston in ’06 where he ran his 2:10:47 PR, Sell ran an even pace and surged during the final 10k where he picked off faltering runners (including Culpepper) to finish fourth. Sell is a brute and a tank and he runs smart.