Sticking with it

Typically, a distance runner begins his competitive racing career in the shorter distances like the mile and two-mile on the track and 5k in cross country. When the runner gets stronger and more experienced they generally focus on track events like the 5,000 and 10,000-meters until they plateau or the speed starts to wane a bit.

That’s when siren call of the marathon is finally answered. That usually occurs just as the runner is entering their late 20s or early 30s. By then good runners are strong enough to handle the pounding of high-mileage training and longer (yet slower) speed sessions.

If a runner is still at it after the marathon speed has deserted them, that’s when it’s time to give those geeky ultra-marathons a whirl. Those types of races don’t necessarily require a lot of talent, just the ability to run long or the stupidity to not know when to quit.

But Villanova grad Jen Rhines seems to have to evolution of the classic distance runner backwards. A three-time National Champion in the 5,000-meters for the Wildcats, Rhines qualified for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney in the 10,000 meters. For the Athens games in 2004, she made the U.S. Olympic team as a marathoner, which jibed perfectly with the proper ascension. Rhines’ fourth-ever marathon was in the 2004Olympics as a 30-year old. Seemingly her future as a distance runner was as a marathoner. By the time the 2008 Olympic Trials came around, Rhines likely would have had a handful of solid marathon times under her belt.

Only it didn’t happen that way. In 2005 she was 18th in the New York City Marathon with a 2:37:07. That’s hardly a world-class time for a runner of Rhines’ pedigree. In 2006 she was fourth in the Rome Marathon in 2:29:32 and seventh in the Tokyo Marathon in 2:35:37, which is an improvement from 2005, but not a huge breakthrough.

Yet instead of piling up the miles at altitude in her new hometown of Mammouth Lakes, Calif. with the likes of Deena Kastor, Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi and a team filled with the best distance runners in America all coached by her husband (and former Villanova running star) Terrence Mahon, Rhines stopped the standard running evolution and went backwards. Actually, make that she went back to the distances that made her a star all those years ago out on the Main Line.

Beginning in 2007, Rhines forgot about the marathon and focused on the shorter distances and ran her best times in the 1,500m, 3,000m and 10,000m and went on to take seventh in the 5,000m at the 2007 World Championships. Instead of the marathon or the 10,000, Rhines focused on making her third U.S. Olympic team as 5,000-meter runner.

Actually, Rhines put all her eggs in one basket. If she did not make the team in the 5k, she didn’t have the 10,000 or marathon to fall back on despite the fact that she had the second-best qualifying time for the marathon trials.

But after finishing in second place in the 5,000-meter finals last night at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., Rhines’ gamble paid off.

“I am really excited to get to run in Beijing,” she said after running 15:02 in the 5,000-meter finals to finish a second behind Kara Goucher. “I’ve always like the shorter distances, but I’ve been getting better and better since I’ve come back down.”

Call it quite a feat: Three Olympic teams in three different running events. That’s a lot of range.

And who knows, by the time the London Olympics in 2012 roll around, maybe Rhines will be ready to give the marathon another try.

***
Speaking of giving it another try, how about that Dara Torres?

Since 1984 a lot has changed in sports. That’s especially the case in Olympic sports where the games have gone from a showcase for the top amateur athletes to another hyped up professional event.

Hell, entire countries have come and gone since 1984. There’s only one Germany now and no U.S.S.R.

But since 1984 the Olympics have always had one name involved…

Dara Torres.

Torres was 17 when she made her first U.S. Olympic swim team in 1984 for the games in Los Angeles and she was 41 with a 2-year-old kid when she made the team in 2008 on Friday in Omaha.

Now check this out: In winning the 100-meter freestyle at the Olympic Trials, Torres time was faster than her gold-medal winning effort in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and 4.58 seconds faster than her fourth-place finish in the 1984 Olympics.

***
Look for Phillies stuff tomorrow, including the part where I traded Geoff Jenkins in the no-hitter pool for John Maine pitching a no-hitter against the Phillies.

Yes, I know the Mets have never had a no-hitter in their franchise history, but I figure the odds on Jenkins getting a hit to break up the no-hitter are about the same as Maine actually getting the no-no.

National League independence

It seems like a long time since we were at ol’ Citizens Bank Park, but here we are on an easygoing Independence Day Friday. Depending on how quickly we get out of here tonight, I might roll by the Graff House as a little tribute to Thomas Jefferson (as well as John Adams and Benji Franklin) for the fantastic document they wrote here in Philadelphia back in the summer of 1776.

But more on the task at hand here at the Bank where the Phillies can seek their independence from the rest of the NL East with a good weekend against the Mets. In fact, there’s some talk in these parts that the Phillies can properly bury the Mets with a four-game sweep…

Perhaps, but there remains a ton of baseball left to be played. However, a sweep by the Phillies puts the Mets 8½ games back and increases the intensity of the bickering and fighting amongst members of the league’s most dysfunctional club.

Regardless, the Mets will trot out their top pitchers this weekend with Johan Santana working tonight, John Maine slated to go Saturday night, the delicate Oliver Perez set for Sunday, and Pedro Martinez in Monday night’s finale.

The Phillies counter with J.A. Happ in his second big-league start, followed by Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton.

Yes, with that lineup a sweep will be difficult.

But this ain’t APBA or Strat-O-Matic… let’s see what happens.

***
Between the top and bottom of the first inning, the Phanavision showed Chris Wilson in the crowd. Chris Wilson, of course, is the excellent drummer for Ted Leo & the Pharmacists.

I’m sure I was the only person who picked up on the deserved celebrity of Chris Wilson…

That’s a damn shame.

***
Finally, it’s a big night in Eugene for the Olympic Track Trials. In addition to the semifinals of the men’s 1,500-meters, Hayward Field will be blazed up for the finals of the women’s 5,000 meters and the men’s 10,000 meters.

Villanova’s Jen Rhines is a favorite to make her third straight Olympic team in the 5,000, while Millersville University’s James Carney is a legit darkhorse in the 10,000.

Maureen McCandless from Nazareth Academy had one of the fastest qualifying times in the 5,000 and should be a threat, too.

Apropos of that, the 2008 track Trials have been some of most entertaining ever. If you aren’t watching you are missing out.

Searching for a way back home

Apparently, Brett Myers’ outing in Allentown last night was a big deal. In fact, there were more people at Coca-Cola Park to cover the exiled Phillie than were in the Coca-Cola city to chronicle the Major League Phillies. According to published reports, there were six writers and zero television people in Atlanta with the Phillies, but there were eight writers that regularly cover the Phillies in Allentown along with at least three local TV outlets.

Anyway, I wrote all about it from the cozy press box in the brand-new ballpark before finding my car and proceeding to get lost at least three different times in search of Route 222 back to The Lanc.

I guess I should have checked the directions before I left, but I figured it could be fun just to wing it.

Guess what? It wasn’t much fun, though had I remained on Route 22 it would have taken me to 100, which would have easily linked me up with 222 through Reading and points south.

Yeah, sure… I know all that now.

Nevertheless, last night’s drive home was a lot like Brett Myers’ fastball against the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Sure, we might have been heading in the right direction in the most general sense, but we sure were taking our time getting there.

In Brett’s regard that amounted to splitters in the dirt, two-seamers well off the plate and some rather pedestrian velocity. The last part is probably the biggest concern to the Phillies because it could signify that something is wrong, be it physical or mechanical. According to all concerned parties, they all believe it to be mechanical.

How quickly those issues get ironed out are another matter all together. The Phillies seem to be banking on the mental rehab trip to Triple-A as well as some insight from Pigs’ pitching coach Rod Nichols to be just what the doctor ordered.

Interestingly, Nichols just might be the one pitching coach Myers hasn’t butted heads with. In the case with Joe Kerrigan, the head butting was almost literal. Then again, Myers isn’t the only pitcher who threatened to take a poke at the ex-pitching coach.

Anyway, while Myers tried to find the plate with his fastball his lot seemed much better off than some guy trying to find his way home but instead ended up on the side of the road halfway toward Tamaqua.

***
If you have missed the U.S. Olympic Track Trials, you ought to be kicking yourself now. In fact, Monday night’s event card was worth the price of a full-event pass by itself. Actually, just the men’s 800-meters final was worth it.

Photo Finish

In what was widely being hailed as the greatest 800-meter race on U.S. soil, viewers got to see just about every element of middle-distance running and sports drama rolled into one.

Here, take a look.

Nick Symmonds of the Oregon Track Club won the race with a blistering kick over the final 300 meters. University of Oregon sophomore Andrew Wheating finished second to earn a spot on the team bound for Beijing next month. The interesting thing about the lean and lanky Wheating is that he has been a runner for just two years. He’s only 20 and he’s already going to the Olympics.

Meanwhile, four-time world champion Khadevis Robinson finished fourth and missed a spot on the Olympic team by centimeters when he was edged on a dive for the finish line by Christian Smith.

Yeah, that’s right… the two runners dived for the line for the last spot on the Olympic team.

Lopez Lomong came in fifth place but missed the last spot for Beijing by .11. Yeah, point-11.

After the race, Smith was sprawled out on the track with blood dripping off his arm from the huge brush burn on his shoulder from the dive. All the while, Symmonds said afterwards that the noise from the crowd at Hayward Field in Eugene was so loud that he couldn’t hear himself breathe.

It was just an awesome, awesome race. Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden was trying to think of a more thrilling track race and (rightly) came up with the epic duel between Haile Gebreselasie and Paul Tergat in the 10,000-meters in the Sydney Olympics of 2000.

My most memorable (not in order):

  • Geb edging Tergat in 10,000 meters in 2000
  • Zola Budd vs. Mary Decker in 1984 Olympics
  • Michael Johnson setting the 200m World Record in 1996 Olympics
  • Ben Johnson’s dirty 100 meters in Seoul in 1988
  • Prefontaine finishing fourth in the 1972 Olympics 5,000 meters (I only saw the tape)
  • Prefontaine winning an indoor mile in the 1974 LA Times meet
  • Ryan Hall obliterating the field in the 2007 Olympic Trials Marathon
  • Bob Kempainen winning the 1996 Olympic Trials Marathon despite some pretty evident stomach distress

Meanwhile, Bernard Lagat ran away with the 5,000-meter title in the Trials to make his first ever U.S. Olympic team. He’ll bounce back on Sunday night in the 1,500-meters, too.

Locally, Villanova’s Bobby Curtis finished sixth in the 5,000 meters to cap off a brilliant senior season in which he won the NCAA Championship in the event.

Villanova undergrad  Frances Koons runs in the women’s 1,500 preliminaries tonight along with ‘Nova alum Carrie Tollefson. On the men’s side, Penn grad Sam Burley runs in the 1,500 meters after a disappointing finish in the 800.

The women’s 5,000-meter finals on Friday night will feature ‘Nova grad Jen Rhines who went to the 2004 Olympics as a marathoner. Rhines is one of the favorites to make the team in the shorter event, but will face a deep field that features Maureen McCandless from Nazareth Academy.

Interestingly, Philadelphia Will Do’s Dan McQuade boasted that he smoked McCandless in high school cross country meets and caught her on the final straightaway in a local road 5k.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say DMac has no shot these days.

Also tonight, Jeremy Wariner takes on LaShawn Merritt in the 400. Friday night is the men’s 10,000-meter finals where current U.S. half-marathon champ and Millersville University alum, James Carney, should be a contender.

Full plate

So I went into Starbucks this morning and ordered the big, big Sidamo coffee. Of course I mispronounced it which drew a bunch of blank stares from the baristas, before they realized what I wanted and corrected me.

“Oh… you mean Sis-AH-mo.”

“Yeah. Coffee.”

The Sidamo brew was described on the board above the urn as “delicate yet complex.” OK. But when I quipped, “Delicate yet complex… sounds like me!” I got nothing.

Blank stares.

Anyway, there is a lot going on today. To start, the struggling Phillies offense takes its road show to Arlington, Texas this evening to play the Rangers. Actually, when I write struggling offense, I really meant all-or-nothing offense. That really seems to describe the Phillies’ hitters perfectly.

Need proof? Check out this stat I was e-mailed about the all-or-nothing Phillies:

The Phillies have scored 10 or more runs in eight games this season for 110 runs. In the other 72 games, the Phillies have scored 294 runs, or 4.08 runs per game.

When scoring 10 or more runs the Phillies are 8-0. In the other 72 games they are 35-37.

Feast or famine.

When was the last time a team with numbers so skewed won the World Series?

***
Meanwhile, the track portion of the Olympic Trials begins in earnest tonight in Eugene, Oregon at Hayward Field. For those who don’t follow the sport (and you know who you are), holding the track trials at Hayward Field is staging the World Series in Wrigley Field, Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium rolled into one.

Yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. It’s an even bigger deal when one considers that the Olympic Trials are about as dramatic as it gets in sports. Think about it — athletes get one chance once every four years to qualify for the Olympic team. If they don’t finish in the top three in their event, they have to wait another four years for the next chance.

Needless to say, they bring it at the Trials.

Tonight at 9:20 p.m. the women’s 10,000-meters team will be determined. But if Shalane Flanagan doesn’t run away with this one, something is up. I’m also predicting that Katie McGregor and Elva Dryer will take the other two spots on the Olympic team.

What about Kara Goucher? Come on, you can’t go with the chalk all the time.

***
Finally, the final appeal of the Floyd Landis case will be issued on Monday by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

At last.

***
There’s more coming later today. I went to see Ted Leo and Pearl Jam in Washington last Sunday so I figured I might as write about that, too.

***
Cryptic sentence of the day:

Clips are back.

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.

Two-time Olympian Culpepper looking for ‘threepeat’

Alan CulpepperNEW YORK – It seems as if it would be difficult to overlook someone like Alan Culpepper in any type of running race, let alone one to determine the U.S. Olympic team for the Beijing Games in 2008. Culpepper, after all, has made the past two Olympic teams in two different events. In 2000 he went to Sydney as a 10,000-meter runner and went again in 2004 to Athens as a marathoner.

On Saturday in New York City, Culpepper is looking to make it two Olympic marathon teams in a row. Only Frank Shorter has won two consecutive trials marathons.

But the funny thing about that is there aren’t too many pundits or fans giving him a chance. Oh sure, everyone knows Culpepper is talented and as savvy a pro as one can be in distance running. At age 35 he’s been through the wars enough to have forgotten more about running than most people will ever know. Yet despite a garage full of trophies from an NCAA Championship in the 5,000 meters (1996); victories in the Olympic Trials in the 10,000 meters (2000) and marathon (2004), as well as a “surprise” victory” in last February’s National Cross-Country Championship, it’s hard to believe that Culpepper isn’t the pundits pick in this weekend’s big race.

  Trials notes
 
According to a report on the Runner’s World Web site, top contender Brian Sell’s will have at least one of his 12 Hansons-Brooks teammates pacing him through the early miles in Central Park. According to the report’s source (“a marathon expert close to the Hansons-Brooks team), the goal is to take Sell out at a sub-5 minute pace. “They want to turn this into a marathon of attrition,” the site reported. … Fans outside of the New York metropolitan area can watch the beginning of the race on NBC’s Today show, or in its entirety online at MediaZone.com. … Saturday’s forecast in New York City looks ideal for running. The temperature should remain in the mid-40s throughout the race with cloudy skies and humidity around 63 percent. There is a chance that windy conditions could be a factor, though.
 

Why is that?

Good question.

As far as distance runners go, Culpepper isn’t flashy. Sure, the press loves him as evidenced by the lengthy New York Times profile this week featuring Culpepper and his two-time Olympian wife, Shayne. And, yeah, he has some big-time victories and times under his belt (a 2:09:41 in his marathon debut at Chicago in 2002 and back-to-back Top 5 finishes at Boston in 2005 and 2006), but he performs his best when he gets into a rhythm and sets a solid pace for the entire race. To some it might not be the most inspiring style of racing, but it’s smart, solid and professional…

Just like Culpepper.

Nevertheless, when talking to the media less than 48 hours prior to this Saturday’s Olympic Trials Marathon – a race in which the hilly, criterium dash through Manhattan’s Central Park could be beneficial to his rock steady style – Culpepper seems to enjoy the fact that he isn’t the focus of all the attention in the deepest all-American field ever.

Whoever finishes in the top three to make the U.S. Olympic team will be a threat to win a medal in Beijing, says Culpepper.

“I do think now that due to the professionalism of the sport the level, of competition now is raised to a whole new level worldwide, just with the progression of the sport as a whole and I think that’s clearly the case now,” he said. “The three that make the team will, in my mind, clearly be ones to look out for in terms of sneaking in there to get a medal at the Olympics, and (silver medalist) Meb (Keflezighi) proved that in the last Olympics. He didn’t win our trials, but he went on to win a medal. I would say we’re definitely at a new level.”

But just because the media isn’t focusing in on Culpepper – 23-year old Californian Ryan Hall is the favorite, by virtue of his 2:08:24 run at London in April – doesn’t mean that his competition isn’t paying attention. Dark horse contender Peter Gilmore told reporters that Culpepper is, “definitely not a guy who’s going to show up on race day and give you half an effort.” Meanwhile, 10,000-meter specialist (and Millersville University alum) James Carney reportedly says his strategy in his first-ever marathon is quite simple:

Find Culpepper and stay as close as you can.

Finding Culpepper won’t be too difficult. At 6-foot-1 he’s one of the taller runners out there. Besides, chances are Culpepper will be running at the front of the pack with a bunch of others clinging to him like barnacles to a ship. Still, knowing this isn’t going to change the savvy Coloradans’ plans for Saturday.

“We all have run a lot of races for a lot of years and you kind of just know on the day what you need to do. You trust your instincts and you trust your intuition,” Culpepper said during a conference call from New York’s Tavern on the Green restaurant with Hall and co-favorite Abdi Abdirahman. “That’s what I’ll be focusing on for myself, but also not ruling out the fact that there are some things that I thought about ahead of time that could possibly happen.”

That’s the thing about marathoning – anything can happen. A runner could have had months of perfect training and run personal records in his training races leading up to the event, but none of that matters over 26.2 miles. That’s what draws people to the sport – the marathon distance searches for even the tiniest of weaknesses and exploits it. Perfection is impossible.

Knowing all of that and having had the chance to fly in to New York from his home base near Boulder, Colo. for reconnaissance over the course, Culpepper doesn’t believe the rugged terrain in Central Park will dictate the terms of the race.

“I don’t think any of us want to lollygag around because that allows guys that maybe shouldn’t be up in there to be in there, but we also don’t want to sacrifice,” Culpepper explained. “To be honest I don’t think it’s going to be as slow as we all initially thought. Or like when I first saw the course I thought, ‘Man, I’d be lucky to run 2:15.’ I don’t think that’s necessarily going to be the case. For me personally, I made that mistake in the (Athens) Olympics in limiting what I felt I could run on the course. You don’t want to over think it too much.”

That’s especially the case when so many other runners will be thinking about you.

More: Two-time Olympian Culpepper looking for ‘threepeat’

Khannouchi still chasing the Olympic dream

Breaking Down the Trials… Sort Of

Counting Down to the Trials

Khannouchi still chasing the Olympic dream

Khalid KhannouchiNEW YORK – It wasn’t too long ago that top American runner Khalid Khannouchi was blazing through the streets of Philadelphia in the prestigious Distance Run where it seemed like he was a threat to the World Record in the half marathon every time he toed the starting line.

It wasn’t just in Philadelphia or the half marathon, either. The citizens in London and Chicago also have seen Khannouchi torch the field in the full 26.2-mile marathon distance featuring some the best distance runners ever. Between October of 1999 and April of 2002, Khannouchi set both the World and American records in the marathon twice – once apiece in each city.

By the end of 2002, when he was just 31 years old and coming into his prime years as an endurance athlete, Khannouchi had the world in the palm of his hand. Newly naturalized as an American citizen in May of 2000, Khannouchi not only owned the most-coveted records in his event, but also had established himself as the greatest marathoner of all time by virtue of his five best times. He had run the fastest debut marathon ever; he was the first human to break 2:06 in the distance and added the 20K world best to his impressive resume, too.

Better yet, he had set up his home base in New York’s Hudson Valley where he and his wife Sandra were knee deep in the American Dream. The only thing missing amidst the record times and the victories in major marathons was a chance to stand atop the podium in the Olympics as the “Star Spangled Banner” played.

As 2002 turned into 2003, the thought that Khannouchi would represent the U.S. in the Athens Games and win a medal was as solid a bet as one could make. In fact, the very notion seemed inevitable. Khannouchi had missed his shot at the Olympics in 2000 when his naturalization could not be expedited in time for him to compete in the Trials. Instead of travelling to Sydney to race in the Olympic Marathon, Khannouchi went to Chicago where he won that marathon for the third time in four years and shattered the American record with a 2:07:01.

Yes, by the time 2003 rolled around and Khannouchi had lowered that 2000 American record to a world best 2:05:38, it seemed as if there was nothing the man could not do.

But it never happened. Khannouchi did not get to the podium at the Olympics as most expected in 2004. Actually, he didn’t even make it to the starting line at the Trials. Since then, he’s been doing all he can to find an ounce of consistency to a career that was once as sure as the tides.

When the dreaded injury bug rears its head and bites it makes many athletes wonder about what could have been. Most athletes, that is, except for Khannouchi.

“I don’t regret anything. Injuries are a part of our game,” he said. “You have to be a man and accept what you get. I was happy I was able to get great times and win major marathons when I was in shape, but injuries are part of the game and you have to do the best you can to treat them and get back to running. That’s what I’ve tried to do though I might not be in the best of shape for the U.S. Olympic Trials.”

But these days, with the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials set for this Saturday, Khannouchi has to wonder if this is his last shot. Now quickly approaching his 36th birthday with his fastest times seemingly behind him, Khannouchi might have just one more chance to get to the Olympic podium.

That is if he even makes the Olympic team for the Beijing Games in 2008.

This Saturday’s Olympic Trials that will take place over a challenging (read: undulating terrain) criterium-style course in New York City’s Central Park, is said by more than a few seasoned experts to be the deepest field for the race ever. First held in 1968, the Olympic team is determined by the top three finishers in the trials race. If an injury (or something else) knocks one of the top three out of the Olympics, the spot is filled by the fourth-place finisher (and so on) from the Trials. It’s quite an egalitarian – better yet – American way to select an Olympic team. With all three members of the last Olympic team slated to race (Alan Culpepper, Meb Keflezighi and Dan Browne), along with a handful of the up-and-coming U.S. marathoners – including Ryan Hall, the 23-year old Californian who ran a 2:08 in London last April for the fastest debut ever by an American – Saturday’s field is stacked deep. As many as 10 runners have a legitimate shot to crack the top three to earn a spot to go to Beijing.

The race will be just as tough on the runners mentally as it will physically.

“There’s definitely a lot more depth and it will be a lot more challenging, and the course itself is challenging, so it’s tough,” said Keflezighi, who won the silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Needless to say, Khannouchi, of course, is one of those contenders. He enters the race with the fastest qualifying time – a 2:07:04 in London in 2006 – but one would be hard pressed to find too many pundits penciling the Morocco native into their top three.

Khalid KhannouchiWhy? Isn’t it a bit curious that the current American record holder and two-time world record holder is being written off in favor of guys like Hall, Keflezighi and young guns Abdi Abdirahman and Dathan Ritzenhein? How can the only guy in the field who has run slower than 2:07:19 just twice in his nine career races be considered a dark horse?

Does that make sense?

Well, kind of.

For one thing, Khannouchi has completed just two marathons since winning Chicago in 2:05:56 in 2002. For another, all of his marathons were run in Chicago and London, two courses (to be generous) known to be runner-friendly and where a sidewalk curb could be considered a gain in altitude.

And of course the biggest reason why Khannouchi isn’t as feared as he once was is those nagging injuries. It was the injuries that kept him from completing a single marathon during 2003, 2005 and, yes, even 2007. During Tuesday’s pre-race conference call, Khannouchi revealed that his training had been hampered by a neuroma between the second and third metatarsals on his right foot. He says even easy running causes him pain, though his sponsor, New Balance, has designed a special shoe to fit in a specially designed orthotic that has been wearing throughout his training during the past two months.

Add in the fact that a bulk of Khannouchi’s training occurred during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, where it is customary for followers to fast during daylight hours, and no one is really sure what to expect this Saturday.

“I really don’t know what kind of shape I’m in right now because I didn’t perform well in my races,” Khannouchi said, noting that he ran a less-than stellar 1:05:04 in the San Jose’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon.

Meanwhile, Khannouchi notes that he wasn’t able to run his typical 130-miles per week, settling instead for a more modest 105. To accommodate his training, Khannouchi traveled from Ossining, N.Y. to Manhattan to do midnight runs over the Trials course in Central Park. That was followed by rising a few hours later to start the process all over again.

“I had to make some adjustments. I didn’t do as many miles as I usually do before a marathon,” Khannouchi explained. “This is the first time I had to train through Ramadan, in the past I would do easy runs and easy workouts. I think I did a pretty good job. If the race is a tactical race and I don’t have to run 2:07 to be on the podium [it will help].

“I would do my first run at 5 p.m., two hours after breaking the fast, and I would have to wait until midnight to do my second workout. My wife was with me all the time, every day. That’s the motivation and sacrifice you have to do if you want to achieve your dream.”

Could Khannouchi be playing possum? Is he using a little reverse psychology to make his competitors believe he isn’t quite as good as he once was?

Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

But the American dream still burns for Khannouchi, though maybe not as brightly as it once did. Finishing in the top three on Saturday would prove to be the topper to an epic career.

“Not as much as I did before,” Khannouchi said in response to a question about whether the Olympic dream still burns as hot as it once did. “But to be honest, I still have the drive and this is a very important dream for me.

“For me it’s a dream to represent my country in the Olympics and do the same [as Meb]. I’ve worked as hard as I can. I did the best I can and I feel I can do as well as everybody else.”

So how will it shake out on Saturday? Can Khannouchi battle the course and the competitors to finally get there? Does he have what it takes for one last hurrah?

“It’s tough to say because the marathon is always so unpredictable,” Khannouchi said. “To be honest, I don’t have a tactic that I’m going to use in the race. But we all assume that it will be a slow first half and then everything will be played in the last lap or two.

“This is not a race like a big city marathon that you have to win. But I think everyone wants to make the team. If you ask me if I want to work really hard and try to go for first place, or do you want to make the top three, I will say that I want to make it easy for myself and try to make the top three.”

From there, it’s off to chase the dream one more time.

More: Khannouchi still chasing the Olympic dream

Breaking Down the Trials… Sort Of 

Counting Down to the Trials 

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.

Counting down to the Trials

Meb & CulpepperAt this point in the game, the runners in the Nov. 3 Olympic Marathon Trials are beginning to think about their taper. With months of 120 to 140 miles weeks behind the top runners, there isn’t too much many more hard workouts will do for a guy other than wear him out.

A hard long run or a serious set of intervals this late in the game is almost like studying for an exam the night before – if you don’t know it by now, it’s too late.

So with 11 days to go before the biggest marathon of the year, all that’s left is to hype the race… and relax a bit.

It is funny (in the ironical sense) that the taper period is the most difficult part for runners to get through. Going out there every day to run 15 to 20 miles is always less scary than the very idea of cutting back the training.

Anyway, this year’s trials could be the deepest ever. In fact, Khalid Khannouchi, the American record holder in the marathon (2:05:38) says in an interview with Runner’s World that there are “seven or eight” legitimate contenders to take the top three spots to earn a position on the Olympic team. Of that seven to eight, there are two runners whose injuries could prove to ruin their chances at making the team.

The biggest name of the bunch is Meb Keflezighi, the silver medalist in the 2004 Olympic Marathon, whose calf injury forced him to shut down his normal training routine for a few days. If Meb is going to make another Olympic team he’s going to need healthy calves to negotiate his way over those five-mile loops on the criterium-style course in Central Park.

Khannouchi, the former world-record holder, is another runner who always seems to battling through one injury or another. However, Khannouchi turns 36 in December and knows that he doesn’t have much time left if he wants to make an Olympic team or run fast times. Actually, the Nov. 3 Trials could be Khannouchi’s last shot.

It could be the last shot for a lot guys, too. But you can read/watch all about that on your own. The New York Road Runners – host of the Central Park Trials – has put together a comprehensive web site complete with profiles of the runners and the uncompromising course. Runner’s World site is loaded with interviews of the top runners and the latest news.

Brian SellMy favorite bit from the RW site is the interview with contender Brian Sell, who when asked the reason why he puts in the 150-mile weeks was for his mileage was for his “body or his head,” just laughed and said, “head.”

“I don’t have any advantages over those guys in terms of talent so knowing that I ran 20 to 30 miles more per week it gives me the strength.”

Sell’s answer is better than mine when folks asked me why I ran 100-mile weeks when preparing for a marathon.

“Because that’s what it takes.”

Truth be told, it’s more for my head than for anything else.

More: Breaking down the Trials… sort of 

***
Speaking of my head, my hour-a-day plan has entered its second week though there have been a few hiccups here and there. One was a two-day visit to the hospital for our youngest boy, Teddy. The little fella got a virus/cold that resulted in a 103-degree fever. Because he is just seven-weeks old, his doctor decided around-the-clock care at Lancaster General was the smart plan.

So yeah, I skipped a day.

Meanwhile, I ran from my house near Franklin & Marshall College/Lancaster Country Day to Columbia, Pa. on Sunday during the hottest part of the day, and today I did 10 in 69:05 (splits: 34:36; 34:29) aching from a spasming calf and an old-fashioned head cold.

Needless to say it was a struggle. And frankly, if I feel this way before the Harrisburg Marathon I’m going to take the DNS. That could mean a full calendar year without a marathon…

But that won’t last. My manager (wife) and I went through the schedule and crunched the numbers and decided to target The National Marathon in Washington, D.C. on March 29.

The plan is to regain my strength and drop some weight for the next eight weeks before putting my 14-weeks plan into full effect.

The training plan? Here it is with unexplained jargon:

Week 1
2 miles easy +
2 x 2 miles @ 5:35/mile +
9 miles easy +
3 miles @ 5:35/mile +
2 miles easy

4 miles easy +
5 x 1 mile @ 5:10/mile +
5 miles easy

Week 2
20 miles in 2:15

2 miles easy +
10 miles in 58
2 miles easy

Week 3
4 miles easy +
8 miles in 48 +
1 mile in 5:35 +
6 miles in 36 +
1 mile in 5:35 +
2 miles easy

knockdown in 33, 32, 31

Week 4
22 miles with 5 miles in 28

knockdown in 32, 31, 30

Week 5
22 miles in 2:28

2 miles easy +
10 miles in 58 +
2 miles easy

Week 6
20 miles with 12 in 72

knockdown in 32, 30, 29

Week 7
22 miles with 5 in 28, 10 easy, and 5 in 28

knockdown in 31, 30, 28

Week 8
22 miles in 2:27

4 easy +
10 in 57
1 mile cool down

Week 9
23 miles with 12 in 72

knockdown in 31, 31, 27

Week 10
22 miles with 5 in 28

knockdown in 32, 30, 29

Week 11
22 miles easy

4 miles easy +
5 x 1 mile @ 5:10/mile +
5 miles easy

Week 12
BLAST WEEK

Week 13
22 miles easy

5k or 10k race

Week 14
* 13 easy
* 10 easy
* 4 miles warm up and cool down + 3 in 16
* 6 miles easy
* 4-5 miles easy
* 3 miles easy
* 4 miles easy