Sunday, April 25, 2010

Boston and London--Marathon Inspiration

This week I watched Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, Sammy Wanjiru, and Tsegaye Kebede all run two hours, five minutes to win the 2010 Boston, 2009 London, and 2010 London marathons, respectively. Cheruiyot is 21 years old, a puppy by marathoning standards, and he crushed the previous record on the hilly track from Hopkinton to Boston by nearly two minutes. On Universal Sports I caught the replay of last year's London where Sammy Wanjiru won the prestigious marathon. By my count he has run six marathons since 2007 all in the 2:05-2:06 range. Many consider his Olympic win in the Bejing heat to be the best marathon performance ever. To the right is a picture of Wanjiru entering the Olympic stadium. I want to be like Sammy!

Kebede clearly put in the work to make sure he came ready to win in London this weekend. From the early press releases, he broke with six miles to go and won by over a minute. In some of these world majors such as Berlin, Chicago, and London it is very difficult for a non-kenyan to win. For an Ethiopian such as Kebede or an Eritrean, Moroccan, or American to win, one has to often go it alone. I mention these as just a few of the countries that have produced elite marathoners in recent years. Often the two or three pace makers hired are Kenyans which means they know whoever the Kenyan favorite is through a history at training camps or world class events. You could see in the coverage of the 2009 London marathon that when Hendrick Raamala of South Africa wanted the pace quickened and began to move to the front, the three Kenyan pace setters were a little thrown off. They did not want to make a move unless Sammy Wanjiru, a kenyan, wanted to quicken the pace. Advantage Kenya. Disadvantage--rest of the world. Hats off to Tsegaye Kebede for breaking through the Kenyan juggernaut and winning in London this weekend.

The picture above says it all for me. Cheruiyot the younger, as he is becoming known, and Merga of Ethiopia cresting Heartbreak Hill. I thought Merga seemed confident and in control of this race throughout the early miles, though Cheruiyot looked as smooth as a gazelle. The young articulate Kenyan ran negative splits at Boston. Negative Splits! That means he ran the second half faster than the first (1:03:27 for 13.1 miles then 1:02:25 coming home). This is not uncommon for elite athletes, but it is not common for anyone at Boston. This oldest of marathons is significantly faster and downhill for the first half of the race. Without manually checking the splits of the nearly 23,000 finishers I am confident that less than one percent of the finisher recorded negative splits. This tactic and result by Cheruiyot may tell more of us how we should approach our grueling 26.2 mile efforts in the future. I mentioned that many consider Wanjiru's 2008 Olympic win to be the greatest marathon performance of all time. Well, there is a new consideration and it is Robert "the younger's" 2:05:52 on Patriot's Day six days ago.

We should all stand in awe of these three champions. Someone will soon break Gebreselassie's 2:03:59. Will it be one of these runners or someone else? My money is on Zersenay Tadese. Never heard of him. Look him up.
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