A Midwest Midsummer Running Classic Hits 40

There was a period back around the turn of the millennium when the last week in July meant I’d be boarding a plane to fly to Davenport, Iowa, for one of the fixtures of the U.S. summer racing circuit, the Bix 7.
bixlogoThe 7-mile race along the banks of the Mississippi forms the third leg of the July Holy Trinity of road racing, which begins in Independence Day with Atlanta’s Peachtree 10K and continues with the Boilermaker 15K in Utica, N.Y. Elite runners from East Africa can make a year’s worth of winnings taking a busman’s holiday on this circuit, and if they find they’re in good form and placing well, extend it into August at Beach to Beacon and Falmouth.
What defines Bix, which celebrates its 40th running this Saturday, are the 3 H’s – heat, humidity, and hills. I’d been warned about the first two before my first trip to the Quad Cities, but there’s nothing to fully prepare you for the steamy air roiling off the Big Muddy, raised to energy-sapping levels by the mid-summer Iowa sun. Continue reading

Has Major League Baseball Finally Jumped The Shark?

For years and years, Major League Baseball’s All Star Game was just that, a game, a brief respite in the long season to give the best of America’s pastime a chance to showcase their talents in front of a national audience who, limited by the local TV coverage of the time, rarely saw stars from the other ColorRunleague. It was a chance to settle, at least for one day, who was better, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford or Bob Gibson.
Now, continuous interleague play and round the clock (and nation) coverage of games from every team has removed much of the magic of the Mid Summer Classic, even with home field advantage in the World Series upping the ante.
The All Star Game has also grown beyond a simple nine-inning contest between the best of baseball to become a multi-day extravaganza. The Home Run Derby, the Futures Game, the interactive FanFest have all served to expand, and some would say simultaneously dilute, the focus of the occasion. Continue reading

Hooray for the Red, White and Runners

Every year around this time, and again in late November, I seem to have the same debate, either with myself, or with someone in the running flagrunnerscommunity: Which is the bigger running holiday, Independence Day or Thanksgiving? Are there more Firecracker 5,000s and Four on the Fourths, or more Turkey Trots? And which day draws more people onto the roads? Continue reading

Take a Step (or 9) Back for Sir Roger

The annual Cinco de Mayo parties and marketing campaigns may be winding down, but the following day offers another reason to celebrate, especially if you’re a runner, and even more so this year.

roger_bannisterThis May 6 marks the 60th anniversary of Roger Bannister’s historic run on the Iffley Road track in England, where he became the first man to dip under the “unbreakable” four-minute barrier for four laps of the cinder oval.

In the intervening six decades, running under four minutes has gone from being considered an unobtainable, superhuman feat to the mark of a really, really good miler (in fact college runners achieve the feat somewhat often, the latest occurrence coming at the Penn Relays last month).

Sub-four minute miles might be even more commonplace if the distance was contested more often, but sadly, that’s not the case.

Since Bannister turned the trick on that stormy English afternoon 60 years ago, the hallowed distance of the mile has been supplanted by its metric equivalent, the 1500 meters, a race which lacks the mile’s symmetry of four equal circuits of the oval, each to be covered in an average of 60 seconds.

Continue reading

Break Up The Americans!


Annie Bersagel en route to winning the Dusseldorf Marathon. Photo by Victah Sailer, PhotoRun

While it didn’t garner the publicity of Meb Keflezighi’s historic win in Boston on Patriots’ Day, a week later another American was ascending the victory podium in an international marathon.
Annie Bersagel, whose recent athletic career has been almost as peripatetic as Meb’s early life, won the Metro Group Marathon Duesseldorf in 2:28:59, a 1:54 PR and putting her in the select group of American women who have run under 2:30 for the distance. Continue reading

Collateral Damage

As the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings passes and runners, volunteers, spectators and the citizens of bostonfinishBoston look towards Monday’s race to bring at least some sense of healing and closure to the horrific events of April 15, 2013, I feel compelled to express my own thoughts regarding that day, and about a feeling among the running world that began a year ago and has grown in intensity as this year’s marathon has drawn close.

What I write may initially madden or even enrage some, but before you take to the keyboard to respond in anger, I ask that you read all the way through before beginning the process of flaming me up and down the Internet.

Continue reading

Why Road Racing Can Suck to Watch

Two Sundays ago I spent a chilly (nay, freezing) morning riding in the lead vehicle at the NYC Half, and before my phone shut down due to the arctic temperatures halfway through the race I realized, for maybe the umpteenth time, why road racing is such a hard sell as a spectator sport, even on TV.

Geoffrey Mutai easily wins the  2014 NYC Half. (PhotoRun/NYRR)

Geoffrey Mutai easily wins the 2014 NYC Half. (PhotoRun/NYRR)

For the first five miles of the race a large pack, fronted by America’s Meb Keflezighi, ran together through Central Parkl, but the focus was on the showdown between Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai and Mo Farah of Great Britain, who are scheduled to duel over twice the distance in London next month.

Then, coming down the hill just below the old Tavern on the Green, which Mutai had ascended in the opposite direction in his 2011 and 2013 NYCM wins, there was a brief tangle of legs. Farah went down, hitting the pavement hard, and Mutai, whether in reaction or by coincidence, put the racing hammer down, dropping the pace from 4:45 to 4:30 for the next three miles.

By the time he’d made the turn on the West Side Highway Mutai was 30 meters clear of second place, and that margin only grew as he essentially time trialed the rest of the way down to the Battery. He looked as though he might have been out for a tempo run back home in Kenya, and it was about as exciting to watch – in short, not very much.

That’s one of the main differences between running and almost any other sport – the perceived degree of difficulty between the elites and the masses, and even among the elites themselves. To be sure, Geoffrey Mutai running sub-5 minute miles looks different than Joe Jogger at double that pace, but only in a matter of degree. More to the point, the only way to differentiate an elite’s 4:50 mile from one 30 seconds faster is by looking at a stopwatch, or observing the disintegration of the lead pack.

In contrast, there’s an easily observable difference in ability between a weekend duffer and Phil Mickelson, or Derek Jeter and a beer league softball player. They’re playing the same sport, but in name only. Watch a pro making a no-look behind the back pass while driving the paint or drilling a slap shot through the five hole from the blue line, and there isn’t the tiniest iota of doubt they’re performing on an entirely distinct plane, if not a completely different planet.

Continue reading