If you’re a baseball fan, Spring Training is merely a platter of crudités to hold you until the real feast of the regular season begins next month.
If college hoops is your preference, you’re still a week away from your TV watching smorgasbord of the opening rounds of March Madness, which will culminate in the Final Four crescendo just about the time of baseball’s first pitch.
But if you’re a fan of running, it might be hard to find a weekend that rivals this one, whatever aspect of the sport you favor.
Like track and field? There are indoor championships galore, from the New Balance High School Nationals at New York’s 168th Street Armory, to the NCAA Division I championships at the University of Arkansas’ Tyson Center, perhaps the best venue in the country to stage and watch a track meet.
If your taste tends more toward competition on asphalt, there’s no shortage of high-level races this weekend either.
It began this morning in Jacksonville, FL, where the Gate River Run crowned the USA 15km champions, with Ben True making it three in a row and Amy Hastings taking the women’s crown to prove her preparations for next month’s Boston Marathon are right on schedule.
Tomorrow, the action is centered on the two biggest cities on either coast. Shortly after 7, the United Airlines New York City Half gets underway, sending more than 20,000 runners, including some of the world’s best, through the streets of Manhattan on a route that runs from Central Park in Midtown, down the West Side, beneath the Battery at the lower tip of the island and finishing at South Street Seaport on the Lower East Side.
Just as the last of the New York finishers are crossing the line, the gun will sound to send hordes of marathoners along a course from Dodger Stadium to the Pacific Ocean in the 30th running of the ASICS L.A. Marathon.
The racers in the City of Angels will be tested by more than just the 26.2 miles of roads that include several climbs; all week, Southern California has been caught in the grip of an unusual early spring heatwave that has sent temperatures into the 90s, causing many area runners to move their workouts to the early dawn hours.
The marathon itself has followed suit; in a rare move, the start time has been moved up half an hour to 6:55 a.m. in an attempt to spare the runners at least some of the ordeal a hot weather race presents. It’s a baptism of fire of sorts for race director Tracey Russell, who became CEO of the event last year and promptly scored a major coup by landing the Olympic Trials for 2016.
Russell is no stranger to putting on major races in hot weather; in her previous position as head of the Atlanta Track Club, she was in charge of the Peachtree Road Race, one of the country’s biggest 10Ks held every Independence Day. The image from the old Nike magazine ad, “The Battle of Peachtree,” showing dozens of hot, sweaty runners being drenched by mist from firehoses, still raises your internal temperature a few degrees just by looking at it.
Many of the lessons Russell learned over the years at Peachtree will be put to the test in L.A., which should lessen the risk to runners, from the back-of-the-packers to the front-runners.
Among that latter group are several top Americans, who are using the race as a chance to get an advance feel for what it’s like to run in L.A., even if the course for next year’s Trials will be a flatter, multi-loop criterium layout as has been used in the past three editions of those races.
Still, should anything go wrong, and there isn’t a big race anywhere that doesn’t have at list one or two glitches, those who criticized the selection of L.A. over some other cities may use this as an “I told you so” opportunity to fire off a barrage of negative posts or Tweets.
Nonetheless, the American marathoners’ road to Rio is going to run right through L.A., like it or not, so here’s hoping there’s an unexpected wind shift that brings a cooling Pacific breeze over the city for at least a few hours Sunday, creating the positive momentum that will carry through until at least next February’s Trials.