Return to Blogging // Return to Pittsburgh

Catching up

It’s been a very long time since I’ve sat down to write a blog update. I can partially attribute this to the fact that I was extremely disappointed with my final performances of 2011– both at the World Championships in Daegu and the Pan-Am Games in Guadalajara. Matters were made worse after sustaining a nagging knee injury in December, which removed me completely from the context of running in January’s Olympic Marathon Trials. It was simply a matter of convenience to not write about how poorly things were going, and to disappear from the clichéd running blog scene.

It took an equal amount of time for my knee to heal as my personal attitude towards running. My focus was never compromised, as I spent a few hours each day cross-training on the elliptical machine, but I also fought hard against becoming resentful for the mistakes I had made that led me to injury: I had to move on. In January, I returned early from my leave of absence from the Public Library– not dejected from my inability to run in the Olympic Trials, but eager to maintain a level of personal productivity while getting back into training. Of course in the time my knee healed, I was already mapping out my training program for a spring marathon.

Road to the City of Bridges

The idea of returning to the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon first occurred to me after winning last year’s race, but the option more formally presented itself this past January. I remember making the enthusiastic commitment to return on my fifth consecutive day of running pain-free. I knew I would have some work to do for the 4 months leading up to the race, but having the opportunity to defend my title was extremely motivating.

I worked some low-key racing opportunities into my program for Pittsburgh. My first race back was less than 2 weeks into training, and it was a real “rust-buster.” With my residual fitness, I struggled through a 29:55 10km in Texas! Still, it was an encouraging starting point for me as I began my fundamental work. At the beginning of March, I entered The Woodlands Marathon (ironically only miles from where the January Trials were held) for the purpose of doing a progressive long run. Anticipating a controlled 2:17-2:18 effort, and setting off at 2:20 pace, I was surprised my progression led me to arrive at the finish in 2:15:42— with a last 10km weaving through runners on the 2-loop course in 30:48! It was great to share the podium in The Woodlands with MarathonGuide.com teammate and friend, Camille Herron, and know that my fitness was rapidly improving. Although my body was in a perpetual state of fatigue from conditioning, I was still able to run 45:29 for 3rd position the following week at the Mountain to Fountain 15K in Phoenix, and solo through whirlwinds to victory at the Canyonlands Half-Marathon the week after on St. Paddy’s Day.

I’ll admit that I had a few more races than originally planned in my marathon build-up, but I approached each race as if it were a quality workout, rather than a decisive competition. With this mentality, I never felt too exhausted mentally or physically.

#CooperRiverCurse

My prelude to running Pittsburgh would not be complete without including the ridiculous incident of malchance that was repeated in Charleston, South Carolina.

At the 2011 running of the Cooper River Bridge Run, I had dislocated my right shoulder just 5 minutes before the start of the race– simply by twisting my body to maneuver around another athlete. The result was an ambulance ride to the East Cooper River Medical Center, and an uncomfortable evening traveling back to Arizona. I also managed to get a traffic ticket that night while attempting to drive stick-shift (out of my sling) from Phoenix to Flagstaff.

Having planned to return to Cooper River this year, I joked about how I would prevent any mishaps before the race. I’m not superstitious by any means, but I found myself cautiously assessing risks throughout the race weekend. Janet Cherobon-Bawcom and I even postponed a pre-race arm-wrestling match just to be safe.

Perhaps I let my guard down too early. After finishing the race (I finished 9th in a tactically slow run) I left the crowded downtown square for a cool-down. Two minutes into the cool-down I collided with a small boy, who was running across the street. I fell hard on my hip and shoulder, which audibly dislocated when I landed on it. I couldn’t believe it: same race, same freak injury!! What sh*t luck! I again returned to the hospital, to have my shoulder reset. That evening, I made the pain medicine-induced drowsy drive from Phoenix back to Flagstaff (I took my arm out of the sling and drove carefully).

For the next 6 days, I was unable to run. My shoulder remained extremely sore, but quickly regained its normal range of motion. My hip, however, was very badly bruised from the fall. All week, I remained uncertain if it would even be possible to run in Pittsburgh…

I knew a few days off wouldn’t spoil my fitness, but hoped for a quick recovery. Luckily, treatments with Dr. Kym Wilkens, epsom salt baths and electro-stim therapies had me back 100% the following week.

Marathon Weekend

After completing 3 weeks of intensive specific marathon training, I left Flagstaff’s miniature Pulliam Airport feeling primed to defend my title in Pittsburgh. When Ali and I arrived in Pittsburgh, we were greeted with much warmer temperatures than the previous year. As the forecast started to take shape, I began to make some arrangements to prepare for the heat.

I felt like my return to Pittsburgh was a homecoming; the race organization was incredibly hospitable, and all weekend I felt as if I were member of one of the home sports teams. I also had some of my good friends driving from Rochester to watch the race, which added to my excitement and motivation for running well. Although, I knew it would be a difficult task to win again, I wanted to defend my title for them!

I knew the competition would be much better than 2011. Given how well I had felt in training, I had also hoped for a stronger field. At Friday’s press conference, I was given an entry list that confirmed my presumptions. Although I was given the honorary bib #1, my personal best time (2:13:12) seeded me close to 10th in the elite field. The fastest seed was 28-year old Zembaba Yigeze of Ethiopia with a best of 2:08:27 (he had finished 14 seconds ahead of me at Cooper River). Returning from last year, was another very capable Ethiopian, Tariku Bokan (2:12:23 best from Dubai). Amidst a group of Kenyans and Ethiopians with bests between 2:11 and 2:13, I was also surprised to see a good friend, James Kirwa of Kenya, entered with his 2:12:54 course record from Des Moines. Kirwa might not be widely known, but has had some strong performances. When I met him at Grandma’s Marathon last year, I was impressed with his relaxed personality and good sense of humor; if Usain Bolt were to become a marathoner, he might resemble James.

In my pre-race interviews, I maintained it would be a difficult feat to repeat as champion, although I felt fit enough to be competitive with anyone I lined up against; I wanted to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. I also believed that even with the warmer conditions, the winning time would be significantly faster than my 2011 time (2:16:40).

Kids of Steel

On Cinco de Mayo– the day before the race– I watched my friend Ashley run her first 5K and then had the privilege of again volunteering with the Kids of Steel Program. This year, over 30 schools and 2,000 kids participated in the 18 week program to run 26.2 miles! Together, all these kids logged around 39,000 miles, which is astonishing! It was a lot of fun to cheer them on in their final mile at the Toyota of Pittsburgh Kids Marathon. After an hour, my hand was numb from all the high-fives! I also had the honor of being joined by Olympic Silver Medalist and NYC Marathon Champion Meb Keflezighi, who had been previously invited to take part in the race weekend events. Again, it was fun to see so many young people enjoying the sport!

 

Race of Steel

I went through my normal pre-race morning routine, waking up 3 hours before the 7:30AM start time to have breakfast quietly in my room. I had some cereal from Trader Joe’s, coffee and a chocolate PowerBar. Once the coffee kicks in, race mornings become electric! Around 5:45AM, I met my friend Eric in the hotel lobby. In a small cooler, he brought me the frozen Hyperwear Pre-Cooling Vest that I had overnight-shipped to the hotel the previous morning (I was not taking any chances with the warm weather forecasted). Before heading to the staging area, I greeted James Kirwa, who was all smiles.

After a brief 10 minute warm-up, I switched into dry clothes, my CEP Compression socks, laced up my Brooks Green Silence flats and put on the cooling vest to bring my core temperature down. Although the temperature would only reach around 70F during my run, I recognized the pre-cooling would reduce the demand on my body to cool itself down in the early stages of the race; and I wanted to conserve as much energy as possible!

The start was a blur. Between strides there were countless handshakes and high-fives with race officials, a good-luck hug from the race director Patrice Matamoros, and the singing of the National Anthem. At 7:29, I pulled down my PivLock V2 sunglasses anticipating the gun. Once we were sent off, I felt relieved.

Within the first miles, a long echelon of elite half-marathoners had outdistanced our large group of marathoners. Running along side the other favorites–James, Tariku, Tabor Nebsi, Feyisa Tusse and some Ethiopians wearing red WSX club uniforms– I surmised our pack was at the front of the marathon. MarathonGuide.com teammate Kipyegon Kirui took over the early pacing duties, which were not that difficult (it was clear no athletes were looking to chase the event record of 2:10:24) I was content to stay in the group and observe.

It was truly an uneventful first 10 miles, and I felt guilty for having sat back so much. My only concerns were staying hydrated and keeping myself as relaxed as possible. Kipyegon,Tariku and James had all made appearances at the front of the pack, but no one made any decisive moves. While running on East Carson Street, I saw a stray Ethiopian runner floating back to us. He joined our group, looking very labored, and Tariku spoke to him in Amharic. At this point I also noticed he was wearing a green marathon bib number. It didn’t take me long to realize that this Ethiopian was a casualty from another group of marathoners up the road! I panicked to realize we had wasted 10 miles running very slow while there were others working ahead of us. Before we crossed the Birmingham Bridge, I mentioned to James the problem. We moved to the front of our group, and began our teamwork.

At 10.7 miles, the half-marathoners were re-routed back towards downtown Pittsburgh, while the marathoners continued on with a leading press truck. The split made it apparent we had miscalculated our race position, as a pack of about 10 more athletes had a 20-30 second advantage on us! They weren’t half-marathoners! Luckily James and I had increased the pace enough to reel this group back in by the 12 mile mark. He offered me a high-five: “No problem!” For the first time in the race, I had spotted Zembabahow could I have lost track of the 2:08 guy?! But then another thing concerned me after our groups merged: the was no lead vehicle in sight!

I immediately asked Benjamin Meto in the group what position we were. His answer was not clear, but Zembaba gestured that there was 1 more athlete ahead. One more? Where?! As if I wasn’t already enough disturbed by this revelation, a race official called out to us that we were 2 minutes behind as we crossed the half-marathon mat in 1:08:30! To give any of the other 15 elite athletes a 2 minute head-start is unthinkable! Again, I turned to James at the front of the group and simply said “we have to go!”

I have never pushed so hard in the middle of a marathon, but I wasn’t ready to settle for a 2nd or 3rd place finish. I knew I had made a grave error in sitting back early on, but now I had to commit to pulling back the leader, even if it meant my complete demise. James and I ran side by side, with Tariku shadowing us. No one else was able to follow. We went from running a loping 5:09 mile to a leg-churning 4:41— it was suicidal! It was a shock to my system, but I did my best to override my sensory data. Meanwhile James seemed unfazed with the increased tempo, even finding time to grab an extra water cup for me.

What was going on up the road? The Nixon Kiplagat show! Unbeknownst to us, the unheralded Kenyan  had run through the Oakland neighborhoods giving spectators a thumbs-up, and clearly exhibiting confidence in his growing margin. In the miles that followed, his grin became a grimace, and he still had 10 miles to go…

After 19 miles, and only a few periodic glimpses of what might have been a lead vehicle, it was still unclear whether or not we had made any ground on Nixon. I was barely able to stay with James and Tariku, being almost two strides off of them and feeling the summer-like temperature. During this mile, I took a bottle at the fluid station that with a PowerBar Energy Gel for some added carbs and electrolytes. It was rejuvenating, and I was back on the bus approaching the 21st mile.

We descended Liberty Avenue, now with the press vehicle and Nixon clearly in sight (and visibly slowing). James had gained a slight advantage, while Tariku was tucked behind me. I learned from last year that the downhill was long enough to have severe consequences on tired legs, so I had to use this stretch to make up as much ground as possible on the two ahead. My quads seemed alright with the additional landing shock and I could hear Tariku laboring. I tried to keep running with a high cadence while following the tangents on the road. It still wasn’t enough to bring James back much. As the road leveled out, my friend Steve (who had driven down from Rochester) was on the course encouraging me to keep gaining on them.

At 25 miles, James had passed Nixon. I estimated they were about 15-20 seconds away from me, meaning I would really have to work hard in the final mile to advance into any other position. I knew I had to push through– there wasn’t any other option. I thought of my workouts that brought me back to fitness, my friends that came to see me run, my family back home, and the city that had welcomed me back to their marathon. I had to keep running hard for them!

I moved into 2nd place and barreled down the entire finishing straight on the Boulevard of the Allies, even after James had broken the tape. I finished 17 seconds later, a narrow margin in marathon racing. I was exhausted in a way my unremarkable time of 2:14:26 wouldn’t indicate.  Still, James was the first to congratulate me with a hug. With some teamwork and a little luck on our side, we successfully caught the leader to go 1-2. Both Runners of Steel, taking in our accomplishment.

Post-race activities included a return to Abay Ethiopian Cuisine for a huge lunch, followed by some ice cream at Oh Yeah(!).  I was with great company and the food was fantastic (I think everyone liked Ethiopian food… Chelsea? Ashley?).

Well, it’s time to wrap this blog up… special thanks to Patrice, Kelsey and the entire Pittsburgh Marathon organization for welcoming me back to your incredible race this year– your marathon is second to none, and I hope I can return next year!  Thanks also to my family and friends who made this weekend special by coming to Pittsburgh, or encouraging me as I prepared these past months. Last but not least, thanks to my sponsors for keeping faith in me! –JDE

Race footage, courtesy of Eric Boyce:

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A Short Reflection on Grandma’s Marathon

Jeffrey’s concise reflection on finishing 5th at Grandma’s Marathon in 2:13:12.

My trip to Duluth for the 35th running of Grandma’s Marathon was an excellent learning experience. The race came a month after winning Pittsburgh, and 2 weeks after pacing 30K of the Ottawa Marathon. I was not worried about my time, race splits or trying to be top American– I was only running to win. I remained patient early on and worked into a good pace with the other top Americans, Matt Gabrielson and Tyler McCandless. By 18 miles I had pulled ahead and joined the lead group, which included several athletes I ran against in Pittsburgh (I may have heard the Swahili phrase for “Sh*t not again!”). I threw in a hard surge near a water station to break up the large group, and we went from a dozen to 6 athletes. 2:07:06 marathoner Charles Munyeki was one of the surprise casualties. Around 21 miles I fell off the front. A Flagstaff-based training partner from the previous week, Teklu Deneke Tefra, stayed in contact and narrowly missed victory in a sprint duel with Kenya’s Christopher Kipyego. After they pulled clear, I soldiered on to the finish in 2:13:12, a 57-second personal best and also currently the #3 U.S. performance for 2011. I also kept my record of negative splitting in tact, despite the pace variation once I joined the leaders.  I cannot be too disappointed with a race in which I took some risks and come out with a new personal best–but it leaves me hungry for more and I am confident I will only get better. I look forward to demonstrating that next in Daegu, no longer a rookie in the marathon.

Stay tuned for more comprehensive updates! –JDE

Who could win… a rabbit?

Jeffrey’s recap of rabbiting the Pittsburgh Marathon… and then winning.

It was quite a weekend in Pittsburgh! As I reflect back on the the unexpected result, I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes not having a definitive race plan is beneficial. As a race ‘rabbit’ brought in to assist other athletes and fully-participate in all the weekend events, I had a very planned-out stay in the Steel City. And yet, after 18 miles of pacing on Sunday, I decided to improvise a little…

Highlights from the Event Weekend

On Friday night, I attended a reception for all the generous event sponsors at the LaMont Restaurant. It took some convincing on my part to the Restaurant staff that I was with the Marathon event, and not the Junior Prom that was also going on. After enjoying a glass of Cab and taking in the panoramic view of downtown, I was given the opportunity to address the sponsors on behalf of the elite athletes and Olympic Trials hopefuls. It’s quite humbling to speak in front of such a distinguished group– which included the Mayor (who was making his half-marathon debut), sponsors and the entire race organization. However, I was glad to convey the fact that their support goes a long ways in helping many aspiring athletes realize their dream. Later on, after watching some fireworks and having another glass of Cab, I chatted with Race Director Patrice Matamoros. I thanked her again for having me, and joked with her that maybe I would win her race on Sunday.

On Saturday I took part in the Kid’s 1-Mile Fun Run, along with fellow pacer Tom Tissell and the Steeler’s charismatic Ryan Clark . Through the Kids of Steel Program, over 500 kids from five area school districts logged up to running a total of 26.2 miles– with the final mile being run during the event weekend. I was excited to be a part of the Program’s finale, and witnessed an incredible turnout of young students, their teachers and parents all enthused to be running! I ran with the group from McClellan Elementary School, having met their dedicated PE teacher the previous evening. Despite a false start by Ryan, I was able to work up through the field of smiling and reddening young faces to finish 2nd in 6:57. I high-fived the top finisher, and had him promise me to one day run the marathon. He said he might, as he collected his medal with satisfaction, and as others zipped through the finish. I was pleased to see so many youngsters getting exposure to running as a healthy, life-long activity!


Leading up to Sunday, I had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with many talented athletes.  It was great meeting and talking to Tom, a very experienced marathoner (and multiple-time Olympic Trials Qualifier) who was pacing the Women’s ‘B’ Qualifiers. I also met a very friendly group of Ohioans the first evening at dinner. After the Fun Run on Saturday, I went for my own run on the nearby river trail with Tyler McCandless, a recent PSU Grad and 2:17 marathoner pacing the Women’s ‘A’ Qualifiers. Later on, I caught up with some of the U.S. athletes targeting the OT Qualifying Standard, including American citizen Boaz Cheboiywo. Whenever I travel to races, it’s nice to meet new athletes and also see a few familiar faces. Everyone seems to have a unique story of how they became involved with the sport (and particularly with the marathon), and I find myself learning from them. More than any other sport in the U.S., distance running is a relatively small and tight-knit community.

Race Day

My approach to Sunday was like that of any important workout or race: I made sure I was well-rested and adjusted to the time zone; I ate well and prepared most of my foods; I also maintained a high level of focus on the task at hand. I certainly felt a great amount of responsibility to the athletes I would be pacing, which had me equally as excited as anxious– while both sentiments quelled any competitive ambitions. When race morning arrived, I followed my usual routine: coffee and breakfast (including a Raw Revolution Bar) 3 hours before “go” time, active-isolation rope stretching (thanks Tyler for lending me your rope!), and some ipod-shuffling (rocked out to Girl Talk’s All Day mix).

As anticipated, we had a rainy and humid race morning. It was a very balmy 60°F when I was warming up with Lauretta, a former teammate from my UVA days who I had literally run into that morning. After some easy shaking out, I pulled on some dry CEP Compression Socks, put on my Garmin Forerunner GPS Watch and switched into a Team  MarathonGuide.com sleeveless Brooks shirt (I had forgotten to pack my singlet); I was ready to rabbit!

The marathoners and half-marathoners lined up together on Liberty Avenue under a large yellow banner. I found Boaz and made sure we were in close proximity. Once sent off at 7:00, we were quickly swallowed up by the half-marathoners taking off. I watched MarathonGuide.com teammate Nicholas Kurgat push to the front with his neon Spira shoes visible in his long back-kick. He was shadowed closely by a former Hansons-Brooks teammate Ryan Sheehan and a few NYC-based, WSX runners; I knew he would have his work cut out for him. My focus immediately shifted back into setting our mild cadence: 5:18’s. A few female elites had pulled ahead.


Due to the rain and cloud coverage, my Garmin was not receiving the best GPS signal. I had to rely more on the clocks each mile for feedback. I recall being a little slow at 5K (just over 16:30), but Boaz, Nik Schweikert and a few half-marathoners bolstered our group. I felt very relaxed leading the group, as if it were another Sunday long run on Lake Mary Road… albeit with some company!

I tried my best to keep the pace as metronome-like as possible. The undulating roads over bridges kept me awake; I remained steady up the inclines and held back going downhill. I encouraged Boaz to tuck behind me on the bridges to avoid cross-winds. I had an eventful course tour with my friend, Eric, the day before so I knew the general tangents of the race course. I made sure our fluid stations weren’t as uneventful, as I cautiously grabbed my bottles of Vita Coco that I had prepped the previous day.

The half-marathon leaders were well out of sight, after we crested the West End Bridge and followed a long stretch on Carson Street. There was a visible contingent ahead, which I suspected were the marathon leaders. Still, I maintained our pace and mentioned to Boaz that we were right on schedule.

After crossing the Birmingham Bridge (around 11 miles), we faced the largest climb on the course. I tried not to impose the pace too much up the hill, given that it would even out later on– and I had 7 more miles to make sure of it.

I reached half-way around 1:09:20, which I felt would give Boaz a nice buffer to achieve a sub 2:19:00. I noticed shortly after that he fell back at a fluid station. I was not sure whether he missed a bottle or was under any physical duress, but I hovered off the pace a little to help him get back on. With credentials of 1:01:35 for half-marathon, 27:46 for 10,000m and 13:19 for 5,000m, Boaz proved to be among the most legitimate athletes in contention for an OT Qualifier and winning the race. I was quite humbled to be rabbiting him in only my third time entered in a marathon!

Unfortunately, the elastic between us was stretching and the next few miles proved that Boaz was faltering. My Garmin was semi-accurately reading  5:18 per mile, so I kept the same rhythm  to ensure I was fulfilling my rabbiting responsibilities. I pulled by Genna Tufa, who had fallen off the leaders somewhere after Mellon Park. I estimated we were over 30 seconds behind the race leaders, which had me curious about what was happening up front. The curiosity continued to build on Frankstown Avenue as a pack of 6 leaders grew closer. I crossed 18 miles well within range of the group. No longer the rabbit, I thought, why not go for the win?

The race began for me between 19 and 20 miles, when I joined the tête de la course. I was the lone American among a small group of East Africans: Isaac Birir (Kenya), David Rutoh (Kenya), Tariku Bokain (Ethiopia), Teklu Deneke Tefera (Ethiopia) and Jynocel  Basweti (Kenya). As soon as the leaders identified my presence, I surged right by them into the lead. By injecting a harder pace (4:40), I wanted to see who could respond right away. A minute later I stepped off the gas and looked around: one runner was already off the back of the group and I saw some concerned faces. This was my sign; it was time to finish them off!


For the next 3 miles, I controlled the front of the race and mimicked a fartlek workout I had done a few weeks prior. I pushed at the front for varying intervals lasting 1 to 5 minutes and then recovered with a moderate pace– which was dictated by the surviving runners. Teklu, a new Flagstaff resident, responded to my surges a few times but fell back on our descent down Liberty Avenue. A MarathonGuide.com athlete, Chapel Hill-based Isaac Birir, had also quietly peeled off by 23 miles. In the next mile, I could only hear the labored breathing of David and my squishing Brooks Green Silence.

I started another surge (4:40 pace according to my Garmin) with less than 2 miles to go. David dropped back dramatically at a water station. I knew this was the KO punch! I maintained the acceleration to put as much distance on him as possible. A cyclist informed me I had put around 70 yards on him, as I crossed the final bridge over the Allegheny River. I enjoyed the final straight away to the finish, offering a few high-fives and trying to process what I hadn’t planned on doing that morning: winning! Despite the hard surges, I crossed the tape feeling very comfortable– I was pretty surprised with the time given the pace of my first 18 miles!

My post-race replenishment involved a cool-down, some interviews and an afternoon outing to Abay Ethiopian Restaurant. With Eric, his sister Kristie (who ran a 3:27 first marathon!) and her boyfriend Turadg, we gorged on several vegan dishes including: Inguday Wat (spiced mushrooms and brown lentils), Mesir Wat (red lentils), Tikil Gomen (cabbage and carrots) and Ye’ Abesha Gomen (kale, peppers, ginger and garlic). It was the perfect post-race, nutrient-dense meal. I can see why Ethiopia produces so many strong athletes, given their diet!


On to the next one…

So for now I continue to run nice and easy. The recovery has been quick thanks to a few hearty vegan meals and some ART treatment with Dr. Kymberlee Wilkens. I’m both charged with the weekend’s results and with the exciting news released about our strong USA World Championship Marathon squad for Daegu. I’ve definitely learned some more about marathoning this weekend (particularly how to race), and I am anxious for my next 26.2 mile essay, now having a victory under my belt.

So thanks again to all my family, friends and sponsors for their continued support. I’m happy to share this weekend’s success, and I look forward to making more progress in the next race… one that I am actually scheduled to compete in! –JDE

Race video, courtesy of Eric Boyce (more coverage here):

The Weekend Forecast

Jeffrey’s thoughts on the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon weekend.

It’s Friday the 13th and I am feeling lucky as I drink my own brewed pot of Peet’s Coffee. Yesterday evening, I arrived in Pittsburgh as a system of heavy thunderstorms rolled through. It was a foreboding sight to witness nearby lightning strikes from my window seat as we flew over downtown Pittsburgh and prepared for landing. Needless to say, my tensions were assuaged when we finally touched down.

Well, it’s going to be a busy and exciting weekend here in the City Bridges— the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon is on Sunday. Right now, I am working on adapting to the 3-hour time change from Arizona (hence the coffee). I am very grateful to be here and have the privilege of pacing Olympic Marathon Trials aspirants through the generous OT Qualifying Incentive Program; I am ready for the task! As the event weekend is just about to kick-off, I wanted to provide a preview of the race and offer my own insights as the men’s pacer.


The Weather


It appears yesterday evening may have been a foreshadowing of the weekend’s outlook. Although it will likely be humid and rainy out, the marathoners will be fortunate to have a moderate temperature (low 60’s) and calm winds (0-3mph) for the 7:00AM start. The thunderstorms are not predicted to arrive until Sunday afternoon (just in time for my return flight).

As a marathoner, I’ve come to accept the fact that the race-day weather is a variable I cannot control, so I try not to become overly-concerned about the conditions. When I am racing, I recognize all athletes will have to compete in the same conditions and sometimes a personal race plan can be modified. However as a pacer, I recognize I cannot make adjustments to Sunday’s plan; I am here to bring athletes promptly through race checkpoints on schedule for  sub 2:19:00. So in this case– for the sake of OT hopefuls– I do hope Sunday’s weather complies.


The Course

I will be formally previewing the Marathon route on Saturday, although my preliminary conclusion is that it’s an “honest” course. There appears to be minor ups and downs throughout the race– I suspect crossing the many city bridges will contribute to the variances in profile. However, there is not an overabundance of directional changes, which I believe are far more interruptive to a marathoner’s rhythm. That being said, I don’t think any well-trained athlete with good marathoning intuition will have any problems with the route. I recall my coach’s advice: you can make any course fast if you run smart!


The Field

Who will be closely following the low-emissions Hybrid Toyota pace car? Here is a very tentative list of elite entrants for the Marathon:

Men
Jared Abuya, KENYA
Isaac Birir, KENYA
Joshua Busienei, KENYA
Gregory Byrnes, Pittsburgh, PA
Benson Cheruiyot, KENYA
James Gathoga, KENYA
Peter Kemboi, KENYA
Richard Kessio, KENYA
Choge Julius Kirwa, KENYA
Ronald Kiptoo Kurui, KENYA
Kipyegon Kirui, KENYA
Moninda Felix Marube, KENYA
David Mealy, Medina, OH
Jeffrey McCabe, Exeter, PA
Jason Ordway, Bellbrook, OH
David Rutto, KENYA
Nik Schweikert, Canton, OH
Don Slusser (Masters), Monroeville, PA
Joel Stansloski, Tulsa, OK
Stephen Tanui, KENYA
Teklu Tefera, ETHIOPIA
Genna Tufa, ETHIOPIA
Kameron Ulmer, Boise, ID
David Wilt (Masters) Pittsburgh, PA
Kostyantyn Zhelezov, UKRAINE

Women
Serkalem Abrha, ETHIOPIA 
Ann Alyanak, Bellbrook, OH
Erica Braswell, Birmingham, AL
Cheryl Collins-Gatons (Masters), Greensburg, PA
Pauline Wanjiru Githuka, KENYA
Emily Harrison, Flagstaff, AZ
Deirbe Hunde, ?
Carol Jefferson, Greenville, PA
Divina Jepkosgei, KENYA
Salome Kosgei, KENYA
Natasha LaBeaud, Flagstaff, AZ
Veronika Lopatina, RUSSIA
Alice Waruguru Ndirangu, KENYA
Lauren Philbrook, State College, PA
Tammy Slusser (Masters), Monroeville, PA
Truphena Jemeli Tarus, KENYA
Alena Vinitskaya, BELARUS

It appears that both the Men’s and Women’s races have several viable Olympic Trials Qualifiers. A few distinguished international athletes also stand out. The Men’s race includes Kenyans Peter Kemboi (2:09:21),  Benson Cheriyot (2:11:33), Stephen Tanui (1:01:29 half-marathon) and David Rutto (2:12:22) David Kipkorir Rutoh (Baltimore Marathon Champion in 2:13:11, 2:10 PR?) . Defending Champion Alena Vinitskaya (2:32:58) of Belarus should have tough competition from Ethiopia’s Serkalem Abrha (2:32:06) and the Kenyan duo of Alice Ndirangu (2:39:13) and Salome Kosgei (Iona College Alum).

Check back here for elite entry updates.


Musings of a Rabbit

As one of three pacers— with Tyler McCandless and Thomas Tissell respectively pacing the Women’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ Qualifiers– I am removed from the competitive context of the race. My objective is to set a steady 5:18/mile pace for the American men. It is a different experience for me in a marathon, because I’m usually accustomed to employing different race tactics when competing. In this situation, I will need to keep as even a pace as possible and do everything I can to pull my group along. Even as a pacer, I have an equal level of excitement as if I were racing, given how much responsibility I have to these athletes!

I do think I personally benefit and will learn a lot from being a rabbit. I am getting more valuable experience in marathoning by being in the race, while having the opportunity to complete a good training run (also in similar conditions I may face in Daegu in September).  For me it is a privilege to have this responsibility, and I am most appreciative that race organizers Patrice Matamoros and Kelsey Jackson have offered me this opportunity!

Please check back for more weekend updates and follow me on Twitter @jde66leston! –JDE

Here are a few race-related articles of interest from the Post-Gazette:

Opportunity

Jeffrey discusses how opportunity is fundamental in American Distance Running, and showcases the May 15th’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon as an exciting opportunity for Olympic Marathon Trials hopefuls.

In my own experience, I’ve felt that one of the most fundamental components required to become successful as a post-collegiate runner is opportunity. While there certainly are other attributes that create a successful athlete (recalling Coach Jack DanielsRunning Formula, where he identifies opportunity as one of four “ingredients for success”– the others being ability, motivation and direction), I feel that having the right opportunities is essential in order to achieve to our full potential. In distance running, I believe opportunity can take form in 3 ways: as an environment conducive for focusing on training, through the support of generous sponsors and the community, and by having the chance to compete and demonstrate our ability.

In this pre-Olympic year, there have been a myriad of continuing and new opportunities created to assist U.S. Distance Runners and Olympic hopefuls. I have already described how profoundly the RRCA Roads Scholar Grant has impacted my own career and perspective in 2010, and I’m confident future program recipients will be equally as grateful. In February, Running USA awarded its second annual Allen Steinfeld Development Award– a nod to one of the pioneers in our sport who helped establish the Team USA Distance Running program in his tenure as head of the New York Road Runners. With such generous grants made available to individuals and groups, there’s no reason for us not to become successful.

Additionally, race organizations are making the same push to provide opportunities for Olympic hopefuls. Steve Nearman, director of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half-Marathon, is offering a $1000 cash bonus to any American achieving an Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier at his race in October, while also allocating $1.00 per each race entry to fund a U.S. elite training program. Similarly, Steve Taggart of Tagg Running Events in Tucson, AZ is also pledging $1.00 from existing race entries to help fund U.S. Distance Running projects. And these are just a few examples of the many opportunities we have as American distance runners!

 

The Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon


There’s one opportunity for Olympic Marathon Trials hopefuls that I want to feature, and which I am very excited to be involved with: the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. On May 15, 2011, American Men and Women will have the opportunity to chase the Olympic Trials Standards, while competing for cash incentives and prizes. I will be leading the men’s contingent as a pacer through 18 miles, running the required 2:19:00 pace to help punch more tickets for Houston 2012.

As advertised in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon Press Release, participants in the Olympic Trials Incentive Program will have pacers for the respective Trials Standards (2:19:00 for men, 2:39:00 for women), access to special fluid stations, a VIP dinner on Friday night and a Pasta dinner on Saturday night. In addition to being eligible for the overall race prize purse, the top 3 American Trials Qualifiers are awarded as follows:

*1st Place: $1500 cash, $500 Dick’s Sporting Goods gift certificate and $250 GNC gift certificate
*2nd Place: $1000 cash, $500 Dick’s Sporting Goods gift certificate and $250 GNC gift certificate
*3rd Place: $1000 cash, $500 Dick’s Sporting Goods gift certificate and $250 GNC gift certificate

Also, all runners posting their first ‘A’ Olympic Trials Qualifying Time will receive travel and hotel reimbursement.

Athletes and coaches interested in the Olympic Trials Incentive Program should contact Athlete Coordinator Kelsey Jackson for more information at 412-586-7785.

I’m very impressed with this proactive effort by Race Director Patrice Matamoros and Kelsey Jackson to support American distance running and encourage marathoning talent to develop. The Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon is doing an invaluable service to building our sport by providing this opportunity. Having benefitted from similar racing opportunities in my career, I am equally enthused to help contribute to this effort and assist athletes in achieving their Olympic Trials Qualifiers. May 15th is going to be a great day for our sport!