Friday, September 4, 2009

100m, the Mile, and the Marathon

Could these three races be the key to Running & Track TV programming?

Quick, name 3 athletes in track & field?

OK, Usain Bolt is easy. He just became another rarity in running: someone from this sport on the cover of Sports Illustrated®.

Before Bolt exploded into our living rooms during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the 100m “dash” has always drawn attention beyond track and running circles. The 100m sprint at the Olympics defined who was the “fastest man or woman”. That title alone gave this event the spotlight. That bright light also brought with it the lure of drugs, the performance enhancing types. The watershed event that put the doubt in our minds about a sprinter’s ability to run a new world record was the DQ of Ben Johnson of Canada at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Johnson had crushed USA’s Carl Lewis and won both the Gold and a new world record. This setback has not deterred the public’s fascination on just how fast a man can go.

That’s one event with staying power and name recognition. What else fascinates the public on the track or roads? What distance is still referred as the standard for measuring speed? It is neither the meter nor the yard. It is the mile. Every moving object both motorized on land and air has its speed measured in miles per hour. The mile. It was another standard that measured man. In track it was considered to be the purest distance to measure speed and stamina. The dawn of the modern Olympics in 1896 also brought with it the drive to attempt to run a 4 minute mile. Physicians and physicists believed in the early 1900s that such a feat-------a mile in 4 minutes flat or less------- was impossible. Some even stated that a man could possibly die trying. It became a quest in the post World War II era. Runners actually thought they could do it. One such runner analyzed how to train for the 4 minute mile and began to believe. He may have been studying to be a physician but he sure sounded like he understood the power of visualization that sports psychologists use today to assist pro athletes. That man was Roger Bannister. He achieved the first sub 4 minute mile and opened the door for several hundred milers since that day in May 1954. Since that famous race in Oxford England, the mile has still been a pillar of track and field. It was Jim Ryun followed by Marty Liquori who rose the mile to new heights in the U.S. Their epic battles culminated in the “Dream Mile” in Philadelphia that was nationally broadcast. The first milers out of Africa were led by Kip Keino. At the international level, the mile had become the 1500m yet anyone who excelled in this distance was called a miler and the race was called the “metric mile”. In the U.S., the mile caught new wind in 2000 when a young high school boy from Reston Virginia broke Jim Ryun’s high school mile record and ran an unthinkable 3:53 mile as a high school senior. Alan Webb joined the list of mile heroes. His career is currently in transition and hopefully we will see him get back to his record setting mile performances.

The other distance that has fueled the rise in running participation or led to two “running booms” is the marathon. The marathon’s popularity started to rise soon after the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Frank Shorter of the USA captured an unexpected Gold medal. Until that point, the marathon had been dominated by European runners. The current domination of the marathon by the African continent’s men and women was not even contemplated in the 70s. Shorter’s win seemed to be a tipping point to more interest in distance running. Jim Fixx’s nationwide best seller “The Complete Book of Running” fueled more growth in the late 70s. The 76 Olympic Games added to the interest in the marathon. Shorter followed up his 72 Gold with silver in Montreal in the 76 Games (albeit a controversial race won by Cierpinski of East Germany whose athletes were later found to be part of major doping program). The New York City Marathon led the surge with its transformation by Fred Lebow in 1976 from a 6 loop event in Central Park to a 5 borough city tour. His NY Road Runners Club had the wisdom to lure runners from Europe to “run New York”. The NYC Marathon’s global marketing made the marathon an international event, not just a 26.2 mile race for Americans. Women’s growth in marathoning began with Joan Benoit (Samuelson). Joanie’s win in the 84 Olympic debut of the marathon was a watershed event. No longer could men say that the marathon was dangerous to women’s health. Participation levels in marathons by women jumped each year following the 84 Games. New marathons were born in the 80s. By the late 80s, the number of finishers in marathons in the U.S. had doubled in less than 10 years. Women had joined in the competition of the marathon but still lagged in overall numbers to male marathoners. It was the Fall 1994 marathon debut by Oprah Winfrey that caused another ripple in marathon participation. Now the marathon could be conquered by the average woman who may have been deemed “unathletic”. If Oprah can shed 80 pounds, get in running shape and run a 4:29 marathon, than anyone can do it. To this day, many pack runners use Oprah’s 4:29 as a “must beat” standard. As the 90s came to a close, women’s participation numbers in the marathon had doubled from the late 80s. As the 21st century hit running, the marathon added a new twist: the charity runner. Charity groups began partnering with marathon organizations in the mid 1990s and became a growth vehicle for many small to medium sized marathons. Many of these participants were women and their running style and speed was not without controversy. Many veteran runners felt that the charity runners were not giving back to running. There was encouragement to the new marathoners to train and compete, yet there was also concern that these new runners would disappear once their “finish a marathon” goal had been met. The marathon remains strong. More sponsorship dollars flow to marathons than any other running event. Professional distance runners are lured away from the track, because they see the money that exists in the marathon that is not as prevalent on the track.

Today we have recently seen a huge breakthrough by another American Male runner in Dathan Ritzenheim. “Ritz” as he is called broke the 13 year old American Record in the 5000 meters. He is now hailed as another track hero and rock star. Could other events in track become draws to the public like the 100m, the mile and marathon have done over the past 30 to 100 years? Time is the telltale sign.

In the meantime, let’s see if some enterprising event producers can find new exciting ways to get track events shown on TV. The world has new stars that have grabbed our attention. Let’s not let this gift of bright new stars fade away.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Boston, Salazar, Bill and Penn--------more running stimulus

Seen and heard at the Boston Marathon...

New Products bloom with Spring
Each year we seem to receive emails or hear ads on TV and on the web about new or updated running-related products. This spring is no different than previous years. Everything from reusable ice packs, energy drinks, appetite suppressing energy bars to how-to training books have reached our desks. There are some trends.

Footwear: Brighter colors are creeping towards are feet. Maybe you can credit NIKE RUNNING for the NIKEiD™ program where anyone can pick the design and color scheme on select footwear. Take a look at the bright neon pink and neon yellow shoes on the starting line of the elite women in the 113th Boston Marathon on April 20. The appeal seems to be matching apparel bright colors with the shoes. Fashion on the streets is now on the start lines of road races.

"Wait, wait, wait, wait....SPRINT!"
...Kara Goucher when asked just before the gun on her race strategy for the Boston Marathon. Goucher put on a gutty performance on Marathon Monday in her debut Boston Marathon. The finish was the closest finish ever on the women's side. Three women were only separated by seconds on Boylston St! Kara Goucher gets my vote for best fresh face and competitor in road racing. Kara waited and took the lead after Boston College but the last sprint gear was not there and she finished a close 3rd-----just behind the first two finishers who were only separated by 1 second.

Energy "Snack" Bars: Pacific Health Labs is out with an energy……err, snack bar and drink product that are intent on limiting the urge to overeat while providing good nutrition. It is called FORZE GPS. In bar form it is a 1.4 oz snack bar carrying 160 calories of which 50 calories are fat. Can one bar really suppress the body’s appetite? It does not seem plausible without some magic bullet ingredient. Pacific Health Labs is the company that has popularized recovery drinks with their leading sellers Accelerade and Endurox. Now FORZE GPS is here to help the aging athlete who may be a bit overweight and needs an assist in shedding weight while maintaining a workout or running regimen. I wondered how some blend of milk, peanuts and cocoa extracts could stimulate an enzyme “cholecystokinin” or CCK. This enzyme is key to making us feel less hungry. Can this really work for runners after a 5 mile run? Runners find it more difficult to shed pounds while actively running may check out this new snack. Time will tell.
From the Heart...
Salazar thankful for Cardiac Event: The American Medical Athletic Association (AMAA)was privileged to host a special “doctor-patient” presentation by one of our new cardiologist members Dr Todd Caulfield and one of the greatest distance runners in U.S. history, Alberto Salazar. Back in June 2007, Alberto Salazar was on top of his new profession: professional coach. He had nurtured a new approach to distance training with the Oregon Project. Now, it was whittled down to a smaller elite group that included Kara and Adam Goucher and the young track distance phenom Galen Rupp. On the Nike campus in Beaverton Oregon, this day in June was supposed to be another normal track workout. It turned out to be a life-changing event for Salazar and his stable of athletes. Alberto Salazar suffered a near fatal cardiac event (*Dr Caulfield is still unsure if his collapse and heart stoppage was a heart muscle event or an electrical problem in the heart). Alberto was down for almost 28 minutes before normal rhythm was restored.

Hydration and running: Our AMAA Sports Medicine Symposium had another passionate presentation by Dr Arthur Siegel of McLean Hospital in Greater Boston. Dr Siegel’s research on the effects of over hydration and runners dates back to the tragic death of Cynthia Lucero at the Boston Marathon in 2002. Since that date, his efforts along with several other prominent Medical Directors of marathons has shed light on why certain runners develop the dangerous case of exercise associated hyponatremia (over hydration). What have Dr Siegel and other leading physicians in the road race industry done to stave off deaths due to over hydration? Seven years later and we now know what triggers hyponatremia. We know that runners can accelerate the process hours after finishing a marathon. Race teams know how to identify both dehydrated runners and over hydrated runners quickly. Triage stations in finish line medical tents do the blood test that determines who to treat and how they should be treated. Today, medical teams at road races have hypertonic saline (3% solution) vice the standard 1% solution that can easily treat runners with heat exhaustion and dehydration. Local ERs in hospitals that serve marathons and other endurance events are included in pre-event planning.

Bill Rodgers returned to the Boston Marathon. One year ago Bill Rodgers got a jolt from his physician. He had prostate cancer. Rodgers, affectionately called “Boston Billy” after winning Boston 4-times, took the diagnosis on with full fervor. He had surgery and then did what he does best-------go running. Rodger’s physician, Dr Ed Knights joined AMAA and ran the Boston Marathon with AMAA last spring. In his first Boston, he qualified to run the marathon again. So in 2009, Bill Rodgers gave Dr Knights something back: he told him he’d race Boston alongside Knights and promote a “Cure for Prostate Cancer”. The AMAA member M.D. and Bill had a great time running in the pack in just over 4 hours, along with Rodgers’ friend Zeus Estrada.

More Runners' Stimulus -------another Jewel Event--PENN RELAYS.
Two days after Boston, I ventured to another East Coast City and one of the great events in track & field, the PENN RELAYS. Funny thing is that the Boston Marathon just completed its 113th running. The true granddaddy of running is the PENN RELAYS: 115 years and more popular than ever. A high school athlete can compete in front of 24,000 fans in preliminary rounds. If he or she is fortunate to run on Saturday in a finals event, they will be lined up on the start line with upwards of 60,000 fans screaming the Whoop-Whoop-Whoop call if you hunt down a competitor in the closing stretch of race. The PENN RELAYS brings together the best of high school, college and the professionals of track and field in a 3 day meet unrivaled in the world. Philadelphia loves the Relays, as does Jamaica. On Saturday, the stands are split fairly evenly between Jamaican and American track fans. Many years ago, the Penn Relays Committee began a new era when Jamaican high schools and collegians were invited to compete in the PENN RELAYS. Attendance and interest took off and now has spurred a professional sprint dual meet series with Jamaica that kicks off in 2010. Give the Penn Relays credit for starting the US vs. JAMAICA rivalry. For high school track athletes in the U.S., the top teams to beat in 3 key relay events are Jamaican: 4x100, 4x400 and 4x800. Only the Distance Medley Relay (DMR) is still a U.S. dominated relay event. Over 26 high schools in Jamaica send their best relay squads north to compete. U.S. teams come to try and win the most coveted trophy in amateur track and field: the 2-3 ft diameter bronze CHAMPIONSHIP OF AMERICA Trophy. Ask any high school or college track team what trophy is most memorable and it has to be the CHAMPIONSHIP OF AMERICA Trophy.

Word from Philly is that all hotels for PENN RELAYS weekend were fully occupied. Vendors and restaurants were smiling and track and field fans were obliging. Runners and track fans have the right answer: do what you love and pass it along to others.

Keep enjoying the run and spend a few dollars along the way.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Runners as a Stimulus

Many of us in the running industry were keeping an eye on attendance figures at road races, notably marathons over the winter months. The big question: would races see a higher than normal no-show rate. Why? The hypothesis I pondered focused on runners’ commitments to their goals set forth in a training regimen that began weeks and months ago: Would runners cut back on travel to running events as the economy worsened?

I first checked the results from the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM). Nope. They seemed to be close to their recent historical trend of a 25 % no-show rate. Since the MCM closes out in a matter of 3 days, this race has a higher no-show rate than other major events that do not sell out or take months to shut down registration. ARA, specifically our medical group the American Medical Athletic Association (AMAA) has our annual fundraiser tied to the Boston Marathon. We were justifiably concerned that our sales of invitational entries into the Boston Marathon for physicians and other allied medical professionals would drop. Selling the “RUN BOSTON WITH AMAA” has gotten a bit tougher as the number of charities / non-profits that obtain invitational entries to Boston has climbed in the past 5 years. Our efforts to promote and advertise our program had to increase to get the word out there to more physicians that our program was unique and a great way to get some Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits and run the famed Boston Marathon.

Christmas approached and our sales were ahead of the past two years by 10 runners. We were encouraged. Then January hit and cold weather running dampened many a runners’ spirits. So what did we see? Sales for Boston picked up. More importantly, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) put out a release stating that their registrations were running ahead of pace and they expected to sell out much earlier than their stated closeout date of late February. It came as quite a shock to runners who were attempting to qualify for Boston in late January or February that any successful qualifying run would be for naught at Boston in 2009.

Running takes commitment. Training for marathons takes that commitment a leap further. AMAA and major running events around the U.S. are experiencing a true stimulus in this winter of economic discontent. Men and women are clinging to their lifestyle of choice: running marathons. Maybe we’ll see less air travel to some endurance events, yet don’t count out runners from filling your entry slots.

The government at the national and state level should take note of the good economic news coming from runners. The message: if you provide an excellent service or product that fulfills the needs and desires of the public they will continue to buy even when their wallets get squeezed.

Just runners making a statement by commitment to lifestyle....

(Photos courtesy of Dexter Emoto)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Seen and Heard on the Trails

Neon is Making a Comeback
Check with the teens in your house or neighborhood. Bright neon colors are making their way back into the hip clothing and running attire. Look for some wild colors to emerge in 2009. We test marketed some NEON tees this fall and both girl and boy cross country runners snatched them up!

High School Girls Injured
Saw too many injuries among high school girls this fall in cross country. Why? There is not one single factor for girls running injuries. What is true is the the quality of girls running distance now has jumped in the past 10 years. Girls training has started to reach the level only previously seen with boys. When athletes train harder, more injuries will occur. What you will see is more attention to nutrition in girls and more attention to weight. Girls go through significant body changes in the high school years and these changes affect performance. Too often we see young girls fighting the inevitable weight gain with puberty. The result can be seen in stress fractures, anemia and fatigue. More on this subject in the next issue.

The Fastest Boy Distance Runner in the U.S.
The 30th Footlocker National Championships took place on December 13th in San Diego. The Footlocker series has been the crown jewel in high school cross country post-season competition. Nike's Cross Nationals could be a threat to this long-standing national competiton that crowns the fastest boy and girl in the nation over the 5K course in Balboa Park. For now, Footlocker has not suffered in a dilution of the qualifying field. We had the privelege of watching the incredible undefeated run of Solomon Haile (left). Haile has been running in the United States for almost a year. This fall was his first cross country season. (He attends Sherwood High School, which is within 40 minutes of ARA's office.) Haile not only won every cross country meet he ran, he broke the course record in every meet. The two most notable course records he shattered were the 2.5 mile course in Van Cortland Park at the Manhattan College Invitational in mid-October and the 5K course in the same park in late November. Haile also stirred up issues of his age, as the birth records and calendar are quite different in Ethiopia than the U.S. Nonetheless, Solomon Haile set the local cross country scene ablaze with his long fluid stride and determined will to win.

Pure Fun and XC-eptional Racing at NXN 08

(Week of December 10, 2008)
Portland, OR.
They call it pure. They say you have guts. Today, 44 teams and 90 individuals tested themselves to see who had more will, guts and drive to be the best cross country team or runner in the U.S. Four years ago, Nike launched its Team Nationals now called simply Nike Cross Nationals. It may have taken five years for John Truax and Josh Rowe’s dream of a NCAA-style national championship for high school cross country to come to fruition. In this fifth year, 90 individual qualifiers joined the 44 teams, 22 boys and 22 girls’ squads to do battle on the twisting and stomach churning 5K circuit inside the track at Portland Meadows. For the first time in these five years, the weather was not an element racing strategy. It was cold at the start of the Open 5K races, but there were clear sunny skies and no wind.

We wondered if anyone could stay with the Kenyan National Champion high school teams in the Open 5K races. The Kenyans came to show their incredible ability in more of a demonstration than a race. Teams or clubs who paid their way to race in the Open race came to prove to themselves that they may deserve a spot in the invitational 5K field. Some also came to celebrate their own team’s success this fall. The young Kenyan high schoolers just raced with smiles and glided to the finish with ease. This was their celebration. Winning the Kenyan National Championship earned them the all expenses paid trip to the U.S.

Today, we also wondered how the Seeded 5K races would unfold with the addition of top individuals who qualified without their in-season teammates. Some of the individual qualifiers opted to forgo the longstanding Footlocker Cross Country Nationals. Some made it when their teams fell short at the Regional qualifying races. Yet we did wonder if the added speed would make the races a bumpy ride on the tight turning course at Portland Meadows. Winners were also crowned today. As expected, the individual qualifiers had a major impact on the races up front. Take the top 25 finishers in each of the championship 5K races. In the girls race, 14 of the top 25 finishers were individuals not on teams. The boys race had a similar split: 13 of the top 25 were non-team individuals.

The big team winner creating all the buzz came through with a three-peat: Manlius XC Club (Fayetteville-Manlius HS from the upstate power region of New York. We spotted the Manlius XC girls walking on the lake trail on the Nike Campus on Friday. They repeated their bold start strategy of past big meets and quickly had the team lead in the first 1K. The NY girls team win was never in doubt after the strong start.

Chelsey Sveinsson of Addison Texas wins the Girls Crown

The boys team winner was still in doubt even after the live results were shown. North Spokane Washington’s club and the Elmhurst XC team were trading the lead right up until the final 400m. A late surge by the North Spokane XC club was the final effort to bring home the Championship crown to a West Coast team for the first time in Nike Cross Nationals history.

Today was a day to relish a pure and gritty effort by 394 boys and girls in a sport they call cross country. They all traveled across the country to compete. Up and down the humps but smiling all the way.

Cutting the Meat, Not the Fat: The Wrong Approach

(October 2008)
Promoting running for youth is at the tip of the spear in the ARA campaign to improve the physical activity levels of America’s Youth. The sport of Cross Country is one of our platforms to showcase how running can make you more fit, a better student and help you set lofty goals. So when I read that another college administrator could be sharpening the budget axe to let it fall on the men’s’ cross country and track & field programs, it makes me fume. I’m not an alumnus at Delaware. I am not an alumnus of James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg VA. I was just as perturbed and dumbfounded two years ago, when the Board of Regents at JMU decided to drop 7 men’s sports, notables being men’s’ cross country , track & field, and swimming. These are life sports. That’s what we call running and swimming. They stay with you for life and can form a basis of vigorous exercise well into your senior years.

Do you know what it costs to operate cross country and track & field year-round at a mid-major university? Would you be surprised to know that the figure at Delaware is less than $100K? When administrators explain their budgetary reasons behind a sports program’s cut, the convenient excuse or punching bag is Title IX. The landmark 70s education guidelines have had their positive effect on the growth of women’s sports. Those of us who competed at the earliest stages of Title IX would agree that it has greatly expanded sports participations for girls in high school and women in college. Unfortunately, Title IX is the fall guy when it comes to collegiate athletic department cuts. Why does Title IX even get brought into the discussion when a college or university wants to adjust, cut or move around budgeted monies in an athletic department?

Football is often the answer. If a college or university wants to expand its program and lure more alumni donations, increased spending is inevitable. If the decision is made to upgrade the football program and there is no endowed fund to cover the non-revenue sports, then out comes Title IX to assist the Athletic Department in making the necessary budget adjustments.

As advocates for running for both boys and girls, men and women, American Running is firmly in favor of equal opportunities to run. Cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. Nothing is more pure with such a wide open door for participants. Let’s not let the non-runners dictate points of access for the boys, girls, men and women who want to compete in a sport that is a life sport.

Put away your axe Delaware. Find ways to raise funds to keep the cross country and track programs going. That’s the way to keep a sport alive.