"We are resilient; we never gave up."
April 22, 2014 8:44 AM   Subscribe


 
Channel Four broadcasts the Marathon live in the Boston area. It was an incredibly thrilling finish, and I'm glad I stayed home to watch it!
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:46 AM on April 22, 2014


I was watching live! It was great! I liked when he took off his sunglasses right before the finish, presumably so he'd be photo ready.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:46 AM on April 22, 2014


Step One: be born in Eritrea
posted by Flashman at 8:54 AM on April 22, 2014 [9 favorites]


Also of note: Shalane Flanagan leading the women's race for 19 miles, getting a 3 min+ PR, and being one heck of a classy individual: see here.
posted by hepta at 8:57 AM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Step One: be born in Eritrea

Ryan Hall's best Boston Marathon is about 4 minutes faster than Meb's. And Meb got to where he is through incredible grit and determination.

The letsrun.com article in the OP is really interesting--it lays out the strategy utilized by the Americans to slow down the other elite runners which allowed Meb the cushion he needed to win.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:00 AM on April 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


The really, really cynical part of me wonders if this was fixed somehow--interesting coincidence that the first American to win in +30 years occurs the year after the bombing--the masses need a feelgood story, after all. Also, what Flashman said.
posted by Melismata at 9:08 AM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm so happy for him. Everything I've ever heard about him is positive and leads me to feel great pride in claiming membership in a community of runners.
posted by janey47 at 9:09 AM on April 22, 2014


Hmm, something about all that strategizing seems un-runner-like to me. The point isn't to win the race by slowing other people down- the point is to win the race by being the fastest guy out there. Prefontaine would be disappointed!
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:09 AM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


The really, really cynical part of me

I don't think it's so cynical. Seems fishy to me too. Then again, we Americans just love living in our little cloud of delusion.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:11 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


The point isn't to win the race by slowing other people down- the point is to win the race by being the fastest guy out there.

He was the fastest guy out there. You must not be very familiar with running if you think that raw speed is the way these things are won. Any distance above the sprint is always a combination of speed and tactics.

I let out a loud whoop at work yesterday. That Meb was the guy to do this, and that he did it at this point in his career, is just so great!
posted by JohnLewis at 9:12 AM on April 22, 2014 [8 favorites]


The "be born in Eritrea" angle was pretty much hashed out already in one of the "previously" links, which was all about how he wasn't REALLY an American runner, because he, you know, came here afterwards. Can we not redo that bit here again and just appreciate his accomplishment?
posted by Curious Artificer at 9:12 AM on April 22, 2014 [12 favorites]


Hmm, something about all that strategizing seems un-runner-like to me. The point isn't to win the race by slowing other people down- the point is to win the race by being the fastest guy out there.

Strategic pacing of middle and long-distance races has been central to the sport since well before Prefontaine's day.
posted by yoink at 9:13 AM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Step One: be born in Eritrea

This is kind of like calling some athletes "naturally gifted" which diminishes the hard work and training they have to do to get to an elite level.
posted by rocket88 at 9:14 AM on April 22, 2014 [18 favorites]


I don't think it's so cynical. Seems fishy to me too.

There's a hell of a lot of people who'd have to be in on the conspiracy to bring it off--including all the other runners who'd really, really like to have a win in the Boston marathon on their records. Just how, exactly, would you go about achieving that?
posted by yoink at 9:14 AM on April 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure why anyone would assume this was fixed. He won an Olympic medal in 2004 and won the New York marathon in 2009. It's not like he came out of nowhere. He's a perfectly plausible winner.

Anyway, I know someone who used to know him a little bit and says he was a genuinely nice guy. So yay him.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:18 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


so running has adapted the same pack tactics used in cycling ? (minus the drafting, I guess)..
posted by k5.user at 9:20 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]




It should be noted that Tatyana McFadden - an American woman born in Russia - won the wheelchair division last year and this year.

She is amazing. One of my personal heroes. Way to go Tatyana!

Step One: be born in Eritrea

Or Kenya. All runners of the Boston Marathon - every damn one of them - have grit and have trained hard to qualify for Boston. IIRC you have to run 3.15 or better to even get into the race which this runner has never accomplished despite tons of grit and hard work and which is damned impressive by any measure. Not all of us have the natural talent of a guy like Keflezighi and that's no knock against his hard work.
posted by three blind mice at 9:24 AM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


The point isn't to win the race by slowing other people down- the point is to win the race by being the fastest guy out there.

Racing is tactical - it's about judiciously expending energy. Not just running - cycling definitely, probably driving various types of vehicles, probably stuff involving horses too.

The other Americans didn't slow anybody down; they just didn't run as fast as they could have. That would have meant that they were setting the pace chasing down their ally; really, it's the obligation of your rival to set the pace chasing your ally. That's tactics 101.
posted by entropone at 9:36 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


No one competes at a world class level without a ton of drive and hard work.

Similarly, no one competes at that level without being supremely naturally gifted.

That's pretty much what world class means in athletics...freak level natural gifts developed to maximum potential by freak level commitment and hard work.

Pretty much anyone who can even qualify for Boston is an amazing runner. I did a marathon in 3:45 and was going at a good clip. These guys pretty much go at my sprint speed the whole way round.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:40 AM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]


These pros beat the fastest single mile I could run 26 times in a row with no rest.

I console myself by thinking about how much of a pain it must be to plan out their running routes for an hour long run in a city.
posted by srboisvert at 9:45 AM on April 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


Similarly, no one competes at that level without being supremely naturally gifted.

But they can only be deemed "naturally gifted" after they reach the elite level. That's a perfect example of begging the question.
posted by rocket88 at 9:49 AM on April 22, 2014


I don't think it's so cynical. Seems fishy to me too. Then again, we Americans just love living in our little cloud of delusion.

Which makes your comment something like double down delusional? Get off it.
posted by planetesimal at 9:50 AM on April 22, 2014


rocket88: But they can only be deemed "naturally gifted" after they reach the elite level. That's a perfect example of begging the question.

Not really. Normal people would plateau out in training long before they got anywhere near where this guy is. Many (if not most) normal people plateau out before they even qualify for Boston. You reach a point at which you just can't improve no matter how hard you train; either you just don't get better or (more often) you get injured every time you try.

It's hard to tell the 0.001% that have the true world-champion gifts apart from their close competitors, but it isn't hard at all to tell them apart from the average Joe.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:54 AM on April 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


Meb, previously

Just two guys helping each other get through a run.


I remembered reading that post, but not the names of the runners involved in the story - so I hadn't connected the guy from that story with the guy who won yesterday. That just makes it even more awesome.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:58 AM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


I was watching a bit after the ten mile mark. Usually when the lead runners come through, they're all in a large pack together. This time around, Meb and another guy were in a pack of two a good distance ahead of the larger lead pack.

What a great race all around. I've been watching it for almost 40 years and I've never seen crowds like I saw yesterday. Everybody was just... happy. More so than other years.
posted by bondcliff at 9:58 AM on April 22, 2014


Meb and Mike Cassidy from NYC 2013:

As I eased up on his shoulder, I looked over and said, “Let’s go Meb.”

He responded, promptly picking up his pace and we entered Central Park at 90th Street, shoulder to shoulder. The next three miles were the most surreal I have ever experienced. “Let’s finish this together,” he said.
posted by yeti at 10:03 AM on April 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


I can't really imagine how it would be fixed. The Boston field was pretty loaded, so they'd have to pay off a bunch of guys, and what would happen if one of them blabbed? What would happen if one of them decided, "Hey, easy pace. I can win this?" Wilson Chebet gave a serious effort in the last few miles and nearly made it. Did they forget to pay him off or something?

If they were going to fix it, Shalane Flanagan would be the winner. She grew up in Massachusetts. She's practically a native.

Stupid stuff happens in the marathon. In 1984 Joan Benoit ran away from the legends of the sport. Yeah, she was the world record holder and a god in her own right, but they just let her waltz off. She felt the pace was too slow, moved ahead, skipped the first water station, and built a huge lead. It didn't seem to occur to anyone that this was a bad idea.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:05 AM on April 22, 2014


List of Boston Marathon Winners with Country.

So congratulations to Meb on the win, but it doesn't change that fact that as an American (or even an Etritrean) he was a dark horse for this race.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:06 AM on April 22, 2014


This whole thread is really weird.

My sister-in-law ran yesterday, and finished extremely well. I spent every Patriots Day from 7th grade through high school watching the marathon and cheering on the runners (a friend from high school ran it yesterday, and his time was wicked good, too!). Lot of nostalgia and memories.
posted by rtha at 10:14 AM on April 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


Also? Rita Jeptoo killed it yesterday. Toward the end of the race, she was running sub-5 minute miles. Just completely in her own league. Beautiful running form, like she was just gliding. And at one point she was even outrunning a Green Line car.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:17 AM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]


To be fair, I can usually outrun a Green Line car.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 10:38 AM on April 22, 2014 [15 favorites]


> Meb and Mike Cassidy from NYC 2013:

That was a beautiful article yeti, thanks for sharing it.
posted by grog at 10:45 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


So happy for Meb, and also so happy for whatever anonymous Sketchers executive decided to pick up his sponsorship after Nike dropped him, whom I hope is still DRUNK AS A SKUNK after spending the luckiest marketing dollars ever in the history of sport. "Guys, I have this great idea, since we're JUST starting to make sport sneakers instead of only fashion sneakers, let's sponsor an elite marathoner who's three years older than anyone else in the field and nobody expects to win." "Uh ... okay there, Joe. You get on that." "BOO YA, JERKS, my guy became the first American to win Boston in 30 years, the year after the bombing, immigrant success story, dark horse, OH DID I MENTION YOU CAN'T BUY THIS KIND OF PUBLICITY?"

There's a movie here to be made about the dark-horse marathoner and the overlooked marketing executive (a young woman from Boston, obviously) ... together working to win the marathon ... for America ... something something patriotism ... Anyway it'd be a good movie.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:01 AM on April 22, 2014 [14 favorites]


Meb and his siblings went to my high school, and I was lucky enough to have his brother in my classes. Just an all around awesome family.

SDHS! Go....ahem....Cavers. Who the hell picks Cavemen as a mascot, and then changes it to freakin Cavers?
posted by Existential Dread at 11:19 AM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm sure this has been hashed out in various places, but a question: Why aren't Boston Marathon winners (to randomly pick a sampling of the sport's top echelon) more often in their early 20s? What is it about distance running that allows such relative old-timers, by the standards of world-class athletics, be world-class athletes? Is it that endurance peaks later or fades slower than strength or speed?
posted by eugenen at 11:34 AM on April 22, 2014


Like srboisvert said, the top 5 guys in the race is running sub 5 minute miles for 26 freaking miles. But the average male runner needs to have a marathon with a pace per mile average of less than 8 minutes / mile to qualify, and the largest group of runners have to have a pace average of only slightly more than 7 minutes per mile. So the 33,000 people running in Boston are all at the elite end of athletes. They all deserve a little admiration for their talent and determination.
posted by garlic at 11:35 AM on April 22, 2014


So the 33,000 people running in Boston are all at the elite end of athletes. They all deserve a little admiration for their talent and determination.

Not to diminish their accomplishments, but a large number of people who run Boston don't qualify, but run for charity. I know at least one person who basically bought his bib for a couple thousand dollars in a charity auction. He ended up blowing out his knee and not running.

Again, they all deserve admiration, but not all of them are elite athletes.
posted by bondcliff at 11:37 AM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


a large number of people who run Boston don't qualify, but run for charity. I know at least one person who basically bought his bib for a couple thousand dollars in a charity auction. He ended up blowing out his knee and not running.

I'm not aware of this 'large number'. Do you have a link?
posted by Kwine at 11:40 AM on April 22, 2014


I'm sure this has been hashed out in various places, but a question: Why aren't Boston Marathon winners (to randomly pick a sampling of the sport's top echelon) more often in their early 20s? What is it about distance running that allows such relative old-timers, by the standards of world-class athletics, be world-class athletes? Is it that endurance peaks later or fades slower than strength or speed?

I hosted a world class triathelete once and we got on this topic. His times had been slowly improving since he started (he was in his early thirties) and he attributed it to experience -- knowing all the thousands of little variants the course or his body could throw at him and how to react.

We also talked about the long view -- he was often running races on back-to-back weekends and would be willing to place in a lesser race in order to win the big one. Younger guys, in his opinion, get way too focused on winning every race.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:43 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not aware of this 'large number'. Do you have a link?

BAA says 1395 ran for charity this year. This is the link to the charity information.

On top of that there are also other ways one can run without officially qualifying. According to Wikipedia: About one-fifth of the marathon's spots are reserved each year for charities, sponsors, vendors, licensees, consultants, municipal officials, local running clubs, and marketers.
posted by bondcliff at 11:46 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I had just found that myself, thanks!
posted by Kwine at 11:47 AM on April 22, 2014


That "By The Numbers" site is interesting. 150 lbs of petroleum jelly but only 52 rolls of paper towels?
posted by bondcliff at 11:55 AM on April 22, 2014


Isn't the Boston course somewhat downhill and so doesn't qualify as a world record contender for marathons? I seem to recall something to that effect. So you can do Boston to Boston comparisons, but not, f.ex., Boston to Berlin... no? Or am I confused?
posted by VikingSword at 12:01 PM on April 22, 2014


Yes, Boston cannot be used for world records. My husband ran Boston yesterday for the second time, and he said the course is brutal. The slight downhill for the first several miles puts a lot of strain on your knees, and then the terrible hills at the end. My sweetie is a middle aged runner who gets faster every year, too. We always wonder when he will plateau. It's a strange sport in that older people can be quite competitive.
posted by Malla at 12:06 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


One of my coworkers placed 6344 in this year's race. This was his 4th Boston and this year was significantly slower than previous because of injuries in the winter, so his goal was to pick a sustainable time rather than trying for a PR (which for him is something like 2:52, IIRC). The standard deviation of his splits was 14 seconds. Seriously. He has a really good metronome in his head and can nail the time that he's targeting (assuming it's realistic).

You can bet that Meb was doing that and more.

He's told me about techniques for trying to affect another runner's performance and most of them involve ways of getting in their heads to fuck with their rhythm and composure. Really it's being an irritant to your competitors while trying to stay focused yourself.
posted by plinth at 12:08 PM on April 22, 2014


I'm so excited about Meb. And it is absurd to think that the race was fixed -- Meb simply out strategized and outran the other runners.
posted by Malla at 12:10 PM on April 22, 2014


JohnLewis: He was the fastest guy out there. You must not be very familiar with running if you think that raw speed is the way these things are won. Any distance above the sprint is always a combination of speed and tactics."

You're right. I never competed after high school, where there was very little strategy involved (especially at my level!). Nonetheless, I always think the most exciting races are the ones where it's clear nobody is holding anything back.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:21 PM on April 22, 2014


I'm sure this has been hashed out in various places, but a question: Why aren't Boston Marathon winners (to randomly pick a sampling of the sport's top echelon) more often in their early 20s? What is it about distance running that allows such relative old-timers, by the standards of world-class athletics, be world-class athletes? Is it that endurance peaks later or fades slower than strength or speed?

There are physical adaptations in endurance sport that come to fruition quite slowly in such a way that you make fractions of a percent improvement in your 10th or 15th year of disciplined training. This difference, while marginal, adds up and separates the "young" racers from the 30s crowd. Usually the way it goes is that the 30 something racer drifts away from 5k and 10k events into the longer distance where their adaptations are more useful because explosive speed degrades a bit, but endurance still accumulates.

This is a high level explanation based on some reading I've done but I'm keen if others have more modern research links handy on this. It is a fascinating topic.
posted by dgran at 12:25 PM on April 22, 2014




Step One: be born in Eritrea

Jimmy the Greek, is that you?
posted by aught at 1:05 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


It is the age that gets me! After all, he was dropped by sneaker companies for backing and picked up Stretchers at last. 40 would put him in a masters category. Do do that speed at that age is a marvel.
posted by Postroad at 1:54 PM on April 22, 2014


Racing is tactical - it's about judiciously expending energy. Not just running - cycling definitely, probably driving various types of vehicles, probably stuff involving horses too.

The other Americans didn't slow anybody down; they just didn't run as fast as they could have. That would have meant that they were setting the pace chasing down their ally; really, it's the obligation of your rival to set the pace chasing your ally. That's tactics 101.


Oh. Ok. No, I'd have not said that before reading what was written above. I guess I just never knew that.

But, knowing that, I'm left rather unimpressed by the long-distant sport. I guess short distance runners like 100m are the real raw athletes that don't need to use slow-down tactics.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:09 PM on April 22, 2014


I was once slapped in the face by one of the men's top 20 finishers. That was the closest I will ever be to glory.
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:10 PM on April 22, 2014


Meb simply out strategized and outran the other runners.

True. But that puts him in the same category as the 'Survivor' winners, and not really in the same category as athletes like Usain Bolt.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:12 PM on April 22, 2014


You're unimpressed by a sport that requires both strategy and physical prowess, and are impressed only by sports that don't involve tactics?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:12 PM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]


Last year, for the first time in over 20 years, I didn't go. I've stood in the same area right on the finish line for over 20 years. Last year, I didn't go.

In the past year, I've tried not to think about it too much.

Yesterday, Kinetic 3 was like, "We're going, right?" and I wanted to, I really wanted to.

We had the Hopkinton start on the tv and I was like, "Fuck it," and I texted my daughters that I loved them and me and my littlest kid went to Kenmore and when Rita Jentoo ran by, arms pumping, the most fiercely concentrated look of determination I have ever seen in my life on her face, I started hiccuping and WHOOSH a year of hidden heartbreak burst through me and I thought of Sean and Krystle and Lingzi and Jesus Christ Martin who was 8. Jesus Christ. He was 8.

Maybe you need to live here to get it.

But a year ago yesterday, a lot of us lost something and it wasn't until we saw Rita, Meb, Tatyana, Ernst and every other athlete out there that we got a part of ourselves back.

Thanks to all of them, and to every bombing survivor who came and competed. And to those who couldn't face the course, we faced it for you.

What a day for Boston. A year ago we lost something huge and indefinable and it wasn't until yesterday that it felt like we got it back.
posted by kinetic at 2:14 PM on April 22, 2014 [14 favorites]


I'm less impressed knowing that the sport is a team effort involving tactics to slow others down in order to win.

I used to think it was the purest of sports where the only thing the individual is battling is the body's desire to slow down or completely stop. But I guess it isn't that.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:16 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm less impressed knowing that the sport is a team effort involving tactics to slow others down in order to win.

The African athletes were not bound by what Ryan Hall was doing. If they had wanted to try and catch Meb, nobody was stopping them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:23 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I used to think it was the purest of sports where the only thing the individual is battling is the body's desire to slow down or completely stop. But I guess it isn't that.

No, it sure isn't. One isn't just battling against time, but against the other folks on the course. That's a feature, not a bug, of a race (as opposed to something like a time trial).
posted by ftm at 2:30 PM on April 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


I used to think it was the purest of sports where the only thing the individual is battling is the body's desire to stop running and slow down.

There's more to it than that; it's also a matter of managing physical (and mental) resources. If they spends too much early on, they may run out of energy late in the race and be unable to keep up with the field; but if they spend too little, they may fall too far back behind the field to catch up again.

So it's an athletic competition, sure, but also a tactical one; one in which the athletes are trying to make good decisions about their own energy expenditures while also trying to lead (or mislead) their competitors to make bad decisions.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:48 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm less impressed knowing that the sport is a team effort involving tactics to slow others down in order to win.


In a road race, as opposed to a track race where there have sometimes been grumblings about team tactics used to impeded passing, these tactics are mainly psychological. Racing a marathon competitively entails an awful lot of mental games and psychological tricks. Psyching other runners around you out by making them think you feel a lot better than you do, or deciding to let someone who is much less fast than you are on paper out ahead, wagering they'll die and come back to you while you concentrate on whom you assume your *real* competition will be is all part of racing. It's not separate from competing over long distances, it's a huge part of it. Otherwise there'd be no race and runners would all time trial on the same course that day instead, like downhill skiers or something.

That's what I loved about the sport when I used to compete at the distance. Runners like me who weren't nearly as fast on paper as the people we were competing against could often still win based on running a smart or well-calculated race.
posted by stagewhisper at 3:25 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


...Also, Meb's best time at the marathon ( which he clocked yesterday) until the race was 209:15 which put him 15th on the all-time USA list. There are a number of American born runners on that list, and three of the times ahead of him were clocked by American-born runners *in the early 80s* ( Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley, and Greg Meyer).

So, discounting his win as not really American or somehow easier for him than American-born runners smacks of xenophobia. Not only that, if I was any of the top runners in that race with times so much faster than Meb, whose been slow and injured a lot the last year or so, and is a week or two shy of turning 39, I would have laughed to myself and let him go. He wouldn't have ever been a factor in my game plan. No big conspiracy needed to explain why the favorites never went with him.

or on preview what We had a deal, Kyle said. yeah, that.
posted by stagewhisper at 3:36 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I did a marathon in 3:45 and was going at a good clip. These guys pretty much go at my sprint speed the whole way round.

Seriously. I was looking at the women's first 5k split and it's like, these women run roughly twice as fast as me over 5k. And when I'm done 5k I'm done running for the day, but these people go and do it another 7 times over.
posted by Hoopo at 3:39 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm less impressed knowing that the sport is a team effort involving tactics to slow others down in order to win.

It's unbecoming to be so dismissive of something you clearly know so little about.
posted by rtha at 3:48 PM on April 22, 2014 [9 favorites]


So, discounting his win as not really American or somehow easier for him than American-born runners smacks of xenophobia.

Um, I'm afraid that when 21 of the last 22 winners have made their home in one corner of Africa and the guy who just won was born there, it's not particularly random or fear based to wonder if there mightn't be some sort of connection.

Hell, over the years we seem to have gotten over the fact that when you aggressively scout for the best male basketball players in the U.S you wind up with 78% black males. Is this so controversial?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:56 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think he's absolutely an American--but he's also an American of east African descent. I don't think there's anything wrong with anybody competing at something like this, but I think it basically just means that the whole "winner" thing is getting less meaningful. All elite sports are about genes and not just hard work--and that's why I've generally not been able to develop that much interest in elite sports. This is great for him, personally, but I don't think it warrants a "yay America" any more than other winners might have warranted a "yay Kenya". I'm much more impressed with the obstacles he's overcome than by the accident of nationality, in any direction.
posted by Sequence at 4:18 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Um, I'm afraid that when 21 of the last 22 winners have made their home in one corner of Africa and the guy who just won was born there...

The guy who just won was born in Eritrea. It's in the same "corner of Africa" as the Kalenjin tribe's homeland like Boston is in the same corner of North America as Atlanta.
posted by Etrigan at 4:26 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was on my high school's varsity cross country team and we played mind games with the other runners all the time to try to help runners from our own team win. As the runners from other teams did with us. It is part of the sport. It's strategy. And generally speaking all competitive distance runners know this and are all right with each other about it.

Distance running as a sport is easily as much about good strategy and mental discipline as it is about physical fitness and speed. It takes incredible tricks of the mind to keep your body running at a steady speed for hours without rest. The people who win distance races have highly trained bodies and highly trained minds. And sometimes they have a little help from their friends, too. And that's okay. Modulating your own speed to help another runner is not cheating.
posted by BlueJae at 4:30 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Even though I live near the finish line, I'm lazy so I usually don't make it to the race course for the first 2-4 hours of finishers. I go down when the timers are reading numbers like 5:15:30, more than five hours since the start. There's still plenty of people coming in. Some are struggling, some are just plodding along, and some are finding a last kick heading into Kenmore Square. (I'm sure a lot of these are the charity runners mentioned above.)

And there are still lots of spectators, and we keep on cheering for all the runners. I like to think that these are the folks who can really use the encouragement. If you tape your name to your chest, we will see it, and we will yell for you "C'mon Sarah, you got it, you're gonna finish!".

Somewhere around hour six I saw a bigger than usual clump of runners coming in. There was a guy slung in some kind of reclining wheelchair, being pushed by a runner. There was an honor guard of some 10-20 runners behind him, all wearing the same jerseys. The crowd fucking loves them and goes crazy. You can hear the noise travel down the course as they get noticed.

So bitch all you want about the details of winner's strategies, but you'll be missing something great. Or better yet, come see it some time and we can go get a little hoarse from yelling.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:48 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


benito.strauss, did you see Team Hoyt, perchance?

That's the thing I love about races, and running in general. Sure, there are elite runners who are there to compete, especially marathons and at Boston in particular. But most people aren't there to win, they're there to finish, and to do their best, and everyone cheers for everyone no matter how fast or slow they are. Most of the audience at the Boston Marathon isn't there to see who wins, they're there to support friends or family or colleagues, or just for the excitement of it all.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:06 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


I have to say I'm another person who is disappointed to find that marathons are team sports with allies. Using psychological tricks to disrupt your rivals? Awesome. Using psychological tricks to disrupt someone else's rivals, because he's from the same country as you, and they're from different countries? I understand that in team sports, but in individual sports that's really, really disappointing to me.
posted by Bugbread at 5:13 PM on April 22, 2014


The extent of the Americans' 'psychological tricks' was pretty much just not running faster than they did. If any of the rivals had wanted to go out with Meb when he did, or try to catch up to Meb at any point in the race, they were free to do so. It's easier to run hard if you're running hard with somebody else-- physically (there is a small drafting effect) and psychologically. The Americans just declined to give the non-Americans an assist.

Bravo, Meb. I was so happy to see him win yesterday. He raced a great and gutsy race. He epitomizes what is great about the sport of distance running. He is as dedicated and tough as anyone in the sport.

Yesterday was a wonderful day for runners and for Boston. I can only hope to one day join the ranks of Boston Qualifiers, and earn one of those blue and yellow unicorn jackets for myself.
posted by matcha action at 5:33 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yup, Metroid Baby, that was them. Team Hoyt all the way. Glad I got to see them, as your article says this was their last year.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:36 PM on April 22, 2014


I have to say I'm another person who is disappointed to find that marathons are team sports with allies.

How could it be otherwise (unless you ran them as something like individual pursuit, which would be awesome, but isn't done)? You are going to know some of the people in the race and not others. Ryan Hall was probably hoping to win, but if he couldn't then he'd want Meb to win. Meb takes off and Hall could chase him, but that would be being the pace-setter for some other guys. Why bother? They want to chase him, they can do it. Why should he do all the work?

Honestly, this tactical stuff is what makes racing good. Time trials tend to be really boring. You have some rabbits who are paid to run at 2:55s/km and everyone slots in behind them, the rabbits drop off, other runners drop off, and then it's a war of attrition to the finish. The only excitement is seeing who will die next.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:42 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I qualified for the Boston Marathon more than 30 years ago, not long after they had to impose qualifying times because of the running boom in the 1970s. It took me five attempts, when I was physically capable of breaking 2:50 (the qualifying time for men those days; it's since gotten a bit slower). Before I was good enough to qualify I ran two marathons in the mid-3:30s. I probably could have run faster, but had to learn about what the distance did to my body and mind. My first marathon I ran the first half in about 1:30 and ended up walking/jogging the last six miles, in terrific pain. Twice during my quest to break 2:50 I dropped out of marathons. Once the weather was cold and very windy, and I just couldn't fight the wind after 17 miles or so. The second time I came down with the flu the week of the race, decided to run anyway, and simply ran out of gas at around 20 miles. Empty tank.

The three other races went like this: 2:54; 2:53; 2:49:27. The 2:54 was about 6:37/mile; the 2:49 was 6:27/mile. Not a huge difference.

My take on why I was able to break 2:49 the last race was because I had the good fortune to have a training partner who agreed to run with me. He was a 2:30 marathoner, so for him a 2:50 marathon would be hard — as a workout. I hit the halfway mark in about 1:25:30, and said to him, "That's it. No way I can do it." It's very unusual and difficult for marathoners at any level to run the second half faster than the first. His response, "So what? 2:50 is an arbitrary time." He may have said more, but that I remember clearly. He was saying, you've trained your ass off for this so do your best. Since he was my training partner, I trusted him. Also, he shouldered a lot of the mental load for me: maintaining a pace around 6:30, which was around my limit, required lots of concentration and self-talk: "OK, just try to get to 20 miles at this pace." Then it was mile by mile, with his encouragement (and consistent pacing) the rest of the way. I'm still amazed I was able to do it. And I doubt I could have done it without help.

The reason I wrote all this is to point out how difficult it is to run at or near your limits for such a long period of time. All things came together for me on that one day - help, being healthy and very well trained, perfect weather (cool, calm), and psychological fortitude I didn't know I had. I was also young and had plenty of time to train, which allowed me, a runner with no real natural talent, to perform well. Again, a big factor.

In short: everything came together for Meb yesterday. Good training. He felt good. His strategy worked. He was strong enough, psychologically, to be able to keep up his pace even as his lead diminished to only 8 seconds. If he had once thought, "I've lost the momentum," he likely *would* have slowed to second or third. Other races, things have gone different for Meb.

As for me, I was so burned out from trying to qualify for Boston that I had no desire to run it. I never even sent in an entry form.

I still run, much, much slower (can't run even a single 6:27 mile), and occasionally compete in races. One of my goals lately has been to run a sub-4:00 marathon. Maybe I can do it, but I have no illusions - it will be as tough for me to do that as it was for me to break 2:50 long ago. And everything will have to go right: weather, how I feel that day, proper pacing, maybe a racing partner who's just enough faster than me to help me out mentally. In a way, it's a very different challenge from that faced by world-class distance runners. In many ways, it's the same — doing your best with what you have, while being aware of, and trying to work around, all of the variables that are out of your control on race day.
posted by young_simba at 5:42 PM on April 22, 2014 [15 favorites]


It's Never Lurgi: "Honestly, this tactical stuff is what makes racing good. Time trials tend to be really boring."

Maybe it's because I don't think of things like marathons from the viewers' perspective, but more like the ideal (if not the reality) of the Olympics, seeing who is the absolute best. I'm not saying I'm right, you're wrong. I'm just kinda disappointed that it's another arena for nationalism (which is the main part of the reality of the Olympics that keeps me from being very interested in them).
posted by Bugbread at 5:55 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Meb was the absolute best yesterday.
posted by ftm at 6:05 PM on April 22, 2014


Then what was with the letsrun article?
posted by Bugbread at 6:19 PM on April 22, 2014


The strategy is what makes it interesting. One of my favorite moments of the last summer olympics was one of Mo Farah's races, where he did his kick in the last lap and another runner went all out to match it and came level... and then Farah kicks again and leaps ahead and I swear you could almost see the other runner's spirit breaking. I'm pretty darn sure that Farah held back that little bit in his 'final' kick for exactly that reason.
posted by tavella at 6:40 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


The article was about the tactics of the race.

Hey, if someone else had wanted to run a 2:08 flat yesterday, they would have been perfectly welcome. They knew he was up there and they knew how far into the race they were and what the course looked like. But they didn't - Meb crossed first; unless we think that someone deliberately slowed down or otherwise cheated, what possible other measure could there be for "best" in a marathon?

Of the people that weren't the best, some of them weren't as fit, some didn't pace well, some didn't want it bad enough, and maybe some got out-thought. All leads to the same thing - getting to the finish line after the ribbon is broken. And maybe (certainly) on another day, one of those other guys will be the best.
posted by ftm at 6:45 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think there's some confusion here about whether people (er...well, me and hal_c_on) are saying "strategy is bad in marathons". Neither of us is saying that, as far as I can tell. Strategy's great. I'm just a little bummed that the strategy isn't just being used to win the marathon, but to help other people from ones own country to win, and keep people from other countries from winning.

I'm not trying to convince y'all that you're wrong or anything.

Okay, let me give a totally different story here: I went with my parents to go see some movie, long, long ago. And it turns out that the theater said it was showing Movie A, but really they were showing a sneak preview for Movie B. This was apparently advertised in the newspaper and on the radio (this was pre-Internet), so I think everyone at the theater knew that it would be movie B. Only my parents and I were under the wrong impression. But we didn't want to see Movie B. So for everyone there, this was a great situation. For us, it was disappointing.

Now, me saying that doesn't mean that I'm thinking Movie B fans were wrong or anything. It was just disappointing to me.

In the same way, I don't think y'all are wrong for liking marathons, or this kind of strategy. I was just under the wrong impression about them. I'm not trying to convince you that my concept is better, and I think you're going to be spinning your wheels if you're trying to convince me that I'm wrong, and that I actually like this aspect of marathons. When I first commented, I wasn't trying to instigate a right/wrong debate, just sharing my opinion as one does.
posted by Bugbread at 6:56 PM on April 22, 2014


The guy who just won was born in Eritrea. It's in the same "corner of Africa" as the Kalenjin tribe's homeland like Boston is in the same corner of North America as Atlanta.

Not my fault Africa's so big. Djibouti, Etritea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya make a nice little corner over there.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:41 PM on April 22, 2014


And as Eastern African countries close to the Arabian Peninsula with a strong Islamic influence with interweaving diaspora and similar bonds imposed by various international organizations, it's not terribly out of bounds to associate them.
posted by planetesimal at 9:19 PM on April 22, 2014


I think what Bugbread is kind of complaining about is the difference between "MEB KEFLEZIGHI WINS THE BOSTON MARATHON!" and "MEB KEFLEZIGHI and the American teammates who helped set a slower pace in the pack so the non-American runners wouldn't have enough room to catch up in the last few miles WINS THE BOSTON MARATHON!"

To me, it's kind of like how pitchers get credit for perfect games in baseball, even though no pitcher has actually personally put out more than half of the opposing batters in one (rounding up). Yes, it's an amazing feat by the pitcher, requiring a tremendous amount of ability, training and all that jazz. But a lot of the work is also being done by other people on the pitcher's behalf. And yet, even MLB itself says "Only 23 pitchers have tossed perfect games" rather than "Only 23 teams have tossed and fielded perfect games."
posted by Etrigan at 4:16 AM on April 23, 2014


even MLB itself says "Only 23 pitchers have tossed perfect games" rather than "Only 23 teams have tossed and fielded perfect games."

It really is an unfortunate part of human nature that we need the single hero to focus on. It happens in the sciences constantly -- we like to pretend that one guy locked himself in a room and emerged a year later with fully fledged idea that he was the sole progenitor of. It doesn't work like that.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:00 AM on April 23, 2014


I'm just a little bummed that the strategy isn't just being used to win the marathon, but to help other people from ones own country to win, and keep people from other countries from winning.

I think it's much more "not helping people from other countries" rather than "keep people from other countries from winning". The chase pack was running so slowly that the US runners caught up to them. Rather than run through (which would have pushed the pace and, ultimately, hurt Meb), they decided to stick with the chase pack. Nothing was stopping the other athletes from running faster, but no-one seemed interested in pulling a Shalane Flanagan (maybe the female runners had stolen all the guy's mojo before the race, because the ladies were running like lunatics). The chase pack continued hobby-jogging through Boston, stopping off at the occasional coffee shop, and generally acting like they weren't in a race.

FWIW, there are race tactics that have been used on the track that amount to blocking opposing runners (boxing them in) so that they can't run faster. This is legal, but I consider it rather tacky (I've never remotely been a competitive athlete, and it's possible my opinion would change if I had been, but I haven't so there it is).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:33 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


[A couple of comments deleted; let's stick to the topic rather rather than fighting with each other. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 6:01 AM on April 24, 2014


« Older In the not-too-distant future?   |   Vinum et musica laetificant cor Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments