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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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Tianna Madison with ESPN, 2012 USA Indoor champs,
photo by PhotoRun.net


 


Gatlin-TimmonsFH1-USind12.jpgJustin Gatlin, Trell Kimmons, 2012 USA Indoors, photo by PhotoRun.net

 


Claye_WillLJ1a-USind12.jpgWill Claye, 2012 USA Indoors, photo by PhotoRun.net


Lowe_ChaunteAR-USind12.jpgChaunte Howard Lowe: High Jump AR, VISA Series winner,
photo by PhotoRun.net


Simpson_Jenny1500c-USind12.jpgJenny Simpson, 2012 USA Indoors, 1,500m,
photo by PhotoRun.net


Manzano-CentrowitzFV1-USind12.jpgLeonel Manzano, 2012 USA Indoors, 1,500m,
photo by PhotoRun.net


Carter_MichelleWide-USind12.jpgMichelle Carter, 2012 USA Indoors, photo by PhotoRun.net


Williams_JillianWide1-USind12.jpgJillian Camerena Williams, photo by PhotoRun.net


The USA Indoor Track & Field Championships offered a perfect early-season stage for many of America's top track & field athletes to show that they are on a glide path to great performances in this all-important Olympic year. While this championship meet is, of course, intended to cap off the indoor season, in this year of the Olympiad, athletes, their coaches, and those who love the sport view meets such as this as another step in a track & field progression that will crescendo at the London Olympic Games this August.

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Galen Rupp, 2011 USA Indoor, photo by PhotoRun.net


tWhen Bernard Lagat and Galen Rupp go head-to-head on the track, those who love track & field are united in one uniform thought: We want them to battle each other forever. Yet we know that can't happen.

Galen Rupp, the young distance prodigy, has followed a carefully-scripted program of progressive development over the past decade that places him, at the relatively young age of 25, at the threshold of what most believe should be the best racing years of his life. His pathway of continued improvement has been wisely constructed by Alberto Salazar, a coach who knows first hand the right steps - and the wrong steps - an aspiring distance runner can take. After an exemplary collegiate career at the track and field laboratory that is the University of Oregon, Rupp stands at the dawning of his nascent professional career.




Williams_Jesse-USind11.JPGJesse Williams, 2011 USA Indoor, photo by PhotoRun.net


At a press conference held Friday afternoon in Albuquerque, Mike McNees, Interim CEO of USA Track & Field, announced that the governing body and the City of Albuquerque had "reached an agreement in principle to extend our relationship with respect to hosting the USATF Indoor National Championship Meet in Albuquerque for another two years." This pact, when finalized, will confer upon Albuquerque - which, this weekend, is completing its original three-year term as host - the right to stage the indoor national track & field championships in 2013 and 2014. In offering insight into the ultimate selection, McNees acknowledged that Albuquerque prevailed in a competitive bidding process. McNees noted, "Albuquerque has been a great venue for the championship meet. The facilities are convenient. The track has proven to be fast. We obtain great cooperation from the city. And the city and its Convention Bureau both recognize the business value associated with hosting our championship meet."

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Amy Hastings, 2012 Olympic Trials-Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net

 

The Despair of Fourth

Emotions Run High At Conclusion Of Epic Battle

Flanagan-Davila-GoucherR-USOlyT12.JPGFlanagan, Davila, Goucher, 2012 US Olympic Trials-Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net

As they crossed the finish line, each of the first four finishers of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Women's Marathon Trials wept without restraint. For the first three - Shalane Flanagan, Desiree Davila, and Kara Goucher - the tears were a product of a myriad of feelings: joy, fatigue, relief, and the exhilaration of knowing that they had made the U.S. Olympic team and will be competing in the Marathon in August in London. For the fourth finisher - Amy Hastings - the emotions were vastly different.

No words were necessary. As the flag-draped Olympians embraced Hastings in a spontaneous gesture of support and respect, Hastings tear-streaked face evidenced her tortured reality. For Amy there would be no Olympic marathon. While the top three were whisked away for TV interviews and photo ops, Hastings was left to walk alone, to sob, and to gather her thoughts.

It all began at sunrise. On a perfect morning for road racing, 182 of America's finest women distance runners launched off on what had been billed as "the First Step To London." After a dawdling opening mile of 6:11 - which left the crowded field looking like Houston's Interstate 610 during rush hour - the elite field began to sort out. By the 5th mile, a tidy pack of 9 runners - Flanagan, Davila, Deena Kastor, Adriana Nelson, Katie McGregor, Goucher, Janet Cherobon-Bawcon, Serena Berla, and Hastings - grouped at the front of the race. After gliding through the first 10K in 35:23, an impatient Davila decided it was time to inject some additional honesty into the race pace. Flanagan - who would later admit that she could tell "Desi was getting a little 'twitchy"' - knew the extended warm-up miles were over.

Davila took matters into her own hands. From that point on, the per mile pace began to drop - the 9th mile was covered in 5:22 - and the war of attrition was on. By Mile 12, the lead pack had discarded both Nelson and McGregor and only seven warriors remained. Not long thereafter, Serla would also let go. After the 15th Mile was run in 5:31, only a quartet of Olympic hopefuls remained. It was a foursome that was at once beautiful, intense, and expected: Goucher - whose upright and statuesque stride belied her abbreviated preparation; Flanagan - whose steely focus exemplified her pre-race mantra of "cold execution"; Hastings - whose rhythmic bounce suggested she had plenty of run left in her; and Davila - sporting the seemingly-effortless, but relentless leg speed she displayed on Patriots' Day. The regular season was over - this was the Final Four.

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Desi Davila, Shalane Flanagan, 2012 US Olympic Trials, photo by PhotoRun.net

The next miles found this group searching for chinks in the armor of the others. Hastings was the first to show the strain. At times, she would drift back. But suddenly she would claw her way back to the lead trio. Then, amazingly, she would make a bold move to open a small gap at the front - "Hey, I was feeling confident at that point." She wasn't the only one taking stock of the situation. Goucher, who later admitted that her pre-race crisis of confidence left her "a wreck" - knew she couldn't leave it until the end. "I kept pressing the pace because I had to break Amy. I knew that the pace was taking me beyond my fitness level. I was digging a little hole for myself. But I knew this is what I had to do." And so Kara soldiered on - staying at or near the front of the back to ensure there would be no pace relief.

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Kara Goucher, 2012 US Olympic Trials-Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net

Goucher did not need to worry about pace droop. Flanagan, the Cold Executioner, would never allow that to happen. Controlling the race from the front, Flanagan pressed on, forged a gap from the lead trio and Hastings, and began her end-game drive to the finish. In the post-race frenzy at the finish line, Shalane offered this: "My primary goal here was to make the team...But, I love to win. When I made my move, I wanted to make sure it was real and that I could sustain it through to the finish. I didn't want a wobbly legged finish." Her winning time of 2:25:38 provided her with a 17 second margin over Davila who finished 11 seconds ahead of Goucher. A disconsolate Amy Hastings, who unraveled in the final miles, crossed the line in 2: 27:17 - more than a minute behind Goucher.

By the time the post-race press conference was held an hour or so later, Hastings had regained her composure. With a brave front, she methodically fielded inquires from the media about her race. "It [my race] was pretty solid through 20. I ran out of fuel. It was an emotional last mile. It's OK. I'm fine with the way I raced today."

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Amy Hastings, photo by Margaret Hunter

The pervasive disappointment of finishing fourth will undoubtedly postpone serious consideration about Hastings plans for the U.S. Track & Field Championships in Oregon in late June. But her bona fide track credentials - she was a 5000 meter finalist in the 2011 World Championships - make her an authentic candidate to make the Olympic team in one of the two distance races. If, as is ultimately expected, Hastings does compete in Eugene, the runner her coach calls "little Deena' can expect to receive heartfelt support from the knowledgeable fans at Hayward Field.

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The final four, 2012 US Olympic Trials-Marathon, photo by Margaret Hunter

 

 

 

 

 


 

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Dathan Ritzenhein, 2012 US Olympic Trials-Marathon,
photo by PhotoRun.net

 

Battle For Team Berths Is War Of Attrition

 

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2012 US Olympic Trials, photo by Margaret Hunter

As the sun began to rise to reveal a crystal clear day with crisp, bracing temperatures, a robust field of America's best marathoners answered the gun at the start of U.S. Olympic Men's Marathon Trials - the first step toward the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Of the 111 starters, only little more than a dozen runners could realistically harbor hopes of a top three finish which would be required to make the team. No sooner had Frank Shorter fired the starter's pistol than pre-race favorite Ryan Hall surged to the front to assume command of the early pace. With an opening mile of 4:50, Hall signaled to the field that there would be no warm-up miles today. The race was on.

An impressive pack - Abdi Abdirahman, Meb Keflezighi, Dathan Ritzenhein, Mo Trafeh, Brian Olinger, and eventually Joseph Chirlee - gathered behind Hall and locked in for the challenge they suspected would be coming from the defending Trials champion. Keeping the pressure on, Hall began to string together seemingly-unending mile splits ranging from 4:43 and 4:57. By Mile 8, Chirlee dropped back.

With the clock car displaying a fore-casted finish time of 2:06, Hall continued to challenge those who dared to hang with him. Olinger, a talented steeplechaser and 10,000 meter runner, was the next casualty. Prior to Trials race day, Olinger had never raced longer than 7 miles. After a 4:49 9th mile, he went out the back door - soon to drop out.

With the lead pack down to 5, the half was passed in 1:03:25. After a 15th mile in 4:56, Trafeh - showing the strain - dropped back quickly. In less than 2 miles, Trafeh would be 1:10 behind the four leaders.

Once only four remained, the mind games most certainly began. A negative thinker in this little pack would know that one in this quartet would not be making the team. The optimist would realize "Hey, I only have to beat one of these guys and I'm going to London."

As this foursome began the final 8 mile loop in front of the finish line crowd, Abdirahman - the Black Cactus of Tucson - began waving his arms in an overt effort to exhort the fans. The crowd's eager response of louder support was enough to ignite an adrenaline-induced Abdi to surge to the front - a lead position he clearly relished, but held only momentarily.

In the 19th mile, after an unending diet of sub-5:00 minute miles, evidence of strain and fatigue was detectable. Ritz, working the hardest, was beginning to lose contact. Even after two slower miles (5:00 and 5:01 - the slowest of the race at that point), Dathan was 24 seconds behind the lead trio at the 21 mile mark.

In the ensuing miles, conversation among the three leaders was observable. Was a "deal" in the works? There was. In a post-race finish line interview, Meb confirmed the pact; "At that point in the race, I said 'let's work together and make this team."

But Ritzenhein was not through. Down but not out, Ritz stayed focused. Even though at one point the leaders were out of his sight, Dathan began to claw his way back: "I rallied as hard as I could. I kept telling myself that someone will come back. They did - but not enough." Ritz was closing on Abdi, but he was running out of real estate.

Meb, maintaining remarkable late-race leg speed, motored through the final miles to seal the victory in 2:09:08 - his fastest marathon by 5 seconds. His P.R. improvement would have been larger had he not slowed to grab an offered American flag from the crowd. A smiling Hall crossed the finish line 22 seconds later. And Abdi - grateful and jubilant as he finished 17 seconds behind Hall - secured the coveted third Olympic team berth.

A valiant and sustained rally by Ritzenhein came up about 40 meters short as he finished in fourth - missing the final Olympic spot by a mere 8 seconds. After the wave of fatigue and disappointment prompted a few tears, an obviously distraught Ritzenhein quickly regrouped, displayed uncommon composure, and offered his assessment: "I'm in shock. I want to be a marathoner, but maybe it's not in the cards. Maybe I'm not meant to run the marathon. I've gone through so much [with my injuries.] At one point, I thought I may never run again. It will take me a little bit to get over this. It wasn't meant to be today. Life goes on." And with a hint of his future Olympic plans, Ritz concluded by saying, "It's back to the track..."

And if, as expected, Ritz competes this summer in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Track & Field in his hometown of Eugene, one of the larger Hayward Field ovations will be prompted by Ritzenhein's introduction at the start of the Men's 10,000.

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Dathan running, 2012 US Olympic Trials-Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net

 

 

 

 

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Desi Davila, 2011 BAA Boston Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net


It's Trials Eve, and the athletes, seemingly poised and composed, have been available and cordial with the media as race day approaches. Their candid assessments of their capabilities, the competition, and what this event means to each of them have been revealing - and prompt an array of observations

Max King. The four-time XTERRA World Trail Run Champion, King could prove to be the "X Factor' Saturday. His qualifying time - 2:15;34 at the 2010 Under Armour Baltimore Marathon - is not likely to strike fear in the hearts of the men's elites. But that time - a winning performance in only his second road marathon - could be misleading. "My trail work has made me stronger, given me increased stamina, which should help me in the later stages of the race," say King, a 31-year old Cornell grad. But his love of the trails has not caused him to ignore the type of surface-specific training so essential to race day rhythm. "40% of my mileage has been road-oriented, so I think I am prepared in that regard," notes King. "I'd like to see a fast race with a good solid pace. 
We'll have to wait and see, but I feel I could crank out a 2:10." - a time King believes is good enough to make the team.

Brian Olinger. This national class steeplechaser professes his readiness to make the big jump from the oval to the marathon. Has he ever run a marathon? Not yet. How about a half? Nope. Olinger has never raced more than 7 miles - qualifying with an impressive 10K time under the newly-installed qualification process. While no one would doubt his considerable track skills ranging from the 3000 Meter Steeplechase to the 10,000, many would question his readiness to race 26.2 road miles with America's best marathoners. While according due respect to the marathon distance and Saturday's impressive field, Olinger candidly observes, "I am training well; I have nothing to lose; and I am here to make the Olympic Team." Olinger plans to watch the race unfold very carefully and is prepared to cover early moves. "With this talented field, where 3 guys go, I think you have to attach yourself to that group. I agree with those who observe that no one is really going to come back on this field," notes Olinger. The Columbus, Ohio resident "would like to be in the game with 5K to go." And with his demonstrated middle distance speed, if he is in the hunt over the final miles, you'd have to like his chances.

Caroline White. Nobody's story is quite like Caroline White's. A pole vaulter in high school, Caroline went on to even greater heights at the Air Force Academy where she became a "jumpmaster" on the Air Force Parachute Team. A Rhodes Scholarship finalist with a thirst for adventure, Caroline has been a strong age-group placer at Kona in the Ironman Triathlon. With a qualifying time of 2:37:32 in the 2011 Boston, Caroline has a personally crafted vision of success on Saturday: "I'd like to P.R. with a top 25 finish. I'd love to link up with a pack setting a conservative pace, assess my rhythm at 16 miles, and finish strong. I am honored to be here with the country's best runners - all of whom are a reflection of the personal drive it takes to get here."

Desiree Davila. The women's top qualifier is handling the spotlight and the incessant questioning with the poise of a champion. Coming off her second place finish in the 2011 B.A.A. marathon - which featured that unforgettable lead-changing duel down Boylston Street - Davila is exhibiting a placid, matter-of-fact approach that belies the pressure that has to go with being the odds-on favorite. "I have a rough idea of the splits I'd like to hit. I am looking for a measured, honest pace - nothing like, say, 5:13 pace which would be too fast. Kevin and Keith [Hanson} are planning to station themselves on the Main Loop to let me know how I'm doing and where the other women are. I am pretty good at picking out their voices in a crowd," she notes. Experience will help. "At the '08 Trials in Boston, I thought I had a chance to make the team. I was with the lead pack until Deena broke it up at 18." What will it take to make the team? "You'll have to run fast. I think maybe 10 women will be under 2:30. I am hoping to make smart decisions on the fly as the race unfolds."

Abdi Abdirahman. There is an increasing amount of buzz about this wily veteran. It would be unwise to discredit the chances of this three-time Olympian who has a career that features 13 national titles. While it is true that Abdi has never made the U.S.Olympic marathon squad and his 2:14:00 qualifying time - posted at the 2009 USA Men's Marathon Championships - seeds him only about 14th, he has a reputation as a fearless front runner with good 10,000 meter leg speed. It is unlikely that he would ever allow the early pace to dawdle. As the reigning U.S. 20K Champion, Abdi has shown that he still has gas in the tank. Watch for him to be up there in the early going. "I'd like to see us go out in 65 minutes, no 64 minutes, and just keep that pace up." he smiles. Abdi passed up a meaningful payday by bypassing the Chicago Marathon last fall. Why? " I wanted to focus on this race." Keep an eye on Abdi.

Cooling Down. Kudos are in order for the Olympic Trials Organizing Committee which has orchestrated the run up to Saturday's big races with solid preparation, a variety of events, and a great eye for detail. Thursday night's reception at the Houston Museum Of Natural Sciences was an immaculately-planned, yet casual affair which served as a great reunion of a broad array of individuals from all across the country - all of whom share the common bond of an unabashed love of running. To combine the 40th anniversary of the Houston Marathon with the honor of hosting the Olympic Marathon Trials - the inaugural running of both races, on the same day, and in the same city - has to create an unmatched moment of pride and appreciative reflection for this special city. Houston deserves - and will likely witness - two electric Trials races tomorrow. It's a little too early to drop the confetti, but exciting racing tomorrow [and Sunday] and two more days like these past few will allow Houston to celebrate one of the best road racing weekends in quite a while.
 
 
 
2012 Houston News: Friday, by David Hunter, note by Larry Eder
 By Larry Eder on January 14, 2012 8:13 AM| 0 Comments

Here are David's notes about Friday, January 13, 2012 in Houston, the day before the US Olympic Trials-Marathon.
 
Desi Davila, 2011 BAA Boston Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net

Friday, January 13th, 2012
It's Trials Eve, and the athletes, seemingly poised and composed, have been available and cordial with the media as race day approaches. Their candid assessments of their capabilities, the competition, and what this event means to each of them have been revealing - and prompt an array of observations
Max King. The four-time XTERRA World Trail Run Champion, King could prove to be the "X Factor' Saturday. His qualifying time - 2:15;34 at the 2010 Under Armour Baltimore Marathon - is not likely to strike fear in the hearts of the men's elites. But that time - a winning performance in only his second road marathon - could be misleading. "My trail work has made me stronger, given me increased stamina, which should help me in the later stages of the race," say King, a 31-year old Cornell grad. But his love of the trails has not caused him to ignore the type of surface-specific training so essential to race day rhythm. "40% of my mileage has been road-oriented, so I think I am prepared in that regard," notes King. "I'd like to see a fast race with a good solid pace. 
We'll have to wait and see, but I feel I could crank out a 2:10." - a time King believes is good enough to make the team.
Brian Olinger. This national class steeplechaser professes his readiness to make the big jump from the oval to the marathon. Has he ever run a marathon? Not yet. How about a half? Nope. Olinger has never raced more than 7 miles - qualifying with an impressive 10K time under the newly-installed qualification process. While no one would doubt his considerable track skills ranging from the 3000 Meter Steeplechase to the 10,000, many would question his readiness to race 26.2 road miles with America's best marathoners. While according due respect to the marathon distance and Saturday's impressive field, Olinger candidly observes, "I am training well; I have nothing to lose; and I am here to make the Olympic Team." Olinger plans to watch the race unfold very carefully and is prepared to cover early moves. "With this talented field, where 3 guys go, I think you have to attach yourself to that group. I agree with those who observe that no one is really going to come back on this field," notes Olinger. The Columbus, Ohio resident "would like to be in the game with 5K to go." And with his demonstrated middle distance speed, if he is in the hunt over the final miles, you'd have to like his chances.
Caroline White. Nobody's story is quite like Caroline White's. A pole vaulter in high school, Caroline went on to even greater heights at the Air Force Academy where she became a "jumpmaster" on the Air Force Parachute Team. A Rhodes Scholarship finalist with a thirst for adventure, Caroline has been a strong age-group placer at Kona in the Ironman Triathlon. With a qualifying time of 2:37:32 in the 2011 Boston, Caroline has a personally crafted vision of success on Saturday: "I'd like to P.R. with a top 25 finish. I'd love to link up with a pack setting a conservative pace, assess my rhythm at 16 miles, and finish strong. I am honored to be here with the country's best runners - all of whom are a reflection of the personal drive it takes to get here."
Desiree Davila. The women's top qualifier is handling the spotlight and the incessant questioning with the poise of a champion. Coming off her second place finish in the 2011 B.A.A. marathon - which featured that unforgettable lead-changing duel down Boylston Street - Davila is exhibiting a placid, matter-of-fact approach that belies the pressure that has to go with being the odds-on favorite. "I have a rough idea of the splits I'd like to hit. I am looking for a measured, honest pace - nothing like, say, 5:13 pace which would be too fast. Kevin and Keith [Hanson} are planning to station themselves on the Main Loop to let me know how I'm doing and where the other women are. I am pretty good at picking out their voices in a crowd," she notes. Experience will help. "At the '08 Trials in Boston, I thought I had a chance to make the team. I was with the lead pack until Deena broke it up at 18." What will it take to make the team? "You'll have to run fast. I think maybe 10 women will be under 2:30. I am hoping to make smart decisions on the fly as the race unfolds."
Abdi Abdirahman. There is an increasing amount of buzz about this wily veteran. It would be unwise to discredit the chances of this three-time Olympian who has a career that features 13 national titles. While it is true that Abdi has never made the U.S.Olympic marathon squad and his 2:14:00 qualifying time - posted at the 2009 USA Men's Marathon Championships - seeds him only about 14th, he has a reputation as a fearless front runner with good 10,000 meter leg speed. It is unlikely that he would ever allow the early pace to dawdle. As the reigning U.S. 20K Champion, Abdi has shown that he still has gas in the tank. Watch for him to be up there in the early going. "I'd like to see us go out in 65 minutes, no 64 minutes, and just keep that pace up." he smiles. Abdi passed up a meaningful payday by bypassing the Chicago Marathon last fall. Why? " I wanted to focus on this race." Keep an eye on Abdi.
Cooling Down. Kudos are in order for the Olympic Trials Organizing Committee which has orchestrated the run up to Saturday's big races with solid preparation, a variety of events, and a great eye for detail. Thursday night's reception at the Houston Museum Of Natural Sciences was an immaculately-planned, yet casual affair which served as a great reunion of a broad array of individuals from all across the country - all of whom share the common bond of an unabashed love of running. To combine the 40th anniversary of the Houston Marathon with the honor of hosting the Olympic Marathon Trials - the inaugural running of both races, on the same day, and in the same city - has to create an unmatched moment of pride and appreciative reflection for this special city. Houston deserves - and will likely witness - two electric Trials races tomorrow. It's a little too early to drop the confetti, but exciting racing tomorrow [and Sunday] and two more days like these past few will allow Houston to celebrate one of the best road racing weekends in quite a while.  

Finish 2.JPG

Becki Michael wins 2011 Akron Marathon

 


Like Most Trials Participants, Becki Michael Crafts Her
Own Definition Of Race Day Success

 

On Saturday morning January 14th, nearly 200 exquisitely-trained and anxious American women will toe the line at the start of the 2012 United States Olympic Marathon Trails. Only the top three finishers will capture the ultimate prize: the honor to represent the United States in the Women's Marathon in the 2012 London Olympic Games.

A careful review of the women's field makes it clear that the women's Trials race will be divided into two very different categories: an elite group of 15 [maybe 20] women who harbor realistic goals of a top three finish; and a second, larger group of over 175 runners who, with no reasonable expectations for an Olympic berth, are competing to achieve personal goals.

A review of the field - the qualifiers and their times - confirms this dichotomy. The very top tier - the sub-2:30 group - is comprised of a talented and accomplished assembly of just seven women, all of whom have a legitimate shot to make the podium. At the other end of the field you will find 90 Trials participants - nearly half of the women's field - who just made the race with posted qualifying times less than 2 minutes faster than the minimum B-standard qualifying time of 2:46:00. For these women - and indeed a full 90% of the women's Olympic Marathon Trials field - there are no realistic scenarios by which they make the United States Olympic team. They know that. They don't care. They are racing in Houston for other reasons - to set a PR; to place higher than expected; to celebrate their qualification; or, as the Japanese say, "to race honorably." For them, this race is not about qualifying for the Olympic Games - the Trials race is their Olympic Games.

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Becki Michael, 2011 Akron Marathon, photo courtesy of Akron Marathon

 

Becki Michael, 2011 Akron Marathon, photo courtesy of Akron Marathon


One such Trials participant is Becki Michael, an upbeat an energetic 28 year old with flashing eyes and a quick smile. Becki was born and raised in Alliance, Ohio - a hardscrabble industrial city in the heart of northeastern Ohio's hard-hit manufacturing belt. Her Midwestern work ethic has contributed to her running success. Her Trials qualifying time of 2:40:17 - which she ran in the 2009 USA Women's Marathon Championships - places her in the top 30% of the women's field. Coming off a run-away victory [2:45:57] in the 2011 Akron Marathon last September, Becki has been focused on completing her final buildup for the Olympic Marathon Trials. During the week between Christmas and New Years, I caught up with Becki as we sat down for a light lunch and some conversation.

RBR: At the turn the century, you were running track and cross country at Marlington High School. Now you are poised to run in your second Olympic Marathon Trials race in just a couple of weeks. How did you get here?

BECKI: It has been quite a journey. I started running in junior high school. I ran cross country and track all four years in high school. Cross country was never in my comfort zone. I just could never get comfortable on grass - yet I was a state meet qualifier all four years. Each spring, I was a middle distance runner. As a senior, I captured a 7th place finish in the 800 meters state meet championship race.

RBR: Tell us about your career at the University of Akron.

BECKI: I was recruited by Scot Jones, the University of Akron's distance coach. He made me run cross country all four years [laughs]. I was a stronger contributor in the spring as a member of the distance squad.

RBR: Scot had you focus on the newly-emerging women's 3,000 meter steeplechase. Wasn't that an odd event choice for a diminutive runner like you?

BECKI: Not really. The hurdle height in the women's steeple is not very imposing. I ultimately got my time down to 10:51.

RBR: That solid steeplechase time looks more impressive when it is remembered that you posted that time in the early years of the steeplechase when women were still learning how to run this new event. So, not unlike your high school performance, your collegiate career was very good, but not really outstanding. What inspired you to continue competitive running after college?

BECKI: I honestly believed I could be good at it.

RBR: Without question, you did become a better runner. After college, your running made a remarkable leap forward. How did that happen?

BECKI: I just calmed down. After I graduated there was no frantic anxiety about running and racing. With my college work over and my degree in hand, I could give running my undistracted attention.


RBR: Was it difficult for you, as a post-collegiate athlete, to support yourself while you were focused on improving your running?

BECKI: Not really. I have always been able to support myself. At times, I have worked at a local running store. And for two years, I was an assistant coach at Wright State University in Dayton. Now I work at my family's pharmacy in Alliance. My goal has never been to make a lot of money.

RBR: You have had some ups and downs in your personal life over the past two years. How have you dealt with it?

BECKI: Just a couple of years ago, I married Josh Ordway. Our mutual love of running was an important facet of our marriage. When our relationship fell apart about a year ago, my life took a turn. I moved back to Akron and rededicated myself to my training. Running and my friends have helped me through this difficult time.

RBR: Both Josh and his brother Jason will be running in the Men's Olympic Trials race the same morning as your big race. Will that affect you?

BECKI: Not at all. I have maintained a civilized relationship with my former husband and brother-in-law. They are both great athletes and I wish them the best in the Men's race on race day. I'll be undistracted by them and I will be prepared to run my best race in Houston.

RBR: The Houston race will be your second Olympic Marathon Trials race. Tell us about your first Trials race experience in April, 2008, in Boston.

BECKI: It all happened so quickly. I qualified for the 2008 Olympic Trials two months earlier when I ran my first marathon in 2:43:42. I was ecstatic that I had qualified for the Olympic Trials. After posting that qualifying time, I made a rookie mistake by not allowing myself sufficient post-race recovery time. Enthusiasm overruled good judgment and my over-zealous training led to a nagging pinched nerve in my right foot. I ran the 2008 Trials race in pain and finished with the time of 2:53:38.

RBR: Joan Samuelson, the '84 Olympic champ, must have passed you in the last several miles.

BECKI: Yes she did [laughs]. Joanie is a pioneer and a running legend. Don't forget: she also beat 33 other girls that day [laughs].

RBR: So tell us how your training has been progressing as you point toward the Houston Trials race?

BECKI: It has been going very well. Physically, I feel I'm in very good shape. While I'm proud of my Akron win, it was basically a solo run when my fitness level was not at its highest. I am in much better shape now. My 8 week buildup has featured several weeks with mileage between 100 and 110 miles per week.

RBR: You have always been known as a voracious trainer. What can you tell us about this monster one kilometer interval training session I keep hearing about?

BECKI: It was a little wild [laughs]. At the University of Akron Field House, I ran 25 times 1,000 meters with a 200 meter recovery jog. I was hitting them around 3:40 - which is just a little under six minute pace. I ran that workout by myself - so I was just a little bit crazy by the end [laughs].

RBR: And that's a workout you devised on your own?

BECKI: Yes. I am self-coached now. I had good successes in my early post-collegiate years working with Matt Woods and later Ed Alyanak. Two years ago, when my life took a turn, I needed to take control. I made the decision to coach myself and I have been running better than ever.


RBR: Self-coached...kind of like Ryan Hall?

BECKI: You could say so. But he is just a little faster than I am [laughs].

RBR: The seeding for the Olympic Marathon Trials race looks as if you might start as the 56th fastest qualifier in a field of nearly 200. What is your plan for race day? And how do you define race day success for yourself?

BECKI: I know that a top three performance by me in Houston is not realistic. It is not a realistic goal for most of the women. I have always been a disciplined racer and my plan is to go out at 6:05 pace. Not 6:00 pace - that would be a bit too ambitious. I am hoping to race smart with the plan of passing people on the final 8 mile loop - passing people who made bad choices early in the race.

RBR: At age 28, you have many good years of running ahead. What are your future running plans? And what are your future goals and dreams?

BECKI: I am looking for a strong performance in these Trials - a positive experience, a good finishing place, and a solid time that can serve as a stepping stone to an even better performance in the 2016 Olympic Trials. Four more years of focused training should position me to run in the low 2:30's and to capture a top 15 finish in the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials. As a longer term goal, I'd like to qualify and run in five Olympic Marathon Trials.

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The writer with the racer, Becki Michael, photo courtesy of Akron Marathon

 

the writer with the racer, Becki Michael, photo courtesy of Akron Marathon

 


 


 

 

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Galen Rupp, 2011 WC 10,000m, photo by Photorun.

Random thoughts and observations deep in the heart of Texas as the Olympic Marathon Trials are less than 48 hours away:

All In the Family. Keith Brantley and his new bride Kim Pawelek Brantley were spotted at the Intercontinental Airport arriving for the big race weekend.. Kim will be in the women's Trials race on Saturday morning. With a qualifying time of 2:41 and change - which she posted in the 2010 Jacksonville Bank Marathon - Kim is a realist about this weekend's big race. Although she knows that a top three finish is not a realistic outcome on Saturday, Kim views her Trials race as a "personal challenge." Keith, who assists in devising Kim's training, was a U.S. Olympic marathoner in the 1996 Games.

Meteorological Dream Sequence. While prevailing conditions can always change, it appears that the Weather Gods may be smiling on Houston on race day. Currently, Saturday calls for clear and sunny skies with dawn temperatures in the mid-40's. While the thermometer may creep to the upper 50's by the end of the race, conditions should be ideal. It will be, as Frank Shorter says, a "no excuses" day.

How Will The Race Unfold? You can't go anywhere without overhearing conversations about the race, the strategy, and how the end game may be played out. Various theories abound. Will the dominating presence of Ryan Hall and Desiree Davila inspire others to attempt to find ways to slow the early pace? Will a bold, new talent seek to push to an early lead? Will the race finishes feature furious battles over the final kilometers - like the men's Trials race in 1984 when Pete Pfitzinger upset Alberto Salazar and John Tuttle held off Dave Gordon for the final Olympic team spot? Or will the races feature clean breaks early where a clearly-defined trio gaps the field and works in truce-like unison to capture the top three spots - as was the case in the 1992 men's Trials race when Steve Spence, Ed Eyestone, and Bob Kampainen broke away early and worked together to seal their Olympic positions?

The Rupp Factor. Another topic of incessant conversation and speculation has been the on-again, off-again entry of Galen Rupp. Several weeks ago, when it was announced that Rupp, the American record holder in the 10,000, had unexpectedly entered the Trials, it caught many off stride. Immediately, the blog chatter took off: "Is he ready?" 'How could he not be?" "He would never enter if he wasn't ready to go." Then the real theorists crept in: "Rupp isn't a serious entrant." "He's entered only to provide pace support for Dathan." "He'll drop out - because he'd never want to bypass that debut marathon payday.' "Won't the pure marathoners fear what would have to be impressive closing speed?'. Then, this last week, just as surprisingly, it was announced that Rupp had withdrawn. Did that end the speculation? Not a chance. While most believe the Rupp story is now closed, some knowledgeable marathon aficionados believe there could be another twist to this story...a twist that puts Galen on the starting line on Saturday.

Trials Format: Too Big? Too Small? Qualification Or Open? Another topic bandied about in some quarters this week has been the format of the Trials itself. Are the fields to big? Does it really make sense to bulge the field with participants, who, albeit elite, harbor no real chance to place in the top 3? Or should the Trials maintain a field of reasonable size to cultivate broad-based and inspired performances by America's distance runners and to reward those achievements with a life-shaping opportunity to participate in this glorious event? The conversation has also included fervent discussion about a concept floated several years ago - to do away with qualification and to open the Olympic Marathon Trials to all - a sort of 21st Century all-inclusive celebration of running.

Sharing The Stage. Smiley Pool, photographer for the Houston Chronicle, has covered the town's marathoning pursuits for years. Without question, Smiley notes, Houston has parlayed the 40th anniversary of the Houston Marathon with the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials to create an opulent and well-coordinated spectacle which is poised to be memorable event in all respects. What no one planned was for the Houston Texans to be playing in their very first NFL playoff series this same weekend- an unexpected development which is deflecting some attention away from the Trials.
 

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Motion, photo by PhotoRun.net

 


 

 

conniegardner.jpg Connie Gardner, photo by Jennie Kormanik, Akrun Second Sole

 

Driven, Free-Spirited AR Holder For 24 Hour Run Does It Her Own Way


Can you run a mile in 9:38? Duh. How about running a 10K at 9:38 pace -- finishing in just under an hour? No sweat, right? OK, how about running a marathon at 9:38 pace -- crossing the finish line in 4:13? Of course you can. With a sensible training program, many do that in races every weekend. All right then, can you run 9:38 pace for an entire day? For 24 hours straight? I didn't think so...

Connie Gardner can. And she is not satisfied. "I don't have any PR's yet. I am not content with anything," she declares. "I am not content with any times or any distances."

Gardner is not even content with the stunning American Record she set last month at the IAU World 24-Hour Run Championships in Katowice, Poland. The new American record-holder covered 149.368 miles to eclipse the pre-existing American best by a mile and a half. Led by Gardner, the USA women also captured the world team title.

Amazingly, Gardner actually was the second woman finisher -- behind overall female champion Michaela Dimitridau of the Czech Republic. The new American record holder actually held the lead in the 22nd hour, but ultimately was overcome by the eventual winner. To put the finish in miler's terms, it was as if Gardner was leading "coming off the final curve", but was "outkicked" -- over the final two hours.

Oh, and here's the kicker: Connie Gardner will be 49 in November. Can you name another elite American athlete who performed at their best in their late forties? When George Blanda was passing and kicking for the Oakland Raiders in the twilight of his career, he was 47. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA title -- his sixth and last ring -when he was 41. And Nolan Ryan pitched his 7th and final no-hitter when he was 44. All were younger than Gardner.

A grade school field day first sparked Gardner's interest in running. "I started running in elementary school to train for field day. I was terrible," she laughs. "They wouldn't put me in anything because I wasn't very fast. If you weren't good at anything else, they threw you into the distance run because nobody wanted to do it. So the first year I failed and then I started to train for it. I wanted to do it," she notes in earnest. "I've always wanted to see what I could do."

After an upbringing in several different cities which featured high school running on several different teams, Gardner headed off to the University of Massachusetts. At UMass she rowed on the crew team. But she also kept up with her running. "I would always run a marathon in the fall and one in the spring," explains Gardner. She ran her first marathon -- the Columbus Marathon -- in 1981 at age 17. She finished in 4:11. "Twenty years later, I came back to Columbus to run the marathon again. Same course. I ran 3:11 -- one hour faster," she laughs. The following year she set her PR -- excuse me -- her current fastest marathon time of 3:04.

By then, she was in the midst of a post-collegiate geographic odyssey which saw her hopscotch around the country -- first to Oregon, then to Michigan, then to Connecticut, and finally to Ohio. The travels were a quest to get centered, get settled, and find a home for herself and her two daughters. She seems to have found it Medina, Ohio where she and her girls have lived for the past 15 years. "It's the longest I've lived anywhere," she smiles.

Through her travels along the way, many of her training partners encouraged her to try longer distances, fueling a curiosity that was sparked when she read a story about the Western States 100 Mile Trail Run when she was 17. But it wasn't until she landed in Ohio that she undertook her first ultra -- a 50K trail run. Shortly thereafter she was ready for the next step -- a 50 miler. She found one in Kentucky. "I had no idea what I was doing," she concedes. "I knew I was passing a lot of people between mile 20 and mile 30-35," she explains. "And then I came up on this guy at about mile 35 and I asked, 'Who's up ahead.' And he answered, 'It just us,'" she says laughingly. "We had about 15 miles to go and I'm thinking that this guy probably doesn't like me very much at all. If I were a guy, I know I wouldn't want me coming up on me." Gardner's competitor copped a quick lead as Gardner refueled at a late aid station. He was able to hold on for the win. But Gardner, who was finishing fast for a close second, discovered an event, a joy that she has embraced ever since.

What has transpired since then has been a steady diet of ultras -- 6 to 10 a year, on the roads and on the trails -- sprinkled among the "over 120 marathons" she has logged over the years. Her overall body of work is most impressive. For more than a decade, her ultra finishes are mind-numbing. A review of her performances shows that she has been the first woman finisher in the clear majority of her races. And, on occasion, she has been the first overall finisher -- beating everyone.

But without question, the longer ultras are events in which Connie Gardner thrives. The longer the better. But what makes Gardner so dominant in these events? She has figured out the nutrition regimen that works for her: 100 calories and fluid every 30 minutes. "I have a lot of options. I fuel at the top of the hour and the bottom of the hour. I'll grab a gel or some peanut butter and some water," she explains. "Then you run your loops and about a half hour later you grab another." Another critical element is a type of gliding locomotion. "I just try to stay as relaxed as possible and as efficient as possible, so it's smooth and relaxed," says Gardner. And as for concentration, Gardner is as an associative runner, focusing on the task at hand. "I just stay focused on my running," she notes. "Nothing else is distracting me."

And perhaps, more than anything else, that focus to stay in the moment may be the key. By her own admission, Gardner's life is a flurry of frenzied activity. And sometimes attending to all of those competing demands on her time and attention can be overwhelming. Gardner's younger daughter, now 18, is developmentally delayed and has special, time-consuming needs. Gardner shapes her life so that her mother is there for her. In a way, adhering to a training schedule that has her approaching 150 miles per week has become a rejuvenating activity for Gardner -- a safe haven away from the demands of everyday life and a daily place of solace, a place where she can reaffirm her strength to do it all.

And the ultra-races may prove to be the ultimate safe retreat, the place where she can shut out all of the noise and bring a simple and undistracted approach to a monumental challenge. "I don't care if its hour 8 or hour 12 or whatever, it doesn't matter. It's a relaxed pace and I'm just moving forward -- real simple. If a dog is eating all the chickens at home, if things are going crazy, there's nothing I can do about it, I'm in Poland or wherever. It is very, very simple. It's as simple as it could possibly be."

There is a shop-worn expression: show me a great distance runner, and I'll show you a person with anger management issues. Is anger at work here? For Gardner, it seems as if the process of training for and racing these incredible distances is able to unlock a special power from within that enhances her coping skills. "It's not like anger," asserts Gardner. "It's hard to focus, to balance things, to manage money, and things like that. So there are a lot of things in my life that are out of control. So when I am running, I think about all that running has given to me and I am able project myself into the race and the challenges of running 50K, 50 miles, 100K, 100 miles, or 24 hours. And a lot of times, if I have a really good race, I think to myself, 'I can do this.'"

Many would suspect that Gardner, in the afterglow of her American record at 24 hours, might adopt a more relaxed, reflective view on a career full of impressive accomplishments. They would be wrong. The new American record holder hears time's winged chariot hurrying near. "It's starting to be a panic now," confesses Gardner. "I want to run 150 in the 24 hour and I know I can. And time's running out. So I'm going crazy. I also feel confident at the 100 mile distance. If I win a 50 mile championship, I feel lucky. 50 miles is still too short. There are still good marathoners that I worry about all the time, that can hang with me for 40 miles in that kind of race."

Looking ahead, Gardner has ambitious goals -- goals that cover a broad span of racing distances. She notes unfinished business in the marathon. "I think I'm going to focus on the marathon as soon as I turn 50. So I've run 3:04 [10 years ago when she was 38]. But this year I've run a 3:08 in the middle of four 120 mile weeks. I want to break 3:00 when I'm 50."

Gardner's more immediate goals are intriguing: a 50-miler the third week in October, a 100-miler the following week; and then, 6 weeks later, a date with destiny: a 24 hour race on a track. "I really want to try to get the 24 in the mid-150 range," she outlines in all seriousness. "I know I am capable of 5 more miles. And that's why I'm not content right now."

But is this 48-year old American record holder capable of attaining contentment? What would take her there? "Mid 150's for a 24," she offers matter-of-factly. "I should be sub 20 hours for Western States 100."

In a rare reflective moment, Gardner concedes, "I think I am getting too old to do that [the 50 mile and 100k events]. But the 24 hour stuff, 100 mile stuff, the Spartathlon [the Greek 153 mile ultra run from Athens to Sparta] I think I could still be very good at those distances." And, with a wry smile, she can't resist adding, "Those are the kinds of things you can do when you get older."

"You see, it's the process along the way of trying to accomplish something," explains Gardner. "It's trying to get there, trying to fit the training runs in, trying to squeeze everything in, and balance everything." And with a smile, she adds, "And doing it on your own with my personality is very tricky." It may be tricky, but as her competitors in Poland can attest, Connie Gardner is America's best at taking it one day at a time.
 

 

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Start of the Akron Marathon, photo courtesy of AkRUN

 

 


 

From Akron to AkRUN: One Marathon's Journey
(Part 4 of a 4 Part Series):

 

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Akron Marathoners in pursuit of the goal, photo courtesy of AkRUN

We can't figure out if our journey to date has been a quick jaunt or an ultra marathon. On the one hand, it is hard to believe that next year will already witness the 10th running of the Akron Marathon. Yet, on the other hand, during our extended trek through our first decade, our city and our race leadership accomplished much: we hosted two international road race championships, staged one national women's championship road race, nearly missed landing the opportunity to host a U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, and grew our race day participant total from slightly over 3,500 to more than 14,000 in nine years.

Make no mistake, our race organizers are gratified with what's been accomplished to date. But we don't dwell on it. We are busy focusing on creating a great sporting event and gala celebration on September 29, 2012 - the 10th running of the Akron Marathon.

Helping to shape our efforts have been several economic impact studies which have been assembled by one of the heads of the Economics Department of the University of Akron. The recently-released study of the 2011 race reveals that the total spending impact of the race weekend in our region was a sparkling $5.25 million. While this is an impressive number for a mid-sized Midwestern city - Akron's population is approximately 210,000 - even more impressive is the fact that this statistic increased 30% from the prior year. Further, the sophisticated report - which employs a comprehensive calculation of direct and indirect spending - further noted that the race weekend stimulated the formation of nearly four dozen new full-time jobs in Akron. Hey, we're a "job creator"! Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this upbeat economic study serves as a welcomed validation of the city's decision to provide broad-based in-kind support for our organizational and race weekend efforts. Quite simply, the economic impact study provides irrefutable political cover for our mayor who believed in the event from its inception and was courageous enough to provide the type of extensive support that has helped make the Akron Marathon what it is today. The economic impact study proves the mayor's bold decision to provide city support was the right move.

So what is next? First of all, inspired by the encouraging economic impact study, we are working to expand the footprint of our event - both the days our event covers, as well as the sectors of greater Akron it touches. We are inspired by Louisville, Kentucky - a city where each May an entire week of exciting and varied events are borne out of a two-minute horse race! With our race traditionally run on Saturday morning and knowing how post-race marathoners love to party, we have plans in the works to create a multiple-sited Saturday evening musical celebration (think Memphis's Beale Street). Named with a nod to our 26 mile, 385 yard blue line, "Paint The Town Blue" can create an ideal venue for our runners - who have trained with disciplined focus for months - to engage in a little post-race revelry in the city that gave you Devo, Chrissie Hynde, and The Black Keys.

With a longer vision, we also want to lay the groundwork for identifying and partnering with a "sister marathon". For several years Akron has had a special reciprocal relationship with Chemnitz, Germany which has involved a certain degree of trade and cultural exchanges - and even some runner reciprocity. The concept of partnering with this or another city to exchange runners not only would help our event but also would add some spice to our partnering city and help the sport in general.

The Akron Marathon is working to develop a mutually-beneficial relationship with a major marathon under a type of "Gateway" program. The concept would be to work in tandem with a large sold-out marathon to encourage its turned-away applicants to run the Akron Marathon as a pathway for guaranteed entry to the participating major marathon the following year. Both marathons stand to gain through such partnering. A Gateway program - which can be made to be economically beneficial to both participating races - would reflect favorably on the major marathon. These mega-races - which annually disappoint tens of thousands of aspiring marathon participants when their applications are denied - could suddenly present a positive option: a top-flight alternative marathon opportunity and a guaranteed entry into the larger urban marathon the following year. Of course, a Gateway program would obviously help our up-and-coming marathon which is naturally seeking - and could easily accommodate - more runners. Providing an encouraging race alternative to dejected, would-be entrants who have been turned-away by the large urban marathons would help promote fitness, boost marathon participation, and generally be positive for the sport of running in the United States.

As the Akron Marathon grows each year, we continue to search for ways to make a stronger and more expanded positive impact - not limited merely to the sport of running. The Akron Marathon is committed to directing time and resources to promote an overall healthy lifestyle - one component of which would, of course, be the type of regular cardiovascular exercise that can be offered through sensible year-round running. No city marathon is better situated to embrace this healthy lifestyle component than Akron. Northeastern Ohio is the home of an inordinate number of highly-respected healthcare organizations, several of which have stellar international reputations. The willingness of these enlightened health care organizations to work together with the Akron Marathon (e.g. partnering to promote healthy lifestyles; to better address the obesity epidemic; etc.) becomes more evident every year - and the perceived upside impact of such collaboration has the potential to be truly significant.

Civic philanthropy has to be an ever-increasing element of the Akron Marathon as we head into our second decade. Aided by the generosity of others during our earlier years, the Akron Marathon is committed to honor this past support by paying it forward. While the economic growth of the race is still in its infancy, the Akron Marathon Charitable Corporation - the nonprofit corporation which runs the organization - has been able annually to dedicate revenues for charitable purposes. And it is committed to increase its civic philanthropy yearly.

While the economic recovery of our country has been and will continue to be a long slog, there are detectible indications of modest economic improvement - even in our manufacturing-laden region. This encourages and inspires us to find effective ways to resume collaboration with USA Track & Field in hosting future national road racing events.

The recognition of all of these opportunities that surround us invigorates our race leadership team and makes it easy for us to sidestep any tendency toward complacency. We often conclude our planning meetings with the hopeful remark "We're getting there". But in reality, and in our heart of hearts, we know that there is no "there" there. With each accomplishment, our eyes are opened to even more we could - and should - be doing. It reminds me of one of my favorite running posters - a solitary runner knocking out miles on a desolate highway in the deserts of southern Utah. The poster caption reads "There is no finish line". That's alright. It's not about the destination. It's about the journey.  

RunBlogRun Some photographs on this site have been reproduced with permission from runblogrun.com.