April 17, 2015
BOSTON — The Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel played host to some of the top domestic and international marathoners today at the John Hancock Elite Athlete Team Media Conference. The Venetian Room was buzzing with excitement with the marathon just three days away and LetsRun.com is on site to provide coverage all the way through Marathon Monday. Below, we share what we learned from chatting with the men’s pro athletes and their agents.
1) There’s a mysterious American Olympian that we weren’t familiar with
First a little humor/horror. As John Hancock executive vice president James Gallagher introduced the professional athlete fields, he listed off several names that anyone in the running world would be intimately familiar: Meb, Shalane…Duhthon (pronounced DUH-thon)? Who?
It took Rojo a second to realize he was talking about Dathan Ritzenhein. This was no Boston accent taking over but Gallagher butchering Dathan’s name. It was pretty bad.
Memo to those in charge of PR, don’t refer to people using their first-names only to try to create a sense of intimacy when you don’t know their names – it comes across as totally fake. But trying to pronounce Ritzenhein might be even harder if you didn’t know how it was pronounced.
2) You can ignore everything we write below (well at least about the Africans).
We included this in our women’s press recap as well. So you can skip it if you’ve already read it. Just before we left the press conference to try to grab some lunch (we ended up going to Freshii – we don’t recommend it. It’s like an overpriced version of Chipotle), we caught up with coach Gabriele Nicola of Italy, who coaches top women’s stars Aberu Kebede and Shure Demise Ware of Ethiopia and Sharon Cherop of Kenya. Nicola said that two-time Berlin and one-time Tokyo champ Kebede “is ready” but admitted he was worried about how she’d do in a non-rabbitted race.
We then interrupted and told Nicola that we had interviewed Kebede and asked her if she preferred a rabbit or no and she said she preferred to run her own race.
He replied, “A Kenyan or Ethiopian will never tell you their weakness,” said Nicola who claimed it was just part of their culture.
So just because below you’ll see that nearly all of the top African stars were very upbeat, claiming to be in great shape, that may not necessarily mean much.
3) There’s reason to believe Zersenay Tadese might finally have figured out the marathon
Tadese, who has run the two fastest half marathons in history (58:23 and 58:31), hasn’t enjoyed the same success over the full 26.2-mile distance as he’s run four marathons (All-Athletics.com lists three but his manager told us he had done four) with a best performance of 2:10:41 for 14th in London in 2012.
Heading into Boston, he feels more prepared than in any of his previous marathons as he’s bumped up his mileage and spent time training at altitude (7,600 feet) in the Eritrean capital of Asmara.
His manager explained that they’re hoping to avoid some of the mistakes and misfortune that have afflicted Tadese in previous marathons. In his first two marathons (London 2010 and 2012), he had fueling problems as he didn’t take his own drink at the water stops; at his third marathon, he was in bed with a high fever the week before and in his most recent attempt (a DNF in Chicago in 2013), he was bothered with stomach problems because of something he ate the night before. Marathons rarely go perfectly, but assuming Tadese can avoid misfortune in Boston, he’ll have no excuses this time around.
Still, Tadese acknowledged that his gaudy half marathon times don’t guarantee success in the marathon — an event which will be his focus at the 2016 Olympics.
“There’s a big difference in the preparation between the half marathon and the marathon,” Tadese said through his manager. “The marathon is [harder] than the half marathon.”
His manager added that the reason Tadese chose Boston was that he is a good cross country runner (four World XC medals including gold in ‘07) and that he feels the Boston course favors runners who are good at cross country — something we’ve always agreed with.
4) Patrick Makau seems ready for his Boston debut
Former world record holder Makau has never run Boston before, but he’s familiarized himself with the course over the past few days and says that his hilly training base in Kenya mimics the up-and-down Boston layout. The key word Makau stressed was patience. He said dealing with injuries in 2013 and 2014 (he told us it was his Achilles; some reports have mentioned knee issues as well) was very frustrating as he was unable to go out and run every day but now that he’s back (he won Fukuoka in the fall in 2:08:22), he’s not going to rush into things on race day. Makau said his plan is to run his own race and be patient — a measured approach that you don’t always see from a 2:03 guy, but a prudent one given the tricky nature of the Boston course.
We asked Makau how his fitness compares to when he set the world record of 2:03:38 in Berlin four years ago, and while he said he wasn’t in that kind of shape, he still believes he is quite fit.
5) Dathan Ritzenhein is taking advice from a pair of Michigan guys who have found success in Boston
Ritzenhein was clearly very happy to be running his first marathon since October 2013. He has relied on two fellow Michigan residents, Greg Meyer and high school teammate Jason Hartmann, for advice during his Boston buildup. Meyer won the race in 1983 (the last American to do so before Meb) and Hartmann was fourth in 2012 and 2013. Ritz looked through Meyer’s running logs during his ’83 buildup, while Hartmann ran with him several times, including during his last 20-miler before the race. Their main advice centered on the course:
“Jason told me you’ve gotta have something in your legs at the top of Heartbreak Hill,” Ritzehnehin said. He also added that Meyer recommended that he try to keep some speed in his legs (Ritzenhein has a quick 12:56 5,000 PR) in order to take advantage of the downhills. With that in mind, Ritz incorporated some indoor track workouts earlier this winter as part of his buildup, though he’s relaxed on that front over the past five weeks.
In terms of fitness, Ritz said he feels similar to how he did prior to the 2008 Olympic marathon (where he was 9th in 2:11:59) and the 2009 London Marathon (10th in 2:10:00). A foot injury after last month’s NYC Half caused him to take a few days off but that injury is doing better now and won’t prevent him from getting on the line on Monday.
We asked him about the Sunday Times report about Ritzenhein receiving injections of the substance L-carnitine during his time with Alberto Salazar in the Nike Oregon Project. Ritzenhein said that he hadn’t done anything wrong and that he had nothing to hide.
“I’ve always been forthcoming,” Ritzenhein said. “I’ve been completely cooperative in any way I can…That report unfortunately came out. It ended up being some bad information…it didn’t follow up before hand as well as they could have and tried to get the story out sooner than having all the information.”
As we wrote last month, it doesn’t appear that Ritzenhein’s use of L-carnitine broke any rules.
6) Matt Tegenkamp wanted to run Boston before he retired and felt that this was the right time
Tegenkamp’s initial plan had been to do a full 16-week buildup but no spring marathon, but that changed on March 10 when John Hancock announced that him as a late addition to the Boston field.
“It’s the way I’ve always approached my career: get myself into shape, know where I’m at fitness-wise and then we’ll look at how we want to line up the race plan,” Tegenkamp said.
Tegenkamp said that he would have been fine going into next year’s Olympic Marathon Trials (his main focus) without a marathon in 2015 (his last one was in Chicago in October 2013) but that, at age 33, he viewed this as possibly his best opportunity to run the historic race.
“Boston’s always been in the back of my mind as a race that I need before I’m done competing,” Tegenkamp said. “I don’t know how many more races I have left…and knowing the way the cycle comes up with the Olympic Trials and how it messes up the fall marathons and the spring marathons next year…”
Tegenkamp, a two-time Olympian on the track who has run 12:58 and was fourth in the 5,000 at Worlds in 2007, said that his training has been a lot different under coach Jerry Schumacher as he prepares for the 26.2-mile distance. Tegenkamp misses the intensity of running 60-to-62 second pace during workouts as he now has to focus for much longer. He does two hours of work in many of his workouts and said that often the hardest portion of the workout doesn’t come until the very end, so he’s had to work on staying focused and patient for a long time, which can be difficult.
Fortunately, he wasn’t alone for many of his workouts as he had been training with Andrew Bumbalough through the NYC Half last month (Tegenkamp didn’t finish after making it 10 miles due to a calf injury; he says the calf is fine and he isn’t worried about it affecting his marathon).
7) Some quick-hitting points on nearly everyone else so you can dominate your Boston office pool
Wilson Chebet said that everyone in the field last year learned a lesson after Keflezighi’s breakaway victory, adding that “if [the pack] were together, maybe the winner would [have been] someone else.” One year later, he’s put last year’s runner-up finish behind him: “I just accept it. I tried my best.” Chebet feels fit and thinks it will take 2:06-2:07 to win on Monday assuming the weather is nice (the current forecast calls for 50 degrees and rain). “My goal for Monday is to run something I think everybody will be proud of,” Chebet said. Does that mean winning, we asked? “Maybe,” Chebet said, with a laugh and a broad smile that suggested a “yes.”…We also asked Chebet about his thoughts on Athletics Kenya’s decision to ban the Volare Sports and Rosa Associati sports agencies from Kenya. “I cannot say anything so far. Maybe [once I hear] what was the reason, who were the athletes, who was doping.”…Lelisa Desisa was one of our favorites in the preview. After speaking to him, we still really like his chances. He said Dubai (2:05:52 for 2nd in January) did not go as well as he wanted because he tried to run a world record when he wasn’t in that shape. When we asked him who he feared this weekend he said no one. He came across as confident. When asked about Meb last year running away from the pack Desisa said that they didn’t think Meb would be able to continue like that and that he would stop or come back to them…Frankline Chepkwony said he “might win” on you might not think a 30 year old 2:06 guy will win but Chepkwony didn’t start competing until 2011…Bernard Kiypego is another guy who said he thought he could win. He ran only 64:17 for 6th at Egmond aan Zee (NED) Half Marathon on January 11, but noted it was very windy in that race and the winning time was only in the 63s. Kipyego trains with both Emmanuel Mutai and Eliud Kipchoge who are running London next Sunday and we tried to get him to tell us who is in better shape. He wouldn’t pick between them and said measuring shape in training is hard….American Fernando Cabada is another guy in really good shape. He said he’s in “uncharted territory” and “he’s never felt this good.” He feels people have forgotten about him. A good performance on Monday will make them remember…Nick Arciniaga said that his training has been going great and that he’s hopeful he can finish in the top five on Monday. He’s really been focusing on hill training recently as the Newton Hills is where he fell off during last year’s race. Arciniaga is certainly a contender for the U.S. Olympic team right now and wouldn’t need to make a huge jump to secure a spot next year. But he still wants to make that jump — a tough one, he admitted — from a guy who can finish in the top 10 at major marathons (he was 7th in Boston last year and 8th in New York) to a guy who is finishing in the top five or on the podium. “Top five would be the next step in my career to kind of define myself as a runner.”…Jeffrey Eggleston is self-coached but he tries to talk to as many people as possible at big races such as this to continue to refine his training. He said that in the past year, his focus has been on specificity — not running faster paces during workouts, but hitting those pacers for a longer time or more reps….We caught up with Ben True (running the B.A.A. 5K tomorrow) and he mentioned that he spent time training at altitude this winter in Boulder to prepare for the U.S. and World Cross Country Championships. However, True said that he had problems adjusting his workouts to altitude and managing his easy/hard days (he likes to go very hard on his hard days but didn’t know quite how hard to go because of the altitude) and as a result he struggled (he was only 11th at USA XC after finishing 6th at World XC in 2013). True is currently undecided about whether he’ll run the 5,000 or the 10,000 at Payton Jordan on May 2. He mentioned that he’s struggled with the 10,000 since making his debut in 2011 and that “5k is definitely my focus right now” but that he still believes he’s capable of a good performance over 25 laps.
Interview with defending champ Meb Keflezighi
Meb was the man last year and nothing can rival his American victory. But everyone else is writing about Meb so we don’t have to write too much. Check out: John Powers: “A year later, Meb Keflezighi’s Boston Marathon victory still inspiring” and Boston Marathon champ Meb Keflezighi talks tech, training
Interview with Nick Arciniaga
Interview with Jeffrey Eggleston
Interview with Ben True