Important Numbers

By David Yon


19.32, 30.85, 43.18. 200, 300, 400. Those are Michael Johnson’s numbers. Two world records and one world best. The 300 world best (30.85), run in Pretoria on March 24, was the first world best ever run on African soil. According to one video analysis reported in Track and Field News, he ran the curve 100 in 9.43 seconds. With all of the great runners and world record holders to come from that continent, it seems incredible that this would be the first best run on African soil. I watched his 19.32 two hundred meter record live in Atlanta. Truly the most remarkable and electrifying athletic performance I have ever seen. He is a man possessed as he heads for another 200/400 double at the Olympics in Sydney. He believes he can take the 400 record down under 43 seconds. Maurice Green, the gold medallist at the World Championships and world record holder at 100 meters is one major obstacle to overcome for a repeat. Michael has already run 19.71 and 43.91 this year. And it is very early.

15:35/32:30. 15:29.55/32:11. GWTC member Breeda Dennehy-Willis blew away the Olympic “A” standard in the 5K and 10K. The first set of numbers are the standards, the second are the numbers she ran at the Mt. Sac Relays 5K in California and the European 10,000 Meter Challenge in Lisbon, Portugal. That gives her the tenth and nineteenth fastest times in the world in each event. It also opens the door to six potential Olympic spots on the Irish team for her. While it is a long way until the final selection, Sonia O’Sullivan is the only Irish runner running faster times right now. Her next big test will be the 5,000 in the Oregon Invitational on May 13.

Thirty-three. I saw a note somewhere that on April 4, Bob Ray, 63, completed his 33rd straight year without missing a single day of running. I don’t know Bob Ray, but I am impressed. For the record, my longest streak is about one and half years.

Six. The number of runners involved in the closest Boston finishes in history and the number of times I have run this great race. This year’s race saw three men and three women battling on Boylston Street, all within striking distance of each other at the finish. Three seconds separated the top three men and sixteen seconds spaced the top three women. The top two men were given the same time. Elijah Lagat, Gezahenge Abera and Moses Tanui broke away from a pack of runners around the 35K mark and ran together past the Citgo sign, a Boston landmark that that tells tired bodies they only have one mile to go. Led by Tanui, they pounded out a 4:37 split between mile 21-22. Past the Citgo sign, they turned off of Commonwealth onto Hereford Street still together and then made the final turn onto Boylston Street. Now, Kenyans and Ethiopians think of each other about the same as Seminoles and Gators do. So there was far more at stake at the end of this race than just personal pride. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and arguing over who should lead in the strong headwind. Tanui led for awhile, but Elijah somehow found himself the pacemaker and windbreaker for the last two miles. That of course is supposed to be a sure way to lose. Moses Tanui is the one of the gods of Kenyan running, experienced and a two-time winner of Boston (1996 and 1998). The 33 year old former 10,000 Olympic silver medallist was the first to break for the tape taking the lead with about 400 meters to go. He seemed to have made the winning move, when suddenly Elijah Lagat began a comeback. Wow! He powered past Tanui with Abera in tow with 100 meters to go. His move gave him the lead, but Abera was not done and as they reached the finish line the gap between them disappeared. At the end it was difficult to tell for sure who had won, but Elijah earned the $80,000 for first place.

Fatuma Roba was seeking to become the first runner ever to win four straight Boston titles. A group of 5 or 6 women ran together through the 90 minute mark when Fatuma made a break away move. No one went with her right away, but Catherine Ndereba followed at a distance, not pulling even until the just before 21 or 22 miles. From then on it was a two-person race, or so it seemed. Out of sight of the cameras, Irina Bogachova from Kyrgyzstan hung on. Roba and Ndereba matched strides past the infamous Citgo sign and around the Commonwealth and Hereford turns. All of a sudden, Bogachova appeared in the very back of the television pictures. She seemed to be running a 10K while the leaders were obviously suffering the effects of having run almost twenty-six miles. On Boylston Street, Ndereba began to pull away from Roba. Meanwhile the woman from Kyrgyzstan was closing quickly. Bogachova could not catch the leader, but as Roba hesitated just a second before crossing the finish line, she went by her to claim second place. The hesitation cost Roba $18,000 in prize money.

Boston is my favorite race. It was the third (first non-Tallahassee) marathon I ran. It took all I could do to meet the qualifying time that year – 2:50. I spent a lot of time reading about the history of a race that has now been run over 100 times. If you watched the TV coverage when they were showing the men go through Wellesley you got a taste of what makes this race so special. Could you hear the screams when the announcers were quiet, allowing viewers to just listen? I will tell you the absolute best running experience I have had is running by Wellesley College during the marathon. It is located at approximately the half way point and the reception is truly amazing. The first year I ran Boston (1986) there were no fences up and the women crowded onto the road and formed a tunnel, as they had done for many years. The runners, at least when I went through, had to go though the tunnel single file. They women were screaming so loud it was deafening, and they reached out to touch you, patting you on the back as you went through. The chill bumps ran from head to foot. You could hear the high pitched roar at least a half-mile away and it just got louder as you got closer. In 1998, I ran 18 miles or so of the race with Jane Johnson. We ran through Wellesley together. The women just went nuts when she came through. Jane ran down right next to the fence clapping hands and giving high fives. I moved away a little where I could just watch. After we had passed the college, I looked over and she had tears streaming down her cheeks. Wellesley is just one reason why Boston is my favorite race.

3:04:28. That was my time in the just completed Big Sur International Marathon. If there is a race to rival Boston for me, this might be it. Let me assure you this race is not about running fast; that time is one of my slowest. Big Sur offers something much more enchanting than fast times. It is 130 miles south of San Francisco and runs on highway one right along the Pacific coast, a magnificent landscape for a marathon. It is tough – there is a two-mile climb up to Hurricane Point – but it is well worth the effort. It is well organized, not overcrowded and the views are breathtaking. It has history and character. The trophies are cows playing a cello, definitely a keeper. There is a grand piano at the top of Hurricane Point, Taiko Drummers at the start of the climb, and lots of other music along the course. It is the first marathon I have ever seen with a list of musicians for the course, something like 18 different groups, printed in the program. You won’t run fast on this course but you will be glad you did it. Here is the message from the chairman of the board to the runners. I think it sums it up well.

Here is our personal request to all participating in the 15th Big Sur International Marathon. On race day, please don’t forget that Big Sur is less about speed and more about enjoying your experience. Take time to savor the 26.2 miles of coastal splendor. Make it a point to see the wild flowers and listen to the music along the course. Discover the open spaces that have been preserved for your enjoyment and take a few pictures along the way. Thank a volunteer. Stop for a moment at the summit of Hurricane Point and take a long look south. Acknowledge your achievement. Ultimately, this is your race. You have prepared for this day and when the race begins you will be ready. We, too, have prepared for this day and look forward to making BSIM 2000 a memorable event for all.

Boy did they ever do just that! And what great advice that is for all of us whatever we are doing! Greetings and best wishes from the Spider Web.