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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

58:23 Half marathon world record

Tadese runs 58:23 to break Wanjiru's world record

The big running news of the weekend was that Zersenay Tadese, the Eritrean former World Cross-country champion and multiple world half-marathon champion, delivered on his promise to break the half-marathon world record in Lisbon.

His time, an amazing 58:23, breaks the old mark of Sammy Wanjiru, the undisputed number 1 marathon racer in the world and sets up what should be a great showdown in London in just over a month (assuming Tadese goes ahead and races it, as he has suggested).

The London Marathon will also be a chance for some redemption for Tadese - he made his debut there, to much hype as the next big thing in the marathon, but he failed badly, dropping off the lead group early and failing to finish.  There is of course no guarantee that a super-fast half-marathon predicts a great marathon, and if anything, there may be concerns that he's too fast at this stage.  With a month to go, Sammy Wanjiru last year ran a mid-61 minute half-marathon and then dominated the Chicago Marathon.  So for Tadese to maintain the form he clearly has in Lisbon will be a huge challenge, and one of the fascinating sub-plots of the 25th April race, which promises to be one of the greatest ever. 

Tadese's times - solo effort of 27:40s for 10km

To put Tadese's performance into perspective, he reached 10km in 27:53, shedding the pacemakers at the ninth kilometer.  He then sped up to run the next 5km in 13:40 (15 km time of 41:33).  The next 5km split in 13:48 gave him a world record of 55:21 at 20km (30 seconds faster than Gebrselassie's old mark).  He brought the final 1.1km home in just under 3 minutes to eclipse Wanjiru's 3-year old record.

It was an amazing performance, for its consistency of pacing, and the fact that he ran it alone for the final 12 km.  Tadese has always been a favourite of mine, and he got some air-time back in 2008 when a scientific paper published his running economy - it was reported as 150 ml/kg/min, which is the lowest ever reported.  There were some theoretical problems with that paper, but the implication was clear - he'd be a fearsome runner over the roads. 

His track pedigree wasn't poor, of course - a few silver medals over 10,000m in some magnificent races against Bekele, who he really pushed to the limit on a few occasions.  But his territory always seemed to be the roads - absolutely dominant at the half marathon world championships, his future was always likely to come in the marathon.  And now, with this performance, all eyes will be on his return to the longer distance in London, and possibly beyond.  He is without doubt a potential world record holder, perhaps the next man to break 2:04.  With the kind of front-running he delivered in Lisbon, and the known front-running capabilities of Wanjiru (think Beijing, London and Chicago), a fast time in London seems assured. 

Gebrselassie bails in New York

Other racing news of the weekend is that Haile Gebrselassie was handed a rare defeat in New York, during the NYC half-marathon.  The world record holder over the marathon had already lost one record (20km, to Tadese), and just before 15km, he pulled up while in the joint lead with Peter Kamais, holding his chest.  He started again, but then stopped for good, checked into the medical tent and returned to the hotel.  In his absence, Kamais went on to win in a respectable 59:53.

There's a lot of chat about this on the running forums of the world, which is invited by Gebrselassie's approach to his running these days.  Very selective and very focused on times, which has meant that he hasn't raced the likes of Lel, Wanjiru, Kebede at the marathon.  Frustration and desire to see this race, particularly when Gebrselassie himself talks about the value of the Olympic Gold medal having pulled out of the Beijing Marathon and then breaking the world record a month later, leaves many feeling "cheated".  As a result, when he does enter a "race" (a debatable term for the NYC half-marathon - Kamais ran well, but it was expected to be a procession for Geb), and loses, it only re-inforces the perception that Gebrselassie is now a clock-runner, and unable to compete in a race.

I think that's a little harsh, because for a decade he was the greatest runner in the world.  And part of me accepts that he's earned the right to earn big money racing the clock in races of his choice.  However, I can't help but notice that he has never raced head to head against a top-ranked marathon runner and won, with the possible exception of Duncan Kibet last year, who was just poor.  Geb's marathon wins have all been clock efforts, his failures coming in London, with the strongest field by a long way.

Also, I must confess I'm tired of excuses from Geb after every failed attempt.  In London a few years ago, he missed a water station.  Then a year later, it was because the rain had made the cobbles slippery.  Then it was too cold, or too hot.  And it's always windy.  Beijing was too polluted, and the bed was uncomfortable in Dubai earlier this year, causing him to sleep badly.  Now, in New York, the lead vehicle kicked up too much dust, making the air difficult to breathe.  Geb may well have asthma, granted, but sometimes you're just not good that day.  One excuse after the other for Gebrselassie in the last few years and it's all becoming a little tired.

In any event, let's see what unfolds over the next month - Paris kicks off the Majors on April 11th, followed by Boston and then London, and we'll be covering it all for you!



Oliver said...

Great stuff from one of my favourite runners. Hope he hasn't peaked too early because I keep punting him as the next big thing.

Let me take the opportunity to segue this into the previous posts on barefoot debate. My apologies in advance for 'sticking it in' to the others.

My contention (even as a scientist myself) has always been that science will never get the right answers nor persuade the camps in this debate.
However, whilst currently the fastest are running faster than everybody else with clad feet- and as can be clearly seen on the videos they do not forefoot strike either- it is up to the barefoot proponents to present an argument or show results of where barefoot is faster, more efficient, and at such speeds less impact or injury prone.

While runners are earning big $$$ for going faster (not too mention medals at champs) surely the competition is of such a nature that they will follow the example of others if they get beaten/injured.

As much as science can tell you one thing or the other, getting beaten by barefoot runners (signifigantly and continuously btw) will be the only thing that persuades these guys to also adopt barefeet.

Yet that is not happenning. The most efficient and fastest over HM is just one example of many who run with shoes.

...and if the barefeet proponents are indeed correct, then by implication this record and others are cureently 'soft' and ought to get smashed by these guys running barefeet.

So why isn't that happenning right now? Why isn't someone on the next rung down taking off his shoes in order to claim the prizemoney and medals?

Or are they saying that this is some collective bargaining arrangement conspired by the shoe companies? ;-)

. said...

Very impressive 21km race. Here is a video from the portuguese television: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5tcgpHIaw0 According to my own calculations, the equivalent VDOT is 84.6 mlO2/kg/min.

Nate Leckband said...

I think Geb just needs to make one big blanket excuse and leave it at that:

I'm getting old and to run a good race I need perfect, I mean absolutely perfect conditions.

Then he won't need a new one each time he doesn't perform up to expectations.

Unknown said...

I'm interested in why you made this statement:
"As a result, when he does enter a "race" (a debatable term for the NYC half-marathon - "
People raced hard there on Sunday. 8 miles in the park is really tough, the last five are flat and if you watched the women's race, it was spectacular over the last few miles. Is it because of an appearance fee? I am sure many pro's get paid to show up at a multitude of races.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Jen G

I'm sorry, but you've lost me there... I'm not sure what my quote about entering the race has to do with the quality of racing or there being an appearance fee?

Sorry I'm not understanding...


Blog Of Sport said...

58:23? Great new world record! Marathon will more faster in future

Ben Nephew said...

I think blaming Geb for not racing other top runners is quite humorous. At this point of his career, and considering his numberous non-running interests, he can choose to run whatever races he wants. It seems clear that he invests a lot of his earning into the Ethiopian economy. Shame on him for picking races that offer the most money! For my next job, I am going to suggest that they give me a low salary.

At the end of the day, races are responsible for selecting fields. If he has this mysterious oontract that prohibits other runners from entering, then races don't have to sign if they want to invite other top runners. I haven't actually seen proof of this type of contract, but it seems to be a popular rumour. Blame the races for selective fields, not the runners.

If I was a top runner, even Wanjiru, I would take a pay cut to race Geb if that is what it took.

Are you actually implying that a race through Central Park that ended up with 3 guys under 1:01 was a weak field?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Ben

Unfortunately, the economics of races don't work that way. The clause in the contract is true in Berlin, according to those within the World Marathon Majors. Perhaps they are lying to me, I doubt it.

But to explain the business of running (and sport), the sponsors will exert considerable influence over how their money is spent, and the race organizers have limited scope to invite other runners or change clauses as you suggest, depending on their desired focus for the race.

But what you're missing is that the publicity of a world record is a huge attraction, so a race will look at sign up the athlete who will deliver it. if that athlete wishes for only pace-makers, and wants to limit other athletes from taking part, then the race will consent provided their initial objective of attacking the record is met.

The race hangs much of its appeal - to sponsors, fans, other runners - on this one athlete, in many instances. I was on the organizing committee of a good few international sports events, and for example, we brought Manchester United out to SA a few years ago, and one of the key things for sponsors was the presence of Wayne Rooney. His absence would have greatly reduced event value, and so it is with someone like Gebrselassie. This is particularly true in Berlin, where Gebrselassie is both the face of adidas and Berlin, and adidas is a main sponsor of the race. It's a perfect marriage for sponsorship, providing loads of leverage opportunities.

Anyway, the point is that you're misunderstanding where the bargaining power lies, and you seem to think that the races want to invite other runners. That's incorrect - the races may want a world record, or a top race (like London), but not necessarily both.

And yes, I am implying that the race was weak, because Geb is a minute faster than 61 min, even below his best. So just as the guy who comes 20th in the World half marathon champs doesn't get a mention, even though he runs 61 minutes. One minute is the difference between good national and good international, with another minute to world-class international. Geb took on a good national field in NY, with one good international athlete in Kamais.

Finally, if you wish to request a lower salary next time you change jobs, go for it. That's an irrelevant analogy.


Andrew said...

I wonder if Tadese's good economy comes from his good side to side weight shift. It can be seen on the straight on views of his form (see O Primitivo's link of race).

In cross country skiing, a technique tip that is often offered is to use good or "complete" weight shift from ski to ski, or, saying it another way, to have all your weight on the ski that you are kicking or pushing off of. If you don't have good weight transfer from side to side, your kick is much weaker.

Tadese clearly has exceptional (exagerrated compared to other runners) side to side weight shift that seems to allow a stronger leg push. I was thinking about this the other day after coming across your entry on Tadese's running economy and then watching his Mombasa World XC victory on youtube.

My own natural stride is basically the opposite in that aspect - no (or minimal?) side to side torso movement. I've always had a high cadence, but not much leg push force. Yesterday, I experimented with using side to side weight shift in my running, and I did get a noticeably stronger push off force. I'm not sure if I should work this into my form yet, though. I'm feeling the extra stress on the lower legs and achilles.


Alan Sleath said...

I find it strange that Geb would make excuses.If he is a clock runner then why havent the others adapted the same attitude and beat his time.

Anonymous said...

Ross, are you Geb's paymaster? If not, perhaps you should consider that he has the right to run his races (or not) however he sees fit. I fail to see how unfounded criticisms count as "science of sport". Such comments do not speak highly of either your intelligence or your character. Maybe you should be the one offering excuses, to that part of your readership offended by this fondness for petty criticism?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To anonymous

Are you serious? You show up here insulting my intelligence and character because of an opinion on a person's running career? On a website that exists precisely to look at sports news and interpret it, with a bias towards opinion.

You're joking, right?

You're more than welcome not to visit the site, more than welcome to your opinion on Geb's racing. In fact, I'd welcome your opinion. But your righteousness is not welcome here. So rather don't visit again, lest you are offended by debate.


Thom said...

To the last anonymous poster:

What a dreadful personal attack you make? Are you Gebrselassie himself? Because you react so personally that I thought at first that you might be.

Please note that Ross wrote in his post that Geb is perfectly entitled to run for times if he pleases. SO he agrees with your starting position, which makes your post even more bizarre.

However, what you seem to be missing is that Ross is entitled to express an opinion on his own site which is backed up by reasoning and arguments. You disagree with the opinion, which is fine, but you've shown no ability (or desire) to express your own thoughts in a non-personal, offensive manner. Shame.

In case you've failed to notice, the debate about Geb's racing is a widespread one, and the opinion on this site is not isolated. You should consider being a troll on all those other sites as well.

This site is great precisely because of its opinionated nature. I may not agree with all of what Ross says, but he has plenty of logical reasoning behind it. All the time. You don't, only insults.

Rather spare us all.

The runs said...


I am a fan of Geb, and disagree with much of the criticism leveled at him for "time trialing", and supposedly "dodging" other Elites. Having said that, people are entitled to their opinion. I didn't think Ross was out-of-line, but anonymous certainly WAS.

I am on the fence about Geb's "excuses". I was in Berlin for the marathon, met Geb before tha race and heard him speak afterward. In person his "excuses" sounded like an apology to the fans for not running better.

I sometimes wonder if cultural differences and operating in a second or third language sometimes puts a different spin on these things. If you hear a German, a Canadian and an American talk about their result you often get very different approaches and your impression is coloured by your own background. Is the Canadian wishy-washy, the German emotionless, the American cocky?

Maybe Geb IS making excuses, maybe he wants a few more big pay days by holding out hope he can still set the road on fire: who knows? I'm still hoping old Lion has a few more great races in him before the new generation takes the limelight.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi The Runs

Thanks for the viewpoint - it's a welcome change in direction of the debate!

Agreed on the language issue. Here in SA, we have an annual race that is dominated by the Africans from Zimbabwe in particular, and every year, the post-race interview gets lost in translation. It's always an "easy race", for example. Could always have gone much faster, which is of course rarely true, but that's what comes out.

So I certainly take your point about the language, it's a good one.


Anonymous said...

I coach a runner who trained and raced with Tadese back in Eritrea (they were from the same region). Apparently he came along in leaps and bounds in his first year or so of running after being persuaded to change sports from cycling.