Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

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We published The Runner's Body in May 2009. With an average 4.4/5 stars on Amazon.com, it has been receiving positive reviews from runners and non-runners alike.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Happy 3rd Birthday to us!

The Science of Sport turns three

Well, all we can say is time sure does fly when you are having fun, because it hardly seems like three long years ago that we did our very first post.  But indeed here we are, three years later, officially on 28 April.  So let's take a short and fun look back and also ahead for The Science of Sport!

Growth of readership

We have to begin by thanking you, the readers, for the best birthday present of all if you run a site like this---readers!  In the beginning only our own visits accounted for our hits, until we found out we could disable the counting of our own IP addresses as hits. . .after which of course we saw a plunge in daily and monthly visitors!  But more and more of you come to the site each day, some just passing thru but others discovering our archives and becoming loyal followers.  It was last year in August that, thanks to the incredible interest in the Caster Semenya saga, we passed 1,000,000 visitors, a milestone in our growth.  And now in 2010 we are on track to make it to 2,000,000 before the year ends, and we can promise another big thank you when we hit that mark, too.

The evolution of the site

For those readers who have been with us for the better part of the past three years, you will have seen the changes.  Initially it was scienceofsport.blogspot.com. . .with a basic Blogger template and design.  What can we say---the price was right!  But as we grow and mature as a site and brand we also try to enhance the layout in a parallel fashion, and since then we have tweaked and fiddled, learning as we go about HTML and others techie issues, eventually arriving at the design you see today with the tabs at the top and the columns down either side.  Eventually we added the "Donate" button you see in the top right corner of the site.  It was a tough decision for us, believe it or not, but many of you have clicked and in fact ponied up small and large sums to show your support---something we are forever grateful for because it is these donations that eventually will help us invest in and enhance the site.

So far we have been able to keep up, although perhaps we are reaching the limits of what we can deliver given our large---and vocal and intelligent---audience.  Needless to say, then, that currently we are investigating changes to the site.  Fear not, dear readers---the content stays the same, but we hope to make changes that will only enhance interaction and the experience you have when you decide to click and visit us.

"Voting" on the world wide web

Another area we have seen grow over time is our Google Page rank, which some of you might know is determined by a complex algorithm of how and which sites link back to this one, with each link counting as a "vote" of varying importance according to the site making the "vote" (link).  It goes without saying that we started at 0/10, but currently we are quite proud of our 6/10 ranking, which placed us firmly on the level with other well known sports sites such as Letsrun.com (5/10), Runnersworld.com (7/10), and Cyclingnews.com (7/10).

Again, this is in no small part due to you, our readers, and wide and diverse nature of the audience, who help make the site what it is.   Because had this never gone beyond our own clicks and visits, had there not been a growing audience out there for our musings and analysis and writing, we would have quietly slipped into obscurity and would have been spending our free time on some other endeavour!

One final note---a present of sorts also arrived for us earlier this week, this time in the form of making the Top 50 Doctoral and PhD Blogs in the Medical Field.

Our fourth year - What to expect?

Looking ahead in sports this year, the Athletics season will be heating up with much anticipated performances from the likes of Usain Bolt and others. . .the Tour de France will keep us busy in July, and then the Fall marathon season will include our acclaimed real time and post-race analysis of Berlin, Chicago, and New York.  On the marathon note, Gebrselassie has mentioned he thinks he can lower his WR, and that he might run in Chicago this year.  Of course October is a long way off, and signatures still have to be inked, but Chicago has been proven to be a course worthy of a WR, and although Geb talks a good talk, most of the time his intention is to deliver on that talk.

So it will be more of the same, to be sure, but thanks to our readers for an amazing third year!


Sunday, April 25, 2010

London 2010 Live post

London 2010 - splits and comments

Kebede and Shobukhova win as other favourites struggle

Tsegay Kebede of Ethiopia has gone one better than in 2009, and has won the 2010 London Marathon in 2:05:19.  The race was unlike London Marathons in recent memories, because it didn't come down to a big group of men with 5km to go.  Instead, the damage was done soon after halfway, when a 5km split of 14:26 split the elite group wide open.

This surge accounted for Sammy Wanjiru, Duncan Kibet and Zersenay Tadese, three of the big, big favourites in the race.  They were blown right out of the group.  Instead, it was Emmanuel Mutai, Abel Kirui, Jaouad Gharib and Tsegay Kebede who emerged at the front.  The next 5km, from 25km to 30km, was covered in 14:27, giving the elite men a split of 28:53 between 20km and 30km.

That is of course a fierce pace, but it was surprising that the elite field was so fragmented by this pace.  Certainly, Tadese, Wanjiru and Kibet have the capacity to run the pace, but today were simply outclassed.  It's not even as though they hung onto it for a short time, they were completely shot out the back of the group.

Kebede, on the other hand, thrived, and he covered the 21st mile in 4:33, which accounted for the brave efforts of Abel Kirui.  From that point on, Kebede was unchallenged, and his lead grew progressively.  The eventual margin of victory was 1:04, over Emmanuel Mutai, who caught a dying Kirui for his best London finish.  Gharib of Morocco finished strongly for third.  Kirui, meanwhile, paid for his efforts, finishing fifth.

As for those other favourites, at the time of writing, only Tadese finished, well down and looking well beaten.  Wanjiru and Kibet presumably stepped off the road somewhere between halfway and 30km, to fight another day.  For Wanjiru, it's a first disappointing performance in a major marathon.  For Kibet and Tadese, it's two-in-a-row, following last year's failures in Berlin and London, respectively.

I'm sure there will be much discussion of what happened in the aftermath - perhaps back troubles for Wanjiru, plus the travel difficulties, will come up.  For Tadese, I just wonder if he's got the training figured out.  How someone with a 58:23 half-marathon is be dropped just after halfway when the time is 63:10 is beyond me.

Women's race

On the women's side, it went more according to script, both in terms of the pace and the way it unfolded.  Early on, the pace was solid - on course for a low 2:22.  The pace started faster than this, and then dropped progressively up to the halfway point, where the pacemaker stepped aside.

Then it was Liliya Shobukova of Russia who took the lead, and continued to reel off 3:20s per kilometer, keeping the 2:22 within sight.  That was enough to progressively thin the field, with the resistance provided by Bekele and Mergia of Ethiopia, and Abitova of Russia.

Mergia threw in a big surge of her own at about 36km, and this accounted for Bekele and, for a short time, Abitova.  Shobukhova, however, looked untroubled and stayed with Mergia until the intensity dropped off. Then Abitova began to close the gap, and Shobukhova made the final, decisive move.  She moved away at 40km and went unchallenged to the line, finishing in 2:22:00.

It was actually a much closer race than the men's side, and Shobukhova gets my nod for the best performance of the day.  She was composed and in control the whole way.  After her searing finish in Chicago last year, you'd have forgiven her for following moves all day and waiting to the final 5km, but she didn't - she controlled the pace, did much of the work and in the end, was simply too good for the competition.

Overall perspectives

We'll give it much more thought and do our usual "race insights" post tomorrow, where we'll look more closely at the pacing and performances of the main runners.  For now, though, my impression is that the men's race didn't live up to the hype.  Yes, it was brutally fast between 20 km and 30km, but I really did expect it to be closer.

Kebede was a deserved victor, but when you look at the times, and the fact that for example, 10th place was 2:16:38, then you would be surprised to learn that this was the strongest field ever assembled.  Perhaps too much was expected, but I certainly thought it would be the deepest race ever, and if you'd said that fifth would be outside 2:08, I'd have dismissed that without a thought.

On the women's side, it was a better race, with more depth.  Most of the top women ran quite big PBs, and Shobukhova confirmed her status as the premier marathon runner at the moment.  Yes, the time was not spectacular at 2:22:04, but for competitive depth and quality, it lived up to the hype.

More to come - we'll have a closer look at the pacing and see how it unfolded, and add some insights on who thrived, who failed, and why.  So join us for that tomorrow!


Live coverage and splits below

For those who missed it, and want to follow it as it unfolded, below you can read the comments during the race, and also see the race splits.


Distance Time Interval time Pace for interval Projected time
5 14:39
10 ?

15 44:51
20 59:53
Halfway 1:03:10

25 1:14:19
30 1:28:56
35 ?

40 1:58:41
Finish 2:05:19

Distance Time Interval time Pace for interval Projected time
5 16:33 16:33 3:18.6 2:19:40
10 33:17
15 50:11
20 1:07:18
Halfway 1:10:56

25 1:24:04
30 1:41:08
35 1:58:25

Finish 2:22:00


Race Comments

Women's start 
Seems I spoke to soon.  The commentators include Eammon Sullivan, who last year couldn't pronounce any elite names.  20 seconds in, and he's butchered Mikitenko's name.  Pity Martin Lel is not running, he may actually get that one right.

The early pace is steady, as the pacemaker has gone well clear of the field, who only now, just over 2 miles in are catching her.  They're on 2:22 pace, which is pretty much as expected.  About 14 women in the main bunch, but by halfway, expect that to be much thinner. 

Women 5km 
16:33 to 5km, so that's 2:19:40 pace, but aided by a fairly steep downhill section.  The roads are very wet, so while the sun is not out, the roads will likely factor at the end of this one.  Still a big group together.

Women 7km 
The group is now a little thinner, but only one pacemaker present, which is unusual.  It seems the commentators don't know that Shobukhova won Chicago last year - they've just referred to her as an unknown quantity, who is new to the marathon.  

Women 9km 
Plenty of footage of Mara Yamauchi so far, not surprisingly.  She, like many of the athletes, endured a length trip to get to the start line, thanks to the travel chaos last week.  It will be interesting to see how that affects performances.  Still 14 women in the lead group, one pacemaker in front.

Women 10km 
They've hit 10km in 33:17, so the pace has dropped only very slightly over the last 5km.  The group is pretty stretched out, so it should start thinning out soon.  

Women 13km
The pacemaker seems to be struggling, rolling side to side, the occasional grimace.  She doesn't strike me as capable of going much beyond halfway.  Shobukhova is looking very solid just off the lead, as are the Ethiopians.  

Speaking of struggling, Mikitenko is gone off the back of the lead group, that's her race pretty much over!  Big surprise - she probably wasn't fancied for the win, but few would have picked her to drop off a 13-women lead group inside the first hour!

Meanwhile, they're introducing the men.  Here comes the action!

Men's start
There are five pacemakers for the men, compared to only one for the women - this is as much a reflection of the quality of the fields and standards as anything else.  Last year, the men tore through 5km in 14:08 (and 10km in 28:30), so let's see if the same aggressive start happens here!

Women 15km
The women's pace has continued to drop off slightly - they're still on course for a 2:21:10, which is more or less what everyone had expected. The commentators are continuing to talk about Shobukhova as "inexperienced" and new to the event, even though she was third last year and won in Chicago.  They will certainly be surprised a little later, if she produces the win I certainly expect.

Men 4km
The pace is solid - about 4:48 for the first two miles, and the third one is fast downhill, so they're on course for a quick opening.  Not as fast as last year, though that's probably a good thing.

Men 5km
The split is in - 14:39, which is much slower than last year, and given the steep downhill 3rd mile, not that surprising.  The projected time is 2:03:38, but don't read too much into that.

The commentators can't pronounce Wanjiru.  Every time they say it, it comes out differently.  I can't understand how - he is only the favourite, and the defending champ, and the Olympic champion.  If there was only one name they should make sure of, it would be his.  Very poor.

Women 19km
The pacemaker has gone clear again, perhaps her last push before she drops out.  Or, maybe the elite field has lost momentum.

Women at halfway
The lead women are about to hit the halfway mark.  The time is about 1:11 (I didn't see it, because they cut away to the men).

Meanwhile, Mara Yamauchi has dropped off the lead group, which is a surprise. She was prominent at the front for the first 20km, and so her sudden "retreat" to the back is not a good sign for her.  I fully expect that later on, we'll spend time waiting for her finish in 2:26 while the men are at the 38 km mark.  Shobukhova is now at the front of the elite field.

Men 10km
The men's pace is quick, but not spectacular, which is a good thing. Last year was far too fast, and many marathons have been hindered by fast starts.  The group is spread out over the road, which is a good sign, because it means most of the men are holding back, not really being pulled along in a line.  The pace certainly won't drop off between now and halfway.  Struggling to get splits though.

Men 12km
All the big names are in the group - Wanjiru, Tadese, Kebede, Kibet, Mutai, Kirui, Gharib.   There are 12 in the group, but 4 are pacemakers, and all the main attractions are still present.

Women 25km
Not surprisingly, the pacemaker is gone, and Shobukhova is in the lead.  The pace actually picked up from 20km to 25km - the last 5km covered in 16:46.  The projected is now 2:21:53, and the group is now much smaller.  We haven't seen too much of the race in the last ten minutes, but there has to have been a small surge around halfway - it accounted for Mara Yamauchi and a few others.  There are now about 9 in the lead group, which is larger than I expected, I have to say.

Men 15km
I apologize for not having splits more often - the TV coverage is predictably uninformative.  If you know of live athlete tracking let me know.

Meanwhile, the men are through 15km.  It's anyone's guess what the time is.  It seems to be about 45 minutes, which is a little slower than I expected.  It's outside 2:06 pace, and as a result, the elite field is still bunched.

So the 15km split, unofficially, is 44:51.  That means the last 10km have been run outside 30 minutes, which is why the projected pace is now outside 2:06.  The pace has definitely picked up though, because the group is suddenly longer and sleeker, no longer spread out across the road.  The next split will be interesting - will be a little quicker, I suspect.

Women 29km
Shobukhova is still in the lead, setting a firm, but unspectacular pace.  There are eight other women in the group, including Bai Xue of China, and the Ethiopians.  Interesting that Shobukhova is doing as much work as she is - her finishing 10km in Chicago, and particularly the final 5km, was spectacular, and I'd have thought she might rely on that.  But perhaps she's looking for that 2:21 time as well as the win today.

Women 30km
The pace is solid - 17:04 for the last 5km, has them through 30km in 1:41:08.  The projected pace is now 2:22:15.  Solid, but unspectacular.  There are definitely signs that the pace will ramp up though, as the group has spread out and other athletes are pushing to the front for the first time since the pacemaker stepped off.

Men 20km
The men have run 4:50 miles for the last 20 minutes.  They've hit 20km in 59:53, which is still pretty sedate, I have to say.  The final 10km are going to have to be spectacular at this relatively slow pace.  There are 15 men in the lead bunch, none of the big favourites are absent.

The projected time is now mid-2:06 - 2:06:20.

Men halfway
The halfway point in 63:10.  Going through the water table, it did pick up a little.  I think the water-tables can be quite deceptive that way.  The size of the group is probably the best indication that the pace is not that quick - sure, London has a great field, but to have 12 men together at this point tells you that the pace has been steady and relatively unspectacular.

Women 32km
The lead group has thinned out steadily.  It's down to four now, and Bai Xue is not one of them, which is also a surprise.  Currently, Shobukhova leads, with Bekele and Mergia following most closely.  Ethiopia have had a brilliant marathon season, with wins in Paris and Boston, and vying for London today.  Also in the group are Abitova of Russia.  

Men 23km
The pace is still in the 4:50 per mile range - that's about 3:00/km exactly.  At this rate, they're looking at hitting 30km in 1:30:00, and then the race will really be on over the final 12km.  It should make for a spectacular race.

Men 25km
Huge explosion in pace - 4:33 for the 15th mile, and Wanjiru has NOT responded to that.  It was Mutai who threw in that move, and Kirui and Kebede were first to respond, and the defending champ was put into difficulty!  Wanjiru is gone!  Tadese is gone!  Kibet is gone!

The group has been blown apart by that move.  Tadese is hanging on, though more in touch that Wanjiru.  Kibet is off the pace too, he and Wanjiru are running together about 10 seconds back of the leader.  Gharib is there, but right now, it's Mutai, Kebede and Kirui, and one remaining pacemaker.

The last 5km were covered in 14:26, which explain what has happened to this group.

Men 26km
The pace is still high.  Dos Santos of Brazil is right at the back of the top group, and almost in touch.

Women 36km
The women are still in a group of four.  The pace has slowed - the last 5km were run in 17:17, the slowest interval of the race.  The commentator says they're "motoring" - they aren't.  But it is a tough race now, attritional.  Two Russians and two Ethiopians.  Shobukhova remains the favourite, but two Ethiopians in Bekele and Mergia Aselefech are perhaps the big dangers.

As I type that, Mergia Aselefech goes into the lead, and that seems to have Bekele in difficulty at the back of the group.  Shobukhova looks really comfortable to me, Abitova is still there.  Bekele is gapped, five meters back.  Now ten meters.  We're down to three.

Women 37km
Mergia Aselefech has continued to drive the pace, and now it's two!  Shobukova has hung on, as they've gone through the last mile in 5:18.  The fastest of the race.  Abitova is off the group, and now it's one Ethiopian vs one Russian.

Men 28km
The pacemaker is gone, and it's down to four.  It's Kirui, Kebede, Mutai and Bouramdane of Morocco the surprise package. The last mile was 4:38, and so the pace is still very fast.  The 5km from 25km to 30km is going to be spectacular.

Women 38km
The pace at the front of the women's race has slowed - Mergia threw in a surge but Shobukova was able to respond, and looked very comfortable doing so, I have to say.  Abitova has also held the gap steady, which will provide a good barometer of what is going on out in front.

Men 29km
Kirui and Kebede are out in front.  Wanjiru and Tadese are both well down, and neither is going to come back.  Mutai has seen a gap open in front of him in third, and so it seems down to Kebede and Kirui with fully 12 km to go.

Men 30km
Kirui vs Kebede.  My money would have to be on Kebede, but Kirui is running a brilliant race.  The pace has picked up incredibly - the last five miles were run in 4:36, 4:33 (the one that did all the damage), 4:51, 4:33 and 4:36. 

The result is that the projected time is now a course record.  It's 1:28:46 through 30km.  The last 5km were covered in 14:27.  That means the last 10km, from 20km to 30km, have been run in 28:53.

The projected time now is 2:04:51, and I have to say, it's likely to remain this quick.  Will we see a sub-2:05 in London to go along with Boston's sub-2:06?

Women 40km
The decisive move in the women's race has just been made - Shobukhova has gone clear.  Abitova managed to catch up to the leaders, which suggests that the pace dropped off.  As I mentioned, she was the barometer, and she is telling us that the pace dropped.  In response, Shobukhova has gone clear, and she is about to add London to Chicago, and cement her status as the top female marathon runner in the world.

Men 32km
Still Kirui and Kebede.  They're racing very hard, the pace is still high.  It's incredibly aggressive running.  I wonder if Wanjiru and Tadese and Kibet will even finish?  Another disappointing marathon for Tadese.

Women 41km
Shobukhova is well clear, on her way to a PB in the marathon.  She looks on for a 2:22 something.  She has been the class of the field today, always in control.  She was the first to take the lead when the pacemaker dropped out, and given her finishing speed, that would have been a concern to the other women - if she was confident enough to lead that early, then it was always going to be tough to beat her.

Women's finish
Liliya Shobukhova in 2:22:04 (unofficial).  The pre-race favourite has delivered in a new personal best.  Inga Abitova finishes second, a surprise name, and Mergia Aselefech in third.

And now, as expected, we'll get a good five minutes Mara Yamauchi coming in to finish in a time of 2:26 or even slower.  Meanwhile, the men's race continues, but let's watch Yamauchi finish outside the top 10.

Men 34km
Kebede is clear!  This is the decisive move in the men's race, and yes, folks, we missed it while waiting for 11th in the women's race.

In any event, Kebede is clear, with about 10 seconds on Kirui, who is fighting hard to keep up, but Kebede is looking strong in front.  The 21st mile covered in 4:33, that was the move that Kebede threw to gap Kirui, as we cut back to watch more women's finishers.  Is this 12th or 13th?  A spectacular finish for 12th, while Kebede and Kirui labour their way to 4:33 miles behind.  

Men 37km
Oh look, there is a men's race after all.  Kebede is clear, Kirui about 15 seconds back.  So the initial gap is now holding somewhat, but Kebede is looking well in control.  Back to the women's finish line, just in case we miss the athlete finish in 14th.  The men's winner is certainly not as important.

Men 37km
Kebede is on course for something around 2:05, which at halfway seemed unlikely. he has slowed somewhat, running 4:51 and 4:55 for the last two miles.  His PB, recall, is 2:05:18, set in Fukuoka.  South African woman, Tanith Maxwell has just finished in 2:34. 

18th now finishing.  I am thankful that the men's race is not closer.  At this stage, we're only missing the fastest men's performance ever.  Imagine there were five men together and the surges were being thrown.  Now it's 19th, really thrilling this.

Men 38km

The men are at 40km.  I'd guess that Kebede is still leading with Kirui in second.  But with even more excitement, I can tell you that Wilkinson has just finished, and then Docherty, in 2:38:10.  And now Harrison, and then I'm sure another five or six women in around 2:40.

If you're wondering who cares, then you're quite right.  So am I.

Men 39km
Back to the men.  The last mile in 4:46 and Kebede has the race in sight now.  He has perhaps 10 minutes to run, and having come second last year, he's going one better now.  The gap to Kirui is growing steadily, it's now about 20 seconds, and this is going to be the biggest victory margin in London in many years.  

Kebede is tired, he's hanging on, but I think less than everyone else.  It's been a bizarre race - "only" 63:10 to halfway, and then a huge explosion with successive 5km splits of 14:26 and 14:27.

I must confess that I'm surprised that it opened up like it did.  The surge was fierce, yes, but given the quality of the field, I expected more men to survive, even at that pace.  The second half will be significantly faster than the first, looking at about 62 minutes, perhaps a tiny bit faster, which is of course incredible running.

Men 40km
Meanwhile, back in second, Kirui is paying for the earlier surges, and it's Emmanuel Mutai who has moved into second.  The pace is slowing dramatically, as 40km was reached in 1:58:41.  That gives us a last 10km of 29:55, and those are times for Kebede.

The gap to second is just under a minute - 59 seconds, to be exact.  Which means, of course, that Kirui has covered the last 10km in 31 minutes.  Kirui may not even hang on for third, as he has only 20 seconds over Gharib, and he is finishing very slowly.

For Kebede meanwhile, the projected time is 2:05:12, which means that the course record now requires an increase in pace before the finish.  I don't think it will happen.

Men finish
Kebede wins, one second slower than his 2009 performance - 2:05:19.  It's the biggest victory margin in London for some time, we're so used to seeing sprint finishes and groups of three or four men head into the last 2 km together.

This, by comparison, was a solo effort, as Kebede managed to survive a fierce middle part of the race to emerge its champion.

Mutai has finished in second in 2:06:23, just over a minute back, and Gharib of Morocco has come third.  Bouramdane, also of Morocco has finished fourth, and Abel Kirui, who was the only athlete to follow Kebede's surge at about 35km, ended up fifth, having endured a terrible final 5km, his wheels really coming off after a brave attempt at challenging the small Ethiopian.

A real race of attrition - the first half was run in 63:10, the second in 62:08.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

London Marathon preview

London 2010:  The best race on the planet

It's pretty impossible to describe the quality of the men who'll be taking to the streets of London tomorrow, for what should be a fitting climax to the Spring marathon season.  So far, we've seen a sub-2:05 in Rotterdam, a sub-2:06 in Boston, and now, the grand finale in London promises to be the biggest and best race of the year.

It always is in London, thanks to a massive budget to bring together the kings of marathon running.  This year, that budget was stretched to its limit when most of the top African stars found themselves stranded as a result of the ash cloud over Europe.  A few private planes, $230,000 later, and all will line up in London, hopefully none the worse for their longer than usual journey.

The contenders

Who are they?  Well, London 2010 has arguably the best field ever assembled for a marathon.  It includes:
  • Sammy Wanjiru - last year's London and Chicago champion, the current Olympic Champion, the course record holder in London and Chicago, and the current World Marathon Major champion.  And he's 'only' the third fastest man in the field with a 2:05:10 (last year's winning London performance)
  • Abel Kirui - the world champion from Berlin last year, third in that incredible Rotterdam race last year with the second fastest PB in the race at 2:05:04
  • Duncan Kibet - the fastest in the field, last year's Rotterdam winner in 2:04:27, though he did falter in Berlin last year, failing to finish.  His most recent half marathon performances suggest that was a blip
  • Tsegay Kebede - the Fukuoka Champion last year, in a course record, and last year's bronze medalist in Berlin's World Champs, second in London, and also third in the Beijing Olympics
  • Emmanuel Mutai - second in the 2009 World Championships, and fourth in London last year, with a PB of 2:06:15
  • Zersenay Tadese - the unknown quantity in the marathon.  Well, actually, that's not entirely true, because last year, Tadese started London, but failed to finish despite much hype about what he could do over the marathon.  Most consider that an aberration, and given that only a few weeks ago, he ran to a 58:23 world record in the half marathon, few doubt that he may well be the big threat to the Kenyans
Simply put, there are too many accolades among those men to even remember!  So to sum up, London 2010 brings together all three 2009 World Championship medalists, all three Olympic medalists, the defending champions from Chicago, London and Fukuoka, the fastest man in 2009, the Marathon Major champ from 2009, and the half-marathon world champion.

Picking the winner

So how might this collection of superstars be sorted on Sunday?  It really is impossible to tell.  Sammy Wanjiru has raced and beaten every single runner in this field in the last two years.  His victory in Beijing's heat in 2008 is regarded by many (including me) as perhaps the greatest marathon ever run, and he followed it up with brilliant, aggressive front-running victories in London and Chicago last year.  Last year in London, he ran the 19th mile in 4:25 (2:45/km), typical of what he produces when on form.

However, he has struggled with a back injury since Chicago, and has been handed some pretty big defeats in shorter races since that.  It must be pointed out that pre-Chicago, he also didn't come in with a searingly fast half marathon, and the same is true this time - a 61:33 in March.  That's almost the same pace as I would expect them to hit halfway in tomorrow, something just a shade under 64 minutes.  So hopefully Wanjiru has managed himself and his build-up well and is in top form again.  If he is, then the race changes complexion because of his front-running aggression, and you wouldn't bet against him.  He is the slight favourite.

The big unknown, as mentioned, is Zersenay Tadese.  The fastest half-marathon runner in history, and that was only a month ago, he is destined to be a brilliant marathon runner.  Whether he can fulfill this on Sunday remains to be seen.  I have concerns over the proximity of his half-marathon record to this race - it was only a month ago and to be in that kind of shape a month out from a marathon, with the need to have been doing marathon specific training in the build-up to that race, may be a problem.  He may be slightly over the peak, and if so, would be found out in the final 10km tomorrow.  Also, last year was a very disappointing performance - he was almost the first big name to drop off the lead group, just after half-way.  But I am sure he will produce a much improved performance, and should be on the podium.  The sub-2:04 performance will come in the future.

The other huge challenger is Tsegay Kebede.  He finished 2009 with performances of 2:05:20 in London, 2:08:35 in Berlin and 2:05:18 in Fukuoka.  That gives him the fastest three-race average in one year in history, and he knows how to get it right in paced big city marathons - successive 2:05s shows this.

Those three make up my likely podium, though I really don't know the order.  If I had to guess, I'd go Wanjiru, Kebede, Tadese, but this is on occasion where in half an hour, I might well have changed it around!

And then there are so many other contenders.  Don't be surprised to see Mutai, Kibet and Kirui on the podium.  I'd be surprised if any of them won it, and Mutai in particular is a guy to watch.  What we have seen in recent weeks is that any one of perhaps two dozen athletes can break through to a 2:05-something time - who would have thought that Robert Cheruiyot had that in him, for example, and so this batch of men who lie just outside the 2:05 galaxy inhabited by Wanjiru, Kebede and Kibet are very dangerous indeed.

World record aspirations?

And then there is the time.  London has consistently assembled the best, deepest field in the world, but it seems that it may be just too tough a course for the record, with the depth of the field, the race tactics, and a lot of turns and the wind hampering the pace required to break 2:04.  I would expect that tomorrow.  London uses pacemakers, and so the early pace will be close to the World Record target, so expect halfway to be reached in about 62 minutes.  But then it will begin to drop off, and with such a strong field, you can expect there to be ten men together at 30km.

This is when the pacemakers drop off (if they even last this long), and this will cause a similar effect to what we saw in Rotterdam, with small surges being thrown, causing the pace to go fast-slow, and the record will gradually slip away.  However, expect a sub-2:05, but not a sub-2:04.

Finally, for comparison purposes, below is the pacing chart from the race last year.  You can read our comments are more detailed analysis here.  You'll see how incredibly fast it started (28:30 for the first 10km - 2:02:13 pace).  Then it got slower and slower and slower, and by 25km, it was positively pedestrian.  Wanjiru's attack between 30 and 35km was incredible, and it will be interesting to see if the same happens this year.

Women's race:  Chicago rematch

On the women's side, we also have the strongest field of the year so far, but lacking the depth and quality of the men's race.  The focus initially will be on a rematch between Liliya Shobukhova, the Chicago champion last year, and Irina Mikitenko, the two-time defending London Champion.  She will be looking for a hat-trick of London titles on Sunday, and was unbeatable for a long time, running solo efforts of 2:19 (the only active woman in the sub-2:20 range)

However, the death of her father, some time off and then a defeat at the hands of Shobukhova last year, along with some injury concerns, means that her attempt at three titles is under threat.  Shobukhova produced a final 5km that was faster than Sammy Wanjiru at the same point in last year's Chicago marathon, which she won in 2:24.  She has also run in London, finishing third in 2009, and so is a major threat.

Neither woman has performances this year, so we don't know their condition coming in.  However, they are the pedigree of the field.  Challenges may come from the Chinese World champion, Bai Xue, and from the Berlin 2009 winner, Atsede Habtamu.  Bai Xue has run 2:23, but at 21, she may yet have a substantial improvement in her.  If that comes on Sunday, then she's a big favourite, because the winning time in London is unlikely to be much faster than about 2:22, and so she'll feature.

Another name to look out for is Mergia Aselefech of Ethiopia.  She was third in Berlin's World Championship marathon last year, but earlier this year produced a 67:22 half marathon, which is substantially faster than anyone else in the field in recent months. 

So how might this race play out?  The women's race will be substantially less aggressive than the men's.  I would be very, very surprised if we even see four women together at the halfway mark (which will be reached in around 71 minutes, well outside world record pace), whereas I fully expect there to be ten men running in a group at 30km, at close to world record pace.  That is the reality about women's marathon running at the moment - it's very, very weak, and needs an injection of the track capabilities of Defar, Dibaba and Abeylegesse to ignite to anything remotely like the men's event.

This of course means that the stage is set for someone to break through, and if you're looking for a good bet, one of the Ethiopians is a favourite to do that.  Both have run sub-69 minute half marathons this year, and have enough marathon pedigree to suggest more to come.  I expect to see Shobukhova racing against either Aselefech or Habtamu over the final 5km.  Shobukhova will win, probably in around 2:22, with the Ethiopians in second.  Mikitenko to run a solid fourth with Mara Yamauchi in fifth (and probably getting as much TV time as all the men combined, if last year's coverage was anything to go by).

Live coverage and comments

Overall though, it's the men's race that will produce the aggression and most excitement.  Hopefully, we get to see it - last year, we missed much of the action, since the TV coverage preferred to show Mikitenko running a solo time-trial.  That, and the fact that the commentators couldn't pronounce half the names makes me hope we get a different feed this year, one that hopefully doesn't spend ten minutes at a time watching nothing happen.

As for Paris and Boston, I'll be doing live splits, and commenting on the action as it unfolds, so join me tomorrow morning (SA time - 10am) for what should be a breathtaking battle.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Science of Rugby

The Science of Rugby:
Articles of interest and the revisiting the role of science in sports performance

We're building up to the big London Marathon weekend, which has thankfully come one week after the Iceland Volcano and so most of the big names will line up in London on Sunday.  As always, we've got the race covered - a preview tomorrow, then in-race coverage and splits, and the post-race analysis, so join us for that in the coming days!

For now, I have been putting off a post on the science of rugby for a while, but tonight I was an invited guest on a weekly South African TV show called Boots and All (Hollywood next week - my agent will be taking future bookings!  Just kidding!), and the topic of conversation was rugby and the science of performance.  The site got mentioned on the show, and so partly out of necessity (for those who now visit it looking for rugby pieces), but also out of a desire to post on this topic, below are the links to some interesting articles that those of you who follow the sport may enjoy. For those who don't know the sport, it's the newest (along with golf) Olympic sport (in the form of Sevens rugby) and well worth watching and enjoying if you haven't already!  I'm sure I'll post on it in the future!

The articles - rugby through science's lens

So below are links to the four articles I have written so far - I was commissioned to write these as part of Powerade's sponsorship of the Super 14 tournament, which is the biggest tournament in the Southern Hemisphere, and arguably the toughest rugby tournament in the world.  In terms of playing intensity, level of competition, depth of competition, you'd be hard pressed to find this level of play anywhere else in the world.  Add to this time-zone travel, jet-lag, and playing matches at altitude, and you have an incredibly tough tournament.
Answering the question vs explaining the answer?  The true value of science

And finally, related to the above pieces and the topic of sports science in general, I have a philosophical thought regarding the application of science to rugby, and any sport, for that matter.  Regular readers will know that a big focus here on this site is the role of science in improving sports performance.  There are coaches who don't see the value of the science, and there are coaches who embrace it.

My personal and professional battle in the last few years, in the South African sporting landscape, has been to promote the value of the science, to help people realise what it can do to improve sports performances, because in SA at least, it has largely been under-valued.

And what has gradually dawned on me, particularly as a result of some fascinating discussions in the last two days (thank you Jimmy and Clinton) is that a big part of the problem is that the science itself has not communicated the value to the coaches.  Instead, what has happened is that science has tended to explain the answers, rather than answering the questions.

So what often happens is that science arrives too late to the 'party', and then produces research that only serves to explain the mechanisms behind what is already known.  The coach, who typically spends 8 waking hours a day (and probably a good few hours in their sleep) thinking about the sport, has often figured out the answer long in advance of the scientist arriving to tell them what they need to do.  This kind of science is still valuable, of course, and there is enormous value in both understanding mechanisms and validating current methods and practices, but it often makes the science seem "out-of-touch".

The coach is less interested in looking back and proving himself correct than he is on finding the advantage moving forward, and so this kind of science is often dismissed as unhelpful. When the science is too forceful, and fails to appreciate this, it even creates hostility - the "who are you to tell me what I've known for five years?" syndrome.  Good science, at least from a coach's point of view in high performance sport, is science that answers a very specific question and allows the coach/athlete to make changes in advance of failure or a negative outcome.  It is prescriptive rather than reflective.

The way to achieve this is to have coaches and science working intimately with one another, so that the science is "coach-driven" to answer specific questions that he/she may have regarding player preparation, strategy, match tactics, injury rehabilitation, environmental management (heat, cold or altitude, for example) and ergogenic aids to performance.  If the science is not "immersed" in the team environment, and not driven by the central character, the coach, then the likelihood of it adding value is greatly reduced.   

I have said many times, and repeat it here - the value in science is NOT the content, but the process by which new things are discovered.  In other words, the scientist is not there simply to contribute specific knowledge on energy, heart rate, muscle injuries and so forth.  This is important, certainly, but the real value comes from implementing a "hypothesis-driven" approach, and then embarking on a process that produces deeper understanding of what would otherwise remain intangible and unknown.

In elite sport today, where the margins between winning and losing are so tiny, the purpose of science, in my opinion, is to instill a culture of measurement, monitoring and hypothesis testing at every level of player preparation and performance.  You cannot manage what you don't measure is one adage, and science is there to help measure and manage the right things.  In doing this, it could help the coach, his support staff and the player find 1% improvements in five different areas.  If that happens, the result may be a 3-5% improvement, and a completely different outcome.

The articles I've linked to above are not intended to provide those answers.  They are more of the "explaining answers" type of science, but their intent was to give a new perspective on the sport of rugby.  If they stimulate discussion and force you to ask another question, to challenge a finding, then you've understood the value of science, and you've taken the first step towards understanding how science helps performance, because the answers to your questions, and the questions they generate, will ultimately help to inform decision-making.


Merga takes consolation prize in Boston

Ethiopian third in race, but is unofficial dancing champ

Like everyone else, our eyes are now on London this weekend, however we are still reminiscing about the amazing races in Boston on Monday.  In case you missed them, check our live coverage and post-race analysis before looking ahead.  

Our London preview will follow soon, but in the mean time we will have one look back at Boston.  This year Deriba Merga, the hard and aggressive running Ethiopian who won the 2009 race, looked well enough to repeat and reap the rewards from his early race attacks.  He and Cheruiyot went clear with many miles to go, although the young Kenyan dropped Merga en route to his course record.  Merga hung on for third but finished nearly three minutes back from the winner and lost another minute to second-place Tekeste Kebede.

But all was not lost for Merga, because some time after the race he went on to win an impromptu dancing contest between the elite runners.  Therefore The Science of Sport are proud to crown him the unofficial Marathon Running Dance Champion.

Special thanks to the photographer who was in the right place at the right time to capture this, and also for posting it, and also to our friends at LetsRun.com for the link.

Seriously now, all eyes are on London now so watch for our preview before Sunday!


Monday, April 19, 2010

Boston 2010 thoughts and insights

Boston 2010:  A record, a fightback and two great races

In case you missed it, check out our live coverage of the 2010 Boston Marathon from earlier today.

The men's race

The two races were, in true Boston fashion, memorable, though for very different reasons.  On the men's side, you had an incredible performance from Robert Cheruiyot the younger, who survived, and then destroyed an incredibly aggressive race on the men's side to win in 2:05:52, an improvement of almost 90 seconds on the course record.

Cheruiyot's splits are shown below.  What the table doesn't show is the unbelievable aggression in the racing which began at about 15km, when the first surges were thrown in.  Deriba Merga, the defending champ, was the main protagonist, who ran the 10th mile in 4:34 (28:23 10km pace).  That move split what had been a big group, but then it all came together as the leaders took the foot off the gas.

Ryan Hall provided the barometer for the fast-slow pace, as he was unable to respond to even small accelerations.  The result was that he spent long portions at the front of the race, then got blown off by attacks that lasted maybe one kilometer, and then he came back to the group as the pace dropped.  So in the table below, you'll think that the pace was pretty even and steady, but you're actually seeing Hall's strategy.  The real story is that many of those 14:50 intervals were made of 2:50s followed by 3:05s.  Hall clung on using what was basically an even pace until just after halfway, because that was when the attack was thrown which never came back!

Distance Time Interval time Pace for interval Projected time
5 14:53 14:53 2:59 2:05:36
10 30:07 15:14 3:03 2:07:05
15 44:48 14:51 2:58 2:06:29
20 1:00:11 15:13 3:03 2:06:58
Halfway 1:03:27 2:06:54
25 1:14:58 14:47 2:57 2:06:32
30 1:29:58 15:00 3:00 2:06:32
35 1:44:42 14:44 2:57 2:06:13
40 1:59:21 14:39 2:56 2:05:54
Finish 2:05:51
Halfway was reached in 63:27, which is well under the record pace, but with the big hills still to come, the record was anything but a certainty.  But then things got really interesting.  It was Merga who was again the aggressor, and eventually the group was cut to six, then five, and eventually two (unfortunately, we missed large parts of this attrition, because of the TV coverage).

Those two were Merga, and Robert Cheruiyot, the namesake of a man who has won this race four times.  The pace was relentless - from halfway, the pace never dropped below 3 min per kilometer, and as the table above shows, they reeled off 29:30 10km pace over the rolling Newton Hills, in what was one of the most amazing performances I've seen at Boston.

Eventually, at about 38km, Cheruiyot broke Merga's resistance, having driven up Heartbreak Hill with a grimace on his face.  It was brutal running and by this time, it was clear that the record of 2:07:14 was up for revision.

Eventually, Cheruiyot crossed the line in 2:05:52, a sub-2:06 on Boston's course, thanks to aggressive racing and an incredible 62:25 second half over the hills.  Just awesome running!

The women's race - close in the epic fightback

On the women's side, it was a tale of two runners, who had very different races.  Everything about the women's race can be gleaned from the table below.

Distance Erkesso Pushkareva Erkesso interval Pushkareva interval Gap
5 17:05 17:16 17:05 17:16 0:11
10 35:06 35:07 18:01 17:51 0:01
15 53:04 53:05 17:59 17:58 0:01
20 1:11:22 1:11:25 18:17 18:20 0:03
Halfway 1:14:52 1:15:08 0:16
25 1:27:40 1:28:32 16:18 17:07 0:58
30 1:44:31 1:45:50 16:51 17:18 1:19
35 2:01:31 2:02:36 17:00 16:46 1:05
40 2:18:52 2:19:07 17:21 16:31 0:15
Finish 2:26:11 2:26:14 0:03
Teyba Erkesso hit the front before halfway.  The pace had been slow, very slow, up to that point, projecting a 2:30 finish.

Erkesso's surge was damaging and pretty soon, she had a huge lead over everyone.  She covered the 10km from 20km to 30km in 33:09, and the "race was won".  Or so it seemed.  There were no splits coming in from the course, until, with about 7km to go, we were told that the gap to second place was 2:01.  About five minutes later, a front-on showed showed a runner in the distance, less than a minute back!  Clearly, the timing update was inaccurate, and it soon became clear that in fact, we had an almighty race on our hands.  The race went from very uneventful (apart from Erkesso's very aggressive front-running, very early in the race) to extremely intriguing.

The runner in the distance was Tatyana Pushkareva (I had never heard of her until she popped up on the horizon).  Erkesso's form had fallen off slightly, and she did look far less fluid than she had done earlier.  But she wasn't slowing dramatically, as her times in the table above suggest.

But Pushkareva had a target, and she found a 33:17 10km split of her own, from 30km to 40km.  That all but cancelled out the deficit that she had at that point.  The table above shows, in the far right column, the gap between the two.  Pushkareva was 16 seconds down at halfway (just after Erkesso's first big surge).  That gap grew to 58 seconds by 25km, then 1:19 at 30km.

Then it started to fall.  Slowly at first, down to 1:05 at 35km.  Then it fell rapidly, as Pushkareva found a 16:31 interval and Erkesso started to fade (17:21 for her over the same period).  All of a sudden, it was the Russian who was looking good for the win.

But somehow, Erkesso clung on.  The way the gap was falling between 35km and 40km, she had no chance, but she found just what she needed and going into the final mile, the lead was about 10 seconds.  That proved to be enough, just.  Pushkareva closed on her all the way to the line, but Erkesso hung on for the closest 3 seconds of her life.

Boston has now produced three epic women's finishes - Tune won by 2 seconds in 2008, then lost by 1 second in 2009, but I dare say, this was the "closest", at 3 seconds.  It was an agonizing 3 seconds for the Russian who will be wondering how she failed to reel in the stubborn Ethiopian, because with 2km to go, it seemed inevitable that the catch would come.


So all in, a great 2010 Boston Marathon.  There were disappointments, of course.  Ryan Hall once again featured by didn't deliver the win many expect him to.  His tactics of running at the front were again the topic of great debate, but I don't think he raced badly.  He just doesn't run in a manner that will win one of these highly attritional, aggressive races, since he seems unable (or unwilling) to follow the 2:50/km surges in the race.  Still, his time of 2:08:41 is the fastest ever by an American, and hardly grounds for labelling his race as "failure" (though I'm sure some will).

Other big disappointments were Dire Tune on the women's side, and Abderrahim Goumri in the men's race.  Tune was involved in the initial shake-up just before halfway, but then fell off soon after, and dropped out.  And on the men's side, Goumri featured until about 25km, but the surges were too much, and he didn't make it beyond that point.

But a great race, two great races in fact, and it sets the scene nicely for London next week!  One final word - these races without rabbits certainly do produce some enthralling entertainment.  Boston never fails.

Thanks for joining our coverage!

2010 Boston Marathon live splits and comments

2010 Boston Marathon coverage

Welcome to The Science of Sport's live coverage of the 2010 Boston Marathon!

The table below shows the splits, recorded as the race unfolded.  Trust me, they don't do justice to the race, especially on the women's side!  In that race, Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia had the race won at 30km, with a lead of 1:19.  Then it fell, and fell and fell and eventually it ended in a "sprint" to the line!

On the men's side, an absolutely outrageous time of 2:05:52 for Robert Cheruiyot (the new!).  The record of 2:07:14 (or Robert Cheruiyot, the old!) was shattered, thanks to an incredibly quick time.

We will do a lot more race analysis (right now, I have a presentation to give, and JD is in lectures).  But consider that the first half of the men's race was covered in 63:27, and the second in 62:25.  A 62-second half in Boston. Just amazing!  Below are the splits, and my comments and thoughts during the race (it's embarrassing how wrong my predictions were!)
Distance Time Interval time Pace for interval Projected time
5 14:53 14:53 2:59 2:05:36
10 30:07:00 15:14 3:03 2:07:05
15 44:48:00 14:51 2:58 2:06:29
20 1:00:11 15:13 3:03 2:06:58
Halfway 1:03:27 2:06:54
25 1:14:58 14:47 2:57 2:06:32
30 1:29:58 15:00 3:00 2:06:32
35 1:44:42 14:44 2:57 2:06:13
40 1:59:21 14:39 2:56 2:05:54
Finish 2:05:52
Distance Time Interval time Pace for interval Projected time
5 17:05 17:05 3:25 2:24:10
10 35:06:00 18:01 3:36 2:28:06
15 53:04:00 17:59 3:36 2:29:10
20 1:11:22 18:17 3:39 2:30:34
Halfway 1:14:52 2:29:44
25 1:27:40 16:18 3:16 2:27:58
30 1:44:31 16:51 3:22 2:27:00
35 2:01:31 17:00 3:24 2:26:30
40 2:18:52 17:21 3:28 2:26:29
Finish 2:26:11

Live comments


They're off - women first.  It will be interesting to see how the race unfolds.  Last year produced an amazing finish that ultimately saw Dire Tune collapse over the line in second, behind Salina Kosgei of Kenya.  Both are running, so hopefully we'll see a competitive women's race rather than a big spread.  Dire Tune has a grand total of 3 seconds separating her from her closest competitor in her previous two races, so if that's anything to go by, the race will be close!
15h43 (13:00 elapsed)

The commentators are wondering whether the smaller athlete, Dire Tune, is intimidated by Kosgei, who is larger.  They have agreed, probably not...

15h48 - 5km reached

5km in 17:05 for the women.  Last year, it took 18:59, so it's much quicker than then.  A big group still together, but you'd expect that.  So far, it projects to a 2:24, but we know that Boston is usually quick early, so don't expect that to hold.

16h00 - Men have begun

The men are off.  Big questions - can Ryan Hall deliver the win for the home fans?  Will the defending champ make it to half-way? My guesses - yes and no!  Time will tell...

16h10 - 10 min into men's race

Ryan Hall is at the front of the men's race.  The same thing happened last year.  It was criticized then, and the commentators are amazed that he's doing it again.  I don't think it's a big deal - the pace doesn't look very quick, but they're almost at 5km, so we'll have some idea then.  I think it's slower than last year even.  No problem so far.

16h15 - Men's 5km

So 14:53 at 5km.  Last year they reached 5km in 14:33, so it is slower.  As I said, i don't think too much can be read into who is out front.  It is surprising to see Hall there, only because we're so accustomed to seeing four 'rabbits' out front.  It won't stay this quick - the wind will change (it's been behind so far) and the course gets much more difficult.


Large women's field, but the pace has slowed, as you'll see in the table above.  The 10km and 15km splits will be much slower.  At 15km, just in - 53:04.  On course for 2:29.  I think there should be some fireworks in the second half.

The men are also all there - Merga is still there, on Ryan Hall's shoulder.  Hall's leading is still the big talking point.


The women's pace seems to have picked up a little - the group has changed shape, it's longer and more "slender", and it's Dire Tune at the front with fellow Ethiopian Teyba Erkesso.  They're probably the two big favourites, so interesting to see them there now.  No one has yet fallen off, but it's inevitable, coming up to 20km.


Big movements on the men's side - the group is spread over the road, as we cut to the women's race, where Dire Tune has surged and three women are now clear - Tune, Yal and Erkesso.  All of Ethiopia.  This is amazingly early to be surging, before halfway.  The next splits will be interesting.

On the men's side, if they'd only show it....Hall is now dropped, and it's Deriba Merga driving the pace.  This is quite remarkable.  Hall is really struggling, about 50m behind, with eight men ahead of him.  Meb Keflezighi has responded a little better than Hall, but right now, it's Merga and Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya out in front.  Still the hills to come, these surges have preceded them by a long way!


Still three women out in front.  Tune, Yal and Erkesso, all of Ethiopia.  The men's race is in a massive shakeup, it split to only two in front, then seemed to be back together again.  But we're getting interviews now.  Is there a men's race this year?  In Boston?  Surely not....

I can tell you that Hall is now making his way back.  They're reporting that Merga ran the 10th mile in 4:34, and perhaps the sting has now left the race and it's coming together.  All together, finally we have pictures.

There are probably 20 men there.  And Hall goes to the front again!  Bizarre...


Tune has been dropped, and it's down to two at the front of the women's race.  Erkesso is forcing the pace, and given her pedigree, she's looking good here.  Yal is a 2:28, so the pace is not the issue, but the pedigree may be.

Meanwhile, the men are together, once again being led by Hall.  Perhaps he figured the pace wouldn't hold and let the "games" go on without him?  I guess the hills will soon show us.  The 20km split is coming up, it'll be interesting to see how fast it was.  The commentators are going on about Hall's "recovery".  I think it's a case that he's run the last 5km in the same time as the previous ones, but everyone else has slowed down considerably.   I'll let you know as soon as the 20km split is in....

Hall looks good to me.  Alert, strong, swung sideways pretty quickly to get water.  If another surge goes in, on the Hills, then Hall's race plan will become apparent.  Until then, I'm reserving judgment!


Another surge in the men's race, soon after halfway.  Once again, we're not getting to see it (I think the director is perhaps new at this).  We're getting great infographics though...

It seems as though the pace was pushed by a Kenyan, Goumri was quick to respond, but not Hall.  Looking at the splits in the table, it's interesting that the last 5km was really slow.  So Hall has run the same pace the whole way, but been yo-yoing off the group, as he is again.  He's given up what looks like 50m to this latest surge.  Merga is there, Goumri is there, Cheruiyot is there.  Six in the lead group, Meb hanging on a few meters behind.

I must be watching a different race to the commentators.  They still think Hall is "recovering", when what is clearly happening is that he is running the same pace and the leaders are going fast-slow-fast-slow.  The group in front is now tightly bunched again, eight men in it and it's considerably slower than it was even a mile ago.


Another surge in the men's race.  Robert Cheruiyot, it looks like.  The group is down to five, in a long line, gaps beginning to appear.  You know what's coming - Hall has been dropped again.  They've just hit 25km, split is 75 minutes, so they've held onto an average of 2:58 min/km for the last 5km.  I suspect it's been made up of 3:05 followed by 2:50.

Now it's slowed down again, the group is together.  The racing really is incredibly fierce.  Meb Keflezighi is still there, at the back of the lead group.


The pace at the moment is on for a 2:06-something.  The course record is a 2:07:14, but we still have to negotiate the hills.  If the group of 7 remain tight, then the record may well be on.

On the women's side, it seems likely to become a procession as Erkesso runs ahead.  She has covered the last 10km in under 34 minutes, and that's over the hilly part of the course.  So it has been a great surge from her.  Unless she falters, she'll win the race by a loIng, long way.  All the other women are running 2:29 pace, which is really very, very mediocre.  The interest is now on the men's side.  At least, it should be...


Oh look, a men's race.  It's happening after all.  Who knew?  Apparently they have technical problems. 
So it's Deriba Merga and Robert Cheruiyot in the lead.  Merga said before that he lacked confidence in this training, and that he'd drop out if he wasn't up for the win.  Gamesmanship, perhaps?  He looks good, along with Robert Cheruiyot.  They're coming up to 30km now, and have a gap of 5 seconds on third (who hasn't been shown yet, sorry).

30 km split coming up...


The men are running 3min/km - 15:00 for the split from 25 to 30 km.  They're on course for a 2:06:32, which is a big course record.  The hills may have the last word though.  Two out in front, Merga and Cheruiyot.  Hall, by the way, is almost a minute down.  Meb Keflezighi is in fourth, 20 seconds behind, but I suspect he'll go backwards even more now.

Erkesso, the women's leader, is starting to falter.  But they're saying that she has a 2 minute lead, with 7km to go.  If that's true, then it's difficult to lose that time, unless the wheels come off like never before.  Her pace over the last five km has been good - still under 17 minutes, and that doesn't suggest she's coming apart.  Her form has deteriorated though.


The women's race has suddenly become interesting - the reports of 2:01 to second were clearly very false, because only five minutes after reporting that, second-place has appeared in the distance.  She must be about a minute down, and it's Tatyana Pushkareva of Russia.  She was 1:05 down at 35km, and 1:19 down at 30km, so the gap was closing, but very gradually.  In the last few kilometers, it's come down a lot more.  I don't know where the 2:01 was coming from.

On the men's side, Merga was, for a short time, clear of Cheruiyot for a while.  But they're now back together.  Merga seems to be hanging a little, and Cheruiyot is driving the pace as they hit 35 km.  The pace is still unbelievably quick - they've held 3min/km over the hills so far, and the record is definitely on now.


The gap on the women's side is closing all the time.  Pushkareva is now about 25 seconds back, at most.  The last 5km split is going to be really interesting (it's also going to mess up my table, because all the splits I have so far are for Erkesso, but anyway...I'll sort that out later).  Either Pushkareva has really picked up, or Erkesso is faltering.

Robert Cheruiyot continues to push.  Whether his aggression is just inexperience, I don't know, but he is driving very hard.  Merga is hanging on now, but may have the experience to dig in.  They have about 6km to go.  Incredible speeds - the last 5km, over the hills, covered in 14:44, at sub-3 min per kilometer pace.  The record is almost certain to go - they're on for a 2:06:13 now, almost a minute better on the old mark.


The women's race is almost back together - 16 seconds with one mile to go.  It will be close after all!  Who would have thought?  At 30km, with a lead of 1:19 at 30km, you would never have called this!


It's all happening - Robert Cheruiyot has earned himself the gap - 15 seconds over Merga, and he's now looking good to claim the title and record.

On the women's side, Erkesso has responded and she may actually hang on.  It will be tight.  Quite amazing racing, completely erratic and will make fascinating reading after the race, when we'll compare her splits to those of Pushkareva.

The women's race is reminiscent of the Chicago finish a few years ago - a large gap within sight of the line, but will it be enough?  Pushkareva is working so hard.  We need an aerial shot here, you can't tell the gap.  It's 6 seconds.  Erkesso is hanging on for dear life.  Erkesso will hold on, only just!  She does!

Erkesso wins, about 3 seconds clear of second.  It cannot get any more agonizing than that for Pushkareva.  Last year was 1 second, the year before was 2 seconds, but this is surely even more agonizing, because for about 5km, Pushkareva had Erkesso in her sites, but just could not bridge the gap...by 3 seconds.  Amazing!


Robert Cheruiyot is on course to break the course record, belonging to...Robert Cheruiyot (no, not the same one).  He's now only minutes away from the line, a solo finish, unlike that which we saw in the women's race.

2:05:52.  Incredible.  The last 10km in 29:23 over the hills.  The time, a massive, massive record, more than a minute off the old time, and a time that was a world record in recent memory!  In Boston!  Deriba Merga has paid dearly for his efforts, he's been caught by Kebede and a host of other runners.  Cheruiyot survived the outrageous pace, Merga did not!

Quite amazing.  There is a lot to be said about this.  I have a presentation to give, soon.  So forgive me for not saying it right now, but check in later, because we'll have detailed post-race analysis for you!