North America – The Next Great Running Super Power?
By now we've all heard about how, economically at least, China will be the leading global "superpower" nation of the next era, supplanting the decades-long reign of the United States. But not nearly as many have heard, nor may even be convinced once hearing — especially with China's imminent hosting the Olympics — that North America (specifically the US), may well dominate the front ranks of long distance running for at least the next decade.
Don't get me wrong...the traditional "supreme beings" of the last 20+ years, from African powerhouses such as Kenya, Ethiopia and a handful of other north African nations, are not simply going to fade into anonymity. But, it's quite clear that the US, a dominant force in distance running through the 70s and early 80s, but dormant on the world stage since then...is back, and ready to kick some ass-phalt!
Americans have always been kings of the "short stuff"...100-400m, and that isn't likely to change soon either, given the stable of proven powerhouse talent they have amassed heading into next year's Olympics. But what's most exciting, for us distance-heads at least, is the emergence of an bountiful crop of young, exciting, talented and charismatic American runners, who, if recent events are any reliable harbinger, can race with anyone in the world, perhaps even the modern day legends from Africa.
At distances from the mile, through the 10,000m, right up to the Marathon, Americans certainly have the "right stuff". Alan Webb set an all time US record, and world-leading time of 3:46 for the mile this year (3 sec off the world record), Bernard Lagat (OK a Kenyan who obtained US citizenship a couple years ago, but still) won both the 1500m AND the 5000m at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka. In the 5000m, 3 of the top 11 runners were American (better depth than any other country in the race). At the 10000m there are at least 2-3 American runners with world-class credentials and medal-sniffing potential heading into next year's Olympics in Beijing.
And at the marathon distance, there is perhaps the most sensational and promising of all prospects. If you remember nothing else from this article, or even this entire newsletter, remember the name "Ryan Hall". If your distance runner head's been in the proverbial sand for the past 11 months, then you'll have missed his incredibly big splash onto the deep end of the world distance running pool.
Though by no means an "out of left field" emergence, by virtue of his US Cross Country & NCAA track championship victories over the past couple of years, as of January 1st, 2007 Ryan Hall had never run a marathon. In fact, he'd never even run a half marathon!
So why, just 11 months later am I getting my running shoe laces in such a knot over him! Here's why...since then, he's:
'Nuff said? Thought so! Actually, even that's not true...on top of all that, he appears to be just a terrific, humble, genuine, deeply religious, "aw shucks" type of guy to boot!
After years of steroid-driven, testosterone-fueled, jingoistic, trash-talking, comic-book-character-come-to-life, in your face hams (I didn't say sprinters, did I?) being the face of North American running...maybe, just maybe, this young lion will be our calling card of the next generation.
Of course, at least for the next while to come, any mention of Ryan Hall's tremendous ascension to the top of the distance running world, is inextricably accompanied by condolences for and tribute to the "other Ryan," great American distance runner Ryan Shea, who most of you know died from a massive and sudden heart attack at the 5.5 mile mark of that very same Olympic Marathon Trials won by his good friend, earlier this month. For more on Ryan's death, go to href="http://www.letsrun.com/2007/ryanshay.php
And it doesn't stop with Hall either, a bevy of "almost" equally talented and savvy distance runners too numerous to rolodex here, are chasing in Ryan's footsteps, eager to ride the momentum and infectious enthusiasm of being part of something big.
On the women's side things are almost as bright, with Deena Kastor, consistently in "top 3 in the world" contention for the marathon distance, and younger talents like Kara Goucher, who surprised everyone but perhaps herself in claiming the bronze medal at the 10,000m at this year's world champs.
Why the "sudden" (nothing is ever sudden) rise in American distance running fortune? I don't think you have to look too hard, or cast any sinister aspersions about undetected drug use to find the answer (though the jaded pragmatist in me is forced to wearily consider such heinous possibilities of course).
Good ‘ol fashion teamwork! It's really that simple and straightforward. The African teams have been using the team-based approach for years with great success, but it took the best of the best distance runners on this continent a while to either try or commit to the concept long enough to see the reward.
But embrace it they have. The Brooks Hanson Project is a perfect example of how "full on" team commitment can yield incredible results, as are the Team Running USA and Team USA Minnesota groups. Virtually all the top performers at this year's US Marathon trials are members of these groups or others like them. Basically what they do is bring together athletes of similar ability, passion and vision and unite them to train together under one roof — literally (i.e. they actually live together in houses provided by their benefactors, the Hanson brothers). Most of their living and training expenses are covered and they are offered part time jobs at the Hanson running stores, with flexible enough hours to accommodate their training). If you missed the Runner's World article a few month's back about the Hanson's group...here's their website link to find out more www.hansons-running.com.
Here in Canada, a similar program started up over a year ago based in Toronto, called the Brooks Canada Marathon Project (www.brooksrunning.ca/runners_resource/marathon_project.html) which, though not as extensive and high profile as its counterpart south of the border, is quietly amassing a roster of top Canadian talent, who are feeding off each other with a constructively competitive and mutually supportive dynamic. My own "Sunday Run buddies group" (a much more "subdued velocity" version of the groups mentioned above!), actually meets every weekend at the same time/place as the entire Brooks Marathon Project group, and we all start our run together. The young guns usually just do 1-2 miles with us "old guys" before changing gears and disappearing for their "real" workout, while we've been lucky enough to end up running most of our supposedly LSD runs with the Brooks Project "Girls"...talented and chipper young ladies with enough speed to burn such that it takes just about everything we've got to hang with ‘em! A group of 5-6 young women, with another 5-6 old men, huffing and puffing to keep up with them, traveling near or under 6 minutes/mile, sure gets a few second glances!
In recognition of the power of "running with the right crowd", Starting in January of '08, Marathon Dynamics will commit to organizing a free Sunday Long Run program out of High Park, which will be open to all runners (Marathon Dynamics' client or not), and involve a common start time/location (Grenadier Restaurant, 9am), but with distinct pace groups arranged, from "sub 3hr" marathon ability (or equivalent half) up to 4hrs30min marathoners (or equivalent half). Group leaders and carefully planned, measured and mapped routes will be provided, as well as a cozy warm spot to stretch, change, and gather before we set out (and after we get back). Further info posted on the MDI website shortly...but please email us now if you are interested!