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Saturday, October 1, 2011

San Jose Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon to showcase U.S. distance running revival - San Jose Mercury News

Updated: 10/01/2011 03:20:19 AM PDT

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Deena Kastor of the United States crosses the finish line to win the bronze... ( TIMOTHY CLARY )

Before the 2004 Summer Olympics, the state of American distance running could be described in two words: off course. Then California marathoners Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi changed that direction on the streets of Athens by taking home medals.
Some considered the performance an aberration for this nation of sprinters that once lagged far behind its African and European competition, but it has proven to be much more profound. The upsurge that began seven years ago will be on display Sunday when the Dodge San Jose Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon comes to the Bay Area with less than a year to go before the London Games.
"There's definitely a feeling of belonging (now), being an American distance runner," said Kastor, the U.S. record-holder in the women's marathon. "There isn't that intimidation anymore."
Kastor and Keflezighi are favored to win their respective divisions in the sixth running of the half marathon that is expected to attract 13,000 recreational joggers to downtown San Jose.
The fast, 13.1-mile course is a tuneup for the two Mammoth Lakes runners as the marathon season begins in earnest this month, culminating with the U.S. Olympic trials Jan. 14 in Houston.
"It's nice to go to sea level and test the machine and evaluate how I feel," said Keflezighi, whose silver in Athens was the first medal for an American man since Frank Shorter in 1976.
The marathoners have little margin for error because America has more

"The women's trials are going to be the most competitive there ever was," said Terrence Mahon, coach of the Mammoth Running Club where Kastor and Keflezighi train. "No matter what, we will have three great runners going to London. It's been a long time coming."
Once the sole provenance of East Africans, long-distance running is making a comeback in the United States and other countries. Promoters and marketers of U.S. road racing and marathoning hope Americans can continue to make inroads at major competitions in order to help the sport regain its popularity of the 1970s and early '80s when Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar and Shorter were celebrities.
It's difficult to pinpoint why Americans are enjoying a renaissance after years of decline. It wasn't as if coaches and athletes didn't try to improve before. Runners lived in oxygen tents and traveled to East Africa to train with Kenyans and Ethiopians. Still others tried special diets or shoes.
But no matter what they did, they couldn't replicate the heydays of the '70s until shoe companies began investing in post-collegiate training groups such as Mahon's Mammoth Lakes club. These days, the best marathoners can earn as much as $1 million through sponsors, endorsements, appearances and prize money. (The second tier, however -- even some of those good enough to qualify for the Olympics -- work regular jobs.)
Back when Keflezighi, 36, graduated from UCLA in 1998, the Stanford-based Nike Farm Team was the country's only training group. Now a handful of clubs have started producing quality runners, including the Nike Oregon Project in Portland and the Hansons Brooks Distance Project in Rochester Hills, Mich. Also, coaches and athletes in rival groups share tips for the collective good of the country.
By the time Ryan Hall graduated from Stanford in 2005 he had many options to pursue the sport. Hall, plagued by injuries throughout his collegiate career, joined the Mammoth club where he quickly became America's best marathon runner.
The 2008 Olympian finished fourth in this year's Boston Marathon with a time of 2 hours, 4 minutes, 58 seconds -- the fastest marathon ever by an American. (It is not a U.S. record, however, because the Boston course isn't certified.)
As impressive as the performance was, it pales in comparison to the world-record run last weekend in Berlin by Kenya's Patrick Makau. He finished in 2:03.38, taking 21 seconds off Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie's record on the same course in 2008.
Hall, who until recently had been training on his own in Palo Alto and Flagstaff, Ariz., at first was blown away by Makau's time. But as he prepares for the prestigious Chicago Marathon on Oct. 9, Hall is using the performance as motivation.
"It's like, when is my breakthrough coming?" he said of his expectations. "I use their breakthrough as if it were my own."
More than anyone in recent years, Hall, 28, exemplifies the possibilities for American runners. Like Kastor and Keflezighi, Hall was a California high school star with a solid college career. All three made spectacular leaps in the marathon after graduating.
"I wouldn't say Africans are looking any less dominant," said Hall, aware of what it might take to win a medal in London. "But we are looking more competitive."
America's decline in the sport corresponded with the influx of East Africans running marathons in the late 1980s. The reason for the shift has been the subject of much debate and controversy. But it is generally accepted that a majority of the world's fastest runners now come from mountainous regions near the Rift Valley in Kenya.
Some experts say long-term exposure to altitude combined with endurance running has helped develop the Africans. Others have credited their lean bodies with being able to withstand long distances better than competitors.
But Tracy Sundlun, co-founder of the Rock 'n' Roll racing series and a promoter and coach for 30 years, said a big factor is money.
"The incentive of $5,000 for a first-place prize does not raise an eyebrow anywhere in the United States," he said. "East Africans, on the other hand, are willing to kill themselves for drastically less money."
Hall, who recently relocated to Redding, has implemented training techniques that worked for Rodgers and Shorter in the 1970s to help his improvement and fuel hope that he can become the next dominant American marathoner.
Keflezighi attributes the success of Hall's generation to the foundation he and Kastor helped lay. He came to the United States from Eritrea at age 12 and then became one of the country's best young runners at San Diego High School.
"People realized they went through the same program we did," Keflezighi said. "That's the mental barrier we broke. It's believing."
Now with that newfound belief, America is back on course.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him at Twitter.com/elliottalmond.

World records for distance running
5,000 meters: Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia, 12:37:35
10,000 meters: Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia, 26:17:53
10K (road): Leonard Patrick Komon, Kenya, 26:44
Half marathon: Zersenay Tadese, Eritrea, 58:23
Marathon: Patrick Makau, Kenya, 2:03:38

5,000 meters: Tirunesh Dibaba, Ethiopia, 14:11:15
10,000 meters: Wang Junxia, China, 29:31:78
10K (road): Paula Radcliffe, United Kingdom, 30:21
Half marathon Mary Keitany, Kenya, 1:05:50
Marathon Paula Radcliffe, United Kingdom, 2:15:25

Ethiopianism Deontology of Berlin Marathon 2011 between Gebreselassie, Makau & his Pacers 2-2 - YouTube

Ethiopianism Deontology of Berlin Marathon 2011 between Gebreselassie, Makau & his Pacers 2-2 - YouTube: ""

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