Newbies and veterans alike tested the waters at the half marathon distance this past weekend at two of the world’s premier road races - the Great North Run and Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. Many used the races as prep for fall marathon while others made their first forays into longer road distances.
American distance running icon Dathan Ritzenhein ran 1:00:56 in Philly as his final tune up for the Chicago Marathon. For someone coming off a track season that concluded with a 13th place finish in the Olympic 10,000 meter final, I would have expected some a bit faster from Ritz. After all, track sharpness led him to a 1:00:00 time back in 2009. But to his defense, Ritz quickly boosted his mileage post-Olympics leading up to Chicago on October 7. He ran just 1:02:35 for the half marathon while doing heavy marathon training prior to New York City in 2010, so compared that stat, Ritz is doing just fine in his pursuit of a personal best in three weeks.
Also racing in Philly was Scott Bauhs who finished ninth in 1:04:25. Like Ritzenhein, Bauhs is in heavily marathon training, so the time isn’t worth worrying about too much. The Chico State grad is making his 26.2 mile debut in New York City.
Running through the towns of Newcastle and Gateshead in northern England, the Great North Run saw the half marathon debut of Ethiopian legend Tirunesh Dibaba fresh off defending her 10,000 meter Olympic title in London. Dibaba sprinted away from Edna Kiplagat over the last half-mile in a fashion we’ve seen over and over again on the track. Her time of 1:07:35 was strong but a bit slower than I had expected. Kara Goucher, in comparison, ran 1:06:57 in her first half marathon in 2007 on the same point-to-point Great North Run course.
Dibaba will need to make some adjustments if she is to succeed in longer distances, especially when she makes the inevitable leap to the marathon. The biggest will have to come in her running form. Dibaba comes from a track background where a speedy, efficient stride is necessary to close fast at the end of races. The marathon, however, is an hours-long, grind-it-out race that requires runners to shorten their strides to more of a shuffle to preserve energy. Haile Gebrselassie, for instance, made changes to his long, flowing stride when he transitioned to the marathon. Dibaba will have to do the same to thrive for 26.2 miles.
Chris Thompson ran well in the Great North men’s race, finishing sixth in a personal best 1:01:00. It’s particularly impressive given the fact he struggled home in next-to-last in the Olympic 10k final just over a month ago. Jason Henderson of Athletics Weekly posed the question post-race about whether Thompson should next target the 2013 World Championships on the track or move up to the marathon. At the age of 31, Thompson is right at the age where the marathon is soon in his sights. In my view, Thommo should follow the same plan countryman Mo Farah is taking – race one more year on the track before debuting in the marathon in the fall of 2013 or spring of 2014. That will give both men plenty of time to adjust to the training and racing of 26.2 miles with the 2016 Olympic marathon as the ultimate goal.
Also setting a personal best in Newcastle was American Ryan Vail. His time of 1:02:04 was nearly 50 seconds better than his previous PR and represents a promising sign as he approaches New York City, his second marathon after finishing 11th at the Olympic Trials in 2:12:43.
Olympic Trials fifth placer Brett Gotcher also tuned up for New York City but at a much lower key affair. Gotcher won the San Francisco Giant Race in a solo 1:04:19, over two and a half minutes ahead of second place.