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Saturday, October 5, 2013

US Marathon Championships

This weekend, the Twin Cities Marathon is also hosting the U.S. Half-Marathon Championships.  $25,000 goes to the winner, and they can also pick up an extra $1,500 if they win the overall race as well.  The final men's list can be found here. Normally, I think I'm a know-it-all and will predict the top 5-10 or whatever.  But in this race, I have no freaking idea who will win, as I believe about 8-10 different guys can.  What surprises me the most is who isn't running.  I definitely expected one of the Twin Cities guys to show up and defend their turf.  If Andrew Carlson was healthy (and I don't know if he is or isn't) and on the entry list, he'd be my pick to win the thing.  He ran 2:11 in his debut, limped his way to a 2:17 in terrible weather in Houston and has the 5k speed to breakaway from guys late in the race. Mike Reneau ran a huge breakthrough race this past spring with his 2:13 and he would be a top 3 threat and Joe Moore is always a gamer as well but he doesn't seem in-love with the marathon.  If I were a betting man, he's probably thinking about laying some whoopings on some guys at the US 12k Championships and Club Cross Country Championships at the end of the year, followed by a fast half-marathon in January at the US Half-Marathon Championships.

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If I were Matt Tegenkamp's coach, I would have thrown him into this race.  Maybe he's getting a sweet appearance fee for racing Chicago, but this would have been the perfect race for him.  He would be the favorite (and maybe a big one) and he would be able to hang at the front of the pack the entire race and work on getting a knack for marathon racing tactics while also getting a feel for the marathon distance.  Then in the spring, he could run a fast time-trial type marathon.  No more armchair quarterbacking him and onto armchair quarterbacking others.

I view this race as a two-gang fight until one man is left.  The first gang is the speedsters.  They either haven't run a marathon yet or haven't run that matches up with their abilities in the shorter distances.  I'm dubbing Shadrack Biwott as the leader of these roughens, with Josphat Boit, Joseph Chirlee, Christo Landry and Tim Ritchie backing him up.  On the other side of the tracks are the marathoners, led by 2:11 shot caller, Nick Arciniaga.  Backing him up are Tyler McCandless, Sergio Reyes, Craig Curley and Patrick Rizzo. Yeah, I think guys like Michael Eaton, Scott MacPherson or Abdelaaziz Atmani can finish in the top 5, but I'm not sure if they have the firepower to win.

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If this was a straight up half-marathon, scored cross country style, it wouldn't be out of the realm to have the speedsters get a perfect, 1st-5th score.  All five of them have run very fast from the mile through 25k and most of them are very consistent in those distances.  But the marathon can be cruel and with the threat of the Grim Reaper sneak attacking you anytime after 20 miles, anything can happen.

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The speedsters will want to stay as relaxed as possible for as long as possible.  They are much more accomplished over the shorter stuff and haven't proven themselves in the marathon, so why take a chance with 25 G's on the line? If one of them wants to win, I believe they have to be the last one to strike and only when the final pack is very thin.  With the temperature looking nearly ideal and the potential for a tailwind, they have to be entering the race more confidently.  Those conditions will make it easier to stay relaxed and make the pace feel a good bit easier, which is exactly what you want in a marathon. 

While the marathoners don't have the speedsters wheels, they have more rodeos under their belt and have answered the question about how they can perform in the 26.2 mile distance.  Arciniaga has run two 2:11s.  Reyes won the US Championships on this course in 2010 and pretty much never has a bad race.  Rizzo ran 2:13 at the last Olympic Trials and McCandless is having a heck of a year and ran a pretty easy 2:21 a few weeks ago on a hot and hilly course.  I don't know a lot about Curley, except that he ran really well at the US 25k Championships in May, sometimes races in a hat and makes me feel fat.  The other advantage I believe these guys have is that as a whole (every individual is different), they are running tomorrow more for the pride and glory instead of the money. Who do you want in battle?  A hired mercenary or someone who wants to fight?

The marathoners may feel like they have the pressure on them.  They should go into the race expecting to do a large part of the work but with that, they can also control the style and nature of the race. The guys wanting to hang back are entering somewhat of an unknown race without knowing how the race will unfold.  That should cause at least a hair of uncertainty and fear.  I know Arciniaga has had some rough races lately, but he should enter this race feeling like he's the favorite, rather than worrying about guys with better running resumes than him.  The downside to that though, is that if he wants to set a quick pace, he may have to do it on his own.  Leading a marathon wire-to-wire is tough and requires a ton of mental energy but he may have the tools to do it. If I were him, I would have gotten one of his Flagstaff crew to enter the marathon and secretly be his rabbit and run sub 5:00 pace for the first 15-18 miles, before dropping out and then give them a portion of my winnings.

But it doesn't look like that will happen, so here's what I think would be the best thing for him.  If he reads this and wins using this strategy, he owes me a beer one day.  If I were him, I wouldn't start off that hard.  Maybe let some other guys do some work as long as the pace stays around 5:05 pace or so. At that effort, the pace is going to feel really relaxed for the speedier guys.  They are 61-62 minute marathoners, so coming through a half in 66 minutes is going to feel like a stroll.  A little bit after the half, I think it'd be good to throw in some hardish, moderate length surges.  Maybe a 4:50  mile here and there.  Again, I think those would still feel pretty easy at first to the fast guys but it would serve the same purpose as body shots do in a boxing match.  Body shots don't hurt that much at first (unless it's a shin to the liver, which doesn't feel good at all).  They are designed to put wear-and-tear on the fighter over time.  While they may feel ok for a while, once the cumulative damage starts to kick in, they begin to slowly fall apart and then, that's when you go for the knock-out and start the real racing. And not only will the surges cause physical damage and burn up some of their glycogen stores, but mentally, it causes damage.  A marathon is a long way to focus and if you can get someone to spend too much mental energy early on, they are going to have a harder time really zoning in when it matters most.

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Now how can the other marathoner-types win?  Bide their time, hope Arciniaga and the speedsters get in a racing rumble early on and then enter the battle late in the race, after the guys have beat each other up.  It's like an old school Royal Rumble.  You don't have to be the best 'rassler in the ring to win, if you enter the ring later than everyone else.

Another factor that will throw a wrench or cash in the way of others is the long, gradual climb between 20.25-23 miles.  It only climbs a little over 150 feet during that time but that's when the marathon can get very difficult, even on a dead flat course.  Throw some pre-hill surges into the legs of some guys before that and you can break them during and after the hill (assuming you don't break yourself). 

So that's my view on the men's race.  If you put a gun to my head and make me pick the three guys who have the best shot at winning, I'm going with Arciniaga, Biwott and Boit with McCandless being my sentimental favorite.  I don't think there's a nicer pro marathoner out there.

While following the race will be exciting, I'm pretty bummed I'm not racing it.  I haven't had a shot to run a deep, competitive marathon yet and I think it'd be fun to duke it out with those guys and see if I could sneak away with a top 5 finish.  Hopefully CIM will be stacked.

I can't even figure out my wife sometimes, so I'm not going to try to guess how the women's race unfolds.  However, I will say that I believe Meghan Armstrong Peyton will win.  She's in her own backyard, has had a heck of a year, really seems to have her head on straight and doesn't have to worry about a particularly deep field. 

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