Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Happy Valentine’s Day! This was supposed to be a day for chocolate, flowers, going out for dinner with a sweetheart, etc.

But instead, Mother Nature threw a nasty surprise that kept us all away from work and stuck indoors for most of the day. The Washington, D.C. area has been under a
winter storm condition where 2-4 inches of ice and sleet is covering everything outdoors. In the early afternoon, I managed to go outside and spent couple of hours clearing the cars and walkways of thick ice. That was no walk in the park and it required heavy physical exertion. I was so tired afterwards (price to be paid for running so little lately) that I fell asleep sitting on a chair in front of the computer. My body felt like I did a hard 60-90 minute run.

Speaking of a run, I wonder how many people braved the severe weather to go out for a run today. I am sure there were some hard core running nuts- I mean enthusiasts- that hit the icy pavements this morning just as they do everyday without fail. These enthusiasts put to shame the US Postal service who claims that “neither snow, nor rain, nor heat…” will ever stop it from delivering mail. If you are wondering, yes, I did see the mailman deliver today!

Anyway, these committed runners are known as “
streak runners.” Not to be mistaken with lunatics who enjoy sprinting across a crowd in the nude, these streakers are known for not missing a day of run for decades, even on days such as the one we had today. These people run through injury, bad weather, surgery, death of a loved one, or anything else you can think of.

Last March, as a way to motivate myself, I decided to see how many consecutive days that I could run. I managed to run everyday for forty five days but then I missed a day. And of course, once you miss a day you will soon miss another, which is perhaps why these people do anything to keep their streak alive.

Still, I can’t imagine how anyone could manage to
run every single day for twenty years or more. For that matter, I can’t even imagine running everyday for a year, which is the minimum requirement to become an official streaker. Can you think of anything (not life sustaining) that you have done everyday for a year more? Perhaps praying or reading your Bible or driving a car or even surfing the internet? I don’t think many can answer this question in the affirmative.

So why do streakers do what they do? A possible explanation could be that they are addicted to running. And yes, there is such a thing as “
running addiction.” You may be asking yourself whether running addiction is a good thing or not. An argument can be made that no addiction is a good thing. However, I would counter argue that most people already have a “no-exercise addiction” and I am convinced that a running addiction would beat that any day.

So I need your help to become an addict. I want to know if anyone is interested in attempting to become an official streaker. We will start slow and maybe try just one week and then perhaps a one month streak initially. For ease of keeping track, we can start on March 1. Of course, all the risk (and benefit) is exclusively yours and yours only. Therefore you will need to make sure you are medically cleared by your doctor before making your attempt on becoming a streaker.

Finally, I must say that it sure is strange to feel like a “drug” pusher, but it is a price I am willing to pay to make an “addict” out of myself.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Haile's Record...Gone!

On January 15, 2006, Haile Gebrselassie added one more world record to his resume when he ran the Rock and Roll Arizona Half-Marathon in 58:55 in Phoenix. It was a great beginning to a year that saw Haile win two marathons- Berlin and Fukuoka- register the fastest marathon of 2006 and set the Ethiopian national record for the marathon. The half-marathon record in Arizona was indication of the great form Haile had and all the achievements to come during the year.

That half-marathon record was broken today, by a mere two seconds, when Sammy Wanjiru ran 58:53 to win the Ras Al Khaima International Half Marathon in the United Arab Emirates today. Birhane Adere won the women's race in 1:10:58 as Ethiopian women dominated the race by sweeping the top four places. Finishing behind Birhane were Teyiba Erkesso, Bizunesh Bekele, and Dire Tune taking up second through fourth place.

Haile was informed that his record was broken shortly after the race. He replied only as Haile "The Emperor" would reply. He promised a quick response "as soon as I can find another half-marathon."

In other news, Kennenisa Bekele's much anticipated 1500M indoor race in Valencia, Spain has been scratched due to a minor injury he suffered in training. We will wait to see if he goes ahead with his plan to race the 2000M next week in Birmingham, England where Tirunesh Dibaba will also attempt to break the 3000M world indoor record set by Meseret Defar just last weekend.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Day With Tirunesh Dibaba

Spend A Day With Tirunesh Dibaba
By Toby Tanser, Runner’s World Correspondent

Standing on Seventh Avenue in designer jeans and a white turtleneck in 25-degrees Fahrenheit the only thing that set this small (155cm) Ethiopian young lady aside from the other New Yorkers is the fact that she is not wearing a jacket. In fact, the group of girls standing next to her, oblivious to the Ethiopian's rock star status in the running world, look equally as thin and as athletic. Tirunesh Dibaba is what Michael Jordan was to men's basketball, and more. She has won the world cross-country championships three times, was the first person ever to win a 5000/10,000m double at the World Championships, and has broken world records to boot. The other women on the circuit fear 21-year-old "Tiru" like no other. Since her breakthrough in 2003 when the baby-faced assassin demolished all other juniors and then, a day later, took seventh place at the World Seniors Cross Country, she has been the lady to beat. Of course there have been a few pimples on the way, like "only" winning a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics, a defeat that pains her to this day, but all in all, the woman who runs for the Mizuno Club on the international circuit has been an out and out winner.

Although this was Dibaba's first trip to the Millrose Games, for the inaugural New York Road Runners 3000 meters, she has graced the city in 2005 with her fast legs. Then, on a hot humid afternoon outdoors at Randall's Island, she ran 14:32:42 - the fastest women's 5000 ever run on American soil. Interestingly, earlier in that year she had run 14:32:93 to set an indoor record at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games - a record she broke on Saturday past with 14:27:42.

Rolling back the clock: A young Tiru to attend loved Bekoji Primary School, her favorite subject being the studies of Amharic, her mother tongue. Thus she was disappointed, when traveling to Addis Ababa at age 14 to continue her studying, that she missed the class registration by six days. She went to stay with her sister, Ejegayehu who is also a world class distance runner, and decided to start training. The two still live together in Addis, but the living conditions have been upgraded now. Bekelu Dibaba, a cousin, enrolled her in the Prison's Sports Club after Tiru proved herself finishing fifth in a trial race round a horse track. The systematic training soon paid off. Within a year she had ran at the World Junior Cross Country Championships, placing fifth. No eyebrows were raised; she was an African, wasn't she? Even back home in the village of Chefe, the result did not impress many. The cousin of Dibaba, on the father's side, and a neighbor at the town of Bekoji, had set high family standards winning the seniors, and a couple of Olympic gold medals. Derartu Tulu is a legend in Ethiopia; the great Kenenisa Bekele named her, not Gebrselassie, as being his inspiration. Imagine what heights Tiru set for herself growing up.

Fast forward to last Wednesday. Dibaba looks up at the sky and asks if the wind will die down. She has not trained this morning; she did not run yesterday either. It is beginning to bother her, she is worried her form will go and Friday's race will be ruined. She wants to run some light intervals. A slight irritation is seen in her face as she hates anything to come between her and the training time. Tomorrow, the day before the race, some easy jogging and a walk will be the only exercise, but today she needs to spin the legs and get that 60-second feel back into the muscles ... She knows Millrose is not a fast track, she has heard all about the famous Millrose Games; also that it is not a world record setting arena for distance runners. The 3000-meter record will not be attacked; perhaps it could be in Birmingham later on in February. That depends on the deal that Rich Kenah, her manager, can make. She also lets Rich decide what pace the pacer, Bridget Binney, will run on Friday. That detail is decided only the day before the race, giving hint that this is not going to be a fast performance; maybe it will only be an effort to break the Madison Square Garden record of Lynn Jennings, 8:40:95, set in 1990. Yes, that is possible, she says.

When back in Addis, the legendary coach Woldemeskel Kostre, who sets the sessions for the national team, is the man who plans Dibaba's workouts. A large group of Ethiopians will all train together - that is, if they wish to run for the national team. Ethiopian pride is extreme; all athletes long for a coveted team spot. A member of the squad, Meseret Defar, is Dibaba's greatest (and only?) rival. Rumor has it they are not the best of friends. When questioned, both insist to the contrary. Meseret usually chooses to train with a different group, but when the athletes are preparing for a world championship event, it is team rules. When in the company of both, in a confined small athletes' tent, neither congratulated the other after both had won their respective races; neither even talked to the other.

Oddly, they both run for the Mizuno Track Club, (Dibaba's own sister, Ejegayehu, runs for Adidas) but that is where the line ends. Meseret seems the only athlete who can challenge Tiru's supremacy to be called the number one women's distance runner on the planet. Defar it was who won the Olympic gold, Defar it was who was the sole athlete to knock Dibaba out of the Golden League jackpot race in the final event, costing Dibaba a huge chunk of change. Defar it was who beat Dibaba to win last summer's African Championships 5000 meters, and Defar it was who set the world 5000-meter record last year. But Tiru has staggering accomplishments herself that match each and every one of Defar's. What a shame a meet director could not have Defar lining up at Millrose.

Out on the New York streets, Dibaba talks about her childhood, how she was not a poor African. The family was actually quite affluent. She recalls, passing a coffee shop, roasting a few beans to make coffee for the family, or other small tasks she'd be asked to do following school, nothing hard, no secret to why she has this immense drive and explosion of power in sports.

On Friday night, after what seemed like a long, long warm up of easy jogging, Dibaba stepped on the Millrose track. After the excitement of the earlier high school events, the track was somewhat subdued. The Women's 400 had just been run, in a time Dibaba, a 5000 specialist, is well capable of running in her training - 54.44 seconds, just a tad slower than she was closing out some of last summer's Grand Prix 5000-meter victories. As pacemaker Bridget Binney of the USA towed four girls around the 160-meter oval, the crowd did not get behind the effort, but neither, so it seemed, did Dibaba, who simply followed suit. She later explained that when a pacemaker is put in the event, it is her duty just to follow that pace, even if the pace was 3:00 per km pace (her pr is approximately 2:50 per km pace). Dibaba had been told, almost at every conjecture before the event, how she was not going to run a fast time on this track. She was out to prove it. She stated she still felt the pace of the world record in Boston in her legs, and one wondered if she had already decided to phone home this win and save her energies for Birmingham, England, a track where everyone tells her she can run fast.

After a kilometer, when Binney dropped, the crowd were still munching popcorn. Yet the story of the night was developing; Sara Hall was tenaciously half a stride behind Tiru. Hall's husband had ran perhaps the American distance performance of the decade when breaking the hour at the Houston Half Marathon last month; could Sara Hall herself match that performance?

Sadly, with three laps to go, Dibaba determined to wake up the crowd and suddenly lived up to her assassin billing. One hip swing, and starting to breath, she left behind Hall, who must have earned the Ethiopian's respect and gained immense self-belief. The victory, as Dibaba had predicted, was uncontested, 8:46:58, to 9:01.22, with Jen Rhines running a well paced race third in 9:02:91. After the obligatory victory lap, some flashing of her diamond ears for the photographers, showing that fabulous confident stride, Dibaba complimented Hall's run. "She ran very well, she also helped me, pushing me. This track is not easy to run on, it was my first time to run on this track. I thought she (Hall) was more familiar with the track." Little did Dibaba know but it was also Hall's first time to run a 3000 at Madison Square Gardens too.

So next up will probably be a legitimate crack at Defar's PR - actually, a new world record of 8:23.72 she set in Stuttgart this weekend - in Birmingham. Dibaba had hinted earlier in the week that it is not easy to pull out too many full efforts to attack records and it was clear this Millrose race had not been a "Boston Exertion."

After Birmingham, Tiru will return to Kostre's group to focus on the weekend of March 24 when she will travel south to Kenya to defend her World Cross Country title. Then after the goal is Osaka (the World Championships in track this summer) and "if God is willing" a 5000-meter outdoor track record. When asked about a time, she is not ruling out a sub-14:20 this summer. By the way that she has been running the past season, this should be a light target.

There is one striking factor that separates Dibaba from the rest of the pack. The race starts, the pace heats up, and coming to the last lap everyone shows signs of fatigue and the running form deteriorates - forall except Dibaba. Silvia Kibet, who tried to match Dibaba in the Golden League races, gave a back seat driver's view. "She just seems to have another gear more than everyone else in the lead pack, she never strains. You look up and she is 20meters ahead. Gone."

So what kind of training does Baby-Face do to run such out-of-this-planet performances? She is not a heavy trainer, which is confirmed by both her and Defar. Each day will be just over an hour, and some supplementary jogging. She runs speed work twice a week, often when in season running short repeats of 150 to 400 meters at a high pace with a short recovery. The number of intervals is kept to a minimum, however, allowing the body to reach that rapidity. She does not go to the gym, does not lift weights, and never runs more than one hour and twenty minutes. Her favorite foods are traditional high carbohydrate, low fat Ethiopian dishes. Travel to 2800-meters altitude, follow this plan, and I believe Sara Hall would have been at least 15 seconds faster at the 100th Millrose.

It is a full-time job defending your records and titles if you were born with a name that translates to "You are good" or as some say, "You are perfect," and Tiru is planning on extending her career for quite some time. She feels she has four more Olympic Games in her 44-kilogram body. The person who first tipped the world about the potential of the Baby Faced Assassin thinks Tiru has a long career too, and if Tulu, with three Olympic Games 10,000-meter medals, is correct in her prediction that Tiru will ultimately out-medal her, nobody in Ethiopia will be surprised. When your daughters are raised with high standards they tend to deliver.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Tirunesh Speaks

In my last post, I mentioned it would be interesting to hear comments from Tirunesh about her 3000M race at the Millrose Games. Well, she has spoken and, as expected, she did comment on the difficulty of running on such a tight track as the one at Madison Square Garden. Having heard her answer, I still believe that was her first and last appearance at Millrose Games.

Tirunesh comments on many different things such as her plan for 2007 and support from Ethiopian spectators at the race. This is a great opportunity to hear directly from her. Incidentally, it is very refreshing to have the services of such a competent interpreter. On many ocassions in the past, I have seen poor interpretations of questions and answers create awkward moments such as in 1997 when Fatuma Roba was visibly confused when the interpreter asked her, right after she won the Boston Marathon, how she felt about this victory in "this Olympic race."

Enjoy Tirunesh's interview.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Record in Stuttgart

Well, we are barely a month in to 2007, but the "Dueling Ds" have picked up their one-upmanship epic battle just where they left it off at the end of 2006. Last weekend, "baby-face destroyer" Tirunesh Dibaba set an indoor world record at 5000M in Boston. So what does Meseret Defar do this weekend? She set her own world indoor record at 3000M in Stuttgart, Germany today. Defar ran an unbelievable 8:23.72, shaving more than four seconds off the previous record. It is astounding that Defar seems to think that she could have gone even faster and dip down to 8:20 range.

To put Defar's performance in perspective, one only needs to see how fast Tirunesh Dibaba ran her own indoor 3000M at the Millrose Games last night. Uncharacteristically, Dibaba could not shake her competition in New York until the final two laps. Sarah Hall doggedely hanged on to Dibaba, though Hall paid for it dearly as she wilted in the last two laps. Admittedly, the short track at the Madison Square Garden was tough to run on, but Dibaba only managed a time of 8:46.58 which would mean that Defar would have nearlly lapped her on a standard 200M indoor track. That is how good Defar's race was!

Dibaba did not look her normal confident self in the New York race, and I would venture to guess that she will not return to the Millrose Games again. It will be interesting to hear her comments on the race. As for Defar, though she set an astonishing world record, she only won the race by 2/100th of a second! Meselech Melkamu, was right on Defar's neck all the way through the finish line and bettered the old world record herself.

This was the first ever indoor race for Melkamu but obviously she was not intimidated by the venue or the competition. She is already an experienced runner with a string of impressive cross-country wins over the past couple of months, including the Ethiopian Championships at Jan Meda in Addis. Melkamu was also the fourth place finisher at the 2005 World Championship 5000M race where Ethiopians made history by sweeping the first four spots.

Roocha fans- 2007 is going to be a very special year, unlike any other before. So fasten your seat belts for an exciting ride courtesy of our Ethiopian runners, who are the world's greatest athletes, as they battle each other at the World Cross Country Championship in Mombassa, Kenya, followed by the European track season, and reaching the climax at the World Track and Field Championship in Osaka, Japan. The latest chapter in the story of Ethiopian women distance running may even turn in to a three-way battle with the "Double M" Meselech Melkamu, thrown in the mix with the "Dueling Ds."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Ejeg Betam Tirunesh

Ethiopians athletes have been dominating races so much this year that a new nick name is being thrown around to describe them. First it was "Bekele the destroyer" in Edinburgh and now we have Tiru the "baby-face destroyer" in Boston. Larry Rawson, one of the most knowledgable commentators in track and field, called the Women's 5000M indoor race in Boston this past weekend and he described Tirunesh by that name. Thanks to an annonymous comment to an earlier post, you can watch a good portion of the race here.

"Ejeg Betam" Tirunesh simply looks elegant in this race. Her strides look like she is running a mile race and not 5000M. And after setting a world record, she hardly looks spent! This may be sign of things to come in 2007. Perhaps it will be a year when she elevates herself from an excellent runner to that of a legend as Haile Gebrselassie did in 1995 with amazing record setting performances in 5000M in Zurich and 10000M in Hengelo.

You can see more of the legend in the making as Tirunesh will be running at the 100th Millrose Games (largest indoor track meet in the world) in New York tomorrow night- televised live Feb. 2 on ESPN2 7-9PM EST, and Sat. Feb. 3 NBC 2-3PM EST.

If you want to learn more about Tirunesh, check out this great article from July/August 2006 issue of Running Times.