Friday, March 29, 2013

Bob Kempainen

Bob Kempainen graduated from Hopkins Lindbergh in 1984.  While running for them he recorded a 3200m best of 9:16.95 while winning just one state championship.  After high school, Bob attended Dartmouth where he found his talent at the longer distances.  He had three top-15 finishes at NCAA XC including a 4th place finish in 1986 while leading Dartmouth to a 2nd place finish.  His coach at Dartmouth is the legendary Vin Lananna who later coached at Stanford and Oregon before becoming Oregon's Athletic Director.  Lannana would continue coaching Kempainen throughout his professional career.  Kempainen's professional career spanned all surfaces from roads to XC to the track as well as distances from 3000 meters to the marathon.  In his first year as a professional, Kempainen was 2nd in the USATF 10k championships as well as 3rd at USA XC.  Kempainen had a very sucessful marathon debut in 2:12 for 2nd place at the 1991 Twin Cities Marathon.  It was this race that gave him hope for an Olympic birth in 1992 where he finished 3rd in another 2:12.  Bob didn't have the greatest performance at either Olympics due to injury.  What makes Kempainen's professional running career much more remarkable is that he was in the University of Minnesota Medical School the whole time.  Kempainen said they gave him time off if he needed it and allowed him a little longer to finish but it is incredible regardless.  Kempainen's performances continued to improve in 1993 where he ran a 10k PR of 28:23 as well as a marathon best of 2:11:03 while finishing 2nd at New York.  In 1994 Kempainen ran 2:08:47 at Boston which remained the fastest American at that race until Ryan Hall's run in 2011.  In 1995, Kempainen ran the fastest half marathon for a Minnesotan with a 60:48.  1996 brought about another Olympics and that trials race is one of the few highlights from 1990s American Distance Running.  Kempainen started feeling sick around mile 21 and vomited 6 times in the last 5 miles as he pulled away for victory in 2:12:45 (Video Below).  After the Olympics, Kempainen decided that he had better hang up the racing flats and get to work on becoming a doctor.

1996 Trials Champ, Credit: AP, Burton

The links below serve as a bibliography as well as a recommended reading list on Bob Kempainen.
Year-by-Year Results

SI Vault Article- 1992 NYC

HepsTrack Article

1996 Trials Video With Puking

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How Good Was Steve Prefontaine?

I have been extremely troubled by the growing polarization of Steve Prefontaine's athletic prowess.  On one hand, there will always been immense amounts of ignorant fanboys (most of the time literally boys) who eat up every word and image that Nike puts out.  I have to admit, I was one of those fanboys at one time although probably one of the more knowledgeable fanboys on the topic.  On the other hand, there is a growing multitude of people (mostly men in this case) who bash on Prefontaine and all they can talk about is how bad he is.  I think the latter group of people is infinitely worse than the first.  They constantly tear down a figure who is overall very good for the sport.  Yes, Prefontaine liked to have a good time but he was still one of the world's preeminent distance runners.  An athlete does not achieve what Pre did without a certain amount of hard work.

Now back to the original question: How Good Was Pre?  My initial answer: At the time of his death, easily the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) American distance runner.  For all intensive purposes I am going to classify 'distance runner' as from the mile through 10,000 meters.  Surely Ryun would have beaten Pre at the 800 or Mile and probably Shorter at the marathon.  Next we will examine how Pre fared against the period in which he ran.  Many often say something stupid like: 'Cam Levins and Lawi Lalang just ran faster than Pre in the 5k, Pre isn't that good'.  Yes, they ran faster but there are a lot of factors to consider when comparing different periods.  I'm not going to be like Ventolin^3 (Letsrun) or Cocakula (tracktalk, probably the same dude) who trys to put exact time conversions on certain things like track technology, shoe technology, nutrition and training knowledge, better competition, the fall of amateurism, etc but those things all clearly had an effect on the times that were run.  It also just makes logical sense that records are going to improve over time.  Is Lawi really anywhere near as good as Henry Rono despite running similar times?  No.

The first event I would like to examine is the Mile run.  This is far from Mr. Prefontaine's specialty yet he was only 3.6 seconds off the world record and 3.5 seconds off the American Record at the time of his death.  The American Record was held by one Jim Ryun whom some consider to be the best miler of All-Time.  There are currently only 6 men within 3.6 seconds of Hicham El G's World Record in the Mile.  There are only 7 men within 3.5 seconds of Alan Webb's American Record in the mile.  All 13 of those men have something in common with the exception of one (Daniel Komen of Kenya), they are all true-milers.  What is the point here?  Steve Prefontaine was a world class miler when his specialty is in the longer distances.

Let's look at the 5000 meters next.  Steve did hold the American Record and was only 8 seconds from the World Record.  Put him 8 seconds behind today's World Record and you have a 12:45.  The Current American Record held by Bernard Lagat is 12:53.  Many often use his lack of Olympic Medals as criteria for him being 'overrated'.  Americans haven't won an Olympic Medal in the 5000 since 1964.  Until Rupp's silver in 2012 it had been the same Olympiad since an American won a medal.  What does this say?  If not among the best runners ever, Prefontaine should still be considered one of, if not the best American of All-Time.  Lets not forget that this all is coming from a man who died at the age of 24 and who competed in his last Olympics at 21.  Galen Rupp didn't truly emerge as a world-beater until 25 and at 26 he appears to still be rising.  I hate 'what ifs' as much as the next logical person but in certain situations they can't be avoided.  This is one of them.

In the end, this argument all comes down to how much an individual values the comparison to athletes of the same time period.  Pre didn't have to face East Africans nearly as much as Rupp does.  Rupp also didn't have to work in a bar or work at all for that matter.  Prefontaine was the GOAT American at the time of his death and his range has yet to be surpassed by any.  Athletes like Galen with his 3:50.9i and Lopez with his 800-5000 range are approaching Prefontaine's level.  Even Bernard Lagat can't claim Pre's range (as an American) as he has only excelled at the 1500-5000.

Monday, March 25, 2013

March 25th-31st Training Recap

March 25th- The weather looks to be improving throughout the week and I am reading 'Once A Runner' at work.  That inspired me to hit up the same trails as yesterday.  My only regret is that these trails aren't closer to home.  I have run run nearly 2.5 miles just to get to the trails so unless I am going long I spend more time on roads than trails.  9 on the day and the week.  Anticipating some doubles this week with a later work schedule and warmer weather.  I hope to head out to Vedauwoo for some bouldering too!

March 26th- It's another very slow day at work so I am reading lots of 'OAR' again and taking every possible excuse to get up and take a walk.  I also stretch and do calf raises fairly frequently.  I ended up running 10 miles after work, some with Danielle, some with Alex and some with both!  It was kind of a progression run as we definitely started out slow and got quicker as the run went on.  My last two miles (solo) were probably not too far over 6 minute pace which is pretty quick for me at this altitude.  19 on the week!

March 27th-  Had a later work schedule so arranged a morning run with Alex.  As usual, it wasn't fun right away but it got better as we went on.  6 miles in the morning and had planned on getting out the door again but didn't due to time constraints.  25 on the week!  I've gotten a complete circuit of myrtle after every run this week as well, I feel the loosening and strengthening happening slowly.

March 28th-  My stomach felt pretty average so I only got 5 in.  That bumps me up to 30 on the week, not bad for 4 days.  I wouldn't be surprised if I ran every day this week.  Despite having a race in less than a month, I feel that my training is very unstructured.  I did one long run but that, combined with the previous week, seemed to push my current fitness levels over the edge.  I'll have to do more research into what proper 50k trail race training is like.  I feel that it will be a lot of trial and error as well so we will see what happens!

March 29th- Got 4 in the morning then was busy in the afternoon.  34 on the week.

March 30th- It was a beautiful morning but I felt very tired and beat down.  Got 5 in somehow.  39 on the week.  I did pick up a mountain bike today so expect lots of cross training to happen as soon as the ultra is done on the 27th!

March 31st- Full-blown sickness today, 2 miles in.  Proud of Alex for getting 14 in all alone.  Hoping for a quick recovery.  41 total for the week.