It’s the most wonderful time of the racing year.
The holiday season is still a few months away, but it you’re a runner (and my guess is you are since you’re visiting this site), right now marks the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year — the fall racing season.
Autumn isn’t quite in full effect yet, but the cross-country season is getting underway around the U.S. and major road races will rule the roost nearly every weekend from now through November. I’ve always loved this time of the year. It has an exciting feeling to it. As an athlete, I was usually coming off a solid summer of training and ready to run some of my best races of the year. Now, as a coach, I’m helping my own team prepare for the upcoming cross-country season and the overall energy and excitement of getting ready for competition is infectious. And as an all-the-time fan of the sport, I always get giddy for the fall marathon lineup, including Majors such as Berlin, Chicago and New York.
So which races– and athletes — am I excited about this fall? I’ll start with this weekend, Dathan Ritzenhein and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.
After failing to make the Olympic marathon team in January, Ritz rebounded with a solid, but not spectacular track season this summer that landed him on his third Olympic team. Ritz is returning to the roads this fall in an attempt to take down his existing marathon PR of 2:10 flat at Chicago next month and my quarter says he’ll smash it. I’m excited to see where he’s at this weekend in Philly — four weeks out from his goal marathon. The two biggest limiting factors to Ritz’s marathon success in the past have been injuries and fueling, and finally, after years of struggling with both, the Alberto-Salazar-guided athlete appears to be ready for a breakthrough on the blacktop. Can Ritz win in the Windy City? Maybe, maybe not, but at the very least I think an eye-popping personal best is in the cards.
Two weeks from brings us to the Berlin Marathon, site of last year’s 2:03:38 world-record run by Kenyan Patrick Makau. Makau won’t be back in Berlin on September 30, but another Kenyan by the name of Geoffrey Mutai (remember him?) will be. After a spectacular 2011 which saw wins and course records at both Boston and New York, 2012 has been unkind to Mutai, who dropped out of Boston in April and was left off the Kenyan Olympic team this summer. When he’s on, however, Mutai is the best pure racer on the planet, so it will be interesting to see how he approaches this paced race. My guess? He starts feeling frisky in the pack, takes off early and takes down the world record on his own terms.
Last, but not least as far as major marathons go this fall is New York, and while the international elite field hasn’t been released yet, the American lineup was made public last week. If I may, let me sum it up for you in two words for you: get excited! Ryan Hall may no longer be running, but a lot of other Americans — some established marathoners, some not so established — will still be in the starting line. Meb Keflezighi will follow up his fourth-place finish in the Olympic Marathon with his eighth New York City Marathon appearance. For my money, there’s no one else in marathoning I’d rather watch race. Say what you want about his age or his shoe sponsor, when Meb is on the starting line, he’ll mix it up with anyone. Abdi Abdirahman, who like Hall did not finish the Olympic Marathon in August, will be looking to bounce back to form, while Jason Hartmann, fourth at Boston this past April, is out to prove that big guys (Hartmann is 6-foot-3) placing high in hilly races is not as uncommon as you might think. Also in the race is Scotty Bauhs, an unsponsored, recently forgotten about American who is making his marathon debut. Why is Bauhs worth watching? He’s got a 1:01:30 half marathon under his belt and he’s hungry — a big run in New York will mean wonders for his career. Other young guns such as Brett Gotcher (fifth at the Olympic Trials) and Nick Arciniaga round out an solid American male presence in the Big Apple.
And no, I haven’t forgotten about the females. In New York, it will be the new wave of American marathoners battling it out for bragging rights. Olympian Amy Hastings, who has recently been training with the uber-tough Kim Smith of New Zealand in Providence, Rhode Island, will lead the U.S. charge and looking to add to her already solid marathon track record, which includes a runner-up finish in Los Angeles in 2011 and a fourth-place finish at the Trials in January. Janet Bawcom, who finished right behind Hastings in London and is one of the most road racers in the U.S., is just starting to figure out the marathon and is coming off a solid summer of racing. And let’s not forget about Molly Pritz, the top American at this race last year in her marathon debut, who has been quietly putting together a solid year for herself, smashing her half-marathon personal best in San Francisco, running 1:10:45, and most recently finishing runner-up at the U.S. 20K championships in New Haven. Jersey girl Julie Culley, who ran a 15:05 personal best for 5,000 meters at the Olympic Games, will be making a major jump in distance and should also be in the mix.
I could go on and on for pages, but you get the point: there’s an exciting fall of racing ahead that’s worth getting excited about — especially if you’re a fan of American distance running. So, tell me, which athletes or races are you excited to watch this fall? Share your picks in the comments section below!