In Memoriam: Tom Fleming

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He was high energy, very empathetic, and had a remarkable ability to reach a wide range of kids, boys and girls. He didn’t run an easy classroom but it was a great classroom. Third graders who heard about him kept their fingers crossed that of our three sections of fourth grade, they’d end up in his.” – Tom Nammack, headmaster of Montclair Kimberly Academy, where Tom Fleming taught and coached

In this era of manufactured marathon heroes, I know the real ones. Tom [Fleming] was one.” – Bill Rodgers Continue reading

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Boston, be my shining star

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Some things should be obvious.

It should be obvious that the Boston Marathon is not like London or Berlin or Chicago. It should be understood that, above all, the Boston Marathon is a competition, not a time trial, a test of physical and spiritual fortitude that humbles you and — sometimes, if you’re lucky — exalts you. It should be self-evident that Boston’s unique combination of downhills, uphills, fickle winds, and unpredictable weather favor certain athletes and destroy others. It should be known by now that Boston doesn’t need an asterisk; Boston is what it is, and an asterisk doesn’t begin to capture its subtle and singular challenges. Continue reading

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Words to Run By

 

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Even as the constant cheers from a million spectators fill their ears and urge their tired bodies up and over the hills, runners in today’s marathon will be attending to other voices — the quiet but urgent voices inside their own heads that repeat the words that help focus their increasingly distracted brains on maintaining forward momentum, on finishing the damn race. Continue reading

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Another few words about Boston

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As I try to put down a few thoughts about the Boston Marathon, it’s hard to escape the feeling that everything has already been written, and by people much more dedicated and knowledgable than me. in fact, I had no specific intention of writing anything in advance of Monday’s race. I would simply take it in, as I usually do, from a spot along the course and whatever TV I could stream. If something interesting or unusual happened, well, sure, I might react to it in a post, but I wasn’t planning anything. Continue reading

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A Long Walk into History

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Walkers in the early stages of the 50K event at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Even as I write these words from Boston, home to world’s most storied footrace, across the Atlantic Ocean the IAAF is meeting in London and appears ready to recommend eliminating the ultimate test of endurance, the longest of pedestrian events, from the Olympic Games. Continue reading

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Sharing a Beer and a Race with Old Friends

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On Sunday morning after a week of cold, wet, dreary weather, the sun staged a triumphant return to Boston, blazing in a cloudless April sky. I imagined the sun laughing at us, “Did you ever doubt me?”

The first gorgeous day of the spring arrived just in time for the second event in the New England Runner Pub Series: that reliable harbinger of Spring known as the Doyle’s Emerald Necklace 5-Miler. Doyle’s is equal parts road race and drunken revel, where the morning scamper over the rolling hills of Franklin Park is followed by a block party where the ale flows freely, as do the stories of races past. Continue reading

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That Could Have Been Me

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 10.50.23 AMFast Section of Men’s 1500m – Stanford Invitational, April 1, 2017

Last Saturday night when I should have been getting to bed early to rest up for Sunday’s long run, I was instead glued to my laptop screen watching the distance races being streamed live from the Stanford Invitational. As it happened, I was paying rapt attention as the fast section of the men’s 1500m got underway. The first two laps went by without incident, and then as the the entire field charged down the back straight, calamity struck.

I expect you’ve seen the video clips. As the pack of runners comes out of the first turn, an official in a white hat and red blazer appears in the left foreground of the frame, walking at an angle across the track, from the outside lanes toward the inside lanes, with his back to the runners. The race clock reads 2:02.1.

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I remember that from the instant I saw the official, I realized he was on course to interfere with the race. But surely, I thought, at any moment he would become aware of the runners bearing down on him and take himself out of of harm’s way.

I was wrong.

Over the next 3-4 seconds, my irritation turned increasingly to apprehension as the official continued his steady progress into exactly the wrong place at the wrong time. At some point, the unnamed official either heard the repeated yells of “Track!” from pacer Pat McGregor, or responded to some other warning signal from the crowd. At that point, with the clock reading 2:06.1, he finally reacted.

Unfortunately, without knowing how close the runners were (he never looked back), he made what turns out to be the worst possible choice. Instead of moving to the outside, or even standing still to let the runners flow around him, he slid to the inside in a futile attempt to reach the infield in time to avoid a collision.

McGregor plows into him, and absorbs his sideways momentum. Three-time Olympian Michael Rimmer slams him from behind. Both McGregor and Rimmer have their hands on him and, whether it is to steady themselves or try to get the official off the track, end up twisting and pulling him back into the infield.

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With no way to stay upright, the official slams into the track. It is a sickening moment, and the official is later carried off on a stretcher and taken to a hospital.

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Readers, that could have been me.

As a competitor and a coach, I can tell you that no matter how much experience you have around tracks, and no matter how careful you try to be, you will have moments where you forget all of the dangers that surround you at an average track meet. Maybe in your haste to go over to congratulate an athlete who has just finished a race, you cross a jump runway. Or maybe some distraction on the track diverts your attention from the throwers warming up for the javelin. These lapses happen, and thankfully, most of the time have no dire consequence.

As I read message board posts, and then articles from around the country and the world recounting the collision, I became increasingly angry at the lack of empathy for the official in this incident. Yes, he made a mistake. Yes, the collision was his fault. And yes, he ought to have been paying more attention, looked both ways before crossing the track, etc., etc. But he was badly injured, not to mention deeply unfortunate that his moment of inattention put him in the path of the oncoming train.

I identified more with the official than with the runners. I thought about how one moment, he was just doing his job for the sport he loved, enjoying the fine evening and the fine performances, and seconds later he was on the ground, and on his way to the hospital. Who knows what might have changed for him forever in those few moments?

But the online world responded with mockery and derision. Where is the empathy for the human being here? And who even thought to wonder about who he was and what his story might be?

The world of track and field is wider than the current generation of athletes. The coaches, officials, and administrators include many former athletes whose lives in the sport are richer by far than the current competitors could imagine. And sure, there are probably some officials who do a poor job, and administrators who are into power trips, and all the rest of the things that athletes complain about. I understand, and I’ve dealt with that, too.

But it makes me angry that no one even thinks that this official might have been one of the good ones who just had a bad day. Maybe he was a former athlete, or maybe someone who had given up a lot to give back to the sport.

I mean, it might have been me.

 

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