Running in the 'Meda: Big-league mishaps

Running in the 'Meda: Big-league mishaps

Marty Beene

I don't often write about the top levels of competitive running, since most of us are so far removed from it. It seems like something from another planet. But this past week in Beijing, the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships have been going on.

Many top track & field athletes think of this meet as even more prestigious than the Olympics (perhaps because it is only track & field, not all those other sports). Monday and Tuesday each included unusual occurrences, both involving American women.

On Monday, three Americans competed in the women's 10,000 meter race. Two of them, Molly Huddle and Shalane Flanagan, were considered to be strong contenders for a medal. The third, Emily Infeld, was the only one to win a medal, earning a bronze for third place. How she did it was the unusual part.

Going into the final half lap of the 25-lap race, Huddle was trying to stay with the two top runners and doing a pretty good job, so coming off the final turn she was in great position to capture third. Flanagan was back in sixth position - maybe a little disappointing, but still an excellent result. But Infeld was not satisfied with her fourth place position, so she gave it everything in the final straightaway. Meanwhile, with only a few meters left in the race, Huddle believed she had third place locked up, so raised her arms in celebration and slowed ever so slightly. Which happened to be just at the moment Infeld was exploding across the finish line to snatch the bronze medal by a few inches over Huddle. Oops.

One of the first things I teach the young runners I coach is that the finish line marks the location on the track where you can begin to think about slowing down. Many new runners mistakenly think of it as the place where you stop running, so they actually start slowing down slightly a few meters before reaching it. It is almost unbelievable that a professional runner would make this kind of mistake - except that it happens at least a few times every year. Sometimes it even happens to the same runner - Huddle actually lost the national cross-country championship in 2012 when she appeared to slow just before the finish line (although that time, she did not appear to be celebrating) and Sara Hall passed her at the line. Maybe she'll learn this time?

Another unusual thing happened to an American runner on Tuesday. In the women's 1,500 meter final, Ethiopian and current world record holder Genzebe Dibaba was considered the overwhelming favorite (and, indeed, she won), but Americans Shannon Rowbury and Jenny Simpson both had legitimate shots to medal. Those two led the field through most of the first two laps, so they were in an excellent position to finish well up in the standings. Unfortunately, right about at that point, someone accidentally stepped on the heel of one of Simpson's shoes, and it came off completely about 100 meters later.

Rowbury, the American record holder and a San Francisco native, faded a bit by the end, but still finished in seventh place - not too bad to be the seventh best in the world, right? But Simpson simply couldn't run very fast with only one spiked shoe, and finished next-to-last. She was disappointed, but kind of shrugged it off as one of those things that does happen from time to time.

In other news, my strength class designed for people over 40 is indeed still going on, down at Lower Washington Park, so please join us! Note that class will not be held on Friday, August 28 or Monday, August 31.

Finally, this blog is moving to a new location next week, as The Alamedan takes a break from publishing new material. To find me next week, simply go here. If you forget where to find me, I will highlight the change on my website, which is linked below.

Marty Beene, a USA Track & Field certified coach, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups. He can be reached at marty@BeTheRunner.com.