While some argue that American marathoning could use a kick in the pants - Chicago may have at least given it a kickstart, perhaps even inaugurating a second coming for US races and runners.
Chicago has proven to be the fastest loop course in the US, and the only the only course that can compete with the world's most time-friendly routes. Most importantly, in an era when American track and field is short on corporate investment, The LaSalle Banks has given race director Carey Pinkowski the requisite funding to stage a world class event.
Jerry Lawson proved there was at least one American with enough gumption to go toe to toe with the world's elite, and Todd Williams made a credible debut and has declared the marathon as his future. Yet, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the day was Khalid Khannouchi's assertion that "I am working on becoming as US citizen and would like to represent the US in the Olympics."
It appears that US Marathon hopes may follow the foreign route preferred by many a college coach. While scholarships and road racing booty have benefited many a foreign athlete, only a scant few have chosen to seek citizenship in this land of opportunity. Maybe it is our taxes, our violent crime or our daytime TV, whatever the case, we should be so fortunate that a Moroccan who ran a 29 flat 10k as an 18 year old and a 2:07:10 debut is living the American immigrant dream in Brooklyn.
Khannouchi moved to New York in 1994 after taking a liking to the states when he won the WUG 5k in Buffalo a year earlier. His first road race brought mixed results, -- a jet lagged dnf that was offset when he first met his wife Sondra, herself a naturalized citizen from the Dominican Republic. In this era of corporate and national teams with support scientists and $200,000 a year coaches, Khalid and Sondra plan his workouts and races at a kitchen table in a modest Brooklyn apartment. "Why should I have another coach when she knows me best?" asks Khannouchi.
With training runs through Brooklyn, track workouts at St. John's, and weekly 20 mile trail runs, Khannouchi's immigrant dream began to take shape in the form of a lucrative career as a roadie. Once a promising trackster who was a training mate of 1500 star Hicham El Guerrouj, Khannouchi has eschewed the oval in favor of pavement. "I have a talent for track, but there were not opportunities [for income], so I concentrated on road races."
This summer after a string of impressive victories, Sondra prevailed in convincing Khalid that the marathon was the next logical step. "It was two months of running 100-110 miles a week, with 2-3 track sessions a week." Khannouchi also believes that his frequent road racing activities aided his marathon preparations, noting "I've raced 17 times this year, that is not a lot for me. I train with races, they make me strong."
The only surprise Khannouchi had all day came after he asserted "My main goal was to finish, and 2:07 doesn't mean anything to me." When informed that a time bonus doubled his $50,000 victory check, Khannouchi broke into a modest smile and reappraised "the time is very good."
In assessing his future Khannouchi concludes, "My best races are at 5 and 10k and racing on the track was my dream. But now that I have run 2:07, I'll focus on the marathon."
While Khannouchi came into the race riding a wave of success, Jerry Lawson returned to Chicago having run an emotional fartlek in the year since he tied Pat Petersen's AR of 2:10:05. A dnf at London and a broken engagement sent Lawson into tailspin this summer, "I didn't run for three weeks and lost 14 pounds." An admitted "wanderer," Lawson returned to Jacksonville and started training again in mid-July. "I didn't have a big marathon buildup, mostly 90-100 mile weeks with a peak of 110. I'm usually a 100-120 guy so I was a bit short on strength." Coached by Jack Daniels, Lawson admitted "my last four weeks were very solid with some track sessions where I ran 3-4 x 2 miles at 9:20 pace."
Lawson's overachievement was a testament to his will and marathoning experience. "After the layoff, I came back with a purpose -- mentally I was ready to run 2:08:30." While short on fitness Lawson put his nose into the lead pack and the brazen 2:08 pace. "The first half went great, I felt fresh and strong," recalled Lawson. "It was a bit windy, but Jeff Jacobs set a steady pace, and he's a big guy -- a great windbreak. After he dropped at 16, the pace became a bit erratic and it was much harder to draft behind the Kenyans."
"My body shouldn't have been able to do what it did today," surmised Lawson, "this race had more to do with the strength I've developed over the years."
For Todd Williams, Chicago represented the beginning of his marathon career rather than a do or die quest for the million dollar bonus. Having run 27:31 for 10K and an AR 1:00:11 half-marathon, Williams was burdened with great expectations. But the last two years had not been very kind to Williams who suffered through dnfs in the Olympics and the Indy Nationals, and recently he has been besieged by a mysterious side stitch that knocked him out of a couple of road races.
Undaunted by the media hype, Williams had his own agenda, "I felt that I had to run conservatively. If I went out at 2:08 pace, I might have bonked. I'm committed to the marathon, and I wanted to get a lot of experience out of this first one. Next time I'll be more aggressive."
Williams got much more experience than he bargained for as he ran the last 17 miles all by himself without the benefit of competitors, pace setters or windbreaks. "It was hard to focus with no one in sight."
Looking fitter and seeming chipper than he has in the past couple of years, Williams admitted "I'm really pleased with the whole marathon experience. The training went well, and I think I ran a solid race. The last couple of miles were a struggle, but I think that I learned a lot and I'm looking forward to my next one. I'm glad that I came through after the problems I had in Atlanta and Indy, at least I put that to rest with the critics and with myself."
Long reluctant to consider a 26 miler, the US's top 10k runner for the past five years, now sees his future as a marathoner. "I have a long time focus for the marathon. I want to still be racing when I'm 36, and my expectations are high. I want to run 2:08 and be competitive in the WC and Olympic marathons."
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