Americans Gain Ground by Detroit Training
Apr. 18, 2006
BOSTON (AP) _ Far enough outside Detroit to find the hills he needed, Kevin Hanson hung a replica of the landmark neon Citgo sign that hovers over Kenmore Square _ part of a ``course simulator'' designed to train runners for the Boston Marathon.
It was just a poster produced by the running coach's 7-year-old daughter. But when Brian Sell passed under the real sign in this year's race, he knew immediately that he had 1 mile to go.
``When you're half out of it and you don't know where you are, you see that Citgo sign and know,'' said Sell, whose fourth-place finish was part of the best American showing in the event's prize money era. ``It trains the mind, I guess.''
Sell trained with the Brooks-Hansons team that put seven runners in the top 22 in Monday's Boston Marathon, which was won by Kenyans Robert Cheruiyot and Rita Jeptoo. No American man has won since 1983, but this year the U.S. put five in the top 10, including Nos. 3, 4 and 5.
``That proves that it can be done by an American. But we still don't have any Americans sitting up at that table, yet,'' said Hanson, who established the training camp in Rochester, Mich., with his brother, Keith.
``We're pleased with today, but for today only,'' Kevin Hanson said. ``The goal wasn't to be a good human interest story. The ultimate goal is to have the wreath put on an American's head.''
The Hanson brothers decided to open the camp after watching the Kenyans take one of their 14 men's races in the past 16 years. Coaches who own a chain of running stores, they bought three houses in the same neighborhood, with 17 bedrooms for runners to rent.
``We would be watching the Boston Marathon and waiting for the first American to cross the finish line. And we said, 'Why is this happening?''' Kevin Hanson said.
``We don't believe the usual reason people give, which is that East Africans are genetically superior at running marathons. It's not what the East Africans are doing well, but what Americans are doing poorly.''
The Hansons thought about what worked for running clubs in the past _ notably the Greater Boston Track Club that produced champions Bill Rodgers and Greg Meyer. Those clubs ran together every day, and they ran on the course where they would be competing.
``They ran on Heartbreak Hill. They knew every crack, every crevice of the course,'' Kevin Hanson said. ``But we didn't want to run the Boston Marathon before we ran the Boston Marathon.''
Because it would be impossible to commute to Boston every morning for training, the Hansons set up the ``Boston simulator,'' a 26.2 kilometer course _ that's kilometers, not miles _ with all the relevant landmarks but a more manageable training distance.
About halfway through was a Wellesley sign, with pictures of girls cut out of magazines by Samantha Hanson; at 20K, there was a hill to give runners practice for Heartbreak Hill; and, of course, the Citgo sign welcomed them to the last kilometer.
Sell said the practice helped prepare him for one of the distance's more grueling races.
``Running is a lot physical and a lot mental,'' Sell said. ``It's about building your fitness and your confidence, too.
``Every day, we go out and push each other. The big thing is, these guys train with me every day, and they say, 'Hey, I kicked that guy's butt in training. I can do that, too.'''
Seven members of the Hansons were joined by fellow Americans Meb Keflezighi (third), Alan Culpepper (fifth) and Peter Gilmore (seventh). The United States hasn't won the men's race since Meyers did it in '83, and they haven't had so many top finishers since the addition of prize money lured back the top international runners.
``Another American Revolution has begun,'' said Guy Morse, the executive director of the Boston race. ``It began here in Boston, and we'll see more of these American athletes in the future.''
Temperatures in the 50's kept the runners cool and allowed 97.9 percent of the 20,117 starters to finish. Only 70 runners were transported from the course, and the finish line medical tent was also relatively quiet.
``We just weren't tested the way we have been in the past,'' race director Dave McGillivray said.
McGillivray also said there was not one phone call to the hotline established so homeowners abutting the course, especially at the start in Hopkinton, could complain about runners going to the bathroom on their lawns.
One reason was probably the two-wave start that allowed runners to spend less time at the starting line waiting for the gun. Near the end of the race, a course change that took the field under an overpass instead of on it didn't seem to be a problem, even though it meant one more late hill.
``He got a course record and he went under the overpass,'' McGillivray said, after thanking Cheruiyot effusively for not making a villain of the organizers. ``So our plan worked out pretty good.''