The End of History?
History isn’t taught in schools like it was when we old coots were young. And what is taught is often freighted with political agendas, or it’s downright revisionist.
Every minority group—no matter how minor—wants a seat at the table of U.S. history equal to that of Washington and Jefferson and Franklin, even if it was totally irrelevant to the epoch. Some of the demands reach what would be humorous heights if it weren’t so serious a subject. In the process, the lives and actions of real, living, breathing, historical human beings have been so sanitized and abbreviated as to require lots of illustrations to fill the empty spaces where colorful personalities once dwelled.
The history of running as a sport and lifestyle is similar. Among new runners, there is limited or no interest in what came before. There is only now. The present is all that really matters. The assumption of many new runners is that what is, is what it has been.
On the Road with Kathrine Switzer
The Marathon Church and the Lessons We Learn From It
Sunday morning, Chicago, barely daylight. The journalists gather quietly in their own cathedral, which today is the ballroom in the Hilton Hotel. They greet each other with slightly hushed tones, quickly find a pew, and set about opening their computers with the seriousness of prayer books. Their incense is the smell of coffee; the communion cup is a steaming silver urn of the brew alongside. A quick check of the watch and, yes, there is just time to get a cup and have it in place before the service begins. This is the pressroom of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, and with minor variations, it is the same place of once-a-year worship in Berlin, New York, Boston, London, Rotterdam, and Paris.
Outside, the day unfolds in a beautiful, warm, autumn panorama. We watch it here, indoors, on seven huge flat-screen TVs. The preacher’s job is to stand in front of us with a headset and microphone, interpreting what we see with our own eyes, what we cannot possibly see outside of camera range, and what we can only speculate from time splits and temperature reports relayed to him from the lead vehicle. Every 15 minutes or so (however long it takes a very good athlete to run five kilometers), his acolytes pass out updated pink (for women) and blue (for men) split-time sheets. Then they climb a ladder up on the altar where huge leader boards are before us, and they write who is in first, second, third … and how fast they are running. The noise level rises with keyboards clicking, background commentary, and people conferring in different accents, asking each other to confirm new information.
The athletes are both the disciples and our lessons for the day.
Guest Editorial: The Ethics of Marathoning
“I couldn’t run the marathon that I had registered for, and transfers weren’t allowed, so I gave my entry to a friend. I didn’t know he would also wear my timing chip. He placed first among the women in my age group using my name! I felt very bad for the other women in the age group and tried to call the RD to let him know. It was too late; they had already given out the awards and published the results.” More and more marathons and ultras are filling up, and they are doing so earlier and earlier. This puts a constraint on runners who would prefer to register for events later rather than sooner. Several consequences emerge from this pattern:
- Race organizers are happy because they don’t need to worry as much about making ends meet. They have all the registered runners they can handle. Moreover, once a race sells out, it’s likely to do so again the following year, and probably even earlier.
- Those concerned with the growth of our sport are also pleased to witness another indicator of its overall health.
- Runners need to plan their events earlier and more carefully.
- Runners may be closed out of an event they had counted on running. This may cause them to find another race, bandit the race, or use someone else’s registration, when available.
- Runners who register early enough may find that they have paid for an event they cannot attend due to injury, lack of training, or a scheduling conflict. These runners may lose out on their entry fee unless the race has a refund policy or lets them defer it to a future year, or they may sell or give their entry to another runner. This may or may not be allowed by race organizers.
My Most Unforgettable Marathon
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA, February 25, 2007—The forecast was rain all day Sunday.
Marathons are like football games. Weather’s not enough to cause their cancellation, unless it’s pretty dramatic. A hurricane will do it, but this was February of 2007, the weekend after Mardi Gras, and hurricane season was months away. So it would rain, and we would do what marathoners do when it rains. We’d get wet.
I don’t mind getting wet. When I was a boy my mother assured me I wouldn’t melt, and so far she’s been right about that. Though a year earlier I’d found myself wondering.
That was in Houston, on the last weekend of February 2006, where I participated in a 24-hour race around a two-mile asphalt loop in Bear Creek Park. The race got under way at seven in the morning, and within an hour it started raining, and it didn’t entirely quit for eight hours or so. Sometimes it was a drizzle and sometimes it was a downpour, but the rain coming down was the least of it; what drove us all mad was the rain after it had fallen. The course didn’t drain properly, and great sections of our path were ankle deep in water. It slowed me down and shortened my stride and messed up my feet and did nothing good for my disposition, let me tell you. More to the point, it led me to retire from the race after 18 hours or so, with 64.25 miles to my credit. That was enough to top my one previous 24-hour race, but only by a mile. I don’t know how far I might have gone in Houston on a dry surface, but I’m fairly sure I’d have managed a few more circuits of the course.
So I really wasn’t looking forward to rain at the New Orleans race. But I’d show up rain or shine. I wouldn’t melt.
A marathon where you just might relax.
In an age where abandoned subdivisions line our freeways, 33,000-volt transmission lines cross them, and cell phone-clad drivers clog them, it’s easy to forget that America wasn’t always this way.
It still isn’t, at least not everywhere. Unspoiled wide-open spaces can still be found, unblemished by billboards and cell phone towers. Experience another lifestyle at the Shiprock Marathon, held the first Saturday every May on the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico. You just might relax while you’re running it.
What do you run? That’s one of the simplest and best questions one runner can ask another. It demands an honest answer—not what you once did or dream of doing some faraway day, but what you really ran today and plan to run tomorrow.
Hardly anyone ever asks me that question anymore. I don’t expect it and feel no need to volunteer a detailed answer, either in person or in print.
There’s not much to tell. Yes, of course I still run, but not nearly far enough to impress any marathoner, let alone a beyonder.
I write now about a run of mine taken last summer only because it was so far from my norm. Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine percent of the time I run alone. Most runs end before the sun peeks above the hills on our eastern horizon. Few runs repeat the same lap more than a handful of times.
This one run broke all those habits. It circled a high school track for dozens of laps. The black track intensified the heat of the midday sun. I joined a crowd of hundreds, mostly walkers, many of whom drifted into the runners-only inside lane.
I left my loner comfort zone for the best of reasons. This was our town’s annual Relay for Life, which supports cancer causes, remembers the casualties, honors the survivors, and praises the caregivers. I ran for all those reasons, plus to give thanks that I could still do this.
On the Mark
Experts answer readers’ training and competition questions. This month’s question: I’m a 28-year-old guy who over the years has managed to improve his marathon PR from 3:48 to 3:12. But for the past two years I’ve been stalled in the 3:12 to 3:16 range. I want desperately to improve so I can qualify at least once for Boston. I currently need a 3:10:59 or lower to qualify but would like to get down to 3:05 just in case the standards are made tougher. I regularly reach 50 miles per week in building to a marathon but probably do not do as much speed work as I should. I go to a track and do mile repeats once a week, and I race 5K and 10K about twice a month. Do your experts have any advice for getting me across a marathon finish line in 3:05? I’m willing to do whatever it takes.
BioFile: Tegla Loroupe
Date of Birth: May 9, 1973, in Kenya
First Running Memory: “Oh, it was a long time ago [smiles]. My first memory is when I run the first race in Japan, 1992. Cross-country.”
Running Inspirations: “There are many things that inspire. One thing is that you love to run. Also, to run with the best is a satisfying feeling. And to win the race. My running heroes were Kip Keino from Kenya and Ingrid Kristiansen from Norway.”
Favorite Movies: “Well, I don’t have time to go to movies, to the cinema [smiles]. I like old movies. I like the one with Eddie Murphy, Coming to America.”
Musical Tastes: “I like Madonna.”
Favorite Meal: “We have ugali—that’s
a Kenyan meal. And pasta.”
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “No.”
A Fateful Date With 2010
A year of running dangerously.
As I wait my turn for the red carpet, I hear, “Congratulations on your ESPY nomination.” It is funny to me because I can hear them talk about what an amazing year I have had and it feels surreal to me, as if I’m outside of my body watching everything I’m doing from above through a fish-eye lens. The feeling reminds me of the day my life changed forever: April 14, 1994.
I was out riding my Harley-Davidson with a group of friends. The day was beautiful, but for some reason I didn’t feel like going on this ride. I felt as if something was wrong, but don’t we all do things we feel we shouldn’t, and don’t we all look back and wonder why we didn’t listen to that little voice inside our heads? I guess it sounds odd for me to say this, but if I could go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing.
I was riding down a two-lane highway when a blue car pulled out in front of me. Yes, time does indeed move in slow motion at certain times in our lives, and I know because it happened to me. As I crested the hill, I saw her car stopped at the intersection perpendicular to the road I was riding on. I slowed down and noted a blond-haired woman in the driver’s seat. She had her window down, and of course she heard my motorcycle. Who wouldn’t? It was crazy loud, and yes, that’s the way I liked it. Now, remember that what happened next most likely took all of two seconds but to me felt more like five minutes.
Your Complete Guide to Recovering From a Marathon
Simple steps to come back quickly and well.
When you cross the finish line of a marathon, your body is a war zone—a war zone where you’ve lost most of the battles. You are walking wounded and physically exhausted. It’s no coincidence that well-organized marathons often have an army of medics manning the finish line.
David Costill, PhD, former head of the exercise physiology department at Ball State University, Indiana, describes what happens to your body in his book Inside Running: Basics of Sports Physiology. “A lot of things happen to the body as a result of running the marathon. You become overheated, dehydrated and your muscles are severely glycogen depleted. Your hormonal milieu gets thrown out of whack, and you traumatize your muscles.” He adds, “You have to bide your time to get your body back in balance.”
Muscle biopsies taken on hapless marathoners immediately after finishing their event consistently show ruptured fibers, inflammation, and spillage of intracellular contents outside the muscle. The list goes on: displacement of red and white blood cells, derangement and discontinuity of contractile filaments, and some hard wear and tear on the connective tissues attaching to and surrounding the muscle. It takes your muscles and skeletal system from seven to 10 days to recover, with some biopsy research showing muscle-fiber damage still lingering 30 days after a marathon.
And just for good measure, your stress hormones cortisol, glucagon, and epinephrine are dramatically elevated after the marathon. Your one and only goal when you finish your marathon should be to get your body and health back together as soon as possible. Fortunately, research on the many aspects of recovery from endurance events is prodigious and has revealed interesting data. Many exercise scientists and coaches are comfortable enough with it to make some recommendations and guidelines that we think will enhance your postmarathon recovery. If you follow this advice, you will be back in good health and resume your normal training schedule again in the shortest possible time.
Carey Pinkowski, Race Director Extraordinaire
A heart-to-heart conversation with the man who steered the Bank of America Chicago Marathon to world-class status—and beyond.
DA: I read a story of when you were in college (at Villanova) and traveled to New York in 1978 to observe the marathon. What was your perception of the marathon back then? In addition, would you say the 1976 New York Marathon, the first run through the five boroughs, is an underappreciated landmark in the sport in that it showed a marathon could be run in a major metropolitan area?
CP: Yes, definitely. That 1976 New York [City] Marathon was truly the birth of the urban marathon. Fred Lebow was the first to understand that the masses are not going to come to you; you have to bring the marathon to the masses. He proved it could work.
As far as running the marathon, however, it was not something I aspired to do. Like most of my track teammates at Villanova, I was respectful of the marathon and curious about it, but back then it was considered something runners did at the end of their careers.
DA: How did you become involved with the marathon initially?
CP: I had the opportunity to meet Lee Flaherty in 1989. [Flaherty, a businessman and avid runner, was the founder of the Chicago Marathon in 1977.] During our discussion we talked about road running and the marathon. I had some ideas and suggestions that he found interesting, and he asked me if I would be interested in “working on the event.” I accepted his invitation and my responsibility eventually grew into the role of race director, in 1990.
Being Brad Hudson
Lessons learned the hard way benefit a new generation.
An energetic blend of Spanish, Irish, and Italian, and with the boisterous personality to match, Brad Hudson is one of the top distance coaches in the running network. The message boards on letsrun.com cannot seem to leave him alone. Yet most customers who walk into the Eugene Running Company in Eugene, Oregon, have no idea the stout, gray-haired man fitting them for running shoes is a former marathon champion, has set high school cross-country records, and coaches elite runners. Hudson’s running has changed over the years; after thousands of miles and a back-wrenching bike accident, he is learning to run all over again, albeit at a much slower pace. Those who have not met him personally may have seen one of his articles in Running Times magazine or read his book Run Faster From the 5K to the Marathon. Now it is your turn to be introduced to Hudson’s seemingly infinite knowledge of the marathon. He was more than willing to discuss his running history, his coaching strategies, and the fundamentals he uses to train elite marathoners.
Billy Mills and the Marathon
There are worthy challenges beyond the 10,000 meters.
On the final day of the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo 47 years ago, an orphaned U.S. Marine second lieutenant, from the University of Kansas by way of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, was the 14th runner to cross the finish line of the marathon. He was more than 10 minutes behind the winner. No one would have taken a second look at that athlete had it not been for a record run seven days earlier.
When the future Makata Taka Hela rounded that final turn in the National Olympic Stadium and flew down the straightaway to win the 10,000 meters in an Olympic record, people scrambled to know this American champion. He could have run under his soon-to-be Oglala Lakota Sioux Indian warrior name as far as most people were concerned, because the name Billy Mills solicited the same unrecognized response.
And often overlooked is that these remarkable feats were achieved by a 26-year-old body weakened by hypoglycemia—abnormally low glucose in the blood—with which he was diagnosed the year before the 1964 Games.
Not Your Grandfather’s Snowshoes
A road racer tests his feet at snowshoe racing.
There comes a point in most races when I wonder why, every few weeks, I insist on punishing myself this way—again and again and again. I never have an answer, but neither do I stop to ponder. Later, I think. But as soon as the race is over, I’m plotting the next one. I’ve come to take that as normal. All-out races hurt. You wonder why, think vague thoughts of what people in other sports sometimes say (“Because it’s there”), then shrug it off and go back to the serious business of making yourself hurt. Only once in my road racing career have I finished a race still wondering why … and that was an Ironman-length triathlon at 104 degrees and Midwestern humidity and no support worthy of the name. Almost everyone dropped out, but I insisted on finishing … and never did a long triathlon again.
Then I tried snowshoe racing.
For years, club mates had been after me to give it a go, but I had declined. A decade earlier, I had rented giant, heavy snowshoes for a hike and found them to be a difficult, inelegant way to go slowly over terrain I could cross much more quickly and elegantly on cross-country skis. It was my second “never again” moment, and I thought I meant it every bit as much as the no-more-triathlons vow. But suddenly, there I was, planning to run on the things.
I think I succumbed because I found myself awake early on race morning, with nothing better to do. Early enough to be able to hit a mountain shop and (barely) make it to the start. The strangest decisions can stem from the inability to come up with a good excuse to sleep in.
How I Trained for My First 100-Miler
Build gradually—and logically—toward your goal race and enjoy the journey.
“Beep, beep, beep, beep … ” The amber light of the alarm clock flashed the time, 4:30 a.m., as I fumbled frantically in the dark trying to find the snooze button. “Just five more minutes, that’s all I want,” I said to myself, knowing this would be the last time I would be completely relaxed for a long while and not quite ready to let the moment go. Only a few seconds later, my watch alarm also began beeping and blinking, and I muttered under my breath, “It’s time; this is it.” I tiptoed over to the desk, trying my best not to disturb my crew, poured my cereal, and sat down to eat as the questions began flying through my head. “Am I ready? Can I do this? What will it be like? Did I train right? Enough?” By this time tomorrow, I hoped, I would know most of the answers as I would be nearing the finish of my first 100-miler, the 2007 Kettle Moraine 100-Mile Endurance Run in LaGrange, Wisconsin.
At 5:00 a.m., my dad and I left the hotel and began the drive to the start line. There wasn’t much conversation on the ride as I simply stared out the window in a zone, savoring these last precious moments of sitting comfortably in the car. This was my final exam; the thousands of miles of training, the planning, the preparation—all of it was for this day, and it was time for me to show what I had learned. We arrived at 5:30 a.m. and all of the runners were scrambling around, including me. I grabbed my necessities and headed over for the last-minute brief- ing, but instead of listening I nervously chatted with a few friends. “What color are the markers we’re supposed to be following?” I asked Deanna. “I don’t know, missed that too,” she responded, but before we could get the answer, Timo, the race director, started the countdown, and we were off! I guessed that we’d figure that part out soon enough; the race was under way!
So how did I get there? How many thousands of miles did I run in prepara- tion? What did I plan? How did I prepare? What’s the magic formula? Read on, and you will find these answers and more as I discuss how I trained for my first 100-miler.
Bun in the Oven
Why I love to run with and for my daughters.
I always considered my running a little indulgent. This self-imposed guilt trip began long before I had children. In medical school I ran around Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Each minute away from my Gray’s Anatomy could be justified only because I was working on my own anatomy.
Quadriceps tendon attaches to the patella, hamstring to the pelvis, my iliotibial band hurt on the left; must be inflammation. My own lab experiment, I taught myself firsthand the physiological effects of hypoglycemia and hyponatremia. After my first marathon in 1990 in New York, I hurried to the train, Guyton’s Physiology in my overnight bag. Test the next morning, I needed to cram on the way home from the race. Within about 15 minutes of departure, tachycardia and diaphoresis—bounding heartbeat, sweats, and clamminess—overcame me. I grabbed the can of Coke from the passenger next to me. Gross, right? Guzzling the can of sugary soda replaced the IV bag I had seen hung in the emergency room. I came back to life immediately. A slice of pepperoni pizza immediately reversed my hyponatremia as well. Although I could barely make it down the stairs the next morning, I aced the test.
As an ob-gyn intern, I discovered that I could run up and down the 20-some flights of stairs in the tower at the UCSD Medical Center while technically fulfilling my duties of remaining “in house.” Postcall and delirious, I irritated my boyfriend to no end when I insisted on “getting in a run.” The soft path along the La Jolla and Del Mar coast erased my memory of 36 hours awake on Labor and Delivery. My boyfriend, however, held a grudge. He soon hit the road as well and never really understood my biological need to run.
I soon moved East for a new residency (both medically and geographically) and found running in Boston to be as heavenly as I had anticipated. Even in subzero temperatures, I would trudge along the Charles River wearing so many layers it was impossible to tell if I was actually moving. Single and unencumbered, I ran whenever and wherever I wanted. Unfortunately, I never could manage to swing the day off on marathon Monday. But living on Commonwealth Avenue, I came home from work in the early afternoon to witness the runners streaming by my doorstep on the way to the finish line. I have never been so jealous!
Book Bonus: The Purple Runner
The mysterious runner comes to Chris’s aid—and then vanishes. Part 3.
“A pint and a half of Sam Smith’s, please,” Warren Fowles said to the buxom bar maid who had just smiled a “yes, please?” at him while pulling a porcelain- and-brass handle to fill a thin glass with a pint of Brakspear’s Real Ale. During his Highgate School days when he had lived on Hollycroft Avenue in Hampstead, he had learned the Nag’s Head on Heath Street to be one of the few free houses (not owned by a brewery) which served a wide variety of real ales: beers without additives and not artificially pressurized.
The lesson of dressing as a toff was something he had skillfully acquired back in those same school days, and he felt right at home in his cream-coloured, thin- lapeled jacket with the back of the collar turned up as if it were an oversight. His narrow loosened-but-knotted, tan tie in combination with the jacket and pleated green surgical trousers provided just the sort of haughty and insouciant appear- ance demanded of the true public school boy. The one consolation he allowed any proclivity felt for Americana was his pair of tattered Nike Yankees, worn partly out of some sort of blinded reveries of his former days of running in Oregon, but also for just plain comfort.
For nine o’clock it was quite smoky and crowded in the room, the upper walls of which were bedecked with brewing photographs. He wended his way through a cluster of punks back to the table covered with empty glasses, which he was sharing with an English female photographer he had just chatted up. At the next table sat a couple of inanimate bores whose incessant cigarette smoking and vacant starings gave him the decided impression that eavesdropping was their only major pursuit in life. The fucking English! he thought to himself. Everyone smokes like a God-damned chimney here!
Easy to Be Hard
Attending any sort of running conference is a virtual ride in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups at Disney World: lots of whirling and spinning in all sorts of expected and unexpected directions and a touch of nausea as you wobble your way back onto solid ground. Les Smith at the Portland Marathon hosts a race directors’ gathering in the days leading up to the early-October marathon. The panels are usually composed of much the same roster of long-running experts in the field—folks who were around when cavemen ran from saber-toothed tigers and when running in America was confined to either punishment laps for having goofed up on a sports field or a way of escaping the long arm of the law.
These folks are the people who have shaped the sport over the decades into what it has become and, in most cases, learned running from the black toenails and chafing thighs up by competing in the sport probably more often than was good for them. Most of them have, by dint of time and experience, reached the level of the guru who sits outside his cave on the mountainside waiting for the young acolytes and searchers for truth to seek him out.
But sometimes not.
On the Road with Kathrine Switzer
Running with Pheidippides in Athens
The bus stopped at a light in front of the Panathinaiko Stadium and everyone cheered. I don’t think there was a DNF among us. Seriously, we all would have chosen to die honorably like Pheidippides rather than quit this particular marathon. It was, after all, the 2,500th-anniversary marathon, the big one, a once-in-50-lifetimes experience.
Quitting must have been a near-run option in several cases, though, including my own, when my thighs went immobile with cramps at 19 miles and I jerked to a stop, pushing back panic at the thought of trying to drag myself for seven miles to Athens. Despite warnings that it was a tough course, plenty of us were surprised how tough—not just the strategically placed hills, but also the unforgiving marble and asphalt road surface that is most excellent for shredding the quads.
But those were the negatives—the only negatives—of yesterday. Today we proudly wore our Greek blue-and-white Athens Classic Marathon 2010 race shirts and spun out our individual stories of survival and triumph as the victorious Athenian soldiers must have done two and a half millennia ago. Three hours? Six hours? Nobody cared, nobody judged. Run, run-walk, walk-run, walk- walk, how many gels, how much water, did you drink the Coca-Cola? Did you get sunburned, too? Did the EMT guys in the yellow coats spray you? What was that stuff, anyway? Man, I cannot even move today! That was the excited surface conversation, the we-did-it kind of chatter that is a prelude to the more significant things we wanted to say but couldn’t yet articulate.
My Most Unforgettable Marathon
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, April 20, 2009—I like a book to surprise me. The best movies are when I know little going in. I detest reviews and other people’s opinions before the fact. The odd part is that once I’m through an experience, all I want to do is read about it and relive it with someone who experienced the same thing.
I was talked into becoming a runner when I was in my 30s. I was persuaded to start entering races a year later. I ran my first marathon when I was 43 and qualified for the Boston Marathon at the age of 45. I had convinced myself from the start that the goal of just qualifying for Boston was the important achieve- ment, that it didn’t necessitate heading north. Once I qualified, friends pressed me to go. You have to experience the Boston Marathon. I heard them. They were overselling. I already knew too much about the event, and if I chose to go, this knowledge would tarnish the reality. Runners who ran Boston were too religious when they talked about it. No race is that good. I finally decided to go because I qualified. That’s it.
I went to run and come home a cynic. Turns out I was wrong.
Scenic wilderness: a race runs through it.
“I grew up at the junction of great trout rivers in Missoula, Montana.” These are among the words that open Robert Redford’s movie adaptation of Norman Maclean’s semiautobiographical novel, A River Runs Through It. In the early 1990s, this movie helped to make Missoula known beyond the borders of Montana. The result, much to the chagrin of many of the locals who enjoyed having their favorite fishing holes to themselves, was a fly-fishing boom that brought out-of-staters by droves to western Montana seeking the therapeutic powers of nature that were depicted in the film. More recently, a different event has begun to draw a different crowd to Missoula.
The Missoula Marathon started in 2007 as a small local event and in four short years has expanded more quickly than the organizers possibly could have imagined. The running boom has begun in Missoula.
This was a tough crowd. I mean tough in the best sense of the word, of working hard and achieving much. These runners were already highly motivated and focused when they arrived at Dick Beardsley’s latest marathon training camp in Minnesota, and they left even more so.
I’m not tough. A pair of sports psychologists, Bruce Ogilvie and Thomas Tutko, once certified me as an “extremely tender-minded athlete.” This is the reason I missed being all that I could be as a runner. But my reluctance to push too far, too fast, too often also could be the reason I’m still running. What Ogilvie and Tutko’s tests label as “tender-mindedness,” I prefer to think of as pacing that has let me last for all this time.
At last summer’s Beardsley camp, I didn’t urge the runners to hit the highest training mileage they could handle but instead suggested the least they could get by with or would accept. This might not have been what they wanted to hear. But it’s what I needed to say on that occasion.
Two years earlier I had talked with another of the camp speakers, Rich Benyo, who edits this magazine. He was at work then on his memoirs and urged me to get busy on mine. “We’re at the perfect age to write this type of book,” he said. “Old enough to have had lots of experiences, and still young enough to remember what they were.”
Now I’d finished these reflections. What had begun as a single volume had grown into three. Looking back over this series, I see how much of it deals with training. I’m a training geek who has left no run unrecorded since 1959. This leaves a paper trail of what has worked best. The very best practices are those that last the longest.
On the Mark
Experts answer readers’ training and competition questions. This month’s question: In the months leading up to a goal marathon, what percentage of my training should I do as speed work? I’m 52 and have been running for four years and have done three marathons. But I can’t seem to get fast enough to drop below 4:00. I have been able to hold a nine-minute pace for my last four half-marathons. In building to a marathon, I typically top out at 46 miles per week.
An L.A. Story
The City of Angels (finally) realizes its potential as a marathon destination.
I was supposed to be done with this marathon stuff. In 2008 I decided that I was officially retired from competitive running. No more beating myself up in the pursuit of PRs and the like. I would continue to run and sometimes race but with a ratcheted-down, less-demanding approach. There might be a low-key 5K or 10K here or there—maybe even an occasional half. My body applauded. My wife, who doesn’t enjoy seeing her guy so achy all the time, whistled and whooped.
But then the LA Marathon went and did it.
On November 9, 2009, race organizers unveiled a new point-to-point course dubbed the “Stadium to the Sea.” The gun would go off at Dodger Stadium. Participants would wend their way through parts of downtown, Silver Lake, Hol- lywood, Beverly Hills, Westwood, Brentwood, and Santa Monica. Along the way they would run past such iconic landmarks as the Disney Concert Hall, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and Whiskey A Go Go before finishing a stone’s throw away from the Santa Monica Pier. For someone whose entire running career has been based here in the City of Angels and whose opinion of his hometown marathon has until now bordered on the unprintable, the new layout—well, much to my wife’s exasperation—it was far too enticing for me to pass up.
Is Supplementary Aerobic Training Necessary for the Marathon?
By adding other aerobic exercise, we can do much to head off chronic injuries.
Oh, if I only knew back then what I know now, I sure would have changed a few things about my training. My running career began in the heart of Lydiard country, in Auckland, New Zealand, at a time when droves of New Zealanders turned to running. We came out in the thousands to run on the track, road, and cross-country. The Round the Bays Run started up in 1972 with 1,200 runners and within a few years had built up to 40,000 registered runners, with an additional 30,000 joggers who didn’t bother to sign up and just turned up and ran anyway. Elite runners such as John Walker, Dick Quax, Rod Dixon, Lorraine Moller, Anne Audain, and Allison Roe set the track and roads on fire and inspired the rest of us to train harder. Even recreational club runners were running Lydiard’s (in)famous hilly 22-mile Waiatarua run through Auckland’s Waitakere mountain ranges on Sunday mornings!
The point of mentioning all this is that I was deeply schooled in the mileage mania of most Kiwi runners of that era. We never questioned it—that would have been heresy. Not that all the high mileage did me any harm. When I was 19 years old, I trotted through my first marathon in 2:42:28, which at that time was the fastest for an under-20-year-old in the country, and it still ranks, I believe, in the top five marathon times in New Zealand for juniors.
As any runner who has studied the history and evolution of training since 1960 knows, Lydiard’s influence and doctrine of high mileage have well and truly spread around the world. But the more I learn about new training techniques and exercise science, the more I find myself thinking how I would have done things differently back in the day. And I am absolutely convinced that I would have squeezed much faster times out of myself.
To this day most marathoners are still too busy pounding the roads to concern themselves with such frivolities as supplementary training. Marathoners are slaves to high mileage. For most of them, the sole objective is to get as many miles as they can handle under their belt without breaking down and getting sick or injured. After all, their racing distance is 26.2 miles at a fast clip, so mileage appears to be the answer. But, sadly, 65 percent of runners find out every year that their body can tolerate only so much training before it reaches its limits—they get injured.
When we run for miles and miles on concrete sidewalks or asphalt roads, we continuously put our legs through the same repetitive contractions with hardly any variation in the movement, on an unyielding surface. By constantly stressing the same muscles, ligaments, and tendons, eventually any weak spots we have will revolt in the form of tendinitis or muscle strain. Our muscles are not made of titanium, and something will give under these repetitive conditions.
It Was a Very Good Year … and a Half
A retrospective of the high points in a very long career.
Part 1 of 3
Editor’s note: In September 1978, I went to Santa Monica, California, to attempt my first 50-miler. I wrote up the experience in the Winter 1979 issue of The Marathoner. This is a quote from that piece: “The big gun in attendance was the ultramuscled ultramarathoner Marine Frank Bozanich. And in his red-white-and-blue silky uni- form with the Nike symbol on the breast, he was the center of attention on a rather calm sea. I’d never seen Bozanich in the flesh, although I’d seen more than enough photos of him and read enough astounding times associated with his running. Built like a weight-training instructor, Bozanich sported a skull with Marine-recruit hair, a hawklike profile, and that intensity in the eyes that prizefighters and Indy car drivers get just before the bell or the starter’s flag. He seemed confident, in fact just a little cocky as he was pampered by his army of handlers; he was mentally tight like a too-tightly-wound wristwatch. He exuded the confidence that he was the strongest runner there and certainly one of the most experienced in ultramarathons. He planned an attempt to break the world record for the distance. He thought he could do it; so did his handlers. There was almost a halo around Bozanich because he was the in-residence superstar and because his intention to break the world record had been made public. Other runners, in drab garb compared to Bozanich’s, hushed when he walked past.” Bozanich failed to break the world record that day and in fact failed to win the race. It was Frank Bozanich’s strategy always to go out fast and either win or break. What follows is his account of 18 months in which he won more often than he broke.
I would like to cover a period of my running career that stands out for me. I have had several runs that mean a lot to me, but what really stand out and are most memorable for me are all the runs from late 1978 to the end of June 1980. That was probably my most productive and consistent period of my career.
I did have some good races prior to this period, but things really came together for me, and I was absolutely focused on running as well as I could for as long as I could. I wanted to run well in my ultramarathons and decided to run shorter races as good, hard training runs. You must remember that this period was prior to all the emphasis on trail ultras that continues today. Probably 90 percent of ultras were run either on the roads or on tracks.
I did nearly all of my training much faster than most of the other ultrarunners in the United States. My slow miles were in the 7:00 range, and most of my hard miles were in the 6:00-or-below range. I did all my training on my own time, which was usually early in the morning, at noon time, and again after work. The only time I ran on Marine Corps time was when I ran with my recruits or did physical training with my unit. My family suffered more than did the Corps, as I sacrificed time with them to train or race. I was lucky to have a wife who was willing to put up with my desire to be one of the best ultrarunners in the world.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
An account of my first (and only) successful 100-miler.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” — Henry David Thoreau
Most men who have a midlife crisis go out and buy a shiny red sports car or find a younger girlfriend in an effort to feel better about their lives. In my case, I could not afford a decent sports car, and since I was already married, I did not think that my wife would approve of my getting a young girlfriend. So what I did instead in an attempt to cure my midlife crisis was to foolishly announce to my friends that I intended to train for and complete a 100-mile ultramarathon. How I got to that desperate point in my life, and what I learned from the journey, is the purpose of this story.
Behind the Scenes at the Boston Marathon
The structure to cater to elite marathoners.
It’s always one of the greatest sights in marathoning—the front row of the starting line. Stretched across the start at any major-city marathon are some of the most talented, energized, fit runners in the world. It takes a great deal of training, planning, hours, and people to get those athletes on that line in the best possible shape.
Although everything involved in the months leading up to a race is largely in the hands of the athlete, the immediate weeks and days preceding a major marathon like Boston are bestowed upon an equally gifted army.
Neatly tucked away in a corner of the Hub, in the shadow of the John Hancock Tower just blocks from the Boston Marathon finish line, is a 64-room, eight-story building that for a few weeks every April houses the world’s finest marathon athletes. From the unimposing double-glass front doors to the nonstop personal services offered inside, the 86-year-old, 18th-century Adam-style hotel and confer- ence center with its intended connection between its brick and stone exterior and its interior design is transformed into the John Hancock Elite Athlete Village—a home and a security fortress for its 90-plus international tenants.
From Arusha to Fort Sill Via Boston
Some journeys tend to meander.
I knew we were in trouble when the fierce rumbling sound of wind kept us awake all night before the 2007 Boston Marathon. Whispering over to my African son, Beatus, who lay awake in the bed next to mine, I said, “Can’t sleep. Can you?”
“No, Baba.” (Swahili for father.)
“Doesn’t sound too good,” I added.
I first met Beatus Mushi nearly four years earlier in Arusha, Tanzania, while there to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and run the Mount Meru Marathon. (See “What, No Porta-Potties?” Marathon & Beyond, November/December 2007.) I saw him standing by the sidelines at Arusha Stadium, where the marathon ended. He approached me and asked in excellent English what I thought of the race. Beatus explained that he was always interested in running but didn’t know very much about how to train for running long distances. Basically, he wanted to learn more and do what it would take to complete a marathon.
As our conversation continued, I learned that Beatus had dropped out of high school to work and support his family after his father’s death. But he always remembered his father’s words to him about the importance of education. So he walked the countryside, looking hard and wide, until he eventually found a Roman Catholic school that would let him enroll as a student in exchange for cooking and washing dishes, scrubbing floors, and cleaning the priests’ robes.
I was intrigued by this very likable, soft-spoken young man. When I learned that he did well enough not only to graduate but also to serve as class president, I immediately thought about how he was the kind of student I would like to have at Chapman University in Orange, California, where I serve as president. We said our good-byes, but not before exchanging e-mail addresses.
One Boston, One New Friend
You never know whom you will meet on the road from Hopkinton.
Any runner’s first Boston Marathon will be stressful.
If the first Boston was 2007—the year of the nor’easter—then the stress was probably a lot higher.
I had been checking AccuWeather for two weeks prior to the race date, logging in every hour. My stomach cranked tighter every time the predictions became more dire. The day before the race, I was still running through endless clothing options as if I were preparing for an assault on Everest. During dinner I looked out the restaurant window and watched rain whipping down on the streets and walkers’ umbrellas turning inside out in the wind.
The bus ride out to Hopkinton was a horror. The trip was dark and dismal, with dirty water dripping off the runners and sloshing around the floor of the bus. The Athletes’ Village was a mud pit, a perfect cauldron for 20,000 runners to stew in. After a couple of hours in the pot, I was ready to be served up to the historic Boston Marathon course.
The gun going off was a relief, and yet my weather epic continued. My rain jacket got too warm right away, so I stripped that off and tied it around my waist. Hmm, are these wet gloves helping or hurting? Take them off—nope, back on— ugh, off is better—oh, heck, back on again and leave them on! Long-sleeve shirt . . . take that off, too, and toss it to a kid on the side of the road. Time for the first gel; did I really put my waist belt on upside down? Take the belt off, subdue it like a writhing python and get it back on without dropping it, wiggle the gel out, and choke it down.
All that in the first three miles!
The fourth mile was finally drama free, but now I found myself becoming bored. In the midst of 20,000 runners, I felt alone.
Last Ass Up the Pass
The Leadville Trail Marathon reported from the rear end of the field.
The Leadville Trail Marathon is frequently confused with its more famous cousin, the Leadville Trail 100-Mile “Race Across the Sky.” The trail marathon is held each July, a month before the 100-mile race. Both races start and finish in downtown Leadville at 10,150 feet in elevation, but the 100-mile race traverses the Sawatch Range west of Leadville, topping out at notorious Hope Pass (12,580 feet), while the trail marathon traverses the Mosquito Range east of Leadville, topping out at notorious Mosquito Pass (13,188 feet). The 100-mile race climbs a total of 15,000 vertical feet over 100 miles for an average of 150 vertical feet per mile; the trail marathon climbs a total of 6,000 vertical feet over 26.2 miles for an average of 230 vertical feet per mile.
July 7, 2007: Leadville Trail Marathon, mile 21, the base of Green Mountain
I was pinned down. My options were not good. The storm was getting worse. The hail had passed, but the freezing rain was soaking me. The temperature was falling fast and now there was lightning on Green Mountain ahead of me. The pine tree I was crouched beneath provided almost no shelter. My lime-green running jacket, pathetically light and thin, was providing very little protection. I had no gloves. My hands were numb. I was exhausted and dehydrated. I was alone. I was in last place. I had no idea how close ahead any other runners might be. My options were to stay where I was and risk hypothermia (which might kill me), or to keep running up Green Mountain and expose myself to lightning (which might kill me). Retreating, going back the way I had come, never entered my mind. Marathoners possess an obsessive drive to go forward at all costs at all times. At any rate, going back would simply take me farther and farther away from help.
Book Bonus: The Purple Runner
Warren makes his move—both in the 7-mile race and on a certain Kiwi. Part 4.
While munching a hamburger and quaffing a pint of Carling’s lager on the patio of the Freemason Arms, Warren Fowles was perusing London Non-Weekday to see what unusual activities he might plan for himself in celebration of completing fifteen lines of poetry during his initial period of residence in Hampstead. On that clear, but crisp early Friday evening it was difficult for him to concentrate on his reading, with the careening toddlers and ubiquitous scavenging dogs roving between the faded oaken tables and chairs. It occurred to him he should write a letter to the publican, that while children and dogs might be acceptable on a Sunday afternoon, Friday evenings ought purely to be devoted to the more predictable and slower-moving adults.
“Neville, leave the man’s drink alone,” admonished the mother of a tiny toddler, who, in reaching for Warren’s glass had managed to tip it enough to slosh one-fifth of its contents all over the page of the magazine he was reading. An intent but impassive glance at the mother before returning to his read would, he hoped in the British fashion, adequately convey his displeasure with her wandering offspring.
Heroes Are Made, Not Appointed
In mythology, heroes always seem to come complete with fatal or near-fatal flaws. Like Superman and kryptonite. Or Achilles and his heel. Or as marathoners know only too well, Achilles and his damned tendon.
But heroes in those halcyon days were required to do valiant, extraordinary, and sometimes incredibly stupid (but romantic) and selfless things—things beyond the means or comprehension of mere mortal men. (And not to let the ladies out, of course: Atalanta and Wonder Woman come to mind.) But, for better or worse, times change. Today, heroes come cheap. Any putz who can dribble a ball or string together a few words of rap or land a part in a movie—no matter how dreadful—is christened by our needy society as a hero.
The word “hero,” you’ll recall, comes through the Latin from the Greek heros. The dictionary meaning of “hero” is: “A person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities, i.e. a war hero.”
People who, under pressure, some- times life-threatening pressure, huddled—however briefly—with their better angels and, putting their own safely and comfort aside, rushed into the maw of danger for the better good.
There were still men like that in the 20th century. One of them died on January 23.
Peter Wood, R.I.P.
Peter Wood, DSc, PhD—runner, scientist, and Renaissance man—died March 3 of bile duct cancer. He was 81.
“How can we know the dancer from the dance?” asked the poet W. B. Yeats. With Peter it was his running: How could you separate one from the other? It was his passion. He became a member of London’s Herne Hill Harriers in 1946. Over his career he ran more than 100 marathons, 13 of them at Boston and six at New York. As Peter aged, he sometimes waxed melancholy about how his body was betraying him, how he wanted to run Boston and New York once more … just once more.
On the Road with Kathrine Switzer
Rip Van Winkle Awakens in Toronto
The computer went “ding”; it was one of those out-of-the-blue queries from a reporter I had never heard of from the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), John Chipman. Did I know where runner Maureen Wilton could be located?
One of the more curious things about aging is how events from your past spiral back and deposit people and situations again into your life in totally unexpected ways. It’s always a surprise, sometimes joyful, but mostly very weird.
I was thrown back in time. Chipman, a runner himself, had read the short account of Maureen in my memoir, Marathon Woman, phoning later to say to me, “This is a great Canadian story! Nobody knows this; it would make a great show!”
John Chipman wasn’t even born when the story took place—a slightly demoralizing thought.
It had been 42 years since I had seen Maureen and only once, in the early ’80s, had I even heard about her. She had dropped out of running and then done a reluctant interview for a Canadian running magazine, saying she didn’t run anymore because as a girl “she’d run enough miles for a lifetime.” Then she dropped out of sight again. It didn’t surprise me; I never for a moment expected Maureen to be active in any way with running.
I gave Chipman a few leads; mine were mostly dead ends, but he pushed on optimistically as a distance runner always does and kept phoning with other ideas.
My Most Unforgettable Marathon
EVANSVILLE, INDIANA, April 11, 2010—“Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” Henry Ford most certainly was not thinking about marathoning when he put this wonderful insight into human nature to words, but it nonetheless applies. Whether beginner or well-seasoned, we all plan a strategy for our marathons. Our approaches vary nearly as widely as our personalities. Regardless of our ultimate goals, there are fundamentals all runners follow. From the rigor of our training program we estimate the pace we believe we can maintain for 26.2 miles. We consider our health and how any injuries might affect our performance. We ask ourselves, Will I go for a PR (or as we age, an age-group PR), or will I take it easy? The more serious among us consider the course, factoring in the hills and the surfaces when calculating our finish times. Then we develop a strategy for reaching our goals by asking ourselves these questions: Will I plan for the holy grail of a negative split—or not? How will I adapt my pace to variations on the course? On race morning, the weather and maybe even how we’re feeling become inputs to the final tweaks to our plan. Finally, we lock our plans in, and as Henry Ford would surely have us do, we think and then believe we can.
Approaching my 58th year on this planet and with 20 marathons under my belt, I’ve become very good at crafting my plan. For example, one warm race-day morning in Hopkinton, I made a decision to add five minutes to the goal I had been planning for weeks. It was just too warm. My training partners, with me virtually every step of the arduous road to Boston, chose not to make an adjustment. On my way to a PR, I passed them somewhere between Heartbreak Hill and the Citgo sign—as they walked. I know myself well, deviations from my plan are minor, and I consistently finish within two minutes of my goal time. I’ve won age-group awards in 75 percent of my marathons.
In April 2010, I did something I never do in a marathon. I threw out my plan during the first mile. I went out too fast, pushed the pace beyond that which I believed the intensity of my training program dictated, and resisted the wisdom to revert to target pace. My calves were tight by the half split. Later, they would cramp, forcing me to walk four times in the last four miles. This led to a worst-ever positive split for me of over four minutes. With my history of careful planning, the reader may surmise that I was somehow lured from my carefully crafted plan, beckoned by a sweet call into an absolutely terrible strategy that I will not repeat, but nor would I ever trade the end result!
Air Force Marathon
Attention to detail and a bevy of antique planes are hard to beat.
If you are looking for a marathon with a rich and proud history, although it’s not one of the longest-running marathons going, you might want to consider the Air Force Marathon, which begins and ends on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB) in Dayton, Ohio, with diversions through the Wright State University campus and Fairborn, Ohio. It is an event that seeks to constantly improve what is already a great race. Wright-Patterson AFB is the location of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, which has many historic planes and other articles and documents. The museum also offers an IMAX theatre where spouses and other supporters, including those running shorter races, can wait for you and be entertained within a short walk from the finish of the race.
Running a “BQ” didn’t qualify you to run the 2011 Boston Marathon. It merely allowed you to sit anxiously at your computer on a Monday in October and hope that 25,000 runners hadn’t already beaten you to the sign-up page. Either that, or realize the next day that you’d already waited too long to try entering. Or that your qualifying race would come after the Boston entries had already closed.
You know by now, of course, that Boston 2011 reached its capacity in just eight hours. The filling had taken more than two months the year before, which itself had been a record rate. What might the filling time have been this fall, for the 2012 race, if the rules and requirements hadn’t changed—eight minutes?
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of runners who thought they were fast enough to run Boston this year weren’t. They ran fast enough to try entering, yes, but were too slow at their computers or too late in their attempt at running the required time.
One who missed out was a young runner I coached. Sara qualified by time last May at the Eugene Marathon, then spent the next several months studying in Germany.
Her flight back to Oregon happened to fall on the opening day of Boston registration. She knew this and knew that she would be without computer access on the trip. Sara planned to register when she got home, but that was already too late.
On the Mark
Experts answer readers’ training and competition questions. This month’s question:Although it is often posed as a sort of what-if game, will there ever be a two-hour marathon? I read The Purple Runner years ago, and the topic comes up in the plot in a big way. Can you survey a gaggle of your experts and see if they think it is physiologically possible for a man to run a marathon in less than two hours?
Forming a Pearl
The top marathon finisher’s medals in North America—2010.
It wasn’t easy keeping my eyes forward as I entered Memorial Stadium nearing the finish line of the 2010 Amica Seattle Marathon. I could see many runners already sporting their finisher’s medals, yet I did not want to know the design until after it was placed around my neck by an active-duty army soldier. Surely it was bad luck to take a peek ahead of time.
After crossing that line and receiving my medal, I looked to my left and saw a young woman in tears as she received her prize. It drove home how very important the finisher’s medal was and how it represented the massive achievement that is a marathon. But what led up to this moment? Did the runners have any idea how many dozens of people were involved in creating and handling this rare hunk of metal that was now proudly handed over to us? As I looked at the Space Needle on my medal, it brought back memories of the fireworks that stream into the night skies from that landmark every New Year’s night.
How they do it, why they do it.
If you’re a halfway decent runner somewhere in the wide, hilly state of Tennessee, Dave Milner knows who you are. In fact, you probably picked up his bar tab. In almost 20 years of living in Nashville, Milner has run for Belmont University, peddled gear at expos, worked at running stores, published a magazine, and coached high school track.
He has also competed in races from Memphis to Kingsport—usually after spending the night on the couch of a local standout. A native of England, Milner now is an assistant cross-country coach at Belmont while finding time to host a Web site that covers the state’s top harriers.
In Nashville, meanwhile, Milner’s obsession with runners is even more finely tuned. The word is that if you run a solid 5K within 20 minutes of the city limits, you will trigger a bat alarm in his tiny, rickety duplex and within minutes, he will either friend you on Facebook or call to arrange a time to run. OK, maybe we’re exaggerating—slightly.
So you might imagine how surprised Milner was—shocked might be more like it—when he didn’t recognize one of the top local finishers of the 2005 Country Music Marathon.
On a warm April afternoon, a few hours after he had gutted out a 2:52:54 off a few weeks of haphazard training, Milner checked the race Web site to see the full results. There he saw the name of a local runner who had finished in 2:48. Curious, Milner Googled him and discovered that the guy had recently clocked a 20-minute 5K, about the same pace per mile as his marathon effort.
Milner then went back to the race Web site to check the mystery runner’s splits. He had missed the 10K and half-marathon chip mats. Now it was all starting to make sense. The mystery runner was a cheat.
Finishing Off a Great Year
A retrospective of the high points in a very long career. Part 2 of 3
Editor’s note: Frank Bozanich was one of the premier ultrarunners of the late 1970s and early ’80s. In this three-part series, Frank recounts his running and racing successes and several failures during an 18-month period from January 1979 to June 1980. At the end of part 1, he had just completed his first Western States 100, back when the race was much more simple than it is today.
The week following Western States, I covered a mere 17 miles, which included a 35:20 10K race in San Diego on Sunday, July 15. Considering the effort I had put into the WS100 the previous weekend, I was pleased with the result. I had no real expectations and ran the race for training. Mentally it was a real boost to be that strong and quick after hammering the body as I had. I feel it was a testament to my overall body strength and training routine. I felt that my mileage and hard work allowed me to recover faster than others could.
On July 29 I competed in a 20K race from Carlsbad to Leucadia over a rolling course. I finished seventh overall in 1:10:15, which was pleasing to me and gave me the proof that I was pretty well recovered from WS. I trained hard for the next few weeks and then traveled to San Francisco, where I competed in the Mayor’s Cup Marathon on August 26. The course started on Treasure Island and climbed over the Bay Bridge into the city, where it wound through the varied neighborhoods, including Chinatown, before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County. We turned around at the end of the bridge, recrossing the bridge before entering the Presidio. It was a beautiful course and a great way to see San Francisco. I finished seventh in a time of 2:33.
Hitting the Gym
How to become a better runner by building strength.
I hope no one tracks how many people actually read any single article in Marathon & Beyond, because I might be setting a new record for intentional avoidance with this one. If writing about strength training in a running publication is playing with fire, then putting the word “gym” in the title is like lighting up a cigar at the gas pump—disaster. It’s no mystery why: no one gets into marathoning in order to spend more time indoors. Given a choice, even runners who don’t hate the gym would still rather spend more time on the roads than pumping iron. No doubt about it—I’ve got an uphill battle here. But I like a good challenge, and besides, you’ve already read this far, so I’ll make you a deal: read this article all the way through and if, by the end, you don’t believe that it would be worthwhile and feasible to add strength training to your routine, I promise to never bring this up again. Scout’s honor.
Fred’s Final Lap
With Fred Lebow in his most important year.
For running aficionados, 1994 was scheduled to be a very important year. It would mark the 25th running of Fred Lebow’s pampered child, the New York City Marathon.
Planning for the big event began within a few weeks after the 1993 race, as we caught our breaths and luxuriated in some much-deserved R&R—which in our case meant getting out of the New York Road Runners Club offices at 6:00 p.m. instead of 9:00 or 10:00.
The year before (1992), fearing that his battle with brain cancer might deprive him of ever running his own race, Fred completed the course while being accompanied by his close friend, Grete Waitz, nine-time winner of the race. An aggressive series of chemo treatments had for the time arrested Fred’s cancer, and he was looking forward to many more years as maestro of the famed marathon. As was his habit for the many decades I knew him and worked with him, Fred was brimming over with ideas for making the 25th running of the NYC Marathon special.
The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful
America up close.
At the San Francisco Civic Center, another runner and I laced up together at the starting line. Just over 52 days later, I finished alone on the steps of City Hall in New York, ending on Election Day, November 4, 2008. Lots of people were out, watching and cheering the returns on the jumbo screens in Times Square, and I indulged myself in pretending that the crowd and fanfare were for me.
My crew and I had covered 3,063 miles, bisecting the United States with our slightly northeasterly route. We had averaged more than 58 miles a day, completing the equivalent of two marathons and a 10K each day, 117 marathon distances overall. At the finish on that fall evening, the masters and grand masters records fell: I had clocked the third-fastest time in history for a trans-American crossing on foot. Another record was set, as well: the country had just elected its first African American president.
As ornery as the 2008 campaigning had been—and I confess I had paid almost no attention to it or the economic tailspin going on then—we had had our own ups and downs, which felt much more important to me at the time. Along the way, I had nearly been killed twice and sustained serious injuries to my legs and feet. The other runner didn’t complete the crossing as planned because of his own injuries, and his disappointment had festered into an emotional blister on my footrace. Occasionally, tempers had flared.
It got ugly out there, both with the personal drama and the unrelenting pounding my 57-year-old body took over the miles.
Yet there were moments of wonder and humor and inspiration, of remembering and imagining. Seeing this country on foot is unlike anything else. You know how it goes: as you run, you see details, distract yourself with the magnificence or weirdness of what’s around you, maybe get a soundtrack going with your MP3 player—and then you shift your focus as you move on. I ran in a kind of bubble, seeing only what was ahead of me, my next mile, my next meal, my next chance to reconnect with my wife, Heather, for a few minutes.
The events and environmnent of the run took over my life for a while. And in retrospect, I’ve realized that the rich landscapes of America—the blazing, dry desert; the seemingly endless Midwestern cornfields and the rains that drenched them; and the rolling hills in the east—hold a story, too. And that story outlasts any single election cycle, any particular era, and certainly anyone who has the brief privilege to behold it.
See You… at Citgo
Boston becomes the crossroads of the world.
The famous Citgo sign that unofficially marks the one-mile-to-go point of the Boston Marathon has greeted the countless almost-there striving finishers of the world’s greatest footrace. It got to savor the drama of Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley racing the final miles of their famous “Duel in the Sun.” It cheered on Bill Rodgers to each of his four victories. It even had a front-row seat to Uta Pippig’s famous “accident” en route to a come-from-behind victory at the 100th running.
And on April 20, 2009, during the 113th running of the Boston Marathon, unknown to anyone at the time, the Citgo sign witnessed a truly miraculous coincidence. This is a story of the crossed paths of two boyhood friends—Manoj Massand and Geoff Owers.
All of this, however, began on the other side of the globe from Boston—on a different continent, in a different world.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, is an oil-producing town near the Persian Gulf and home to Aramco—the Arabian American Oil Company. Dhahran was home to Geoff and Manoj during their childhood friendship. Geoff moved there from Arizona with his family in 1977, when he was 5. Manoj’s family had arrived in Dhahran four years earlier, before he could even remember.
Choosing Between Beneath & Beyond
Sometimes wretched excess is its own reward.
Imagine my surprise when I found the inaugural issue of Marathon & Beneath in my mailbox today. I especially liked the Short Clinic column “Is a Cool-Down Really Necessary?” and Marc Walker’s article on the history of brief races.
For too long the footraces of foolish length have captivated runners. It is about time that races of shorter distance get their due. I’m talking anything under 26.2 miles and as low as you want to go. Last weekend I participated in the Crazee Burger 10-Yard. I’m not sure where I placed. It ended rather quickly, and the timing-chip system was not prepared for the deluge.
Don’t get me wrong. Marathons are fine; I’ve done a few myself. But really, let’s start talking about other distances.
My first race ever was a marathon. Future historians might argue that my participation in four track meets during my eighth-grade year should count as my first, but all I really did was suck in the dust kicked up by those in front of me, and those in front of me included everyone else in the races: dead last every time. I kid you not.
The only reason I ran the 880 was that I couldn’t lift the shot. I had no upper- body strength, so the coach suggested running track—perhaps just to get rid of me. I had never been a runner and wouldn’t try again after that spring, at least until 23 years had passed.
So I started big, the marathon and only the marathon, from 1999 to 2003, sometimes more than one a year. For the three years after that, marathons accounted for about half of my races, and over the last couple of years shorter races have taken precedence. The dabbling in shorter races is to be encouraged, I believe. I have found that it makes up for a lack of differentiation in my training (not that I really participate in any real form of training).
In April 2009 I ran a one-mile race with my daughter Kelsey and her friend Randi. The girls were both excellent high school field hockey players but didn’t have a lot of interest in running. They were more interested in helping raise money for a Zimbabwe-orphan fund the race sponsored.
Or, how to improve your start.
Sprinters and their coaches devote much of their training time to practicing their start technique. Long-distance runners rarely even think about it. Most of us are happy if we’re facing the right way. Yet the start of a big modern race is a time of mass emotion and private tension, a time of suspense and high drama. It is the short, crowded prelude to our long-distance loneliness. Here, therefore, is the first article ever published for distance runners on how to start.
Go go go
The first race I ran outside my own high school was a midwinter interschools cross-country in Richmond Park, near London, in about 1954. We huddled, a hundred or so shivering 15-year-olds, around a mustached figure hunched against the drizzle in a dirty wartime raincoat. He was the organizing club’s starter. He explained the course to us by mumbling a complicated litany of directions, pointing and spiraling his arms in bewildering ways.
“Orl right, up that there ’ill, boys, left in the ’evver [heather], pass some pine trees, on to the ’orse-ride, then acrorss the big track … ” and he went droning on for two or three minutes in his south-London monotone, a soggy cigarette waggling on his lip. This meaningless course description ended at last: “Turn right at the big hoak tree, and come dahn this ’ere ’ill, acrorss to the fence, and it’s the finish, see?” Then, without any pause or change in tone, he said, “Orl right boys, when I say go go go.”
We waited. We expected a gun, or a whistle, or a command, or at least a fluttered handkerchief. This was the most important race most of us had ever run. He seemed to have completed whatever he intended to do for us, yet those were obedient days for teenage boys, and we hovered uncertainly. He glowered at us, puffed at his cigarette, and waved his hands as if shooing hens. Slowly it dawned on us that in his flat, uninflected “go go go,” the punctuation had been concealed.
What he meant was, “When I say ’Go’ [that’s when you] go [so are you ready?] go!” The command had been given. We just didn’t understand it. Some runners began to dribble away up the hill, and the rest of us followed. The race was on. My big-race career started not with a bang but with a whimper.
Book Bonus: The Purple Runner
Solian and Warren get to know each other over a few drinks. Part 5.
“Well then, why is it that New Zealand, with a population of only three million, has come up with so many world-class runners?” Warren asked Solian as the two of them stood outside of the Holly Bush pub in Hampstead in order that Solian avoid the cigarette smoke inside. “Certainly there has to be more than eating a great deal of lamb and dairy products,” he remarked before taking a large gulp from his pint of Lowenbrau.
“It’s true there’s quite a bit more to it than that. New Zealanders have always been good at sport in general, not just athletics, because of tradition, and probably because it’s a hilly country, so you can’t train for any sport without running hilly terrain. Some say it’s the coaches, like Lydiard. But with all due respect to the coaches at home, I think it’s partly the marine air. Supposedly no point in all of New Zealand is further than 70 miles from the ocean, so the entire country gets the benefit of damp, clean air. Most of the pollution gets blown away by constant breezes from one side of the islands or the other. A friend of mine who’s a cyclist says a study was done in Italy proving marine air can greatly improve oxygen uptake.” She paused to take a sip of wine. “Sounds like someone’s asked me that before, doesn’t it, so I’lI ask you one probably everyone asks: how are the poems coming?”
“Well, as I told you, I have this bet with my friends which I intend to win. The poem I am working on is perhaps more fitting of something written by a lobotomized philistine, but nevertheless it is a poem.”
“What’s it about?” asked Solian, making an attempt to fan away some smoke drifting over from a French tourist.
“Oh, it’s pure rubbish. It’s about two chess players who have decided that the loser of a three-game match between the two of them shall have to remain at his ob while the winner spends six months in any country the loser designates, but that’s as far as I’ve got.”
“Sounds like an interesting competition,” she smiled, leaning against the stone wall of the old pub. “Do you have in mind what country the winner will have to go to?”
“Not yet, but since both competitors are drinkers, it will probably be to a Moslem country where no alcohol is allowed, such as Saudi Arabia. As far as I’m concerned, life’s winners are also life’s losers, and life’s losers are also life’s winners,” he said with a sideward glance at Solian.
Grete & Mel & Ron & Deek
We are spoiled in the marathon-running world to enjoy the company of hundreds of thousands of like-minded people, most of whom are damned decent folk. Maybe it’s all those miles racked up on the roads that make most of them mellow and good natured. It is the rare marathon runner who is a jerk— something that can’t be said about most other conglomerations of people.
In every mass of like-minded people there are a few who stand out—by attempting to not stand out.
Grete Waitz, one of the most accomplished of all marathoners, was among those. In what we think of as Scandinavian reserve, Grete was shy, low-key, quiet, self-effacing, and modest. She existed on a level all her own. She wasn’t especially standoffish, she was just anti-showoffish. Once she was comfortable with a person, she was warm, engaging, and always good natured.
Even the one and only time she ran Boston (1982) and had to step off the course due to trashed thighs while leading at 23 miles, she was philosophical about it: “I never train running downhill. We only train uphill.” She had gone through 20 miles in 1:50:30 and was on track for a 2:24 performance, which would have been yet another world-record run.
She made her own huge reputation by helping make the reputation of the New York City Marathon, which she won an astonishing nine times.
Fast-Filling Marathons—What’s Fair?
Unless you are caught in a 1990s time warp, you know we are in the midst of a glorious running boom. No need to quote statistics here—just check out your local multiuse trails packed with runners, the smiles on the faces of specialty running-shoe store owners, or small local runs that once boasted fields of 200 and now have swollen to 1,000 or more.
It’s also a no-brainer that a 5K leads to running a 10K, then a half-marathon, and then, “Oh, my! Could I possibly run a marathon?” We know the answer and love it. We recall running our first marathon’s final miles, thinking, “I’ll never, ever do this again!” Then comes the emotion-packed, often-tearful thrill of the finish, and a few days later, Voila! The plans for marathon #2 begin (I know I can improve). These plans come in a beautifully wrapped package complete with the mental and physical benefits of our training. No wonder we want more.
OK, so what’s next? More training, marathons, adventures, friends, travel, and goals: 50 Staters, Marathon Maniacs, Marathon-a-Month members, finishing the five majors, seven-continent runners, “bucket list” marathons, even running cruises! Little wonder that many marathons are in fast-fill mode, leaving race directors wondering what to do and runners saying, “What do you mean, it’s filled already?”
On the Road with Kathrine Switzer
The Spring of Elation, the Spring of Despair
It doesn’t get better than this, for them or for us: They were here to get over jet lag and do a few days’ sharpening before heading south to be the starring milers in the International Track Meet in Christchurch. We couldn’t wait to see our hometown hero, Nick Willis, race on the famous Queen Elizabeth II track, along with his Ann Arbor training buddies Will Leer and Brendon Bethke and friend Lee Emmanuel, with Nike- based Alan Webb to act as pacesetter.
After graduation from the University of Michigan, the guys decided to stay together and train, knowing that they could get much more out of themselves by working together, especially with legendary coach Ron Warhurst nearby. All of them were overjoyed to escape a February in Michigan and be in the Southern Hemisphere for a while to train and race.
Nick was especially exultant because this was his country and he was making history: He was being awarded his 1,500-meters Beijing Olympic silver medal at the meet, and thousands were coming to see the first—and probably only—Olympic medal presentation on New Zealand soil. Nick was bumped up from bronze to silver when the first-place finisher had to give back the gold medal after his drug test proved him a cheat. The medal presentation was the big draw for a crowd that might understand only that justice was being served: Nick was a genuine champion, and he was ours.
My Most Unforgettable Marathon
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND, September 20, 1981—Talk about your first marathon, and you hope that joyous scenes of jubilation from that special day fill your mind! The marathon milestone chalked off, you entered the hallowed ranks of those who go above and beyond relatively safe distances. This is the true story of how the author trained and subsequently attempted initiation into the marathon, no ordinary experience given he was only 13 years old!
In the spring of 1981, I watched the first London Marathon on my family’s newly acquired color television. My dad was running, and it was his modeling that influenced me to get infected with the running bug. I put on my battered table tennis shoes and trotted around the block for a couple of easy miles. There was no need to walk as the few enforced runs at school had prepared me well. Dad got me registered with Barnet Athletic Club (of North London), and four days later, I was running in an under-15s one and a half mile road-relay race. I ran at a pace of 6 minutes, 40 seconds per mile and ended up with jelly legs, finding the experience somewhat stressful. A few days later training resumed, and within a few weeks, I was running up to six miles in one go. Dad realised I was serious about running, and in May he bought me a size two (size three US) pair of red Nike Wally Waffles.
Race Profile: Valley of Fire Marathon
Beauty and the beast.
Several decades ago, when we regularly backpacked in the Sierra Nevada, the National Park Service polled people who used the parks as to what improvements they would like to see. One of the suggestions was to put escalators in so people could ride them to the peaks of mountains instead of being forced to walk. We wish we were making this up.
It’s curious how most of the really good natural scenery involves some climbing: Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Mount Washington, Pikes Peak, and on and on and on.
Beauty—at least beauty in nature—exacts a toll. As it should. Beauty given too freely fades quickly.
The Valley of Fire Marathon in southeastern Nevada may be the most beautiful marathon in America—perhaps in the world—but a runner pays a steep price to etch the startling image on the mind. Beauty disguises the beast. The only truly level portion of the entire race is the start and finish in the Valley of Fire State Park’s visitors’ parking lot, and there is even a bit of a slope to that.
Conversation and Contemplation
Even in today’s seemingly marathon-crazed climate, it can be hard to find someone in everyday life who speaks marathoner language. A friend asks, “How long is your marathon this time?” A spouse wonders, “Why would you want to put yourself through this more than once?” A coworker wants to know afterward, “Did you win?” Attempts at explanation are lost on them.
This helps explain why runners seek each other out to train together. They hunger for someone who understands and appreciates what they do and who can and will talk about it for hours at a time. Which also helps explain the popularity of marathon training groups. Runners might come together at first for the program and its coach, but they stay together because the miles add up faster with congenial companions than they do alone.
On the Mark
Experts answer readers’ training and competition questions. This month’s question: I’m trying to put together a sort of marathoning tour for next year of America’s most scenic marathons for a small group of us who do a half-dozen marathons a year. Can you survey your experts on what they think are the most beautiful marathons in America?
A Star Is Born
Shalane Flanagan finds her distance.
Shortly after Shalane Flanagan’s marathon debut in New York City, she and her husband, Steve Edwards, boarded a plane for a trip to the Hawaiian Islands. A few teammates from the Oregon Track Club—Simon Bairu, Tim Nelson, and Lisa Koll—joined them on the getaway.
As Flanagan lounged and recuperated on a remote beach in Maui, some 5,000 miles from Manhattan’s Central Park, a couple of tourists approached and gushed, “Oh, you’re that girl who ran the marathon! Congratulations!”
“I was literally in a bathing suit, hat, and sunglasses,” Flanagan recalls with a laugh. “I was kind of shocked that they would recognize me.” She shouldn’t have been. While her bronze medal in the 10,000 meters at the 2008 Olympic Games may have made her a star in the eyes of the international running community, it was her scintillating run at one of the highest-profile road races on the planet that elevated her renown to just about everyone else.
Factors Affecting the Probability of Finishing an Ultramarathon
Research and statistics can show us the way to better ultra outcomes.
Many people think that exercise scientists expound on esoteric concepts that are of little or no practical use—that what we learn from lab experiments cannot be translated into anything useful to help us improve our running. And, understandably, when we throw statistics into the mix, peoples’ eyes glaze over, and they lose the plot immediately.
However, there is now enough research and statistics on ultramarathoning for us to refute the old Mark Twain saying, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics,” and to point us in the right direction to improve our training and better prepare us for ultraraces. A very compelling statistic tells me that we have a long way to go with ultrarunning and that we can make significant improvements no matter what level we compete at. It is this: On average, 40 percent of the field in any given ultramarathon drops out before the finish line—far higher than the dropout rate for marathons (less than 5 percent) and other endurance events like Ironman triathlons. This seems to leave a lot of room for improvement.
Notable Seattle ultrarunner Greg Crowther, who has entered 26 ultramarathons ranging from 50K to 100 miles, finishing 24 and winning 11, has an opinion about this high dropout rate. He says, “The stat about 40 percent not finishing ultras versus 5 percent not finishing marathons is interesting but a bit misleading, given the challenging cutoffs that ultras use. For example, some marathons give people up to eight hours to finish. To finish Western States, people have to keep about the same pace as an eight-hour marathoner but for almost four times the distance and with huge mountains to climb and descend along the way, challenging footing, etc.” Fair enough, as these seem like daunting tasks to even the most fit.
Running With Purpose
A conversation with Lisa Smith-Batchen about her run through America.
On July 8, 2010, I had the opportunity to speak with elite ultrarunner Lisa Smith-Batchen. Lisa recently finished a project called Running Hope to America. Joined by her crew and long-time friend Sister Mary Beth Lloyd, Lisa set out to run 50 miles in each of the 50 states in 62 days to raise money for charity. At one point in the run, she got injured and completed her journey across the United States with a broken foot. Lisa is 50 years old and lives with her husband, Jay, and her two adopted daughters, Annabella, 8, and Gabriella, 5, in Driggs, Idaho.
Lisa, how are you recovering?
My body is recovering quite well. My foot has to remain in a cast. But, eventually, it will heal. I think where I am having trouble recovering is that I’m on a letdown, like a downturn. It’s that sinking-in feeling of, “Oh, my God, we’ve actually done this.” We’ve actually done it. It went by so fast that I never had time to think about it while I was doing it.
You and Sister Mary Beth have, for some time now, been advocates of “running for a purpose”—that is, running for a cause other than for personal glory. How important was that concept to the mission of Running Hope to America?
It was incredibly important. I have been good friends with Sister Mary Beth for 28 years now. She has been the mission director for many years of Religious Teachers Filippini. She has a book out called AIDS Orphans Rising. For many years, we have focused on raising money for orphans in the world, where both parents have died of AIDS. There are about 700 AIDS orphans that we take care of all the time, year-round. But there are also 57,000 AIDS orphans in America alone this year. And that’s just from AIDS. People have a tendency to think that AIDS isn’t that big of a deal anymore, but it is a huge deal. Six cents can feed a child in most countries. Six pennies. A nickel and a penny. Can you believe hat? And that feeds one child for a day. So think about a dollar. One dollar truly makes a difference. Our hope is to get the word out there that $1 will make a difference. We want to raise $1 million. If 1 million people donate just $1, we’ve got $1 million. That doesn’t seem so tough, does it?
Jenny Kyle Stays in It for the Long Run
Georgia woman overcomes physical problems to remain top runner.
Jenny Kyle’s marathon career has spanned over three decades, one in which quality rather than quantity has been the overriding characteristic. Her marathon accomplishments gain even more stature when measured against the physical difficulties that reduced her to walking, albeit at a brisk pace. With the determination forged by years of training and racing, she has managed to overcome these setbacks and return to running with a renewed sense of purpose and energy while working a demanding job in which she is on her feet much of the day.
Although the marathon isn’t her favorite distance, Kyle is definitely in it for the long run.
A native of England, the 62-year-old Kyle lives in Savannah, Georgia, where she works as the chief radiation therapist at the Anderson Cancer Institute. She has lived in the United States for more than 30 years, calling on the competitive skills she honed in various sports in England to become a top runner in distances ranging from the mile to the marathon.
Masters’ Yearly Marathon Best-Time Trends
Based on a six-year average.
Upon becoming a master, it is no longer fair to compare yourself against runners many years your junior. Old Father Time ensures that we slow down, as our times for the marathon confirm. In this article, the best modern-day marathon times run each year for each masters age group have been averaged out and plotted on two graphs: men and women. The following study attempts to identify trends by attaching concrete numbers and graphical analysis to the best masters marathoners.
Where Runners Dare
Was entering the Beirut Marathon a good idea? Sure was.
In hindsight, the clues were readily apparent. Perhaps I should have realized this wasn’t exactly a runner’s paradise the first time I had to get out of the way of a Vespa as it slalomed through pedestrians on the sidewalk. The beaten-up, corrugated steel ramps bolted to the curbs at the intersections were not to maintain compliance with a handicapped access law. They were for scooters. The first time a dozen people sidestepped me as I waited at a corner for a light to change and all of them casually ambled into a live intersection, I should have known running here might be treacherous. Traffic signals in Beirut are more like suggestions or hints than rules.
Everyone—drivers, pedestrians, and people on bikes or scooters—seems to operate under a shared trust. If you avoid hitting everyone around you, everyone around you will avoid hitting you, and no one will get hit. Stoplights, stop signs, and the existence of crosswalks are more or less ignored. Turn signals are treated the way an American treats a bidet, as curious and useless. A Beirut car’s horn functions not as an expression of anger but more like reverse sonar. You honk to let others know where you are and that you’re about to do something that might affect them, like pull out in front of them, switch lanes randomly, or not slow down for them as they cross the street on foot.
Strange as it seems, in a week’s time in Beirut, I did not see a single car accident. My friend and fellow traveler and I talked about taking a run through the city’s labyrinthine streets even after discovering that a lot of sidewalks randomly narrow into concrete tightropes or become a stew of rainwater and gravel. It still didn’t dawn on me that I hadn’t seen any runners even after the second time we blundered into an unbarricaded construction site and under the arc of a giant crane lifting something large and capable of flattening us. Nor did it seem an impediment when, once again, we walked too far down the wrong street and a machine-gun-wielding, army-fatigue-wearing, catastrophically bored police officer wearily informed us we could not go any farther in the direction we were going.
It Was a Very Good Year—and a Half
A retrospective of the high points of a very long career.
Part 3 of 3
Editor’s note: This is the third of three parts in which Frank Bozanich, an American record holder at a variety of ultradistances, recounts the best 18 months of his running career. This part covers the first six months of 1980.
On January 19, 1980, I ran an 11.3-mile race in Mount Vernon, Washington. Yes, Virginia, back in those days many races were run from point A to point B, and nobody seemed to be too concerned if it didn’t work out to be a convenient distance like 5K, 10K, half-marathon, or marathon. By the way, the starting lines were usually lines drawn in the middle of the road. Another line was drawn at the finish, with no tape to break. We also didn’t wear watches, and when the gun went off, we all charged down the road, and may the best man win. We didn’t worry too much about pace, keeping up with the guy ahead, or keeping those behind at bay. I completed the race in 61 minutes and 15 seconds, setting a course record. It was a nice way to start off the new year.
Then it was off to Miami, Florida, for the second annual Road Runners Club of America 100K National Championships. You’ll recall that a year previous I won the race with a new American record.
The Universal Ultra
The 100K—popular across the globe.
Although any race beyond 42.195K/26miles385 yards is reckoned to be an ultra, across the world one particular distance has become universally popular—100K/62.1 miles. One hundred kilometer races have been held as far north as Baffin Island in the Northwest Territories of the Canadian Arctic and as far south as Puerto Varas in Chile, and the frozen wastes of Antarctica, as far west as Honolulu in Hawaii and as far east as Lake Saroma in northern Japan. The races are held on tracks, on trails, on road loops, and from point-to-point; through cities, towns, and villages; through forests, across deserts, and over mountains. Some cater to a mere handful of enthusiasts, while others feature a cast of thousands. This year there will probably be over 150 such races around the world.
The mile has been around since Roman times, but the kilometer is a relative newcomer. Following the French Revolution of 1789, a new scientific basis for measurement was devised. A new measure for length was proclaimed—the meter, which was to be one ten-millionth of the distance from the pole to the equator. The kilometer, a multiple of the meter, took a century to gain acceptance on the Continent as the recognized unit of long distance. (As late as 1881 the Germans, for instance, were still using German miles.) Thus, competition over the 100K distance did not really begin until the end of the 19th century.
There are, however, accounts of walkers and runners tackling distances that approximated the 100K for many years before 1900. The first known race over something approaching the 100K was held way back in ancient Egypt in around 690-665 BC. An Egyptian Pharaoh, Taharqa, ran his troops out to an oasis, some 50K, and then back. The winner reputedly took around eight hours. The race was commemorated on a rock stele and discovered by Egyptologist Ahmed Moussa in 1977.
Sixteen hundred years later, in the 10th century AD, Alswith, a walker in the Isle of Man, an island between England and Ireland, reputedly covered 112K/70 miles in a day. Some 200 years later, an English shoemaker named Gilbert walked the 106.2K/66 miles from Canterbury to London in a day.
Book Bonus: The Purple Runner
Solian chucks Warren in pursuit of her noble running goals. Part 6.
Tears streamed down Solian’s face as she sat on the waterbed at 6:30 a.m. on a cold, late September Saturday morning.
“What’s wrong?” asked Warren, sitting up to put his arm around her.
“Nothing,” she replied, continuing to sob softly. Solian had been seeing Warren off and on for three months against her better judgment. At first she had refused a second encounter, but with his gradual, but persistent invitations to various dinners and plays, she had finally agreed. She longed and would have preferred to see a serious runner on a steady basis, but the single English runners she had met—and there were few unattached—were all shorter than she, or not of interest. During the summer she had been introduced to many international runners at races on the continent, but only several of them shorter than she had asked for her company. The taller, English-speaking men seemed to prefer several encounters before asking for a phone number, or else were too shy.
Her running had suffered from her twice-weekly get togethers with Warren. They always drank wine, resulting in a cutback in her weekly mileage and the loss of the cutting edge of her speed. Solian had continued to pull thirds, fourths, and fifths in races which often she should have won. And the two invitations she had got to run in an international track meet in France and a road race in Holland had ended in disaster when she faded badly. She had done it again: got in with a bad influence, and chosen him over her running.
“I think I’m going.”
Barefoot Boy, With Cheek of Tan
Lately, the hysteria surrounding running barefoot has been reaching decibels usually associated with a Shuttle launch. Everywhere we turn there are lectures being given on barefoot running and articles cropping up that require the cutting down of whole forests of trees to make wood pulp for paper. The phenomenon is also spilling over into the world of regular-walking-around-type folks, who are inquiring, “What’s with all this barefoot stuff, anyway? Is it a promotion for taking a vacation at a beach resort?”
The craziness began, of course, when some journalists looked past the dramatic story of the race Caballo Blanco (the White Horse) was putting together between some Tarahumara runners and a small contingent of Anglo ultrarunners as described in Chris McDougall’s excellent bestseller Born to Run and glommed onto chapter 25, where Chris discussed barefoot and minimalist running. The chapter made a convincing case that overengineered running shoes potentially were a cause of runner injuries—evil big-profit-running-shoe villains versus the naive little guy, perfect fodder for an expose. And there is a case to be made that an overengineered running shoe, replete with features the average foot does not need, can contribute to eliciting the exact opposite outcome anticipated, meaning more injuries.
Rich Englehart railed against overengineered running shoes in these pages more than a decade ago, instead championing training in what amounted to racing flats—the bare minimum of foot covering a runner could get away with. The kind of running shoes (like the Tiger Cortez and the Nike Waffle Trainer) that were revolutionary in the 1970s when training shoes for long-distance runners were first introduced. Before science and marketing became involved, requiring twice a year that new models feature space-age gobbledygook improvements that had little if anything to do with running. These changes addressed very little that was actually going on with the human foot in the process of running, but they made good ad copy and impressed the novice runner with the obscene comfort he or she felt when slipping on the newest model. “I feel like I’m standing on a cloud,” the new runners would enthuse. “I can’t feel the earth,” the grizzled vets would complain.
On the Road with Kathrine Switzer
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
June, New York City, USA
The T-shirt still fit. Well, barely. I had to suck it in a lot, but let’s face it, it has been 40 years since I first wore it, and I take pride in the fact that I could even get it on. Come to think of it, the shirt manufacturer should take pride in the fact that the shirt hasn’t yet fallen apart. Maybe running really is good for everything.
It’s the 40th running of the New York Road Runners Mini 10K, the first—and thus the oldest—women’s-only road race in the world. Along with Nina Kuscsik and running’s greatest impresario, Fred Lebow, I was a founder of the race, and it seems like yesterday that we three were running all over New York City handing out race applications to anyone wearing a skirt. We were so desperate to get race entries that Fred even went to the Playboy Club and enlisted some bunnies to do a prerace photo op for publicity. Fred had a lot of ideas. Some of them were good and others not so good.
This race went on to change the world, but as with many things in the early days of our sport, the creation of “The Mini” was both exciting and hilarious. It was 1972, and in April of that year—after five long years of lobbying—women were made official in the Boston Marathon. Suddenly, as if it were brand new, there was massive publicity about us women runners. Nina Kuscsik won that important Boston, and I was third. We were both from New York.
Seeing the publicity from Boston, a public relations agency hit upon the idea that a women’s-only marathon was a great way to make a product launch for the new ladies’ shave cream that it was promoting for Johnson’s Wax. It was called Crazylegs. Actually, it was the same product as Edge for men, only the company had added perfume and colored it pink—sort of like the shoe companies today. Some things never change.
My Most Unforgettable Ultramarathon
(And what I learned from it.)
HILLSBORO, NEW MEXICO, Ghost Town 38.5, January 16, 2011—The first time I saw a running magazine, I thought it was a joke. Actually, I am sure that at some point prior to this encounter, there had to have been a running magazine somewhere in my past. My eyes must have skimmed over the cover of one at a bookstore. After all, much of the first 40 years of my life were spent in bookstores and not at the gym or circling a track.
But on that particular day, as I sat in my friend’s living room watching football, I came face to face with my unlikely fate. At first, I scoffed at the magazine and said something along the lines of, “How can there possibly be enough material about running to fill an entire magazine? What do you need to know in order to run? Left, right, left, right, what else is there?” I, like most people, said things like “I would only run if someone was chasing me with a knife.” But life has a funny way of altering your perspective. As often happens, as my age crept higher, my waistline expanded. But it wasn’t a midlife crisis or the need to shop for larger pants that changed my perspective; rather, it was fatty liver disease.
I needed a life insurance policy that required a physical exam, which, in turn, revealed the fact that I had elevated liver enzymes. With every doctor I visited, the number of liver enzymes rose exponentially. I received the final diagnosis from a liver specialist who gave me the choice: I could either take control of my health through diet and exercise, or he would perform a biopsy. I wasn’t sure what a biopsy entailed, but it sounded like something to avoid. As a result, I changed my lifestyle, became vegetarian, and started running.
Initially, I ran to appease the liver specialist. In fact, I often felt as if I were running away from his scalpel. But something happened as I went from being able to run only a few blocks to being able to run a few miles. After six months I ran my first 5K, the Fort Worth Zoo Run. Six months later I ran my first half-marathon, the Tyler Half-Marathon. Most surprising to me, however, was that during that time, I fell in love with running. Incredibly, this form of exercise, which I had once mocked, became the first sport I ever really enjoyed.
Race Profile: Lost Dutchman Marathon
A small race with a colorful history and unique eccentricities.
There is a cinematic ambience to the Lost Dutchman Marathon course in Apache Junction, Arizona. Sixty-some years ago, the locale played a featured part in Lust for Gold, starring Glenn Ford and Ida Lupino. Ford and Lupino didn’t run marathons, but they got in some meaningful cardio, what with all the lovin’ and gold-thievin’.
These days, the half-marathon version of the runner’s own cowboy movie begins with Teton Ken and his mule greeting assembled runners at Prospector Park. This is that rare race where, to quote Teton Ken, you can “kiss your ass good-bye.” You can kiss her/him again at the finish line and have your picture taken to boot.
The marathon begins on a darker note, as runners huddle around bonfires before dawn at the foot of Superstition Mountain. The cliffs are barely visible as runners pull their garbage bags closer against the chill air. As race time approaches and runners move to the start line, the sun slips over the horizon. Its rays touch the mountain, turning the rock face to reddish gold. There’s a collective “Ooh!” as runners acknowledge the power of that big, yellow light in the sky.
Records That Aren’t
A confession: I didn’t watch the Boston Marathon’s live telecast or webcast this year. It wasn’t because I had to work that Monday morning; following runners is my work. It wasn’t because my cable package didn’t include Boston TV coverage; Universal Sports did offer it online. It wasn’t because I had lost interest in marathoners; I’ve never felt closer to more of them who never make national news.
I just don’t care all that much anymore about the race that dominates the race reporting, as live action and later in print. That race upfront at Boston ended before my own run, shower, and breakfast did out west. I wasn’t going to miss any of those to watch the pros run.
Finally sitting down to work, I saw the first bulletins from Boston. I might not now remember the results of Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai and American Ryan Hall if they hadn’t run too fast to forget. They had barely cooled down and cleaned up when the first question about what is or isn’t a record reached me.
Hints of what might come appeared even before this marathon was run. The weather forecast called for once-in-a-decade (or less often) conditions: dry and cool with winds of 15 to 20 miles an hour from the southwest, aka tail winds.
This set Boston up for possible “world records” that weren’t. Mutai ran nearly a minute faster than anyone anywhere ever had, and Hall became the fastest American on any course.
Marlene Cimons, a longtime journalist (for the Los Angeles Times), smelled an injustice and wrote about it on Facebook that day: “Wow, 2:03:02! Would someone explain why it’s not an official world record? It seems to me that it’s harder, not easier, to run fast on a hilly course.”
Boston’s course is never easy, with the downhill stretches longer and trickier to negotiate than the ups. But in some years this route can be quite fast. Jumping to mind here are 1975 (when Bill Rodgers ran the course’s first sub-2:10), 1983 (when three U.S. men broke 2:10 and Joan Benoit set a “world record” for women), and 1994 (when Cosmas Ndeti and Uta Pippig set course records).
Geoffrey Mutai said he didn’t feel any wind behind him this year. That’s the thing about the wind. You barely notice it, if at all, when it’s helping, but you surely do when it’s hurting as a head wind.
On the Mark
Experts answer readers’ training and competition questions. This month’s question: We all know that hill workouts add strength to a marathon-training program. here’s what I’m curious about: how steep should a hill be to provide maximum benefits, and how long should the hill be?
Marathon Training for Beginners: It’s All About the Mileage
How to train for and run your first marathon.
Finishing your first marathon is an exciting, rewarding, and emotional experience and may well be one of the highlights of your life. I certainly remember bursting into tears after finishing my first 26.2-miler, at age 19, without even knowing why. Maybe it was just the relief of finishing, but I suspect it was more related to the fact that I had just completed a distance that I had grave doubts about finishing, and I had overcome a major challenge.
A study reported by the American College of Sports Medicine in 2006 tells that the average dropout rate among first-time marathoners is 70 percent. The reason this dropout rate is so high is listed as “the intensity of a marathon-training program.” This appalling statistic tells us that training for and running a marathon is a huge commitment, far more than most aspiring marathoners would think.
Clearly then, training for and running 26.2 miles is not something to be taken lightly. Many runners get caught up in the mystique and allure of the marathon before they’re ready for it, and they pay the price. There are lots of ways to train for the marathon, all with some level of success; but one absolute law for this event stands out above all others: If you are not prepared for it, it’s not going to be a pleasant experience. So before you decide to do a marathon, have a long, hard think about the time, the discipline, and (literally) the blood, sweat, and tears that you are going to have to put in to cross that distant finish line.
My objective in writing this training article is not only to help you finish your first marathon but also to make it a pleasant experience, both the training and the event itself. (But I’m not saying it will be easy!)
Not Quite Cooperstown
But it’s a hall of fame nevertheless.
The best baseball players have Cooperstown, the best footballers have Canton, Ohio, and the best basketball players have Springfield, Massachusetts. So what do runners have—in particular, ultrarunners? They have cyberspace.
The American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame is located not as part of a museum nor inside a building nor even (as with the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana) near a college campus, but “out there” somewhere at http://www. americanultra.org/halloffame.html.
Ultrarunning is still, after all, a sport in which everyone with minimal clothing, basic shoes (or even bare feet), and a bib number can run on the same playing field as the best in the world for a comparatively small fee, generally much less than the cost of an outing at a major league ballpark, including transportation, parking, tickets, food, drink, and souvenirs; and there the best any amateur can hope to do is sit in the stands. Also, because ultrarunning is basically so low key to begin with, you wouldn’t expect its shrine for its best to be built of gilded minerals and tinted glass. No, the better expectation is that such a hall would not exist at all.
But it does—on the World Wide Web—courtesy of the American Ultrarunning Association, a very basic nonprofit organization (registered at Morristown, New Jersey) made up of some of the best in the world. Even a quick tour around the AUA website reveals board members and staff who, if you click on the “Stats & Records” tab, will also be found to be national record holders themselves, current president Roy Pirrung and former president Kevin Setnes among them. As the “Who We Are” web page states: “AUA works under the principle of minimalist governance and bureaucracy. AUA’s mission is to keep its focus on communication, development, and promotion of the sport, maximizing administrative efficiency.” And this: “AUA relies on donations and sponsorships to fund its operations and its programs.”
In other words, the group is low budget—or, more accurately, no budget. AUA’s executive director, Dan Brannen, was contacted and asked how much the AUA budgets annually for its various operations. “Zero,” he replied.
The whole enterprise might best be described as a labor of love. And as such, you aren’t much inclined to think in terms of large, overriding agencies of self-governance, with treasuries stuffed full of franchise fees, televising licenses, and profit percentages generated by all the big ballparks with their hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jack, and of course their rates for parking all those cars. That might be Major League Baseball, but that isn’t major league ultrarunning.
Nor is it likely to change anytime soon. Executive Director Brannen informed further: “I don’t see AUA as growing or expanding. It is a ’boutique’ service in the athletics community. One of the most rewarding things we do is respond to queries that come to our e-mail from journalists all over the country (sometimes sports, sometimes just general human interest) trying to find a source to explain what ultrarunning is all about, its history, how it fits in with the established running community, etc. I’ve seen some great articles on our sport published in general-interest publications for which the journalists got put on the right track by soliciting information from AUA.”
So there isn’t ever likely to be a huge, overseeing ownership organization requiring fees and licenses and memberships, or housing itself along with busts of its most famous inside a vast glass building. As Brannen put it, “There is no current planning for any such things. We find no need for them. The Hall of Fame is housed just fine right where it is, on our website.”
Kevin’s Nearly Excellent Adventure
Across 240 miles of Illinois.
Ultrarunning is hard to explain. Most people don’t even like running, so the first thing they have to figure out is that running isn’t painful, but it can sometimes be uncomfortable (at least compared with lying on the couch). Serious runners have figured out how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, so they run regularly, then train, and finally race, even if it’s just competition against themselves.
A few runners, though, either take the competition against themselves too far or they genuinely begin to like the feeling that was formerly uncomfortable, and these sorry souls descend into the ranks of ultrarunners.
Technically, an ultramarathon is any race over 26.2 miles. Most popular are races at distances of 50 kilometers (31 miles, sometimes called a sprint ultra), 50 miles, 100 kilometers (62 miles), and 100 miles, all run against other competitors and the clock. These races are generally run nonstop, although the runners will pause for a minute or two every 10 miles or so to refill drink bottles and grab a fast bite to eat.
Another ultramarathon category is the stage race, where runners will run for several days but take a sizable break every day for eating and sleeping. While it’s nice to get a break and rest, recovery is never complete and the days begin to wear, making it awfully difficult to start the day’s run knowing that you’re already sore, tired, and blistered. Having performed quite well in numerous regular ultras and wanting to meet a challenge greater than I had faced before, I decided that I would try a stage ultra. I wanted to make it one of my own doing and came up with the idea of running across Illinois.
I determined the best path would be west to east across the wide part of the state from Hannibal, Missouri, back home to Danville on the Indiana border, which is approximately 240 miles. A reasonable distance to cover in a day is 40 miles, so I worked out a route where I would have a hotel every evening. Six days is a big time commitment for anyone to come along as a support person in a chase vehicle, so I opted to make it even more challenging by running unsupported— just me and the road and a jogging stroller loaded with drinks, shoes, clothes, and high-calorie food to consume while burning over 6,000 calories a day.
I tapped into a Google map of the route with waypoints added to stay off the interstate highways and indicators of where I would be finishing each day.
The Miracle Man
Tom Fetterman gets a leg up.
Tom Fetterman couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Before operating on a blood clot, Dr. Grayson Wheatley told Fetterman there was a possibility he would lose his right leg.
The 69-year-old retiree from Penn Run, Pennsylvania, feared he was finished as a runner, especially when he awakened following surgery and couldn’t feel the leg or see anything beyond the bulky bandage at his knee. After 88 marathons and hundreds of other races, the book had apparently closed on the remarkable running story of Tom Fetterman, ageless wonder.
A year later, the roles were reversed: It was Wheatley who couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Told Fetterman had finished a marathon, Wheatley paused for a few moments, as if unable to comprehend the news, and then uttered a single syllable: “Wow.”
Fetterman had long led a charmed life as a distance runner. He put in his miles, stayed healthy, and regularly vanquished his contemporaries in everything from 5Ks to ultramarathons.
But Fetterman’s good fortune suddenly ran out on February 17, 2008. Several hours after he took top honors in his age group at the Lost Dutchman Half-Marathon in Apache Junction, Arizona, searing pain knocked him off his feet. Fetterman was rushed to Arizona Heart Hospital in Phoenix. The diagnosis: a blood clot.
Wheatley removed the clot and saved Fetterman’s leg, but Fetterman’s long-distance career seemed beyond saving.
“A couple of days later,” Fetterman recalled, “the doctor came into my room and I asked him, ’How soon can I start running?’ He said, ’I like your attitude, but I don’t think you’ll ever run another marathon.’ He didn’t tell me but he told my wife that, because of nerve damage, he didn’t know if I would ever get the use of my foot back.”
On February 15, 2009, almost a year to the day after surgery, Fetterman returned to Apache Junction and ran the Lost Dutchman Marathon, the 89th—and indisputably the most extraordinary—marathon of his running career. He took more than four hours to finish, but finish he did.
“He’s really a miracle patient,” Wheatley said. “Most people that come into the hospital, if the doctor tells them ’You’re never going to walk normally again,’ they take that to heart and just kind of live with it.
“Fortunately,” he added with a chuckle, “Mr. Fetterman didn’t listen very well to his doctor.”
An excerpt from Through the Woods.
It’s a treat being a long-distance runner, out in the world by yourself with not a soul to make you bad-tempered or tell you what to do.—Alan Sillitoe
Alan Sillitoe described once having been offered a cottage in Harsfordshire by a friend: “I was sitting in a sort of parlor there one day, writing. And suddenly I saw someone run past the window, along the lane outside. With shorts on, white shirt and so on. And it seemed to me such an unusual image that I wrote down at the top of a sheet of paper, ’The loneliness of the long-distance runner.’ I didn’t know where he had come from. I didn’t know where he was going. He was simply a sort of vision, floating by the window. And I put the line away. I thought I was going to write a poem with this sort of line in it. It seemed rather a nice line.”
Instead of writing a poem, Sillitoe wrote a short story with the nice line as title. The line also served as title of a book collecting that and nine other short stories, published in 1958. Along with a novel titled Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, this launched his career as one of the decade’s “Angry Young Men,” a radical who championed the working class. In many respects, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner is less about running and more about the pervasive effects of poverty.
Several years later, Sillitoe wrote the screenplay made into a film starring Tom Courtenay as Colin Smith, a robber turned runner. Courtenay several years later would play the part of the rebel leader Pasha Antipov in the 1965 film Dr. Zhivago, for which he was nominated (but did not win) an Academy Award as best supporting actor. The director of Loneliness was Tony Richardson, who in 1964 would win two Oscars (best picture and best director) for Tom Jones. Sir Thomas Courtenay later was knighted for his work on the London stage.
Loneliness was black and white, a “foreign” film whose characters spoke in working-class accents not easy on American ears. Given the film’s half-century age, few runners today have seen it, and certainly, even fewer have read the short story from which it sprang. Ask anyone about Loneliness, and most often they refer to it as a “book,” which it is not. They know the title but misunderstand the meaning of that title. Was the long-distance runner portrayed by Sillitoe really “lonely” with all the negative connotations associated with that word?
Loneliness is an excerpt from Hal Higdon’s memoir on the sport of cross country, Through the Woods, available in The Kindle Store: http://www.amazon.com/Through-the-Woods-ebook/dp/B003VYBRDG/ref=sr_1_10?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1314132046&sr=1-10
Going the Distance in Pennsylvania
Places and races in the uncommon commonwealth.
”Why did I ever agree to running this?” groaned Sarah, my running partner for the day on the infamous stairway to heaven at mile 25 of the R. B. Winter Trail Challenge, otherwise known as the Dam Full (pronounced “Damn Fool”) Marathon. We were halfway up Naked Mountain, forging our way 700 feet to the top of the Tuscarora boulder field from the lowest to the highest elevation of the course at the end of a long day.
At first, I was tempted to quote from the punch line of an old dirty joke about the elephant and the mouse and remind Sarah that, “You love it.” I thought better of it, however. As an avid distance runner in Pennsylvania, she knew that already. And “avid” almost always accompanies “distance runner” in the Keystone State. Those of us who have gone the distance around and about in this uncommon commonwealth know what brings us back to Pennsylvania distance events again and again. Maybe the experience is a bit like the effects of drinking the untreated waters of some of those Pennsylvania creeks: It shakes up your insides, takes up housekeeping, and sends you trotting yet another time.
There’s a lot to like in Pennsylvania distance running and something for just about every marathoner and ultramarathoner. I will leave my running friend Sarah somewhere in the middle of the boulder field for now and clue you in on what is different about Pennsylvania and what is out there for the marathoner.
A Beautiful Sunday
No loneliness for this long-distance runner.
A friend can have a face
Or it could be—just a beautiful place
It’s Sunday, five-thirty in the morning, and just getting light. I’m standing in front of the Daily News Cafe at the corner of Carlsbad Village Drive and Carlsbad Boulevard at the heart of Carlsbad Village. The ocean is around the corner. It sends greetings: a gentle breeze, the sound of the surf, an invigorating essence.
Across the street, a delivery truck drops San Diego newspapers by the side of the Pipelines Surf Shop. Later this morning a young man will stand in the middle of the street peddling those papers to passing motorists. The delivery truck door slams, gears grind, and the driver pulls away. Headlights sweep across me. The driver honks and rattles by. I wave.
He ran the red light, but it doesn’t matter. There is no traffic. There’s no one around. Everyone is asleep.
For now, I own the town.
Those who rise early for the Sunday-morning long run know something of these feelings. If in a city, we own that city. If in the country, we own the paths, the ponds, the fauna and the flora. If stars glimmer, who else sees them—no one? So they belong to us, too. It’s a wonderful delusion, a privilege to experience.
Two cormorants fly close overhead in tight military formation. They give me the beady eye. Their look suggests resentment. “This is our territory; who are you?”
“I’m a runner, that’s who.” Who do they think they are, anyway? The sun will be up soon and I’m eager to get going. I’ve decided to run 12 miles.
A marathon run without the bother of bib numbers.
I run ultramarathons because I am lazy. Although there are terrific trails near where I live, mostly I run from my door, on the same tired route, seeing the same tired sights. I don’t like to get in the car to drive to a trailhead. I don’t like to have to figure out where to go or how to get there. I like to be able to stuff some bills down my running bra and stop, if necessary, to buy a candy bar and a bottle of water.
The reason I am happy to pay hefty race entry fees is that I never want to worry about the organizational stuff. I don’t want any part of charting a course. I prefer not to carry my own water. I like to be fed. When I go hiking with my Sherpa—I mean, boyfriend—I tote nothing. I like not having to think and just being able to run.
Last summer I was invited on what has to be one of the top-five runs of my life. Friends in Missoula, Montana, less lazy than I, planned a 26-plus-mile route through the Bitterroot Mountains. There were a whole bunch of e-mails with a little bit of organizational information in them and a lot of witticisms. When the jokes got to a point where there was talk about dancing girls, my friend Lisa decided that I should be included. I said that if they let me come with them, I would run in bunny ears and a bikini. They invited me nevertheless.
The Great 2010 Trans-Bitterroot run was possible because the right group of people came together.
Running is the best way to see the city, and doing it as a honeymoon doesn’t hurt, either.
You know what they say: “When in Rome… ” And as I mingle with other runners at the start of the marathon and ogle the ancient architecture of the Coliseum, I plan to do just that. Romans and visitors alike join in the countdown and then take off to the spirited command Andiamo!
So begins my Roman holiday—or at least my modern adaptation of the romantic 1950s film classic. While Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn motored around the city on a motor scooter, my current version will propel through the streets on foot as I soak up all things Roman.
The course is a treasure trove for history buffs, and it doesn’t take long before my head is spinning. First we run past the Forum, the ancient center of the city, where political, social, and commercial life once prospered. Then we run past the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the grandiose marble compound often referred to as the Wedding Cake due to its cakelike shape. It’s really a 19th-century monument to Victor Emmanuel II, first king of a united Italy, but being a newlywed, I find its name amusingly appropriate and of course think it was plopped on the route just for me.
You see, not only have I come to Rome to run the marathon, but my husband and I have also come to the Eternal City for our honeymoon. After I finish the race, he plans to swoop me up like a modern-day Audrey Hepburn to go create Roman Holiday II—at least the romantic part.
American 48-Hour Record Smashed
Phil McCarthy breaks the record at the “Three Days at the Fair” Running Festival.
The rural town of Augusta, New Jersey, is one of the stops in the New Jersey Trail Series event schedule, where each May long-distance races are held at the Sussex County Fairgrounds. The event brings out some of the most avid ultrarunners in the Northeast, but due to its nature, it could be considered more of a running party than a hypercompetitive event. This speaks to the way the good folks of the New Jersey Trail Series put on their events.
As its name indicates, Three Days at the Fair is … well … a three-day affair, and it comprises races of six, 12, 24, 48, and 72 hours in duration. With these races being of specified times rather than a specified distance, the winners are those who can cover the greatest number of miles in the allotted time. This, you might suppose, is a different way of being fast, measuring an athlete’s ability to persevere and to keep moving rather than to be the quickest to the finish line.
Among the entrants in the 48-hour race this year was Phil McCarthy of New York City. Although many of the competitors in the festival are accomplished distance runners from the New York/New Jersey area, McCarthy is a special runner and had previously distinguished himself, even among the distinguished.
In setting an American record, McCarthy covered 257.34 miles over the two-day race period, beating the previous record of 248 miles, held by John Geesler. To put that into perspective, the feat equates to a pace of just over 11 minutes per mile, which, for most runners, seems pedestrian. But imagine trying to maintain that speed hour after countless hour, amid breaks to eat, change clothing, and even nap. Considering that a casual walk is approximately 20 minutes per mile, McCarthy’s speed for 48 hours is almost herculean.
After the event, I asked him a few questions about training for and running these kinds of races.
Book Bonus: The Purple Runner
Warren and Chris encounter the Purple Runner and a dog with attitude. Part 7.
Things just hadn’t been going all that well in England, Warren thought to himself while walking from Prompt Corner up East Heath Road. First there was the awkward bit with Solian and Jilly that evening in front of The Flask. When he had confronted the photographer after Solian’s departure, she had informed him that she was: “quite busy at the moment.” Then Solian had told him she didn’t want to see him anymore, and now he had lost face at Prompt Corner after first a brilliant victory, then an embarrassing defeat. All might have been mitigated by prolific poetry production, but such was not the case. He had finished the lengthy poem about the chess game, but then had drifted into the life of an habitué.
Warren knew he was rapidly getting into a “do or die” situation as far as the bet. Those cocky bastards in San Francisco were never going to let him live it down if he didn’t produce, and instilling some discipline into his routine was going to be the only way he could win the bet. He didn’t care about the money: it was the loss of face. Then he had told himself he was going to take his running seriously and he hadn’t done jack shit on that. The perennial grey didn’t help matters, either, especially since the days were becoming shorter and shorter as October approached. Those continually darkened skies seemed like an analogy to his life. I’ve got to get a grip on myself, he thought.
Inside his flat the photographs and etchings of chess games made him wince again over his loss. He settled into a chair to read Auto da Fe, but found his concentration completely lacking due to emotional fatigue from having played the two chess games. After three or four more attempts at reading, interspersed with bouts of self-pity and afterthoughts on how he could have moved differently in his second chess game, Warren decided upon a run round the heath to ease his anxieties.
The Way We Were
We recently had the opportunity to go sailing on San Francisco and San Pablo Bays with some friends. Their 17-year-old son came along. At one point, we oldsters were talking about how when we were kids there were only three channels on television.
That conversation led to a discussion of our favorite television shows, which led to memories of how we had to set aside certain evenings when we wanted to see those shows. The 17-year-old appeared to be perplexed. He wanted to know why we didn’t just DVR them. We were nearly as perplexed that he felt “DVR” was a verb.
Back then, there was no such thing as a DVR, his father explained to him. There wasn’t even a VCR. You set the evening aside if you wanted to see your favorite show. The kid appeared as astonished as he would have been had baby bats come fluttering out of our ears. “But—” he said, and then he had no point of reference to finish his sentence.
John J. Kelley, R.I.P.
John J. Kelley, known to Boston Marathon fans as Johnny “The Younger” Kelley to differentiate him from John A. Kelley, “The Elder,” died early Sunday morning, August 21 from a melanoma that spread to his lungs. He was 80 years old.
One of the most personable and inspiring marathoners of his time, Johnny holds the distinction of being the only Boston Athletic Association member to ever win the famed marathon, which he did in 1957. He also holds a record that will likely never be matched: for eight years in a row (1956-1963) he won the national marathon championship held on the tough Yonkers course. To make the feat doubly astonishing, the Yonkers race traditionally came only a few weeks after Boston, which Johnny ran regularly.
On the Road With Kathrine Switzer
Heart of a Lion, Pole Pole
It was a dull, droning noise that woke me. It kept whining back and forth, not loud, but penetrating and, to me, portentous.
I knew what it meant and groaned slightly. My husband, Roger, reached over and put his arms around me, saying, “It’s OK to be slow, darling, but try not to be last.”
It was so dark! On the equator, it is very dark until it is light, and at 5:00 a.m., it was still pitch black. How can that guy up there see where he is going? Stumbling out of bed and getting tangled yet again in the mosquito netting, I went out on the deck to look.
A faint, pale light was just behind the mountains; the African plain in the foreground was fading from black to purple. I could just make out the single-engine plane as it passed overhead again, dipping and swooping low, like a crop-duster. Only this pilot was buzzing animals off the track, animals like elephants, rhinos, and lions. Off the track I was going to run on. Oh, great.
My Most Unforgettable Ultramarathon
(And What I Learned From It.)
Prologue June 16, 2001—The 5:00 a.m. start came early. There was light rain and fog as we began running through the campground and onto the dark gravel-and-dirt roads. After only a few miles, about six of us realized that we were already off course. Coming to our senses, we nearly sprinted the half mile back to catch up with the rest of the field. The course was actually well marked, but the rain had erased part of a chalk mark, making it appear that we were supposed to turn. The occasion was the Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run. And the fun was just beginning.
Those road miles were at an easy pace. The folks I was with walked up the hills and ran the rest. These hills were substantial, but we hadn’t seen anything yet. After nine or 10 miles, we started on the trails. The rain had stopped, but now we would have to deal with its aftereffect: the mud and muck of Mohican. It didn’t take long at all for me to take a tumble. The combination of mud, slippery rocks, extreme downward steepness, and my dumb storytelling to those around was all it took. I broke my fall with my hands, arm, and leg, all of which wound up with cuts, scratches, and gashes mixed with mud and blood.
It didn’t help that my wife, Debbie, was there to see me at the next aid station. She had agreed to be my crew throughout the day until it was time to meet my pacing companion at mile 69. And she had gone into the event quite worried about me. A nervous wreck the night before, she made me promise to never again attempt such a stupid thing as running 100 miles. In a moment of weakness, I agreed. I want to state for the record that Debbie is as supportive of my running as any spouse can be. She was just very worried in this instance.
Expectations were not extremely high. Although I had been running for 25 years, I was fairly light on ultra experience. My resume included a poor showing at a 24-hour run, a 50K, and two six-hour runs. I had decided to do this only three weeks before. After talking about it with some running friends at a Memorial Day race, I determined that if I could do a 40-mile training run the very next day, I would register. I could and I did. Because of all this, I went into the race hoping only to finish.
Race Profile: Little Rock Marathon
Big medals and big satisfaction for serious runners.
Marathoners go to Little Rock because they have heard tales of the huge finisher’s medal, but they return to the Little Rock Marathon because of the welcome they receive. Helpful volunteers work tirelessly to make visitors feel welcome from the expo to the finish line. The police officers who patrol the entire course are friendly and encourage the runners. The most important thing the race committee would like the runners to take from the Little Rock Marathon is fun.
Little Rock, Arkansas, has had a rich history. Quapaw Indians were primarily on the south side of the river, and Osage were mainly on the north side in the wilderness that was to become Little Rock. It was found by Europeans in the 1500s, and several expeditions visited the area over the next 200 years. Arkansas was part of the Louisiana Purchase from France to the United States, and the area slowly grew. Arkansas became a state in 1836, with Little Rock as the capital. It seceded from the Union during the Civil War, and Little Rock was later taken over by Union forces. During the turbulent civil rights era, Little Rock was in the spotlight because of the Brown Versus Board of Education ruling and because of the nine black students who entered Central High School after the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional.
What will you do as a runner after you’ve run almost everything? That’s a question I hope you don’t need to answer right now and won’t for quite a while.
There’s much to do in running and a long time to do it. Whether you start at age 15 or 50, you’re given a good 10 years to improve your PRs. You can increase your distances just about infinitely. You can run distances from sprints to ultras … on roads flat to mountainous … on trails and crosscountry courses … on tracks outdoors and in. You can run alone, with partners, in crowds small to large, and on relay teams. You can travel as far and as often to races as your budget allows.
I’ve done most of that. I raced distances as short as 100 yards and dabbled in ultras as long as 70 miles. Ran midpack at national cross-country and road championships. Won races, finished last, and didn’t finish at all. Traveled to marathons coast to coast and races in most states and outside our country. Set PRs that now are all older than my eldest child, who’s 38.
So what am I doing now that I’ve run nearly everything? Still running, of course, but not as training for anything except life. The miles are fewer and easier. Only recently have I asked myself the “What next?” question, but I began answering it unconsciously a decade ago.
What’s New in Running Research?
Use of Nonalcoholic Beer Before and After Marathons
A recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise supports what many runners had long hoped was true—beer intake is beneficial before and after running a marathon race. Marathoners drinking three to four 12-ounce cans of nonalcoholic beer per day for three weeks before and two weeks after racing the Munich Marathon experienced dramatically lowered rates of illness. The polyphenols in the beer also acted as an ibuprofen substitute in reducing marathon-induced inflammation.
Polyphenols are plant chemicals and provide many of the colors in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains, where they serve as defenders against microbes, radiation damage from the sun, and other insults. There is growing scientific support that polyphenols also provide multiple health and fitness benefits for athletes. Polyphenol-rich plant extracts are being investigated as performance aids and countermeasures to exercise-induced inflammation, delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and oxidative stress. The dosing regimen is still under scientific scrutiny, but most studies support one to three weeks of supplementation with plant extracts or polyphenol-rich beverages prior to periods of heavy training or marathon competitions.
On the Mark
Experts answer readers’ training and competition questions. This month’s question: What is the effect of marathon training and racing on white blood cell counts (especially neutrophils) and the immune system?
Gillian Adams Horovitz
A life defined by running well.
It’s a blustery and cold February afternoon. Down in the depths of Manhattan’s Chinatown, the sixth-graders from PS 1 are bundling up to walk down to the East River and run a mile as part of a youth-running program geared to low-income communities. Setting up the course on a strip of pavement under the FDR Drive is their coach, Gillian Adams Horovitz, who greets each child with a warm smile and words of encouragement as they reach the half-mile turnaround. When the last child has reached the mark, Horovitz jogs back to the start with her. Afterward she hands out snacks of apple slices. It’s obvious that she cares about these kids and that they in turn like and respect her. To them, she is just Coach Gillian.
They have no idea that this gentle woman with the soft voice and shaggy white hair was ranked sixth woman runner in the world by The Runner magazine in 1980 or that she came in second to the legendary Grete Waitz in the 1979 New York City Marathon as a 24-year-old. When that old story comes up, Horovitz points out that she was 11 minutes behind Waitz. “The only time I saw Grete was when we were talking at the starting line,” said Horovitz with her customary humility.
I’ve known Gillian for a few years through New York Road Runners, where we both work in the Youth & Community Services Division. She is always friendly and quick with a smile, and I knew there was something special about her. But it wasn’t until I started learning—through others, of course—of her many running achievements that I decided to dig further and to get to know her more intimately.
And the more I found out about her, the more of an anomaly she became. She ran 94 marathons with a PR of 2:36 (Grandma’s, 1993) over the course of 27 years, sometimes competing in 10 a year. Most of them were under three hours, with the exception of the last two, where she ran New York in 3:10 to finish as the second master and then the next week ran the Richmond Marathon in 3:12, and again was second master.
Who does this? And where did she find the time to compete internationally while raising her twins, Hannah and Oliver? Who is this woman who ran the Boston Marathon in 1980 in 2:39, finishing third female, and four weeks later won the Paris Marathon in 2:49? Who is this woman who ran for the sheer fun of it with her long, brown hair flowing in the breeze, who battled ovarian cancer in 2007, and who still wins her division in the annual Around Cape Ann 25K—where the winners trophy is named after her?
I’ll tell you who she is: a self-effacing classy lady with the soul of a saint and the heart of a lion.
V.O. Max: Running Detective
His first adventure.
Hello, my name is V.O. Max, and I am a running detective. I wish my parents had found a way to add the 2 behind the O in my name, but such is life. Speaking of life, mine in particular, I wasn’t always a running detective, but when middle age began to insist I pay attention to my own mortality, my career change was inevitable.
My office is really the streets or the road, which I sometimes have to cross, whether for pleasure or business. Each time I take my life into my own hands, ironically, I am propelled by my legs and feet. I’ve had some close calls with drivers, inconsiderate or outright hostile, but so far so good, or I wouldn’t be around to tell you of my adventures.
Wherever I run, someone dies. In that way, I am like Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote, albeit swifter afoot—and male. I don’t really have a sidekick or sounding board the way most PIs do—you’ll remember one of hers was the doctor of that quaint town seemingly brimming over with murder—so I reflect a lot. Inside my head, with my modern running gear, and sometimes in the mirror after a run to see just how red my face is and how long the strand of snot runs from my exercise-decongested nose.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning that found me out on my run, exactly two hours after I had digested a carbohydrate-and-lean-protein-rich breakfast and taken care of, shall we say, preparatory business. I was wearing my Garmin, ever hopeful for a sponsorship in the future, should this running detective business really take off. I was also wearing my Road Runner short shorts, thick Thorlo socks, Asics Gel Nimbus 12, and add to this unencumbered running homo sapiens some GU gels, a Nathan sports bottle, some adhesive strips of a brand yet to be settled on, as well as generic petroleum jelly, and let’s not forget the Road ID. The latter is an ingenious product for which people pay money to be hospital ready with a touch of style. Wish I had thought of it.
Musings From the WhistleStop Marathon
When should we stop to take in the view?
We know why we run, but what would make us stop? This question occurred to me just after finishing the 2008 WhistleStop Marathon in Ashland, Wisconsin. Race day was that perfect combination of weather, course, and fall scenery that makes it easy to justify why we put in all the training hours. Of course, as the day of a big race approaches, we never know if the pace, the course, and the leg muscles will align for a fast and satisfying run. However, this year, while my friends were anxious about crowds and hot weather at the Chicago Marathon, I was 500 miles north of the city and 26 miles west of the 12-wheel, 24-ton steam locomotive (Soo Line #950) that marks the finish line of the WhistleStop. The disparity between the Grant Park start of the Chicago Marathon and the start of the WhistleStop, deep in the Chequamegon National Forest, is almost as great as the 40:1 ratio in the number of starters. Nevertheless, the 1,000 or so runners who made the journey up to Ashland for the 11th running of the WhistleStop were just as excited to start running—and not stop—as their big-city comrades.
From the moment I climbed off one of the big yellow school buses that ferried us to the start, it was clear that we—as Dorothy said to Toto in The Wizard of Oz—were not in Kansas (or Chicago) anymore. The woods were a kaleidoscope of color and contrast, a light mist blanketed the nearby lake, and the smell of campfires made it clear that the city was far, far away. As runners and weekend campers made preparations for a busy day in the woods, the breeze freshened and the sky brightened on a 54-degree morning. The WhistleStop start was prompt at 9:00 a.m., and then runners undulated south on a narrow asphalt road for a mile or so until turning east toward Ashland on the Tri-County Corridor Trail. The marathon course follows a segment of this multiple-use trail, a rails-to-trails conversion path that travels 60 miles across northern Wisconsin from Superior to Ashland.
Punish Your Bones
Memories of a benign bandit.
Twenty-two years ago this year, I ran in the New York City Marathon. Please note that I did not say that I ran the New York City Marathon; the latter claim would be a fib. I ran enough of it, however, to gain an impression of how the ancient Greek messenger must have felt.
In 1989, I was 25 years old, a graduate student at Columbia University, a resident of Manhattan’s Morningside Heights, and a habitual runner who set out two or three times per week for runs of five or six miles through either Central Park or Riverside Park. A friend and classmate, Dan, also was a runner and called on me the morning of the race to suggest that we go to watch and perhaps, just as a lark, jump in for a few miles. Dan had completed several marathons, whereas my own competitive running career included merely one year of junior-high track and the occasional 10K holiday fun run. Nevertheless, because the plan was to run only a short distance and then grab lunch, I figured that my lack of training and experience hardly mattered.
I threw on khaki hiking shorts, a collared tennis shirt, a sweatshirt, and my running shoes and met Dan at the subway. On a map on the wall of our subway car, Dan pointed to our destination, which was the stop in Brooklyn closest to the Verrazano Bridge. By the time we arrived, the race was well under way, and we didn’t wait long before jumping in. I soon fell behind my 6-foot-2-inch friend, whose reddish head remained visible above others until at last, with a backward glance both solicitous and regretful, he disappeared for good into the nylon-clad herd. Being young and careless, we of course had not made any plans about how to reconnect if we got separated (these were the days before cell phones). Further, it occurred to me after I started running that I knew nothing at all about either the geography of Brooklyn or the marathon route. My strategy was merely to follow the other runners until, after a few miles, I became tired, and then to ask for directions to the nearest subway stop. I had a pleasant feeling that on this day my fellow New Yorkers, either from pity or admiration or both, would take care of me and the other members of its special class of annually mentally ill—its marathon runners.
Smash-Face Runners and Hooligans
Minnesota running before it became cool.
Shards of midday sun pierce budding branches and cast shadows on the pavement underfoot. Four-foot-high corridors of snow that protected either side of the running paths for the past few months melt as temperatures rise. I run along East River Road following the Mississippi northward, knowingly nodding to other runners as we pass, as though we all share the same secret.
Spring-induced euphoria is an annual tradition among Twin Cities runners. The month of May brings an explosion of life to the trails and roads of the metro area as locals are overcome with uninhibited joy at the simple sight of bare pavement. It’s hard to imagine these paths did not always exist, nor did the thousands of harriers who now occupy them.
My mind wanders to my Minnesota running predecessors: those who trained on these same routes long before I was around. I think of the dusty box of old files sitting on the living room floor of my apartment. They are filled with folders bound by rusty metal rings and are overflowing with yellow and brittle newspaper clippings featuring local runners. The documents are nearly a quarter of a century older than I am.
It was the infamous 1960s: the Vietnam War, the space race, feminism, and the civil rights movement all took shape. Martin Luther King Jr., the Beatles, Elvis, and John F. Kennedy dominated the headlines. The era was ripe with change.
This decade exists in black and white on a clicking newsreel in my mind. The barefoot marathoner from Ethiopia, Abebe Bikila, won golds at the Olympics in 1960 and 1964. Australian Herb Elliot brought middle-distance running to new heights. The breakout 10,000-meter sensation, Billy Mills, stunned domestic crowds with his talent and won gold in 1964. Gerry Lindgren won the Olympic Trials and beat the Russians in the US-Soviet dual meet. Wilma Rudolph brought attention to women in the sport with her multimedal win at the Olympics. And schoolboy supermiler Jim Ryun broke the four-minute barrier, holding the high school record for 37 years.
Had I grown up during those years, I wouldn’t have been able to run in junior high, high school, or college. The Chain of Lakes, which now serves as every local runner’s justification for living here, was devoid of pavement pounders. In fact, there was no pavement. Running specialty stores were nonexistent. It was impossible even to find a decent pair of running shoes. Twin Cities native Steve Hoag, an All-American and Big 10 champion for the Minnesota Gophers as well as the 1975 Boston Marathon runner-up, says simply, “Running just wasn’t something people did then.”
At least it wasn’t something most people did.
Training to improve your time.
If you follow my stringent guidelines in the September/October 2011 issue of Marathon & Beyond for running your first marathon, you should complete your race without any ill effects. By running up to 515 minutes weekly, your marathon should be as pleasant an experience as can be expected from running 26.2 miles. And you will probably be surprised at how fast your time is. After recovering from their postmarathon soreness and fatigue, many first-timers are hooked by the challenge of the marathon, and their next goal is to improve their time. They’ve just made the transition to an intermediate-level marathoner.
Ski Marathon and Beyond
Thirty miles below zero.
There are many challenges to running in a Minnesota winter. It’s usually cold, often has below-zero temps, windchill readings can be arctic and the roads are covered with ice and snow. And since marathons in a northern region are few and far between, when winter arrives my cross-country skis reappear as a part of my training equipment. Cross-country skiing is ideal for high-intensity training, and as a recent (March/April 2011) issue of Marathon & Beyond pointed out, cross-country skiing is a great cross-training activity to increase muscle strength around the hips and upper body. While I still run during the winter, cross-country skiing is a wonderful diversion. Fortunately, there is the annual goal of competing in the American Birkebeiner Ski Marathon held in late February.
The American Birkebeiner Ski Marathon, or “Birkie,” began in 1973 as the dream of the late Tony Wise, a local entrepreneur and the developer of Telemark Lodge in Cable, Wisconsin. Thirty-four men and one lone woman stood on the start line in woolen sweaters and knickers for the 50-kilometer race from the Lumberjack Bowl in Hayward to Telemark Lodge in Cable. This small group probably didn’t realize history was in the making, as today’s Birkie is North America’s largest cross-country ski marathon, attracting over 5,000 skiers. It’s also a part of the Worldloppet circuit of 15 international ski marathons and the American Ski Marathon series of 13 races. Like a large running marathon, athletes from around the world make their annual pilgrimage every February to test their strength and endurance on the Birkie Trail’s rugged, glaciated terrain. The American Birkebeiner course is one of the toughest on the Worldloppet circuit, spanning 50 hilly kilometers from Cable to Hayward for skaters and 54K for classic skiers, half of which is a separate trail.
For the neophyte, there are two cross-country skiing techniques, skating and striding. Very simply, skaters use a hockey-type leg motion and longer poles to propel themselves forward, while striders use the traditional method, stay in a track, and propel themselves forward with a kicking and gliding motion.
The Mystique of the Marathon
Marathoning offers a gateway to a brave new running world.
What would we do for fun if the Persians had won the Battle of Marathon? This thought occurred to me while I was in Greece last fall to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of that battle—and the legendary run from Marathon to Athens by Pheidippides, who announced “Rejoice, we conquer,” and immediately died.
If the Persians had won, would their general have dispatched a sailboat across the Wine Dark Sea with news of the victory? If so, perhaps the word “marathon” might be applied to a regatta, not a running race.
The legend of Pheidippides—and it is more legend than historical fact— inspired a race in 1896 at the first modern Olympic Games over the same 25-mile route. Only 17 runners participated in that first marathon. In 2010, 20,000 runners appeared for the 2,500th-anniversary celebration, and races with twice as many runners had become common throughout the world in Berlin and London and New York and Chicago and beyond—races that, by the way, are called “marathons,” that term having conveniently taken hold as a description of a running race 26 miles, 385 yards long.
The marathon has undergone incredible changes since I ran my first race at that distance: Boston in 1959. First, more and more women are running, outnumbering men in more and more marathons. Marathons have both become more expensive and more difficult to enter, the 2011 Boston Marathon filling its field in eight hours and three minutes after opening for registration. While big-city marathons with their 40,000-runner fields often are “more fun” than smaller races, not everybody enjoys being slowed by crowds—particularly when it comes time to achieve an elusive Boston qualifier (BQ). Charities continue to attract large numbers to the sport, but running lately has suffered some stress faults, which may need to be mended.
We Are Cardiac Athletes
Getting to the heart of the matter.
In mid-November 2010, I traveled from Eugene, Oregon, to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for the Select Medical Harrisburg Marathon and Relay. I wouldn’t ordinarily travel 2,300 miles just for a marathon, but this one was special. This one was a reunion of sorts with a group of people I had never met personally yet understood almost as much as I did myself. We call ourselves “Cardiac Athletes” after the website of the same name, and we’re pioneers in cardiac recovery.
What that means is that despite having had open-heart surgeries, valve replacements, or pacemakers and beyond, we refuse to sit on the sidelines and watch the world go by.
As a native of Eugene, I’m a little spoiled when it comes to running events, but I found a lot to like about Harrisburg. The city was clean, the people were friendly, and the racecourse started and ended on one of the arched bridges that span the Susquehanna River.
The great part of the course, for me, was that it paralleled the river after several miles through the nearby city streets and neighborhoods and then crossed back and forth over two bridges for the relay exchange. We have rivers in Eugene, and I felt right at home running next to the water.
Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania, and I found the brick and stone architecture a pleasant distraction during the race. We don’t have many front stoops back home, but Harrisburg seemed filled with them. Many display the flags of favorite college teams like Penn State and Ohio State. I found out later it was their weekend to play each other in college football.
Differences in coaching men and women.
In 2000 the Marquette University women’s cross-country team advanced to what would be its first of six consecutive NCAA Division I Cross-Country Championship appearances. A year removed from competing for the men, I had witnessed its rapid ascent from better than average to national class. As recently as the 1980s, the women had been running as an NAIA school. Now they were competing with the best teams in the land.
While the Marquette women flourished, the men languished in what I would personally describe as the dark days of the program. Long gone were the days of the nationally ranked squads of the early ’80s. For the ladies, a ninth-place finish at the district meet would have meant bitter disappointment. For the men, it would have had us doing cartwheels of joy.
What always struck me as odd about this situation was that both teams were coached by the same person. As a rule, the men ran a slightly higher volume of miles, but otherwise our workout schedule was essentially the same. We rode to practice in the same vans, listened to the same speeches, ran the same meets, and drew about the same caliber of recruit. Yet while the women turned into a powerhouse, the men struggled just to be competitive.
For years I pondered this paradox. During this time I began coaching high school runners myself, first a boys’ team and then a girls’ team. And wouldn’t you know it, while the boys’ team seemed to flourish under my guidance, the girls flummoxed me with their lack of progress. It got me wondering. Is there something innately different about the physiological or psychological makeup of male and female athletes that requires radically different approaches to achieve coaching success?
Desperate for an answer, I decided to ask some of the top coaches and physiologists in the land for their opinions on the matter. What began as a few simple interviews turned into a fascinating series of conversations with some of the brightest coaching minds the sport of distance running has to offer.
Book Bonus: The Purple Runner
Doyle takes Chris under his wing and trains him for a sub: 3:00. Part 8.
New Zealander Wins Charbonnet Cross-Country Meeting, was the headline across the top of the page of British Athletics held in Watson Doyle’s veined hands. That young lass has really come along, he thought, having already read the results of several other British and continental cross-country races in which Solian Lede placed in the top three. Still perusing the statistics he reached for his cup of tea, spilling it slightly upon the top magazine in a tall stack of perhaps 150 assorted running periodicals, including: New Zealand Runner, Australian Runner, On The Run (now defunct), and Spiridon.
The entire room reeked of Dr. Weasel’s liniment, a substance earlier applied to his sore calf muscles. The same plethora of wet T-shirts, mud-spattered shoes, newspapers, certificates, entry forms, vests, dirty plates and cups, half-open books, photo albums, and marathon hats with logos was scattered about.
Elizabeth MacGregor has sooch a short, choppy stride, yet she is faster than I ovair 50 miles, he thought, noticing her name amongst the top 30 girls. Time marches relentlessly on. But then he thought of how Dr. Alex Ratelle was running low 2:30s for marathons, and another over-50, Piet van Alphen, was running in the 2:20s. Then there’s Jack Foster, but he’s in a class by himself. Doyle convinced himself to take heart, even with sore calf muscles.
Today I have to talk to the American, Christopher. Doyle felt the lad had been making excellent progress with the fartlek, hill, and interval program he had devised, but the young runner hadn’t seemed to be able to come to grips with his diet. Those Americans just always had the same bad habit of wanting bonnie princely portions or seconds, as if their stomachs were permanently distended. And they tended to be so huge from a childhood during which they downed bloody great steaming quantities of dairy products and meats three times a day.
The poor fools were always on some Prettychin, Scaredell, or some such diet, when they just bloody well needed to eat smaller quantities. But then Doyle did know habits were difficult to break. He felt the British chill was worth about 1,000 calories a day, anyway. Another sip of hot tea slid down his gullet, and he contemplated how tea had to be one of the finest acquisitions of the British Empire.