Volume 14 | Number 1 | January/February 2010
What Are They Thinking?
One of the greatest inventions of the human intellect is the analogy.
Think about it: You can make a point more emphatically by calling up something that is similar or parallel in nature or principle.
By dictionary definition, an analogy is a comparison between two things, typically on the basis of their structure and for the purpose of explanation or clarification.
Try this one: It would be like graduating from the fifth grade and moving right into the operating room to do heart surgery.
Or this one: It would be like a 16-year-old finishing driver’s training and then piloting the space shuttle.
OK, that last one is a little exaggerated. So is the fifth-grader-to-surgeon. But a bit of exaggeration in an analogy is like spices in a meatloaf. Whoops. Another analogy just slipped in. Sorry. What’s all this analogy-centric stuff referencing?
It’s like taking up running and in six months running a marathon as your first race.
And probably your last race.
No, wait. That’s not another analogy. That’s the subject for this editorial.
On the Road with Lorraine Moller
The Big O2
In my mind, all this brouhaha lately about health insurance seems to bring up the wrong set of questions. To begin with, health itself rarely gets a mention—only sickness. Maybe if we started asking questions about health, then we might get focused on a system that actually promotes health. After all, the right answer is birthed only by the right questions. I was once asked by an interviewer on the radio, “How important is breathing in running?” I was stumped for a moment and then answered, “Very important. If you don’t breathe, you die, and if you’re dead, you can’t run.” Since I didn’t elaborate, he thought I was being flippant—and I was because I thought his question was oxy-moronic.
When it comes to breathing, exercise, and oxygen, it’s very easy to get bogged down in the information stream and overlook one fundamental precept: human beings are oxygen factories. Our bodies have an amazing ability to synthesize the basic components for life using oxygen as the main ingredient: carbohydrates (oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon), protein (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen), water (oxygen and hydrogen), and energy (oxygen and carbohydrates). In fact, 80 percent of all our metabolic production is created by utilizing oxygen in one form or another.
Even though our bodies are largely composed of oxygen, we have no real storage system for it, so it has to be continually replenished moment by moment, breath by breath. Not just our athletic performances but our capacity to stay alive depend on this ability. We can survive without food for months, without water for days, but cut off the air intake and we can function on anaerobic metabolism for just a few minutes before the engine grinds to a halt.
On the other hand, if our aerobic efficiency is improved, not only is our ability to move optimized, but our quality of life is enhanced. Dr. Steven Levine, a molecular biologist, writes, “Low oxygen in the body tissues is a sure indicator for disease. Hypoxia, or lack of oxygen in the tissues, is the fundamental cause for all degenerative disease.” Concomitantly, healthy cells are well oxygenated, and in an aerobically fit person, this high level is readily maintained.
My Most Unforgettable Ultramarathon
COTSWOLD, UK, May 24-25, 2008 —With the last name “Stroud,” I’ve long suspected that my family hails from the Cotswold region of western England. In recent years, I was able to confirm that by tracing my family genealogy to that area, including marriage records between Edward Strode and Joan Gunning in the town of Bristol (less than 30 miles from Stroud) in the year 1629.
Then a little over a year ago, via the magic of the Internet, I found the Stroud and District Athletic Club (SDAC) and, as an avid runner, thought it would be really cool to join and get a club vest with my name on it!
I contacted the club, had a little hassle getting my membership dues to them in British pounds, but joined the club and then would wear my vest occasionally at a race and send photos of “the namesake Yank.” I even wore it when running the Boston Marathon in April 2008.
During this same time, two foreshadowing events were taking place in the SDAC: a talented young runner, Jonathan Brough, contracted meningitis while skiing in Canada and was ultimately left paralyzed from the neck down; and Martin Humphries decided to run the entire length of the Cotswold Way in May 2007 with a goal of “under 24 hours.” Martin committed to the effort with little time to plan it as a fund-raiser, but he accomplished his goal—suffering mightily during the later miles from blisters.
Kenny Roberts, a member of the board of directors of SDAC, saw the opportunity to have the club assist in making a follow-on assault on the Cotswold Way as a fund-raiser for The Meningitis Trust, which provides support services to people and their families affected by meningitis and which has its headquarters in the town of Stroud.
Pike’s Peak Marathon
Marathons don’t get much tougher than this.
Some marathons are so well known that they are recognizable simply by their location—think Boston or New York. While there are many things to do on and near Pikes Peak, runners saying they are going to Pikes Peak mean only one thing: running the Pikes Peak Marathon.
The Pikes Peak Marathon is a love/hate relationship that begins in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and continues straight up the Barr Trail to the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak. The journey up is only half of the total experience—the summit is the turnaround point in the race. The round trip up the single-track trail to the thin, airy summit and back to Manitou Springs is known as “America’s Ultimate Challenge,” and the race lives up to the reputation.
My first Marathon & Beyond column (September-October 2004) began with wordplay to justify the use of this space by someone who had stopped running marathons and never really gotten started in ultras.
My “beyond” didn’t mean running longer than 26.2 miles. It referred to the afterlife of an ex-marathoner and the supporting roles I could still play.
Soon after that first column ran, my support of marathoners became more direct and personal than ever before. I began coaching a marathon training team, and these runners in turn inspired (or shamed) me into a return to marathoning. These recent experiences have filled many a page in M&B.
But I’ve had nothing to say here about running ultras because my history beyond the marathon is as incomplete as it is ancient—which isn’t to say I failed miserably at ultrarunning. There are no bad experiences, if they teach good lessons. I learned first that I didn’t have the will to see these races through, which added to my admiration for runners who do.
On the Mark
Experts answer readers’ training and competition questions. This month’s question:I know what the concept of fartlek is (throwing in bursts of speed during your running workout, such as from one telephone pole to the next). I’m wondering about the benefits—or drawbacks—of using fartlek while doing my weekend long runs. Can you do too much fartlek to the point that it becomes counterproductive, or if you use it during a long workout, does it sort of simulate the real-world efforts a runner puts out during a marathon? I enjoy mixing it up as far as pace and effort go but want to run my race at a fairly even pace. Would this be the wrong way to go about it? Thanks for any help you can provide.
BioFile: Jelena Prokopcuka
Date of Birth: September 21, 1976, in Riga, Latvia
Running Heroes/Inspirations: “I didn’t have heroes.”
Leisure Activities/Hobbies: “I like to do needlework, knitting. I like to watch movies. Read books. I like walking along the beach in Yuba, Latvia, on the Baltic Sea.”
Favorite Movies: “I like detective stories. I like action. For example, I enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean. Brilliant.”
Musical Tastes: “Yes, I like Russian music, classic music. I don’t like aggressive music, hard rock, I don’t like it.”
Favorite Meal: “I like pasta; I like meat; I love chicken. I love fruit.”
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Vanilla.”
Joe Henderson’s career has helped define the sport.
Choosing the Perfect Marathon Training Program
With a group or alone, you can find numerous programs.
Let’s be honest. The friends who twisted your arm to sign up for this year’s marathon are in way better shape than you are. Their training programs— consisting of running 10 miles a day, eating only nuts and berries, and running barefoot—simply will not work for you. Everyone is different. So what is your “perfect” training program? Most of the time it comes down to trial and error before you’re able to figure out what formula of fast and slow, long and short runs works best for you. Don’t lose hope quite yet. There are some basic training guidelines that you can follow depending on your goals and existing fitness level. This article provides an in-depth look at some of the most popular marathon training programs, which will help guide you toward the perfect training plan and, ultimately, your perfect race.
The basic beginner’s marathon training program is one that guarantees to get you across the finish line. It consists of a combination of shorter runs and one long run per week, along with several rest days. The idea is that by building up your long run a mile per week or two miles every other week, you will be able to complete a marathon by the end of the 16- to 20-week program. Both individual and group-based marathon programs for beginners are available.
Joe Henderson, an instructor of running classes at the University of Oregon and author of Marathon Training, coaches adult marathon groups through the Eugene Running Company in Eugene, Oregon. Henderson has been helping average Joes across the finish line since the 1970s. His current program is group based, meaning that you come and train as a group and are held accountable by your peers.
This style of training can be beneficial to those who have a hard time getting out of bed in the wee morning hours to do that lonely, long run in the dark. Eighteen weeks each summer and winter, Henderson’s group meets on Sunday mornings at 7:30 during the summer and 8:00 during the winter. Runners drop their gels and liquids into coolers and gather inside the Eugene Running Company, a local specialty running store, for a brief pep talk before heading out on their long run. Henderson and volunteers meet the runners at water stations along the course.
The group-based marathon training program benefits those runners looking for accountability and training partners for a late-spring or early-fall marathon. “Running with a group gives me a reason to show up every week. Knowing there is a support group at aid stations with encouragement and hydration is refreshing when you’re out on a two-plus-hour run,” says Kristena McAlister, a 3:56 marathoner and veteran of the Henderson program.
How to Better Televise a Marathon
Twelve steps that will improve our viewing pleasure.
I think it was right about the time that Olympic gold medalist Sammy Wanjiru was bursting through the tunnel leading into the Bird’s Nest that I was pretty much hitting the wall. No, I wasn’t competing in the men’s marathon at the 2008 Beijing Games and, no, I wasn’t operating on depleted energy stores (although, after sitting through about 496 hours of Olympics television coverage, it sure felt like it). But I was, in fact, hitting the wall—with my fist, I mean.
They come along only once every four years, the Olympics, and it’s inevitable that those in charge of televising the men’s and women’s marathons muck it up. The good news for fans of distance running was that both races were pretty much covered in their entirety and during valuable, prime time coverage to boot. But the bad news was that NBC again wasted a perfectly good opportunity not only to educate the general public about the allure of this unique sport but also to help inspire young runners back in the United States to one day want to become marathon champions.
To be fair, it isn’t just the peacock network that seems to botch these things, and it’s not just the Olympic Games marathon that receives poor coverage. I find myself losing interest just about every time I watch a live marathon telecast, whether it’s from Boston, London, or New York. And that’s me—a tremendous supporter of the sport. I can only imagine how those who know nothing about this stuff must feel.
So in the interests of doing my small part in helping to push the sport forward, I’ve prepared a list of suggestions for Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, and any other television producer or executive in charge of putting these marathon telecasts together. The list, from my perspective, is in order of relevance; readers may feel otherwise. And while some of these ideas may be easier to implement than others, I’m convinced that adopting any of them would greatly enhance the marathon viewing experience.
Women’s World and National Yearly Marathon Best-Time Trends
Based on a six-year average.
Over the years, the women’s marathon has been dominated by various nations or groups of nations and by various races. Currently, the event is arguably shared between the Africans, Europeans, and Orientals, but it has not always been this way. The following study attempts to identify trends by attaching concrete numbers and graphical analysis to the women’s marathon from 1980 onward.
In a previous edition of Marathon & Beyond (March/April 2009), we looked at men’s marathon trends. This time we will examine the marathon trends for women and compare them to the men. Therefore, we include the men’s graph again alongside the women’s.
An excerpted chapter.
This excerpt originally appeared in Running by Jean Echenoz. The novel relates the story of Emil Zatopek, the world’s greatest long-distance runner.
Prague where, in those days, everyone is afraid, every second, of everything and everybody, everywhere. For the greater good of the Party, the overriding concern is to purge, demolish, crush, liquidate all hostile elements. The newspapers and radio speak of nothing else; the police and State Security Service take on the job. Anyone may at any moment be charged with treason as a spy, conspirator, saboteur, agent provocateur, or terrorist of the—pick one—Trotskyist, Titoist, Zionist, or Social-Democratic persuasion, reviled as a kulak or a bourgeois nationalist.
At any time, anybody can wind up in prison or a camp, usually without any idea why. People generally end up there not because of what they think but be- cause they are in the way of someone powerful enough to send them there. Each day, from the four corners of the country, hundreds of letters arrive at the State Security Service Headquarters to obligingly and imaginatively draw official attention to this or that comrade, colleague, neighbor, relative, all denounced for plotting against the regime.
Here, then, we have reached that same point we’d already found ourselves in, with slight variations, not even ten years earlier. Fearful of speaking or listening to anybody, people systematically shun one another, even within the bosom of their families. The press is gagged as never before, and as before, listening to foreign radio broadcasts can lead to fearsome reprisals. Now that terror has settled comfortably into everyone’s consciousness, the choice is simple: silence and resignation, or participation in the personality cult of President Gottwald and in the fanatical demonstrations supporting the regime. Another mainstay—or last hope—is to join the Party, which has grown in a few months by over a million new members, among whom, it must be said, is Emil.
One shouldn’t dismiss Emil as an opportunist. Two things are absolutely indisputable: that he sincerely believes in the virtues of Socialism and that in his position he could hardly do otherwise. He knows that certain intellectuals roaming the corridors of power have him in their sights as they eagerly consider whether his status as a great sports hero might—perhaps inevitably—be tainted by bourgeois individualism, since the unhealthy adoration of any athlete seriously betrays the Stakhanovite ideal.
Although his superiors cautiously prefer to keep him under wraps, claiming that he’s in poor form, tired, or even ill, Emil still doesn’t give an inch. When Heino emerges growling from his deep forests and retakes the world record for 10,000 meters, Emil takes it back from him fifty-two days later, leaving his competitors so deep in his dust that the second finisher comes in four laps behind. In the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, Emil definitely remains the fastest man in the world.
Pacing as Soulcraft
Taking the larger view of helping someone finish well.
My ex-husband was a big, handsome guy—lumbering, soft spoken, quick to make a gentle joke. But you would never call him graceful. Not unless you saw him on skis. On skis he was balletic. He moved so sweetly that the first time I saw him go down a mountain I felt like he’d been keeping a secret from me.
When we first started seeing each other, it had been years since I’d participated in winter sports. I’d skied as a kid, then easily gave it up. Too much gear, too much travel, too much money, too much hassle, too much cold. So I was, when we first went to Killington for a weekend, a bit rusty.
My future ex-husband did for me what ski instructors, parents, and dance partners do: he let me follow in his tracks. Turn when I do, he said. Keep your eyes on my back. Don’t think, just follow.
I did. And we got down everything—green, blue, and black. He didn’t do the skiing for me—it was my own muscles and sense of balance that kept me upright and moving down the hills. But he showed me the way. We were perfectly harmonized. It was like dancing. It was like sex.
Often in athletic endeavors, it’s our heads that get us into trouble. It’s a gift to be able to put our bodies in the hands of others, to turn off the noisy mind and settle into a path that’s already been carved.
When I proposed an article about pacing in all of its various incarnations— from the elite rabbits who are paid to set a pace, to marathon support groups, to those of us who love nothing more than to accompany runners for the last portion of a 100-mile race—to an editor of a running magazine, he said that he hated pace groups. They take up a lot of space, he said, sometimes forming a human barrier that individual runners have a hard time penetrating. He also related a bad experience where, at one marathon, the nearby sound of a pacer’s voice was enough to force him to run faster than he’d planned just to get away from it. It was, he said, like torture. That I can understand. Some of these pacers do sound like drill sergeants, barking orders the whole way, never allowing for the silence that lets you travel into your own thoughts.
What I didn’t understand, though, was that he thought the story would be of limited interest: “Of the thousands of people who race, maybe a tenth of a percent ever pace someone else (at least officially).” This editor, a sharp and kind guy who has been around a lot of running blocks, continued, “Then there is the feeling that pacing is somehow against the spirit of the event—that learning how to pace yourself is one of the skills of running.”
Going for the All-Geezer Team
One runner’s search for meaning in age-group road racing.
My goodness, it’s a lovely day! I’m running easily through gorgeous, leafy suburban Concord, Massachusetts, surrounded by fleet, fit females as we hit the first mile mark in the local Fourth of July five-mile road race in something like 6:50. It’s a treat to be running with Karin, Cricky, Lindsey, and Emma—the core of our high school’s second-in-the-state cross-country team—and as a 60-year-old coot, I savor all the more this rare chance to run with some of the girls I coach in the fall. Ah, life is sweet, but, damn it, I have an agenda. The girls are larking, gabbing, and into a fun outing, while I, well, I’m a tad behind schedule and have to get a move on, because—gulp—I want—it’s hard to admit this, but—I want to win today. Win, you ask? Win? Um, come in first? What about that crowd of runners ahead of you?
OK, OK, here’s the thing: I harbor no illusions about jetting up to the race leaders, who are already close to two minutes ahead of me after a mile. But I do want to win my age group, which I believe I can do with a sub-34-minute time (last year’s 60-plus winner clocked a 33:44, a time I had bettered back in April in winning a Lexington five-miler). So, hate to say it, but girls, I gotta go! I have (if only to myself) promises to keep, and at least four more miles to go before, well, whatever.
Pushing to the Finish Line
Athletes come in all shapes and sizes.
Light and darkness began to separate in the cloudless morning sky while David Slomkowski drove his gray Toyota pickup truck toward parking lot H at M&T Bank Stadium.
“You know,” Slomkowski asked his veteran racing buddy riding shotgun, “we gotta race against 18,000 people today?”
“That’s no problem,” 10-year-old James Banks shot back. Slomkowski smiled. The adolescent’s retort was hardly wild-eyed enthusiasm. The duo had completed the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, triathlon two months earlier and had even trekked 26.2 miles through Baltimore’s neighborhoods last year, so the 2008 Baltimore Marathon wasn’t anything new.
Still, anticipation for their latest adventure left both runners restless in the waking hours of Saturday, October 11. Once they parked, James cranked up the truck’s stereo, his slender index finger wheeling the black volume knob until the heated cabin vibrated, while Slomkowski untied the dark-blue carriage from the truck’s flatbed. The howling wind off the inner harbor didn’t affect some of the men and women wearing mesh tank tops and grazing on the blacktop pasture, but Bruce Springsteen pelting “Oh, Mary, don’t you weep no more!” from the Toyota’s speakers quickly drew their attention.
Forty-year-old Slomkowski seamlessly melted into the church choir refrain when he opened the passenger-side door. “Oh, James, don’t you weep no more,” he screamed, overpowering the stereo, while he slid his right arm underneath James’s knees and wrapped his left arm around the child’s back.
He placed his young frail companion in the carriage emblazoned with yellow-lettered “ATHLETE” just above his head and applied the finishing touches: James’s red sunglasses, their racing bibs, and stickers denoting that they were running the full marathon. Before buckling him in completely, Slomkowski slid a gray “Athletes Serving Athletes” T-shirt over James’s brown collared shirt. The team was now in uniform.
Athletes Serving Athletes (ASA), the nonprofit organization that Slomkowski created and has operated since late 2006, strives to help physically handicapped children in Baltimore experience the thrill of the athletic experience. Beginning with the September 11, 2007, Run To Remember in downtown Baltimore, ASA has enabled over 50 disabled children to complete races that range from triathlons and marathons to shorter 5 and 10Ks.
“You’re doing something you love, but you’re doing it for someone else,” says Slomkowski, who has helped James race over 90 miles. “Just being a part of that team, I get so much back. He’s giving back to us way more than we are giving him.”
My First Marathon… on Fresh Legs, With a Fresh Mind
Too much, too soon, can lead to doom.
It’s not like me to miss a class. OK, so maybe I played hooky once or twice (per week) in high school, but that was different. I was young and, by senior year, vehicularly equipped. Understandably, I felt desperate for sunshine, willing to forgo lectures on the Civil War and the world of derivatives for a little lakeside comfort. But mind you, I was always back at school in time for soccer practice. Oh, the priorities of youth.
But once college commenced, showing up became mandatory. No excuses. Not even a sick day, not even for a bad case of mononucleosis, which rendered me useless and asleep for close to 16 hours a day senior year. I simply scheduled my collapses for between classes, fighting every urge to doze at my desk.
So, how in the world did I miss the lessons of Marathoning 101? Whose professional hands did I slip through when I embarked on my newly chosen sport? Because all the talk of building a base, the 10 percent increase rule, limits on anaerobic workouts, and the importance of easy and off days never made a dent in me.
I was so anxious to become an official marathoner that I shut my ears and eyes to common-sense running wisdom. I operated like the family dog, Sam, a large, floppy-eared golden retriever who will fetch a tennis ball until he pukes from exhaustion. I thought success was a direct correlate of desire and diligence, that the solution to all problems was to push a little harder. And without a guru to measure my steps, I was as willful as a spoiled 2-year-old who won’t quit writhing and screaming until you give her the damned cookie. Some say stubborn, obstinate, impossible, and unyielding; I prefer persistent.
Before I get lost in this tangent, I should probably start at the beginning.
Running began in my life as a means to an end, a way to condition myself for “real” sports, namely soccer and basketball. Hitting the track at Wallace Wade Stadium (of Duke University) every day at lunchtime the summer before I started college, sweat pouring, felt like traveling back in time to when I was 7. There I was, transported to the dinner table, only instead of eating my green vegetables, I was putting one foot in front of the other for six strenuous laps around the track. Like a good little girl, I did what was expected of me.
Race for the solution (a crossword puzzle).
Book Bonus: Flanagan’s Run
The Trans-Am heads to Chicago and a run-in with members of the Capone mob. Part 16.
Read this installment in our January/February issue…
Volume 14 | Number 2 | March/April 2010
If New York City is the Big Apple, ING New York City Marathon weekend is Big-Apple pie: a bunch of tasty sweet lumps baked together inside a flaky crust and then served to perfection with a few vent holes cut in the top to release the steam.
I ran the New York City Marathon in 1978 and 1992, and on each occasion those of us running it thought that it couldn’t possibly get much larger. The two dates also just happened to bookend the great Grete’s NYC career; 1978 was the first year she ran the race, and 1992 was the last.
In 1978 I ran it simply because I was running a marathon a month and we (the crew at Runner’s World) had flown in from the West Coast to host our annual open house in the basement of a Manhattan hotel; this was before marathon expos were common. I remember we brought 24 cases of the current issue to give out to subscribers who showed up; we rented a big station wagon, and the issues weighed so much the rear bumper kept hitting the asphalt every time we accelerated.
When the race was over and Grete Waitz had set a new women’s marathon standard, few people had heard of her. Of course, the anonymity didn’t last long. Fred Lebow, the eccentric director of the race, had invited Grete and her husband over after she had performed well in the World Cross-Country Championships. Fred’s theory was that if you could do well in cross-country, you could probably do well in the marathon. He used to cite Bill Rodgers, who ran cross-country well and in 1975 set an American marathon record at Boston (2:09:55).
In 1992 Grete was running the race not as a competitor but as a friend of Fred’s. Fred was dying of brain cancer, and he had never run in his own race. Gracious Grete volunteered to slow down enough to run with Fred. It was a very moving cap to both of their careers.
On the Road with Lorraine Moller
The Sex Test
Now that I have your full attention, here’s a little-known detail about me: When I was an international championship competitor, I was also a card-carrying female. Let me clarify that: I have remained female, but I have ceased carrying an XX chromosome license in my wallet certifying the fact. I was fond of that card. Not only was it a requirement for certain competitions back then, but it was a handy icebreaker on stuffy occasions that required ID.
To get it I had to undergo a sex test—a mandate for entry into the women’s division of IAAF/IOC events. My first sex test took place at the Commonwealth Games in 1974 when I was 18. Fortunately by then the old “look/ see” method had been replaced by the less-humiliating hair follicle analysis by taking a clip of hair. As I waited for the results, I had a lingering fear that I might fail and my precious feminine identity be thrown into the Cuisinart. Up to that time, there were still plenty of stories being bandied about that were hard to ignore about how excessive exercise would turn girls into men. I passed, and was issued a certificate worthy of a frame, but a granny in the lawn bowls event failed, which brought the validity of the testing itself into question.
My Most Unforgettable Marathon
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, April 20, 2009—Boston is my hometown race, the Super Bowl held in my backyard every year. Boston was my first marathon—I was a charity runner with a back story, seeking redemption through glycogen depletion, like many others around me. Boston was my first foil blanket, my first salty taste of personal victory. I’ve lined up in Hopkinton every April since 2000, and for the past three years I have qualified at Boston for Boston—the running equivalent of winning the World Series in the home park. I have run 17 marathons to date. I’m not fast, but I’m steady—my best times and my worst times were run in Boston.
I hate crowds and love smaller marathons, but Boston is different. I like to say that I run the length of my attention span, which these days is about four hours, and Hopkinton to Boston, on a preferably cold and overcast day, is my idea of a satisfying rock-and-roll show, with me playing lead guitar.
So it’s not surprising that I feel possessive about the race, entitled even. Every year I get a police escort to Hopkinton on race day with my running club, the Boston Police Runners Club, motorcycles shutting down on-ramps on the Mass. Pike as we wave to puzzled motorists from luxury coach buses. I wait inside the Hopkinton Fire Station for the start of the race, breakfast included. My family has front-row seats inside the Hereford Street Fire Station at the 26-mile mark every year. My husband is the lighting director for the B.A.A. press conferences. I went to Boston College and lived in Cleveland Circle. It may be the Boston Marathon to the masses, but to me it is my marathon. Every year an unsuspecting acquaintance will ask, “Are you going to do the marathon this year?” (In this neighborhood, “the marathon” is always Boston.) “Knock on wood,” I say, “God willing,” (smiling modestly). “That’s the plan.”
This is the story of what happens when the plan goes awry. My most unforgettable marathon is the one I didn’t run, Boston 2009—a saga including Friday the 13th, a leprechaun, denial, acceptance, electric shock, and water aerobics, wherein our heroine learns that not training is grueling, that race support is a contact sport, and that running is a gift, no matter who is doing the running.
Bank of America Chicago Marathon
Chicago blues, but not on race day.
How do you tell if you have a successful event? How about starting as the world’s largest and growing from there? The inaugural running of the Mayor Daley Marathon, as the race was originally titled in 1977, hosted 4,200 runners (2,128 finishers), giving Chicago the first of many of its marathon world records.
The idea of Chicago hosting a marathon in today’s fashion (Chicago had a marathon race as early as 1905) was hatched from a meeting of five key founders in November 1976. Brought together at a local YMCA were Wayne Goeldner, physical education director of an area YMCA; Wendell Miller, founder of the Midwest Masters Running Club; Dr. Noel Nequin, director of Cardiac Rehabilitation at the Swedish Covenant Hospital; Sharon Mier, director of women’s sports at another local YMCA; and Bill Robinson, executive director of Friends of the Parks.
The following May saw Chicago experience its first successful major race when 1,000 runners participated in a 10-mile race organized by Dr. Nequin. Not only did the success of this race vastly exceed expectations, but it also enjoyed the backing of Mayor Michael Bilandic, a runner himself. Any doubts that the marathon founders may have had prior to the May race were erased when they saw the overwhelming success and support of that initial Ravenswood Bank Lakefront 10-Miler.
By midsummer, Miller had lined up the marathon’s first official sponsor, Flair Communications, thanks in large part to its founder and CEO, Lee Flaherty, an avid runner. Flaherty and Dr. Nequin then secured permission from the Daley family to initially name the race in honor of Chicago’s famous and longtime mayor, the late Richard J. Daley, father of the current Chicago mayor, Richard M. Daley.
“Age Unlimited” was the title of the program the day before the Royal Victoria Marathon. We three panelists talked about what hardly anyone in the audience wanted to think about but everyone who hung around this sport long enough would become: older and slower.
My stage mates, Rose Marie Preston and Ken Bonner, would each run their 30th Royal Vic the next morning. Rose Marie told of never being injured, and Ken said he seldom had. They agreed this was because they had run less and cross-trained more as they had aged. I spoke last and had the least to say about my recent marathons. They numbered just three in the decade about to end and just one—ever—in Victoria.
My lifetime marathon count is unremarkable, especially compared with an audience member that day, Bob Dolphin. He had turned 80 the previous week and celebrated by running his 452nd marathon. I’ve gone this distance barely one-tenth as often.
I have been injured, lots of times, in almost every way known to sports-medical science. I don’t cross-train, which might help explain the previous sentence. So I yielded to Preston and Bonner to advise about training and racing at an age when injuries come faster and healing is slower.
When my turn came to speak, I gave but one tip about making peace with age. That was to make friends with the watch. Or put another way, don’t let the old times haunt you.
One of the best features of running is the personal record. No one can set it for you or can break it but you. For runners with more than a few years on us, one of the worst features of running is also the personal record. It stands as clear and objective evidence of what we once could do and never will again. The permanent PRs will taunt you if you let them, which I don’t.
I’m proud of my old PRs, but no less proud of the personal worsts that fall (or rise) today. I once ran a faster marathon than almost anyone in the Victoria meeting room. Now I am slower than almost anyone there.
Taking almost twice as long to finish could hurt in ways greater than physical if I took those times too seriously. If I let slower times shame me, they would have driven me from races long ago. I’m no more ashamed of the PW than I am inordinately proud of the PR. The PW might mean even more to me.
On the Mark
Experts answer readers’ training and competition questions. This month’s question: Barefoot Running. I recently read Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run. His chapter on running with a minimum of footwear seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest among runners, even to the point of overwhelming the rest of the book, which I thought was really well written. Can you ask your experts their opinion on the benefits or drawbacks of barefoot running, or running with a minimum of protection to the foot? I would hate to run barefoot and step on a sharp object.
BioFile: Brian Sell
Date of Birth: April 11, 1978, in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Running Inspirations: “I would say my coaches throughout the years in high school and college. I’d say they were more inspirations than any professional runner.”
Runner Most Admired: “I would say Bill Rodgers—a hard worker who got out and got the job done.”
Leisure Activities/Hobbies: “Ride motorcycles. Flying—I have my private pilot’s license. So I go out and fly every now and then. Save up enough cash to rent a plane for an hour. And just working around the house. And playing with my kids is getting pretty big. My daughter is 2 1/2 years old.”
Favorite Movies: “The Big Lebowski. And the standards—prerace fire-ups like Braveheart, Gladiator are good ones, too”
Early Running Memory: “Steve Moyer and I were running in high school at North Bedford, and we used to do what we called ’stupid long runs’ that were about 3 1/2 miles. Then we would stop at the little convenience store about a half-mile from school. We’d pack quarters into our shorts to buy ice cream sandwiches—to get us through the run. Before getting back to school.”
Nickname: “My football coach called me ’Sellbo’ when I was playing football. That kind of stuck. It’s my e-mail address now.”
The Kingdom of Boston
Very few people get to romp through the poppy fields of Oz, if for no other reason than Oz is on a plane few of us can reach. As we know, to get there either you have to live in a farmhouse in Kansas that is in the path of an onrushing tornado or you have to be locked up in a facility where caring people can prevent you from hurting yourself.
“Boston,” on the other hand, becomes physically manifest one week a year. The rest of the year it slouches around on the fringes of consciousness of tens of thousands of runners, a presence that is always there, always lurking, always luring, one moment caught out of the corner of the eye, the next squatting on its haunches on the kitchen table as a runner pores over training schedules that will produce a mystical “BQ”—a “Boston Qualifier.”
For many faithful strivers, the BQ is as elusive as the Emerald City. Try as they might, they never gain admission.
For others, years of striving and careful husbanding of energy and more careful reading of an ambitious training schedule produce an admission ticket—if I can mix literary metaphors here—as golden and desired as the one that got Charlie into the Chocolate Factory. For many of these strivers, to attain a BQ even once in their running lives is sufficient to satisfy them.
For still others, either kissed by the running gods or born with a determination that nothing will stand in their way, Boston becomes an annual rite of spring.
And what do those with a BQ receive when they travel to Boston?
Certainly one of the most unique experiences in sport.
Ode to Boston 1987
Let’s bring this poem up to date two-plus decades and see how the immutable can change.
Somewhere on the Boston course
The sun is shining dim.
The Green’s1 a fair at Hopkinton;
The liniment fills the gym.2
Brown Jr.3 fires the starting gun4
As his father did before.
For this brief hour5 the world looks here—
Not at politics or war.6
The road ahead holds history
From Boston Billy’s four,
To Joanie B’s in ’83—
Her own and the world’s PR.*
The crowds are bright along the way:
The Wellesley girls7 so fair,
The B.C. kids on Heartbreak Hill,
Sox fans8 in Kenmore Square.
260 to 3:09
My long, strange, and highly unlikely journey from Montana to Boston.
I was the fat kid in my school. OK, maybe “fat” is a little harsh. I wasn’t what doctors would term “morbidly obese” in this day and age of supersize fries and 52-ounce sodas, but I was big. I was definitely bigger than anyone else in my class, which is a slightly easier accomplishment when there are all of 31 students in your class. So, while being the biggest out of 31 maybe isn’t as impressive as being the biggest out of 500, it’s still something. My point is that I was big, and that’s really all you need to know to get this story started.
I grew up in Chester, Montana, a small (as in 900 people and dwindling) farm- ing and ranching town in north-central Montana. Chester’s claim to fame is that it’s the Heart of the Hi-Line, with “Hi-Line” referring to U.S. Highway 2, which runs east-west across northern Montana. I’m still not sure what the significance of that is, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is that I grew up in a small town where running for fun just didn’t really happen. My high school had the obliga- tory track team but no cross-country program. If you were a guy and wanted to play a fall sport, you could play football or you could play, well, football. And if you didn’t play football, you had better have a damn good excuse.
Being the biggest kid in my class automatically identified me to the general Chester public as a kid who must play football (no excuses for me). I didn’t mind this typecasting because I liked football. I would have played if I had been the scrawniest kid in class. And play football I did, all the way from seventh grade through high school. By the time I was a freshman in high school, I had pretty much stopped growing up, but not out. I stood around 6 feet, 3 inches and weighed in at just over 200 pounds when freshman football started. Four years later, I remained 6 feet 3 but tipped the scales at 240 for my senior year of football. Some of that was added muscle, some not. The local townsfolk’s premonitions that I must be a football player were apparently well founded because I actually ended up being pretty good at it, starting for three years and earning all-conference and all-state honors my senior year while also being invited to play in an all-star game.
Running as punishment
Football was fun, and I loved almost everything about it, except one small detail: the running. Our coach liked to keep us in shape, as most coaches do, which meant wind sprints at the end of every practice. We were also punished with running. Fumble the ball, run a lap. Miss your blocking assignment, run a lap. Jump offside, run a lap. Slack off while running your lap, run another, faster lap. Running was always the most dreaded part of practice for me. One of the things I loved most about the actual games was that they didn’t involve much running (not for me at least, being a lineman). Running was punishment, something to be avoided at all costs. This mentality would stick with me for a long time following my graduation from Chester High in 1996.
In Pursuit of a BQ and a Sub-4:00
How I learned they are not one and the same.
ASHLAND, WISCONSIN, October 14, 2006. It is finally here, marathon morning. There is excitement in the air, anticipation—all runners know that “It’s finally race day” feeling. Hundreds of runners are gathering in the tall timber near Iron River, Wisconsin, for the start of the WhistleStop Marathon, which is run on an old railroad bed all the way from Iron River to the quaint little town of Ashland, Wisconsin.
It is a cold, crisp morning, not a ray of sunshine—just gray clouds, damp with wind swirling through the trees. John, my running partner and brother-in-law, and I are thankful that it isn’t snowing like yesterday. The grass and leaves and the roofs of the houses are all white, covered with snow. When we ran this race last year, the trees were beautiful—gold and red. There are still some like that, but most are bare and stark, having already lost their leaves to the snow-covered ground.
I peel out of my long pants, and we put our computer chips on our ankles. John leaves his long pants on. I want to run barelegged, cold or no cold. My poor legs have enough to carry as it is.
Little do I know as I put on my chip in preparation for my ninth marathon how significant my chip time will be to me.
We have 10 minutes before start, so I check my bag, and we get in the long line of runners not too far back from the starting line.
As I talk with John, I am also going over my mental checklist. I have a few ibuprofen and Clif Bloks in my shorts pockets. In the side pockets of my jacket, I have some hard candy and sunglasses. I am optimistic about some sunshine later in the race.
A guy with a speaker horn is trying to give us final instructions, but I can hardly hear over all the chatter of the runners—something about two minutes until the start. I am excited; this is what I’ve trained for all year. I’ve run 105 times, 894 miles this year, all for this morning and a chance to make Boston. Finally, a big foghorn blows, and we’re off and running.
Boston After Knee Surgery?
One long-distance runner’s experience with arthroscopic knee surgery.
“You have to prepare yourself for the possibility that you may never run again. With a tear this bad, your knee will never be the same. Did it ever cross your mind that the human knee is not designed to run up and down mountains continuously for 100 miles? I’m not saying you will have to quit running, but you might want to start thinking about taking up bike riding. Surgery may require removal of about a quarter of your left knee cartilage.” So said my doctor just two weeks before I underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and three weeks before I should have been on the starting line for the 2006 Boston Marathon.
Dealing with surgery is difficult for anyone. For a runner, dealing with surgery related to the knee can be tumultuous. In my case, dealing with an arthroscopic knee operation was one of the most significant running-related events in my life. I hope that no one reading this succumbs to knee surgery, but if so, perhaps my experience (and mistakes) can be of help. For those without injuries, maybe this can be a useful cautionary tale.
How the Boston Marathon Got Me Out of a Traffic Ticket
A true story.
I have a PhD in traffic school. While this is a great way to keep tickets off my Department of Motor Vehicles record, the problem is that I can’t get a ticket more than once every 18 months or else I cannot use traffic school to clear up the violation. So the first thing that went through my mind as the San Jose cop pulled me over was, Oh, no! It’s only nine months since my last ticket. I am screwed!
“How’s your day going?” the policeman asks me.
“I guess my day is about to get worse, isn’t it?”
“Do you know the speed limit on this road?” He gives me the cop stare, wanting to see if I’ll make something up.
I look up and down Race Street: no speed limit signs. (You would think a street named “Race” would let you cut loose and hit the gas pedal, wouldn’t you?)
“Um, 35?” I say hopefully.
“Nope. It’s 25, all year round, and you were doing 41.”
OK, so even if I was wrong about the limit, I was speeding a little. I’m thinking furiously and come up with—nothing. No excuse, no ideas on how to get out of this ticket. “Um, I’ve never talked myself out of a ticket, officer. Anything I can say?” I really said exactly that. Pretty desperate, huh?
He kind of laughs at me and says, “OK, take your best shot. Give me your best story.”
Memorable Marathon Madness Revisiting Boston
Memories of Boston are some of the sweetest in running.
In 1996 the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) opened the floodgates for the 100th annual edition of America’s oldest and premier marathon. The number of time-qualifying entrants soared as anyone who was anyone as a runner focused on Boston, determined to be part of history. Additionally, some projec- tions estimated bandits to number an additional 10,000 to 15,000. Just because these poor souls, the bandits, missed the 38,000-strong official field should not hinder them from entering the gates of Hopkinton! The exact number will never be known, though the B.A.A. doesn’t acknowledge them. But consider the fact that official and unofficial runners at Boston’s 100th might well constitute the largest marathon in the history of the world, then and now.
My first opportunity to run Boston was in 1988. That year the field of 6,500- plus runners seemed staggering. Even in my relative runner’s youth, I felt the need to be part of history, or at a minimum to preserve history. I closely guarded my shrouded bib number that Portuguese Olympian Rosa Mota signed “Good Like” instead of “Good Luck.”
The misty-morning Hopkinton air that was trying to turn into plain rain led me to search out the Hopkinton school gym. However, I had no sooner entered the gym than my olfactory sense was overwhelmed by a concoction of atomic balm mixed with every other kind of analgesic ointment known to mankind. So with time to kill, I wandered back outside to explore Hopkinton. I admired the quaint New England homes and tried to imagine what it would be like if I lived here. Oh, the running parties I would host and the world-class athletes I would serve as an ambassador extraordinaire!
I must have lingered too long in front of one residence: the owner stepped outside. She greeted me with kindness and offered me a garbage bag. That wonderful resource along with a vendor-given Juicy Fruit drinks painter’s cap made me feel that I was ready for whatever the great Boston Marathon could throw at me, including rainy weather. Once the race started, I proceeded with caution, the opposite of those around me who took off with what appeared to be reckless abandon. As any first-time Boston Marathon runner knows, thoughts of Heartbreak Hill lurked in the back of my mind. I expected the Newton Hills to be far more nefarious than they actually were. Before I knew it, the hills had come and gone. Before I knew it, I was cruising the final few miles. The cheering crowd was so thick we runners in the middle of the widest street could run no more than two or three abreast! A human wall of exuberance, an unending line of cheering, hand-slapping, back-patting, refusing-to-let-you-slow-down pack of spectators marked the way to the finish line. Oh, would I ever return to this fairy tale marathon event?
We Suffer for You, Boston
A look into the long New England winters preparing for Patriots’ Day.
I’m having a hard time breathing on this run through the cemetery. It’s the middle of a blizzard that has already produced a foot of snow. Each stride I attempt is swallowed up to my knee by the white ground. Cold forests outline this place surrounded by an endless stone wall encapsulating the limited space to explore. With each breath I take, snow blows into my mouth. My face is most likely a piercing, reddish pink. The frost is bitter but welcome. We suffer for you, Boston.
Every winter in New England, runners training for the Boston Marathon jump at the first chance to go out and battle the elements; the first snow is taken apart, ripped to shreds, with a feeling of satisfaction lingering afterward. After a few winters of running, the feel of bliss will falter. Your excitement will ebb. The second run in the aftermath of the storm is worse; waist-high snowbanks crowd the sidewalks, and we must take to the streets, dodging cars at night. Some wouldn’t have it any other way; others are aggravated. Then comes the third run in snow. Then the fourth. The snow will eventually give way to slush and to pavement again before another snow befalls us. With each trudge through this white mess, our spirit is hammered out of us. Resentment creeps in as you become either calloused or comfortable in your shelter, tempered or annoyed. We do this because of you, Boston.
The snowfall is less intense now as I move along with caution. I transverse long uphill paths, finally reaching a high point, a ridge. I look out from atop a rock on a cliff side and see Boston. Faint as the dimmest star in the sky, the Prudential Building is there. It’s waiting. I take off down a hill and see a car abruptly stopped in the road in the cemetery, abandoned. I keep moving along and notice a stationary cop car to my right. I smile at this, a big beaming hello to someone else out in this storm.
“Hey, guys!” I say.
“Seriously?” the cop replies from his seat, his window down.
“Yeah,” I say as I head up another hill.
I noticed a slight humorous inflection in his voice. Perhaps a jogger himself, he is wondering why I am outside on this day of all days. Or maybe he thinks I’m trying to be tough, or crazy, or stupid. It doesn’t matter because I’m here for one reason: Boston.
Health Advice for Running International Marathons
Everything you need to know about staying healthy when running marathons in foreign lands.
Today, marathons are run in virtually every country in the world, all trying to attract your tourist dollar and entry fee. A glance through a three-month stretch of the calendar put out by the Association of International Marathons (AIMS) reveals marathons in Thailand, Mexico, Ecuador, Finland, Brazil, Russia, Japan, Switzerland, India, Colombia, Panama, Germany, Poland, Great Britain, Estonia, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Tunisia, Spain, Kenya, Ireland, Korea, Trinidad, and Greece, to name a few.
Combining a marathon with international travel is a great way to visit other countries while enjoying your favorite pastime. However, it doesn’t take much for things to go horribly wrong if you fail to plan ahead. Medical-misadventure stories abound for tourists, businesspeople, and marathon runners while traveling overseas. Much of the problem lies in the fact that most of the more serious diseases that proliferate in underdeveloped or third-world countries have been eradicated in the United States, and we tend to expect this high health standard from the rest of the world. The reality is that health care around the world differs tremendously.
Furthermore, it doesn’t take much for us to get sick even in westernized countries like Australia and New Zealand or those in Western Europe. When we travel, we may not pay as much attention to basic hygiene, or we may be fatigued from the travel and jet lag, which lower our resistance to whatever bug happens to be floating around at our destination. Travelers even complain of gastric upset from the clean water in westernized countries, since tap water has its own local microorganisms.
When you toss a stressful, fatiguing endurance competition like the marathon into the mix of travel fatigue, jet lag, disorientation, change of diet, inexperienced travelers, alcohol, and third-world countries, it’s amazing that more marathoners don’t get sick while traveling to overseas marathons.
The Hardest 100
Which 100-mile race ranks as the hardest of them all? It’s too hard to tell.
After pacing Frank Fumich to a 27:54 finish at the stormy 2008 Leadville Trail 100, Rich Haefele, who has four Hardrock 100s and a Leadville Trail 100 finish of his own, observed: “I think Leadville is more difficult than Hardrock because of the lack of time you have out there. Leadville is a tough race. You just don’t have time to recover if you mess up at any point or get injured like I did at Hardrock. For me, Hardrock is more a mountain challenge instead of a race like Leadville.” Due to a fall early in the race, Haefele crossed the Hardrock finish line in 2008 six minutes in front of the 48-hour cutoff. Like many ultrarunners who choose to run more than one of the over 40 trail 100s in North America, Haefele’s opinion is based on personal experience.
Personal experience on a racecourse is a credible basis to compare the difficulty of 100-mile trail races, but at least three variables are in play before runners arrive at the start line that affect their race experiences and opinions:
- Race access
- Runner’s aptitude
- Commitment to a goal
The Bermuda Triangle Challenge
The Bermuda International Race Weekend provides an inexplicable attraction.
“Come quick! It’s like a dagger! We cannot escape!”
—Frantic cries from the Japanese freighter Raifuku Maru that, according to the legend of the Bermuda Triangle, disappeared in the tranquil sea.
Nothing has ever been heard from the Raifuku Maru and its 38-member crew since that fateful day on April 21, 1925. According to the legend of the Bermuda Triangle, a disproportionately large number of ships and aircraft have inexplicably vanished without a trace in the vicinity of the triangle—a triangular-shaped area of the Atlantic Ocean that lies roughly between Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico.
Explanations for these deadly anomalies range from the area having supernatural qualities to paranormal laws of physics to unusual magnetic pulls possibly caused by signals from the lost continent of Atlantis. Tales of the area being occupied by extraterrestrial beings have even been tossed about.
Legend naysayers have argued that many of the alleged ship and aircraft disappearances have been inaccurately reported and that so-called Bermuda Triangle facts are fictional at best.
Is the Bermuda Triangle a paranormal magnetic attraction? Has the area experienced an extraterrestrial invasion? And what do “paranormal activity” and “daggerlike pain” have to do with a marathon weekend?
The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle lives on and has found its way to dry ground by way of the Bermuda International Race Weekend, held annually in January during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The Bermuda Triangle Challenge—an opportunity to run a one-mile race on Friday, the Bermuda International 10K Run/Walk on Saturday, and either the Bermuda International Marathon or the Bermuda International Half-Marathon on Sunday—was introduced in 2008.
The Rest of My Life
A short story.
“My late husband showed me how to survive.”
She glanced back.
“My Lord taught me how to live.”
Her eyes sparkled.
“Both of them told me to keep runnin’ for the rest of my life.”
As always, I was interested in what she had to say, even if I had heard it many times before. As usual, I was breathing hard as I struggled to keep up with her, even though she was well past 70. Above the neck, she was shielded by huge sunglasses and a floppy hat and resembled a typical granny, capable only of resting on a park bench or shuffling through a mall.
“I joined his church, and in it,” she explained, “exercise is part of our faith.” Most folks regarded the beliefs of her denomination as odd, and some considered them un-Christian, but its members were the healthiest and longest-lived group of Americans.
“Your main problem,” she continued, “is you’re younger. When you’ve been movin’ as long as I have, it’s as natural as wakin’ up. Feelin’ good is righteous.”
Book Bonus: Flanagan’s Run
Paying back Chicago injustice with a justice of a different kind. Part 17.
Read this installment in our March/April issue…
Volume 14 | Number 3 | May/June 2010
The Worst of Times, the Best of Times
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, some industries thrived, among them Hollywood and the book business. Numbed by the ongoing economic malaise, people wanted to escape the dreadful daily news of debt and disaster. They could escape into the movie theaters and they could lose themselves in a good—or a bad—book.
Although we are not currently in an economic morass comparable to the Great Depression, people are (rightfully) worried about their economic security and their job situations, and they are once again looking for ways to at least temporarily escape the grim reality of 2009-2010.
Hollywood had its best year ever in 2009 and continues to be on a roll. On the book side of things, bookstores such as Borders, often located in a shopping mall, did not do well, in part because people were avoiding the malls in vast numbers. Yet online, Amazon.com had a fourth quarter in 2009 where sales jumped 42 percent and income rose 71 percent.
In the current hard times, though, there was a third growth area: running. The marathon has enjoyed growth unprecedented in its history.
But it isn’t only a matter of quantity. For the first time in ages, marathon times are improving.
On the Road with Lorraine Moller
Footloose and Fancy Free
Word is out. The fastest shoes are the ones you were born wearing. In a recent Harvard study, Professor Daniel Lieberman and his team of researchers looked at the running gait of three groups of runners. Using 3-D infrared imaging, they analyzed the foot strikes of each group: (1) those who habitually wore shoes, (2) those who habitually ran barefoot, and (3) those who had worn shoes and switched over to barefoot. What they found was that the gait of the shoeless was remarkably different from that of the shoe wearers, and the ones who switched from shoes to barefoot soon adopted the gait of the barefoot runners.
Most of the shoe-clad runners were heel strikers (about 80 percent) and registered a collision force one and a half to three times their body weight at impact, creating a stress that would be difficult for the body to tolerate if it were not softened by the cushioning of the shoe. The barefoot runners, however, circumvented this force (or quickly learned to) by avoiding heel strikes altogether and landing on the mid- or forefoot. Midfoot running, it turns out, appears to be much more efficient, registering little or no sudden, sharp impact on landing, but rather a seamless flow of forces that includes loading the spring mechanism of the foot and releasing it into the push off. Mother Nature had it right in the first place.
While this has caused some ripples in the running and science communities, the limitations of the holy grail of running—the shoe—was no news to me.
My Most Unforgettable Marathon
2009 Eugene Marathon
EUGENE, OREGON, May 3, 2009—My friend Len says that due to the length and difficulty of the marathon race, the average runner can expect four things to go wrong in any given marathon. This is the story of how I managed to hit the average in the 2009 Eugene Marathon and have an excellent time anyway. It’s about one-quarter race report and three-quarters reminiscence and introspective drool. Read on at your peril, and don’t tell me you weren’t warned.
I had a feeling this race might be a bit of an adventure before I even left. Two days before the race, I got a voicemail from someone at the Econolodge, where I had reservations: “This is a courtesy call to let you know that your credit card on file was declined. We’ve unfortunately had to cancel your reservations. I’m very sorry. Please give me a call if you have any questions.” The voicemail had been left around noon. By the time I turned on my phone to listen to my voice-mail around 7 p.m. and then returned the call, it was too late to straighten out the misunderstanding; my room had been reserved by someone else. Fortunately, my good friends Doug and Cindy let me crash on the floor of their room. Hey—you can’t fall out of bed if you sleep on the floor.
I slept well and awoke to picture-perfect marathon weather: 40ish, drizzly, and overcast. I had my traditional race-day breakfast (cake and coffee) and got dressed in my favorite sports bra and running skirt, and my pink camo DriFit long-sleeve. I was traveling light today—no water bottle, no Nike+, no music, not even a watch. I was here to run a race, not feel like a traveling circus. I felt fast and light and ready to go.
My one accessory was a custom pace band I had made. It wasn’t a normal pace band with numbers on it. After much reflection, I had realized that I’m not much of a numbers girl; numbers really don’t inspire me. People inspire me, and the idea of doing my best inspires me. My friend Dan had told me about an idea he had had to dedicate one mile each of his marathon to 26 of his friends and family members. Tearing a page from his book, I had decided to fill my pace band with 26 people who inspired me and spend each person’s mile visualizing that person running with me, pacing me. Gimmicky? Yeah, a bit. But I’ve found that over the course of a marathon, my mind can drift to some fairly unpleasant places if I don’t direct it to pleasant ones, so this seemed like a worthwhile approach to take.
Race Profile: Bellingham Bay Marathon
Running in the city of subdued excitement!
Want a marathon in Washington State? You’ll give yourself a headache working through all of your choices. One suggestion is a little race with beautiful views, lots to do within a short distance, and a gorgeous, well-staffed event. Bellingham, Washington, christened “the city of subdued excitement” by Steve Stimpson, an area resident, may be one of the best for a genuine, relaxing run vacation. It is approximately a 75-minute drive from Seattle and is surrounded by possibilities for small, quiet adventures and excellent runs. It is also about 30 miles from the Canadian border. You can have tea and a nice lunch in a friendly atmosphere in the southern part of Bellingham, called Fairhaven, and in less than an hour’s time hike on the Chuckanut Trail, one of the most beautiful trails in the northwest, overlooking Bellingham Bay, or be on your way to Vancouver, British Columbia, in the same time frame.
The Bellingham Bay Marathon celebrated its third year in 2009, and to the runner, it appeared to be a seamless, well-stocked race with an extremely beautiful course. Everything that the runner could desire is available: an easy and efficient packet pickup, well-stocked and frequent aid stations, friendly volunteers, a well-stocked start/finish area, and an after-race party within a short walk of the finish. There is no pasta party, but race management provides a long list of available restaurants within Bellingham to fill your prerace pasta needs.
For the first time on any stage, I had a speaking coach last summer at the Dick Beardsley Marathon Running Camp. Jenny Stinson, the assistant camp director, didn’t assign my topic or edit my script. She simply instructed me to give the campers something they could take away and use.
This was her gentle way of saying: They didn’t pay to be entertained here but to be informed on how to become better marathoners. They didn’t want to hear my life story except in ways that might enhance their own. They came for information supported by inspiration.
Jenny asked me, along with the other speakers, to help the campers write their own SMART goals. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable, and Time bound. I chose to talk about setting a marathon goal, since nothing is more specific, measurable, and time bound than this—or more slippery to pin down in attainable and reasonable numbers.
I started by asking these runners what I now ask you readers: “What time can you expect to run in your next marathon? I don’t mean what you’d like to run, or plan or expect to run, or dream of running. What are you really and truly trained to run?”
The target is too seldom based on fact, too often on hope. It could be a round-number time (3:00, 4:00, 5:00) when your result is far more likely numerically to fall between the zeros. It could be a Boston-qualifying time that’s currently far beyond your reach. Or it could be a doubling of your latest half-marathon time, as if you could carry that pace 13.1 miles farther.
So what works more reasonably and attainably as a marathon predictor? The Yasso 800s, for one. Their creator, Bart Yasso, happened to be a guest at the Beardsley camp and reviewed his 800-meter session there: 10 of these with 400 meters of recovery after each. The average pace of the 800s, in minutes and seconds, predicts marathon potential, in hours and minutes. An interval session of four minutes, for instance, forecasts a four-hour marathon.
I never came close to running 10 half miles in a row, even while training for track. But you can trust Bart on this. He has ample proof, both personally and through feedback, that the formula works.
Meanwhile, I place trust in other formulas that have passed my own tests and those of runners I’ve coached. All use paces at shorter distances to project results in the marathon.
BioFile: Yuri Kano
Date of birth: October 27, 1978, in Hyogo, Japan.
Running inspiration: I feel the accomplishment after finishing the race. So it’s a feeling of accomplishment.
First running memory: When I discovered I could be the first-place winner. When I ran many races as a young girl, I recognized that I can beat other people.
Sports heroes: Reiko Tosa (2007 bronze medalist at World Championships in
marathon), Paula Radcliffe.
On the Mark
Hot for Adventure I’m not nearly fast or accomplished enough to make it into the annual Badwater 135 race, but I sure do like to run long. While the 135 is going on this year, I plan to fashion an adventure run in the deserts of the great Southwest. I would like some advice on how to train to take the heat without wilting. Unfortunately for me, I live in Minnesota.
Answers from our experts appear in our May/June issue…
The Ted Corbitt Legacy
Preserving Corbitt’s collection on the sport of running.
When Ted Corbitt died on December 12, 2007, he left behind not only a legacy of distance running, course-certification standards, and pioneering techniques in physical therapy, he also left a virtual history of the sport of running kept in crumpled boxes, stored on tapes, and scattered about the 1,200-square-foot apartment in upper Manhattan where he lived for more than 37 years. His only child, Gary, was left with the daunting and compelling task of sorting through the contents of the apartment and deciding what to do with the wealth of information Ted had accrued during his lifetime. Gary had an idea of the task he faced but was overwhelmed with what he found. “I knew my father saved everything, but I didn’t realize he kept everything in duplicate,” said Gary, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida. “The historical depth and volume of his collection are beyond what I imagined.”
Entering the apartment after his death was eerie. There was a stillness to the place, as if the walls and trophies and books knew that the gentle, kind man who inhabited the rooms and quietly went about his way was gone. Gary and I started opening closet doors, finding hundreds of weathered-with-age cardboard boxes that became an 18-month project. Ted’s 1952 Olympic uniform, both the marathon singlet and the opening-ceremony blue jacket, pants, and white buckskin shoes, hung in the back of the closet as if Ted had worn them just the day before. In the bedroom dresser drawer were numerous gold watches that Ted won in the ’60s. One particular watch from the Philadelphia Marathon was presented to Ted by Jack Kelly, father of Grace Kelly. Mr. Kelly, a sports aficionado, supported many of the road races.
Poking through more drawers, Gary found the bride-and-groom figurine that was on his parent’s wedding cake, as well as his mother’s purse, which prompted an emotional moment. Ruth Corbitt died in 1989. As we continued opening drawers and boxes, we got lost in our own memories of Ted and got very little done. We realized that we needed to focus on the task at hand and not get caught up in reverie, so we split the tasks and buckled down to work.
Qualifying for Boston at Kona
How to land that qualifying time after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112.
of thousands of people who run marathons every year in the United States, most would like to run one fast enough to qualify for America’s oldest marathon—Boston.
Crossing the finish line with a time fast enough to qualify is not easy. Only the top 8 to 10 percent in a given age group ever make it, even with the 2009 cutoff of 26,500 runners.
“Qualifying times for the Boston Marathon represent an evolution of time standards put in place in the early ’70s to manage the overall field size,” Jack Fleming of the Boston Athletic Association said. “The course could only handle 1,000 people in the ’70s, but as race systems became more efficient we could allow more runners out here.”
Many marathons are advertised as fast and flat to attract Boston hopefuls. The St. George Marathon, decidedly downhill, fills up instantly. There is even the Last Chance for Boston Marathon in Dublin, Ohio, every February, with 26 one-mile loops in a flat business park with every quarter mile marked.
Then there are the runners who pull off Boston-qualifying times after swimming 2.4 miles in the Pacific Ocean and biking 112 miles in the oppressive heat and battering winds of Kailua-Kona in the Hawaii Ironman World Championship. There are usually about 150 pros in the field of 1,800 at the most prestigious triathlon in the world. In 2009, 145 athletes out of 1,777 starters were pros. They’re supposed to be fast. Yet most Kona-bound triathletes are age groupers, racing on their own dime just to see how they stack up against the best in the world in their age divisions. With families and jobs, they somehow make time to swim, bike, and run as part of their weekly training—and do all three very well.
You’ll see no junk miles with this crowd. Every workout has to count. Six athletes who ran Boston Marathon qualifying times at the end of the Hawaii Ironman World Championships were interviewed to see how they train. Their training schedules may give some insight on how to land a Boston Marathon qualifying time.
How close can you shave your goal?
To understand my trepidation as I approached the finish of the 2008 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, you have to understand the history. It’s not that with about 75 meters to go, I could see the clock at 2:59:30 and wasn’t sure whether I could cover the ground before the 2 turned to a 3. Nor was it the stress fracture in the cuneiform bone in my foot that had elevated from a steady burn at mile 20 to feeling as if it were about to explode.
No, to understand the story, you have to rewind four years and four other failed at- tempts at breaking three hours. To understand the story, you need to know that in 2004 I was in virtually the identical position at the same point in the race. It’s just that at that time, I knew I wouldn’t cover those final meters in time. By virtue of my 3:00:12, I earned the distinction of being the first person in the marathon not to break three hours. For years this would haunt me. And if I didn’t hurry and get to the finish this time, it might torment me forever.
Only 26, I figured that with a solid winter of training I would be a shoo-in to break through the three-hour barrier the next time I raced. Sure, Boston would be a tougher course, but with the crowd support, experience, and a more conservative start, it wouldn’t be a problem to get down to 2:55. However, running has a funny way of teaching you lessons. Mine would be a lesson in patience.
Despite the normal aches and pains associated with the postmarathon battery, I was eager to get back out and train after my 2004 effort. Though I had failed to break three hours and was a full 10 minutes off my original goal of 2:50, I had managed to cut 40 minutes off my disastrous first attempt from the previous June.
By February I was fit and itching for the race to arrive. A scorching 2:03 for a hilly 19.5 miler in 30 degrees and sleet did nothing to hurt my confidence. At the end of that run, I felt far better than I had at the same point in the Milwaukee race. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if that fast effort wasn’t the beginning of a much longer journey than anticipated.
A week later I remember going out for 18 with my roommate in the slushiest conditions I’ve ever encountered. The temperature was about 33, and a sideways sheet of sleet pelted us. For every two steps forward, we must have slid back one, so my hitting a miniwall at 16 shouldn’t have been a surprise. Despite feeling horrible, I didn’t notice anything wrong that night or the next day, conveniently scheduled off. However, one step into my run two days following, pain hit me immediately.
My Achilles tendon burned in a way I had never experienced. That night I muscled through six, but during an interval session the following day I had to shut down after only a mile. The dreaded injury had arrived. Only two months from race day, this was an inopportune time. Nevertheless, experience had taught me to take the necessary time off.
Shrubb Nearly Pegs Out “in a Great and Terrible Contest”
A century ago.
One hundred and one years ago, marathon running reached unprecedented heights of popularity in New York, where the world’s top men raced each other on a tiny indoor track enveloped in choking cigar smoke. In the wake of the 1908 London Olympics, many top distance runners turned professional and headed for the Big Apple, where shrewd Irish-American promoter Pat Powers was arranging marathon matches in front of huge crowds. There was big money to be made, and the leading amateurs had tired of their world of meager payments in clandestine brown envelopes. Integrity be damned, they wanted a slice of the new action!
In early 1909, Powers signed contracts on a match he had long been trying to arrange—a head-to-head contest between the world’s finest distance runner, Alf Shrubb from England, and the maverick Onondagan tribesman, Tom Longboat from Toronto.
Tickets quickly sold out for their indoor confrontation at Madison Square Garden. An extraordinary level of public interest saw thousands of dollars change hands in prerace betting, and the authorities decided to lay on special trains to ferry people to the event.
Longboat had several fine marathon times under his belt, but for Shrubb this was his first attempt at such a distance. Shrubb was widely seen as unbeatable at anything between four and 15 miles, but the marathon was an intriguing new challenge for this 30-year-old holder of multiple world records. Wisely, he insisted on a clause in his contract stipulating that he would receive a share of the proceeds, win or lose, and that if he lost he would be guaranteed rematches with Longboat over shorter distances. He was guaranteed a payday of several thousand dollars, whatever the outcome.
Deals such as this—added to recent discussions about coaching young athletes at Harvard University—convinced Shrubb that the time was right for his family to immigrate to North America from its rural home in southern England. The prospect of making a good living was much brighter now that the likes of Longboat and Olympians Dorando Pietri and Johnny Hayes had switched to professionalism.
Don’t Meddle With Tradition
The best of the U.S. marathon finisher’s medals—2009.
As a young teenager in 1972 during the Munich Olympics, I was huddled in front of our huge 19-inch screen in utter disbelief at what I was witnessing. In the late stages of the marathon, the crowning event for a Summer Olympics that had been marred with terrorist tragedy, Frank Shorter was triumphantly running well ahead of everyone. Two things immediately came to mind. One, “Why is he wearing a hat?” That didnÕt make any sense to me; but more important was the overwhelming thought, How can someone possibly run 26.2 miles and not die?
As I watched history unfold in the gold medal ceremony, proud that an American had won after a 64-year drought, I thought that I could never do something that amazing. Running a marathon was surely a once-in-a-lifetime achievement for someone else, certainly not for me. Five decades later, I beg to differ with my teen counterpart.
According to John Elliott of MarathonGuide.com, there are over 400 marathons in the United States, approximately half the total number of marathons run throughout world. Three-quarters of those U.S. marathons have registrations of more than a hundred runners. Each and every one of these events is a priceless snapshot in time: a potential triumph for those finishers who have wearily awoken nearly every morning to run multiple training miles while most of their acquaintances and coworkers are comfortably reaching out to hit the snooze button on their alarms. The ultimate reward is in the finishing, and the finisher’s medal is a tangible reminder of that finish.
Today the finisher’s medal is a tradition that most marathon race directors (RDs) carry on, with special attention given to design, detail, creativity, historic reference, and a sense of community. Marathoners often keep their medals in plain view to remind themselves that they share a special bond with the one-tenth of 1 percent of society that possesses the determination, discipline, and drive to complete this long journey. Those hard-earned medals embody the essence of the Olympic ceremony. It’s about finishing what you start, about setting goals and achieving them. Crossing that line, whether in a time close to Shorter’s win or closer to the race’s end, means the same thing: you’re a winner.
Joe Dudman like to race… and race… and race.
Joe Dudman spends as much on race fees as some people do on car payments. That’s because the 45-year-old from Portland, Oregon, likes to race… a lot. Asked once, at the end of a year in which he had logged 62 races, how many he had completed in his lifetime, he consulted his training logs, then pegged the figure at “about” 1,080.
For years, he has tried to run as many races as possible. One year he hit 83. A year later he upped the ante to 84. Quite a few times, his total has been in the 50s or 60s.
Whatever the precise figure was on that particular December 31, it was dif- ferent a few hours later. Some people toast in the New Year with champagne, but Dudman did it with a midnight 5K. Call it race number 1,081. At 11 a.m. the next morning, he lined up for a “hangover” 5K. Call that one race number 1,082. A 90-mile drive, and three hours later he was in yet another 5K. Such is the formula for Dudman’s dream of someday breaking his 84-race PR.
When asked whether such a goal might appear odd, he responds with the verbal equivalent of a shrug. How is it different, he asks, from doing an ultra?
“I’m kind of amazed that people can keep going for such a long time without a break,” he says of ultrarunners. “Since I don’t have great stamina, for me the challenge is the quantity of races, rather than the distance of a single race.” If anything, he suggests, his type of megaracing is easier. “I’m getting a break. [My body] can recharge and get ready for another race pretty quickly, but I’m not good at keeping up a hard effort for a long time.”
The Double Demons of Heat and Dehydration
What marathoners and ultramarathoners need to know about the effects of heat and dehydration on distance-running performance and health.
With the hot summer months rolling in fast, now is a good time to review the single most serious threat to a runner’s life—heat. Thousands of outdoor athletes are sidelined every year with heat illness. First, let’s have a quick look at the physiology and factors that contribute to heat illness, and then we’ll examine the countermeasures we can take to ensure our safety in heat and humidity and to prevent performance decline.
Will the Real World Record for 50 Miles Please Stand?
Some controversies never go away.
“You’ve got to be small, light, [have] strong legs, good heart, good lungs, and no brain cells—[because] it’s a stupid thing to do.”
—Bruce Fordyce (50-mile world record holder)
Without much notice or fanfare, and certainly with no hype from the media, a silver anniversary of sorts took place on October 14, 2009. It was on that date in 1984 that the world record for running 50 miles was set. The man who did it is quoted above, while answering an interviewer’s question about what it takes to be a good runner. Bruce Fordyce, a South African, set the record at 4:50:51 in winning the 50-mile race of the AMJA Ultramarathons in Chicago over 25 years ago. No other runner has broken it since.
That acronym AMJA stands for the American Medical Joggers Association, and each fall from 1979 through 1990 AMJA Race Director Dr. Noel Nequin, a cardiologist at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago (now retired), would host at least two ultramarathon races on the same day along the city’s lakefront parkland. Usually a 50-mile race (50M) would be combined with a 100-kilometer race (100K) through the convenience of running multiple loops (although now they would be called “out-and-backs”). Each “loop” would consist of a 10-mile round trip, so five trips made the 50M and six-and-a-partial made the 100K (62.5 miles). Once, however, a 100-mile race was added, and toward the end 50K races were included. A distinctive feature of the AMJA runs was that any runner could stop at the shorter distance or continue on to the longer distance, after having beaten the first cutoff, of course. And those cutoffs weren’t easy (9 1/2 hours for the 50M).
For many (or most) of the years of its existence, the AMJA Ultramarathons were also designated by the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) as the national championship for one or more of its races. In 1984, for example, the AMJA 50M was so designated, whereas in 1982 both the 50M and the 100K were national championships. This is one reason why Bruce Fordyce, for years afterward, reported that in 1984 he won the USA 50-Mile Championship. He did not say he had just set the 50M world record—mainly because he didn’t believe it himself!
Book Bonus: Flanagan’s Run
There is no shortage of troubles as the race enters its final miles. Part 18.
Volume 14 | Number 4 | July/August 2010
Weather or Not
The Boston Marathon this year had close to ideal weather: chilly and dry. Six weeks earlier, Napa Valley had pretty much the same; one week after Boston, Big Sur weather was nearly a carbon copy. But between Boston and Big Sur, the country was assaulted by a massive mutant storm of heavy rain and swirling wind. On my drive back to California from Boston, running Interstate 70 through Missouri and eastern Kansas became something of a blood sport. With a constant downpour and fierce winds and spray being thrown up in rooster tails from passing 18-wheelers, fully 25 percent of the drivers in those states sped along at 65 and 70 mph without bothering to turn on their lights. A white SUV ghosting out of the spray and fog behind me made Moby Dick look like a pet guppy. For some obscure reason, every time a race enjoys perfect weather, I hearken back to classic instances of running races in patently dreadful conditions. Standing near the turn from Commonwealth to Hereford Street at the Boston Marathon, with college kids trying to pretend that they knew how to flip a Frisbee and new mothers pushing space-age baby buggies with swaddled little prune-faced infants staring dumbly up at a perfect sky, I found my perverted brain cells cobbling together memories of a semifailed experiment as I prepared for my first marathon back in 1978.
It was February in Northern California, and the Bay Area-dominating West Valley Track Club (led by madman Jack Leydig, the club was so good that it published a magazine that was nearly as large as Runner’s World) was hosting its annual marathon on a flat and fast five-mile loop that ran through the suburban neighborhoods just west of U.S. Highway 101.
This was back in the days when it was not uncommon for club runners to knock off sub-2:20 marathons and for clubs like the West Valley Track Club and the Greater Boston Track Club to slug it out at the annual Patriots’ Day race for the honor of team championships. Ron Wayne, a local road racer, was likely to run two sub-2:20s within two weeks and think nothing of it.
On the Road with Lorraine Moller
Axioms of Advice
“Go West, young man!” Many people, myself included, cannot resist spouting such words of wisdom to an aspiring youngster. After delivering the voice of experience, it’s a fine feeling to walk away basking in the knowledge that if your words are heeded, success will surely follow. When I was a youngster and my promise became evident, I was often given the “how-to” from those who had triumphed and the “how-not-to” from those who had come up short. All earnest and well intentioned, most of the advice I was given was useless but harmless, sometimes ridiculous, and very occasionally downright dangerous.
Much of the good stuff (which incidentally came from my parents) I was not interested in following, and I didn’t understand its value until 20 years later, when I was ready to listen but no longer needed it. But some of it filtered through, just enough to make sure I made it to maturity in my 40s with no irreversible damage. The two parental pieces that stood me in good stead were these: “Anything that has been achieved in this world was by a human being like you. If they can do it, so can you,” my mother waxed. I didn’t quite believe it, but her belief in me was what mattered. My father’s advice was typically warlike: “To hell with the submarines! The convoy must come through.” He always followed this with gunfire sounds.
Another piece of parental advice that I liked was passed on to me by one of my former coaches, Olympic silver medalist Dick Quax. Dick recalls that when he was a boy, one afternoon he came to his mother crying that the older boys in the neighborhood continued to beat him in their races around the block. Instead of a comforting hug, in true Kiwi style she gave him two pragmatic words of counsel that he took to heart and that marked the start of an outstanding competitive career: “Run faster.”
My Most Unforgettable Marathon
1984 Los Angeles Marathon
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, February 19, 1984—The cool, crisp air plays across our bodies as we line up just outside the small stadium, runners nervously discussing their goals for the day and trying to hide the insecurities in our racing egos. At the sudden blast of the gun, we are off on another speedy trek of several hours in our quests to finish yet another marathon.
As we leave the environs of the Santa Monica track, the slap-slap of hundreds of shoes on the pavement echo their boring repetitions. The flat street stretches out before us as we settle into our individual rhythms, heading somewhere toward the distant future just over 26 miles away. I check my watch as the first mile marker glides by, the seconds flashing furiously toward the seven-minute mark. Right on schedule—maybe a little too fast, my mind quickly calculates. Just over 25 to go.
Race Profile: Mohawk Hudson River Marathon
A perfect fall race for qualifying for a spring Boston Marathon.
If you are looking for a no-frills BQ (Boston qualifier), the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon could be the one to run. Don’t expect a big expo or lines of cheering spectators to get you through the tough miles. Don’t expect a bountiful postrace spread at the finish line, either. What you do experience at Mohawk Hudson is a well-organized, flat, fast course that has produced a high enough number of Boston qualifiers to be ranked as one of Runner’s World’s top qualifying races. This marathon has the highest percentage of runners qualify for Boston (35 percent) than any marathon except Boston itself!
The course is point-to-point from Schenectady to Albany, New York, and takes advantage of 18 miles of scenic paved bike paths along the Mohawk and Hudson rivers. The bike paths are almost totally flat and are shaded by peak fall foliage. Mohawk Hudson boasts a net elevation loss of 370 feet. Its field is limited to 1,200 entrants, allowing PR seekers easy access to the starting line and smooth sailing throughout the entire race.
A bus from the host hotel takes the runners to the start line in Schenectady’s Central Park. The race exits Central Park and heads out onto the streets of Schenectady. The course is open to traffic, but plenty of volunteers at the intersections keep the traffic under control. After approximately three miles, the bike path and river views begin. As soon as the course turns on to the bike path, it is easy to settle into a steady pace. There are a few short, steep downhills. Each mile is clearly marked on the pavement, and the miles tick by. By now, you are probably thinking, This is more like a long Sunday run than a typical marathon! You may be in a small group of runners here, or you may already be on your own. We have spoken to marathoners who ran a great deal of the race alone. We have been fortunate to find a small group or another person to share the work each of the three times we’ve run Mohawk Hudson. It is a big help to switch places with someone every mile for the purpose of drafting (running closely behind another runner without stepping on him), and it really makes the time go faster! You can save up to 8 percent of your effort by doing this—believe us, it really helps!
BioFile: Meb Keflezighi
Date of birth: May 5, 1975, in Asmara, Eritrea.
Running inspiration: God-given talent. You gotta tap it in. And I believe I have more PRs. And I still want to see that full potential.
First running memory: There’s two actually. When I first ran a mile, my brother had run at the school. He said, ’Hey, will you run a mile? You get a T-shirt if you run 6:15.’ And I ran 5:20—almost a minute faster. That was very memorable. And the other memory was I got lost in a race—Woodbridge H.S. cross-country meet, and I was so much in the lead. By about 400 meters or more. And I was the last guy. You’re supposed to go over the bridge a second time—they direct me to go under the bridge. I ran about 800 meters extra and that lap I finished 10th. From winning to finish 10th. But I’m not a quitter. I went back and finished the race and finished 10th.
Leisure activities/hobbies: Be a good father and husband. Playing soccer, reading. On the phone. Many people call me ’on the phone maniac.’ Like to be on the phone.
On the Mark
The Last Long One None of my marathoning friends can seem to agree on how long the last long run should be prior to starting the taper to a goal marathon. The standard for years seems to have been 20 miles, but these days I’m hearing all sorts of distances. Can you check with your experts to see what they think?
Answers from our experts appear in our July/August issue…
Ultrarunning Power Couple Makes Grand Slam History
The Fergusons do the miles together.
“One hundred miles of heaven and hell.”—Wasatch Front 100 motto
Stan and Chrissy Ferguson purposely never mentioned the words “Grand Slam” for fear it would jinx their chances of attaining their goal. The strategy seems to have worked as the ultrarunning power couple hit their target of becoming the first married couple to complete the Grand Slam—a feat that involves finishing four 100-milers in less than four months. The races in the Slam are some of the oldest trail runs in the nation: the Western States (WS) 100 (California), the Vermont 100, the Leadville Trail 100 (Colorado), and the Wasatch Front 100 (Utah).
“To us, it’s neat we were the first, but the main gratification comes from just us both getting through it,” said Stan Ferguson. “Running is a very individual activity, but for this there was the added element of counting on each other to persevere when things got tough.” Stan said that if you look across all 100-milers and participants, you’ll find that essentially two-thirds of those who start a race finish. “So if you take that percentage over four events, statistics indicate a person has a one in five chance of completing all of them,” he said. “And for two specific people to finish all four—well, the odds get really low.”
So how did this foray into ultras come about? Rewind a few years. Before she became a firefighter, Chrissy worked in the semiconductor industry in Northern California. Her boss was always talking about running ultras and kept trying to qualify to enter the WS 100. “In 1992 he was going to run American River 50, and I decided I would run that one ultra—just because I thought I could kick his butt,” she said. “I wound up running pretty well—finishing third (woman) overall, and I had fun. So then I decided I wanted to run Western States. Problem was, that was only a few months away, and the only way left to get in was to win the last automatic qualifying race, which was the Nugget 50. I ran it and actually won, so I got into WS. I had some difficulties, but I finished. After that I was hooked.” One of the people who helped Chrissy as she was getting started in the sport was Suzi Thibeault (now Suzi Cope). “She had this gorgeous belt buckle from the Arkansas Traveller (AT) 100,” said Chrissy. “I wanted that buckle. I also thought if I could win a 100-miler, it would ensure I could get in WS again. I went and did it (and won), and the people there were so nice I kept going back each year.” A few weeks before her fourth AT (in 1995), Chrissy, who was part of the world- record team that won a gold medal for the U.S. during the 1995 World Challenge 100K, learned her pacer had torn a calf muscle and wouldn’t be able to run with her. The pacer told her not to worry, he would find someone for her. That person was Stan, a software developer just getting into ultrarunning. By the time the race was over, Chrissy said, she knew she was going to marry him.
The two, who live in Conway, Arkansas, got married at the AT prerace meeting the following year. In 2001 they took over the reins of the race from Lou (who was one of the first women to complete the Grand Slam) and Charley Peyton, who had started the event and directed it for 10 years. “That race means so much to me, because it significantly changed my life,” said Chrissy.
Running My Life
The challenge of running from sea to shining sea.
It was a Monday morning in Riverside, California, when we left our friends and drove down to City Hall in Los Angeles. We had two cars from British Leyland: a little Austin America, which my wife, Sue, drove accompanied by our 6-year-old son, Clive, and a white MGB convertible, driven by my cousin Mark, towing a small trailer. I was wearing a yellow sweatsuit, a bright yellow T-shirt with Schweppes—the main sponsor—across the front, shiny gold shorts, and Adidas marathon shoes. The trailer was packed with 10 sets of running gear and five pairs of shoes, as well as boxes of Cadbury’s chocolate, our clothes, and our camping stuff.
We arrived before 9:00. There was a small crowd of newsmen, TV crews, people from the British Consulate, Mayor Yorty’s office, and of course Cadbury Schweppes, our sponsors. The last to arrive was Maury Soward, our PR man. His watch had stopped. This was already his third minor crisis. He lost his wallet on the day he arrived, and he spent a long time filling the water tank in his minibus without putting the plug in. I wondered whether he would survive the next 10 weeks.
Pictures were taken, the logbook signed. I took off my sweatsuit, put on my dark glasses, and as the clock on the tower of City Hall jerked to 10 o’clock, I set off.
I trotted briskly round the corner of City Hall, nipped across the road while the lights were green, and was on my way eastward, up Main Street. I passed the old plaza, which had once been the center of the old Spanish town, the City of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels, now drowned under a sea of concrete. I passed the Union Station and turned onto Mission Road. Soon Mark passed me, driving the MGB with the trailer behind; a TV car cruised by, taking pictures.
Lessons from a people’s champion.
“I found my talent for endurance events when my daughter was born,” said Bree Lambert.
What was it about motherhood that started Bree toward her 2009 USA 100-Mile Trail Championships at the Tahoe Rim 100 race? Did becoming a mother give Bree insight into what is truly important in life? Was there new motivation to search for additional purpose in life? Did Bree want to be a role model for her daughter?
“Giving birth to Summer helped me discover that I had an unreal threshold of pain!” Bree said, laughing. How many USATF champions find their calling in the delivery room?
Every month there is a new article about elite athletes scoring spectacular wins at major championships, offering up their stories and training secrets for readers. The problem is, who is listening? Other elites have their own coaches, and these stars already think they have the answers, or their coaching teams do. Most age groupers and recreational runners are properly skeptical that they can plug into a 150-mile-per-week training plan that won a marathon major. So although it’s fun to read about how Ryan Hall or Deena Kastor or another superstar kicked butt, it’s just not clear what to do with the information.
Bree Lambert’s story is different. Bree has elite credentials and a marquee title win after her USA Track and Field Championship in the 100-mile trail race. Yet unlike most championship athletes, Bree was not a star from the moment she laced up running shoes. Bree is a working mother and won her championship while balancing her elite training with her responsibilities as a mother and her job as a personal trainer. That’s a story that has a message no matter what your place in the running universe.
Road Warriors of VolState
Sweat, pain, pit bulls, and shotguns—welcome to Gary Cantrell’s old-school ultra.
Heavy clouds hung low in the sky over Hickman, Kentucky. Seventeen runners gathering for the 2009 Last Annual VolState Road Race greeted one another in good humor, their nerves betrayed only by frequently witnessed fidgets: tugging at compression-shorts hemlines or unpacking and repacking small items in a waist pack. For most, the adventure began on Tuesday, July 14, 2009, when they drove their cars through the cornfields to a clearing in the woods at the edge of Castle Rock, Georgia. The cars would stand as monuments to the hopes of those preparing to run 314 miles to reclaim them. Vehicle keys were among the items being packed into those little packs that were zipped and unzipped numerous times as their owners waited for the ferry to Dorena Landing, Missouri.
From Castle Rock, they had ridden in staff members’ cars, sometimes speaking animatedly to newly made friends, sometimes making note of landmarks that would guide their way through 14 town squares. The first night they stayed at a motel in Shelbyville, Tennessee, not far from race director Gary Cantrell’s home.
On Wednesday, July 15, they were driven farther north and west to Union City, Tennessee—the closest place to Hickman with accommodations. Conversations were a little softer as the runners witnessed the miles they would soon cover on foot. It was hot, uncomfortably sticky. They gathered that night at a local restaurant for the “Last Supper,” the prerace buffet meal where they received final instructions, each others’ cell phone numbers, and some affectionate verbal abuse from Gary. Among their number were three kings, men who had run VolState before and had triumphed to win the title “King of the Road”—Dan Thompson (one of the original kings), DeWayne Satterfield (king two times previously, now with a goal that pitted him against the clock), and Carl Laniak (the youngest of the three, now an active member of the race staff).
They ate, they laughed, and they took photos of one another. One, the 18th, had not yet arrived. John A. Price of Virginia Beach, Virginia, was running a double. He had parked at Castle Rock on Saturday, July 11, to run from there to Hickman with the hope of joining the rest for the official start. They had seen John and had stopped to speak with him during the drive to Union City earlier that same day. He was happy for their company, though it was brief. His eagerness for conversation betrayed the loneliness that exists for the solo runner crossing so many miles. Staring out the windows of the restaurant to see the ominous black skies pour forth a torrential rain, some commented on John’s location, speculating on his well-being or lack of same. They could not know that even as they listened to the thunder, John had stopped the first half of his double during that very storm. He found shelter in Parsons, Tennessee, but went no farther on foot that night because a tornado touched down in the very town providing him sanctuary.
When Hitting the Wall Takes on a New Meaning
The Great Wall of China Marathon.
At one time or another, almost every marathoner “hits a wall” in the mara- thon. But in the Great Wall Marathon, runners literally hit the wall—twice. Runners climb the Great Wall of China just after the five-kilometer mark and a second time at the 34-kilometer mark of the race.
It is challenging and intimidating, both physically and mentally. The elevation and the undulation of the Wall make breathing a struggle, and the scenery itself takes your breath away.
May 16, 2009, was the 10th Annual Great Wall Marathon. This is a fantastic race, well organized by the race directors, and promises a real sense of accomplishment when a runner crosses the finish line.
The 2009 event was a little different from that of previous years. The world’s attention was drawn to Beijing in 2008 as China hosted the International Olympic Games, a coming-out party of sorts for China as it put forth its best efforts at impressing the rest of the world.
The Marathon Life of Reilly
Ya really gotta love what ya do.
So you think you would like to be an athletic agent. Zephyring through airports to exotic locations, schmoozing with fit-looking thinclads, running helter-skelter down forested trails in the Bois de Boulogne. Checking into your Tower Hotel room overlooking the Thames in London or into the midtown Manhattan Sheraton. Walking from the winding pools and waterfall to the beach at the Hotel Intercontinental in San Juan, or watching the sun go down over Waikiki Beach as you sip a mai tai at the Honolulu Marathon’s host hotel, the Outrigger Reef. You say you would like to watch Ryan Hall laugh after an ekiden leg in Japan, Deena Kastor smile in New York’s Central Park, or Martin Lel and Paula Radcliffe pose for cameras beside London’s Tower Bridge?
You think you can handle the occasional 20-hour day? Decipher and respond to 30 phone calls, 50 e-mails, and 25 text messages in that same interval? Knock out athletic contracts with sponsors hard to come by and make race appearance, airfare, hotel, airport transportation, massage, and other ongoing accommodations and arrangements for those who would gallivant around the world seeking fame and fortune as well as making or breaking your reputation? You’re willing to keep fit by running 50 miles per week. Yet often you find yourself away from the familiar trails of home on gallops through not-particularly navigable streets, over bike paths that suddenly evaporate, on busy highways alongside beaches, and over impromptu mazelike running courses in strange places?
You feel you can handle being an effective doctor on call for those whose sudden sprained ankle or depressed attitude over a bad race unexpectedly has them calling? Explain apologetically to race directors that the athlete they were counting on for an expo talk can no longer attend? Tender an excuse to an event manager having witnessed a subpar performance by an athlete you hyped as ready for a personal best? Sleep four hours and then get up and do it again?
A prescription for victory.
Before I had children, I had run over 30 marathons—some fast and some not quite as fast. My life revolved around work, sleep, and running. While working as an internal medicine and emergency medicine resident, I somehow managed to juggle working 80- to over-100-hour workweeks with 60- to 80-mile running weeks. The relative easing of the time commitment to my professional responsibility finally came as I finished my second residency in June 2005. Devoting more or better time to training for marathons wouldn’t come, though, as I was eight months pregnant with my first child.
Evan was born August 15, 2005, and my life changed immensely. Although I was eager to return to working out and lose some of the 39 pounds I had gained in pregnancy, the reality of caring for a small infant and recovering from childbirth set in. I listened to the advice of my doctors and didn’t attempt to resume running until at least a month after Evan was born. I can remember getting dropped off at the fitness center with an optimistic expectation that I would be able to run the two miles home. After about 100 yards, I sheepishly called my husband on the cell phone and asked if he could come back and pick me up; I had some sharp pains in my pelvis and did not want to get injured.
Without saying “I told you so,” he came and drove me home. A few weeks later, I tried running again and managed about eight short runs before I began to have pelvic discomfort. A trip to the physical therapist confirmed that I had persistent laxity in the pelvic area. Despite my doing Pilates and other core exercises, the laxity persisted somewhat, probably because I was still nursing. I had had in the back of my mind that I would start running again and try to run a marathon again just to prove that I could. (The Dallas White Rock Marathon was in December, four months after Evan was born, and the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth was in February). Nevertheless, by February I was still having some hip discomfort and wasn’t running again. Finally, at the end of March 2006, I gradually—slowly and conservatively—eased back into running, more than seven months after I had given birth.
The Running of the Bull Run Run
Or, how I looked for a bluebell and found a 50-mile race.
I don’t believe in ultramarathons. I want to be clear about that. I mean, I know they exist, unlike Santa and the Easter Bunny. It’s just that I don’t think they’re something I can do. Not that I haven’t done them—I’ve run two 50-milers and a 34-miler. I just don’t feel like I really owned them, you know? Like I knew what I was doing and ran them the way I wanted to, like I do with the marathon. I guess you could say that I’ve got issues with ultras.
So running another ultramarathon wasn’t really on the top of my to-do list when Gaynor brought up the subject. Gaynor can best be described as being kind of like Sandy Duncan doing Peter Pan, but in an even better mood. She’s small, with an angular face and short hair, and she’s always upbeat and smiling, even when she’s complaining, which is a trick I’ve yet to learn. Gaynor is my massage therapist, so I’m always happy to see her, even when she’s beating me up on the massage table and I’m wincing in pain. Maybe you could say that I’ve got issues with my massages, too.
When I received an e-mail from Gaynor one morning, then, running an ultra was about the furthest thing from my mind. I was expecting to hear about when she could fit me in for our next session, but instead, she had written to tell me that registration for the Bull Run Run 50-Miler had just opened. That’s a race I had signed up for a few years earlier but ultimately had to skip because of a scheduling conflict. I had heard that the Bull Run 50 is one of the best ultras in the country, a beautiful but difficult run with a few small stream crossings that can get very muddy in wet weather. At the time, I had thought it would be a great race to try. I had long since gotten over that when I received Gaynor’s e-mail, so I ignored the subject when I wrote back to her. I thought if I didn’t respond, maybe she would forget that she brought it up at all, and it would just go away.
Fat chance. A few days later, when Gaynor had me on her massage table in a weakened state, she brought up the race again. Gaynor was going to run it and wanted a partner in crime, so she wisely appealed to my vanity by saying how easy it would be for someone in my excellent condition to run it. The unspoken subtext was that I was a fraidy-cat if I didn’t do it, and I didn’t want to be shown up by a little wisp of a girl, did I? Her tactics were juvenile and completely transparent, so of course they worked. I went home that night and signed up for the race online. As soon as I hit the send button, I wondered, and not for the first time, whether someone with all the schooling I’ve had shouldn’t be a bit smarter than that. And that’s how I got roped into doing the Bull Run Run 50-Mile Race.
Crewing for Pam Reed
It takes special skills to support an ultrarunner.
Runners who want to take on the challenge of an ultradistance race have a couple of options. The obvious choice is to enter an ultra event; the alternative is to crew for an ultrarunner. Both running and crewing at an ultra is an around-the-clock commitment where many things can and do happen. However, crewing should be taken on as a labor of love that brings a different type of satisfaction than what comes from crossing the finish line.
Legendary ultrarunner Pam Reed, whose career has spanned more than 20 years, places a high value on her crews. A tenacious competitor, Reed has the utmost respect for her crews. Crewing requires skills such as problem solving, adaptability, and endurance. “In my opinion, it is harder to crew and pace than to run the thing,” says Reed.
Reed believes a supportive crew is invaluable. However, it has taken her awhile to fully realize all the benefits. In the early part of her career, Reed spent many years going it alone or enlisting the support of her husband, Jim Reed. A typical race went like this: Jim would meet Pam along the course, hand out whatever she needed, jump into his vehicle, drive to another location, and repeat, often with a few of their kids in tow.
Pam and Jim agree that crewing for family hasn’t always worked. It can be difficult for family to stay fresh and positive after crewing a lot of events, not to mention the emotions that can surface during an ultra. “You behave differently with family,” says Pam.
Jim has done so much crewing for Pam that it is no longer a novelty, and he admits that the experience can be nerve-racking at one end of the spectrum and boring on the other. Competitive by nature, Jim wants to see Pam succeed and savors the successes. According to Jim, crewing for a family member can be the “best of the best” experiences or the “low of the lows.” Still, Jim realizes that for some, crewing is new and exciting and that a lot can depend on the personalities of the individuals.
Book Bonus: Flanagan’s Run
The battle for all the marbles leads to Central Park. Part 19.
Clarence Ross had not been alone in being affected by the London Marathon of 1908, for the race had touched the hearts of the world. The marathon event was not, however, one of great athletic antiquity. The first Olympic marathon, in Athens in 1896, had been the creation of the Frenchman, Michel Bréal, inspired by the feat of one Pheidippides who in 490 B.C. ran to Athens from the Plains of Marathon with news of the victorious battle with the Persians.
That first Olympic marathon of twenty-four and three-quarter miles in Athens in 1896 had been run by twenty-five athletes, mostly Greeks, most of whom had never competed beyond a mile. Some failed to survive the dust and heat and withdrew early in the race while others fell prey to the hospitality of villages they encountered on the route. Just beyond the village of Karvate, with only a quarter of the race to go, the French fifteen-hundred-meter runner Lermusiaux was brought to a halt with crippling cramps, and was passed by an Australian, Flack. Behind Flack plodded a Greek shepherd, Spyros Louis, who had doggedly threaded his way through a fading field.
Back on the marble stands of the Averoff stadium the crowd of sixty thousand was ignorant of the progress of the race until the thirty-seventh kilometer when a Greek cavalryman riding a white charger galloped into the stadium to announce that Louis was in the lead. Then, a few minutes later, the distant boom of cannons marked the arrival of the first runner at the outskirts of Athens.
Volume 14 | Number 5 | September/October 2010
Rumors and Accusations
Pity poor Pheidippides—or at least his memory—as we throw ourselves shamelessly into the 2,500th anniversary celebration of the battle of Marathon and his inadvertent creation of the long-distance running event with which most of us to have a love/hate relationship. It really has nothing to do with Pheidippides, yet it has everything to do with Pheidippides, sort of.
Hell, if nothing else, we just love to throw around the name “Pheidippides.” It totally flummoxes most of our friends. “What’s a phei-di—what?” The same ones who turn up their noses when we use words like “fartlek.” “ ’Fart-lick,’ you say? Ugh.”
Yeah, yeah, I know. I should cut the stupidness and get serious. This 2,500th anniversary is a big deal. What other sport has such a long-running, fabled history? Certainly not the big three ball sports. Oh, yeah, or that fourth ball sport, soccer. Or football. Or whatever it’s called where you live.
But we have to be realistic. The marathon as we know it would not exist if fact had not been tossed aside in favor of fable.
Oh, there would be long-distance running events had there been no Pheidippides or Marathon, and there would be runners who ran longer than seemed possible. As long as 2,000 years ago most cultures— those highly developed as well as those more backward—had couriers who ran excessive distances carrying messages; they certainly didn’t have cell phones and they didn’t have string long enough to attach between two empty tin cans.
The Incas made use of professional runners called chasquis (meaning “to exchange,” in this case exchanging information). Cuzco was the center of the empire, and the empire extended as much as 1,000 miles; the relays of chasquis could cover the 1,000-mile distance in five days (p. 11, Running: A Global History, by Thor Gotaas). Even the upper classes ran long distances. Gotaas relates the story of King Shulgi of Sumeria (2094–2047 b.c.), who in 2088 b.c. promised to attend holy feasts of thanksgiving in the cities of Nippur and Ur. But to do so he had to run from Nippur to Ur and back, a distance of 200 miles, which he did.
On the Road with Lorraine Moller
StrOde to Joy
I started running with my father. He took up the sport to accompany me when I was a budding 14-year-old athlete, and together we ran many miles, consolidating our love of running and forging a special bond with each other. We were novices before the running boom. Our running budget was a big goose-egg. Zippo. There were no popular running magazines. We knew nothing of Greek gods or heroic journeys, nor were we bogged down with elaborate training plans, GPS monitors, or other high-tech paraphernalia. Heck, we didn’t even have a timer, and there was no way I was risking getting moisture in the windup mechanism of my delicate ladies’ wristwatch by running with it. Using guesstimation, frequently lost, and without a compass in hundreds of acres of forests surrounding our town, my dad and I set out daily, blissfully undaunted. Our runs sometimes took forever but were often timeless. We survived, we thrived, and we had a blast. These are my happiest memories of growing up.
Early on, I learned through my dad (and he through me) that running and joy were partners and that all else stemmed from that relationship. You could have all the ingredients, but if you were missing the essential element of joy, then your chances of success were limited. Though I was introduced to such an idea early, it is one of those truths too big for youth. Periodically I strayed from such an ideal to flounder in the mud until I could find my way back home to that vibe of being filled with happiness as I matched silent strides and smooth breaths with my father through the corridors of trees.
My Most Unforgettable Ultramarathon
2008 JFK 50 Mile
BOONSBORO, MARYLAND, November 22, 2008—Running 50 miles seems a peculiar compulsion by any stretch of the imagination. And yet there I found myself, piloting my somewhat trusty Saab to Hagerstown, Maryland, along with my good friends and crew for the event, Melissa Sarchett and Jessica Swanson. It was Friday, November 21, 2008, the day before the 46th Annual JFK 50 Mile Memorial run from Boonsboro to Williamsport, Maryland. As we made our way north through the bustling, late-afternoon traffic of Washington, DC and into the bucolic, rolling hills of western Maryland, I felt an odd mix of excitement and creeping dread as I thought about what the next day would bring. The dashboard temperature indicator had plunged with Dow Jones-like rapidity as the day wore on and stood in the low 30s when we pulled into the parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel in Hagerstown, where the small expo and packet pickup for the JFK were being held. Snow loomed in the gathering dreariness of a thick cloud cover, and as we left the car and made our way into the hotel, a brisk wind blew up through untucked shirts and down through loose collars, exposing previously warm torsos to the chill late-autumn temperatures. The next day—race day—was forecast to be even colder.
Following packet pickup, we drove across town to our hotel for the weekend and hastily unpacked in the room. I located a locally owned Italian restaurant named Rocco’s in the phone book and made reservations for later that evening. We headed to Rocco’s, where we ordered mounds of pasta and over-red wine for the girls and a German Pilsener for me, and we plotted our race day strategy for when and where along the route they would meet me to provide food, Gatorade, and clothes. Beyond that, we decided which segments each of them would run with me for purposes of pacing and morale. Following dinner, we made our way back to the hotel, where we unloaded groceries and made last-minute preparations for the big day. We were asleep by 11:00 with a 5:00 a.m. wake-up waiting for us the next morning.
Race Profile: Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon
Tree-shaded neighborhoods and rolling hills aplenty.
There is quite a bit of irony that the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte was built at the finish line of the Thunder Road Marathon. That is both because the marathon finish line was there before the hall, and because NASCAR’s premier series is known as the Sprint Cup (named after the telecommunications company Sprint) in spite of the fact that the Sprint Cup superspeedway races are marathons of- ten lasting more than four hours and often running 500 miles—600 over Memorial Day weekend (in Charlotte, no less).
Another irony: as NASCAR has expanded its influence out of the Deep South to encompass the whole country (there are more Sprint Cup drivers from California than from North Carolina, for instance), the heart of top-tier stock car racing has coalesced around Charlotte, now home to virtually every team of any importance in the whole shebang.
NASCAR’s four-level hall opened in May 2010 and later in the month inducted its first Hall of Fame class (Bill France Sr., Richard Petty, Bill France Jr., Junior Johnson, and Dale Earnhart). It is worth taking a moment to study the finish line of Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon (directly behind the NASCAR Hall of Fame) and the start line (one block north of the Charlotte Convention Center) because they are about as ideal a start/finish setup as you are likely to see at any marathon.
Bob Dolphin defies time. Not by the watch, where finishing a marathon takes him twice as long as his fastest ones once did, but by the calendar. At an age when runners supposedly need more recovery time, when they get hurt easier and get well slower, he still averages 20 marathons a year. And at a time of life when octogenarians spend much of their remaining time reflecting backward, Bob still plans far ahead—to his 500th marathon finish, in 2012, at the race that he helped launch and still helps direct.
Bob and Lenore Dolphin claim to be the world’s oldest race directors, and who’s to argue? Both are 80. From the start of their Yakima River Canyon Marathon in Washington State, they’ve surrounded themselves with runners like Bob. Call them the Megamarathoners. To them, how fast they run a marathon means less than how many they’ve run, and where. They band together in groups like the 50 States Marathon Club and 50 States & D.C. Marathon Group (which share the goal of completing a grand tour of the country), the Marathon Maniacs (which Bob Dolphin joined early and whose lowest qualifying standard is two of these races within 16 days; among the toughest is 52 marathons within 52 weeks), and the 100 Marathon Club of North America (which Bob Dolphin founded, still directs, and hosted this year at a reunion in Yakima).
As of this reunion, the 48 runners in attendance had totaled more than 9,000 finishes. Jeff Hagen from Yakima had joined this club the hard way. “I have run only 17 marathons but also 97 ultras,” he says. “My total of race mileage in these events is the equivalent of 357 marathons. Just thinking about it makes me tired.” These runners add more marathons to their total in a month than I do in a decade. But I’m friendly with many of the Megas because we meet so often at every marathon that I attend in a non- running role. I admire them for what they do and what I never could have managed, physically or logistically. I defend them against critics who can’t understand why the Megas run so often, and often so slowly.
Talking with the Megamarathoners in Yakima reminded me again of one big difference between them and the rest of us. They say little or nothing about training, a subject that obsesses me and maybe you. I coach a marathon group that trains together for one-third of a year, building mileage steadily toward a single race.
BioFile: Lyudmila Petrova
Date of birth: October 7, 1968, in Karakly, Chuvash Republic, Russia.
First running memory: I run cross-country in small city where I was born. I
run one kilometer without shoes. I was 14.
Favorite movies: movies: I like Russian movies, some of the old Soviet-era movies, for example, Moscow DoesnÕt Believe in Tears. Where you see the real life, how people really live, without a lot of the fancy things.
On the Mark
Kids Running Marathons Some marathons don’t allow runners under 18 to run their races. I recall in the late ’70s some kids as young as five running marathons. I think one of the kids ran the Chicago Marathon. What do your experts think about kids under 18 running marathons?
Answers from our experts appear in our September/October issue…
Musings From Marathon
How the marathon ignited the women’s running revolution and in the process changed world thinking about women.
In October, I plan to run from Marathon to Athens in commemoration of the 2,500th anniversary of the battle of Marathon. And somehow during those few busy days in Greece, I have vowed also to sit alone for a while on the beach at Marathon. The run will be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, and the beach time will be the chance to reflect on another dream, one that has come wonderfully true, even beyond my imagination.
It has been 38 years since I last sat on the beach at Marathon, trying then to make some sense out of my life. And it has been 34 years since I ran my last road marathon. Interestingly, the four years between the two were my most productive running years, and the hard physical training then—as always—was key in bringing that contemplative time into sharp focus.
I had spent six months of 1972 in Europe, ostensibly working first as a journalist at the Munich Olympic Games but also running in as many different events as my wide-ranging rail pass would allow, introducing the concept of women’s road run- ning to Europe in what was up to then a men’s-only domain. Inevitably, I was welcomed, but each event required a kind of reshuffling of opinions as well as scoring systems to ac- commodate the first woman.
We early women runners had already done all this groundbreaking in the late ’60s and early ’70s in the USA, and by April 1972, the Boston Marathon officially admitted us. In June, we staged the first women’s-only road race in Central Park. Word of this progress had reached runners in Europe; they were accepting of us, often eager and delighted—except in Greece.
When I first read of the history of the marathon race, I fell even more in love with the event that had given me so much personal pride. The fabled run of the lonely messenger, carrying the news of a victory that saved a civilization and democracy as we know it today, filled me with the sense of a heroic quest. It gave a higher purpose to hard workouts and made me feel as much a pilgrim as a runner. So naturally when I heard that there was an actual modern-day marathon in Greece—the Athens Marathon—that commemorated the messenger’s run, I wanted to run it. When I read in 1969 of England’s Bill Adcock’s fabulous 2:11 win there, a sensational time on a difficult route, I also had a new modern run- ning hero in my life.
So, in 1972, while I was in Europe, I wrote to SEGAS, the Greek athletic association, for an entry into the race. If women were official and welcome to run at Boston—a race we Americans deemed second only to the Olympic Marathon!—I reasoned that the Athens Marathon would have no reason to deny a woman runner. I was wrong.
Pheidippides and the Battle of Marathon: FAQ
Who won? Who ran? Who collapsed and died?
Why “marathon?” What does it mean?
In Greek the word means “field of fennel.” The small seaside settlement called Marath—nas (that’s as near as it will go into our alphabet) is in Attica, Greece, on the plain of Marathon (where the fennel grew), a short way inland from the Bay of Marathon. The beach there is where the invading army of the Persian Empire landed in September 490 b.c. (2,500 years ago this year), intending to attack the city-state of Athens, 25 miles away.
What was the war about?
The previous year, Athens had rashly supported a revolt against Persian rule by the cities of Ionia. That miffed King Darius, even though it was a fleabite against his vast empire, which covered most of the modern Middle East: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and northern Greece. So he sent an invasion force to sort out the Greek troublemakers.
What happened in the battle?
The bad guys lost. The Persians had huge numerical and technological superiority, but the small Athenian army of infantry citizen-soldiers (“hoplites”) surprised them with a fast early-morning attack.
it can’t have been that simple. How did the Greek generals pull it off?
Probably by attacking before the Persian cavalry was ready. The invaders had crossed the Aegean in an armada of 600 ships, some specially designed to carry lots of horses, and their main strength in battle was their horseback bow-and-arrow men. Maybe the horses were being watered, or, more probably, many of them had been reembarked. The Persians thought the Athenians were dithering, as they often did, and knew they were waiting for support from Sparta. So the Persians figured they should divide their force and send part of it to sail round Cape Sounion and take Athens directly, while the main Athenian force was watching the Persian encampment at Marathon. Whatever the explanation, the Persians’ cavalry seems not to have been in action. And their long-range projectiles were useless because the Athenians moved so fast.
Three Legends Conspire
Several ancient Greek legends and a 19th-century Greek peasant inspire a unique athletic event: the marathon. And then export it to Boston.
“Rejoice, we conquer!” was the fabled dying cry of the Greek warrior-messenger Pheidippides as he rushed into the marketplace of Athens with the news of the Greek victory over invading Persians in the battle of Marathon in 490 b.c. Pheidippides’s supposed run gave birth to a legend that inspired the long-distance running event.
This dramatic tale is only one of three intertwining legends that birthed the marathons of today, including the Boston Marathon. The others are the legend of King Pelops of Greece (who established the original Olympics) and the story of Spiridon Louis, a Greek wa- ter carrier who performed splendidly at the revival of the ancient Olympic Games in 1896. Then, inspired by the revival of the Olympic Games, the Boston Athletic Association founded the Boston Marathon a year later in 1897.
To understand the Boston Marathon means going back in time to the ancient Greek Olympics. In ancient times the Olympics were contested not in Athens but in the Peloponnesus, the peninsula that forms the southern extreme of Greece. This area owes its name to Pelops, an early Greek monarch, and thus the story of the Boston Marathon begins some 2,800 years ago.
The Origins of the Marathon
Why was the 1896 Olympic Marathon held over the longest route from Marathon to Athens? And was the odd 42K eventual standard distance an arbitrary choice?
To many people the marathon event began in 1896, but covering such a distance on foot has a much longer history than that. Putting aside the myth of the Pheidippides connection (www.arrs.net/AR_Pheid.htm), the origins of the event go back to an era very different from the present.
“Foteman that runnen” have a history that goes back way before Columbus discovered the New World. Such a footman carried the messages of his master and also would run ahead of a slow-moving coach to warn the inn or house that his master or mistress was coming. Over long distances the footman was the fastest means of communication, primarily because of the bad state of the roads.
It would have been strange if the exploits of such footmen had not resulted in boasts from proud masters, and this naturally led to wagers and races. A Venetian reported of England: “It is . . . the custom of this kingdom to make the footmen run races of 15 or 20 miles.” (It should be noted that all runners and walkers were generally known as footmen until the 18th century, when the term “pedestrian” came into use.)
Possibly due to increased road traffic, following the restoration of Charles II to the British throne in 1660, running races in England were seldom held on roads; instead, racecourses or other open spaces were often used. In the 1660s the famous diary writer Samuel Pepys saw a race between an Irishman and a footman named Crow covering three laps around Hyde Park in London, then considerably larger than it is today. Crow won by more than two miles.
The aristocracy was not above deception when arranging these matches. A notable runner, Preston, who was by profession a butcher, was recruited by a lord to run for him as his miller in the 1680s. This scheme also involved the disfigurement of the runner so that no one would recognize him. It was successful and won many thousands of pounds for the aristocrat.
a Long and Dusty Run
Having run in Athens three times in a half century, the author prepares for one last trip in the footsteps of Pheidippides.
Twenty miles into the race, the course tilted downward— at last! I had crested the final hill separating the plain of Marathon from Athens, Greece, a long and dusty run on a classical course, a primeval event, one billed by its organizers as “The Original Marathon.” This is where our sport got started 2,500 years ago. Pheidippides: remember his sorry story? “Rejoice, we conquer,” then he died.
Truth be told, despite ancient precedents, the Athens Mara- thon is not that difficult a race—if you are a well-trained runner and know how to pace yourself. I last ran Athens in the 1980s—twice— but memories remain of those two enjoyable races along with two other races in an international track meet in Athens several decades before.
Let me tell you how to run the classical course. Let me tell you how to avoid the fate of Pheidippides. Relax as you stand on the starting line. Run easily at first. This is good advice for any marathon but particularly for the hilly route leading from Marathon into Athens. Actually, the classical course is mostly flat for the first half, if you ignore a gradual upward slant that peaks just before 10 miles. Hold back: don’t overrun the backside of that first hill. You’ll encounter a short flat as the course turns away from the wine-red sea near the town of Rafina. But the real challenge in the Ath-ens Marathon begins a dozen miles into the race. That is when you start a steady climb lasting a quad-busting eight miles with little relief to the peak point on the course, 801 feet above sea level.
That sounds scary, nearly four times the elevation of Boston’s Heartbreak Hill, but not if you train for the challenge by doing hill repeats and long runs over hilly courses. Pheidippides never had time for such foolishness; he was too busy fighting battles.
I came to Athens in 1980 well prepared and cruised over the crest of the final hill, fire in my eyes. I had Poseidon, the Earth-Shaker, pushing me from behind toward Panathinaiko, the Olympic stadium in downtown Athens. Goddess Athena surely would be waiting beside the finish line to garland my head with an olive branch. Earlier in my career I had run two track races in Panathinaiko as a participant in an international track championship. Twenty-four years old at the time, I ran well, placing second in one race, fifth in another. A quarter century would pass before I returned to Athens to run the marathon with no expectations of victory but with hopes to run honorably, to secure a fast time, perhaps to duck under three hours, to survive to run again, to better the feat of Pheidippides (if that legendary figure has any basis in historical fact).
And those goals seemed well within reach by the time I crested the top of the final hill. Twenty miles: the tough part of the course behind. All that remained was a half-dozen miles, all downhill, then a sharp left turn into Panathinaiko, the Olympic stadium, the original Olympic stadium, the one used for the 1896 Games, not the newer stadium built for the 2004 Games. “Original.” You encounter that term often when you visit Greece. So much of what makes us civilized—from art to literature to government and, let’s not forget, sports—we owe to the ancient Greeks.
The Unstoppable 21st-Century Marathon Boom
Is there no end in sight to the growth in marathoning?
As odd as it may seem to those who have recently joined the swelling ranks of marathoners, there was a time when events were not ruled by the Internet, when runners signed up for races by mailing in printed entry forms and even registered on the day of the race, if so inclined. In that stone age, chip timing was a novelty seen only in megamarathons, and GPS was something used by NASA scientists. The fastest men’s marathoner in the world was neither a Kenyan nor an Ethiopian but a Moroccan-turned-American, and no women had yet broken the long-sought 2:20 barrier. Dean Karnazes was a little-known ultradistance runner, and the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon was a new, odd kind of marathon. It seems hard to imagine that time was just 10 short years ago.
It is remarkable how monumental the changes in marathon running have been during the past decade. Although the sport steadily evolved throughout the latter part of the 20th century after being turbocharged by the running boom of the 1970s, that evolution is now happening at warp speed in the new millennium. Whether it has been good for the sport as a whole depends on your perspective, of course. It would be worthwhile in any case to try to make sense of what has taken place in the marathon through historical perspective, to determine how markedly different the sport is today from just 10 short years ago.
Undoubtedly, the most significant development in marathon running has been the tremendous increase in its overall popularity, reflected in participation numbers and the sheer number of marathons now offered in North America and abroad. Although participation grew throughout the 1990s, it has risen to unprecedented levels in the 2000s, driven by a powerful combination of technology, popular culture, and the knocking down of perceived barriers. Marathon running has now reached a place never before seen, one few could have envisioned. Entry into the biggest, most visible, and most prestigious events in the United States—New York, Chicago, and Boston—has become so coveted that organizers can virtually name their price and still see an avalanche of demand far in excess of available entries into those events. The same is true of most “second-tier” marathons as well, races such as Twin Cities, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and others. That in turn has given rise to numerous smaller, local races, one in nearly every city, it seems. Many of those marathons also close out well in advance of the date of the race. Remarkably, all of this has taken place in the face of a historic economic downturn that has wrought the most severe unemployment since the Great Depression. If ever a recreational pursuit has proven to be recession proof, it is the marathon.
Shalane Flanagan: The Runners’ Daughter
Be careful to pick your parents well.
Running My Life
The challenge of running from sea to shining sea. Part 2 of 3.
It was a Sunday, May 5. I was lying in my bunk in our trailer, at the bottom of the Salt River Canyon in Arizona. I had covered only 495 miles in the first 12 days, and I still had nearly 2,500 to go.
My right ankle was already extremely painful. Maybe I should have been worried, but I wasn’t. Life was good. Outside, my wife, Sue, was getting breakfast, my cousin Mark was making me a walking stick, and our son, Clive, was splashing about in the river.
With the walking stick taking the weight off my ankle, I managed to do 10 miles in 2 1/2 hours before lunch. After a break I started up the other side of the canyon. Mark walked with me for a bit, and then Sue took over. We were climbing steadily, and we could see clouds forming farther up the canyon. Then the far side disappeared from view, and it started to rain. We kept walking. All of a sudden the rain changed into a giant storm and then turned to hail, hammering down on us. We tried to find shelter, without success; then it passed over.
We were soaked through and cold, but moments later Mark roared up in the MGB and drove us back to the campsite, for which we were very grateful. Although I had done only 15 miles in the day, I decided to do no more. It continued to rain all evening, and in the night it really poured.
I woke several times, wondering whether we were going to be swept away by a flood or a rockfall or whether the packed earth we were parked on was going to crumble into the river.
When morning came and none of those things had happened, I learned that the others had been thinking exactly the same.
The next three days were a struggle against the elements, at times grim, at others invigorating. Certainly it was a time that I remember very distinctly, because I was really working at full strength, using my mental and physical powers to the utmost. We were climbing steadily, from 4,000 feet at the bottom of the canyon to 7,500 feet at the top, and as we climbed, it grew colder. There were very few settlements marked on the map, and we were not sure what to expect each day.
Research in the Marathon and Ultramarathon
Marathon & Beyond readers may be interested in research articles published last year (2009) on the marathon and ultramarathon. There were 1,945 references found using the key words “marathon or ultramarathon” in a SPORTDISCUS database search of 2009 publications. Many articles dealt with swimming, cycling, or the Iditarod. A number of articles in 2009 focused on Paula Radcliffe, the marathon in economic hard times, and heightened research in ultramarathoning. Most of these articles were in Marathon & Beyond or other related magazines/journals, such as UltraRunning (www.ultrarunning.com), or in more commonly known publications such as Runner’s World. Of these 1,945 articles, 25 were of a more “academic” nature, and these may be of interest to Marathon & Beyond readers.
Some of the articles listed below may be found online through a variety of databases; many are available in full-text versions. Please contact Michael Sachs at [email protected] if you have any questions about accessing the articles listed below.
This feature will continue to be an annual service of M&B to its readers.
Book Bonus: The Purple Runner
Runners converge on London to pursue their competitive dreams. Part 1.
Volume 14 | Number 6 | November/December 2010
On the Road with Lorraine Moller
Food Fads and Doodads
My Most Unforgettable Marathon
2008 Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon
Race Profile: Country Music Marathon
Plenty of entertainment, but diversions of other kinds, too.
Learning to Win
BioFile: Toby Tanser
Date of birth: July 1968
Hobbies/interests: Playing the guitar, especially flamenco. Writing, cruising around on a motorcycle or a bike. Downhill skiing. Greek, Roman, and African history. Filmmaking, Web design and building. Taking on new, exciting projects. Travel and hitchhiking. Converse with good friends, love to cook, love to eat.
Running inspirations: An old Indian man who had been a young aide to
Gandhi&emdash;he was called Major Rama Shandra. He came to stay with us with 40 Indians and a magician. He spent a lot of time with us over one summer and left a deep impression.
Childhood dream: To sweep streets; I loved dust.
On the Mark
What is a jogger? My father, who regales me and my running friends with tales of the bad old days of long-distance running, has a very strict definition of “jogger” versus “runner.” He sees jogger as a derogatory term and says that when he was in his prime (back in the ’70s and ’80s), a jogger was someone who was not very serious about running and who trained at slower than an 8:00 mile. What was the definition of jogger versus runner and what are the definitions today&emdash;and is it a put-down to be called a jogger? Personally, some days I train (and feel) like a runner, other days like a jogger, and some days, to be honest, like a slug.
Answers from our experts appear in our November/December issue…
We also serve who run and wait.
Five humorous stories for the marathon maven.
Who doesn’t love blackberries and spiders?
Running My Life
The challenge of running from sea to shining sea. Part 3 of 3.
What’s not to like about running Boston and then heading west to do Big Sur?
The Science and Art of Peaking and Tapering for Your Best Marathon
From these late-in-the-game strategies, a successful or failed marathon emerges.
The Marathons of Minnesota
The weather can be cold, but hearts are always warm.
Running a Marathon Is Never Easy
Especially after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 hot, windy miles.
Core Versus Skin Temperatures in Marathon Runners
The concern of runners competing in high-temperature races is justified.
Book Bonus: The Purple Runner
Warren Fowles heads to England to get the rest of his life underway. Part 2.