Tag Archives: marathon

Boston Marathon: A Runner’s View

While I was MIA from blogging on RunningTips101.com, I of course missed commenting and sharing my perspective on the Boston Marathon bombings. I found this beautiful piece written by a runner and published in the New Yorker. Please enjoy:

 

BOSTON, FROM ONE CITIZEN OF THE WORLD WHO CALLS HIMSELF A RUNNER

POSTED BY Huraki Murakami

In the past thirty years, I’ve run thirty-three full marathons. I’ve run marathons all over the world, but whenever someone asks me which is my favorite, I never hesitate to answer: the Boston Marathon, which I have run six times. What’s so wonderful about the Boston Marathon? It’s simple: it’s the oldest race of its kind; the course is beautiful; and—here’s the most important point—everything about the race is natural, free. The Boston Marathon is not a top-down but a bottom-up kind of event; it was steadily, thoughtfully crafted by the citizens of Boston themselves, over a considerable period of time. Every time I run the race, the feelings of the people who created it over the years are on display for all to appreciate, and I’m enveloped in a warm glow, a sense of being back in a place I missed. It’s magical. Other marathons are amazing, too—the New York City Marathon, the Honolulu Marathon, the Athens Marathon. Boston, however (my apologies to the organizers of those other races), is unique.Boston Marathon bombing

What’s great about marathons in general is the lack of competitiveness. For world-class runners, they can be an occasion of fierce rivalry, sure. But for a runner like me (and I imagine this is true for the vast majority of runners), an ordinary runner whose times are nothing special, a marathon is never a competition. You enter the race to enjoy the experience of running twenty-six miles, and you do enjoy it, as you go along. Then it starts to get a little painful, then it becomes seriously painful, and in the end it’s that pain that you start to enjoy. And part of the enjoyment is in sharing this tangled process with the runners around you. Try running twenty-six miles alone and you’ll have three, four, or five hours of sheer torture. I’ve done it before, and I hope never to repeat the experience. But running the same distance alongside other runners makes it feel less grueling. It’s tough physically, of course—how could it not be?—but there’s a feeling of solidarity and unity that carries you all the way to the finish line. If a marathon is a battle, it’s one you wage against yourself.

Running the Boston Marathon, when you turn the corner at Hereford Street onto Boylston, and see, at the end of that straight, broad road, the banner at Copley Square, the excitement and relief you experience are indescribable. You have made it on your own, but at the same time it was those around you who kept you going. The unpaid volunteers who took the day off to help out, the people lining the road to cheer you on, the runners in front of you, the runners behind. Without their encouragement and support, you might not have finished the race. As you take the final sprint down Boylston, all kinds of emotions rise up in your heart. You grimace with the strain, but you smile as well.

* * * 
 I lived for three years on the outskirts of Boston. I was a visiting scholar at Tufts for two years, and then, after a short break, I was at Harvard for a year. During that time, I jogged along the banks of the Charles River every morning. I understand how important the Boston Marathon is to the people of Boston, what a source of pride it is to the city and its citizens. Many of my friends regularly run the race and serve as volunteers. So, even from far away, I can imagine how devastated and discouraged the people of Boston feel about the tragedy of this year’s race. Many people were physically injured at the site of the explosions, but even more must have been wounded in other ways. Something that should have been pure has been sullied, and I, too—as a citizen of the world, who calls himself a runner—have been wounded.

This combination of sadness, disappointment, anger, and despair is not easy to dissipate. I understood this when I was researching my book “Underground,” about the 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subway, and interviewing survivors of the attack and family members of those who died. You can overcome the hurt enough to live a “normal” life. But, internally, you’re still bleeding. Some of the pain goes away over time, but the passage of time also gives rise to new types of pain. You have to sort it all out, organize it, understand it, and accept it. You have to build a new life on top of the pain.

* * * 
 Surely the best-known section of the Boston Marathon is Heartbreak Hill, one in a series of slopes that lasts for four miles near the end of the race. It’s on Heartbreak Hill that runners ostensibly feel the most exhausted. In the hundred-and-seventeen-year history of the race, all sorts of legends have grown up around this hill. But, when you actually run it, you realize that it’s not as harsh and unforgiving as people have made it out to be. Most runners make it up Heartbreak Hill more easily than they expected to. “Hey,” they tell themselves, “that wasn’t so bad after all.” Mentally prepare yourself for the long slope that is waiting for you near the end, save up enough energy to tackle it, and somehow you’re able to get past it.

The real pain begins only after you’ve conquered Heartbreak Hill, run downhill, and arrived at the flat part of the course, in the city streets. You’re through the worst, and you can head straight for the finish line—and suddenly your body starts to scream. Your muscles cramp, and your legs feel like lead. At least that’s what I’ve experienced every time I’ve run the Boston Marathon.

Emotional scars may be similar. In a sense, the real pain begins only after some time has passed, after you’ve overcome the initial shock and things have begun to settle. Only once you’ve climbed the steep slope and emerged onto level ground do you begin to feel how much you’ve been hurting up till then. The bombing in Boston may very well have left this kind of long-term mental anguish behind.

Why? I can’t help asking. Why did a happy, peaceful occasion like the marathon have to be trampled on in such an awful, bloody way? Although the perpetrators have been identified, the answer to that question is still unclear. But their hatred and depravity have mangled our hearts and our minds. Even if we were to get an answer, it likely wouldn’t help.

To overcome this kind of trauma takes time, time during which we need to look ahead positively. Hiding the wounds, or searching for a dramatic cure, won’t lead to any real solution. Seeking revenge won’t bring relief, either. We need to remember the wounds, never turn our gaze away from the pain, and—honestly, conscientiously, quietly—accumulate our own histories. It may take time, but time is our ally.

For me, it’s through running, running every single day, that I grieve for those whose lives were lost and for those who were injured on Boylston Street. This is the only personal message I can send them. I know it’s not much, but I hope that my voice gets through. I hope, too, that the Boston Marathon will recover from its wounds, and that those twenty-six miles will again seem beautiful, natural, free.

Read on: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/05/murakami-running-boston-marathon-bombing.html

Olympics Marathon: Shalane Flanagan’s POV

Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan (USA Marathon Teammates and Training Partners)

I have to say, it’s impressive when athletes push themselves to accomplish more…remove themselves from their comfort zone in the hope to reach their goals, live their dreams, etc. It happens all the time in high school and college levels, but when it is done on the professional or Olympic level, it’s even more inspiring.

Take Shalane Flanagan, an American long-distance runner, who currently holds the American record times in the 3000 meters, 5000 meters, and 10,000 meters. I remember her from back in her Massachusetts high school days as well as at the University of North Carolina, where it seemed she could do no wrong…She was always described as one of the best from my generation of runners. And she definitely met the expectations. In fact in 2008, at the Beijing Olympics, Shalane finished in third in the 10,000 meters. So while most would continue on this path of the 10,000 meters (the one that they finished third in the world in) and just look to tweak or better their performance little by little, Shalane instead did something drastic. She changed her premiere event to the marathon. And she aimed high: to qualify for the Olympic team – and medal.

In my own high school experience, I started off running the 800 and 1600 meter races in track season. I did that my freshman and sophomore years. For some reason I felt a strong draw to the 800 meters back then even though in the end I realized I had no business running such a race (one the 400 meters girls attempted the two-lap race…I was quickly left in their sub 50-quarter dust!). After finishing in fifth and sixth (I believe) at the Florida State Championships, I realized I wanted more control over how I did…and in order to do so, I needed to focus on the longer distances. For my junior and senior seasons, I refocused on the 1600 and 3200 meter races. My change in focus was obviously because I believed I had more opportunity in the longer races…and in the end it was the 1600 and 3200 meters that I won individual state titles in.

For Shalane, she already finished at the top of the pack in the 10,000 meters…so was it that she felt she could do better in the longer race (like I felt back in high school) or was it another goal she wanted to meet? To compete in and be the best at something else? Both reasons are plausible and to me both are impressive…

Shalane Flanagan at the start of the 2011 Miami Beach Latin Rock n Roll half marathon

In a 2011 issue of Running Times Magazine, Shalane said “When I first sat down with Jerry (her coach), I expressed an interest in trying to run a marathon in the next couple years, and what better way than attempt the training and see if I can handle it. I’ve never done anything close to what’s required to run a marathon. We took the time this fall to try that. This year not being a world championship year, we figured now was the time to tackle that training. Whether I run one this spring is still to be determined, but regardless if I run on the track or a marathon, I will have this really great base of work. It will allow me to have multiple options. I’m excited. I’ve never done anything like it. I can see the progress and I think it will set me up nicely for the next chapter in my career.”

Shalane ended up winning her debut half marathon race, won the Miami Rock n Roll Latin Half Marathon in December 2011 (where I ran as well), and then won the Olympic trials for the full marathon in Houston, TX a few weeks later. While there were many articles and features claiming this was the USA’s best chance for a medal in the women’s marathon in London…Flanagan unfortunately did not. She finished 10th overall – her body cramping, aching, etc.

However, Shalane spoke of her experience in a recent article appearing in Innovation For Endurance.

 

Runner’s World Article: “The Reanimation of Alison”

Alison Delgado, a runner, was nearly killed while riding her bicycle; her own husband (a fellow doctor) was part of the rescue effort. Despite her injuries she came back and is running (and winning) again. Amazing story in the June 2012 issue of Runner’s World Magazine

It’s late afternoon, early last October, and runners and their families and friends have gathered in Cincinnati’s Ault Park for the popular 5K known as the Reggae Run. The brisk air carries the scent of grilled meat and the metallic twang of steel drums. Vendors set up tents, adding to the party-like atmosphere of the race in which runners often sport fake dreadlocks tucked into red, yellow, and green Rasta tams and call out a spirited “Ya, mon!” to cheering spectators.

Near the starting line, where a dozen or so top runners stretch and jog in place, Alison Delgado scans the crowd of spectators. She’s a slight, 28-year-old local runner with auburn hair and a smattering of freckles. Spotting her husband, she waves him over.

“Tim, I gotta run fast,” she tells him, her hazel-colored eyes darting back and forth.

A year ago, Tim might have just nodded in agreement, but these days encouraging his wife’s competitive nature is not his priority. “Ali,” he tells her. “Remember, relax, have fun.” Then they exchange a quick kiss, and Tim steps back into the crowd.

Moments later, the starting gun fires, sending nearly 4,000 runners off through the undulating park. Tim, slim but athletic, quickly turns away from the bubbling scene and hurries toward the park’s summit, which offers a panoramic view of the city. He wants to be in position near the finish line before Alison arrives.

On paper Alison should be a contender in the women’s race. Two months earlier, in another 5-K, she PR’ed with a time of 18:39. Even more impressive is that at the 2005 Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon, when she was just 22 and a recent college graduate about to enter medical school, she won her debut marathon. She crushed a field of 1,467 women in 3:03:52, three minutes, 40 seconds faster than the second-place finisher. “When I crossed the finish line,” Alison would say later, “I thought, Oh my God. I did it. I really did it. Without a doubt it was one of the best days of my life.”

And yet, while memories of that victorious run remain fresh, they can’t obscure all that’s happened in Alison and Tim’s lives over the past year, events Alison is reminded of each time she looks into a mirror—or hears, as she does now, the anxious tone in her husband’s voice. When Tim finally spies a tiny bobbing blob of pink and black beginning an ascent up the quarter-mile hill, he calls out, a bit more relieved than excited, “It’s Ali! It’s Ali! She’s in first!”

Read the full feature story here.

 

Tips To Improve Your Running

Jason Fitzgerald

I just read this great post by a marathoner, coach and blogger at StrengthRunning.com. I’ve pulled out some of my favorite tips courtesy of Jason Fitzgerald, but feel free to read the entire post here.

Don’t want to read on but want your own specified 5K beginner training program, click here.

  • Do a long run! It doesn’t matter if you’re training for a 5k, triathlon, or ultramarathon – the long run is one of your most important workouts of the week. Aim to run anywhere from 20-30% of your total weekly mileage during your long run, depending on your fitness and goals. The long runs boosts your aerobic capacity and allows you to run faster for longer. It helps you become more efficient, creates more mitochondria (the energy producers of your cells) in your muscles, and strengthens your cardiovascular system. (Melissa: I personally have trouble getting in long runs on my own so I schedule them for Sunday and plan to run with my running group (SouthFloridaRuns.com). Oh, and I get them done early! Before I can change my mind and before the sun gets too brutal. Remember the purpose of the long run isn’t to do them so fast. It’s to get in the mileage at a good, solid pace. Meaning – don’t go too slow or you won’t get the benefit and you’ll be out there all day!)
  • Run twice a day. Running twice a day is an advanced strategy for reaching the next level of performance. I only recommend it for runners who have at least two years of consistent training behind them. In addition to adding volume to your schedule, which will help increase your aerobic capacity and running economy, adding an easy morning run will help you prepare for afternoon workouts. After you’re comfortable running easy twice a day, a morning run will help you shake out the kinks and increase blood flow before an afternoon fast workout. This was a staple in my college years and something I continue to practice today. (Melissa: Common in college, running twice a day is the easiest way to get in extra mileage – especially if you are expected to hit upwards of 70-80 miles per week. It’s amazing how an easy 3 miler 5-6 days a week can add nearly 20 miles to your total.)
  • Dynamic Stretching and Core Strength: The warm-ups prepare your body to run by increasing your heart rate and blood flow to your legs. Isn’t that what a “warm-up” is supposed to do? (Melissa: Both we hardly did when I was in high school but since then Coach Rothman has added them to the routine. It turns out static (or sitting) stretching before you run isn’t that good. Save it for after the run. Before the run – keep yourself moving.)

“Female long distance runners are like wine, they get better with time”

Elite Runners at Start of Rock n Roll Half Marathon - Miami Beach (2011)

With my big 30th Birthday coming up tomorrow…I thought it was appropriate to write a blog post on running and aging and how they actually do go together. And it’s what gives me hope as I continue to train and compete. I mean there has to be something to look forward to, right? So here it is:

According to experts, female long distance runners typically peak in their late 20s and early 30s. See exhibit A:

  • At the 2008 NYC marathon there were 41 elite women. There average age was 33, Two thirds were 30 or older and nearly a half were 35 and older. Some of the famous names were Paula Radcliffe 34, the eventful winner, Gete Wami 33 and Catherine Ndereba 36, the fourth place finisher.
  • And it is not just NYC marathon, just look at this list of 2008 marathon winners;
    • 2008 Beijing Olympic marathon- Constantina Tomescu of Romania, 38 Years young.
    • 2008 Berlin Marathon – Irina Mikitenko,  36 years young.
    • 2008 Chicago marathon – Lidiya Grigoryeva, 34 years young.
  • Most recently, the 2012 Marathon Olympic Trials in Houston, TX results:
    • First Place: Shalane Flanagan (age 30)
    • Second: Desiree Davila (age 28)
    • Third: Kara Goucher (age 33) — also a mom

I’ve also heard that women often peak post child birth. The questions then become: Are women peaking in these longer distances because of age or because we typically are not competing in such long distance races (as the half and full marathons) until post college and therefore are naturally older? And are they improving post child birth because of some endorphin released in to the system, because we can handle pain better, or just because women are often having babies around this age? Well, I went out on a search for these answers and more and learned some in the process.

According to RunningTips101.com expert resource Coach Rick Rothman, “Most of the time, endurance athletes peak ten years after they begin.” (This would make sense as many of us start freshman year of high school, which would put you at 14 or 15 years old.) He adds: “Many times, women tend to start running later in life (not always). But, there are many factors; it’s too much of a generalization to say women peak in there 30’s.”

According to Physiology of Sport & Exercise, 2nd Edition: “In general, maximal muscle strength peaks between the ages of 25 and 35. Beyond that age range, the ability to lift weight declines at a steady rate of about 1.8% per year. Of course, as with other measurements of human performance, individual strength varies considerably.” This strength peak has to correlate to running.

Another outlet explained the following: “The physical peak for most humans, in most sports, is between 25 and 35 years of age; during this peak period, the well-conditioned athlete can create a confluence of muscular strength, peak cardiovascular and oxygen transport, speed and reaction time, and mental capabilities (including the ability to deal with competitive pressures), all bound together by a desire to succeed.” I like that answer – and can 100% relate to it. As an athlete, discipline and maturity make training and competing much easier. The emotional baggage that I feel kept me from “peaking” in my high school and college years, I personally feel has since disipated. To the point that I often look back wishing I could tell myself to relax, not worry so much, and just go out there and run. I can recall Coach Rothman telling me that before a big cross country race my senior year of high school. He said “Go out there and just run, have fun.” He had a few jokes in there that I’ll leave out for now!

More interesting insight that I found from Advameg, Inc.: “For sports in which strength (both muscular strength and bone density), oxygen uptake, and cardiovascular efficiency are vital to success, the aging process may be slowed, though never halted or reversed. Since 1950, the average age of world champion distance runners in the 3-mi (5,000 m) races through to the 26-mi marathons (42.2 km) ranges between 28 and 32 years of age. From this peak of ability, runners will continue to perform at levels close to their personal best into their late 30s and early 40s; performance then declines at a rate of approximately 2% per year through age 80. Swimming, which like running places a premium on cardiovascular strength, shows a similar regression from best performance times as an athlete ages. The success of female swimmers at early ages (there have been numerous Olympic gold medals and world records set by female swimmers under the age of 20) is related to both the earlier physical maturation of female athletes, as well as the physical dynamics of the female swimmer in the water; the progressive decline in the performance of female swimmers due to age is similar to that of male swimmers. Consistent with these physiological constants, the oldest gold medalist in the history of all Olympic track and field events was Patrick McDonald, an American hammer thrower, who won the 1920 competition at age 42. The oldest Olympic track champion in the 1,500-m race was 31-year-old Albert Hill of Kenya, in 1988. Female competitors have the added variables of prospective pregnancy and child-rearing, which will remove the athlete from intense training and competition for an often-significant period. Childbirth may also change the physical shape of a female athlete, particularly in a widening of the pelvis, which may impact subsequent athletic performance.”

Which of course brings us to childbirth. Does it help or hurt female runners? As I noted earlier, third place 2012 USA Marathon Trials finisher Kara Goucher has a new baby. A great article in Time Out Chicago Kids touched on this subject:

“Research shows that there may be physiological benefits to having kids, from a tapering effect that allows chronic injuries to heal up during pregnancy to a surge in the hormone relaxin—which loosens pelvic and cervical joints for delivery, and hangs around the body after childbirth, possibly making a woman’s gait longer, smoother and more efficient. Also, pregnancy increases your blood volume, says Jim Pivarnik, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University who has studied pregnant athletes. As blood volume rises, so does red blood cell count, improving a woman’s efficiency at utilizing oxygen—which means running faster at the same effort. The problem is that all of these effects are hard to measure. (Obviously, researchers aren’t thrilled with the idea of turning preggos into lab rats.) Pivarnik estimates that any residual blood-volume benefit has diminished by about eight weeks postpartum. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a woman—even at the elite level—who’d race that soon after having a child. When it comes down to it, labor may make the most difference. Enduring hours of contractions and delivery—and sometimes C-section recovery to boot—may raise women’s pain threshold. Lincoln Square resident Jessi Merecki, a 38-year-old mom of two, says slashing 92 minutes off her pre-kiddos marathon best was due to “a combination of mental toughness from being a parent and physical toughness from childbirth.” She’s on to something, according to Pivarnik. “I would hypothesize that if being a mom is any help [to running], most of it would be mental,” he says. “Active moms may find that they’re more efficient and focused in training because they have so much more on their plates. It’s like that Yogi Berra saying, ‘90 percent of this is half mental.’ ” Read the full article here.

Post 30? Does the improvement continue?
According to RunningForFitness.org, “From the 30s onwards, a number of physical changes take place in the average person’s body.  Aerobic capacity decreases, muscle mass reduces, muscle elasticity reduces, lung elasticity declines, bone density reduces, the metabolism slows, body fat increases and the immune system becomes weaker. These changes will have an adverse impact on running performance. The fall in aerobic capacity, reduced stride length, reduced leg strength, and reduced ability to store energy all contribute to deterioration in performance.  In general, it is thought that running speeds over any distance deteriorate by about 1% a year from a peak at some point in the 30s; and we appear to lose aerobic capacity at about 9-10% a decade.”

Now of course that doesn’t mean older individuals can’t run…we’ve all seen the skinny, old guy in the bun huggers at the local 5K and 10K races and he seems to be doing alright. It just means that we shouldn’t expect to see many 50, 60, 70 year old marathon winners. Or better yet, expect it from ourselves. However, at age 30 there is still plenty of time for me (I hope)…and I believe I’m just hitting my 30-year-old peak marathon stride!