Month: February 2014

Haile Gebrselassie – He moved the goal posts

He Zoomed By With a Smile – Haile Gebrselassie

“Always behave like a duck- keep calm and unruffled on the surface, but paddle like the devil underneath.”
― Jacob M. Braude

Every time I set out for a long run, I go through several stages and so do my facial expressions. We begin with a systems check – where we do a toe to forehead body analysis. At this point, the face is pretty happy but focused as the mind ticks off the boxes and gives the run an “All Clear”. Next is the smooth sailing zone, where I’m all smiles. The next stage is either further joy where I’m told I look like a deranged happy idiot, or it’s pain management time where I look like a psycho analyst trying to distract my brain from the loads of discomfort in one location (knee perhaps) or another (ankle or hip). The final stage is desperation and that is exactly what my face displays. There is a bonus stage. I’ve only been there twice and in both cases on runs over 50k. I call it runner’s bliss – it’s where endorphins and neurons are having a massive celebration inside your head and you literally can’t help but cry … in a happy way.

But wait, what does all this have to do with today’s story? I’m getting there.

Today we’re celebrating Haile Gebrselassie. He is a pro or more accurately a god among pros. And he is responsible for putting many different types of expressions on his opponents’ faces – everything from pain, desperation, disbelief, and awe. And he did this while maintaining just one expression – a smile – and destroying his competition in every distance he took on. He literally established new norms with regards to what it takes to be great in the 5k, the 10k and the marathon. Haile Gebrselassie - smiling

Haile was inspired to take up running by his countryman and hero Miruts Yifter who won both the 5,000 and 10,000 meter events at the 1980 Olympics. Since the age of seven, he wanted to be like Miruts. He had a dream, he had talent, and then he applied his magic touch – discipline.

10 is a special number for Haile. He was born one of 10 children and he ran 10k to school and back every day. He carried 10 (estimate for creative purposes) books to school every day. This attributed to his unique running posture, with left arm crooked as if he is still holding on to those books. Rain or extreme heat, Haile ran the 10k … and a little longer on the weekends when the destination was the local market at the end of town. What Haile didn’t know growing up in Asselle, Ethiopia, is that his determination and drive would soon lead him to dominate the sport of running in the 10k and beyond.

He first shone on the world stage in 1992 at the Junior World Championships in Seoul. He won both the 5k and the 10k events. That was just a little taste of what Haile was about. The next year, he stepped up to men’s division and won the first of what would become four consecutive World Championships in the Men’s 10k race.  He worked harder and became simply awesome. In 1995, Haile started changing the standard for greatness in long distance running. He first lowered the 10k record by 9 seconds and in the same year adjusted the 5k record by over 10 seconds. All in all, Haile would establish over 20 new world records in his career.

But lets get back to that smile.

It was during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where the extremely high humidity caused Haile to experience severe blistering. He put it simply “the skin came off my foot.” Nonetheless he entered and made the finals in the 10k event. There is footage with a shade of determination (or is it hiding of pain) before the race. Here is the shot from before the race.

Haile during the raceHe ran through the pain. He didn’t show weakness and he took home his first Olympic gold.

4 years later at the Sydney Olympics, the situation was even more dramatic. Haile was already scheduled for an operation as he had been nursing an foot injury for about a year. He came to the event only for moral support of his teammates. He changed his mind at the last minute and entered the race – hiding a limp around his competitors. The race came down to a dramatic sprint finish – Haile beating his arch-rival Paul Tergat by inches. The extent of his injury became clear as he limped up to the podium to receive his gold medal.

Haile during the race

After a successful track career, Haile took on the marathon and again reset the gold standard. He was the first person to run the marathon in under 2:04, twice setting a new record.

Haile is 41 years old these days and he no longer thinks about breaking records, but he is not against helping others do so. Look for him on April 13th at the London Marathon as he will be the main pacemaker to help break the world record. He will run the first 30k at world record pace as a guide for the top tier of runners.

So next time you’re in pain remember not to show your weakness against your adversaries. Smile … and zoom past your competition.

Want to learn more about Haile? Here is a pretty cool video:

Kathrine Switzer Status Quo Buster Woman

R-E-S-P-E-C-T! – Kathrine Switzer

“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” ~ Jackie Robinson

Boston Marathon is “one of”, if not “the”,  most respected long distance races. It is also the site where in 1967 the lack of respect in our society was laid out for the entire world to see. The rule of the day was that women could not officially register and receive the running bib in the race. They could run, quietly, unofficially, in the background. The time was ripe for humanity to realize that the comforts of  status quo required a nudge or, better yet, a shove in the right direction.

Enter Kathrine Switzer – the status quo buster.

Kathrine didn’t plan to become a hero on race day in 1967. She worked hard to prepare for the marathon, even running a 30 mile practice run to make sure that she could finish. She found no rules barring her from entering the event and she registered using the gender neutral name she had been using for her journalism work – K.V. Switzer. 

She began the race alongside her boyfriend, Tom Miller, and coach, Arnie Briggs. After just 2 miles into the run, officials tried to remove Kathrine from the race. The eviction attempt was violent and terrifying. The race director grabbed at Kathrine and shouted  – “Give me those numbers and get the hell out of my race!”. To this day, she still recalls the rage she saw in his eyes.

Kathrine Switzer in Boston Marathon

Kathrine attempted to shrug herself free from the clutches of the official. The race director’s decision to abort the eviction was helped along by a powerful body blow delivered by Kathrine’s boyfriend (he was a football player). He was sent flying off. Kathrine ran on. These moments were immortalized forever by the press corp bus riding just ahead of the Switzer race group.

Kathrine Switzer Boston Marathon - getting free

As the race continued, Kathrine went through the 3 stages of becoming a hero:

Anger – she was humiliated at how she and other women were being treated in a sport which can bring so much joy.
Acceptance – she realized that this was the status quo – that people who tried to stop her were under the impression that they were actually trying to help by preventing women from injuring themselves by running too much. The ridiculous idea of a woman’s uterus falling out was one of the myths of the day.
Determination – by the end of the race, a new Kathrine was born, one determined to nudge or shove the world in the right direction with regards to women’s participation in long distance running events.

In the years that followed, Kathrine worked hard to help change the landscape of running today. First, she led the efforts to allow women to officially participate in the Boston Marathon – accomplished in 1972. Below are seven of the eight women who participanted in the first official women’s field of the Boston Marathon – Nina Kusciak (winner), Katherine Switzer, Elaine Pederson, Ginny Collins, Pat Barrett, Frances Morrison, Sara Mae Berman (not pictured – Valerie Rogosheske).


That was just the beginning. Kathrine set her eyes on a much bigger target. An event that would help bring to light her vision of “joy and freedom of running for all” to the entire world. Her quest was to bring women’s marathon to the olympics. This was a monumental undertaking. In order for an event to be considered on this most prestigious of global stages, it needed to be an established sport in 25 countries and on at least 3 continents.

Luck was on her side, determination was in her heart, and pieces were starting to fall into place.

Kathrine Switzer with Avon marathon posterAfter putting Boston on the right track, she was approached by Avon to help organize a woman-only marathon in Atlanta. A small and manageable event, that may give a little boost in PR for Avon. She jumped at the opportunity but with the attitude that “You either go BIG or go home.” She came back with a proposal for a multi-city, global, running circuit. And thus the Avon International Running Circuit came to be.

The Avon race series helped pave the way for women marathon distance running to be considered and included in the 1984 Olympics. It helped change the lives of thousands of professional women runners today, and millions of those that run and compete just for the love of running. Here is Joan Benoit taking the gold at the 1984 Olympics.

Joan Benoit Winner of 1984 marathon

Kathrine continues to run and promote the sport to this day. Her next big running quest is running the Boston marathon in 2017.

This is the complete story, from Kathrine herself.

You may also want to check out her book “Marathon Woman” which chronicles her efforts to help promote women’s running.

Ground Hog Day For Runners

Spring is NOT yet upon us – Happy Groundhog Day

“I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank piña coladas. At sunset, we made love like sea otters … That was a pretty good day. Why couldn’t I get that day over, and over, and over…” – Bill Murray in Groundhog Day

I guess a Groundhog Day movie for runners wouldn’t be too big of a hit. Even Bill Murray couldn’t pull of day after day running on a treadmill. That is not a recipe for good entertainment. In the actual movie though, Phil needed all those repeating days to learn the meaning of life and love. So maybe there is an opportunity for the dreaded treadmill to do the same for you.

Unlucky for us, today we found out that winter will be a long event this year. We can rest assured though that Spring is coming. Soon our everyday runs won’t all be like the Arrowhead 135 in Minnesota (thanks for sharing Running, Life and Between). And yes, the “135” in the name does stand for the mileage, and Minnesota is one of if not the coldest state among the continental US.

But don’t fret if you’re into the whole cold running thing. You will still have the opportunity to run the Ice Marathon in Antarctica. Here is the video to get you excited (it’s the closest thing I can think of to running on the moon):