Breaking Barriers

Clarence DeMar Marathon

“I’m back”, he said, and he was, in a big way – Clarence DeMar

“Can’t keep a good man down.” – Alabama 

Clarence DeMar is another great runner of our past. His “intermittent” domination of the Boston Marathon a century ago is unmatched to this day. Overall he won the infamous hilly race 7 times, but what is more awesome, is that he did it over a span of 20 years. His story is one of repeatedly returning to greatness.

DeMar was born in Madeira, Ohio and that’s where he found his love of running. Walking is boring and so as soon as he began going to school, young DeMar used to dogtrot to get himself there. The quick but easy gait was a great foundation for getting through the trials of marathons.

He entered his first Boston marathon in 1910 and got 2nd place. This is a also a time when doctors tell him that he has a heart murmur and he should quit running within a year or two. He comes back a year later to claim his first victory in Boston. He came back a year later and won again – this time setting a new course record of 2:21:39. Having used up his last 2 years of running, DeMar hung up his serious running shoes and focused on his studies at Harvard and Boston University. But since he was in the neighborhood, he entered the 1917 Boston Marathon and finished third despite lack of training. Later that year he was drafted to the army and sent to Europe.

After returning from the army, and 11 years since he first won “Boston” (and was told about his heart condition), he entered and won the race three times in a row. Setting new records and almost renaming the race to “DeMarathon” along the way. He then took a breather and placed 2nd and 3rd in the two years that followed. After the rest – he went ballistic – completely dominating every race he entered across the US, and again taking first in Boston 2 more times.

Being true to this blog’s favorite motto “You don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running!”, DeMar raced his last Boston Marathon at the age of 65 and a 15km race at the age of 69. He died of cancer one year later.

He rests in peace, but his memory continues to inspire runners. If you are ever in Keene, New Hampshire in late September, consider joining the race named in his honor. More details here: http://clarencedemar.com/

 

 

 

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Done with Ironman

I run what – Thoughts and Reflections on First Ironman

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”  ~ John Wooden

The big day was April 19th, 2014. The place Taitung, Taiwan – headquarters of triathlons on this lovely island. The event – Challenge Taiwan Ironman – 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and 42.2 km run at the end to finish it off. But as with anything else worth doing in life, this date and event were just a period at the end of a sentence, the real work and the real reason for celebration took place in the months of training before it.

I’ll start with a short recap of the event itself, stay tuned on this blog for the journey leading up to it.

I arrived in Taitung on Wednesday to give myself plenty of time to get comfortable in the lake where the swim took place, to get used to the warmer weather, and to try and get comfortable in the hotel to get good sleep in the nights leading up to the race. I also had never swam that long of a distance before in my life and was kind of cramming before the big test (more on that later).

Day before race

Trying to look brave in front of nemesis number 1 – Flowing lake. It’s 1km long and you swim to just about the end and come back and then repeat.

 

After a practice swim on Thursday morning, I was invited for a run by a couple of ironman amateur veterans, they told me some elites were leading a recon mission on the course. I didn’t know it at the time but the guy leading the run was Chris McCormack (AKA Macca), a two time champion at Kona. We joked about not having to run on Saturday if we had run the full 42 on that Thursday – no such luck.

Tom-Macca-Run

That’s me with thumbs up. Macca is the dude with the good posture. (I think I could have taken him on this practice run, but didn’t want him to look bad in front of his fans (that is a joke))

Friday was butterflies in the stomach day. Swam about 1.5km, 5km run, and maybe 10km on the bike – just to let the muscles know what is coming up on the next day. Tried to relax all day long, do everything a little slower and reflect on life. I hydrated throughout the day, ate pizza, bread and lots of fruits – tried to make sure I have maximum vitamins in my body and max water (without having to go to toilet every 5 minutes – it is a careful balance). I watched a Kona ironman video on YouTube before going to sleep – last minute mental preparation. Went to sleep around 9PM and surprisingly slept pretty good.

Saturday was THE day. Woke up around 3AM, way ahead of the 3:45 wake up alarm clock. Ate my bowl of oatmeal with chia (this is my staple pre every race). Put on the tri-suit, calculating in my head that I was going to be wearing it for the next 15-18 hours, grabbed my swim goggles, hugged my wife goodbye (she was gonna meet me at the venue a bit later), and stepped outside where my taxi was waiting for me. First stop was 7-11 for a hit of coffee, and then the venue. When I arrived at 5AM, it was already buzzing with competitors doing last checks on their transition bags. I added a few more gels and beverages to both my transition areas and dropped of extra sunscreen for the bike part – it was going to be a sunny day.

I went over to the start area at about 5:30AM, got in the water and swam about 100 meters just to get myself comfortable in the water. Got out and joined the rest of the 380 sheep waiting for the slaughter to begin. I was trying to find someone big, whom I hoped would be slow, to draft behind in the swim. But it is impossible to tell the swimming capabilities of people when they are standing on terra firma. I gave up and just told myself that I’m just going for a little swim that might take 2 hours or so.

The cannons went off at 6AM sharp – marking the start of the elites. They looked like speedboats cruising away from the start line. We also got a cannon, yay I’m just like the elite athlete, at 6:02 AM – and off we went. The swim was surprisingly comfortable. It was kind of like a long meditation session. I recalled words of advice from a friend who helped me get ready for a swim part – “You should feel like you’re skating” – describing the action of rotating from one side to the other. I zigzagged a little bit, adding unnecessary mileage to the 3.8 km race. Occasionally, I was lucky enough to draft behind a few large swimmers, which really really helps (and is legal). I got out of the water at 7:44, so 1h:42m swim to kick of the race – the first elite finished the swim in 46 minutes.

taitung area

Taitung region where the bike part took place. This was the view on one side occasionally with the ocean on the other.

I was happy and feeling good as I ran over to the bike transition. I had just completed the longest swim in my life (I didn’t have to use the entire 2h:20m allowed for this part of the race) and felt strong. On to the 180km road race.

Drank a bottle of water, ate a banana, put on shoes, helmet, hydration pack, sunglasses and off we went. I was on the road at 7:50. In my training I did two rides of just over 200km – that was about 2 months before the race. In the months and weeks just before the race I never exceeded 130km, but it was all in the mountains, whereas the ironman course was mostly flat. As I got going, I estimated to be going at about 30km/hr and felt comfortable at this pace. However, I knew that feeling ok after 20 minutes doesn’t mean that I will feel ok 100km later, 130km later or 150km later. Nonetheless, I told myself I had a date with my running shoes in 7 hours and pressed on. During the ride I drank about 1.5 gallons of water, 1 liter of a caffeinated sports drink, 3 liters of other sports drinks, 1/2 liter of sugar cane juice (i had a liter but it wasn’t going down too well). I also consumed 3 bananas, 5 gels, 1 snickers and 2 oranges (water, sports drinks, and bananas were provided by the organizers.) One thing I neglected to intake enough of was salt; My body delivered this message to me via a strong headache at about 120km into the race. I started eating pinches of salt provided at the refreshment stands thereafter and the headache was gone by the end of the bike part. No drafting in the bike part (that is illegal) – finished the 180km in 6h:32m and was about half an hour early for my date with my running shoes.

I grabbed my transition bag and started looking for my running shorts and shirt, however, I was disappointed to find out that I didn’t pack them. Running in the tri-suit was meant to be. Quick hydration, socks, sneakers, amino-acid pills (not sure if these things really help but what the hell), and off we went. I had been racing now for over 8 hours, and was surprised to find myself running at about 5min/km pace. I attached myself behind a dude who looked strong and told myself I’m sticking with him no matter what. About ten minutes into the race I passed one of my ex-coworkers who had already done a few Ironman events in the past, I gave him a nod and he returned it, everybody in this race was on the same team. I kept the pace going for the first 2 hours and actually thought that I might finish the marathon part in under 4 hours, and then ….

My body started saying enough is enough. I was tired, really tired and my body was no longer happy with the fuel I had been giving it throughout the day. No more gels and sugar crap it said – I complied as I had no choice. My stomach started turning and at some parts of the run I thought I was going to have an accident – the kind usually reserved to babies who at least have the decency to wear a protective diaper. I just stuck to water, salt and fruit for the rest of the race. I had to walk a little bit too. The race started to feel long. To add insult to injury, the run was a loop that took you past the finish line twice before turning in for the tape crossing. You could also hear the party going on and the announcer congratulating the finishers. He also said some encouraging words to those of us who still had a lap or 2 to go. As I ran past, he gave me some very much needed words of encouragement. Also, too, there were tons of volunteers and local people keeping the energy high and giving you JiaYo’s along the way (JiaYo – literally meaning “Add Oil!”, is equivalent to “Keep It Going Dude!”). As I got close to the end I had my third ever endorphin explosion in my head which caused me to tear up a little bit. I crossed the line at 7:37PM, or 13 hours and 35 minutes after first jumping into the water.

The announcer told me that I was now IronMan.

Done with Ironman

So happy to not be moving any more.

Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused.

I found my wife waiting at the finish, I told her that I would be taking a break from hard core competition for a while and sat down for a nice long rest and reflection.

It’s been two weeks … I think it’s time to start thinking about what is next.

 

 

super hero edition irunwhy

IRUNWHY Recap – Superhero Edition

Life is locomotion… if you’re not moving, you’re not living. But there comes a time when you’ve got to stop running away from things… and you’ve got to start running towards something, you’ve got to forge ahead. Keep moving. Even if your path isn’t lit… trust that you’ll find your way. — The Flash

They’ve inspired us and they’ve motivated us, today we ask (and answer) – what if our hero runners were superheroes? What would they look like? What would they use as their secret weapon? Without further ado, here we go:

THE FIRST MARATHONER – PHEIDIPPIDES

He was the man who started this whole Marathon craze taking over the world.  As a superhero, he brings good news from far away in a timely fashion. You won a battle in a far away place – he’s there to tell you about it. His special weapon – perseverance.


Pheidippides - Marathon Man


STATUS QUO BUSTER! – KATHRINE SWITZER

She stood up to the ignorance and injustice of how women were treated (not so long ago).  As a superhero, she seeks out ignorance and wipes it off the face of the earth. Her special weapon – will and determination.

Switzer (1)


THEY RUN AS ONE – TEAM HOYT

In their path – where unbreakable walls once stood – there now is a pile of rubble. They are the classic dynamic duo and inspiration is their weapon of choice. Marathons, Ironman Triathlons, running and biking across the US – they’ve done it all and with very impressive times. (Special congrats on finishing Boston Marathon a few days ago)

Team Hoyt


HE RAN LIKE A DEMON … AND IT STUCK – JACK KIRK

He is responsible for the best quote in the history of running, always worth repeating:  “You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.” He not only spoke wise words, but proved them to be true by running cross country races well into his nineties. His superpower – running circles around young runners.

Jack Kirk


RUNNING OUT OF CHALLENGES – KEVIN LIN

“He is the king of distance,” is an understatement.  He has ran across every major desert on this planet and he continues to defy what we think of as possible.  His special power is turning back time (superman style – by circling the globe at lightning speed).

Kevin Lin


HE ZOOMED BY WITH A SMILE – HAILE GEBRSELASSIE

“Hard work, grit, determination and composure are the ingredients to his success.  He has moved the goal posts in competitive running by adjusting world records in all of the distances he’s competed. His special weapon is the smile that turns his competitors – and all evil doers – into stone statues.

Haile


“NO!” IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE ANSWER – TERRY FOX

His fight was an inflection point in the battle against cancer. His run across Canada inspired an entire nation and raised millions of dollars to fight Cancer – all this as he was suffering from the disease himself. His superhero weapon is: being there, whispering in your ear: “You can do it!”, when doubt creeps into your thoughts.

 

Terry Fox

 


HE SHUFFLED PAST THE COMPETITION – CLIFF YOUNG

He waited until he was 61 to show the young ones what long distance running is all about. His record breaking race from Sydney to Melbourne – leaving all the competitors half his age in the dust – taught us we can learn something from the wise mature men. He trained while chasing sheep on his grazing fields, his special weapon are the magic gumboots that let him shuffle past the competition.

Young


STALLION AND BUTTERFLY – ROCKY AND ALI

Only Ali gets a superhero for this post (Rocky is already fictional). He gets the highest honor possible on this blog – he is here and he is not even a pure runner. His training and mental attitude inspired thousands of runners around the world. His special weapon needs no explanation – dancing like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.

Ali


THE MIGHTY CZECH LOCOMOTIVE – EMIL ZÁTOPEK

He ran not with money in his pocket, but dreams in his heart. He was a runner’s runner – loved by all lucky enough to have met him. He raced with the most contorted grimace but with the most domineering results of the time. His special weapon – inspired by his grueling training techniques – is picking up the evil doers and running them to the end of the earth on his back (coming back and repeating if there are more there).


Zatopek


More running stories coming soon.

Special thanks to the artist behind the superhero drawings – Rob. You can find more of his work here: http://lovekillsslowly.thecomicseries.com/

The Queen of New York … From Norway – Grete Waitz

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” ~Leonardo da Vinci

Bare with me for a bit here as I get to the point in a little round about way. Recently I was thinking about a graphic I once saw about how much a PHD student expands humanity’s realm of knowledge. It looks something like a little pimple sticking out of the circle. The circle represents all that we know.

PhD Knowledge

 

There are only a few people in the history of the world that really have an impact bigger than the pimple in growing our collective knowledge (Newtons, Einsteins are most notable).

The same can be applied to running: very few people have advanced the sport further than a little bump. Grete Waitz is one of those people. Her contribution can be visualized as the following (an all around expansion across the realm of running) :

Grete-Contribution

 

When we talk about Grete Waitz, we have to go back to that shady time not so long ago, when the accepted belief was that women were not quite on par with men when it came to long distance running. We’ve already talked about Kathrine Switzer’s bold stand against the status quo. While Kathrine challenged what was being said and thought at the time, Grete unequivocally proved again and again and again all those thoughts were myths. Grete won the New York marathon not once, not twice, but 9 times in her career.

She was invited to participate in her first NY marathon in 1978 by Fred Lebow, one of the race founders. She not only won on her first try, but took 2 minutes off the women’s world record. Her path to becoming the queen of NY began. Over her nine NY victories, she reset the world record three years in a row and lowered the total time by nine minutes.

Grete Waitz Winning Her Marathon

While reigning over the five Burroughs of New York City, Grete also showed how it’s done in the old world. She won and set new course records in London and Stockholm. She also won Gold in the 1983 World Championship in Helsinki. In other words, she owned the marathon for a decade.

In the early days of women’s long distance running, Grete showed the world not only that it is possible for women to compete, but that it is possible to be a bad ass woman runner. She inspired legions of new runners to participate in the sport and thereby expanded the realm of running.

Grete ran her last NYC marathon slowly. She ran alongside Fred Lebow who was fighting brain cancer but was determined to finish the race with her now old time friend. They both finished in 5 hours 32 minutes, more than twice as long as Grete’s first marathon in NYC.

Lebow and Grete cross finish line

Sadly, Grete herself died of cancer at the young age of 57 in 2011. She was buried with honors by the government of Norway – only the sixth woman in the countries history to be so honored.

She is missed, but she still remains the queen of NY.

The Mighty Czech Locomotive

The Mighty Czech Locomotive – Emil Zátopek

“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.” ~ Emil Zátopek

Emil lived behind the iron curtain in Czechoslovakia. I grew up behind the iron curtain in Poland. Emil is known for for his contorted facial expression and wide swinging stride. I have been known to look tortured while on the run. Emil was named The Greatest Runner of All Time (PDF) by Runner’s World Magazine. I sometimes read Runner’s World Magazine. 

While I grasp at having things in common with Emil, I fall far short with regards to the dedication, accomplishment and spirit embodied by Emil Zátopek. He was simply awesome and I dare you to read this post and not run out and buy a picture of Zátopek and display it prominently in your home. Good luck.

Emil became a runner quite late in life by today’s standard. He was 18 and working in a shoe factory when the factory’s sports coach ordered him to partake in a race. He tried to get out of running, complaining of not feeling well and not being in good enough shape to compete. The coach was not so easily detered, he sent Emil to the doctor who gave him a stamp of approval and off he went to the races. He finished second out of the pool of 100. More importantly a seed was planted. He was “in” … “ALL IN!”

Once in, he took the rational attitude towards the sport: “Running is easily understandable: you must be fast enough and you must have enough endurance,” he said. “So you run fast for speed and repeat it many times for endurance.” And that is precisely what his routine looked like. Except  he took it to new heights. And even in the hardcore old-timer’s era of training – where there were plenty of stories of athletes running until they passed out, going to sleep in a ditch, waking up and continuing to run – his regiment was fearsome. He took speed work to another level. For him 40×400 were routine, he would escalate that to 50×400, 60×400 and in extreme times 100x400s (that’s 25 miles of speed work in a day). He ran in heavy work boots in the snow. He even ran tempo runs with his wife (an olympic gold medalist in the javelin) on his back. Here are a few words of wisdom from Emil:

Emil Zatopek Quote

He did preach gradual escalation.

Emil Zatopek Quote Pain and Suffering

Now, let’s get to the greatest feat of Emil’s performance. It was the 1952 Helsinki Olympics where he became, and still is, the only runner to win gold in the 5,000 m, 10,000 m and while running it for the first time the Marathon. All of these wins were accomplished in spectacular ways: the 10k was total domination, the 5 k was a dramatic sprint to the finish with Emil coming from behind, and the marathon literally knocked the top contenders off the course. 

Since Emil had never run a marathon before he kept his strategy simple: follow the leader. So he introduced himself to the world record holder, Jim Peters, at the start line and ran alongside him for a while. At the one hour mark, Emil asked Jim if the pace was fast enough. Jim sarcastically responded that it was way too slow. Although Emil spoke six languages, he apparently did not understand sarcasm fluently, accepted Jim’s response as fact, and started to speed up. Shortly thereafter, Jim saw Emil disappear over the horizon and Jim was forced to withdraw due to fatigue.

Emil Zatopek - Hope in heart quote

So he was fearsome at training, and a legendary athlete, but those who were lucky enough to meet him would all tell you that his athletic prowess paled in comparison to his enthusiasm, friendliness, and love of life. His humble home in Prague served as a hostel of sorts for athletes from around the world. The Australian Ron Clarke, who was a great runner with terrible luck, was one of those visitors. Ron admired Emil greatly and wanted to join his idol in the record books but repeatedly fell short of reaching his dream. After a two day visit, Emil handed Ron a package – a small gift – as he was leaving. On the plane home, Ron opened the package to discover that Emil had gifted him his 1952 10,000 m gold medal engraved with the day’s date and Ron’s name.

After all, as Emil said:

“Great is the victory, but the friendship of all is greater”

Here is a good video talk about Emil from Mike Sandrock who wrote “Running Legend” about Emil.

Here is a synopsis of the 1952 marathon.

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).

1972_women

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.

Terry Fox and his route

“No!” is Not an Acceptable Answer – Terry Fox

“I bet some of you feel sorry for me. Well don’t. Having an artificial leg has its advantages. I’ve broken my right knee many times and it doesn’t hurt a bit.” ~ Terry Fox 

Before I started this blog, I asked my running friends to contribute their ideas of who should be included in this collection. The first and most frequent name that came up was Terry Fox. I had heard of the name before. My recollection was vaguely of a cancer survivor who ran across Canada, back in the days when things like this were simply not done. After reading a little more about Terry and after watching a couple of tear-invoking documentaries, I realized why he has made such a strong impact on so many people. His story is an epic legend, however, unlike legends and fables, which have a touch of truth and a great deal of creative amplification, his story is pure awesomeness without the need for exaggeration.

Terry led an inspirational life right from his childhood. He was one of those scrappy and scrawny kids who don’t like to hear “No!” for an answer. He loved sports, specifically basketball, and despite being smaller than his peers, he was more determined and he worked harder than the others. He made the high school team, and by his senior year, became the team’s captain. 

When Terry was 19, life gave him the biggest “No!” a young man could hear. He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of cancer that typically starts at the knee.  He had to have his leg amputated and undergo chemotherapy. While in therapy, he saw how cancer took many innocent, young lives before it was their time to go. He also learned that progress in science and medicine made a dramatic difference in giving people a chance to survive. In his case, he had a chance of survival of 50%. If he had been diagnosed a few years earlier, he would have only had a 15% chance of survival. The final lesson, the lesson that clarified his quest for life, was that cancer research was terrifyingly underfunded. 

Inspired by the story of Dick Traum, the first amputee to complete the New York City Marathon, Terry decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. He called his quest “The Marathon of Hope.” It was time to hear “No!” again.

His body said “NO!” – As he went out on the track to practice running with his replacement leg, he would fall down … repeatedly. Terry got up … repeatedly, until he could run a lap, a mile, a half marathon.

Hi mother said “NO!” – This hurt, as she was the source of his determination in his younger years. Terry won her over and after his death she was the one who carried on his mission.

His community said “NO!” – A young mother said something to the effect of “Get that freak out of sight from my kid!”, after she saw Terry train and blood seep through his sweatpants where the prosthesis met his leg. Terry changed his training to night time.

Hi doctor said “NO!” – This was not a time when prosthesis were built for running. Terry took three of them for the run and had another one refitted during the trek.

The weather said “NO!” – Winter storms and gale winds met Terry at the start of the race. He kept running, a marathon a day against the wind.

Canada said “NO!” – When he started the race, nobody cared. He raised pennies as he ran through Quebec – nobody knew who this person was and what he was up to. Terry kept moving forward, his supporters kept spreading the news, and soon he won Canada over like no Canadian ever had in the history of the country. By the time he reached Toronto, the whole country was tuned in and he had to run hundreds of extra miles to give speeches along his trek in Ontario County.

The final “NO!” came from cancer. After thousands of miles on the run, Terry started to develop a cough and had some difficulty breathing. He kept going through the pain until it became unbearable. At mile 3,339, he stopped and asked to be taken to the hospital. The next day, after realizing that his cancer had spread to his lungs, he announced that he is suspending his race. Terry underwent treatment again, however, the disease continued to spread. He fell into a coma and died at the age of 22.

Terry Fox StatueTerry might have died, but his cause lives on. The news of his death was a national tragedy and a call to action. His Marathon of Hope not only raised the goal of one dollar per Canadian to combat the disease, but inspired millions of others to help raise funds for cancer research. There are statues and there are streets named after Terry Fox, more importantly, year after year the Terry Fox Run engages hundreds of thousands of runners and raises millions of dollars to help fight cancer.

Terry Fox run

Here’s a movie about Terry Fox, featuring Robert Duvall:

And ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, co-directed by Steve Nash:

On a More Personal Note

According to Worldwide Cancer Research Fund International: There were an estimated 12.7 million cancer cases around the world in 2008, of these 6.6 million cases were in men and 6.0 million in women. This number is expected to increase to 21 million by 2030. Personally, I never got to meet one of my grandfathers and I don’t remember the other as they were both taken away by cancer in a much too young an age. I saw a high school classmate slowly disappear from our life as he battled, and eventually succumbed to the disease.

We are all affected by cancer. We also see how brave people can be in the face of cancer and how our love of life can shine brighter when faced with the battle against it. I end with the following story of a fellow runner from my running community in Taipei:

Upon being diagnosed with breast cancer, Ms. K runs a triathlon. This was after attending a late-night charity event the night before and rushing to the train station to make the race on time. Ms. K then had surgery and began chemo in the weeks that followed. One of the questions she asked the nurse, at her first chemo treatment, was “Will I be able to run?”

Ms. K keeps running strong today and inspiring her many friends to run with her.

Happy Year of the Horse

Foot vs. Hoof – Happy Chinese New Year

“A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace.” – Ovid


We are still a few days away from the official start of the Chinese New Year. But from where I’m sitting (somewhere in the middle of Taiwan), the atmosphere is already abuzz with the upcoming holiday. 2014 is the year of the horse according to the lunar calendar. It’s a reminder that we’re not the lone lovers of running on this earth. The horse, I believe, beats out all the other symbols when it comes to running.

With that said, we (humans) can still sometimes outrun a horse. As is proven in this short clip.

So, that might have been a little edited. But there are some real documented victories of man against horse. For example, in the Man vs Horse marathon, a human by the name of Huw Lobb won in 2004. This feat was again repeated in 2009 by Florian Holzinger. 

Western States LogoAnd we should also remember that the infamous Western States Endurance Run, was originally a horse race. It was 1974 when Gordy Ainsleigh stepped up to the starting line and changed the race forever. He finished the race in under 24 hours, proving that a human could indeed traverse the 100 mile, high elevation, multi-peak event. In the years that followed more and more human runners joined, and in 1978 the human run became a separate event.

The idea to run without the horse was inspired by the fact that Gordy’s horse went lame on the 29 mile marker in 1973. Ainsleigh, it should be noted, was already a champion marathoner in the “Clydesdale Division” (a category reserved for persons who weigh over 200 pounds). So perhaps, the suffering of the horse might have something to do with the decision to run on foot vs hoof.  

So Happy New Year! Run like or even better than a horse in 2014!

Dave Scott and Mark Allen in Iron War - 1989 Kona Triathlon

Competition Made Them Legends – Dave Scott and Mark Allen

“There is a special mystique about the marathon, for example, because of its length—but that’s just the bit you do at the end of an Ironman” – Chrissie Wellington

This is a story about two runners and the power of competition. We’ve all felt it. Whether it’s in an official race, or when you’re out for your regular nightly jog, a little voice speaks to you “That guy just passed me. There is no way that dude is faster than me.”  Sometimes it’s a runner who looks like they are of comparable ability, sometimes it’s a grandma on a bicycle, no matter who it is, the bait is irresistible, we turn it on.

Dave Scott and Mark Allen know a little bit about competition. They both have won the Kona Ironman Championship six times. Through the 80’s and into the 90’s their rivalry helped elevate triathlon to the thriving sport it is today. They are legends, and the 1989 Ironman was a setting of their epic battle where they moved the goal posts in the sport (very well documented in the book Iron War). Their finishing time was more than 20 minutes better than the previous record, and, their run times were out of this world. Allen’s time of 2:40:04 and Scott’s 2:41:03 are still the first and second fastest marathons ever run in Ironman Hawaii. 

It is worth repeating that this was 1989, the dawn of triathlons.  And, with as fast as the evolution in sports nutrition and training practices have gone, it might as well have been the time of dinosaurs. However, despite outdated training techniques, bicycles that were just starting to take the shape of today’s aerodynamic rockets, and the lack of fancy glucose gels, they set a running pace unmatched to this day.

Lets also recap exactly what that event entailed so that we can get a better appreciation of a 2:40 marathon (a great time for stand-alone marathon in one of the hottest places on earth). The race began with a 3.8 km open water swim (that means ocean in Kona, Hawaii). The water looked something like this:

kona-swim

Next, came a 180 km bike ride on a road that cut through lava fields. That was a reminder of the heat on this close to a 5 hour ride. And again, there were no fancy tri-bikes in 1989. This was Dave promoting one of the triathlon bikes of the late 80’s:

ScottsBik

Finally, it was time for the run. Sprinters see their opponent next to them for less than 10 seconds. Marathon runners see their closest competition for just over 2 hours. At this point in the 1989 Kona Ironman, Mark and Dave had been next to each other in the water and on the bike for over 5 and a half hours. Whatever adrenaline boost they might have had from seeing their adversary next to them had been exhausted. It was time to dig deep. The iconic picture at the top of the post, accurately captures how close the race was.

Some athletes describe the ironman in terms of burning matchsticks. Essentially you try to keep a pace that is comfortable for the duration of the race, but every once in a while you are forced to exert a little extra energy to either try to extend your lead over the competition or to not get left behind. With every exertion you are lighting a single matchstick, the one with one more matchstick left at the end of the race … wins. On this day in 1989, Mark Allen had one more matchstick left in his box. He pulled away from Dave with less than 2 miles to go and won the race by about a minute. Dave, after six championships, handed the reigns over to Mark who went on to win 5 more top spots of his own. The Kona championship of 1989 remains the most legendary day in the sport to date. The competition showcased on that day helped blossom the sport of today.

So the motto of this story is: Get out there and race! Feel a little bit of that competition. You can’t lose if you give it your best try.