Ali and Rocky

Stallion and Butterfly – Rocky and Ali

“Life’s not about how hard of a hit you can give… it’s about how many you can take, and still keep moving forward.” ~ Rocky

“I run on the road long before I dance under the lights.” –Muhammad Ali

As different as these two boxers were, they had one thing in common: they ran to get ready for their battles. And in the case of the fictional character of Rocky, he inspired whole legions of runners who celebrate his training run to this day.

So you might be asking yourself, why do boxers run, or “do roadwork”, anyways? It’s all about having a good foundation. Roadwork builds your stamina, stamina allows you to have longer and more intense sparring sessions, good sparring sessions make you into a great boxer. So both the butterfly and the stallion needed to put in the miles before stepping into the ring – one needed the stamina to dance around his opponents, the other needed the stamina to keep coming straight at them.

Ali doing situpsLet’s start with the butterfly. As smooth a talker and as handsome a man as Ali believed he was, he knew the value of hard work. His training sessions are legendary and he has shared some good advice about working on your core – as we know a strong core makes a strong runner. When he was asked about how many sit ups he did, he said: “I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting. That is when I start counting, because then it really counts. That’s what makes you a champion.” 

When it comes to running, Muhammed’s famous fight preparation for the rumble in the jungle comes to mind. You see the kids running alongside him. They are learning about hard work and the discipline it takes to win. He is getting his body and mind ready for a battle against the most powerful puncher the world of boxing has ever seen. 

Now, lets talk about Rocky. With this dude … it’s personal. I was nine or ten when I saw the first Rocky movie. Right after the movie I ran from one end of my town to the other, shadow boxing along the way. It was the first time I really felt bliss while running. To this day, when the running gets tough, I sing a little bit of the “Eye of the Tiger” (am I alone here?), and keep on trucking. 

Rocky might be a fictional character but his movie has inspired real people to run. Running fans have analyzed the famous training run from Rocky’s movie and documented it here. The entire route is over 30 miles. There is even an official event to celebrate the run that changed lives.

Rocky over bench


rocky celebrating

As Ali’s career and the Rocky movies have taught us, you need to run to be a champion boxer. Running also seems to be the medicine that calms and focuses a fighter before the big event. So get out there, run, and get ready for your next challenge.

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):

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!

He shuffled past the competition – Cliff Young

Today is Australia Day. It’s a good day to share the story of Cliff Young.

Cliff was a potato farmer from Victoria who at the age of 61 won the 875 kilometer (544 mi) Sydney to Melbourne ultra marathon. Once again proving that you don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running. Before the race, Cliff admitted that he prepared using the latest innovations in running training: chasing down his sheep for 2 days and 2 nights wearing gumboots.

To say “Cliff won” is an understatement, as he beat his nearest, much younger rivals, by 10 hours. He ran the race using an unorthodox form, today called “the Cliffy Shuffle”. He didn’t look competitive at the start, as he lagged far behind the competition on the first day of the race. As the night set, and everyone took their rest, Cliff shuffled on. He took the lead over night and never again relinquished it.

Here is a video about Cliff:

And here is a little bit more about him – including the bit about his marriage at the age of 62 to a 23 year old Mary Howell.

So if you are shuffler, hold your head up high, and keep on shuffling. As Cliff said “You just got to keep going.”

Kevin Lin, challenging his limits

Running out of Challenges – Kevin Lin

“The key to life is accepting challenges. Once someone stops doing this, he’s dead.”
~ Bette Davis

Kevin Lin Running in the desert

Some people choose to run around the track, some choose to run up some hills, more adventurous of runners might run up a mountain. Kevin Lin runs across deserts, countries, and continents. In fact, unless Kevin decides to go ultra Gump (not just regular Gump), and decides to run continuously around mother earth … forever, he has pretty much overcome every running challenge this planet has to offer. At 38, he has a long running career ahead of him, so he will have to be very creative with his future quests.

In the short history of extreme running, Kevin has already set some some very inventive benchmarks. The most well known and publicized one was his run across the Sahara along with Charlie Engle and Ray Zahab in 2007. That’s a 6,920 kilometer trek across 6 countries: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya, and Egypt. Below is a quick sketch of the route (just for fun there is an overlay of the continental US for a closer to home reference).

Sahara Run

And here is a trailer to the movie narrated by Matt Damon:

So if that challenge wasn’t enough, in 2011 Kevin and his support crew took on and succeeded in running the silk road. That run  was about 10,000 km through some of the most hazardous running terrain on earth. Here’s another picture for reference.

Full moon

(So this is a slight exaggeration. Since the Moon’s circumference is actually 10,916km at the equator, you have to imagine the run taking place just above or below the center of the Moon.)

Those are just two of many of Kevin’s triumphs. As a runner, this Taiwan native has been shaping the sport and inspiring runners to go further, longer, and on tougher routes.

But there is more to Kevin’s running than just the need to conquer challenges. He has seen the beauty of our planet and he has also seen the challenges facing millions of people living in places most of us would consider uninhabitable. He notes that one of the biggest problems is access to clean water, and raising awareness of this issue has become his next challenge.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how some healthy competition can make us break through seemingly unbreakable barriers.

As always, please share your most inspiring runner suggestions in the comments.