Posts Tagged ‘new york marathon’

The entire history of athletics – and the marathon is no exception – is peppered by stories of people who have decided that they are going to use nefarious and dishonest means to try to steal the glory that other earn through hard work and determination – we generally call them cheats.

At the moment we are suffering ‘the Marion Jones show’ which involves her telling anyone stupid, or bored, enough to listen, that she didn’t deserve a prison term for lying and cheating her way to Olympic gold medals. At the same time World steeplechase champion Marta Dominguez has been suspended from her position as vice president of the Spanish Athletics Federation after being implicated in a doping investigation. And these are only the most recent tip of the iceberg.

In the marathon the picture is no more rosy. In the first modern Olympic marathon, held in Greece in 1896, a local – Spiridon Louis, a Greek postal worker from village of Marusi – finished first, but there is extensive evidence to suggest that he hitched a ride for a significant part of the course from the mounted soldier who rode beside him. Since that day there have been many, many examples of people who feel that it is somehow acceptable to run (often significantly) less than the allotted 26.2 miles.

Perhaps one of the most famous of these is Rosie Ruiz who appeared to win the 1980 Boston Marathon in an incredible 2:31:56. Incredible because she was unknown before the race, in no way resembled a top-flight marathon runner with thighs which were much flabbier than would be expected for a world-class runner and she finished the race neither panting nor coated in sweat. She later released stress-test results showing her resting heart rate was 76. Even the men’s winner Bill Rodgers, who had just won his third straight Boston Marathon, was suspicious, commenting that Ruiz couldn’t seem to recall many things that most runners know by heart, such as intervals and splits when he spoke to her after the race.

Rosa Ruiz and Bill Rogers after the Boston marathon, 1980. Notice Ruiz's t-shirt that she supposedly ran in!

In more recent races there have been high profile examples. In 2007 Roberto Madrazo was running the Berlin marathon a year after he failed in his attempt to win the Mexican presidency. As it turns out, his victory in the Over-55 category in the 2007 Berlin Marathon was another failure on his part.
Madrazo finished in 2:41:12 which was an amazing improvement on his result from the San Diego marathon just 3 months earlier which he finished in 3:44:06. Again suspicions were raised when Madrazo jogged across the finish line wearing a full tracksuit and a baseball cap, seemingly unaffected by his world record breaking efforts.

Supposedly the winner of the 55-59 age group in 2:41:12 crossing the finish line!

And cheating is more widespread than we care to imagine. In 2007 seventy-one runners in the New York City Marathon were disqualified, at least 46 of them for taking a short cut. Early in 2010 almost a third of the runners who finished in the top 100 of a marathon in the southern port city of Xiamen were disqualified for cheating in the race – many of them for carrying the timing chips of much less able runners looking to clock a good time.

So why bother cheating? Well, it seems to me that we now live in a society where fame (and often the associated fortune) is the end goal of many people, not the feeling of accomplishment that comes from knowing you have excelled in whatever it is you have decided to do. In marathon running that can be the ability to claim to friends, family or work colleagues that you did something that you didn’t or, as was the case in the Chinese race, the opportunity to gain financial benefit by being given a sporting bursary to attend university. The reality is that the people who cheat simply don’t want to put in the work, do the best they can and accept the result come what may.

For me, my achievements in running are the thing I am most proud of in my life so far. For most of my formative years and young adulthood I was terribly lazy, unwilling to put myself through inconvenience or discomfort for a goal that lay sometime in the future. I wanted immediate results with as little effort as possible. However through running I have discovered some  wonderful truths; that you get out what you put in; that the journey is a massive part of the enjoyment, not just the end result; and that honesty and integrity mean everything. It doesn’t matter to me whether people know or care about what time I managed to run or what position I came. I know that I have put in the effort to achieve my goals and I am proud of myself for that.

And in the end I think that is all that is important – knowing that you have done something you never thought possible, that you have done your best and given your all. That you are the best human being you can be. That is why I feel so sorry for the liars and the cheats – they just don’t get it. They delude themselves and accept a medal and a finishers t-shirt, or worse stand on the podium, of a race that you didn’t run, because they think that they will feel good about that. But ultimately the cheat knows they haven’t excelled, or done their best, or experienced the journey. If they get caught, then – like Rosa Ruiz – they will be exposed and ridiculed. And even if they don’t get caught, there must always be a nagging feeling that they cheated themselves and will never really know what they would have been capable of. I think that is the greatest sadness of all this for me.


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Last night I went to listen to Chris McDougall, author of Born To Run, talk about his book and the themes that run through it. In the flesh, Chris is really imposing – I would guess he’s over 6’4” in his bare feet (of course he was in bare feet) and dressed in running kit with a buff as a bandana, he looked every bit the super-athlete. At the same time he was incredibly friendly and engaging happily signing copies of his book (my copy, which Carl at Ransacker gave me, was a little dog-eared, but I think he liked that)

Chris’ book and indeed his talk, focused on a number of themes, all skillfully woven around the mystical Tarahumara, a secretive tribe of people living deep in the Mexican wilderness, whose ability to run for hours and hours over broken terrain and up and down the canyons they call home, has become the stuff of legend. The themes included diet (and especially vegetarianism and veganism), injury prevention, barefoot running (not surprisingly), the problem with modern trainers and the concept of compassion in competition. I will certainly come back to all of these themes in due course, but for the moment I want to dwell on compassion and competition.

Chris told a brilliant story – one that I hadn’t heard before, but which was seemingly well reported – about the elite women’s race in the 2009 New York marathon. For most of the women in the elite field a win at a prestigious race like one of the ‘5 Majors’ means financial security for them and their family for life. This is the main reason that competition is so fierce – the win means everything.

As the 2009 race progressed, a familiar pattern emerged with a lead group forming, watchful of one another with each runner plotting how to nullify the perceived strengths of all the others. As the group reached the sharp end of the race, one of the elite women – 37 year old Derartu Tulu – did something that to most club-level marathoners, let alone those competing to win, would be unthinkable. At around mile 22, one runner started to fade back from the small lead group which contained Tulu. She instinctively dropped back to the stricken Paula Radcliffe and said to her “Come on. We can do it” and paced her back to the group. Tulu was encouraging and helping the one person she knew was her main competition for the top spot. Sadly Paula faded again but this time she urged Tulu not to wait for her. Tulu took Paula at her word and kicked up to the lead group, past the back markers in the group and caught and passed every woman in the race. She went on to win by quite a margin, crowning an extraordinary come-back from a traumatic childbirth and ensuring enduring fame and fortune for her family. It is further testament to this remarkable and modest woman that the only reason we know this story is that Paula Radcliffe told it after the race.

Chris drew parallels between Tulu and Scott Jurek – probably the greatest endurance runner alive today – who competes with a ferocity and tenacity that starts with his infamous wolf’s howl at the start line and continues over mind-boggling distances as he leaves all-comers in his wake. But when he finishes, far from heading to his hotel room or plush trailer, he wraps himself in a sleeping bag and waits until every runner has crossed the finish line. In the sort of 100 mile trail races Scott competes in that wait could actually be days!

I have my own little example of this. Now, I know I am a caring person but I have examined my conscience since starting to think about compassion in competition and I must admit that if I was racing and another runner faded off the pace or simply pulled up with an injury, I would be unlikely to stop – I would check that they are OK and provided I was sure they did not need medical treatment, I’d carry on (I assure you that if I ever saw someone in real distress or needing medical treatment I’d stop immediately – it is only a race after all). However early this year I ran in a trail half marathon in Portland. It was unlike anything I had done before and I had an absolute ball. The final few miles of the race saw us racing down from the top of Portland onto the shingle of Chesil Beach. I had been running with another chap for a mile or so (during which time we’d spoken a few words to each other about the race and how far we had left to go) and as we transitioned from hard trail to the shingle he lost his footing and went down like a sack of spuds. And I stopped to help him up. I didn’t think about it for a second. I stopped dead, helped him up and encouraged him as we started running again.

So I think that there is undoubtedly something about competition and compassion. My own theory is that racing the same distance over and over, with a target time or an eye on the podium, squeezes the compassion out. As it becomes harder and harder to improve there is less ‘space’ for compassion and less space for the ‘joy of running’. So I think that events (note I have not used the word ‘races’) that are not the standard 10Ks or half marathons or marathons are an essential part of running. As distance increases and terrain becomes more challenging the difference in speed between men and women and the old and the young diminishes to almost nothing, which suggests to me that this is the way we should run; together, in harmony with the environment and just for the sheer love of running… I know that my future will involve more trails and a return to running ultras – just as soon as I’ve completed my marathon ambitions (whilst being as compassionate as ever, of course!)

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So New York is done and dusted. I had an amazing time with the Swiss. I actually took much inspiration from what she achieved. I truly believe that everyone who finishes a marathon is a hero – 26.2 miles run as fast as you can manage it, whether that is in 2:04 or 7 hours, is brutal enough to often change the marathoner’s life. The Swiss not only finished, but she set herself a stiff target and she nailed it. I would not have criticised her at all if she had walked sections but she is made of better stuff than that. Chapeau!

As for me, well I was really disappointed to not be able to tick off another sub-3hr marathon. However my accident was a blessing in disguise in so many ways:

• First and foremost I had the chance to run a marathon with the Swiss, and not any old marathon, her debut. And the New York marathon!
• I took my ability to run for granted and this injury has reminded me that I should thank every day I am able to indulge in the pursuits I love (although I’m still not back on the bike or in the pool yet)
• I have reassessed the concept of the Grand Slam…

… I’ve come to realise that the Grand Slam was a very selfish ambition. In both financial and environmental terms it was going to be a very expensive venture. Now that I have failed to run New York in under three hours I would have to go back and run that race in 2010 or 2011. That would potentially mean three two-way trans-Atlantic flights with fairly hefty financial out-lay and unpardonable environmental impact in order to achieve a spurious ambition with no real meaning. When I consider that the Swiss and I are serious in our commitment to reducing our carbon footprint and had discussed not flying in 2010, the Grand Slam began to look like a fairly stupid idea. So the Grand Slam is dead…

vive le Marathon de Paris!

I really want to run another marathon in anger and try to see what I am capable of. Specifically I wanted a well-organised race with a quick field on a fast course that I could get to without flying – and Paris seems to be the obvious choice. I sought advice from a few running friends who had run this race before. They said that it is a great race. One in particular PB’ed with 2:38 there in 2009 and he suggested that if I can find form again then I should have a crack at a new PB… I’m thinking sub-2:45 should be what I aim for.

The race is on 11 April 2010. If I get on the phone to Eurostar as soon as the tickets for that date are released I should be able to get the Swiss and me there for £59 return each on the Saturday morning and have the night before the race in a hotel.

This also means that for the first time since I started running I’ll be able to go and watch the London marathon myself, see the elites go flying through and support the Swiss in her second marathon! Yep, that’s right – she’ll be back for more in arguably the best marathon in the world and I get to support her and my running club mates from the side-lines. Brilliant!

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Short post – the marathon was a resounding success.

Apart from a hiccup at the start when I corrected my alarm clock (iPhone) to take into account the fact that in the US daylight saving happened on the Saturday night before the marathon and the phone then automatically adjusted itself as well, which meant that I got up an hour late for my ferry to Staten Island, everything went as well as could be expected.

The Swiss and I eventually got the ferry together without any problem, we were dropped at the start line area in plenty of time and walked to our start pen calmly. The start itself was brilliant with a belting rendition of New York New York and a huge cannon signaling the start (well I suppose having the start on a military base means there is plenty of heavy artillery around!) and we were off, over the Verrazano-Narrows bridge and into Brooklyn.

I could write for hours about the race, but I doubt I’d write anything interesting or new. So I will stick to the sharp end of the race. Needless to say the first 15 miles seemed to go past in a blur of supporters, bands, water stations, high-fives and grins all round.

After 15 miles the Swiss started to struggle a little, but the only outward sign was that her smile slipped a little. She was still doing well and knocking off the miles well inside 4-hour pace.

Around mile 20 the Swiss really started to slow. I was expecting this but I knew we had a few minutes in the bag. The important thing was that she didn’t walk – then we would blow it and miss the sub-4 hour target. I had spent the whole race updating her in our pace at each mile but I think she’d been ignoring me in favour of her Nike+ gear. By mile 20 however the Nike+ was ‘out of sync’ and she was relying on me to keep us going at the right pace (and I love having a role so I was happy to oblige!)

For those who know the New York marathon course, miles 22 to 24 are along 5th Avenue where there is a very noticeable rise until you enter Central Park. Despite the amazing crowds along this section the uphill can spell the end for many – not so the Swiss! She put her head down and just kept going. At mile 23 I knew we only had to run the last three miles at a little under 10 mins/mile and we would be in under 4 hours… the next mile took 10’30” – oops!

The last three miles confirmed for me something I had long suspected. My girlfriend, the Swiss, is a very determined woman. She dug deep and found enough to pick up the pace and grabbed my hand as we approached the finish line to cross in…. 3’59”25. Brilliant!

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After the last post things went from bad to worse with the scaphoid break…

On my second appointment at the fracture clinic I saw a different doctor from the one who initially diagnosed a broken scaphoid. This doctor confirmed the break but was also concerned by a large gap between the scaphoid and lunate. I thought that I would be there for a simple check-up, but this doctor had other ideas. He pulled a few strings and before I knew it I was being prepped for a MRI scan. That is quite an experience which involves a canula in the arm and (in my case) laying face-down with one arm – the broken one – extended out in front of me, Superman style, without moving for 25 minutes while all around is banging and whirring.

The MRI confirmed… nothing new. It showed the break in the scaphoid and the gap between the scaphoid and the lunate, but couldn’t confirm whether or not the ligament that is supposed to hold the scaphoid and lunate together had snapped. Luckily a wrist and hand expert was in the hospital and she was able to come and take a look. She talked to me and explained that she would like to operate, which would allow her to check the ligament and ‘while in there’ put a screw through the scaphoid to fix it in place once and for all. That was on the Wednesday – surgery was scheduled for two days later!

I’ve had a few operations in my time, most notably to insert a metal plate in my ankle which I broke playing rugby at university 15 years ago. However I’ve never really been in charge of the process – my parents have always been involved. This time I had to deal with all the paperwork, etc myself. Thankfully the Swiss was on-hand to come and collect me from the hospital and guide me into a taxi to take me home – I had the operation at lunchtime and I was ready to be collected by 5pm.

I spent the next week at home in quite a bit of discomfort. The great news was that upon opening me up the doctor discovered that the ligament was intact and so she simply screwed the two halves of the scaphoid together and sewed me up. However I was in a lot of pain and my forearm was wrapped up in at least 3 kilograms of plaster and bandages, as thick as my thigh. For that week I was completely unable to get my arm into a sleeve so I sat at home, rendered dozy by the codine I’d been given for pain relief and watched DVDs or surfed the web.

After a week I returned to hospital and to my immense relief all was well. The doctor said that the wound was healing well and I could just wear a brace on my wrist. The bad news – no cycling or swimming for the foreseeable future (several months probably). The good news – New York marathon was possible, but I had lost a lot of training in the three weeks leading up to and following the operation

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The news from the appointment with the fracture clinic was not good – I have a clean break through the scaphoid and the treatment consists of a plaster from mid-forearm to the knuckle and along the thumb for 9 weeks… NINE WEEKS! Shitbags. And only after 9 weeks will the doctors know whether I’ll then require an operation…

I keep reminding myself that things could have been much, much worse, but the idea of running the New York marathon in a cast is not pleasant and training has come to a complete standstill – nothing for 7 days now. [Remember, it could have been much worse….]

I am planning on doing some turbo sessions at home to keep the legs turning over and I will certainly go for a run in the next few days, but I suspect that just finishing the marathon will be a challenge – sub-3hrs must be out of the question.

This whole incident has made me realise how debilitating it is to be injured… I can’t imagine how it must be to be really injured. I have a friend who broke his neck and is now confined to a wheelchair, which makes a broken scaphoid pale in significance. Actually that sort of thing makes me realise that I just need to HTFU. [Remember, it could have been much worse….]

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… ‘Be prepared’ was the Scouts’ moto when I was a lad and clearly I wouldn’t make a very good Scout now – I thought I had prepared for all the things that could (and probably would) go wrong in the lead up to the New York marathon; vitamin C and anti-bacterial handwash to ward away colds – check; ice-packs and stretching programme to deal with over-use injuries – check; trainers and kit well worn-in to avoid blisters and chaffing – check.

Then I fell off my bike and broke a bone in my wrist. Bollocks!

This happened last Wednesday. Five days after I fractured the scaphoid bone in my left wrist and the pain is still pretty distracting but I have pushed my luck and managed to bully my way to an appointment with a fracture specialist tomorrow which I hope will mean that I can get back to training (my brilliant idea is audiobooks and treadmill sessions)

At the moment I have not worked out what impact this will have on my race in New York. Part of me says that I should be able to nail a sub-3 hr time for the 26.2 miles despite the fact that training has stopped for a week provided I get some running done in the next few weeks. Based on the fact that one of my club mates has not done any real training for 8 months and ran 03:28 in a recent marathon gives me hope. However in the same race another club mate, and one I have trained with on average a couple of times a week for the last year, posted a 01:28 for the first half and then stopped at mile 18 and DNF’ed… which makes me worry!

In reality I know that what I need to do is see the specialist tomorrow and see what they have to say… then I can readjust my target for New York accordingly. I’ll update here once I know!

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