Don’t let yourself forget how much you love it!

So I’ve not run much in the last three and half years. I used to run a lot – my friends thought of me as a ‘running guy’, and would ask me how my training was going, or when my next race was. I used to say “I run marathons”, I’ve had to downgrade that to “I used to run marathons” or “I’ve run marathons”.

I loved running and I still do. The simple answer as to why I stopped is that my life got in the way, one way or another.

Since 2011 I’ve had three serious physical issues that have affected my running; shin splints, a torn achilles tendon and mono (glandular fever). Two of these are running related, one completely unrelated, but all three caused me to completely stop running for a number of months, then start back up from scratch or thereabouts. I’ve also suffered with depression and anxiety – whilst not being able to run was not the only contributing factor, a ‘Catch-22’ situation arose where not running made me feel bad, and feeling bad made me not want to run.

In addition to my physical and mental health problems, I’ve had a busy few years. My wife and I have moved house four times in the last three years, twice internationally and only once staying in the same city. This has also meant I’ve changed jobs three times. We also DIYd our own wedding and are now renovating a house. I’m not complaining, all of these changes have been positive in moving us in the direction we want to go, but it’s been a lot.

Even when I’ve been healthy, energetic and motivated to run, there has not always been time. I can’t plan my day around fitting a run in like I did when I was a twentysomething bachelor. Having said that, exercising makes me more energetic, positive and productive, and generally a healthier person. It’s quite likely that taking thirty minutes out of my morning to run will make my afternoon more productive.

I still get days when I feel a twinge in my heel, an ache in my shins, or feel sapped of energy physically or emotionally. At best I’m running a tenth of what I used to (along with some cycling), but at least I’m running. At least I can still run – and the months of lay-offs have taught me that I owe it to myself to get out there.

I love to run and I need to exercise to be my better self. So no matter what’s going on in your life, make time to do the things you love – you’ll never look back and wish you hadn’t.

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Up and Running Again

I’ve not blogged for a while, and the reason for that is simply that I haven’t run much for the last two years. Since my shin splints back in spring 2011, I tore my left achilles the following year, an injury which I only really got past this summer. I’ve also been pretty busy in the real world; I got married and bought a house this year. Running has been pretty low on the list of priorities.

I’ve been cycling a fair bit, to and from work and for fun and fitness, but it doesn’t quite scratch the itch. It’s nice to feel the wind in your hair, moving under your own steam, but although you can go further than if you were running, it takes a lot more of it to keep you in shape.

After several abortive attempts to get going again, I put my running on hold a year ago, vowing to get back into it after marrying my wife in April. For my birthday I got new running shoes from my parents and a session with a conditioning coach at the local gym from my wife.

It was June before I was able to take advantage of these gifts. But I duly went for my training session with Andrew from InformFitness, unsurprised that my hamstrings were diagnosed as tight, but rather ashamed of my lack of muscular strength. It seems like the body manages to hold fitness for a month or two even if you don’t train, keeping the fitness more or less where you left it just in case you come back. But beyond that, it drops off like a base jumper. “Don’t need to run anymore” your body is more than likely pleased to assume, followed closely by: “slash leg strength and aerobic capacity, start laying fat around the midriff”.

Andrew gave me a routine to practice, to strengthen the muscles I would need to build before hitting the road again, which I started doing twice a week. After six weeks of building muscle strength and rehabbing my achilles, I was ready to run. I was determined to come back to running with a forefoot strike. I’m convinced this is more efficient, but it means slower progress as your calves have to do more work. My initial sessions were walk-runs of 3 miles – I was back to being a complete beginner.

Around August I was able to run 3 miles constantly. I had no idea what pace I was doing, and I didn’t care, I was running again. Two years earlier I had run a marathon in under 3 hours, after my layoff those 3 miles felt as much of an achievement.

Once I was able to run 3 miles twice a week, I started doing hills. Running up hills is probably the best thing you can do to get fit, as you are made to run hard without actually going that fast (where you risk overstretching yourself.) I started with a 50m uphill run, walking back, building from 2 reps, increasing by 2 per week for six weeks. Six weeks is a good time to focus on one type of training, it’s long enough to get real benefits but you won’t plateau or get bored.

For the next six weeks I focused on extending my long run by a mile each week – the leg strength gained from the hills made this feel relatively easy. Once I was able to run six miles at once, I added a third session. So now my training week is a six to ten mile long run, a midweek workout and an easy 3 miler.

It has all gone pretty much without a hitch. I did try running to work once but the extra weight of a backpack seemed to be too much for my achilles and caused a twinge – I won’t be trying that again anytime soon.

I’ve just got back from my midweek hill session, seven efforts of about 250 metres, and I feel great! Six months on from starting again I’m starting to feel like a proper runner again…

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How to pick an Olympic marathon team…

Because it’s such a strenuous event and requires long preparation, marathon runners are usually the first athletes to be selected for a major competition. Other track and field competitors might have to wait until one or two months before the event, but a marathon runner should already be at least halfway through their training by then, and needs to know if they’re going or not!

The International Olympic association sets two time standards (A & B) each for men and for women. For London 2012, these A&B standards are 2:15 and 2:18 for men, 2:37 and 2:45 for women respectively. Each nation may enter up to three athletes. They may enter between one and three ‘A’ athletes but only one ‘B’. In addition, Marathon runners who have finished in the top 20 at last year’s World Championships and top 10 finishers from top city marathons are deemed to have met the ‘A’ standard. Once the athletes have reached these standards, it is completely at the discretion of the country’s Olympic Association who goes to the Olympics. There are several ways this can be decided, ranging from the very simple to the infinitely complicated.

 Selection Race

By far the simplest way to pick a team is, as is done in the US, hold a selection race. This can be an independent race or part of an existing one, and the first 3 eligible athletes across the line get a ticket to the Olympics. Runners don’t necessarily need to run the Olympic qualifying time in the selection race, but do need to run it during the qualifying period (the Olympic year and previous year).  This method of selection is pretty hard to argue with, but it relies on who runs best on the day – there are no second chances or opportunities for appeal. As Marathon trials are generally held early, those who don’t make the team can still try out for the 10000 m.


Some countries pick there runner’s based on their best time during the qualifying period. This can be slightly problematic as not all Marathons are equally difficult.  For example, for the British team, Claire Hallissey, who ran 2:27 in London this year, was selected over Jo Pavey, who ran 2:28 in New York last Autumn. Most people would agree that the difficulty of the course in New York is worth more than one minute over London. Supporting this argument, Pavey placed higher, coming in 9th to Hallissey’s 11th. Similarly, Irish runner Maria McCambridge lost out by mere seconds to her countrywoman Catriona Jennings – however McCambridge ran her time on the cobblestones of Rome, whilst Jennings ran in pancake-flat Rotterdam.

Selection Panel

For countries that are too small to hold selection races, yet want to go on more than just time, a selection panel can select the Athletes. Time and race positions are usually considered, as can any number of factors, including internal loyalties or disputes and influence from sponsors. As you can see below, this can be very contentious, and doesn’t always mean the best athletes get picked.

Kenya – dominant in 2011, but what about 2012?

By far the biggest shock selection came from Kenya last month, which chose to leave the World Record holder, world best time holder and last year’s Marathon Majors champion off the team. To be fair to the selectors, they did have a tough job – they had some 200 athletes who had achieved the qualifying standard to choose from. The selection was narrowed down to a shortlist of six by this spring:

  • Patrick Makau – world record holder (2:03:38) Berlin 2011 winner
  • Wilson Kipsang – 2nd (record-legal) all time (2:03:41) Frankfurt 2011 winner
  • Geoffrey Mutai – fastest all time (2:03:02) Boston and New York 2011 winner
  • Moses Mosop – second fastest all time (2:03:06) Chicago 2011 winner
  • Emanuel Mutai – (2:04:40) London 2011 Winner
  • Abel Kirui – (2:05:04) 2009 and 2011 World Champion

Between them, these men had won all six Major Marathons in 2011, and posted five of the top 10 all-time performances. Any one of them has the potential to win the Olympic marathon, so how do you choose which to send? The Kenyan selectors decided to let the spring 2012 round of marathons decide, all six would be running in Boston, London or Rotterdam. Makau and Geoffrey Mutai dropped out of London and Boston respectively, perhaps under the impression that the deal was already sealed. Kipsang won London in style, while Kirui finished 6th, beating Emanuel Mutai into 7th. Mosop finished third behind two Ethiopians in Rotterdam.

Both Mutais and Makau paid dearly for their bad races, with none of them making the team – something that was almost unthinkable after their strong performances in 2011. To make matters worse (from their point of view), they will be ineligible to compete in the Kenyan Olympic 10000m trials as they haven’t posted times for that distance this year, due to focusing on the marathon. All they can do is start thinking about their autumn marathons, hoping that missing the Olympics will allow them to prepare better.

Ethiopia rises to the occasion…

2012 was undeniably Kenya’s in terms of marathon running, but so far 2012 has belonged to the Ethiopians.  With stellar finishes in Dubai and Rotterdam, Ethiopians occupy 6 of the top 10 times run so far this year. They selected Dubai’s winner, Ayele Abshero, and runner up Dino Sefir. Rotterdam’s winner, Yemane Tsegay, was passed-up in favour of 2nd place man Getu Feleke as having run in Dubai as well, he might struggle to be fit to run a third marathon this year.

This means that two big Ethiopian names are missing: Haile Gebrselassie and Tsegay Kebede. Although he has dominated marathon running for the last decade, Gebrselassie has struggled with injury since 2010, and announced he would not run the Olympic marathon after running 2:08 for 4th in Tokyo. he will instead aim to run the Olympic 10000 metres for the fifth time! Kebede is arguably the most consistent marathon runner of recent times, finishing in the top three of his last 10 marathons, all major races.  However, his time in London was two minutes slower than his compatriots in Dubai.

Speed or experience? (a.k.a the Wanjiru effect)

It’s clear that the Kenyan  and Ethiopian selectors are holding nothing sacred, choosing runners with fast, recent times over established, experienced names. The reason for this can be found in the 2008 Olympic race in Beijing, won by the little known Kenyan Samuel Wanjiru. Sammy came from nowhere and went on to dominate marathon running until his untimely death last year. He changed the way marathons are run, going fast from the gun, surging until no one could stay with him, but he also changed the way marathon teams are selected – because everyone wants to find the next Wanjiru.

Not everyone agrees with this “beauty before age” policy. In an interview with Runner’s World, American Olympic Trials Marathon winner Shalane Flanagan said it might improve her medal hopes if other countries leave experienced runners at home. Last year’s New York and Rome marathon winner Ethiopian Firehiwot Dado, has been passed up on in favour of rookies who ran fast times in Dubai.  Flanagan had this to say said: “I don’t think the favorites necessary fare well, and especially people who’ve just ripped out fast times. I don’t think that means anything. I get excited about the fact that this course is going to be hard and it’s going to be really challenging. Yeah, the people who’ve won multiple times and have the experience of just racing, that to me is more dangerous than someone who’s just run fast.”

Whilst the men’s race in Beijing was won by Wanjiru’s youthful audacity, the women’s race was won by one of the most experienced women in the game, Romania’s Constantina Dita. At the age of 38, running in her 10th marathon, she coolly took the lead early and held on to it. Paula Radcliffe will be hoping to emulate her success, now at that same age. The most experienced men in the field will be America’s Meb Keflezighi, and Morrocco’s Jaouad Gharib. Each of them has an Olympic Silver medal and a decade of world class marathon running experience, having run more than 30 marathons between them.

Who’s your money on?

A month ago I would have put my money on Geoffrey Mutai, yet he’s not even in the race. It seems like while the Kenyans were running there asses off winning everything and setting records in 2011, the Ethiopians were quietly training away to peak for the Olympic year.  Abshero’s performance in Dubai was stunning, but could he turn out to be a one-hit wonder? Maybe he left his best legs on the streets of Dubai? On the Kenyan side, Wilson Kipsang ran super fast in Frankfurt last year, and trounced a world class field in London, so he should be a factor in the race. The women’s race may be more open, but the Kenyan selection of Edna Kiplagat and Mary Keitany is impossible to argue with, as they’ve both performed well in 2011 and 2012.

But if the Olympic marathon has shown us something over the years, it’s that anything is possible, and the favourite rarely goes home with the gold…

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When people think of distance running, they think of many things – energy, adrenaline, pain is probably top of the list. I would say that the single most important thing in distance running is patience.

It’s easy to think that by knocking out a really hard workout you will become a stronger runner, or by running more miles than ever before. But the truth is, running ability will develop best through a long period of consistent training, uninterrupted by injury, apathy or laziness.

I’m not talking about weeks here, or even months, but years.  This is difficult to deal with in today’s society, we’re used to getting anything we want, if not immediately, at least within 48hrs. That is about enough time for one run and recovery cycle, at most two for ordinary people. You might work hard, enjoy it, and feel good, but you’re not going to get in shape from one run.

Running is about the long game, planning where you want to be in 3-5yrs, and slowly working towards that.  Of course, you can run without a long term plan – you just won’t progress as well and may be more likely to get injured. You don’t need to know exactly how you’ll be running in a years’ time, but you should have intentions and ideas.

How to be a patient runner:

  • Never increase your mileage by more than 10% each week.
  • Be sure to back off regularly- take your rest days, have an easy week every so often.
  • Listen to your body – really listen, if something hurts, don’t ignore it.
  • Don’t add more than one extra training day per year, if you ran three times a week last year, don’t run more than four times a week this year.
  • Don’t add more than one new element to your training each year. If you started speedwork this year, wait ’till next year to do plyos.

I know all of this because I am not patient with my running. I was amazed how quickly I developed from a hobby jogger to a serious runner, and I didn’t realise that the first gains are by far the easiest. I started running twice-a-day for my second marathon, not only an insane level of commitment, but alhtough my body could cope with the increase it wasn’t optimum for improvement as I wasn’t giving myself enough recovery time.

I sat out most of last year with shin splints, an incredibly frustrating injury, that left me unable to run at all for six months, and having to return painfully slowly. I was finally coming back from this injury, and I went and injured myself again. I was in a new city, the weather is getting better, and I went further than I should have, over tougher terrain (just how I injured myself almost exactly a year earlier…)

I pulled a tendon in my left ankle – I was unable to walk normally for  2 weeks and unable to run for six. I hope I will learn to follow my own advice in future. I need to be patient with my body. I can’t rush out the door thinking I’m in the shape I was 18 months ago – it will be at least another 18 months before I’m there again.

I’ll just have to be patient and wait for my fitness to catch up with my ambitions.

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The Magic Triangle

I doubt this is what Pink Floyd had in mind, but this is how I picture the triangle in my head! (Wikipedia)

The Magic Triangle: Training, Nutrition and Rest

These are the three core elements that must be kept in balance in order to develop in running (or any other physical ability). In simple terms, the more you run, the more you need to eat, and the more you need to sleep. Finding the right balance is hard, there’s no secret formula, and it’s different for everybody.

It’s a problem that most people in western society today spend more time inactive and eat more calories than they need. But these quantities do not mean their triangle is already balanced. Sitting around and watching TV is not the same rest value as a good night’s sleep. You may be eating enough calories but what about vitamins, minerals and micronutrients? Most people have the spare energy to exercise maybe two hours a week without lifestyle changes. More than that, and you risk diminishing returns if you’re not balancing your rest and nutrition.

If you were to run, then skip a meal and rush off to do something else, you are not going to recover as quickly or develop physically, therefore negating some of the training value of your workout. If you were to get sick or injured as a result of not letting your body recover, you’ve probably negated all the training value of your workout. Sometimes it pays to take it easy!

Resting right

Training for marathons in the past, I’ve found fitting in all the training (ten hours or more on the roads) alongside my work and home-life meant I was burning the candle at both ends. By not getting enough sleep, I was feeling tired throughout the day, not enjoying or performing well on my runs, and not progressing as quickly as I could have. I would have been healthier and fitter if I had trained less and slept more! To stay in good health and not risk injury, you need to take a long-term view and think ‘less today will mean more tomorrow’. Illness or injury risk will always outweigh the possible benefits of pushing yourself too hard.

Rest is important...

Exercise improves most people’s sleep – if you tire yourself out, you should sleep well when the end of the day comes. This isn’t always the case though : hard workouts and overtraining can throw your hormones out of sync, leaving you feeling anxious and restless at bed-time. If you haven’t given your body the opportunity to recover, it will go into overdive when you do finally slow down. Although the right nutrition and adequate post-run rest should help this, it’s not always avoidable. If you don’t take the next few days easy, it’s only going to get worse.

If you’re running more than twice a week, chances are sometimes you have to kick yourself out of the door – you’ll usually feel better afterwards. But if every step of every run is a chore, and you just feel exhausted afterwards, something is not right. You need to take a step back and look at the wider context of your training and lifestyle: it might be better to hold back or take an extra day off.

Many elite athletes take afternoon naps to ensure they’re fitting in their ten hours (yes 10!) a day. When western athletes train in Kenya, they often remark at how ‘lazy’ the Kenyan athletes are in between training sessions: napping, lying on the sofa – doing absolutely nothing. Knowing how to rest properly may well be one of the secrets to their success. Whilst this isn’t practical for most of us, giving yourself a lazy hour or two after running or an early night after a hard session will always aid recovery.

Eating and drinking right

People love simple rules when it comes to our diet; “low fat”, “no carb” or “maple syrup only” are diets we’ve all heard of. If only it were that simple. On the flipside, some people  say: I train hard, so I eat whatever I want, or I’ve just jogged two miles, I’ll reward myself with a donut. As with anything in life, the answer lies somewhere in the middle…

After the Amsterdam Marathon 2010, the waiter warned me I wouldn't manage a pancake AND an omelette. He wasn't counting on my post-marathon appetite - I wish I'd bet him the check!

In determining your needs, you’ve got to keep your goals in mind: the dietary requirements of someone jogging twice a week for weight loss will be different to those of someone training hard for a fast marathon. In either case, what you are eating should not look much different to a normal, healthy balanced diet.

Most of us are already getting enough protein, carbohydrate and fat, but what about other nutrients? If you’re not getting the right quantities of vitamins and minerals, your body can’t generate energy or repair muscle. I’m not suggesting you run out and buy a load of supplements – start with the basics, the fruit and veg. You should be trying to get as many portions of the green stuff in as you can, and rather than quaffing pints of fruit juice, you should aim to max out on un-glamourous veg – particularly leafy greens and root vegetables.

The stereotype is that runners eat nothing but big bowls of pasta. Even though we burn extra carbs from running, there’s no need to focus more on the carbohydrate element of diet than any others. If you’re running for more than 1 hour 30 min, you might need a little extra carb-energy the night before and post-run, but the rest of the time you can stick to your usual carb-protein-veg proportions.

Hydration is also important. Not getting enough fluids after running is the most likely reason you’ll feel rough the next day. Aching is normal, but an overall ‘zonked’ feeling in the following days is probably down to dehydration. There’s a whole world of energy drinks, isotonic sports drinks, low calorie drinks and recovery drinks out there, but water is just fine. Unless you’re running for more than an hour, or training very hard, you should be getting all the vitamins, minerals and energy you need from your food anyway.

A few words on salt: Salt is often seen as a bad guy in our modern diets. High blood pressure is a risk, but much more so in sedentary people than those who exercise. Have you ever tasted sweat? You might be grimacing at the prospect but you probably know it’s salty – sweat contains 1g of salt per litre. If you’ve been exercising, you’ll have been sweating whether you notice it or not, and you need to replace the minerals you’ve lost. Natural sea salt contains a wider range of minerals and has a much better taste than refined table salt  – sprinkle some on your post run meal to replenish your mineral levels.

As for those treats, whether it’s a chocolate éclair or a pint, don’t be too hard on yourself. As long as you’re keeping everything in balance, there’s nothing wrong with a little indulgence – especially if you feel you’ve earned it. Give yourself an objective, then reward yourself for completing it. If you’re too strict with yourself, you’ll come to resent your self-imposed limits, and be more likely to pig out if you’ve had a bad day. Better one candy bar every other day, than nothing for a week then a whole packet in one go!

And of course, training…

Here’s a video of Bob ‘The Wilesthing’ Wiles doing a track workout. In jean shorts. Although he’s having a bit of fun here, in reality he’s a serious runner (1:09 half marathon). Enjoy!

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A Sub-2 hour marathon?

In September Kenyan Patrick Makau set a new marathon world record of 2:03:38 in Berlin. In April compatriot Geoffrey Mutai had run the fastest marathon ever – 2:03:02 in Boston (though not valid as a world record). Last month in Frankfurt another Kenyan, Wilson Kipsang, ran within 3 seconds of Makau’s record. Runs like these are raising questions about man’s potential in the marathon, and whether the two-hour barrier is now within reach.

Patrick Makau shows off his world record time (IAAF)

What do people think?

  • 2011 Boston Runner-up Moses Mosop (yes, yet another Kenyan) ran a 30k track (75 laps!) world record of 1:26:47 (2:02 pace) in Eugene in June.  He predicted he would run a world record in Chicago, but was feeling only 80% on race day and ran just 2:05. More here.
  • Legends Haile Gebrselassie and Paula Radcliffe, along with London Marathon director (and former 10000m WR holder) Dave Bedford have all gone on record saying that the two hour marathon is possible within the next 20-25 years. More here.
  • The late 2008 Olympic Marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru said he was capable of running 2:02, but he was killed in an accident before he could show the world what he was truly capable of. More here.
  • Emanuel Mutai, who won this years London Marathon in 2:04:40, believes that sub 2 hours is possible in the next few years, probably by a Kenyan athlete. More here.
  • Geoffrey Mutai (no relation) ran 2:05:06 to win the New York marathon this month – on a difficult course that is reckoned to be 2-3 minutes slow even for elites. Record holder Makau agrees that Mutai is capable of breaking his record.
  • Paula’s 2:15:25 women’s world record, when ‘converted’ to a comparable men’s time is in the 2:00 range – so hypothetically, if Paula was a guy, she could have had a shot at breaking 2 hrs.
  • Scientists have suggested that a genetically enhanced (or perhaps doped?) athlete could run a 90 minute marathon. That’s equivalent to running at current 800m world record pace. More here.

Paula Radcliffe leading the 2007 NYC Marathon (Wikipedia)

Why has the record dropped?

  • Training methods have improved: science has allowed a more precise approach to training. Rather than trial and error, coaches know what will improve performance and recovery and why. However, it’s interesting to note that Kenya and Ethiopia’s world beaters come from decidedly low-tech backgrounds.
  • Gear: Geb himself cited improvements (particularly weight reduction) in clothing and shoes as helping world record progression.
  • Courses: Races, keen to improve their records and thus world standing, will modify their routes to reduce times. Examples include the diversion away from the cobbles around the Tower of London or the carpeting of the old Willis Avenue Bridge in New York.
  • Pacers: The addition of pacers into fast time-trial courses (such as London, Chicago, Berlin or Rotterdam) has led to a drop in times. Each year several races will be rabbited at a speed that will give a possible world record, and a guaranteed fast winning time.
  • Younger Runners: The marathon used to be the last stage on a track athletes career before retiring, often after the age of 30 as they slowed down. Due to the money in big city marathons, it is now common for Athletes to debut in the marathon in their early twenties, when they will recover quickly.

What is physically required to run a sub 2hr marathon?

4:35 pace. Top elites often put 1-2 mile surges in around this pace to drop the pack in a major marathon, but that’s a lot different to sustaining it for the full distance. Physiologically, there are four main factors which determine how quickly someone can run:

  • VO2 max – the athlete’s body’s maximal rate of oxygen absorption
  • Running efficiency – how little energy the athlete expends whilst running
  • Speed-endurance – what percentage of the athletes VO2 max can be maintained
  • Glycogen management – the body’s ability to store and use carbohydrate energy

Geb ran the first sub-2:04 in 2008 (Wikipedia)

What other factors are at play?

  • Money: Geoffrey Mutai earned an estimated $225,000 for his Boston victory (1st prize and course record bonus) not including his appearance fee and any bonuses from his sponsors which are estimated at a similar figure again. He is also guaranteed invitations and high appearance fees at future races. 2008 women’s Olympic champion Constantina Dita-Tomescu has been invited to the London marathon every year since, despite poor performances.
  • Fame: Guys who break big barriers tend to get much more media attention than subsequent faster runners. Roger Bannister (who ran the first 4 minute mile) is much more famous than, say, Hicham el Guerrouj, the current record holder (outside of his native Morocco/the running community, anyway.)
  • Psychology: There could also be a large psychological barrier that prevents runner’s from breaking a record. When in 1954 Bannister broke the 4 minute mile for the first time, it had been seen as near impossible. Immediately after Bannister made it possible, many others followed. we’ve seen the same trend in sub 2:04 marathons in 2011. It’s interesting to note that during this year’s superfast Boston marathon, the front runners didn’t look at their watches. If they had, they might have slowed down, thinking they were over-stretching themselves. In not knowing, they were able to push faster.
  • Fuel: The current world record in the half marathon is 58:23 (4:27 pace), held by Zersanay Tadese of Eritrea. Generally, even an elite runner has a marathon time at least 2.1 times their half-marathon time. So that half marathon world record could in theory equate to around 2:02:30. Interestingly, despite being world record holder and four time world champion in the half marathon, Tadese himself has failed to move up successfully to the marathon. His DNF and 2:12 in his two attempts in London highlight the fueling element that comes into play in the marathon.


The marathon has come a long way in a short space of time, but it still has a long way to go before men are running under 2:00 or 2:02. Young, gutsy runners led by Sammy Wanjiru have made their mark on the marathon, but it is hard to imagine another revolution coming any time soon. I may live to see a 2:02 marathon run, but I doubt I will be around when man breaks 2:00, whenever that may be.

Geoffrey Mutai in NYC:

This slow motion video shows Geoffrey Mutai pulling away from Emmanuel Mutai in the closing stages of the NYC Marathon. This shows his textbook running form – the reason he is the world’s number 1 marathon runner right now.

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Are you built to be a runner?

Me finishing the Amsterdam marathon 2010 in 2:57.

“I’m just not built for running” this is something that I often hear from people as an excuse for why they don’t/can’t run (often after expressing a desire to run, or admiration for runners). I disagree with them almost every time. Here’s why…

Butt what?

Think of two things you’ve got that animals don’t have. A social security number? An Iphone? no – not what I mean. I’m talking about your achilles tendons, and glutei maximi (buttocks). You’re probably thinking they’re among the most useless parts of your body – after all, many people wish that their glutei were a little less maximi, and an achilles heel is a synonym for weakness. However, these two physical adaptations are what make humans the only animals capable of running on two legs (for more than a few seconds, anyway).

The Hunter-Gatherer-Runner

What we lack in terms of speed compared to our four-legged friends, we make up for in endurance. Most animals can run faster than humans, but like sprinters, they tire quickly. When people hunted and gathered to survive, it’s thought they stalked their prey for several hours before attempting to chase it down. In short, humans were made to run long distances.

That was all a long time ago, yes. But humans have existed for some 200 000 years, and they lived as nomadic hunters for the vast majority of that time. Only around 10 000 years ago did people begin cultivating crops and establishing settlements. So physically, despite our best efforts, we’re all still hunter gatherers (perhaps some more than most!)

'Barefoot Caveman' Glen Raines finishes the Boston Marathon. (From, click photo for link.)

All shapes and sizes

We imagine runners as long-legged and lean, with compact, toned muscles – but does that mean you can’t run if you don’t fit the description? What if you’re big framed, muscular or short?

Yes, people come in all shapes and sizes, but that doesn’t necessarily have an impact on running ability. Look at Chris Solinsky – with a muscular build and weighing 160 lbs (72 kg – about 40 lbs/20 kg heavier than the average distance runner) he set an American record at 10 000m. Commentators had suggested he would have to slim down in order to run world-class times, yet he did it all the same. At the other end of the spectrum, former marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie is only 5 ft 3 inches (160 cm) tall, yet has consistently beaten taller (and longer-legged) competitors.

2000 Olympic 10 000m final - Haile (second) stands almost a head shorter than his Kenyan rivals yet triumphed. (Wikipedia)

The further we move away from the world of elite track and field, the less our body shapes matter. You have stumpy legs? You might never make the Olympic team, but you can probably manage a jog around the park!

Case in point: Me

Me back in 2006 - looking rather less like a runner!

My body is not particularly suited to running. I have short-ish stocky legs and big shoulders. I didn’t inherit good running genes: Mum rowed, Dad took a short cut in school cross country and Grampa was a shot-putter. With my stocky build, the only sport I was any good at as a child was swimming, and in my teenage years I did almost no sport at all.

Now, people remark on my marathon runner’s build, or how I look like a natural when I run. (Although I’m sure it’s meant as a compliment, the natural comment grates a little -bearing in mind all the miles I’ve run and exercises I’ve done.) I look like a natural runner because I am one – we all potentially are. This potential will only show itself if we put the work in.


We need to forget the idea that running ability is pre-determined. The bottom line is, if you can walk comfortably, you can run (why not try my routine for beginners?). Whether you want to run or not is another question – but if you don’t, you’ll have to think of a better excuse in future!

The Centenarian Runner:

Still need inspiration? Here’s a video about Fauja Singh, a 100 year old British-Indian man who is looking to set the first Marathon record for the 100+ age category this weekend in Toronto (the oldest ever certified marathon finisher was 98). Having taken up running at 81, he ran 5:40 for the marathon in 2003 (aged 93) – a performance many people in their prime would be happy with!

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