If you don’t know much about one of the most unlikely marathon champions, read this article about Yuki Kawauchi, the elite runner who acts like he’s a middle-of-the-pack racer. I generally don’t root for any particular runner, but I may start rooting for this guy.
In case you missed it, running history was made this past Sunday in Berlin when Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to run a sub-2:02 marathon, posting an amazing 2:01:39 finishing time. He beat the old record by an astonishing 78 seconds. Kipchoge was the 2016 Olympic marathon gold medalist. This was the Kenyan runner’s 10th marathon victory, and now he leaves spectators and fans wondering if he’ll be the man to break the fabled 2-hour marathon barrier.
Iceland is hot, so to speak. Since 2012, annual tourism has increased by more than 200%. It seems that almost everyone I’ve met either has gone there, is about to go, or wants to go.
This past month, I joined the ranks of the Iceland-experienced. And, of course, a marathon was involved – the Islandsbanka Reykjavik Marathon.
I arrived earlier in the week with my son for a bonding vacation. English is widely spoken in Iceland, which was a great thing, since the Icelandic is difficult for outsiders to read or speak. To me, the typical Icelandic word looks like a hand in the game Scrabble. But at least one Icelandic phrase was easy to remember: takk feyrir, which means “thanks very much.”
We first set off on the Golden Loop to see the country’s most popular sights. First up was the only spot on earth where the rift between tectonic plates can be seen, followed by geysers, a collapsed volcanic cone, and an amazing waterfall. The next day’s trip brought us to a tall waterfall that we were able to walk behind, and a hike on a glacier. All around us were jagged volcanic peaks and cliffs, green flatland, and endless water.
Reykjavik itself is the largest city in Iceland, but it’s also the smallest capitol city in Europe. It’s incredibly clean, and boasts of a great number of museums. One of its most interesting features is its total reliance on geothermal energy for heating; all of the necessary power to heat the city comes from deep in ground, where lava is closer to the surface than at nearly any other spot on earth.
After exploring Reykjavik and its environs, it was finally time for the race. Temperatures are usually in the mid-40s to mid-50s in late summer, and race day started cool but warmed up nicely, with plenty of sun and only modest winds. There were approximately 1,400 runners in the marathon, and spirits were high when the race director sent us on our way.
The marathon is one of five different races offered that day, with other distances being a half marathon, a 10K, a 3k, and a 600M fun run. All the courses were mostly flat, with only small rolling hills to break up the monotony.
The marathon and half started out together, looping through a residential area and passing the downtown waterfront, where it visited some of the city’s most iconic sights, including the beautiful modernist Harpa Concert Hall, and the Sun Voyager steel sculpture of a Viking ship.
After the marathon course split from the half, we continued on a bike path past a small waterfall and some beautiful woodland. Powerade and water were usually available every two kilometers, but if any runners were planning to use energy gels, they had better have brought their own, because none were given out on the course.
We continued on to the Grotta area, which is a protected birdlife area guarded over by a tall, white lighthouse, one of the most famous in Iceland. And then it was a dash to the finish, where music and cheers greeted the returning heroes. Race day coincided with a cultural celebration, which ushered in the start of Iceland’s art season, so the party continued past the finish line and into the evening.
There is so much to like about this race that it’s hard to know where to start. It was one of the loveliest and fastest courses I’ve yet seen, and while runners aren’t pampered like they often are in the U.S., the race was very competently and professionally run. In the end, all I could say was takk feyrir, Iceland!
- Don’t Be A Hard Hitter. Run quietly to lower risk of injury. Excessive impact is the number one cause of injury
- Don’t Be A Bouncer. Avoid excessive vertical displacement by maintaining adequate quad strength and avoiding “prancing.”
- Don’t Be A Side-Swinger. Swing your arms smoothly from your shoulders, with elbows bent and your body still.
- Don’t Throw Your Hips Around. Strengthen your gluteus medius to avoid excessive lateral displacement, which can put stress on your IT band and cause hip and knee problems.
- Don’t Over-Do It. Running too much, too soon, too fast leads to injury.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the Delaware Running Festival, which provides runners with the increasingly available option of running in more than one race in a single weekend. The fun began on Saturday night with a 5k that started and finished at the same spot as the marathon, which made it perfect for shaking out my legs and to do a run through of the logistics of getting to the race start/finish line. The 5K was an out and back along the beautiful and historic Delaware Riverfront, covering some of the same ground as the next day’s half and full marathon. It was hard not to get swept up in the enthusiasm, and I might have run a bit harder than I planned to, but the post-race pizza helped get my marathon preparations back on track.
Temperatures dropped overnight, and half and full marathoners were met by cool but dry conditions at race time. The course retraced the 5K and then looped out towards beautiful parkland along Brandywine Creek. From there we faced a challenging climb that covered most of two miles, but were rewarded with a tour through the stately slate-roofed Tudor homes of Brandywine Heights, and a quick run down the row houses and restaurants of Wilmington’s Little Italy. While there wasn’t much spectator support, aid stations were stocked with water, Gatorade, and several flavors of sports gel, and the course was well-marked, with plenty of police support.
From Little Italy, we ran downhill from the park to the finish line, where marathoners set off on another loop. Not every racer likes a double-loop course, but I appreciated knowing what to expect, and having the chance to revisit my favorite spots in this small but charming city.
At the finish line festival, were were treated to pizza (again!) and beer, along with protein bars and the usual bananas. For those of you interested in bling, I earned a medal for completing the 5k, another one for finishing the marathon, and then yet another oversized one for being a “Dare Devil” by taking on both challenges – three medals for two races! The race premiums were short sleeved and long sleeved technical shirts by Under Armour, as well as branded beer glasses. But for me, the experience of enjoying a true race weekend on a memorable course was the best part.
For more information, go to http://www.delawaremarathon.org.
Last week I ran the Trail Trashed marathon in Henderson, Nevada. The race proved to be true to its name. The winning time was just under four hours, which tells you something about how difficult it is. My race often felt more like a hike than a run, but while my finishing time was over six hours, I was never bored. It was my 182nd marathon, and it was one of the most beautiful.
The race, which also includes a 50 mile ultra, a half marathon, and a 10K, begins before dawn in Hidden Falls Park. The field of runners was small – under 100 marathoners – but very enthusiastic, with several taking up race director Heidi’s offer to begin with a wild dance at the start line.
The route begins with a double loop in Amargosa that offers great views of the bright lights of Las Vegas in the distance, and of a spectacular blood red sunrise. From there, runners head out to the McCoullough Hills and then a 10 mile lollipop-shaped loop through federal land. Race organizers were prevented by BLM from putting an aid station on this loop, but a well-stocked stop was located right at the entrance/exit. This was the most spectacular part of the course, as runners passed by and through canyons and high desert. Many of us were alone at this point, but that was a wonderful experience, as the course was well-marked and the sense of the vastness of the landscape was unforgettable.
From there there was a short out-and back before the final run to the finish like, where runners were rewarded with a unique wooden finisher’s medal, as well as with pizza and beer.
All in all, a trail run not to be missed!
On March 3d, Roger Bannister passed away. In 1954, he became the first person to run a mile in under 4 minutes, a feat which was instantly recognized as one of the greatest sporting achievements of modern times. Since then, over 1000 athletes have run a sub-4, and the record stands at 3:47, but there is nothing like being the first. It’s hard to imagine what it must have felt like for Bannister – and for the other athletes at that time who were also chasing that goal – to push up against the unknown. There were doctors who insisted that the human body was not meant to push that hard, and that anyone attempting that feat would have their heart explode. Still, to borrow a modern phrase, he persisted.
These days, it’s easy to be jaded about all athletic records. Every time we hear about a new standard being set, we brace for a new round of revelations of doping. But let’s try to suspend out cynicism for a moment and imagine what it was like then to chase this magical goal, to, as Jack London wrote, “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of run.” Just for the sheer joy and challenge of it.
For many of us, Roger Bannister represented more than the attainment of a new record. He represented that striving and almost childlike disregard for caution. He ran the sub-4 because no one convinced him that he couldn’t. We could all use a little of that attitude in our lives. He will be missed.