Let’s talk about racing.
Running a marathon, that widely romanticized pursuit, is scary business. Racing 26.2 miles, which is a whole different thing altogether, can be downright nightmare inducing. Peter Bromka’s essay, “9,000 Seconds,” a mile-by-mile chronicle of his recent Boston Marathon experience, captures the essence of racing the distance quite well. Whether you’re a sub-elite chasing a sub-2:30 (as Peter was last Monday) or a mid-packer trying to break 4 hours for the first time, I’m sure the racers reading this can relate to many of the thoughts he shares in his post. My favorite: “But doubt and fear start growing louder and louder,” Bromka writes. “In the middle of a marathon you can be your greatest hater. ‘What am I doing up here?!’ ‘When is this going to fall apart?!’ The pressure can end you if you let it.”
On the topic of racing marathons, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge blitzed the London Marathon this past Sunday to run the second-fastest time ever on a certified course, 2:03:05. He dropped countryman Stanley Biwott with a silly 4:38 25th mile, which you can watch here on YouTube. The smooth-striding Kipchoge—who has a lifetime marathon record of 6-1 and an average of 2:04:01 over those seven finishes—is not only one of the fastest marathoners of all-time (and greatest racers in history, period), but he might have the best poker face too. In defending his London title on Sunday, the 31-year-old didn’t show even the slightest sign of distress until the final two-tenths of a mile. Of course, this begs the unfortunate question, “Is he clean?” I don’t know and speculating on the answer to that question isn’t my objective here. I’ve met and interviewed Eliud on two occasions, and like many of the other top-level Kenyans I’ve encountered over the years, he was soft-spoken, humble and gracious with his time. Kipchoge prides himself on focused hard work, a long, consistent career and insists an athlete can churn out extraordinary performances without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. None of that lets him off the hook, of course, but as Cathal Dennehy* wrote in an excellent profile of Kipchoge last week for Runner’s World, “Now, more than ever, the sport needs those words to be true.”
*Note: Dennehy is the same enthusiastic commentator who made the legendary call of this incredible come-from-behind relay win that has gone viral on the interwebs in the last week. Trust me, it’s worth four-and-a-half minutes of your day.
I wear a lot of different hats in the world of running but above all I’m a fan of the sport. It doesn’t matter to me if a race is taking place on a track, road or trail, whether the competition lasts less than 2 minutes or over 24 hours, I love it. All of it. Why? Racing is perhaps the most primitive form of competition in existence and there’s a beauty and drama inherent in it that’s hard to put into words. There’s nothing I love more than watching a racer give everything they’ve got from gun to tape until there’s nothing left in the tank. Two of my current favorites in this regard are Japanese marathoner Yuki Kawauchi, who won the Zurich Marathon on Sunday in 2:12:04 and American ultrarunner Zach Miller, who dominated the Maderia Island Ultra Trail in Portugal on Saturday. Check out the intensity on both Yuki and Zach’s faces as they cross their respective finish lines this past weekend. That’s what it’s all about right there.