Category Archives: Opinion

2020 Olympics could propel Japanese to marathon greatness

tokyo2020

A long time popular, Japanese marathon running is now in the midst of a golden age in terms of global competitiveness. The announcement this week that Tokyo was selected as the host city for the 2020 Olympics may see the nation of Ekiden and corporate runners challenge for global dominance.

Japan was extremely consistent in the marathons at the recent IAAF World Championships in Moscow. The Japanese men, although slightly disappointed not to win a medal, had four finishers in the top 20 with the best place fifth. The women also stayed very competitive, finishing third and fourth.

These results come on top of the fact that seven Japanese men have run under 2:10:00 this year alone and 11 women are listed in the fastest 80 marathon times so far this year, all under 2:28:00. There is depth there and although the top Japanese still remain a few minutes of the elites of Africa, the Olympic announcement may be the push they need to bridge that gap.

Studies have shown that hosting an Olympic Games has a significant increase on winning medals. There is a moderate increase in medal numbers for the Games preceeding, in this case Rio de Janeiro, but the real pay day comes when a country hosts the Games, winning 1.5 times the number of medals compared to the Games before or after, both of which are higher than the average medal tally.

Percentage of medals won at host city Games compared to two games pre and post. Source: Plus Magazine

Percentage of medals won at host city Games compared to two games pre and post. Source: Plus Magazine

If this statistic holds true for Tokyo, the marathon will likely be one of the events the Japanese will target to pick up medals. They surely have a good platform from which to launch. If nothing else, the passion and understanding of marathon running that is part of the Japanese psyche and culture will ensure that marathon in 2020 may be the memorable moment from those Olympic Games.

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IAAF World Championships preview

moscowlogoWe’re one week out from the opening of the 2013 IAAF World Championships and the eyes of the athletics world are set to descend upon Moscow.

It’s a big ask to follow up the success and highlights of the 2012 London Olympics, but someone has to do it and Moscow outbid Barcelona and Brisbane for the opportunity. So what does it have in st ore from a marathon perspective? Well let’s just say the vibe so far isn’t exactly great…

We’ll begin with one thing we know – the course. The route will start and finish in the centrepiece of the championships, the Luzhniki Stadium, with the first 600m and final 300m run on the track at the stadium. The distance in between is run through central Moscow, along the banks of the Moskva River. It is essentially four laps from Luzhniki Stadium up to the Kremlin and back, although the first lap is shorter with a turn at 6.25km while the other three laps are 10km each (5km each way). A course map is pictured below.

The 2013 World Championship marathon course.

The 2013 World Championship marathon course.

While that may sound picturesque, the course has received some criticism with former Kenyan Olympian Kipchoge Keino describing the course to marathon commentator Toni Reavis as ‘a glorified time trial’. Keino goes on to say  a ‘5K up and down the Moscow River six times, and this is the best you can do for the sport?   There are no real hills or turns to use to try to escape the competition.  They just compress 42 kilometers into a four mile area so they can pack the crowds and make them look big’.

The timing of the event has also raised eyebrows, with the women’s marathon starting at 2pm local time and the men’s event at 3.30pm. The current long range forecast has the temperature for the two races sitting at 31C/88F and 30C/86F. By starting at this time it is likely the races will be at the hottest parts of the day. This is certainly going to take a toll on the runners. It has been speculated that the reason for the time is to satisfy the Japanese TV rights holders whose sole interest in the event is the two marathon races.

In terms of actual athletes who are running, there are a number of big names missing in both events. Although we are still awaiting a complete list of entrants for the two events, the short priced men’s favourite in my eyes would have to be a battle out of Olympic gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich and London 2013 winner, Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede (2:04:38), however Ethiopia has three other runners also with PB’s under 2:05. The Kenyans are led by Bernard Koech (2:04:53) who has run the fastest half-marathon in the world this year, and teamed up with Michael Kipyego, Bernard Kipyego, Nichola Kipkemboi, and my favourite of the Kenyans, Paris Marathon winner Peter Some.

The Kenyans have stated that they will need to run as a team and have a very tactical race if they are to challenge the Ethipioans and retain the title won by Abel Kirui in 2011.

On the women’s side it is again the Ethiopians that look strongest, led by Boston marathon winner Lelisa Desisa, although defending champion, Kenyan Edna Kiplagat is racing and will be in the mix to defend her title.

Given the headline news major marathons have had lately with Boston and New York, I think we all just want the racing to start and let a new legend of the sport emerge.

Who is your pick for the word titles?

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Fast runner, slow learner

So my running pace and race times have been off the charts in recent times, having recorded three PB’s over 5km, half marathon and 30km in the last three weeks. It seems though as my times improve I still make rookie mistakes!

My latest effort occurred yesterday on way to completing a 30km race.

On the way to a PB in a 30km race, a week after my half marathon PB and three weeks before my next marathon.

On the way to a PB in a 30km race, a week after my half marathon PB and three weeks before my next marathon.

My running form was good, my nutrition was good, I stretched afterwards, I was a text book runner. Except for this:

 

Chafing. Ouch.

Chafing. Ouch.

I forgot to apply any Body Glide or equivalent anti-chafe cream before my run. Today, the day after my race, although my legs are a bit sore, the most pain goes to under my right armpit. It’s an impressive wound but one I would rather not have and could easily avoid. Certainly no applying deodorant today, but certainly a good reminder to apply anti-chafe before my marathon!

At least yesterday I managed to avoid the most horrid of male marathon injuries – the bloody red streaks down the front of the shirt from when friction battles a nipple and wins.

I wondered why people were looking at me funny...

I wondered why people were looking at me funny…

This one is of me after a 20km training run in freezing weather, wind, rain, hail and I think even snow at points. I was on holiday and got back to the hotel and asked for my room key and wondered why the hotel employee was looking at me weird. It was only when I turned around and saw myself in a mirror that I realised why!

It seems that as I get faster I am still a slow learner on simple precautions to avoidable issues. What war stories do you have?

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Will Prince George run a marathon?

The modern marathon distance was set in 1908, to start at Windsor Castle and finish in front of the Royal Box at the Olympic Stadium.

The modern marathon distance was set in 1908, to start at Windsor Castle and finish in front of the Royal Box at the Olympic Stadium.

So it feels as though the entire world is caught up in Royal Baby fever following the birth of the new British prince, George, to William and Kate. But what are the odds that he’ll ever run a marathon?

Well if past form is any prediction the odds aren’t as good as you’d expect.

The marathon has a close affinity to the Royal family historically, as it was at the 1908 London Olympics that the modern day length of 26.2 miles was set so that the monarch was able to have the race start at Windsor Castle and finish in front of the Royal Box at the Olympic Stadium.

Despite the fact that we have them to blame for making us run further (the Olympic marathon prior to 1908 was 25 miles) you might be surprised to hear only one royal has ever competed in a marathon – and it was a princess only three years ago!

Despite finishing in 5 hours, 15 minutes and 57 seconds, Princess Beatrice managed to set a world record when she took part in the 2010 Virgin London Marathon. Her finish came as part of a 34 person ‘human caterpillar’ and set the Guinness World Record for the m0st number of marathon runners tied together.

That said, the chances still remain slim for George. Despite his Great Grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II having ruled for 60 years and having had the London Marathon run past her palace each of those years, it is reported that she has never once actually seen any of the race. Maybe we should send a pair of little running shoes to encourage him on his way…

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Bursa-ting my bubble

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo after a few months of consistent, injury free training fate finally caught up with me over the weekend in the strangest of ways and the result is a mild case of bursitis.

All was going well, I’d put in a solid 10 mile run on Saturday morning with five at tempo. After some ongoing work on our house renovation I had taken my 18 month old daughter to her swimming lesson. I was in the pool with her when somehow, I’m still not quite sure exactly how, I managed to bang my left knee on the bottom of the pool. Later that day it had bruised up but I was pain free and didn’t really think any more of it.

Come Monday morning I woke up early and put in an easy five miler with no dramas. Then I stretched and showered and the pain in my knee began. As the day progressed it worsened and my knee was visibily swollen. It was painful to walk or stand on it. I was getting sad.

A visit to my friendly physio yesterday confirmed that there was indeed an injury, although hopefully not to serious. His diagnosis was an inflamed bursa, or patella bursitis, with inflammation at the front of the knee cap. No running for a week. Boo.

KneeUltrasoundThe main treatment seems to be rest, but maintaining movement in the joint, regular icing and some oral ibuprofen to help decrease the inflammation. In some cases if there is fluid on the joint it can be drained or if pain still persists a cortisone injection can be administered, but it doesn’t look necessary for me at this stage. While at the physio I had some light ultrasound applied which apparently can help in some cases – hopefully me!

Bursitis can affect any joint in the body but is commonly experienced in the knee, elbow, shoulder, fingers or hip. The injury itself is actually the swelling and irritation of a bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between a muscles, tendons, and joints. The inflammation can be caused by overuse or by trauma.

Once the initial treatment is effective and pain and symptoms are reduced then patients are able to start on strengthening exercises to minimise the chance of recurrence.

Have you suffered bursitis before? Any tips or tricks to speed up treatment?

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Book review: The Secret Race

secret-raceIt might seem strange to review what is largely a book about cycling by a cyclist on a marathon running website. However Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race is much more than a book just about cycling – it is a book about EPO, steroids and blood doping in professional sport and how athletes outsmart the testers.

While there have been very few cases of marathon runners testing positive for drugs, it would be naive to think that the sport is entirely pure. A read of The Secret Race details how Hamilton, and his more famous teammate Lance Armstrong, beat the system and used the best doctors to ensure their doping techniques remained undetectable.

From the cloak and dagger of secret phones through to modifying the choice, dose and administration method of drugs, Hamilton shows how largely the entire peloton was using some sort of illegal boost to improve their performance. Athletes knew their red blood counts and hematacrit levels better than you or I probably know our weight, they owned their own centrifuges to do blood tests and banked their own enhanced blood to be transfused back into their veins in the midst of a Grand Tour race.

The book is refreshing in the openness that it describes how the process occurred and the attitude of the athletes involved. It also reveals the naivety or purposeful ignorance of the professional body to address the issue of doping within the sport.

The IAAF undoubtedly has a better reputation on the matter of drugs than UCI, however for anyone interested in the life of a professional athlete I can highly recommend The Secret Race.

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Would you rather race too far or too short?

tape-measure1Surely one of the biggest gripes race directors must have regarding the growth of technology in running is everyone who complains that a race route was too short or too long because it measured that way on their GPS watch!

Bearing in mind the standard response that your GPS watch will never measure the exact route distance due to a number of factors including that you probably will not be running the most direct route and the allowance for margin of error in the devices, a quick search online indicates that there are indeed many times where races have been measured too short or too long.

The 2012 Vienna Indoor Marathon measured 1.8km short

The 2012 Vienna Indoor Marathon measured 1.8km short

The most recent example is the Vienna Indoor Marathon held in Austria on 16 December this year where promoters has advertised the race as perfect for setting a PB due to ‘zero incline or descent, no wind and a constant temperature of 15 degrees Celsius’. All good factors to help set a marathon PB, but not as helpful as the fact the course was 1.8 kilometres short!

There are a list of other examples all around the world of courses been too short or too long; the 2005 Lakeshore Marathon, the 2010 Cardiff Half Marathon and the 2012 Hull Marathon, Whistler Half Marathon and Huntly Half Marathon.

Debate still occurs about the 1954 Empire Games (now Commonwealth Games) held in Vancouver where English marathoner Jim Peters entered the stadium some three miles ahead of his closest competitor. He collapsed upon entering the stadium and took 15 minutes to go just 200 yards and story has it he fell numerous times before collapsing over the believed finish line and into the arms of his trainer – however it was the wrong finish line, used for track events, while the marathon line was further on. He was disqualified for receiving outside assistance. There is still a belief by some that the actual course was measured too long.

This all raises the question – would you rather have your race measured too far or too short?

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Christmas gift! ASICS Kayano 18

Santa (and my wife) was very kind to me and got me a new pair of shoes for Christmas – the ASIC Kayano 18’s in silver and fluoro yellow!

    ASICS Kayano 18: fluoro yellow and silver and wrapped nicely under my Christmas tree!

ASICS Kayano 18: fluoro yellow and silver and wrapped nicely under my Christmas tree!

I used to be a Kayano wearer years ago but had changed to the cheaper and, I think for a time, better shoe in the GT series (2130, 50 and 70). However as I’m not a major pronator I’m probably more suited to the Kayano from a form perspective.

I’d had my eye on  the Kayano’s throughout the years and found them not to work for me as much as my originals which I think were a Kayano 8. I’d tried the 14 and found it heavy and constrictive but my wife had seen me looking at the 18’s a while ago and picked them up at for a good price and got them for me without me having tried them on.

This is always a brave move in buying shoes, especially ones that you are going to grow to love over months and hundreds of kilometres of sweat, tears and joy. I am delighted to say that the move paid off very handsomely. I’ve run in the Kayano 18’s twice since opening them and found them to be comfortable out of the box – no need to run them in so to speak.

I’m not going to go into all the details of the weight and foot drop as there are much more technically qualified people doing reviews like that online, however I can certainly say that they felt noticeably lighter than previous Kayano models and were a big plus on the comfort factor. This may be due to the fact that the 18 model was more tailored for a neutral runner as opposed to the more recent models, however I found they still offered a comforting level of support.

My one criticism of them was that one of my runs was done on a warm day with a temperature of 30 C/86 F and by the end of an hour long run my feet were pretty toasty. On my second run with a temperature of 21 C/ 70 F I ran for the same time and had no such issues but will certainly be keeping an eye on it.

mens-asics-kayano-18-yellowgrey-1And anyone who watched the London Olympics would know that to be considered a serious runner this year it appeared as though you had to have fluoro shoes – the bright yellow laces of the Kayano 18’s does not disappoint while also not been overbearing. I’m far from the fastest runner and don’t want to draw too much attention to myself and I felt that these shoes found that balance between fashion, function and over the top flair.

I know that the Kayano 19’s are now available but if you are after a cheap pair of reliable shoes consider the older model if you can get it for a good price.

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Marathon = death? Call me a sceptic

All my time running I’ve loved the way that it’s made me feel, made my body look (well except for when a little too undernourished!) and the good that I know it is doing for my health.

I’ve also had to deal with the comments from friends and family on how it’s bad for my knees, will wear out my heart and the tales of people who die whilst running. The recent example is two people who died last week in the Guangzhou Marathon in China, one of which was running a 5 kilometre event, while there was major international coverage after the death of 30 year old Claire Squires in this year’s London Marathon.

Well that debate looks like not disappearing any time with the publication of a report and subsequent article in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph about the health risks of marathoning.

The article, titled ‘Too many marathons can kill, warn doctors’ essentially claims that too much sustained exercise can lead to “overstretching of the organ’s chambers, thickening of its walls, changes to electrical signalling, accelerated aging in the heart, diastolic ventricular dysfunction and large-artery wall stiffening”.

30yo Claire Squires died in the 2012 London Marathon. It was later revealed she had an irregular heartbeat.

To me this is ridiculous. The claim is essentially that there is more damage to the heart by running than there is listed by the Heart Foundation on how smoking damages the heart. There is also more damage done to the heart by running than by being obese. This really, really scares me as I reckon people will use this as an excuse to not exercise.

I’m not saying that the science is fraudulent. I do reckon though that the sample they are looking at is miniscule and similarly the number of people who die each year running a marathon as a percentage of entrants is tiny.  I could just easily scan the entrants list of an Ironman or marathon race and find people racing well into their 80’s.

Just like everything in life, training for marathons and running needs to be done in moderation, but there needs to be caution in over exaggerating the risks to the masses of something that is relevant to a very small number.

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The solitude of running

I was reading an article online from the UAE-based Khaleej Times called ‘Long-distance runners lap up miles for the love of it’ that analysed why people run, especially marathons, and what sort of personalities are drawn to running marathons.

American sports psychologist Gregory Chertok was attributed in the article as saying ‘long-distance running seems to be appreciated by those who enjoy solitude – or periods of solitude – and are OK with monotony’. During my running life I certainly enjoy the time alone that running brings me, to either gather my thoughts, think through issues or on a really good day think of absolutely nothing at all and just get lost in the run!

It was interesting to note that a 2007 published scientific study (The psychology of the marathoner: Of one mind and many, John Raglin) seemed to contradict this ‘solitude’ approach, claiming that marathoners ‘are generally less introverted than non-athletes and possess more desirable mental health profiles, scoring lower in depression, anxiety and neuroticism, and higher in desirable variables such as emotional stability and psychic vigor’. It was also noted though the act of running marathons is not a cause of these factors, but rather that these personality traits make it more likely for these people to be pre-disposed to an attraction to the challenge of marathons.

I largely run by myself due to the fact that it gives me greater flexibility to run when I can as work or family commitments can make it hard to run only at set times. I know though for a lot people the community and comraderie from a running club is what makes the sport so enjoyable. I do enjoy the times when I get to run with my brother or a friend so can definitely see the appeal of both group running or running alone.

To run a marathon though I think does certainly take an element of selfishness in order to meet the commitment required. I know my personality type using Jung typology is very much more aligned to been an extrovert in certain settings such as work or with friends, but my preferred default personality is to be slightly introverted, not in a shy way, but more that I am comfortable with my own company.

For me, I think my personality certainly plays a part in why I run and the enjoyment that I get from not just racing but also the training and even the analysis of all the associated data such as mileage, heart rates, pace, etc.

Do you prefer to run by yourself or in a group? Do you think your personality attracts you to running?

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