A few (more) minutes with Shannon Rowbury

I interviewed Shannon Rowbury at last year’s Fifth Avenue Mile. This year she was as gracious and candid as she was a year ago. Rowbury was on the comeback trail for virtually all of 2011 after struggling with injuries, which were a central topic in our conversation last year. Rowbury finished seventh in the 2011 edition of the run down Fifth Avenue. She looked a little disappointed coming in, but was all smiles afterwards. Fun fact: my brother-in-law was close friends with Rowbury’s dad when they were little kids. Here’s last year’s interview.

You recently did a commercial for Dick’s Sporting Goods. I know you studied film in graduate school. What was it like for you to perform in front of the camera?
It was really fun, seeing how the professionals do it. I studied film in college and had I not gone the running route I would have tried to get involved in film production. I did some lower level things in college, but to really be a fly on the wall, watching how the pros get it done, was really cool. It gives you an appreciation for how much work goes into a 30 second spot. There was an all-day session with me. They’d been filming for the day or two before. Then they filmed the day afterwards. All of that just to go into a short commercial. Everyone was really friendly and it was cool to talk to them and learn from them. I’d love to be able to do more stuff like that, either on camera or off – both sides were really fun and exciting to me. I always wonder, when I finish with running, what I’ll do with myself. I want to have a family, but I also have too much energy to not have a career. It’s cool to observe something like that and it makes you feel like, “Okay, I’ll find something.”

You seem comfortable when you speak in front of people. Were you also comfortable in front of the camera?
I was. You know, it helps when you’re working with friendly people. They’re positive, they give you corrections, you try to adjust accordingly. Something like running in front of the camera, running is so natural, so it’s pretty easy. With my dance background, figuring out timing wasn’t too bad. I had fun with it. Compared to standing on the starting line at the Olympics or something, I thought, “This is easy, I’m not nervous at all.”

You’re defending two wins here. Do you feel like there’s more pressure on you this year since you’ve won the last two years?
Not too much. I want to win again because I love this race and it’s such a fun way to end the season. I feel like I’m a good road racer and have a good track record with road miles. This year, with all my injuries, I wasn’t sure if I’d even make the world team. To even have been able to race was exciting for me. I was very disappointed with how worlds turned out. But as I try and process everything and take in the bigger picture, I’m just excited and happy to go out and step on the starting line tomorrow, back in the US finally. And try and defend my title, try and get three in a row. It’s a great field of women and I know they’re all competitive. So they’ll all be fighting for it as well. I’m just going to do my best to be the best out there on Saturday.

You’ve always won by doing a last minute surge in the last 20 meters. Is that your strategy again this year?
Well, I don’t want to give anything away. But I think what’s neat about the road mile is that because there’s no turns, it’s not as tactical. You can be literally eight, nine, ten women across and you’re not in any sort of disadvantage. I like that about the race. I’m a tough competitor. I’ll grit it out if I have to and keep myself right in it. In every race, if you can’t hold it together the last 50 meters, you’re not going to do well. And that’s something I’ve sort of struggled with in track races. So I’ll keep working on that. Even though this is the road verses the track, it’s still a great place to practice.

I had a question about 1500 track racing. Oftentimes, when you watch them there’s almost a pattern, where in the third lap there’s this almost perceivable pause during which everyone seems to be gathering themselves for the last lap. Does the equivalent happen in a road mile?
Here it’s interesting because with the road mile it is sort of affected by the terrain. So here we have the first half mile that’s down, then up. Then you hit the half mile mark and you start pretty much going down. I remember my first year racing here, they said over and over again, “Make sure you don’t go too early. You’re going to hit the half mile mark and it’s going to look like you’re finishing. But you’ve still got 800 meters.” So I think it’s different. When you can see the finish line, straight in front of you, I think people get antsy and excited. With the 1500, because it’s laps, it can get almost predictable, because everybody has the same strategy going into it. “Lap one, I do this. Lap two, I do that. Lap three, I prepare. And lap four, I go.” When you’re on the road and you kind of have markers, but it’s harder to tell, it takes a little bit more finesse, maybe. Each person’s going to have a slightly different plan.

Can you comment on how strong and deep the field is this year?
I looked at the starting list and I was pretty impressed by it. In previous years we’ve had some international athletes, but it’s been largely US and Great Britain. This year we’ve got the top US women, the top Brit, a Norwegian athlete, German athletes. We’ve got a bunch of women, which I think is fun. For me, it hasn’t been the best year because I was injured early on but I’m still excited to go out there and race the best in the world, whether it’s on the track or on the road. Just test myself and see how I can do. So I think it’s going to be a really good race out there. We have 5K runners, we have 800m runners, so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. You’re going to have both ends of the spectrum: people who want it to be slow with a kick, and people who want it fast from the gun, and then the milers inbetween, who aren’t really sure what we want. So, yeah, I think it’ll be an exciting race.

Can you talk about your injuries this year? What happened?
I had a series of Achilles injuries. First I hurt my right Achilles in October [2010] and struggled with that for a few months. Right as that was recovering my left Achilles started hurting. I think maybe from overcompensation, I’m not sure. But basically it was 6-8 months of struggling with that. The Achilles is a hard animal to tame because it’s different from other things. My last major injury was in 2007, when I had a stress fracture in my hip, and that I thought was challenging because you’re hip is the main joint of the body. But it’s also protected by a lot of muscles and tendons. So as long as you can be strong in other places, you can kind of get by. With the Achilles, it’s just the Achilles. So if it’s in a bad mood, it dominates everything. So I had to learn patience. I had to learn how to deal with a tendon injury, which was something I’d never had before. And manage my own crazy, wanting to train and feeling like time was slipping by. But you can’t will yourself to be healthy. You have to just give it the time that it needs.

Last year you told that your 2007 injury was ultimately a positive event because it made you reexamine your training. So did you have a different perspective this time around on being an “injured runner”?
Yes, it was different for me this year because in 2007 I was finishing college. I ended up transitioning from my college coach to my new coach. The injury was basically season ending. So I was able to let the expectations that I’d had for that year go and really focus on a long term plan for the next year. This year, I got injured at the beginning of training, so it was easy to be patient early on. But then as things weren’t progressing as quickly as I’d wanted, I was thinking, at first, “Okay, I’ve got eight months.” Then it was, “I’ve got five months.” Then, “Oh, my gosh, I have three months.” And then, “A month  and a half until USAs. What do I do?”

So that was the first experience I’ve ever had trying to train through an injury. It was kind of a gut check moment for me, figuring out why I was doing this, finding new ways to stay motivated. I still think I learned a lot of things. Competing now this past three months, over the summer, without as much of a base – we had to alter training a little bit – I’m proud of myself for still being able to do decently well, given that I missed so much. To be able to even hang in there with the best in the world off of first a month and a half of training and then three months of training. I think it gave me some pride. I was able to learn some stuff about myself when things aren’t going perfectly: what can I get? What are my strengths and weaknesses. I’m hopeful that that’ll inform my training next year and motivate me to be smart but also have that drive to be the best in the world, which I know I can be if things go well.

How do you warm up for a road mile?
My warmup doesn’t really change that much from the track. I’m a really big believer in consistency. So when I’m doing a hard workout on the track, my warmup for that is very similar to my warmup for a race. The difference with a road mile vs. a track race is that I get to run outside. When I’m doing these track races in Europe, it’s usually lap after lap on the infield because you have just the warmup area, which can be kind of boring. But for the road mile, yeah, it’s just a jog. I do my little run, 15-20 minutes. I do form drills, dynamic flexibility, active stretching. Leg swings, that sort of stuff. Strides. It’s pretty basic. I usually start my warmup about an hour beforehand. It’s fun, too, with a road mile, because you kind of get a bit of adrenaline that’s different from the track because the people are right there – it’s so much more up close and personal. So I always love that as well.

A few minutes with Sally Kipyego

Sally Kipyego, 26, originally from Kapsowar, Kenya, established herself as a standout runner at Texas Tech, becoming the first runner to win three consecutive women’s titles in the NCAA Division 1 championships, among other collegiate distinctions. But you probably recognize her more recently as having won Silver in the 10K at Daegu. She’s something of a rarity in that she races well from the 1500 up to the 10K, and seems able to move up or down in distance effortlessly. Kipyego is also beautiful to watch, always running with a relaxed form and an oftentimes almost serene expression.

I’m curious to know why you’re running a mile and what it’s like to go from 10K on the track to a mile on the road.
I love the 1500. I do them, just for speed at the beginning of the year, just to get my legs going. But this is a great race that I’ve known about for a few years now. But I haven’t had a chance to participate. I’ve always thought it was a fantastic race and a great way to end the season. But every year, at the end of the year, I’m exhausted and don’t want to do any more racing at the end of the season. It’s a wonderful way of finishing the season, in New York City, on Fifth Avenue. It’s a really well-known, good meet.

A track 10K is 25 laps. I’ve always wondered, when you race that, do you ever lose count?
No. Well, for 2010 I made a conscious decision to not wear a watch on the track. In 2009 my watch was affecting every race, because all I was doing was looking at my watch on every lap, trying to get the splits. It really took the fun out of running. So I made that decision, not wearing a watch. So now I don’t look at the lap count, I don’t look at my watch and I don’t look at the time. I don’t look at the lap count until probably the last five laps. I just totally zone out and get into a rhythm. At the end of it, maybe around five or six laps to go, I start paying attention because that’s when the race actually begins. In the first 5, 6, 7k, I’m pretty low key and I just need to get into a rhythm.

So you’re finding that you’re racing better without a watch?
Absolutely. It’s made a huge difference. Because I’m not paying attention to the splits now. I’m competing. I compete. I race against people, not a clock. It’s difficult on your mind, when you’re trying to get specific splits. Maybe you’re one second off, but it messes when your mentality. “Oh, I’m off. I’m not running well. Or I’m running too fast.” If you’re just rolling with it, it’s not about the clock. It’s about how you feel. It’s a lot smoother and a lot easier on your mind. At least that’s what I find.

What are you thinking about when you’re zoning out for the first three-quarters of the race?
I go to my happy place. I have a mental picture. When I’m doing my easy runs, I go to a place where it’s really calm and quiet. It’s strange, but I always think of water. A fountain. Or a waterfall. It’s really calm, really quiet. Just breathing. I try to bring that picture to my mind and zone out and get in that place. When I do that I don’t even feel the laps going by. I just get really relaxed and feel really light on my feet. I’m just really calm. And when I’m calm, I do better.

Have you always done this?
No. I read this book about visualization and relaxation to do before races. I started to, for 30 minutes before going to bed, laying there and trying to calm myself down, trying to get a mental picture of a really quiet, calm place. The more I did that, the more I got relaxed. I started doing that in my easy runs. It’s a skill. Why not try it? Give it a shot and see. I found out that when I’m relaxed in a race, I perform so much better than I do when I’m tense. So if I can get into that relaxed state, it’s just easier on my body.

Do you do any other kind of mental training? Do you, for example, simulate races?
I will go through my races ten times, so many times before I run. When I’m getting to a race I’ve got a plan A and I’ll mentally play that in my head many times during my runs. During my long runs I’ll go through a race and think about how that’s going to play out. I guess that’s what you do when you’re doing 80-90 miles a week.

It’s a lot of time to think.
Yeah.

Do you remember the first race that you ever ran?
Yes. I raced in 1999. It was my first time racing in Kenya. It was a district meet. I probably ran some races in school. But that was [the first] proper race, so to speak, where I actually raced against people who were fast. I just ran with them. I didn’t have a goal. I just ran. I got through the finish and thought, “That wasn’t so bad.” I didn’t have a goal, I didn’t have an objective – I was just running.

Do you still race the same way? Or are things more loaded now?
There’s pressure. If it’s your professional career, you’re running for a lot more than running a race. You have sponsors. But I like the purity of running. I think it’s one sport that’s very pure. It comes with that sense of you and the track – it’s just you and the race. I love that.

So you still like running, despite all these new pressures.
I love running. The first day I came out and ran in school, I was so stressed. I wanted to perform well, and put so much pressure on myself. I didn’t enjoy running at that time. Every time I toed the line, it was about something. I either wanted to impress sponsors, or it was something else. But now I’m just so grateful that Nike gave me a chance, that they sponsored me and gave me a chance to do what I love to do, because I know now that I truly love running. This is what I love. I can’t imagine my life without running. I love the purity of it and how it makes me feel. It’s a liberated feeling and I’m grateful that I get the chance and opportunity to do this for a living.

What do you want to do when you can’t run for a living anymore?
I’ll go back to nursing. My heart is still there. Even if I don’t work in a hospital, I’d like to do something related to nursing. I would still love to do something related to health care.

How do you warm up for a road mile?
The mile is quick. 1500’s are pretty quick for me, so I’ll take a little longer to warm up. For a mile I’ll probably warm up more than I would for a 10k. I’ll do a pickup, a two minute pickup that’s a little bit faster than tempo pace. Not quite race pace, but quite high – a fast tempo pace. Just to get my heart going, get my lungs going. Just to get that feeling, where my heart rate is elevated just slightly before a race, then come down. So that when the gun goes off, it doesn’t get me off guard, my body’s ready to go.

It’s funny. Everyone I’ve asked has a slightly different warmup.
I probably do more drills for a mile than I would for a 10k. For that distance you warm up slowly, because you have plenty of time to adjust. But in a road mile, it’s a pretty short event so you have to be ready to go.

Faster and faster, little by little

I’ve gotten faster in the last month or so. This is a fact that cannot be denied.

For one thing, my recovery runs are now anywhere from 8:30-9:30 pace. Usually right around 9:00. I was heretofore running these at 10:00 or slower.

For another, my trips around the track are taking me less time. Two weeks ago I did a workout that consisted of 800s and 200s at high/higher effort. High being a little above tempo. Higher being something a bit short of all out. Splits for that were around 3:25-3:30 for the 800s and 48ish for the 200s. I did one two weeks ago, a 3:13 (I was hopped up on lots of caffeine), that was obviously way too hard. Yesterday I ran all three 800s in 3:13-3:15 at lower effort than last time. The 200s were 39-43. Hmm.

I run better when the humidity’s lower, as has always been the case, but low humidity is no longer a requirement for running fast. At this point, I’m feeling pretty good about my prospects at the Fifth Avenue Mile even if the weather’s hot and/or humid. But if it’s cool/dry weather, I’m feeling more than pretty good.

Next up, a mile road race in Tuckahoe on September 11th. We shall see. We shall see. Wish I knew if the course was accurate.

On another note: Jenny Simpson (nee Barringer) won gold at Worlds today in the 1500 final, in an inspiring sprint from about 120 metres out. She’s the first American woman to win gold in that event since Mary Decker Slaney did way back in 1983. And Morgan Uceny fell down about three minutes into the race, which was upsetting to see.

It’s Lauren Fleshman Appreciation Day!

When I think of the Japanese proverb “Fall down seven times, get up eight” I picture Lauren Fleshman. She gets injured, she slogs through injury recovery, she trains again, she runs fantastic races. Then she gets reinjured and the cycle begins anew. But she never gives up. And she always comes back.

Fleshman has one of the few outstanding elite blogs that I’ve found. Not only is she remarkably candid about her own running, but she generously doles out helpful advice to anyone who asks for it. She’s opinionated and well informed too, and you’ll find interesting, useful posts that run the gamut, from the rabbiting debate, to eating disorders, to building mileage and more.

Fleshman’s self-possessed manner extends to live interviews, as shown in this famous post-race encounter after the 2010 US nationals:

And here’s edited footage of her win over the weekend at Crystal Palace:

Theatre Review: Endure — Run. Woman. Show.

What happens when the race of your life is your life? You get something like Endure: Run. Woman. Show., a 360-degree meditation on marathoning as metaphor. Melanie Jones, the creative force behind this immersive theatre piece, which takes place in Prospect Park and its immediate environs, found me through the miracle of Google and invited me to the premiere yesterday. I’m so glad she did.

Endure is a show in which you’re along for the ride, rather than sitting passively in a theatre seat. Wearing an MP3 player, you start at a nearby playground (after “registering” for the show and pinning on a race bib, which is also your program) and make your way to Prospect Park. Along the way, you’re taken on a sonic journey, with visual cues if you look carefully enough for them, as you make the transition from the workaday sidewalk world of Park Slope to the more timeless and untethered world of the park. Once there, you are quite literally led down the garden path, emerging at the crest of an overlook where, at last, you meet our narrator, Ms. Jones.

We’re at the start of a marathon now, with the cannon about to go off. And, as anyone who’s ever endeavored to train for and race a marathon knows, this is just the beginning, and you never know what’s going to happen over the next 26.2 miles. Marathons are a lot like life in that way.

I won’t give away what happens over the next hour, but I will say that the workout is more sensual and emotional than it is physical. There’s a little bit of running if you want to run, but you don’t have to. There’s a fair amount of walking, some of it quite brisk, but there are also many quiet moments in which you’re simply standing, watching, or, if you’re lucky, playing a small part in the performance.

The narrative is backed by an original soundtrack by Scandinavian composer Christine Owman and it’s a perfect aural backdrop: at times it’s spare and floating, with heavy reverb and overlays that lend it a dreamlike quality; at other times, it’s mournful and exhausted, reflecting the training and life grind that our subject is often trapped in, adhering to cruel deadlines of her own making.

There are dark miles. And there are good miles. And that middle bit is the hardest. It lasts so much longer than you want, or think it should. But time keeps going, so you have to keep going, on the days that you want to and the days that you don’t.

While you don’t have to be a marathoner to connect with this piece, it helps. You will “get” things on a level that others won’t: the strange mix of kinship and bloodthirsty competitiveness we can feel during a race; the sudden obsession with the weather; the math we do as the miles tick by, with OCD-like focus, and how our ability to continue to do that math fails as our glycogen depleted brains struggle through those later miles; how giving into a bodily function as basic as urinating becomes an epic mental struggle when held up against a race goal that threatens to slip away at any moment.

But these details are not what make up the meat of the show, which turns out not really to be about running at all. Instead, Jones presents how the dark side of marathoning — how quickly we can slip from hobbyist to enthusiast to cocktail party freakshow to runner as Carmelite nun — can mirror the darker sides of life. When other parts of our lives veer off the rails, many of us are tempted to look to the marathon as an emotional life raft, something that we can control and that will keep us afloat. What often happens, of course, is that instead, that most unforgiving distance, and all that goes into training for it, only serves to drag us further down under the waves. Rather than helping us to define ourselves through our determination and success, the distance becomes instead, with frightening and undeniable clarity, the embodiment of what we’ve most feared about ourselves all along: that we are failures. Failures at marathoning. Failures at life.

I’ll let you go see the show to see how this race turns out. Along the way you’ll see innovative use of public space, some striking visual metaphors, and a lot of blood. I can guarantee that you won’t be bored. If you run marathons, you’ll find common ground with the author, and if you don’t, you’re still apt to gain some insight about your own life’s journey, whether or not you’re taking it in racing flats.

Endure is brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed. I still can’t believe I got to see this for free.

The show’s running next Saturday, 7/16 (and possibly the following Sunday, 7/23) before Jones takes it on the road to Canada. RSVP here.

We’ll also have Jones on this evening’s New York Running Show podcast if you’d like to tune in at 8pm EST.

Lykkelig løyper, Grete Waitz

[That's "happy trails" in Norwegian, at least according to Google Translate]

What can you say about Grete Waitz? She was not only an inspiring talent, but she was one of running’s greatest ambassadors. There is a huge hole left in the world of running today.

I will keep the bloviations to a minimum. That’ll be easy because I never met Grete. I saw her at the expo for my first marathon, the More Magazine Marathon, 2007 edition. She was standing there with Lynn Jennings, greeting people. I was such a newbie to the sport that I had no idea who Lynn Jennings was. But I knew who Grete was. But I was too shy and awestruck to go over and say hello! Now I kick myself for that. The next time I saw her was in 2008, when she flew by me in the back of the press truck at mile 20 of the New York Marathon, where I was watching from the curb. When I started interviewing elites last year I vowed to try to meet her at the next Norwegian Festival, but I was away during the weekend of those races in October. And so that was that.

Here are some highlights from around the web. Also, I can recommend the movie Run for Your Life, a documentary about Fred Lebow, in which Waitz has a large presence.

Fellow New York Harrier (and fellow runner of Norwegian descent, although his name’s a lot easier to deal with than mine is) Douglas Hegley’s post is worth a read. He had a few chance meetings with Waitz that tell you everything you need to know about the woman. This is the most personal blog post I’ve found about Waitz thus far. But Amy’s is a good runner up, and contains links to other great stories.

Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World has this lovely tribute.

Here’s the IAAF’s remembrance of Ms. Waitz, who, it should be noted, still holds the Norwegian record for the 1500.

Waitz was ambitious and driven, yet humble and generous. Everything a champion should be.

The invisible woman: Desiree Davila’s perfect run in Boston

For once, I called something correctly in a marathon. While I didn’t predict that Desiree Davila would come in second, I did say to Jonathan, right before the gun went off for the women’s race, “I think Davila is going to wipe the floor with Goucher today.”

I will not go into why I thought this, although I think some of it has to do with the way Goucher races marathons, and by that I mean in a way that reflects a narrative that she seems to have internalized, but a narrative that reflects a racing strategy that does not favor beating Africans. Davila, by contrast, was still relatively under the radar going into Boston (despite having run the fourth fastest marathon for an American woman recently) — and, of course, that’s all changed now. But she has not had dramatic expectations foisted upon her. Yet. Let’s hope that now that she’s effectively secured her spot as the top American female marathoner that she keeps her head. Because her head is what got her second place today in a race that I don’t think she could have executed more flawlessly.

So, let’s look at that race (my mile markers are approximate, since there was no mention of them in coverage). In a marathon weekend that saw spectacular performances in both London and Boston, Davila’s run is the one that I cannot stop thinking about. We can learn a lot from it.

Note: Runners’ pre-Boston personal bests are shown in parentheses after the first mention of their names. This should give you a better idea of the calibre of the women Davila was up against in this race.

At the start: Davila (2:26:20) is not even in the front row. Where is she? Hmm.

Mile 1: So much of the women’s race was about Kim Smith (2:25:21). Smith shot out to the front within the first 30 seconds. She was like a woman on fire. I thought she had a shot at winning today anyway, but with this move I believed it even more. So immediately it’s Smith followed by a huge pack. Davila is in the front of that pack, which I will refer to as “the pack.” I notice Davila is being careful to hit the tangents. “Smart girl,” I think to myself. It’s the little things.

Mile 2: Davila is still motoring away in front of the pack, or at least in the first two rows. After Smith, the commentary is still all about Kara Goucher (2:25:53) at this point, as it will be for the next 19 miles.

Mile 3: Smith’s lead is now about 30 seconds. You can’t even see the pack.

Mile 4: Lost to ads and coverage of the wheelchair races.

Mile 5: Now Goucher’s in front of Davila. The pack has now split into two packs. You can just make out Davila hovering between them, just ahead of the trailing, second pack. The first pack is taking off in pursuit of Smith. Davila stays cool, checking her watch. She is running her own race for the time being. I am getting excited, mostly because she looks so relaxed and unflustered.

Mile 6: Again, we miss most of this mile.

Mile 7: Smith’s lead has opened up to about 40 seconds now. She looks strong. Now Davila is positioned midway through packs one and two. She’s slowly working her way up to the lead pack. She casually sips water. She looks like she’s jogging. I am getting more excited.

Mile 8: Now the pack behind Smith consists of [I think] a Japanese runner, Goucher and a large collection of Africans. But who’s that woman who’s just about caught up? It’s Davila. She’s still hitting those tangents.

Mile 9/10: Smith’s lead is now huge. You can’t even seen the pack behind her as she runs along the long straightaway in Natick. She’s on 2:21:20 pace. Incredible. Leaves are blowing up the road in the same direction as the runners. It’s a strong tailwind.

Approaching the halfway point: Smith’s lead is shrinking. It’s 38 seconds. While Larry Rawson has spiralled off into a floridly incomprehensible soliloquy on the history of the marathon ["Just give me water for my village!"], he and Al Trautwig have managed to totally miss the fact that Smith has hit the halfway point in a shorts-shitting 1:10:52. Had they noticed this, they also would have noticed Smith’s pace dropping off. I think this is where she started to have problems, because she doesn’t look quite right.

Mile 14: Smith is valiantly fighting off whatever ails her, because her lead is up to a minute now. The camera cuts away to Goucher, who is running without anyone around her. She’s fallen off the back of the pack. Which pack? Maybe both. Meanwhile, Smith’s balloon has sprung a leak, because the lead pack is closing the gap. Now her lead has shrunk to 36 seconds. There’s a shot of the pack behind her. Davila is either not there or she’d hiding her 5’2″ frame somewhere. I briefly panic. Wait! There she is, way off to the left of the screen. She’s catching up to that pack. Or maybe she’s parallel. Anyway, she’s in the game.

Miles 15/16: No idea what happened. There was a huge gap in coverage.

Miles 17/18: Smith is now clearly in big trouble. Her stride has a big hiccup coming down a hill. At the bottom of that hill, at 1:38:00, she pulls off to the side, clutching her right calf. Might be a cramp, might be a torn soleus. Who knows. But she takes off again. But now she’s running with gritted teeth, her lead eroding with each stride. She is effectively fucked. Her race is over.

There’s another shot of the trailing pack. I see a non-African way off to the left and I momentarily think it’s Davila, but then I can see by the height that it’s Goucher. Dammit. Where’s Davila?!

19/20: Smith has another stumble. Her pace has dropped to 6:00. I feel bad for her. At 1:41:00, everyone’s passing her. Now I can see Davila again. Goucher is now behind her. Trautwig and Rawson are still talking about Goucher’s status. At this point Caroline Kilel (2:23:25) has taken the lead and is running assertively.

[There's coverage of the invitational mile races. More opinions from me: Lukas Verzbicas should have been disqualified for shoving Andy Baddeley at the finish. What an asshole.]

Mile 21: We’ve come back from a commercial and something big has happened in the meantime. At 1:51:00 the lead pack consists of four Africans: Kilel, Sharon Cherop (2:22:42), Dire Tune (2:23:44) and Alice Timbilili (2:25:03). A fifth runner is running up to join them: Davila!!! Davila gets right to work and at 1:52:30 she’s taken the lead with complete and utter confidence. She does not care that these are Africans, and Africans always win. Trautwig and Rawson can’t believe it. This Davila chick must be nuts! She is running with, and passing, Dire Tune! Now she’s solidly in front, challenging the whole lot.

Mile 22: Davila continues to look incredibly relaxed and unfazed. There is no tension in her body and no sign of strain on her face. The pack has dropped Tune. Timbilili is dropping off the back.

And then there were three.

Davila has a shot at third!!! No, screw that. She has a shot at winning. She can win this thing if she’s smart about it.

Kilel goes to the front. Davila looks unconcerned. She sticks to the tangents, moving inside the group on a slight curve. I believe that this is where the race took on a new dimension. Here is where Davila took the opportunity to evaluate what state her competitors were in. Mere inches away from them, she could sense how tired they were and gauge their tiredness against her own. Why do I think this is what was going on? Because at this point Davila moves to the lead again and shortly after this she starts throwing in little surges. She is going to start wearing these ladies down.

Mile 23: Davila’s leading by a metre, asserting herself. But she’s also enjoying the moment. She’s checking out the crowds. Jesus. She looks totally cool, like she’s on a training run. Timbilili is dead meat now, a distant fourth. The game is officially on for win, place or show. Davila stays in front. Trautwig starts calling her “Desiree De Silva.” I become apoplectic.

Mile 24: Kilel and Cherop move to the front. Davila sticks with them. She throws in another surge. She is totally fucking with their heads! Kilel responds and retakes the lead. Davila eases off on a downhill, when again Kilel and Cherop go to the front. Actually, she falls back a good three metres, in a scary way. We are starting to groan. But then Davila opts out of the water stop and regains some ground that way. Remember all that water she was drinking earlier? She’s back with the Kenyans. Then she’s in front again. Kilel keeps challenging Davila, whereas at this point Cherop is out of that battle, content to stay in contact. I theorize that Cherop will be third based on this behavior.

Mile 25: Davila’s lead is now about two metres. People all over the country are screaming at their televisions right now, including us. They’re at 5:17 pace. Davila is still trying to wear down those Kenyans. Not just with her legs, but with her attitude too. She’s still trading Kilel for the lead spot. Then Davila slips to third again. But she looks fine. I have to believe she’s doing this on purpose.

Mile 26: Davila is trying to catch Kilel, but Cherop keeps cutting her off. 2:19:50 — after hanging out in third, Davila throws in a huge surge on a turn. This takes both Kilel and Cherop by surprise. Whereas Kilel is straining, Davila has broken Cherop with this move. I say that I hope to hell she’s running the Mini 10K because I want to interview this woman more than any other marathoner now.

Kilel shoots to the front at 2:20:20. Is Davila cooked? No!!! She’s not giving up. She makes an effort to close on Kilel. Universal Sports manages to turn off the onscreen clock, so I have no idea where they are on Boylston Street, but I think it’s about 300m out from the finish. Trautwig and Rawson are calling Kilel as the winner, but Davila starts motoring and — holy fuck! — she catches Kilel and passes her. We are screaming and clapping. The cat has run down into the basement. But Kilel has just a little bit more speed in her legs and she pulls away again, finishing just two seconds ahead of Davila in 2:22:36.

The finish line: Leg speed is what won this race today, not endurance. Why do I say that? Because Kilel collapses to the ground after breaking the tape. By contrast, Davila stops, rests her hands on her knees for a few seconds, reflexively turns off her watch and then starts walking around. She looks like she’s just finished a fun run. Had that race been a mile longer, with a few more minutes of wearing Kilel down, I think she would have won. But a marathon is 26.2 miles. Today, Desiree Davila covered that distance in 2:22:38 by running one of the smartest races I’ve ever seen.

Edited: Here’s an interview that Peter Gambaccini of Runner’s World did with Davila a few weeks before Boston. In it, she talks about the “simulator workout” she did, a 26.2K run over an exaggerated version of the Boston course. There’s another lesson: prepare for your goal race’s course and conditions. Here’s some video of that workout. I love the little pieces of visualization the Hansons use.

And here’s a nice post-race interview with Roger Robinson.

Life is short. Life is precious.

Sally Meyerhoff, one of this country’s fastest female marathoners, died yesterday. I never interviewed or met her, although I was hoping she’d be running the More Half again this year (which she won last year while setting a new course record, in pouring rain no less), so that I might have a chance to.

Meyerhoff was no waif, which is one reason why I found her inspiring. Solid girls like me can run fast too. She proved that. I also liked how she was no shrinking violet, at least not from a sartorial standpoint. Lately she’d taken to wearing fuscia compression socks with banana yellow racing flats. An adventurous racer, she not only raced on the roads, but on trails as well, and was moving into a dominant spot in triathlon.

You can find links to the news reports easily enough. Instead, in a nod to a life well lived, here’s a link to her blog.

The long journey of a cyclist with no hands

Why am I writing about a cyclist? Because this post is as much an appeal for help from New York’s athletic community as it is a fascinating human interest story.

Damian Lopez-Alfonso, 34, is a Cuban athlete with considerable athletic achievements — ones that are made all the more impressive by the fact that he has excelled despite competing with major disabilities. Details about him appear in the links below, but here’s his story in a nutshell: At the age of 13, while trying to retrieve a kite stuck to a streetpost, Damian hit a power line and sustained a range of catastrophic injuries as a result of electrocution: facial disfigurement, blindness in one eye, severe burns, and the loss of his arms below the elbow, among others.

Damian is self-sufficient and has adapted to his disabilities, but he nevertheless wants to benefit from whatever reconstructive surgery and prosthetics are available. A group of organizations — including the U.S. Cycling Federation, Achilles International and NYU’s Reconstructive Plastic Surgery unit — are working together to facilitate a better quality of life for Damian.

Here’s what this post is about: Damian needs hosts while he’s in New York for his surgeries at NYU. He will be arriving sometime in mid-March and has his first round of surgeries scheduled for April 3. Then he’ll be recovering at NYU and preparing for the next round on May 5. So hosts are needed from around March 15th through April 2nd or so, then again from the end of April through the end of May.

Achilles is funding his food, transportation and other costs so that he will not be a financial burden to his hosts. Since he doesn’t speak English, Spanish-speaking hosts would be ideal. Someplace within reasonably easy commuting distance to NYU would be desirable, I’d think, but I don’t know that it’s essential.

If you’d like to open your home to this inspiring athlete for a few days or weeks, please contact Tracy Lea for more details: tlea@tracylea.net

If you’re not able to host but you’d still like to contribute financially to this effort, then you can PayPal to: teamdamian2011@gmail.com

This guy’s pretty interesting. Read more about him:

Download a complete bio (PDF)
Cyclists Helping One of Their Own
A Tale of Ultimate Survival and Human Kindness
Cyclists Rally Around a Competitor
Armless Cyclist to Get Reconstructive Surgery in NYC

New Houston Hopeful interview: Lori Kingsley

Lori Kingsley is fast enough to have regularly rubbed shoulders with (and been lent hotel room showers by) marathoning’s professional elites. She wins a lot of races. She likes to play dress up. And she describes herself as “a happy runner.” This one took awhile to post, but I think it was worth the wait. The 90+ minute audio is an added treat.

Houston Hopefuls > Lori Kingsley

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers