One in A Million

You might think that every marathon is the same.  Same race, just different place.  I can tell you from my experience that they are not.  This past weekend I ran my twelfth marathon, the Virgin Money London Marathon.   It was very different than any other I have run.  Someone said the London Marathon is “so much more than a race.”  Truer words have never been spoken.

This was a special year for the race.  The London Marathon started in 1981 with a mere 7,000 or so runners.  This year over 39,000 runners were entered.  At some point during the race, the one-millionth runner was going to cross the finish line.   To generate excitement before the race, the organizers started the #oneinamillion campaign about this remarkable milestone.  As of today, they are still trying to determine who the one-millionth runner was.  I might not be that one-millionth runner but I am hoping I crossed the finish line before them.

There are runners who have completed every London Marathon since it started.  They call them “Ever Presents”.  They started tracking the Ever Presents in 1995 when there were 42.  This year the number of Ever Presents was down to 12, all male runners between the ages of 57 and 79.  I can’t imagine running the same race for 36 years in a row.  I have to take my hat off to these gentlemen.  They are committed.

The race among the elite runners was full of excitement. The overall male winner, Eliud Kipchoge, finished in 2:03:05 – the fastest London Marathon finish and the second fastest men’s marathon record – only 8 seconds off the current world record of 2:02:57.  The overall female winner, Jemima Sumgong, fell at Mile 21 when another runner clipped her heels.  She went down hard, striking her head on the pavement.  But she got back up and kept going despite a gash on her head.  Jemima worked her way back into the lead and finished in 2:22:58.

Officials from Guinness World Records at the finish line

Officials from Guinness World Records at the finish line

The race partners with the Guinness World Records (GWR) folks so that amateur runners attempting world records can get record verification immediately after completing the race.   Anyone who planned to attempt to break a record during the race had to apply to GWR prior to the race.  They also wore special signs on their backs indicating they were working on a GWR attempt.  There were 55 record attempts during the 2016 London Marathon.  I saw several of them during the race.  Of these, 31 were successful.  Here are a few of the new records for fastest marathons set at the 2016 London Marathon:

Fastest four-man costume

Fastest four-man costume

  • In a four-person costume achieved by four real life firemen who ran wearing a fire engine.  They completed the race in 5:25:02.
  • By a man wearing chainmail in 5:45:51.
  • Wearing a full body dinosaur costume (man) in 3:08:34.
  • Dressed as a plant (a man dressed as a forget me not in a flower pot) in 3:02:43.  This runner also is the current record holder for the fastest marathon in a wedding dress.
  • Dressed as an organ (prostate) in 3:13:20.
  • Dressed as a bottle (in this case, a bottle of Wimbledon Brewery beer) in 3:09:37.
  • Dressed as a crustacean (a lobster) in 3:17:57.  My biggest fear realized – I was beaten by a guy dressed as a lobster.
  • Dressed as a fast food item (hotdog) in 3:57:17.
  • A woman dressed in a full-body animal costume (polar bear) in 4:22:08.
  • Two person costume (horse and jockey) in 4:21:21.  They must have beaten the two runners I saw dressed as Native Americans wearing a canoe.

    Two man costume attempt

    Two man costume attempt by runners dressed as Native Americans and wearing a canoe

Major Tim Peake, a British astronaut ran the fastest marathon in orbit by running the marathon on a treadmill in the International Space Station while we ran through London.  As he ran, Tim watched a video of the route on his iPad.  He had to use a harness to keep himself on the treadmill while he ran.  Tim finished his “London Marathon” in 3:35:21, only 16 minutes slower than his time running the 1999 London Marathon.  If there is a record for someone running the same race on Earth and in space, he should get that one too.  While Tim ran in orbit, Martin Hewlett ran in London and set the record for the fastest marathon dressed as an astronaut in 3:06:26.

One of the most amazing records is the one set by three men for fastest four-legged marathon.  They finished in 4:44:19.  I can’t imagine the amount of coordination that it took to keep them all in synch for 26.2 miles, especially for the runner in the middle who had each of his legs tied to one of the other runners.

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 7.19.17 PMI was most impressed by the number of charity runners.  The London Marathon had more charity runners than any other race I ever have run.  Approximately 3/4 of the runners were raising money for one of the over 80 charities associated with the race.  For the “have-a-go” runners (as one newspaper referred to first time marathoners), entry through a charity guaranteed them a spot in a very popular race plus a way to support a cause that was important to them.   By raising money for a charity, they have a way to honor a loved one who was lost to cancer or a stroke, or show support for a family member or friend suffering from diseases like Colitis or mental illness, or help raise awareness about various social causes.   They become someone’s hero.  Not surprising that the world record for fundraising through a marathon was set at the 2011 London Marathon by Steve Chalke who raised £2.32 million (nearly $3.4 million by today’s exchange rates).

One of the many runners dressed as a rhino

One of the many runners dressed as a rhino

Many of the charity runners wear costumes to help raise money for their cause.  I saw runners dressed as Star Wars Storm Troopers, Paddington Bear, Sponge Bob, film and book characters, full body dinosaur costumes, an old fashioned desk telephone.  As I passed a man dressed as a toilet (who was running for water.org), I teased him by saying I disliked when a toilet runs.  He laughed and replied that he would be flush when he finished.  There was a large number of runners dressed as rhinoceros (for Save the Rhino).

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 7.19.05 PMShortly after the race, I learned that a runner had collapsed at Mile 23.  It was David Seath, a 31 year old Green Beret in the British Army who was running for Help for Heroes, a charity that provides support to wounded service members.  He had set a modest fund raising goal of £250 ($365).   He died later at a hospital.  News of his death shocked everyone and his fundraising web site was flooded with donations.  As of today, people have donated over £69,500 ($101,000).  One of David’s friends created another fundraising web site in his memory also to benefit Help the Heroes.  That web site has raised over £93,000 ($135,813).  Between the two fundraising web sites, over £162,500 ($236,00) has been raised for Help for Heroes – all because of David.  From such a terrible tragedy came more money than David could ever have imagined raising to help an organization that was important to him.

Of all the races I have done, the London Marathon is right up there at the top of the list.  It is a celebration, a chance for runners to test their limits and possibly set new world records, and an opportunity to be heroes to the charitable organizations many of them were supporting.  Yes, it was much more than just another marathon.

Although I am running faster these days, I ended up finishing about 15 minutes behind my personal record (PR) for the marathon. My husband was disappointed that I didn’t push myself more and go for a PR.  But I had decided before the start that this race was special, one that I needed to savor.  Along the course, I took time to stop and take pictures, to capture some of the excitement.  As I neared the finish line, I didn’t want the race to end.  I paused for a few moments between Miles 25 and 26 to look around and soak it all in.  It was a fabulous race.  I was one in a million.

Here is a link to the press release listing all of the new Guinness World Records set at the 2016 London Marathon.

Do you want to run the London Marathon?  Travel partners like Marathon Tours can get you in the race.  I have travelled to several races with this company and I have never been disappointed in them.  They know the races, provide the most convenient accommodations, and help ensure you have a pleasant running vacation.  Check them out!

The Importance of Moving

I don’t claim to be an expert in anything.  I have dogs but after raising six dogs, I would not be so presumptuous to advise others on how to train their dogs.  I still rely on my go-to resource, Auntie C., with any dog-training questions.  I have run 11 marathons and 35 half marathons but I would not coach someone else.  I know what works for me but everyone is different.  I sure wouldn’t want to steer someone down the wrong path.  The one thing I do know is that you have to keep moving.  I am a firm believer in this.  It is a “use-it-or-lose it” world.  That is something I learned the hard way.

About 18 months ago, I fell during a training run and broke my upper arm in four places.  I was fortunate it did not require surgery to repair.  The only treatment was to immobilize my arm by putting it in a sling.  The doctor encouraged me to bend over, dangle my arm and move it in circles.  It would have been equivalent to raising my arm to shoulder height.  As much as I tried, I couldn’t do it.  It was excruciatingly painful just to dangle my arm.

I could tell that the doctor was disappointed each time I came into his office and showed him my progress in moving my arm (or rather my lack of progress).   I started losing muscle because I wasn’t using it.  I was at risk of developing frozen shoulder, if I did not get my arm moving.  It was clear that just a few months of immobility had reduced range of motion in my arm to next to nothing.    When I was discharged from physical therapy, I could barely lift my arm to shoulder height.

Since then I have tried acupuncture, cupping, dry needling, massage, additional physical therapy, stretching, and various therapies by my chiropractor.  At this point, I estimate my range of motion (which should be 180 degrees) is at best about 155.  I continue to get weekly 90-minute massages.   My massage therapist has made restoring my range of motion her life’s mission.

My experience with my broken arm leads me to consider the bigger picture.  All this sitting that the modern office worker does, hunched over a keyboard, is not healthy either.  There isn’t much movement involved.   The longer you don’t move something then the less your body begins to think it needs to do.  If you don’t straighten up your back, then eventually your back will probably start saying “don’t have to do that anymore.”   Evolution probably started that way.

I mentioned this to my massage therapist today.  She agreed.  She said when a new client comes in, she can tell what kind of work they do from the areas of their body that are giving them problems.  Shoulders and back pain are typical in people who have desk jobs.

According to her, for every repetitive movement, you need to do the counter movement to ensure that you are maintaining range of motion.  It is another way of saying we need to stretch more to maintain flexibility.  Runners, for example, don’t take big steps so we end up with tight hips and quads.   We need to stretch our muscles to ensure when we need to take a big step, we can still do it.

Maintaining movement is especially important in people with arthritis.  It can be painful but the consequences of not moving joints is they will lock up even more.  It is a downward spiral from there.

I am just as guilty as everyone else of not stretching enough.  I have once again resolved to start stretching every night.  In the past, when I made stretching a priority, I found that I had fewer injuries and no sore muscles.  I started getting more flexible.   If I am successful this time, a few minutes of stretching will save me from spending hours on the massage table.

So take it from me – the person whose right arm use to be as useful as the front leg of a T-Rex – keep moving!  You will be glad that you did.

Man versus Beast

Many people think being a runner is unnatural, even dangerous.  They probably have this perception after hearing stories about runners developing knee problems or back problems, even dying prematurely.  They argue that cars were invented so there is no need to run.

There is no way that a human could run as fast as a cheetah, which is the fastest animal with top speeds of 68-75 miles per hour.  But cheetahs are sprinters, not distance runners.  That is where humans have the advantage.

According to Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Biological Sciences at Harvard University, the anatomy of the human body has features that help endurance running.  Humans have spring-like arches in the feet, short toes, long tendons in the legs, large gluteus maximus muscles, and unusually large joints in the legs and spine.  Additionally, there is a ligament at the base of the skull that stabilizes the head when running.  The human body is not covered in fur like many animals and has lots of sweat glands so humans perform better in heat.  Cheetahs, like other cats and dogs, only have sweat glands in their paws and have to rely on panting to regulate their body temperature.  The bottom line is humans may not be built for speed but we are built to run long distances.  We just need to learn how to run and use our bodies as they were intended.

In the documentary “Fair Chase” ten elite distance runners went to New Mexico to prove that a human could run down an animal.  Their prey was the second fastest animal on earth, the pronghorn that can run up to 55 miles per hour.  They were trying to prove before the bow and arrow was invented, early man survived by using persistence hunting where a team of hunters track an animal over long distances.  The objective of persistence hunting is not to outrun the animal but to run it until it overheats.  At that point, the hunters can overtake and kill their prey.  Persistence hunting is still used today in Africa, Australia and parts of Mexico.  Amazingly, the runners in “Fair Chase” chased a buck for over 20 miles in temperatures upwards from 88 degrees before the buck disappeared into a herd.

Although the runners were not successful in taking down their prey, I don’t think that we can say that it would not be possible to run down an antelope.  The antelopes knew the terrain much better than the runners.  The runners also had to climb over barbed wire fences the antelopes easily jumped.  In the prehistoric times, there wouldn’t have been any barbed wire fences.  Fortunately for us, today we just need to hop in the car and drive to the nearest grocery to pick up dinner.  No running involved there.

If you want to try your endurance running skills against an animal, there are a few options.  First, there is the “Man vs Horse” race in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales every June where runners compete against horses on a 22-mile course.  The race has been held every year since 1980.  A human runner has only won twice –  in 2004 and 2007.  The other race is “Man Against Horse” in Prescott, Arizona held in October.  That race was started in 1983.  There are three distances – 12, 25 and 50 miles.  The 12-mile course is over rolling terrain while the 25-mile and 50-mile courses are more challenging, over steep rocky terrain, mountainous trails and back roads with elevation climbs of up to 7600 feet.  Weather can be at either extreme – sunny and warm to snow and hail.  Horses seem to be the overall winners in that race too.

While I have no desire to try racing an animal, I am glad to know that my body is designed to run all these marathons and half marathons that I do.   I don’t worry about knee problems or back problems.  In fact, I feel pretty good.   Yep, I am a marathon racing machine.

Professor Lieberman has co-authored a paper on endurance running with Dennis M. Bramble titled “Endurance Running and the Evolution of Homo.”  If you want to learn more about why humans are such good endurance runners, check it out.   

Outside Online published this article about the elite runners attempt to catch a pronghorn

Fair Chase was a very interesting film.  Here is a link to their web site.   

Miracle at Mile 4 – An Epilogue

I was working on this week’s post when I saw a follow-up post on social media from Lance, the runner who collapsed during the Zion Half Marathon.  After reading his post, I knew that I needed to share the rest of his story.  Like me, many of you were probably wondering how he is doing.

In his post, Lance first thanked the runners who cared enough about his life to stop their race and start a new one – a race to save his life.  Their actions immediately after he collapsed prevented him from having brain damage, becoming severely disabled, or, worse yet, dying.   Unbelievable as it may seem, Lance is getting ready to return to work.

Giving chest compressions is hard work and these “angel runners” did it for 16 minutes, according to Lance.  They kept going even though conventional wisdom said it was a lost cause.  They pushed so hard on his chest that his sternum broke.  If you are doing Hands-Only CPR, it is not unusual for the sternum and even the ribs to break.  According to the American Heart Association, “the chance of surviving an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is near zero for a victim who does not immediately receive high-quality chest compressions with minimal interruptions followed by additional therapy within minutes (a defibrillating shock and/or more advanced care from EMS personnel).”  A broken sternum is nothing compared to what could have happened.

Lance is in a unique position.  What do you do when you come so close to death but have a group of caring strangers yank you back?  How do you express your gratitude to the people who saved your life?  I doubt Hallmark makes a card for that one.  I think for Lance it will be expressed in a life well lived, a life helping others through his professional work in the area of antibiotics, a life enriched by the loving relationships with his family and friends, the very relationships that helped sustain him during his recovery.

Lance closed his post with a public service announcement for Hands-Only CPR and a link to the American Heart Association’s website.   I went to their website and learned some interesting statistics:

  • 70 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen in homes and residential settings.
  • Unfortunately, only about 46 percent of people who experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest get the immediate help that they need before professional help arrives.
  • Hands-Only CPR has been shown to be as effective as conventional CPR for cardiac arrest at home, at work or in public. It can double or even triple a victim’s chance of survival.

Doing Hands-Only CPR can save the life of someone’s loved one, even your own loved one.  It’s easy and it works.  Just ask Lance.

There are only two steps to Hands-Only CPR.  Take a minute to learn them by reviewing the Hands-Only CPR information at the American Heart Association’s website.