Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Back in the saddle again! / Training week 11/9-11/15

I'm back in the saddle again! I'm back! I'm back in the saddle again! I'm back!

Sorry, but although I'm not a huge Aerosmith fan, I do love that song--and the lyrics pretty closely fit how I'm feeling right now. For the first time since the North Coast 24 on Oct. 3-4, I'm healthy and feeling pretty good. My heel is much better and I can run pain-free. My left knee is close to perfect. I battled influenza the week before last but am pretty well over that, too. Life is good.

For the week of Nov. 9-15, I covered 70 miles--the most miles I've run in one week since the 24-hour. It was great hitting 70 miles after weeks of struggling with heel bursitis and a series of aches and pains along with a case of influenza. At this time of year, I like to hold my weekly mileage to about 70-75 as I see this as my optimal maintenance level. I still have no plans for racing in 2009 and will instead focus on staying healthy, enjoying the holidays, running for the joy of running and getting ready for an awesome 2010 highlighted by the Boston Marathon and the Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run!


Meb Keflezighi winning the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 1 with a time of 2:09:15--a personal best for one of America's all-time distance running greats.

In my last post, I failed to mention that something truly special happened in New York City on Nov. 1. The great American distance runner Mebrahtom "Meb" Keflezighi, 34, won the ING New York City Marathon with a scorching time of 2:09:15, becoming the first American since Alberto Salazar in 1982 to break the tape in the Big Apple's big race.

Anne and I watched the two-hour marathon special on NBC that Sunday, aired a few hours after the actual event concluded. Although we knew by that time that Meb had won for the men and Ethiopia's Derartu Tulu, 37, for the women with a 2:29:52, it was still quite exciting to watch as they fought off some strong competition. Tulu, with her forward-leaning form and ridiculous running resume, overtook world record-holder and defending ING champion Paula Radcliffe and never really looked back. Watching Tulu in action, it's hard not to really like her.

Meb's victory was/is amazing on several levels. First of all, he beat a very deep field that included Robert Cheruiyot, Ryan Hall, defending champion Marilson Gomes dos Santos, and many others. Second, Meb missed a lot of 2008 with a broken hip--a year in which he also lost one of his closest friends, Ryan Shay, at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in New York's Central Park. And third, I think a lot of people (myself included) mistakenly figured that Meb's best years were behind him. Wrong on that third count!

Given the magnitude of Meb's achievement, it's simply amazing that more wasn't made of his victory--and of the fact that six Americans finished in the top-10 at New York. US distance running is making a comeback! And yet so few people heard about what Meb and his fellow Americans did that day.

One friend I spoke with said Meb isn't really American since he was born in Africa--and so why should Americans really feel proud? Nonsense! Yes, Meb was born in Eritrea, but he came up through the American distance running system (attended San Diego High School and then UCLA, where he won basically everything), won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Marathon for the US, and very much showed his love of country when he crossed the New York City Marathon finish line wearing a USA singlet and draping himself in the flag. He became a naturalized citizen in 1998. He is as American as apple pie and I think Americans should be very proud that one of our countrymen--a real class act in an age of classless acts--won a race no American had won in 26 years. Go Meb!


Elite marathoners like Meb are amazing athletes. A lot of people might say elite distance runners aren't necessarily great athletes--just great runners. I couldn't disagree more. Elite distance runners--especially those at the marathon level--possess extraordinary natural abilities few have. They improve on their natural abilities through carefully-planned training to ensure that they peak at race time. During training peaks, I cover 100+ miles per week, run intervals around the track and blow down the roads at tempo pace and I'll never, ever approach what the elites like Meb do. Why? Because they have off-the-charts natural athletic abilities and I have only a limited amount of talent.

The distance-running elites have:
  • Tons of natural speed. Otherwise how else could they average sub-5:00 miles over 26.2 miles.
  • Ridiculous VO2 max. Running at such speeds over long distances, they need tons of oxygen, requiring VO2 maxes that very few people could ever achieve regardless of what they did for training.
  • Strength/endurance. It's hard to see strength in those skinny marathoners but--trust me--they have plenty of it. Their muscles have to be strong, resilient and loaded with endurance to support sub-5:00 pace over 26.2 miles. Most people who would try to run a sub-5:00 mile would burn out after maybe 100 or so yards. The elites can do that over 26.2 miles--just as Meb did at New York!
  • Perfect bio-mechanics. Most of the great distance runners have near-perfect bio-mechanics, meaning they can run with maximum efficiency. Everything from their foot work to their arm work functions in such a way that they use energy in the most efficient manner possible. Virtually no energy is wasted.
You can improve in each of these areas through hard work--I know I have. But I also know that, regardless of how hard I work, I'll never run a 2:09 marathon or even come close to it. It is for this reason that I really am in awe of elites like Meb. What they do is so amazing and so special that I believe in my heart and in my mind that not only are they great athletes--they're among the best athletes alive today.

All in!


  1. wyatt, glad your feeling healthy again and i look forward to getting a chace to run with you more often in 2010.
    fyi, tune had run a marathon before. actually she won both London and Tokyo in 2001 before going back to the track.

  2. Michael: Thanks for that correction! I fixed my oversight. Good luck as you train for your 2010 races. Maybe we'll see each other at the Mohican 100 (skipping Mohican 50K for Boston). I'll be there! - Wyatt