Thursday, June 28, 2012

Showdown at Shepherd's Bush

In this day of organized races every weekend, and when it seems like everyone you know has run a marathon, or is planning to run one, it's hard to image that the marathon as a formal sporting event is so young.  In Showdown at Shepherd's Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze, David Davis takes the reader on a tour of the birth of the modern marathon.  It's not only a history of a race, but a great snapshot of the rise of the Olympic movement and sports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Davis recounts the development of the first modern Olympics in 1896.  The organizers came up with the idea of commemorating Pheidippides's famous run from Marathon.  They devised a race from Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 25 miles.  At that time, the longest races were no more than 5 miles; the next longest race at the Olympics was 1500 meters.  With the establishment of the marathon race, which would become a highlight of the Olympics, they had "concocted an anomaly, on that would attract only the inexperienced, the ignorant, and the intrepid."  I loved the comment of the French runner who had competed in the 100 meter, then in the marathon: "One day I run a leetle way, vairy queek.  Ze next day, I run a long way, vairy slow."
The marathon stuck, and with some stumbles in intervening Olympics, came into its own in 1908 in London.  This was the first race to use what would become the standard marathon distance: 26 miles, 385 yards, a somewhat arbitrary distance to cover the course from Windsor Castle to the stadium at Shepherd's Bush.  Davis traces the lives and running careers of the participants, focusing on 3 runners.  Tom Longboat, a Canadian Indian, was a favorite going in, but dropped from the race.  The Italian Dorando Pietri finished first, but he had fallen over from exhaustion and some officials on the track helped him across the finish line, disqualifying him.  The Irish-American, Johnny Hayes was close behind Dorando and was awarded the gold due to Dorando's disqualification.

This dramatic and controversial finish made Dorando a household name.  Davis says "he was the first athlete to become globally famous because of the Olympics. . . . He remains the most celebrated loser in Olympic history."  The race also raised interest in the marathon, both for participants and viewers.  American promoters recruited these three runners and organized races in places like Madison Square Garden and baseball stadiums.  The runners travelled the country to run in these exhibition races, and cities across the country put on marathon races.  Soon, however, the world war took front and center and the first marathon craze died.  The Boston Marathon was the only race to survive.

Davis does a masterful job of placing the marathon race in the context of the history of the Olympics and sport, and putting in all the context of history.  It's an entertaining, readable history that anyone interested in popular culture and sports will enjoy.  But if you're a runner, a marathoner, one of those who is living the legacy started by Dorando and his fellow runners, you will love Davis's account.  Pick it up!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary digital review copy!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


This is my 200th post on Lean Forward Run Farther!

Run happy!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Runner's hematuria

Let's say, hypothetically, that you go out for a longish run, and, again hypothetically, when you return home and go to the restroom your urine is dark, with blood in it.  Your first thought might be, "Oh my! What is happening to me!"  But relax; it may be runner's hematuria, which is not uncommon in runners.  If you're running with an empty bladder, the jarring motion of running may rupture blood vessels in the bladder or kidneys.  So be sure you're drinking plenty, and if it persists, see a doctor.  In the meantime, enjoy your run!

Note: I'm no doctor.  And I know nothing about your physical condition.  I just read a few articles on the internet.  Nothing in this post is meant to be the definitive word about anything happening to your body.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Trail running beats road running: more evidence

My fellow lovers of trail running will not be surprised at all by this article's conclusion. But sometimes it's nice when what you know to be true is confirmed by science.

Auslan Cramb writes in The Telegraph:

Researchers found that anything from a stroll in the park to a run through woodland can have a positive effect on people suffering from depression and anxiety.  The study also showed that the positive effect on people's mental health was 50 per cent more than they might expect from going to the gym.  The researchers at Glasgow University looked at natural and non-natural environments for physical activity, including walking, running and cycling, and found that being around trees and grass lowered brain stress levels. 

The study, led by Prof Richard Mitchell, polled nearly 2000 physically active people in the 2008 Scottish Health Survey.  Only activities carried out in a natural environment outdoors were found to be associated with a lower risk of poor mental health.  Prof Mitchell said he was "surprised" by the scale of the results, adding: "There was around a 50 per cent improvement in people’s mental health if they were physically active in the natural environment, compared to those who weren't.  These aren't serious mental health issues, more struggles in general life, things like mild depression, not being able to sleep, high stress levels or just feelings of not being able to cope." 
Sansom Park trail

"It seems that woodland and forest seem to have the biggest effect on helping to lower mental health problems.  That makes sense with what we thought we knew. That is, the brain likes to be in the natural environment and it reacts to being there by turning down our stress response.  Being in areas that have lots of trees and grassy areas help to calm us down, and obviously a forest has this."

"I wasn't surprised by the findings that exercise in natural environments is good for your mental health, but I was surprised by just how much better it is for your mental health to exercise in a green place like a forest, than in other places like the gym.  The message to doctors, planners and policy makers is that these places need protecting and promoting." 

He added that taking a decision to exercise in a natural environment once a week could be enough to gain some benefit, and any additional use could have a bigger effect.  The study revealed that local streets were most commonly used for physical activity, followed by the home or garden.  Previous experimental studies have shown that exercise in natural environments has a positive effect on "biomarkers", which indicate general health, and on an individual's view of his or her levels of stress or fatigue.  Around 50 per cent of the sampled group exercised in a natural environment at least once in the previous month. 

Thanks, Mr. Cramb!  Off to the trails. . . .

Original link:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thirty-day streak

As of Saturday, I have a run 30 consecutive days.  You may recall that last summer/fall, I ran 100 days in a row.  I don't think it's necessarily the best practice to run every day, but for me, that's what it has been taking to get me out the door--I don't want to break my string of consecutive running days.  So here's the good, the bad, and the ugly of my current streak:

The Good
I'm running.  I don't actually have a race on my calendar right now (yet), and no training plan, which usually means I don't run consistently.  So, for me, the good news is that I'm actually getting some miles in.

The Bad
However, other than just logging miles, I'm not doing much focused training.  For the past 30 days, I've done no speedwork, and the longest run was 10.8 miles.  My average run has been only 4.25 or so.  Race or not, I need to start throwing in some more intentional miles.  The other bad part is that all of these miles have been on pavement.  Ugh!  For convenience, I have been running in my neighborhood, and just have not made the time to get to the trails to run.  I'd really like that to change.

The Ugly
I'm still fat and slow.  My average pace has improved a little.  During the 14 running days of May, my average pace was 10:32.  It has improved some for June, now averaging 10:12.  Losing about 30 pounds would help my pace come down some more.  If I stopped drinking Dr Pepper, I might actually drop a few pounds.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Running with the Kenyans

To me, a great running book is not one that focuses on technique, training plans, diet, and form.  A great running book is one that entertains me and makes we want to get out and run!  Adharanand Finn has done just that with his new book, Running with the Kenyans: Passion, Adventure, and the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth.  Finn, a British journalist and a pretty good runner, moved to Kenya for several months (with his patient wife and flexible children).  They lived in the Rift Valley town of Iten, one of the central training grounds for Kenyan runners.

Finn jumped right into the running culture of Iten.  To hear him tell it, there are runners everywhere.  The roads get clogged with groups of runners, and there are numerous training camps.  Virtually everyone Finn is introduced to has some kind of running credential: placed in a major marathon, world record holder for this distance, medalist in that Olympic Games, etc.  That high concentration of success and speed is pretty intimidating, but Finn does his best to keep up.  He even puts together a team to train for an upcoming marathon.
Any one of these guys would probably be a top-10 finisher in a U.S. marathon.
Over the course of the book, Finn entertains us with the idiosyncrasies of life in rural Kenya (I loved his observation, which drew little comment, of the shepherd who delivered his charges one at a time in the basket of his bicycle.  I wish Finn would have taken pictures. . . .) as well as with his reports of running with these world-class athletes (he often runs with the women. . . .).  All the while, he asks the question that prompted his visit to Iten: why are the Kenyans so fast, dominating road racing the world over in recent years?

My favorite explanation is tied to the tradition of cattle rustling.  Slow Kalenjins (the ethnic group from which most of the fast Kenyans come) would get caught or killed rustling cattle.  The fast ones end up with more cattle, and in a polygamous society, that means more wives.  So slow Kalenjins are removed from the gene pool, while the fast ones spread their genes more prodigiously.  Even thought it's a good story, that's probably not the reason

Finn says, "It's just how they live.  Simply through growing up on the slopes of the Rift Valley, far form cities and the technologies that the West has invented to make life more comfortable, they have found themselves excelling at the world's most natural sport."  So it's a wide variety of factors.
The puzzle of why Kenyans are such good runners. . . . was too complex, yet too simple [to be reduced to an] elixir, a running gene, [a] training secret that you could neatly package up. . . . It was everything, and nothing. . . .: the tough, active childhood, the barefoot running, the altitude, the diet, the role models, the simple approach to training, the running camps, the focus and dedication, the desire to succeed, to change their lives, the expectation that they can win, the mental toughness, the lack of alternatives, the abundance of trails to train on, the time spent resting, the running to school, the all-pervasive running culture, the reverence for running.
 I know that if I, like Finn, spent several months in Iten, I might make some progress.  I would certainly lose some weight, and probably would get faster.  But I'm sure I'll never run like a Kenyan.  Nevertheless, Running with the Kenyans does make me want to get out and run!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My favorite Hindi-language running movie

The real Paan Singh Tomar
OK, so Paan Singh Tomar is the only Hindi-language running movie I've ever seen.  Could it be the only Hindi-language movie ever made about a runner?  I don't know. 

The titular runner, Paan Singh Tomar, didn't run competitively until he joined the army, and then only because of his voracious appetite.  Not satisfied with the rations in the regular army, he agreed to run for the army sports division so he could have more to eat.  It was an inauspicious way to start an athletic career, but he made the most of it winning the 3000 meter steeplechase in the Indian National Games 7 consecutive years.  He didn't fare well at the Tokyo Asian Games.  His coach gave him a pair of spikes just before the race, but, never having run in spikes before, he didn't run well.  Part way through the race, he pulled them off, finishing barefoot.

Irrfan Khan as Singh Tomar
Unfortunately, Singh Tomar's fame and success didn't exempt him from being victimized in a land dispute with some relatives.  As a result of the dispute, which turned into a blood feud of sorts, he ended up becoming a fugitive and getting gunned down by the police.  Tragic.

This is the first Indian movie I've seen that didn't have big song-and-dance numbers.  It would have been out of character for the story, but that hasn't stopped Bollywood before!  As seems to be the case with many Bollywood products, the cinematic quality is like a mediocre American TV show, and the acting, though hard to judge, being in a language I don't understand, seems a bit wooden.  It is a good story, though.

The running scenes are pretty entertaining.  Singh Tomar had a natural talent for running, leaving the field behind with ease.  If he had more coaching and support in his early years, and more recognition and esteem in his later years (to keep him out of trouble), he probably could have had more success than he had and would be a running legend today, even outside of his native India.