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August 30th, 2008
Run with Moe – 08/30/08

The Olympics are finally over and everyone can now get some much needed sleep after watching late night TV of the event on Beijing time. The track and field events were in the last week and one of the last events was the running of the marathon. Television showed the entire race that lasted over two hours of running by the athletes. The problem with watching the marathon is that it takes a long time before a winner is determined. It is not like the 100 meter dash that gets through in a shade over 9 seconds. People today are very time conscious and if their computer does not flash on in three seconds they complain and will look for one that is more up to date and faster. So even the 100 meters dash is a long time for them. For runners, the race was over in a world record time and the grace and speed of the runners was a thing of beauty to watch.

Then comes the marathon event. Most non-runners will probably put watching a marathon one notch above watching paint dry on a wall. Watching runners run for over two hours can be very boring to a non-runner and even some beginning runners. The people that really enjoy the marathon event are runners that have attempted, or even run, a marathon. These marathon runners really appreciate what these athletes are doing. What is not realized is compared to running on the track for 100 meters, 400 meters or even 1500 meters is the speed at which marathoners are moving.

I usually break down speed in relation to running once around the track that is 400 meters or, for some of the senior runners, 440 yards. One time around the track for a four minute mile time takes one minute, or 60 seconds. An average runner cruising along at an 8:00 minute pace takes two minutes to run around the track one time. In my earlier days as a runner we would always train to get close to a six minute mile pace for a 5K distance. This means averaging 90 seconds to run around the track one time. We would usually average around 82 – 85 seconds for a lap. Then we would walk 200 meters (half a lap) to recover and repeat this process for 12 times. I never quite managed to hit that six minute average pace but came within a few seconds of it several times in a 5K race.

Listening to the announcers during the marathon comment that in the first five miles the runners were under a five minute pace. The marathon runners were averaging less than 75 second quarters without a rest between each quarter or even between the miles. To an observer of the television it looks like they are just jogging along down the street at a somewhat leisure pace. Knowing how fast that 70 – 75 second quarter is in relation to running I was very impressed with this effort by the group. And as they went further into the distance some of the times dropped down to 4:30 per mile pace. In many circles running a mile at that pace will win you the race.

Knowing how much effort it takes to run a “fast” quarter interval training time and then rest between bursts of speed just imagine and realize that the marathoners are running that fast for 105 quarter miles in a row without a rest. I have run a number of marathons in the past and thought of each mile because then you only had to think of 26 miles and an extra 385 yards (which in itself can really seem like a long distance if you are tired). Thinking of counting down 105 quarter miles would be an impossible task in itself. When you are out about 20 miles into the marathon and starting to wonder why you ever signed up to do this distance in the first place it becomes difficult to even keep track of each mile.

Watching the runners come in behind the winners you forget that they are still running either under or very close to that five minute mile for the entire distance. A runner that comes in even five minutes behind the winner is still only about 19 seconds slower per mile than the winner. In a 5K race that amounts to less then one minute behind the winner and being labeled a slow runner.

For non-runners I can imagine watching the race was almost like watching paint dry. For a runner that has run a marathon the strategy of the race, the change of pace throughout the race, watching the early runners try to stay up with the leaders before falling off the pace and becoming a participant instead of a medal winner was a fascinating thing to watch. You need to train for and run a marathon before the London Olympics in 2012 so that you can appreciate watching the next marathon on television the same way other marathon runners do.

By MOE JOHNSON

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