Racing: Kenya says air quality not a problem in Beijing; will field a team for the Olympics

NAIROBI, March 21 (Xinhua) — Kenya will send a team to participate in the marathon competition of the Beijing Olympic Games, said the head of the Kenya National Olympic Committee following a statement from the Ethipoian world marathon record holder Haile Gebrselassie that he intends to opt out of the marathon in Beijing.

“It is an individual decision up to himself (Gebrselassie). We will send Kenyan runners for the marathon competition of the Beijing Olympics. It will have no problem,” said Dr Kipchoge Keino, IOC member and also Chairman of Kenya National Olympic Committee, in an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Thursday.

Gebrselassie, who won two Olympic gold medals in 10,000 meters in Atlanta and Athens, told western media on March 10 that he will not compete in the Beijing Olympic marathon because the city’s air pollution may damage his health. But the Ethiopian runner said he would still take part in the 10,000 meters of the global sports fiesta.

“I have gone to Beijing several times and never experienced anything. We wish the weather condition will be good during the Games and I am sure the Chinese government and people will make all the possible efforts to make the Olympics a success, including the air quality,” said the former Olympic gold medalist.

An analysis of Bejing’s air quality indicates that the health of the vast majority of athletes competing in the summer Olympic Games will not be impaired, said the IOC on Monday after studying a set of air quality data taken by the Beijing Environment Protection Bureau in August 2007.
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Racing: Hitting the wall and late mile motivation (part I)

A reader in Australia asked me great question today. Here’s a bit of the e-mail:

“. . .how do I get myself to finish a marathon after hitting the 20 mile wall when there are minimal spectators to cheer me on? The two times I ran [marathons in Chicago] I found out how significant the crowd’s participation was to me and my running especially after the 20 mile mark.

In Chicago we had a million spectators to keep the runners going. I am now living in Australia and it’s the opposite here.”

There are two pieces to this question: 1) hitting the wall at 20 miles and then 2) staying motivated late in a marathon with limited crowd support.

The wall: to hit it or not!
What I love about this question is that it presumes that runners will “hit the wall” at some point late in a marathon. The later stages of a marathon are always going to be tough, but the ultimate goal of practiced marathon runners is to avoid hitting the wall at all. Yes, late in the marathon, the pace should be feeling progressively more difficult. However, the ultimate goal should be to run out of gas AT the finish-line, not at mile 20.

Let’s look at “the wall” a little more. This expression bears some real truth to anyone who’s ever had it happen to them. At some point late in a race, it feels as if they’ve run smack into a wall. Their energy level drops significantly and they simply can’t run consistently any longer. Runners that have hit the wall, are grumpy, frustrated, tired, and sometimes even angry. But more than anything, they usually just want to get the race over with and they will usually continue to walk or jog to get there. Those last miles of a marathon after hitting the wall are not much fun. You may run 100 yards, or maybe a quarter of a mile, but then it’s often back to walking. Usually runners experience “the wall” between miles 18 and 22.

Who put that wall there anyway?
When runners hit that sudden stop late in the race, there are both physical and mental factors at play. For the most part, in my opinion, the wall is primarily attributable to three physical factors: pacing, nutrition and hydration. To boil it down, you’ve probably run too fast, run out of calories or depleted your fluids – or a combination of all three. That quick final drop in energy, when you feel as though you’ve run smack into a wall, is the point that you’ve finally exhausted the last of your remaining carbohydrate stores and your muscles just don’t have the fuel that they need to fire any longer.

This physical wall is then avoidable. It starts with a true understanding of your pace. When you’re running an even-pace, that is also your correct pace in the marathon, the pace will feel harder and harder throughout the race. It should feel easy in the first 10-12 miles then start feeling progressively harder. By mile 18 it should start feeling pretty tough, and in those last miles you should be “hanging on” but STILL RUNNING your pace or very near it. If you’ve really nailed your pace, then the analogy I like to give is that you’ll run out of gas right AT the finish line. This means that you’ve given your maximum effort – you couldn’t have gone one more step at that pace – and it should be your fastest possible marathon time as well. It does not mean sandbagging the pace in the first half, but rather knowing the pace you can evenly sustain for the entire 26.2 miles and then executing precisely on that target pace.

Note: this assumes that your goal is to run your marathon as fast as possible. There may be many other reasons to run a marathon that have little to do with going your fastest and it should be noted that this is simply one way of looking at this pacing question.

[This post continues. Click here to go to part II]

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Racing: Hitting the wall and late mile motivation (part II)

[This is part II of a two-part article. Click here to go to the start.]

It’s on the brain
With all of that said, there are mental aspects to the late miles of the race as well. If you think carefully about what I just wrote, I said that it should be getting progressively harder to run the same pace throughout the race.

Think of yourself doing push-ups for a minute. When you’re doing push-ups, each one feels a little bit harder. You start to feel like you weigh 500 pounds. You don’t, in fact, weigh any more than you did when you starting doing your push-ups. The reason you feel heavier is that your muscles are getting fatigued. This is the same thing that’s happening in a marathon. After taking thousands and thousands of steps, your muscles are getting fatigued and each step just starts to feel a whole later harder.

Some of the people that I work with call these late miles the “bite me” stage of the race. It’s the time when they’re still running, but it’s getting really darn hard and if you ask them how they’re doing they’re most likely going to chew your head off. This is the point when a good strategy for dealing with the late miles of the race comes in. And it also gets us back to the second part of the question.

Staying motivated late in a race with limited crowd support
Once you’ve entered the “bite me” zone and you’re running on fumes, your primary job is to find a way to keep yourself going. Some people really thrive on the support of crowds, while others will want music, or the support of family, or they may just want to quietly struggle through by themselves.

The reader asking the question said that she got something special from the support of the crowds. The question here is WHAT are you drawing from the crowd to keep you moving late in the race? That’s hard to say, but I might venture to guess that it is in part a distraction from the pain and anguish that you’re feeling in your body. And, in part, it’s a sense of pride that people are cheering you on as you’re moving toward your goal. There could be other reasons too, I suppose. I’ve had people express to me before that they felt almost embarrassed to stop and walk in front of spectators, even though they desperately wanted to walk.

This question is something to reflect on: what is it that YOU were getting from these crowds that you need to replace?

From there, I think the next most important thing to find is what really motivates YOU to keep moving. Something got you out there on that marathon course in the first place. Late in the race, you should be pulling out that original motivation and reminding yourself why you’re there. Nike uses the term “power song” to talk about a piece of music that gets runners pumped. I’d say that you need to find your “power nugget” – that little piece of motivation that will keep you going and then concentrate on that. For example, when you’re feeling the bite me blues, you might think about all of the training that you did to get this far, how much fun and enjoyment you get from your training, or how far you’ve come in your health or weight to get this far.

Here are some other strategies that you might want to try:
Control your focus – you own your focus. If you’re focusing on the pain, you’re amplifying it. Take your mind elsewhere.

Focus on your form – Instead of concentrating abstractly on keeping moving, think about your arm movements, your body position, your cadence or your breathing. Try to identify something to focus on for awhile and keep your mental energy there.

Break the problem down – rather than thinking about finishing the last six miles, think about getting through the next ten minutes or getting to the next mile marker. Your mind may do better focusing on a smaller part of the total task.

Think about something else – Once I was escorting a runner who was in a seriously bad place so we played a game together. I let her ask me a personal question every time we passed a mile-marker. She got so wrapped up in thinking about the questions that she wanted to ask me that the miles clicked by before we knew it.

Give yourself goals and try to meet them – if you set a goal to run the marathon in X hours and X minutes, and if this is a reasonable goal for you, pull that goal out in the closing miles and remember it. If you don’t really have a goal to focus on late in the race, it’s easy to default to “I just want to finish” and let yourself slow down or take breaks.

Pull out that mental nugget – when the going gets tough, pull out that ultimate motivator and focus on it.

Eat – if your brain is really in the bite-me zone, take in some more calories. Your brain needs food too.

Truthfully, what motivates each of you late in a race is different, but something does motivate you. You wouldn’t make it through those lonely 20 mile training runs by yourself, if you didn’t have something pushing you. It may feel harder on race day, but try to think about it from just the opposite view-point. It’s harder, because you’re doing something unique and special and that you don’t get to do very often.

Try to think about how great it is on race day. This day is the one day, or maybe one of two or three days in a year, that define you as a marathon runner. You’ve devoted so much of your time to training, but race-day lets you validate that and be proud of what you’ve done. Get excited about the fact that you’re challenging yourself and that you’re ultimately going to win the challenge.

And just keep going.

Your questions and comments are always welcomed!

See also:
More thoughts on late marathon miles

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon USA

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Motivation: Without fanfare

Yesterday afternoon I received the most amazing text from my friend Karl Johnson. The message read:

“40 miles, 8 hours and 16 minutes. Time to taper and binge drink for a month . . . just not in that order. Work is going to be awesome in the morning.”

What is amazing about this message is not the distance or the time; it’s not the content itself. It’s the subtle message that he did this alone and that no one was there to see him finish.

He ran more than a marathon – almost double the distance of a marathon – but not one person was there to clap for him or give him a high-five.

He earned neither a medal nor a belt-buckle. He gets no “credit” for this enormous effort from those around him. The run becomes simply the subject of a text message and an entry into his training journal.

But just because no one saw it and his friends and co-workers won’t understand what it means, he does get credit from some: me and all the other runners out there that understand that training for marathons and ultras is about more than medals and crowds and rock bands and cheerleaders.

Someone I know didn’t get this recently. She didn’t understand that the training is THE experience. Race day is just the moment in time that puts finality to it. The training is the part that makes us grow as people. The race is simply the moment when the external world puts a check mark in its book and marks us off for having completed another event.

Without fanfare Karl checks off another marathon in his book: a quiet, solitary trek through the woods that only he can fully understand. No one will ever experience his journey in the same way that he did yesterday. No one will ever experience that day in just the way that he did. And that’s what makes it special.

The next time that you’re running 18 miles in the dark or running by yourself in rain so hard that you can’t see, I want you to remember that the training is what it is all about.

Your friends won’t understand these moments, and you may not either. But these are the times that make finishing races worthwhile. They are the moments that give the fanfare meaning.

So even though there was no fanfare for Karl yesterday when he finished his run, when he crosses the finish-line later this month in his next big race, he will know that he earned it. No matter what happens that day, he will have a rich, deep victory, knowing that he did what he needed to do to prepare. And he can enjoy the adulation that will come from checking that race off in the books.

But we will all know that the race was more than just one day. The race is the end of a series of chapters that led up to that day; chapters rich with stories and meaning of their own.

Way to go Karl. You’ve earned your taper (and your Bud Light) now.

Coach Joe

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at http://coachjoeenglish.wordpress.com or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also available on Yahoo! 360 and My Space.

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Motivation: Pushing beyond your comfort zone

What does it feel like to run a marathon? I’ve often said that I can’t put it into words or describe it. That it’s just something that you have to experience to understand.

Anyone that has ever run a marathon understands this immediately. It’s something that you can’t put your finger on.

Running a marathon has an impact on you as a person. The impact is emotional and physical. It’s indescribable, because it operates on many levels. Running a marathon leaves a mark on you.

What makes the marathon unique is that it pushes you beyond your comfort zone. It takes you to a place that isn’t comfortable. It isn’t fun. It hurts. Yet, you still keep moving forward, because you have a tangible goal in your sights. The marathon is unique, because it takes us to a place that feels bad and ends up delivering us to a place that feels good.

Think about it for a minute. There are lots of things that you could do that might make you feel uncomfortable. You could try to eat 12 dozen Crispy Cream donuts in one sitting. That will certainly make you feel uncomfortable. But at some point you would just stop eating them. You’d say to yourself, “now why I am I doing this again?” And you’d probably stop. But that doesn’t happen in a marathon.

In a marathon you get to a point where things hurt. You want to stop. You want to lay down on the ground and take a nap. You think about how happy you’ll be to be done. You’re basically in misery. But those are the moments when your body keeps driving you. You turn on your auto-pilot and keep moving, because you know that you’ll get where you’re going eventually and when you cross that finish-line you’ll be done.

It’s that point when the body takes over and the mind just has to hang on for the ride that makes the experience so unique.

And there’s nothing magic about 26.2 miles. The distance itself is somewhat arbitrary. But it has been accepted through modern history as a benchmark for endurance. 26.2 miles is further than it takes for most everyone to feel the pain, and the burn, and the discomfort. If you make it that far, you have had the experience of running through the discomfort and persevering.

For some people that pain will start at mile 5 or mile 10 or mile 18. Everyone will push through their comfort zone in a different way. But they will all feel it. Even those few people that are blessed with bodies that cruise through the miles with ease feel it, because they push themselves harder and try to go faster. But they still feel it. We all feel it.

Anyone that has ever completed a marathon understands what I’m talking about. You’ve been pushed to the edge of discomfort, gone past it, and kept going. And that’s what’s so indescribable about the experience. We can’t individually describe the pains and discomfort we feel, but we all know that pushing through that wall to cross that finish line is what leaves the mark on us.

And once we’ve felt it, we want to go through it again. Maybe not tomorrow or next week, but we know that we need to do it again in our lives.

The marathon allows us to prove to ourselves that we can persevere.

Keep on pushing my friends.

Coach Joe

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at http://coachjoeenglish.wordpress.com or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also now available on Facebook and My Space.

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Motivation: A great literary reference

I always love it when I find something that would be inspiring to runners in a movie or book. Here’s something that I think is fitting for both veteran and beginners marathon runners out there. I love how it speaks to our long adventure and the fact that we are seeking something – and perhaps we aren’t quite clear what it is.

This is a speech by a character in the film “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, which is an interpretation of Homer’s The Odyssey set in Depression Era Mississippi. The character is a blind prophet, talking to three escaped prisoners who are at the beginning of a long journey.

“You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains…

…And you will find a fortune – though it will not be the fortune you seek…

…But first, first you must travel – a long and difficult road – a road fraught with peril, uh-huh, and pregnant with adventure.

You shall see things wonderful to tell.

You shall see a cow on the roof of a cottonhouse, uh-huh, and oh, so many startlements…

…I cannot say how long this road shall be.

But fear not the obstacles in your path, for Fate has vouchsafed your reward.

And though the road may wind, and yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye foller the way, even unto your salvation.”

Isn’t that great. Check out the film is you haven’t seen it. It’s hillarious.

Do you have a favorite passage in a film that might speak to runners? Share it here by commenting on this post if you like.

Coach Joe

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Training and Motivation: dealing with pre-race anxiety

running-advice-bugIt’s almost marathon time and lots of marathon runners out there are starting to be nervous about their races. If I had a way to peek into their brains and read their thoughts, this is probably what I’d hear: “OOOOOHHHHH XXXX!!!!” You pick the expletive to fill in for the XXXXs.

Don't Freak OutThe truth is that we all get anxious coming into a marathon. There are a lot of reasons for this. For one thing, if this is your first marathon, then you have a lot of doubt about the outcome. You’ve never run this far and every time you’ve told someone you were running a marathon, they gave you that look like, “really, that’s soooo far!”

But there’s more to it than that. You’ve spent four or five months preparing for the event. How many things have you put that much energy into? Maybe your wedding if you got married or maybe a big exam. And you were probably nervous as all heck on those days when they finally arrived.

You’ve been training, and hoping, and struggling, and succeeding, and failing and doing all kinds of things getting ready for your marathon. And it’s all building up in your head. The one thing that I can say without a doubt is that the vast majority of marathon runners, first time or twentieth, think about their upcoming event probably many times each day in the week before the race – it’s basically always on their minds and in their thoughts.

Oh and yes, there’s that competitive thing too. We all have goals (which are a good thing), but there’s that word “race” that goes along with the event. And there’s that big clock, and talk of timing chips, and cut-off times, and time-limits, and pace groups. So even if we are not overtly thinking about being competitive like the faster runners up front, competition is creeping into our thinking by our very human nature.

Are you nervous yet?
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Motivation: Get right back up and run again

Every once in awhile I get a reminder. A reminder that things are not going to go as well as I planned.

Yesterday morning I was running along a quite trail in the woods. I have to admit, I wasn’t really enjoying myself. I was a little tight, and hot, and maybe a bit grumpy. But I was running and the running was helping my mood. I wasn’t enjoying my shoes, a pair that need to go back to the running store. But I was still running and that’s a good thing.

Then in an instant, I caught the toe of my shoe on a piece of wood. I was airborne for a mere second and then came down like the 180 pound sack of bricks that I am.

I recall the sound, “Ka clunk”.

Nothing had broken my fall at all. I had landed from four feet in the air, laid out flat on the trail. The only thing that may have come close to breaking my fall were three fingers, which had been bent underneath my hand as I hit the ground.

One moment I was going eight miles an hour, the next I’m laying on the ground in the dirt.

I rolled over and took inventory of my body parts. My fingers were bleeding at the knuckles. The fronts on my quads were stained with the streaks of dirt that I had passed across as I decelerated to a stop. My knees and ankles were scratched and bleeding too.

I sat up and just stayed there in the trail for a minute. I felt like I had been whacked by some unseen cosmic baseball bat.

After a few minutes, I stood up and wobbled around a bit. I was sort of dazed and I thought that my fingers were broken. I started to think about what to do next. I was three miles from the road.

I started walking and then running slowly. My knees were complaining and my fingers bleeding, but I started up the engine and soon I was a running again.

Just like that, every once in awhile I get whacked in the face. I get a reminder that it can all be taken away in an instant. It’s at those moments that I have to pick myself back up and get right back to running again. Its my way of declaring that I am not going to stop. That I can run; and that I will run on.

You’ll get reminders too. Not all of them will be as dramatic. They may be something as subtle as a pulled muscle or a case of the flu. But when you’re staring one of these reminders in the face, remember first that you are a runner.

When you can run, run. Run with all your might.
Get right back up and run again. Some people might call these things “obstacles”, but we can take them and turn them into something important: reminders of how great it is to run at all.

Keep on running my friends.

Coach Joe

Running Wild with Coach Joe
– a blog focused on marathon racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at http://coachjoeenglish.wordpress.com or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also available on Yahoo! 360 and MySpace.

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Motivation: how far can we runners go?

I was up early this morning running in Forest Park here in Portland. It’s a beautiful section of woods that starts right on the edge of the city and stretches for miles. The longest running path, a single-track trail reserved for pedestrians, meanders for 26.3 miles from one end to the other. Enough for some pretty long trail runs. As you move along through the green forest, it’s hard not be inspired to keep on running.

Something started me thinking about the many stories I’ve heard about how far runners have been able to take themselves. Whether they run across the Sahara Desert, run marathons on the Great Wall of China, or push through longer and longer ultra-endurance challenges, people are constantly upping the ante of the endurance challenge. People seem to be going further and further all of the time.

I wondered if there is something different in people today that allows them complete these amazing challenges. I don’t really think so. Sure there are some societal things that may give us more freedom and flexibility to take on bigger and bigger goals. And there are new technologies that help us as we attempt them. But people are still physically people.

Fundamentally, our ability to go further seems to me to lie in our motivation and drive as humans. You see, we have the experience of all of the people who have tried before us as our guide. When we read about someone succeeding at some amazing feat, this gives us the imagination to think that maybe we could do something like that as well. And whether it’s running a first marathon or running across the United States, it’s this spark in our imagination and the comfort that others have gone before that allow us to try for ourselves – and to push the envelope even further.

It seems to me that we may never know how far people can go, because if we fail, we’ll just try again. And we’ll keep trying until we get the job done. We do this in science, in the exploration of the universe, and we do it in looking for the limits of human endurance.

I came home from my run today and found an e-mail in my box from a friend passing along a new World Record to me. Her husband’s brother had just been certified as the official holder of the record for “the shortest overall time to complete a marathon on each of the seven continents.” In Feburary and March 2007, Richard Takata ran marathons in Germany, Japan, New Zeland, the USA, Egypt, Spain, Antarctica, Argentina and Cyprus. And he did all of this in 29 days. His inspiration: to raise money for charity.

Another example, I think, of how far we can go. But is this the end? Certainly not. Someone will hear this story – maybe it will be you – and it will create a spark of wonder to try something new. If you set your mind to something and are knocked back, just keep trying. And keep those sparks flying. It will be amazing to see where we go next.

Coach Joe

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at http://coachjoeenglish.wordpress.com or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also now available on Yahoo! 360 and My Space.

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Friday Fun: What’s on the radio?

I love the way music can set the mood and stimulate us while we’re running at times. I’m not a big fan of running with music in many circumstances, but a rainy Thursday evening run is certainly one of those times that I use it to get by.

Last night I was wearing my iPod Shuffle, which selects the songs randomly. I was rockin’ out to some live music when one of the lyrics jumped out at me. It was ironic how it fit with my run. Then I started paying attention and it seemed like one after another something jumped out at me as being very appropriate in each of the songs. What was going on here. Was it karma? Was it just a random coincidence? Are there random coincidences?

I don’t know, but here are the words that were speaking to me last night. Can you name the artist and song? They’re all listed at the end of the article.

1. “No one knows where you are, how near, how far. . . No one knows how far you’ll go.”

2. “Gravity is working against me; And gravity wants to bring me down”

3. “Where are you going? Where do you go? Are you lookin’ for answers to questions under the stars? Well if along the way you are growin weary, you can rest with me
Until a brighter day, you’re ok.”

4. “Fill ‘er up son; with unleaded. I need a full tank of gas where I’m headed”

5. “Running, running. As fast as we can. Do you think we’ll make it? We’re running, keep holding my hand”

6. “If I had boat, I’d go out on the ocean. And if I had a pony, I’d ride him on my boat.
And we could all together; go out on the ocean. Me upon my pony on my boat.”
[OK, so that may not have much to do with running, but I just love the line.]

7. How far can you go; Make me glow glow glow glow.”

And just as I finished the run, this came on:

8. “I’m bringing sexy back.”*
[Oh, how I wish.]

Have a good weekend runners.
Coach Joe

* 1. Pink Floyd, Shine on you crazy diamond; 2. John Mayer, Gravity; 3. Dave Mathews, Where are you going? 4. Sting, Fill her up; 5. No Doubt, Running 6. Lyle Lovett, If I had a boat; 7. Nelly Furtado, Glow; 8. Justin Timberlake, Sexy back

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at http://coachjoeenglish.wordpress.com or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also now available on Yahoo! 360 and My Space.

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