Before today’s official post, a few odds and ends that are
somewhat related to recent subjects around here, and that will potentially keep
you reading for a very long time.
In my last post I described how running has become an
increasingly spiritual activity for me over the past several years. Coincidentally, last month the New York Times
published a feature length article about U.S. Olympic marathoner Ryan Hall –
among other things, it details how he uses Biblical tenets to guide his
training program, how he feels more connected to God through his workouts, and
how he uses his considerable talent as a platform to demonstrate his faith to
others. Even if you’re not the religious
type, it’s a fascinating depiction of the mindset of one of America’s best marathoners.
Ryan Hall; photo from New York Times
If I told you that Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece about distance
running that is framed around an extended profile of Alberto Salazar, would you
be interested? And if the piece also
included Gladwell’s remembrance of his own distance running days, or details
about how Salazar’s faith influenced his training regimen (are you sensing a
theme here?), would that pique your interest further? And finally, how about if the piece were
Alberto Salazar; photo from The New Yorker
I may have mentioned once or twice before that I’m a stark raving
Gladwell fan – not to mention an almost religiously-dedicated slacker – so needless
to say, this New Yorker piece doesn’t do anything to dissuade me of that
opinion. Do yourself a favor and check
it out; my own mediocre scribbling will be here when you get back.
One more item on the subject: lest you think that either Ryan
Hall, Malcolm Gladwell, or I were the first people to delve into the communion of running and
spirituality, of books on the topic. Most curiously of all on that list is a book
called , which, based on the synopsis, has absolutely nothing to do specifically
with either running or being barefoot. I
suppose sometimes the ways of the spirit are quite convoluted.
My offering for today was inspired by watching the Olympics:
more specifically, the large degree that one’s physical stature predisposes him
or her to excellence in certain sports – with the curious exception of
running. I’ve always bought into the conventional
notion that I was too tall to be an elite runner, but when I started
paying attention to the stats on some world class runners, the numbers revealed a
different story - one which is told in the Monterey Herald piece which follows
As an entertaining aside, if you want to see what Olympic sport
your own body is best suited for, take a look at this Olympic Body Type Match site
created by the BBC. Although it’s a cool
little game, I kind of regret that I did it myself; when I plugged in my height
and weight, the closest match it could find for me was a Turkish Greco-Roman
wrestler. That’s not exactly the
comparison that a guy who’s getting ready to run 100 miles is looking to hear -
but at this point there’s really nothing I can do about it, so this is just
another one of those things I have to learn to let go.
Running Life 8/9/12 “Every
A frequently-played VISA spot during this year’s Olympic
Games features world-class pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva; it describes how she
“grew up dreaming of hearing the roar of the crowd as a gymnast … but she grew
Apparently once Isinbayeva crested 5 feet, her chances of
becoming an Olympic gymnast became rather slim.
Indeed, female all-around champion Gabby Douglas stands a mere 4’11” –
and she’s actually tall in comparison to the 4’9” average height of the Chinese
Chinese women (girls?) in 2008; photo from Reuters
Other sports are exclusive on the opposite extreme. Imagine being a swimmer trying to reach the
wall ahead of 6’1” Missy Franklin or Michael Phelps’s 6’7” wingspan. Basketball players, volleyball players,
rowers, and countless other sports filter out hopeful participants through
prohibitive size and strength requirements.
And then there’s distance running, which is pretty much open
to anyone who wants to try it.
This may sound odd at first, as conventional wisdom usually
holds that runners should be small and skinny, but a closer look at world class
athletes tells a different story. Just
like recreational plodders, elite runners come in a wide variety of heights,
and it’s unlikely that someone’s stature should ever disqualify him or her from
Consider female marathoners.
In the 2000’s the sport was dominated by Kenyan Tegla Loroupe, who
stands barely five feet tall and might weigh 90 pounds dripping wet. However, Loroupe isn’t the world record
holder; that honor goes to 5’8” Paula Radcliffe, an indomitable force who
represented Great Britain at four Olympic Games.
Paula Radcliffe; photo from The Guardian
The men’s marathon record is held by 5’5” Patrick Makau, but
for many years it was the property of 6’ Paul Tergat. The record books of most major marathons will
show an even wider range: the shortest champion in the 116-year history of the
Boston Marathon is 5’1” Yun Bok Soh of South Korea, who is more than a full foot
shorter than the tallest winner, 6’3” Kenyan Robert Cheruiyot, who won the race
four times in the last decade.
Last weekend’s men’s 10K gold and silver medals weren’t won
by tiny African runners, but by 5’9” Mo Farah of England and 5’11” American
Galen Rupp. As impressive as Rupp
is, he only recently became the US 10K record holder; until last year it belonged to 6’1” Chris
Solinsky, whose best 5K time is slower than 6’3” Craig “Buster” Mottram of
Australia. And if Buster ever lined up
against America’s best 1500m runners, he’d be two inches shorter than 6’5”
Andrew Wheating. Incidentally, one of
Wheating’s 1500m teammates in London is 5’5” Leo Manzano. Do you still think height makes a difference
Andrew Wheating, Matt Centrowitz, and Leo Manzano; photo from Runner's World
Even over extreme distances, smaller isn’t necessarily
better. One of the brightest talents in
ultrarunning is 5’7” Kilian Jornet, but his accomplishments pale in comparison
to 6’3” Scott Jurek, who won the brutal Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run a
record seven times.
Granted, many world-class distance runners are remarkably
skinny: Buster Mottram carries only 160 pounds on his 6’3” frame, and Cheruiyot
is even more slender at 150lbs. Galen
Rupp looks like he might snap in half if you hug him forcefully. However, this is one of those chicken-and-egg
scenarios that’s difficult to quantify.
Are they elite runners because they are naturally skinny, or are they
skinny because of all the miles they’ve logged to become elite runners?
The answer isn’t that important; what’s more critical to
realize is that there’s virtually no body type that’s unsuitable for
running. In other words, don’t worry
about what you look like – just get out there and do it!