Coach Joe and I had a real treat riding in the lead media truck for the women’s race. It was dominated by Adenech Zekirios from Ethiopia who broke her own course record in 2:31:33. Joe did a great job passing along the play-by-play of the race. But, I want to share other observations.
From the start the three Ethiopians broke clearly and confidently from the rest of the pack. The American women were focused on Olympic trails A & B standard qualifying times. The three ran in perfect unison. Through more than 10 miles, we all remarked about even their footstrikes were perfectly synchronized. Though their upper bodies varied in movement – arms were swinging comfortably and with little effort even at paces in the high 5:30s and low 5:40s. When Zekiros made a break around 14 miles the effort increase was imperceptible. Yet, she dropped several of the miles down into the high 5:20s. Remember, this is a marathon not a 5k!
We dropped back a few times to catch the “race for the trials”. Observing a group of 16 of America’s finest distance women in a pack ws exciting. They were lead by a group of 4-5 elite men from the Hanson’s Racing team. These men were capable of far faster paces. They cruised pacing the women at 6:15 per mile while they are more accustomed to perhaps 5:15 per mile or better. A study in contrast of effort. The women, though relaxed at their race pace, were for the most part in total concentration. The men actually appeared to have to chop their strides and hold back.
The observation of effort in the human form even at the same pace is interesting. Arm swings – totally relaxed to the bit of tension and effort with each swing. Strides – slightly chopped to long and fluid. Upper bodies – some solid-strong and motionless, some with slight wobble. Breathing appeared very controlled and relaxed in most everyone and only later would I notice any labor at all. But vividly noticeable was the sound of their footstrikes. No, the lack of sound of their footstrikes. They glided over the ground. Strides as unique as they all were, were almost silent as they touched down. It was power and grace. Almost without exception these women came from track backgrounds and moved up to the marathon over time. And it is apparent in their running.
So often I hear from non-runners (even many runners) who think that watching running races is boring. Funny, the small group of us on that truck were enthralled. We watched and amazed at the athleticism, grace and power of these runners. It was like an illusion though. From the vehicle, watching, it appeared that we could have just jumped out and kept pace because they made it look effortless. Only when the reality of their splits were announced with each passing mile you realize the amazing feat that we were witnessing.
As the stress of the miles grew, there were changes in running forms. Some were subtle like a slight increase in arm movement or head wagging. Others, strides became more abbreviated. You could feel the tightness in the quads and hamstrings even from the truck. It was a observation study in human effort. But, even in slowing in the late miles, there was a contrast to the runners who were to follow in the hours to come.
At the finish, as all the runners came streaming in hour after hour, it was still a study in effort and form. These elite runners who spend many more miles on the track and doing high quality workouts (in conjunciton with longer runs of course) take that strength to the marathon. Most age-group runners (non-elite) spend far too little time doing quality work that makes them stronger, lighter on their feet and more efficient. The takeaway for me is as we get stronger and accustomed to running at faster paces, the slower paces (longer races) are dramatically improved.