Archive for category running

The Toughest Footrace In The World

the Marathon des Sables is a 151 mile run in Southern Morocco

Heading off tomorrow to ski in Idaho’s cold and snow (-9 F degrees at night this week), so I want to warm up by focusing on the MdS, an ultramarathon in the Sahara Desert. What kinds of people do these things?

Running a marathon is a nice achievement and all, but if you really want to challenge yourself, you should run six of them over six consecutive days in the Marathon des Sables. The MdS is in southern Morocco in April, when the temperature tends to be around 50C (122 F). Forget about paved roads; it’s rocks and sand dunes. You have to run while carrying on your back your sleeping bag, all your food for the race and other supplies. Runners must prepare their own meals. Water and tents are provided by the organizers.

The Marathon of the Sands, or Sahara Marathon is 243 km (151 miles), and the longest single stage (2009) is 91 km (57 mi) long. It is held every year and considered the toughest footrace on Earth. The first event of the Marathon started in 1986.

There are between 700-800 intrepid, insane people in each race. The record completion time is 19.5 hours. There is prize money, but most contestants are just interested in finishing the race. Because, you know, running across a desert for six straight days is good, leisurely fun.

Some humans are amazing, aren’t they?

Here is a blog link from adventurer Alastair Humphreys, who ran the MdS in 2008. I love two of his astonishing sentences: “I broke my foot on Day 5, which added to the challenge for the last couple of days…The next day we only had to run a marathon. That I say ‘only’ is a great indication of how the MdS allows people to expand their parameters and their perception of their own boundaries.”

This reminds me of a book I was given for Christmas called Born To Run, which is about a remote North American Indian tribe that for centuries has practiced techniques allowing them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner.

Canadian runner Robert Kent described the potential dangers of the MdS as follows: “Things that are pretty evident like, scorpions, snakes, camel spiders, unbelievable heat, total exhaustion, crappy food, crappy sleep, filth, crippling blisters and other injuries, and those nasty stomach issues.”

The official site is hysterical. Here are some excerpts:

Most people do this lunatic event just to finish it…be crazy once in your life. I can assure you that you will suffer like hell…You will often think of giving up but sheer determination will keep you going…you will be considered crazy before you go. BUT you will be the envy of all those people when you get home…you won’t [be able to stay clean]. You will probably wear the same clothes throughout the race, there are no showers and the loos are not worth using – you will find a dune or a palm tree to hide behind. Women should rearrange their cycle…

Many people go into a kind of depression after the race. Not because they didn’t win but when they get home, everything seems dull and boring by comparison with what they have just spent a week doing. They miss the friends they made, the evening chats in the tents, the awesome desert, the stars at night, the elation of crossing the finishing line and the sheer excitement of watching and taking part in “The Toughest Footrace on Earth”. You may be difficult to live with for a few days and it is hard to share the experience with someone who has not been there. Just ask some of those who have done it.

Let us know when you are ready to try it.

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World’s Oldest (100 Years) Marathoner Tells How To Stay Fit

Joe Marshall sent me this story about a 100-year-old runner who completes marathons…ten so far. He is a Sikh named Singh nicknamed the Turbaned Tornado, and he has a great sense of humor: he wears a T-shirt that says Sikhs in the City (you’ve heard of Sex in the City, right?). The two videos I located show Singh running and offering wisdom about how to live so long and so healthily. To keep fit, Singh runs 10 miles a day and eats sparingly. He also says that the largest reward and blessing is given to those who make other people happy.

Living to 100 is a goal, a privilege, and, let’s face it, a nearly impossible task. It’s a destination few can reach or even imagine.

But for one of us, it’s the starting line.

Fauja Singh, born in 1911, ran an entire marathon in Toronto over the weekend. That’s amazing enough. He did it in 8 hours, 25 minutes, and 17 seconds. That’s even more remarkable. But consider that Singh started running competitively only after losing his wife and son 11 years ago, at age 89.

When an old man loses a spouse or a child, many around him worry that he will soon give up on life. After all, what is the day worth without the companion to whom you have devoted every day since you can remember? What’s there to look forward to?

Singh found something, and he put his whole heart into it. He didn’t want to simply make it to 100. He didn’t settle for a piece of cake and a nap. He wanted to break a record. And he did. Singh wasn’t just the first centenarian ever to run 26.2 miles. He beat five other runners. He’s now in the Guiness Book of World Records.

And he did it with a sense of humor, wearing a T-shirt that read “Sikhs in the City.”

This isn’t his first marathon, either. He’s completed 10, running a 6:41 at age 89, a 5:40 at 92, and a stunning sub-five-hours at 94. Only days before his historic feat, he accomplished something just as incredible: He set eight world age group records in one day — running the 100 meters in 23.14, the 200 meters in 52.23, the 400 metres in 2:13.48, the 800 meters in 5:32.18, the 1500 meters in 11:27.81, the mile in 11:53.45, the 3000 meters in 24:52.47 and the 5000 meters in 49:57.39.

Singh’s story, which started on a farm in the Punjab, has captivated many around the globe, who refer to him as “The Turbaned Tornado.” Now he wants to participate in the torch relay for the London Olympics next year.

“His will cannot be captured,” biographer Khushwant Singh told the TV show Amazing Indians. “It cannot be trapped.”

Singh has said, “I won’t stop running until I die.”

Words to live by.

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The Tough Guy Obstacle Course Challenge


I found an amusing article for those who want more challenging physical experiences. It’s aimed at exercise junkies who really want to make it hard for themselves. Impossibly hard. Painful and life threatening, in fact. Which is what makes it so interesting. It summarizes 10 events that I will describe over a number of days. I have to leave in the article’s opening sell copy.

Is your daily routine at the gym boring you? Is your jogging route not giving you the same satisfaction it once did? And are you tired of athletic events that only last a couple of measly hours? Then it sounds like you need more pain and suffering in your life! Luckily, there are numerous sporting challenges that have been designed for the sole purpose of torturing their participants with insane demands. Taking part in any one of the following events should be enough to ensure that you never want to exercise again!

10. The Tough Guy

The founder claims that it is the safest most dangerous event in the world.

The Tough Guy is a 12km foot race, but don’t let the short distance fool you. The creator of the course, believing that nature can’t provide a racetrack that’s hardcore enough for him, has built a series of obstacles that combine aspects of American Gladiators with the Vietnam War. Competitors climb up log walls, shimmy up poles to slide across high ropes, run through fire pits, navigate through sewer pipes, wade across chest deep water and crawl under barbed wire while smoke bombs go off over their heads. Oh, and it takes place in the middle of January. Sounds fun, right?

The event, which is held on some crazy British guy’s private land, can attract up to 6000 people each year. Injuries are common, and two people have even been killed, which is why you have to sign a “death warrant” before taking part. All in all, it sounds like an amazing competition to sign your friend up for while you heckle him from the sidelines.

Here is ESPN’s segment on the 2007 race.

Here are more details. Tough Guy claims to be the world’s most demanding one-day survival ordeal.

First staged in 1986, the Tough Guy Challenge is held on a 600-acre (2.42 square km) farm in Perton, Staffordshire, near Wolverhampton, England, and is organised by Billy Wilson (using the pseudonym “Mr Mouse”). It has been widely described as “the toughest race in the world”, with up to one-third of the starters failing to finish in a typical year.

After 24 stagings of the winter event, Wilson still claimed nobody had ever finished all the course according to his extremely demanding rules. The race, and its summer equivalent, has suffered two fatalities during its history.

Taking place at the end of January, often in freezing winter conditions, the Tough Guy race is staged over a course of between seven and eight miles (about 12 kilometres). It consists of a cross-country run followed by an assault course. The organizers claim that running the course involves risking barbed wire, cuts, scrapes, burns, dehydration, hypothermia, acrophobia, claustrophobia, electric shocks, sprains, twists, joint dislocation and broken bones.

Although the course is adjusted each year, its features have included a 40-foot (12.2 meters) crawl through flooded underground tunnels, balancing planks across a fire pit, and a half-mile wade through chest-deep muddy water. Marshals dressed as commandos fire machine-gun blanks and let off thunder flashes and smoke bombs over the heads of competitors as they crawl under a 70-meter section of barbed wire. Until 2000, some runners took part in the event carrying heavy wooden crucifixes.

Entry fees range from £80 to £1,000, depending on the sign-up date. Entrants have to be 16 years old or older. The event regularly attracts fields of up to 6,000 competitors, many from the United States and more than 20 countries around the world.

Before taking part, entrants must sign a “death warrant”, which acknowledges the risks and dangers, and which the organizers claim absolves them of any legally liability in the case of injury. First aid is provided by St. John Ambulance.

In case you want to see more, here is a video that is a bit hard to understand, but the visuals and interviews of the participants are terrific.

Tough Guyâ„¢ Intro from Mr Mouse on Vimeo.

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Stefaan Engels Runs 365 Marathons In 365 Days!

Marathon Man Stefaan Engels completes his last run in Barcelona—2/5/11

After writing yesterday about my inability to exercise consistently, here is an article by Eva Dou about a man who ran a marathon every day for a year to motivate people to exercise. Let’s hope this works for me…

BRUSSELS (Reuters Life!) February 10, 2011— People who run marathons often say one race a year is enough, both for body and mind. But that was never going to satisfy Belgium’s Stefaan Engels, who has just completed 365 marathons in 365 days.

Actually, even that wasn’t enough for Engels, who ended up completing 401 marathons in as many days: 18 on a hand bike and the rest on foot, including 365 in a row.

The 49-year-old from Ghent, northwest Belgium, is now the proud holder of the record for the most consecutive marathons, complementing his Guinness world record for the most triathlons completed in a year (20).

“It was a personal challenge,” he told Reuters by phone from his home this week, two days after completing his marathon odyssey. “I wanted to know if it was possible.”

He made it sound simple, but it was far from a straightforward “start running, stop after a year” challenge.

On January 1, 2010, Engels set out from Ghent to launch his campaign and ran the requisite 42.195 km (about 26.2 miles) on the first day. He kept up that pace for the next 17 days, but then a foot injury struck and he had to stop.

Quitting was out of the question, however. Engels bought a hand bike the same day and used his arms to propel himself through his daily marathons until his foot recovered.

On day 36—in a move that friends say is typical of the stubborn, asthmatic runner who was once told by doctors to avoid exercise completely—Engels announced he would reset the counter to zero and start the whole challenge again.

“People were saying, ‘You’re crazy, you’re throwing away 36 marathons,'” his friend Michael van Damme said. “But he was committed to running on foot all 365 marathons.”

Twenty-five pairs of running shoes later, Engels crossed the final finish line in Barcelona on February 5, completing a journey that has been compared to film character Forrest Gump’s epic run across the United States. As with Gump, local residents flocked to run alongside him wherever he went. Read the rest of this entry »

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Marathon Champion Wanted To Be The Best

Sammy Wanjiru wins Olympic marathon—2008

Sammy Wanjiru was the reigning Olympic champion. Hard as it was to believe in a country of great distance runners, Wanjiru was the only man from Kenya ever to have won a gold medal in the marathon. At the 2008 Beijing Games, Wanjiru set an Olympic record in winning the marathon in 2:06:32 on a blistering day that reached 86 degrees. Given the brutal conditions, many considered it the greatest marathon ever run, even though it was not a world record. By winning in Chicago last fall at age 23, Wanjiru became the youngest man ever to win four major marathons – the Olympics, Chicago in 2009 and 2010 and London in 2009.

Unfortunately he died yesterday by falling—or jumping—off a balcony. What struck me in the article I read were the words by his agent, Federico Rosa: “He had the special gift of the champion. “Besides a big talent, champions have what I could call an arrogance. They know they are stronger than the others. He was so focused on winning, not to be famous or get a lot of money, but just to show that he was the best. He wanted to show the world who is Sammy Wanjiru,” Rosa said.

I have often struggled with caring about winning at sports. It just doesn’t matter to me much of the time. I think of tennis or even hunting as a game, an exciting supplement to my life. But if I miss a shot, whether a ball or a bird, there is no serious consequence. I watch Nadal “dig deep” and try to emulate his determination. But I can’t do it. I know I should practice archery for hours, so that when I finally have that rare chance to hit the turkey, I will succeed. But I don’t, because something in me is lacking. My genetic capabilities aside, I don’t have what it takes to be a champion…or even a very high-level player.

Fortunately that deficiency is not lacking in other parts of my life, where I am motivated to succeed. I work hard at good relationships, career achievements, societal contributions, balancing my life’s activities, healthy diet and adequate exercise. But I am not driven to win in sport. I have friends who are. I see their killer instinct, their fierceness to dominate. That is what it takes. Do you have it? Do you want to be a champion?

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Tower Running Causes The Most Pain

Collapsed runners. Rudolf Reitberger (white shirt) has just beaten Thomas Dold—2005 Empire State Rue-Up

Here is a great London Guardian article by Benjie Goodhart about this little-known sport that you can practice almost anywhere, any time. I just excerpted the first few paragraphs.

Tower running—racing up the stairs of skyscrapers—is a fast-growing new sport. It is also incredibly painful. Why is it so popular?

The agonies people are prepared to inflict upon themselves in the name of fitness and fun are often baffling, but “tower running” takes endurance to a whole new dimension. It is a sport of few rules: you run up a skyscraper’s stairwell, you collapse and the fastest time wins. Despite the fact that it sounds about as enjoyable as gargling with magma, it is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. In America, there are countless competitions, with the three majors being the US Bank Tower in LA, the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Empire State Building in New York. There are races, too, all over Europe, Asia and South America, though none yet of any significance in Britain.

The elite athletes who pioneer this new craze are, unsurprisingly, a rum bunch. There’s 55-year-old Kurt Hess, who holds the world record for altitude climbed in 24 hours (30,000m) and who trains for 12 hours a day at weekends. There’s Ed McCall, a successful broker, who liked running up stairs so much he introduced his teenage sons to it: the three now combine school and work with traveling to races all over the world. And there’s Tim Van Orden, who feels compelled to break records in a host of athletic endeavours, and to show the world (via his website that all of this can be done on a raw vegan diet.

Their motives for taking up the sport may differ, but tower runners all talk of one universally shared experience – the pain. “It’s not all that pleasant,” says Ed McCall. His son, Colin, adds: “After my first race, I puked in a garbage can. Everyone high-fived me.” “Think about the most painful thing you’ve ever done, then multiply by 10,” says his elder brother Colin.

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Running Up Stairs Is A Highly Competitive International Sport

2007 Empire State Run-Up—Defending Champion Thomas Dold is in yellow

Forget the running of the bulls. Today was the 34th Empire State Building Run-Up, a vertical quarter-mile. The race, among the first on stairs, began as a lark in 1978. By 2010, there were more than 160 staircase races in the world—on 5 continents and in 34 states. In this year’s Empire State Building race, about 450 runners will depart in seven waves.

Strategy is highly individualized, too. Most use the railings as a hoist. And the best racers take the steps two at a time.

The longest is in Radebeul, Germany, a 39,700-step, 100-lap slog designed to approximate an ascent of Mount Everest from sea level to the summit.

2010 Empire State Bldg Run-Up

The longest single-staircase race is the Niesen Treppenlauf, in Switzerland, a scenic thigh-screamer comprising 11,674 steps adjacent to a funicular with spectacular Alpine views.

Chicago hosts the three longest nonstop run-up races in the United States, and Terry Purcell, 40, has won them all multiple times.

“Tell people you ran a marathon and they say, ‘Oh, O.K.,’ ” said Purcell, an eight-time champion of Chicago’s Hustle Up the Hancock. “If I say I ran up the Hancock, people are gobsmacked.”

I love that word. Of course as we saw a few days ago, you could always run in Antarctica to impress your running buddies.

What this article doesn’t tell you is how congested it gets at the start. Though runners are sent in waves, you can watch people get trampled in this silent video during the slow motion replay after about a minute. Dangerous…

By the way, the winner today was again Thomas Dold: it took him 10:10 to become the one and only 6-time winner in the 34 year old history of this classic New York event. He also holds currently five world records in backwards running between 400 meters and a mile. I will have to learn more about that later…

If this challenge appeals to you, here is a link to many other links:

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Marathon In Antarctica

Ready, Set, Go...across 26 miles of Antarctica

Humans like to run, and they do it in the craziest of places. There is a group of 17 people who went to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, for the 13th annual marathon. Others race the course on cross country skis. You can read about it in this article . Their ages range from at least 27 to 69.

“This is one of the few places in the world the average person can’t come to,” said one runner. “You take whatever job you can reasonably do just to get here.”

penguins cheer the runners

Running the McMurdo Marathon to say you did it may be its primary draw. It is a decidedly noncompetitive race, and some of the spectators are penguins, of course. One runner has whale sounds he listens to on his iPod—maybe the whales nearby are rooting for him. Another marathoner, Grace Sorbello, listens to the soundtrack for Dances With Wolves. Very outdoorsy. Grace was the first woman to unicycle across America.

not too crowded in this race

Certainly a committed group. Makes that little run through New York seem positively tame, because getting to this race is a bigger hurdle than the running…

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Helene Neville’s Amazing 2500-Mile Run Across America

From 1921 to 2008, there have been 4,102 ascents to the summit of Mt. Everest by about 2,700 individuals. Since 1928, only 212 people have crossed the country on foot! (running or walking) Only one person has ever run the transcontinental southern route, during the hot, humid conditions of summer.

Helene Neville, her journey entitled “One on the Run,” set foot on a 2,520-mile run on May 1st, 2010 and completed her run on August 1, 2010—93 days! Helene is now the first person to run the southern route in the summer and the first woman ever to complete this course.

Helene Neville—incredible athlete and inspiration

Helene plans to run from Canada to Mexico in March 2011, north to south, all within the same calendar year.

If you go to her web site , you will find this amazing excerpt from her bio there: Helene has been a nurse and a fitness coach for the past 28 years. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1993, conquering the disease in 2001 after overcoming three brain surgeries, which she suffered between 1991 and 1997.

In July 1998, Helene’s doctors told her she would never recover. It was Helene’s persistent attitude that drove her to set goals in her life. She decided then to accomplish one more goal in her life, and she began training to run a 26.2-mile marathon.

Helene entered and completed her first marathon and has completed 25 more since. Among them was the London Marathon, where her finish qualified her to compete in the world famous Boston Marathon. Qualifying for Boston was a proud step for Helene in overcoming her extreme health obstacles.

Helene finishes her 2010 Run Across America—8/1/10

Helene’s most notable marathon challenge was the Fox Cities Marathon held in Fox Cities, Wisconsin. Helene’s close friend, Don Owens, who lost his sight twenty years earlier, asked Helene if she would help him train to run a marathon. After sixteen weeks of training, Helene and Don completed the marathon together, tethered to each other with a bungee cord.

Helene wrote me that “I was always an athlete. In high school and college I ran sprints and middle distances. In 1998 I took up marathons after the doctors gave up on me. I also competed in two bodybuilding competitions and climbed Mt. Whitney.

“I decided to run across the country to mark my 50th birthday, to promote the book Nurses In Shape that I authored and to get nurses healthy, so they can be more credible as they instruct patients to incorporate fitness and proper nutrition in their lives.

It was a run in part to deliver the message on foot to make a bigger impact. I stopped and spoke with hundreds of nurses at 30 hospitals along the way. My mission is: To change the health of our nation, we must first change those who care for the ill. Health care practitioners should be leading by example. I intend to change the face of nursing, so my profession can be that much more credible while we educate our patients on diet and exercise. Nurses are millions in numbers, so we can have a huge voice in changing the health and wellness of our society. If we don’t, in the end, we are literally bearing the extra load!

I will continue to run in every state to get this message to nurses, so they can become better ambassadors and teachers of health. Additionally, if we can get the school nurses to set examples, we might begin to see a decline in the epic climb of childhood obesity.

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Ultrarunner Pam Reed Loves The Heat (133 Degrees) And Ignores The Pain To Win 135-Mile Races In Death Valley

Pam Reed has been Runner of the Year

An ultramarathon is any sporting event involving running longer than the traditional marathon length of 26.2 miles. Ultrarunner Pam Reed, 49, has achieved amazing records. In 2002 she was the first woman to become the overall winner of the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon. She subsequently repeated as overall winner of the race in 2003.

Also in 2003 Reed hit the streets of the Boston Marathon four hours before the official start, running the course in reverse in 3:36. Then she drank some water, and ran with the masses, finishing in 3:30.

In 2005, she became the first person to complete a 300-mile run without sleep, finishing in slightly less than eighty hours.

The Badwater Ultramarathon describes itself as “the world’s toughest foot race.” It is a 135-mile course starting at 282 feet below sea level in the Badwater Basin, in California’s Death Valley, and ending at an elevation of 8360 feet at Whitney Portal, the trail head to Mount Whitney. It takes place annually in mid-July, when the weather conditions are most extreme and temperatures over 130, even in the shade, are not uncommon. Consequently, very few people—even among ultramarathoners—are capable of finishing this grueling race.

Pam Reed

Listen to this excerpt from a 2003 article in Running Times magazine:

“In reality,’It was the hottest I’ve ever seen it out there,’ said Giles, who spent five hours bicycling next to Reed. ‘It was so hot that I couldn’t hang on to my handlebars. Even with gloves on I was burning my fingertips. It was murderous! The recorded high was 133 degrees. That’s just the ‘recorded’ high, not the real temperature out on the street.’

“Surface temperatures on the black asphalt probably topped 200 degrees. Most Badwater participants experience painful blisters that cover their entire feet. Reed was no exception. Last year she developed blisters around mile 70 and stopped momentarily to drain them. This year, at mile 40, she felt heat and sharp pain from blisters on her forefoot, but she just kept running. Soon, the sharp pain subsided and a cool feeling covered her feet, signaling that the blisters had popped under the pressure of her footfalls. Still, she kept running.”

For laughs, check out David Letterman’s interview of Pam after she won her second Badwater and told Dave that she loves heat and her prize was a belt buckle…skip to 2:25 to get right to the interview.

Reed’s small frame and lithe figure belie her strength. At 5 feet 3 inches and 100 pounds, she doesn’t appear to be your typical high mileage runner, but nothing about Reed’s training, racing or life is typical.

“My personal goal,” says Reed, is to motivate people of all speeds and ages to do something for themselves and set a fitness goal that will encourage a healthier lifestyle.”

When she’s not winning the world’s toughest races, Reed is the race director of the Tucson Marathon and more-than-full-time mother—two things she is quite proud of. Keeping up with three boys hardly gives her time to put in long training runs. Instead, she sneaks in 45-minute to one-hour workouts a few times a day in between dropping the kids off at school or shuttling them to soccer practice. The thought of speed work on the track turns her stomach, as do really long training runs. Reed refuses to keep a training log, tally her weekly miles, or follow the advice of coaches. “I just love to run. Period. I don’t do things that could interfere with my love of running,” she said. “It’s such a huge part of who I am.”

When it comes to racing, though, she’s no slouch. Reed has completed more marathons, 50-milers and 100s than she can count. She regularly participates in the Western States 100, Leadville 100, Wasatch 100 and other prestigious events that most runners hope to finish just once.

In 2008 she wrote the following on the website of the Tucson Marathon:

“…I was honored by Competitor Magazine as “Runner of the Year” and have had many opportunities to share my story with many runners in the U.S. and overseas. The reason I’m telling my story is to show that you don’t have to give into your age, you can continue to improve the same as races such as our marathon has the last 12 years.

My success hasn’t come easy. I’ve raised a family, having three boys and a dog, which has included supporting the boys in their sports, school activities, working and trying to fit in my training to accomplish these goals. If you’re interested in how I’ve been able to bring all this together, you can read my book, The Extra Mile.”

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Increasing The Difficulty Of Marathons (Or Any Challenge) Makes Finishing More Satisfying

Although this site is mostly about ordinary people who overcome personal fitness and athletic challenges, I like to mention some extra-ordinary athletes who can serve as great inspirations for all of us.

Running is a simple sport—even children can go through the motions—but doing it many hours or quickly is what tests our skill, physical endurance and mental discipline. I never ran more than seven miles in a local road race, so marathoners who cover 26 miles earn my admiration easily.

Here is an article about marathoners who want to increase the difficulty of their runs, so they cover 26 miles or more going up hills or mountains, sometimes on dirt trails, rather than asphalt roads. “Along the way (of the Mount Lemmon Marathon in Tucson, AZ) were not just mile markers but altitude signs showing runners that they were climbing, from about 3,000 feet above sea level at the start to more than 8,000 feet at the finish line.

“Whether it is the toughest race is open to debate. The Pikes Peak Marathon climbs over 7,700 feet to the top of the 14,115-foot mountain in Colorado, and it passes not over pavement but dirt tracks, rocks and other obstacles. The Everest Marathon is certainly no slouch. And there is the Antarctic Ice Marathon, in which participants crunch atop snow and ice.

“…One of those finishing near the top of the pack was Jordan Camastro, 27, who lives near the mountain. He is running a 100-mile race this coming weekend and used the uphill marathon as training.

“Once you conquer a regular marathon, you’re left with a longing for more,” he said. “You reach a limit and then you push further. You reach that and then you do even more.”

Another runner, Pam Reed, 49, said ““Why are people going further and harder and stronger?” she asked. “It makes other things in life seem much more doable. We have so many challenges in our lives with the economy and people losing their jobs and their homes. This is a way of defeating them and breaking the monotony of life.”

“I don’t love pain, but I do like challenges,” Ms. Reed said. “And unless something is difficult, it doesn’t seem that satisfying.”

This is a real good message. If it’s too easy to accomplish, then I don’t get no…satisfaction either. More on Pam Reed in another post. She is a sensation!

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Hunting On Easter

I organized a hunt yesterday for around 20 friends and family members. My kids traveled as much as six hours round trip to be part of the event. There was food and drinks and even a cake with candles, because today is my birthday. I have made it this far…69 years. What a treat. I am grateful to be alive, to have lived this long, to still be journeying and celebrating.

This morning I forced myself to do 700 crunches (300 bicycles and 400 non-stop balls) after warming up with a brisk 1500 meters of indoor rowing.

Oh yes, that hunt: it was for plastic Easter eggs, about 100 of them, hidden in the cracks between stones in old walls, under plants, in the branches of trees and bushes. It’s a lot of fun. And great exercise. I spent over an hour planting these multi-colored symbols of spring and new beginnings, stooping and bending, keeping my Springer Spaniel from eating the candies stuffed inside. In a warm year like this one, I worked up quite a sweat.

When everyone had arrived, and I shouted “GO!” to launch the egg search, the energy release is a mini-explosion . The kids run like crazy in all different directions, but the adults and post-teen children are running as well, either helping the little ones or competing with them unashamedly. You ever try keeping up with a five-year-old racing for candy? Not easy, bless their little hearts. And they are tireless. No one ever has “enough.”

Then I walk around for another half hour checking all the spots. You’d be amazed how many eggs are missed that are right out in the open. People just pass by them. No wonder I can’t see a tennis ball at 100 mph, when the average human eye walks by a static object without noticing its existence. And every time I announce that there is still another egg to be found, the crowd rushes and crushes to my general vicinity to seek out the missed prize.

Lots of laughs. The downed “game” is devoured within an hour, along with the cake—I had three pieces—and ice cream for those who reward themselves for such an active workout.

Who says exercise helps you lose weight? Not on Easter Sunday or your birthday.

hunters and game—4/4/10

hunters and game—4/4/10

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Senior Athletes Who Inspire All Ages

I learned about a book called The Wonder Years that celebrates senior amateur athletes “who never slow down.” Of course these are rare individuals who have their health, the will to persist, and the physical capability to still compete. Very inspirational. They are truly blessed. The USA Today article follows the pictures. The photographer Rick Rickman’s words apply to us all: “…no matter how old you are, you can be active and engaged in life and have a whole lot of fun and not be this fragile, decaying entity.”

The first portrait is of a Catholic nun who began exercising at 49 and has since finished 20 Ironman triathlons in Hawaii and over 300 more around the world. She is 79! There is a video about her accomplishments at Check out 66-year-old Clifford Cooper’s October 31st post below about his upcoming Ironman dedicated to his brother who died of Alzheimer’s.

Sister Madonna Buder has completed over 325 triathlons

Sister Madonna Buder has completed over 325 triathlons

Margaret Hinton has competed in numerous national games. “I can tell that some of these people came here to socialize. That is okay, but I’ve come here to take home the gold.” Eve Fletcher began surfing more than 50 years ago. “I don’t think you can be too old to be stoked.”

shotputter Margaret Hinton

shotputter Margaret Hinton

surfer Eve Fletcher

surfer Eve Fletcher

Jane Hesselgesser was a concert pianist and Bill Cunningham was a soccer player and a double for Frankie Avalon. Now in their 60’s and 70’s respectively, they compete as a pair in bodybuilding events around the world against couples 20 years younger.

bodybuilders Bill Cunningham and Jane Hesselgesser

bodybuilders Bill Cunningham and Jane Hesselgesser

Senior Athletes Still a ‘Wonder’ at Their Age

By Reid Cherner, USA TODAY

Growing old might be a contact sport, but it shouldn’t be a competition you need to lose.
That is the premise of The Wonder Years: Portraits of Athletes Who Never Slow Down, a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Rick Rickman.

The official photographer of the Senior Olympic Games, Rickman has profiled everyday athletes who many think were past their expiration date as competitors. From surfers to runners to swimmers to body builders.

“These are people who, for the most part, really have no misconceptions that they ever are going to be athletic superstars,” Rickman said. “They are people who love to stay fit and healthy and competitive. Most of them started training late in life, and it has been a wonderful thing for them.”

When a high school student asked the photographer if he had any remorse taking pictures of people doing activities “that might hurt them,” a book idea was born. “I was so taken back I didn’t know how to answer at first,” he said. “I realized that there is this strange perception about aging in this country. I think in the process of growing old and gathering days under your belt, you can decide for yourself whether to be active and engaged and vital all the way to the end.

“I hope (the reader) takes away the fact that, no matter how old you are, you can be active and engaged in life and have a whole lot of fun and not be this fragile, decaying entity.”

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“Because I Can, & He Cannot”

(left to right) Clifford, Richard and Stephen Cooper—1999

(left to right) Clifford, Richard and Stephen Cooper—1999

Our Mother’s license plate said “My 3 Sons”. The picture above is of the 3 of
us. 2 are still playing tennis & celebrating life. The 3rd is not. He died from
complications of Alzheimer’s. Richard was 59 when he was diagnosed, he died
when he was 67.

At 66 years old, I have qualified & will participate in the 70.3 Ironman World Championship, November 14, 2009 in Clearwater, Florida.

I have chosen to acknowledge the spirit & memory of my Brother by
dedicating my training & participation to Honor him & raise awareness
to help find a cure for this dreaded disease.

Contributions in any amount are welcome (but increments of $730, $70.30,
$35.15, or $17.575 might have more meaning) should be made in Honor of
Richard, c/o Team Cooper,

You can follow my effort on line at Bib # 506
I will be sure to feel your energy & I know Richard will be watching.

“because I can, & he cannot”

contact me at:
41 Westover Road
Litchfield, CT 06759

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Can You Get Fit in Six Minutes a Week?

Excerpts From an article in the NYTimes, 5/24/09, by Gretchen Reynolds. [Summary: Six minutes or so a week of hard exercise (plus the time spent warming up, cooling down, and resting between the bouts of intense work) had proven to be as good as multiple hours of working out for achieving fitness. The short, intense workouts aided in weight loss, too.]

The potency of interval training is nothing new. Many athletes have been straining through interval sessions once or twice a week along with their regular workout for years. But what researchers have been looking at recently is whether humans…can increase endurance with only a few minutes of strenuous exercise, instead of hours? Could it be that most of us are spending more time than we need to trying to get fit?

The answer, a growing number of these sports scientists believe, may be yes.
“There was a time when the scientific literature suggested that the only way to achieve endurance was through endurance-type activities,” such as long runs or bike rides or, perhaps, six-hour swims, says Martin Gibala, PhD, chairman of the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. But ongoing research from Gibala’s lab is turning that idea on its head. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bill Ale’s Running and Cycling Story: There Are No Short Cuts, And One Can Achieve Almost Anything With Commitment and Hard Work

Bill Ale (L) and friend cycling in the Italian Alps—9/08

Bill Ale (L) and friend cycling in the Italian Alps—9/08

Hard work and commitment is the key to any athletic endeavor! Only a very small percentage of athletes have that genetic gift that seems to allow them to excel with minimal work. Most of us have to accept what we were given at birth and sculpt that into whatever athletic objective we may want to pursue or achieve. I am a perfect example of the latter guy.

I am a 58 year old, retired male and have been involved in competitive sport my entire life. I was not given the perfect body, but what I was given was heart. I learned that even though I did not have all the tools, I still could achieve anything if I committed myself to it and worked hard enough. 

After I got out of college, for the first time in my life, I had no sport, and much to my surprise I began to notice my pants more snug and my mid section starting to expand. So I began to jog, which I really didn’t care for, but I stayed with it. One day, while in the men’s room at Southern Connecticut State University, where I was attending graduate school, a frail looking gentleman approached me after noticing my running shoes and asked me if I was a runner. I sheepishly said, I was. He introduced himself and said he was also a runner. In fact, he said he was a marathoner. I was intrigued, as I had read some of Bill Roger’s books on marathon training.

48 Switchbacks of the Stelvio Pass in Italy—One of Bill Ale's best rides on a bike—9/08

48 Switchbacks of the Stelvio Pass in Italy—One of Bill Ale's best rides on a bike—9/08

Make a long story short, we set a date to “run” together. Our running date was a torture fest for me as I tried my best to keep up with him for the 5 miles we ran. After the run he offered me some constructive tips and wrote down a basic training schedule for me. I followed that schedule and soon began to see improvements. As the old adage goes “the better you are the better it gets”. I was hooked. I set my sights on running the Manchester Thanksgiving Day Road Race with my new running friend.

On the big day, which happened to be my first race, I had no clue where to line up for the start. So I lined up next to my friend, which happened to be in the second row right behind Amby Burfoot, Bill Rogers and Frank Shorter. The gun sounded and we were off. Mile one, I passed at a 5:10 pace. Mile 2, I was in a survival shuffle and by mile 3, I was walking. A harsh reality! I learned alot that day, mostly that positive outcomes are a product of commitment and hard work. Something I had not done. There are no short cuts.

One year after that memorable day and many miles I ran my first marathon in 3 hours and 55 minutes. Over the next two years, I joined a running club, trained hard and managed to lower my marathon time to just under 3 hours. Lots of 80 mile weeks . I did manage to get a PR of 2:53 in New York, but shortly after that I injured my knee, which ended my running career. Read the rest of this entry »

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