Road Runners Club of America

We Run the Nation: Growing the Sport of Running Since 1958

Feature Articles and Blog Posts

  • How to Run Your Best 2017 Boston Marathon (or any race for that matter)

    by Jean Knaack | 04/06/2017

    By Mark Cuccuzzella, MD

    boston-2016April 17 will be my 23rd running of the Boston Marathon and 17th consecutive.  My only Boston misses since 1989 were for military duties and a foot surgery. I’m not much for streaks, but I run Boston, Marine Corps, and Air Force Marathons every year to get out on the course with friends, fellow Service Members, Vets, and to be part of a large urban party.  At age 50, now it’s fun to look back, and this spring I realized I’ve been running marathons for 30 years without any long breaks.  I had never thought about my running as a “streak” until the number 30 straight years of running sub-3 hours came up. There is actually Guinness Book accounting of the record of consecutive years of sub-3 hours run in the same annual marathon. The world’s lead is 33, held by Chris Finill of the UK at the London Marathon. Runner’s World did an article about Finill’s effort to run 30, and he kept it up for 33 straight years. So, I’ll be out there this year, in Boston, trying to come in under 3-hours, and that will make 30 years of sub-3 hour marathons for me. 

    My best time over the last 29 years is 2:24 with an average time of 2:35 during the streak. I won’t be near that mark this year, but I feel healthy, and unless unexpected weather or the gods of marathoning work against me, I feel good about finishing in under 3-hours.   Over these nearly 30 years and close to 100 marathons, my slowest finish is 3:00:00 at Air Force Marathon this year where I ran a large amount of the race barefoot. I have 2 DNFs along the way.  One was my first Boston in 1989 where I ran downhill with rookie ignorance and paid the price.  The other DNF was in 1991 at the New York City Marathon where I started with bad Plantar Fasciitis.

    What is the sustainable path? In today’s culture, there is a trend and emphasis on high-intensity training as the path to success.  I agree that for immediate performance this is true, but the jury is out if we are talking about long-term health and balance if one has a busy life. Be careful of who you look to for advice, be cautious if the advice is linked to short term fitness and not to long term health strategy to keep you on the roads.

    The late Dr. George Sheehan often wrote, “We are all an experiment of one.” This is true, but I think one must understand the principles of overall health and how to treat your body to keep the experiment going.  Since my foot surgery in 2000, I have not done any training which would be considered “hard” or “anaerobic” by modern extreme fitness zealots. Most proponents of “pain is gain” cannot produce this type of sustainable performance data in themselves or any of their clients or athletes.  I have not missed a Boston or Marine Corps since 2000; and have not had running related injury since then either. Despite some years of extreme weather at these races, my times are all consistent with the gentle physiologic age related decline. The human body does not need technology or fancy stuff as we age.  In 2016 I ran Boston, Air Force, and Marine Corps in 5 Fingers, barefoot, and sandals. I will again be running for research as a minimalist running subject for Dr. Irene Davis of Spaulding National Running Center. 

    So, what is the “Secret Sauce” of long-term healthy running?

    • Run for joy.
    • Recover.  Slow jogging is your friend. If you eat and train well, you do not do damage, so there is no real “recovery time” in the modern lexicon of protien shakes , ice baths, rollers, massages, compression, etc.
    • Learn to use fat as fuel. Read about how this works here
    • Do not run too hard. Running is recovery and you should always feel better when you get back then when you went out the door.
    • Keep “fast and agile” with short sprints and drills.
    • Keep mobile, especially in the ankles and hips.
    • Keep your foundation strong–this is your foot.  Wear flat shoes shaped like your foot to stand, walk, run, and play.  Go barefoot as often as you can.
    • Learn the skill of running and keep trying to master this. 
    • Do simple strength training .
    • Be your own body sensor and coach.
    • Don’t sit.
    • Eat real food, and as you age limit the carbs.
    • Do not put your body in pain.
    • And pass it forward…we all continue to learn by teaching and sharing with others.

    So now on to the Boston strategy:

    As you enter the week prior to the race here are a few strategies to help you set your plan. The best analogy I can think of is this ~ if you have trained your body properly with the right mix of aerobic level training and some up-tempo stuff in recent weeks, you have built your efficient hybrid engine ready to race the marathon. 

    You may have driven in a Prius (or other hybrid car) and watched the subtle shifts between gas and electric on the dashboard.  You do not perceive these shifts. The engine (your muscles) runs on a mixture of gas (sugars) and electric (fats).  Utilizing gas or electric power depends on the effort.  Therefore, slow aerobic training is critical for marathon success, and you build a massive electric (fat burning) engine

    Keep this idea in mind:  running on sugar will leave you running on empty while running on fat will make you bonk proof.

    Learn how to be a better butter burner:

    Imagine you are starting the race with one gallon of gas in the tank- assuming you have eaten a nice meal the night before with a light breakfast to top you off. If you race in all “gas mode,” your engines will run about 1.5 hours at a strong pace; then you are out of gas. If your effort is mostly electric, you can run for hours, but not as swiftly.

    With the correct effort you will:  (1) use the proper fuel mix, and you will be efficient for the duration of your event, and (2)  you can even do some topping off along the way.  Running too hard too early will sabotage your race day by not only depleting the gas but also shunting all blood flow to working muscles, thereby not allowing the aid station top-offs to assist you during the race.

    Running utilizes about 1kcal/kg/km. So, for a lean marathoner of 80 kg you need about 3,360 kcals (80kg x 42 km) to make it through the race.  The gas is the glucose utilizing pathway. Even fully carbo-loaded, your stored liver glycogen (300-500kcal), muscle glycogen (1000-1500kcal),  and blood glucose (less than 20 kcal) don’t add up. Glucose is easy to access for ready energy but adds up to less than 2,000 kcal.  The fat utilizing pathway is the electric engine.  In marathons, you must be in hybrid mode to make it through the race.  Hybrid is where your energy (ATP) is coming from both fuel sources.  Conserving the gas and using the electric engine early in the race is critical.

    Many runners are in great “10k shape” (an all gas event) and train in all gas mode. They start their marathon in the all gas mode….and crash.  Glycogen sparing strategy need not apply in races of less than an hour if you have a good pre-event meal to fill the tank. In marathons and ultras, top-end anaerobic fitness matters little and can only be applied very near the finish.

    Glucose gives 36 ATP per molecule with a limited supply, fat 200-400 ATP per molecule and an unlimited supply.  You must tap into the fat burning tank during your marathon. And, now you know how a bird can migrate 7000 miles without an aid station.  It’s all about adaptation in training and pace.

    Another key to teaching your body how to burn fat and to maximize aerobic development is to not eat before or during your long runs. If you are reading this for the first time before this year’s race then apply it to your next marathon during your several months of training. Your body adapts to exposures, and if sugar is constantly accessible, it will not learn how to burn fat.  You also want to convert your fast twitch fibers to make them as “red” (oxidative) as possible.  Easy and moderate effort long runs of 2-hours in a fasted state will drain the slow twitch fibers (“red” fibers) of glycogen and force more capillarization of the fast twitch (mix “white”/”red”)  fibers, making them more “red.”

    You are doing speed work by running slow with this method, making the powerful fast twitch fibers aerobic.  Distance runners in events from 800 meters to marathons, through generations, have trained this way.  This is part of the Lydiard method and validated by the life work of Dr. Stephen Siler. Only recently have we been convinced by industry that we need lots of sugar before and during long runs.  Race day is different as you are going for performance, not creating adaptations.

    So how do you know you are running in your best hybrid mode?

    This is difficult, because the body sense at this level (Aerobic Threshold-AeT) is not as profound as Lactate Threshold (or Anaerobic Threshold- AT).  A slight increase from your AeT pace will switch you from hybrid to all gas without you realizing it. The effects are felt miles later. Charging and surging early will tap your gas quickly.  If you want to speed up early….DON’T. Relax and maintain a comfortable effort, not always a specific speed.  You should feel easy in the early stages, it is a marathon.

    You must rehearse in training.  I focus on relaxation and belly breathing.  If I’m breathing one cycle to 5 steps, then I’m hybrid.  If I’m breathing faster, I’m using mostly sugar as fuel.  Belly breathe by allowing the lower belly to blow up like a beach ball on inhalation as your powerful diaphragm contracts.  You will fill the lower lung areas where oxygen exchange occurs. Notice the breathing efforts of those around you. Many are rapid breathing. They will suffer somewhere past half way.  Practice nasal breathing, it forces belly breathing and prevents you from running in too high of a gear.  Nasal breathing also allows CO2 to rise naturally to assist in offloading the oxygen to the tissues.  Blowing off CO2 binds the oxygen to the hemoglobin, inhibiting offload to the tissues.

    In a marathon, the last 3-4 miles you will be using mostly gas to maintain the same speed as fatigue sets in and your heart rate rises.  The breathing is usually on 3 to 4 steps per breath cycle, and that is OK.  Still stay relaxed and use the cues that you have rehearsed to keep your form.

    Find a nice rhythm. Races are filled with excitement and distractions.  Try not to get distracted and find peace in the moment.  The art of a marathon is to relax and to be in the moment. Smile and enjoy the route.  Land softly, especially on the early downhills.  Focus on good form. Land soft and springy with good “impact moderating behavior” harnessing elastic recoil. Gently landing on and rolling from the heel can work as can mid-foot/forefoot.  Mix it up. Do not over-stride with fully extended leg. Focus on posture and hip extension. Your trunk will lean forward slightly.  Think “face forward” and look ahead. Run over the ground not into the ground

    Remember, your brain is the captain of the ship and will always try to protect you.  Even at “all on” we are only really using 50-60% of our capacity.  The brain likes homeostasis and running 26.2 miles is counter to this.  Assuming you are medically healthy, you can play some tricks to outwit your brain, which is constantly telling you to slow down or stop.  Work around the bad patches with your mind and find a better mental place.  You are not “done.”  Shift your stride, take something at the aid station, run mile to mile, sing a song, relax and slow the breathing.  You want to be “parasympathetic” (rest and digest).  This is happy land.  If your brain tells you the body is in peril, “sympathetic” (fight or flight) stress kicks in.  This is good for running from a wild animal (a sprint), but not for persistence hunting (a marathon).

    Have a course specific plan for your race. My best learning experiences were when the men and women started together, and I had the privilege of running alongside and witnessing the patient approach and incredibly efficient running of the top ladies.

    In 2001, I witnessed multiple world champion and Boston winner Catherine Ndereba employ a relaxed strategy.  Her light springy stride and complete relaxation of effort contrasted with the other ladies in the pack whose body language and breathing displayed that they were putting out more energy than Katherine.  As a group, we hit the half marathon in 1:14. Catherine kept relaxed down the long downhill at mile 16, then tightened the screws with a huge acceleration over the Newton hills, running 50 minutes the last 10 miles for a 2:24.  Catherine helped my day.  By cueing off her pacing and relaxation, I ran an even race and finished in 2:29.

    The other runner who taught me to have fun out there was the legendary 3-time Boston winner Uta Pippig of Germany.  In 2002, I ran with her until she dropped me at Cleveland Circle (mile 22).  The crowds loved Uta, and the noise escalated as she approached.  She smiled the whole way.  Maybe this was her cue to relax, feed off the crowd’s energy, and have fun in the moment. In marathoning, you must be present in the moment; not thinking about how far you have to go; what you may feel like later; wondering if you are going to slow down; fearing the wall is coming.  Uta ran a strong fourth place that day in 2:28 and I finished a few strides back in 2:29. She is an example of how our brains govern our effort. When we are positive it flows.

    These ladies made sure to get their fluid and nutrition at all stops. The few extra seconds used here paid dividends down the road.  They ran over the road not into the road, especially on the downhill. Their posture was tall and their arms always relaxed.  But most vital was their overall efficient energy conservation and utilization strategy.

    Be sure to save energy for the later stages of the race; this is where things can get tough.  Remember, if you feel really good in the early stages, and feel like you want to speed up, DON’T.  It is a marathon, and you should feel good in the early miles.  Don’t take the bait. Charge when you can “smell the barn,.” This occurs when you see the Citgo sign (comes into view at Mile 23).

    Now a few extra ways to get from start to finish quicker on the same gallon:

    • Do not sabotage your event by having a large carbohydrate heavy breakfast the morning of the race.  This will increase your insulin levels and lock out the ability to burn fat.  Fill your glycogen stores by eating adequate amounts of healthy carbohydrates the 3 days prior and not running those three days before the event. 
    • Make sure to get fat and protein, too. Do not “overload,” you can only store a specific amount.  A light breakfast of a mix of carb/fat/protein is a good thing, as well as your morning coffee if you are a coffee drinker. Personally, I am insulin resistant with age so I do not carbo-load and prefer the slow release super starch UCAN the morning of events and on courses where I can leave a bottle or two.  I have adapted to using primarily fat as fuel and want to do this during the race.
    • If you can add a little gas along the way this helps both glucose and fat burning.  Adding just a little is best.  If running too fast or if is temperatures are high, you shunt blood to working muscles and to the skin to cool, and the blood diverts from the gut, so nothing digests.  Plus, you are burning quickly through the glucose/gas.  If you are in hybrid mode in the early going of the race, you can continually add some fuel. The key is not only the correct fuel, but the right pace. Just a little sugar every 30-minutes is easy to digest and can help keep you fat burning till the final miles. Drink mostly water instead of the energy drinks, which are often less predictable on the run and can spike your insulin and sugar excessively.
    • The early downhills are fun, but if run too hard, they can drain your gas quickly and damage your quads.  Go smooth and easy down them. Allow gravity to assist you down. Do not overstride with hard heel hit on the down hills.
    • Maintain effort on uphills.  Your pace will slow, and you can easily use all your gas here if your effort increases.  Shorten your stride, relax, and use your arms.  Relax and recover on the downhills.  Save something for this section of the race!
    • If you are having a “bad patch,” try to refocus on relaxing, fuel a bit (sometimes a blood glucose drop triggers the sense of doom), and have faith in your training and race plan.  Another nice trick is when you hit mile 21 it is not 5 miles to go, it is 4 and change. Mile 22 is 3 and change to go.  Just run to the next mile marker and count them down one by one. Smile and enjoy the crowds.
    • If it is windy get behind a group.  This can save lots of physical and mental energy.
    • Do not over drink water. This can lead to the dangerous condition called hyponatremia.
    • A final tip comes from 4-time Olympic Trials qualifier Josh Cox, who spoke with me before the Air Force Marathon a few years ago.  The night before the race make “the invisible man.”  Get everything you are going to wear/use the next day set up and ready to put on in the morning.  Scrambling to find your number, socks, favorite hat, gels or other item adds stress.  Get the outfit laid out on the floor, ready to wear. Then get some sleep.

    The fun of the marathon is that we are always learning and enjoying the adventure of it.  I’ve done over 100 marathons and Ultras over the last 29 years.  We learn from experience, taking chances, and occasional failures.   Train to race efficiently and economically in the marathon, but know there are still uncertainties every time you line up.  I learn something new every time. So, relax, taper, and seize the day.

    Good luck to all of you, and see you at the start and the finish!

    This article first appeared March 26 on Natural Running Center.

    Mark's principles of sustainable running and nutrition are explored more in the recent podcast.  Listen to it now.

    Dr. Mark Cucuzella is a Family Physician at Harpers Ferry Family Medicine and Associate Professor at West Virginia University School of Medicine. As a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserves, he is coach and captain of their marathon team and designing programs to reduce running injuries in military personnel. He is the chief medical consultant for the Air Force Marathon ( His passion for health extends beyond the walls of the clinic into the medical home’s “backyard”- the trails and open space that create the arena for optimum wellness.
  • Boston by Meb - In His Own Words

    by Jean Knaack | 04/06/2017
    By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
    (c) 2017 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved - used with permission

    On April 17, Meb Keflezighi will race from Hopkinton to Boston for the final time as an elite athlete, closing a tremendous Boston Marathon career than has spanned more than a decade. Keflezighi, 41, has won an Olympic silver medal and became the first American in 27 years to win the New York City Marathon in 2009. But Keflezighi's 2014 Boston Marathon title, coming a year after the horrific bombing on Boylston Street, holds strong as the pinnacle of his storied career. Since becoming an American citizen in 1998, Keflezighi has solidified his case as the best marathoner in USA history.

    In advance of his Boston swan song, Keflezighi agreed to speak with Race Results Weekly over the phone to discuss his Boston career. What was scheduled to be a 20 minute interview quickly turned into an hour's worth of memories, with Keflezighi detailing his favorite Boston moments in fine detail. He shared some personal stories and anecdotes, described his victory in detail, and looked ahead to this year's race.

    Year by year, Meb dissected his time in Boston, from his debut in 2006 to his final competitive race in less than two weeks. Here is Boston, in his own words.

     *  *  *  *  *

    2006: 3rd place, 2:09:56

    The story of Meb Keflezighi's Boston Marathon journey began in 2003, three years before he'd toe the line in Hopkinton. After running his marathon debut in New York City in 2002, Keflezighi hoped to tackle Boston next. He'd beg and beg coach Bob Larsen to run the race year after year, yet his mentor routinely said "no."

    Meb finally got the chance to run in 2006, bursting out of the gate and leading an American resurgence in Boston. In the 15 years from 1990 to 2005, a total of six American men finished in the top ten in Boston. For a decade and a half, Americans were an afterthought at the nation's most historic and envied road race.

    Keflezighi changed that in a matter of hours by leading the field through halfway in 1:02:45, more than two minutes faster than Cosmas Ndeti's previous course record split. Keep in mind, these were the days before 2:06 times were common, and when the world record stood at 2:04:55.

    "By the time I got to the halfway point I remember it said 1:02:45. It was world-record pace at the time. I just said it’s going to be a great day and a PR for me, or it’s going to be a long, long day," Keflezighi recalled with a hearty laugh. At the Newton Firehouse (mile 17.5), Keflezighi began to suffer the consequences of his eager pace. "All you could hear was 'USA, USA!' By the fire station all the way to the finish line, all I wanted to do was drop out. But I was wearing that USA jersey and that kept me going."

    After going out in 1:02:45, Keflezighi's second half split was more than four minutes slower (1:07:11). He finished in 2:09:56 for third, becoming the first of five American men to finish in the top ten that year.

    Brian Sell and Alan Culpepper were fourth (2:10:55) and fifth (2:11:02), respectively, while Peter Gilmore and Clint Verran placed seventh (2:12:45) and tenth (2:14:12). This was the first year in decades where Americans made a splash in Boston. Meb's placing was the highest by an American since Gary Tuttle and Mark Helgeston finished second and third in 1985.

    "Brian Sell, Culpepper, and then Peter Gilmore and Clint, that was the biggest turnaround for U.S distance running in the marathon," Keflezighi said, pausing to reflect on the time. The seed was planted: An American could one day win the Boston Marathon again. "I believed I always could win. I knew there was more to come... I wanted to compete against the Kenyans. I got third. If I played smart and got invited back, I knew I had a chance to win. All my outside friends who have been in the sport since the 60s and 70s, they always thought Boston was my kind of course."

     *  *  *  *  *
    2010: 5th, 2:09:26

    "Going into 2010 I wasn’t 100-percent. I fell twice and had patella bursitis," Keflezighi began, when asked about his initial memories of the 2010 Boston Marathon. "Going into the race I was banged up. I had won New York in '09 and wanted to be the next American in a long time to win New York and Boston. That’s the reason I didn’t go to the London Marathon. I had a pretty nice offer from the London Marathon but I decided I wanted to win championships in the United States. Boston was missing from my resume and I wanted to be able to do it."

    Though Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot ran away in a course record time of 2:05:52 and Ryan Hall notched a 2:08:41 fourth place finish (the fastest ever by an American in Boston up to that point), Keflezighi ran strong to a fifth place finish in 2:09:26. The time was just eleven seconds shy of his then-PB 2:09:15.

    "I remember Ryan passed me near the train station area after we made the left, on Beacon Street maybe. He just rubbed my head. A mile, mile and a half or so before the finish line he caught up to me and wound up getting fourth, I got fifth. I was pretty happy with that. My main goal was to win back-to-back, New York and Boston champions. It didn’t happen and is what it is. But both those times I had run, 2006 and 2010, they were course records, both by Robert Cheruiyots -- obviously two different Cheruiyots. When you're defeated by those guys and it's the fastest anyone had ever run on the course, you have an appreciation and kind of say 'I just need to work harder next time.'"

    Results in their nature are very cut and dried: there is a place and a time that defines how the event went. But what results don't do is give color to the competition. The best part of the 2010 race was tackling the course together with Hall, a close friend and fellow Californian. In a special moment seen by very few, Hall and Keflezighi reunited and celebrated each other's times with their family after the race. Caught on camera by this writer, the moment was unforgettable.

    Keflezighi_Hall_Boston_2010_With_Fathers_Smaller_Chris_Lotsbom"I remember I gave it 100-percent and going through the medical tent my eyes were full of tears that I failed to win it for the people. Only if people understood my motivation and desire to win. In 2010, my dad and mom were there with Ryan's parents. My dad picked us up, Ryan and I, both at the same time with each arm to the waist level. Not bad for 73 years old."

     *  *  *  *  *

    2012 - Grand Marshal

    Coming off a win at the Olympic Trials Marathon, Keflezighi was honored by being named Grand Marshal of the 2012 race, one of the hottest races in Boston Marathon history. Temperatures were in the upper 80sF from the start in Hopkinton to the finish in Boston.

    "I remember real well being the Grand Marshal. I remember it was fun, I had never done that before. I had made the Olympic team and wanted to celebrate. It was an honor to be there, something Bill Rodgers and others had done," Keflezighi began. "What I remember about that race was that it was hot. Spectators were looking for the shade. I said 'Uh oh, that’s not a good thing. Runners can't look for the shade...'"

    No one, not even Meb, would know how much the 2012 race would come in handy two years later.

    "I remember a friend of mine named David Kahn, from Alabama, he was running for the MEB Foundation that year in 2012. He’s a six-hour guy, wanted to break six hours. Many people don’t know this but he asked if I was there, could I pace the last mile. I said sure, if I’m there I’d love to.

    "It was really hot, [defending champion and course record holder] Geoffrey Mutai dropped out. It was so hot people said don’t risk yourself and you can [defer your entry to 2013]... I remember David called, I was doing a PowerBar interview on camera and my brother Hawi answered the phone to make sure he was OK. He said, 'I'm really hot, I'm walking more than running.' Hawi said it was OK to drop out, that even Geoffrey Mutai, the defending champion, had dropped out. The competitor in David said, ‘You mean I can beat Geoffrey Mutai to the finish?!?’

    "So he kept going and I met him at the one mile to go mark. We jogged and walked together to the finish line and I gave him the medal, took pictures... It was fun and that's what I really remember from 2012. That experience came in handy."

    Yes, it would come in very handy. Just wait until 2014, when the final mile with Kahn would run through Keflezighi's mind as he was out front of the 118th Boston Marathon. We'll get to that in a few moments. But first, 2013.

     *  *  *  *  *

    2013: 2:49 p.m., April 15, 2013

    All runners remember where they were on April 15, 2013, the day a pair of bombs went off along the Boylston Street finish straight. Keflezighi had just left the bleacher seating adjacent to the finish (and across from one of the blast sites) minutes before the first bomb exploded. A persistent calf injury had forced him to scratch from the race in early April, but Keflezighi still was in town for the weekend festivities. When 2013 is raised, Meb's tone changes. It's a mix of frustration, compassion, gratitude, and determination.

    "I’m going to give you a little background and tell you why things happen for a reason," he began. "To be honest, if it wasn't for the 2012 fourth place finish at the Olympics, I don’t know if I would have been invited to come and run the Boston Marathon. I’ll leave it at that. The ups and downs of my career... But finishing fourth and the only American finisher at the 2012 Olympic Games, that helped an invitation occur for 2013 Boston."

    Believed by some to be too old to run fast, Meb was sure he had plenty left in the tank. His buildup for the 2013 Boston Marathon had been going great until a freak accident with a dog led to a torn soleus muscle in his calf. Initially, all three American Olympic marathoners --Keflezighi, Hall, and Abdi Abdirahman-- were entered. But all three would withdraw due to injuries.

    "When Abdi dropped out and Ryan dropped out, I begged Hawi to get me back into the field," he said. "I thought there needed to be an American up front in the field. My heart told me there needed to be an American up there, even if I could only make it for 10 miles."

    Though passionate, Keflezighi let his body recover and come Marathon Monday he was in town for sponsor and television obligations. Meb's recollection of April 15, 2013 is so clear that he remembers running 10 miles along the Charles River that morning and even bumping into a police officer who nearly caused him to miss his live TV spot with Universal Sports.

    Meb watched the race's early stages in a hotel but moved outside to take in the elite finishes. What he saw transformed him. "I watched for four, four and a half hours or more until I had to leave for an appointment with Universal Sports, my first time live," he said. "I watched, and watched the wheelchair people and wondered how they ended up in wheelchairs. Was it war, or other circumstances, maybe they were like me? I wanted to know their stories."

    When Lelisa Desisa won in 2:10:22, a fire was lit in Keflezighi.

    "You see the men finish and I remember it was 2:10-something. I remember sending a text to Ryan Hall from the finish line and I said ‘We CAN do this.’ That’s what I told him, after looking at the winning time. He said 'Yeah, we can get after it.'"

    They both would a year later. But first, the entire running world came to a halt.

    At around 2:30 p.m., Meb departed the grandstand bleachers along the finish straight to do prep work for his television appearance. Reaching the Fairmont Copley hotel, roughly 250 meters from the finish, he heard a bang. A John Hancock employee would inform him shortly thereafter the bang was a bomb.

    "Who would ever think that it would be a bomb?" he said. "Helpless. We couldn’t do anything. It’s like how could somebody do that? There’s no way, I can’t believe it...

    “The reason that motivated me was because I was a spectator that day, just like Krystle [Campbell], Martin [Richard], and Lingzi [Lu], the people that died. They were just like me. I was a spectator at the 2013 Boston Marathon, not an elite athlete. People say, 'Oh you missed it because you’re an elite runner.’ No. The reason it touched me is because it could have been my wife, my kids, me, the runners, my brother. That day I was a spectator. That was us.”

    Back in the hotel, Meb had dinner with Bonnie Ford, the ESPN endurance sports reporter. Asked if he'd run Boston again, Meb was defiant.

    "I'm going to be here to support the race, but I just hope to be healthy enough to win it for the people" he recalled telling Ford. "That goal was set that afternoon, hours after the bombing. It all had to come together and it definitely came together for me in 2014."

     *  *  *  *  *

    2014: 1st, 2:08:37

    Without even a pause, Keflezighi transitions from the heartbreak of 2013 to the triumph of 2014. He would return to Boston, and leave a lasting impact on the city and American distance running.

    "I did what I could to be there healthy. If you look at any of the years, 2010, 2006, or 2014, which one was the fittest I’d ever been, it was 2006. That was probably the year I should have won, in terms of fitness. But in terms of internal drive that you want to do greater than yourself, 2014. You can want it, you can desire it, but there was a higher power. I’m a believer, God had a plan for me to be able to do that," he said.

    Before the race began, Meb took a sharpie to his bib and wrote the names of Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, and fallen MIT police officer Sean Collier.

    "I just thought about it -- an inspiration I’ve learned from fellow runners is that they want me to autograph their bib numbers so they can get inspiration, or when they look down they can think ‘Meb - Run to Win’ and get the best out of their self. They share those moments with me when I meet them. I just said this is Boston Strong, I want to write their names big so I can get their strength. To have that inner motivation was huge."

    Hearing Meb recount his 2014 race, mile-by-mile, is like an artist painting a masterpiece. While Meb has chronicled his win hundreds of times in the years since, he speaks off the cuff and with a deep passion. Listening to each description in detail -- the pain, euphoria, struggle, and exultation-- gives goosebumps.

    He breezes through the first half of his race without taking so much as a breath, only pausing to describe that neither he nor compatriot Josphat Boit got their halfway split when leading the race. Meb jumps from the halfway point to mile 16 and 17, the same spots on the course where his race went off the rails in 2006. Once again, the letters U-S-A across his chest would uplift him through the Newton Hills.

    "I came in with three goals. One, to win. Two, top three. And three, personal best," he began. "Mile 16 was 4:30 and by 17 miles, just like I was hurting in 2006, I was hurting pretty bad this time around having issues with the bottom of my foot. But wearing that USA, they keep you going, the people keep you going. I was in the lead and at 18, 19 miles, people were chanting USA! USA! And I started joining them. I have a picture of it in fact. Going by Boston College, people were doing the wave and it was an amazing sight.

    "With about 5-K left is when I first observed and looked back and saw someone behind me. I have no idea who it was or what they were going to do, but I did a lot of visualization and knew it was going to come down to Boylston Street. I just kept pushing and pushing. Three things came to mind: slow down and save your energy for Boylston, try to maintain the gap, or try to extend the gap. I said as a runner, by saving my energy the person catching up to me will have the mental edge, and they will slow down and try to out kick me at the end. I said ignore that plan. Maintain or extend the gap.

    "At mile 24 I was digging so deep that I started throwing up but I couldn't show my weakness. I just held it in, covered my mouth and swallowed it in, you know?"

    Then came mile 25, the same spot where he met and ran with David Khan from the hot year in 2012.

    "At 25, I remembered that when I ran with David Khan, that I only had a mile to go. I remembered that year, and remembered the victims' names that I wrote and the spectators who were so loud.

    "With 1-K left I thought, 'Uh oh, whether it's an Ethiopian or Kenyan behind, they go by kilometers and will know exactly how much is left.' He's going to think three minutes of pain, three minutes of pain. I said 'Well, it's three minutes of pain for you too, so dig deeper and mechanics, mechanics, mechanics. Lean forward on the downhill, uphill shorter stride and more arm action.

    At that point, he wasn't focusing on the finish line adjacent to the Boston Public Library. Instead, he focused on the final turns: right on Hereford and left on Boylston.

    "You're going to come to Hereford and make a right. My finish line is on Hereford and Boylston. Sprint as hard as you can, and by the time he makes the turn, make [the gap] bigger so he gets discouraged, hopefully. Going onto Boylston I just crossed myself and said, 'Thank You God for giving me this opportunity to lead.' It was electrifying sound from Hereford to Boylston, all down Boylston to the finish line. It was amazing. I'm trying to put it into words.

    Keflezighi_Celebrates_Boston_2014_Smaller_Jane_Monti"I accelerated, accelerated, and it was the thrill of a lifetime to be able to chant 'USA! USA!' as an American, after what was catastrophic in 2013 to what was a dream for everybody in 2014. To be able to have my dream come true, have an Olympic silver medal, win New York, and finally win Boston on the most important day in marathoning ever, the year after the bombing. To have 36,000 participants and fellow runners, it was an amazing moment to be the first American in 31 years."

    Not since 1983 had an American man, Greg Meyer, won Boston. Meyer was there to welcome Meb into the winner's club.

    "Greg Meyer was there to give me a hug. Before the race he told me, 'You are the smartest runner out there so get it done.' That's what he said. He wanted me to win that race for me, for Ryan, for Culpepper and all the Americans who had run since... I broke down when I saw him. I was looking at the picture on my Twitter page the other day, you see the relief of a lifetime looking to the sky and to God and saying 'Thank you for this moment.' To have my wife there give me a hug, Hawi, my mentor Bob Larsen, it was a dream come true. Sometimes dreams come late rather than early. I wanted it in 2006, but 2014 at the finish line was a magical moment. Tears of emotion, tears of happiness, tears of overcoming obstacles through the struggle of marathons and struggle of life. When you least expect it, it all comes together. It all did for me and couldn't have happened at a better time.

    "Usually you get a 'Congratulations' or 'Well done' after a win. But people said 'Thank You.' Saying 'Thank You,' that's an amazing compliment'... Boston deserved that."

     *  *  *  *  *

    2015: 8th, 2:12:42

    Returning as champion, cold weather and fluid issues derailed Keflezighi's hope to retain his title. Yet Keflezighi didn't give up and drop out. Despite having to stop five times, he continued on and responded to the cheers of thousands lining the streets.

    In a touching and symbolic gesture, Keflezighi came down Boylston Street waving to the crowd. Catching up to elite women's runner Hilary Dionne --at the time running as a member of the Boston Athletic Association, organizers of the Boston Marathon-- Keflezighi reached out, grabbed her hand and they finished together.

    The photo went viral and gave a glimpse into Keflezighi's true character: compassion and kindness.

    "Of course I remember 2015 very well. Hilary Dionne, I didn't know who she was, I could only see her from the back, and didn't know what shoe company she ran for or what Association she represented. I had no idea. But I saw her at the finish line and she made me sprint because she was ahead. I always say 'Run to Win,' and that doesn't mean always getting first place. It's to get the best out of yourself and out of others... To come to that finish line with her, that was awesome. Running wise it wasn't the best day, but finishing with her I've remembered that for a long time."

    From their moment at the finish, Keflezighi and Dionne became friends.

    "Friendship, that's what running is. The comradery of being united together is unbelievable beyond the finish line. 2015 was awesome. I had difficulties, stopped five times, but I thought I had a chance to win until 21 or 22 [miles]. You only have a chance if you can make it to 21 and 22. I was saving all my energy but started throwing up. I thought I had a chance of defending, but obviously it didn't happen. But finishing with Hilary was an awesome finish."

     *  *  *  *  *

    2017: April 17

    When asked about his final Boston Marathon, Keflezighi chuckles.

    "Life is a circle. I started by telling you people used to say, 'You're a distance runner. Have you done the Boston Marathon?' I thought finishing third in 2006 was good enough for me to tell people, yes I have run the Boston Marathon. When people ask 'What bib are you going to wear, number 2,000-something or 10,000 or 15,000?' No, I can tell them I wore bib number three and I was third at the Boston Marathon. That would have been a great story to tell.

    "In 2010, to say that I've finished third and fifth in Boston, that's a huge accomplishment. But to tell them that I won," Keflezighi said before his longest pause of the chat, letting the words truly sink in. He has won Boston. "Now people, when I introduce myself, it's not a silver medalist or New York champion, when they hear you won the Boston Marathon the year after the bombing, it's, 'Oh my goodness!' I was eighth in 2015, and now getting ready for the 2017 Boston Marathon, if I can finish in the top ten or podium or whatever, the drive is there.

    "I leave no stones unturned. I do the best that I can. I had a little setback weeks ago on my 26-mile run, twisting my ankle a little and the other ankle overextended some muscles. What you saw in New York at the NYC Half, that wasn't my best but I was going to finish thinking that I have one last hard effort before going to altitude training. 2017 Boston, I look forward to it. I train to win. Depending how the next week and a half goes, I'll go for top ten, top three, and maybe win. If it doesn't happen, I'm OK with it. I don't want to make it a celebratory run but if things are not going so well, whoever is next to me be ready because we'll be running together. Have fun, that's what the sport is. Pray and stay healthy over the next couple weeks and do my 25th marathon. I'll have one more in New York, but I'm excited.

    "The finish line for Boston is near, two and a half weeks away. It's been a good ride. One more marathon after that, and after that maybe I'll come back to Boston and run with the people," Meb said, ending the hour-long conversation with a quick pause for reflection. "I take my job as high regard as possible, to do the best that I can to represent the sport of running and I've been very fortunate to accomplish many accolades. But at the same time, it's time to give back... It's a dream come true."
  • Don’t Make DNF a Four-Letter Word

    by Jean Knaack | 02/13/2017
    By: Amanda Loudin

    bigstock-Muscle-injury--Man-running-cl-74257552Like many runners, Washington, DC-based health policies analyst Dylan Landers-Nelson, 30, uses the sport as a stress reliever, so when he was sidelined with injuries and health issues for a good chunk of 2015, he struggled. When he was finally cleared to run again, taking on his first race in ages was high on his priority list. He signed up for and started the local Parks 10k with friends.

    It wasn’t very long into the race that Landers-Nelson started feeling pain in his abdominals, something that had been lingering for a few weeks. “My right side felt, not just uncomfortable, but painful,” he says. “I slowed down, thinking that I could just finish the race, but slower running wasn’t even helping.”

    After careful consideration, Landers-Nelson decided that the sharp pain he was experiencing meant that dropping out—or DNFing (did not finish)—was the smart course of action. He hoofed it back to the start line and waited for his friends.

    A subsequent doctor’s visit showed a severe abdominal strain, which told Dylan-Landers he made the right move. The DNF, however, still stung a bit emotionally. “I felt bad about stopping, but not awful,” he admits. “In the end, I was back up and running within a couple of months, so I know it was the right move. For a big goal race, however, I know it would be tougher to make that call.

    Indeed, Landers-Nelson is in good company: most runners struggle mightily with the idea of a DNF. “Most runners are type-A personalities, goal driven, and have a finish-what-we-start mentality. That in and of itself makes the thought of ‘quitting’ a hard one to swallow,” says Cecilia Murach, an RRCA coach based in Maryland. “In addition, we have usually been training hard and preparing over a long period of time for a particular event, so the negative connotations are compounded.  I think it can be extremely hard to recover psychologically from a DNF, even in case of injury or illness.”

    Too often, this negative connotation is more than what a runner can handle, and he or she ends up sticking it out in the race, to his or her detriment. That’s what happened to one of Landers-Nelson’s friends who remained in that same race, in spite of potential injury. “She powered through a lingering foot injury to finish, but this contributed to a spiral of injuries for her that she still hasn't recovered from 13 months later,” he says. “DNFing wasn’t a happy decision for me, but it was certainly the correct one.”

    Genworth VA 10 Miler Banner Ad

    Like Landers-Nelson, 37-year old Lisa Ballew of Melrose, Mass., took a DNF this year, although her reasons were much different. She was part of around 3,600 runners who lined up to run the race Memorial Day 2016 and found they were staring down 90-degree temperatures. “It was a disaster,” she says. “It’s a regional race and no one was prepared for that heat.”

    Ballew tried to carry on in spite of the temperatures, but upon seeing her family at mile 15, made the tough call to drop out. Race organizers eventually stopped the race at the 3:30 mark, but the DNF still haunts Ballew. “I am told that police were asking people to stop and walk, and telling them they continued at their own risk, because aid stations would not be supported,” she says. “So I guess I made the right decision. Even though I know that, I still beat myself up all the time.”

    The coaches’ perspective

    RRCA- and LTF-certified run coach Mary-Katherine Fleming understands that athletes have a difficult time pulling the trigger and taking a DNF. However, she is a big believer that there are plenty of situations where runners should take that step and never look back, in particular, when gunning for a marathon PR. “I coach my clients to set up DNF parameters before they even begin their races,” she explains. “If a PR is what you are after, you must embrace the possibility of a DNF.”

    Murach takes a different approach, believing that every runner should set an A, B and C goal for race day so that they can walk away satisfied, provided they are healthy. “For a runner who is just not having a good day, the psychological impact of not finishing the marathon would be far greater than any benefit gained from stopping,” she says. “So I would strongly advise adjusting the goal, still finishing the race knowing that it was the best outcome for that runner on that particular day, and try again at another event.”

    In Fleming’s case, if a client has trained long and hard for a big effort and knows the goal time is within the runner, she’d rather see the runner bag it if something is amiss on race day. “Why not wait for another day?” she asks. “There are so many races out there to fall back on. If you push through and end up far off your goal time or hurt, what was the point?”

    That doesn’t mean that the decision is ever easy for her runners, says Fleming. “I had a client who was far off goal time and his set parameters at mile 10,” she says. “I wanted to see him drop out because it was next to impossible that he would be able to PR at that point. Instead, he stuck it out and was crushed with his finishing time.”

    Fleming says that too often, ego gets in the way of a smart race plan and then there is no room for recovery. “A DNF shouldn’t be considered quitting,” she says. “What does staying out there prove?”

    Murach gets uneasy when runners refuse to quit in the face of potential injury or other harm to the body. “Runners should seriously consider not finishing an event when they realize their health would be compromised by continuing to run,” she says.

    When an injury is potentially on the line, Murach wants runners to remember the pay off to a DNF. “Sometimes ‘pushing through’ pain is not advisable, and can cause more damage to the muscles, tissues, and bones, leading to a more severe injury than would have happened otherwise,” she says. “In my book, stopping when the signs of an injury are clear is always the most advisable.”

    In other words, live to run another day, or another PR. “The problem is that most runners lack perspective,” Fleming says. “I recommend that all runners volunteer at a race before I train them so that they can see that runners who DNF are not sissies.”

    Ballew recognizes this, but also admits that had the Vermont City course not been clover shaped—thus allowing for an easy quitting point when she spotted her family at mile 15 near the start/finish—she might have gone on, in spite of the heat. “Everything might have been different had it been point-to-point,” she says.

    As for Fleming, she’d like to see the attitude about DNFing radically change. “We need to break down our perspectives and expectations about it,” she says. “At the end of the day, the only thing you should care about is your race plan, not your ego.”

  • 2017 Spring Shoe Review

    by Jean Knaack | 02/10/2017

    Welcome to our first Shoe Review for 2017!

    Even after all these years, the smell of running shoes straight from the box is still exciting for me. My first pair of real running shoes was Onitsuka Tiger Cortez. I purchased them—well, my mom, Marilu purchased them—for $36. She waited a few days to tell my dear father, as we had never spent more than $5 on a pair of running shoes in my first few years of running.

    My white Kmart tennis shoes would be nearly pink from the blood blisters I would develop getting them “broken in.” Hard to believe, but in that era blisters were a rite of passage.

    In today’s performance running world, our RN footwear guru, Cregg Weinmann, assures me that shoes are much better now than then. And I concur.

    The key is to find the right pair of shoes for you. Don’t be swayed by social media hype or some blogger who’s paid to write about the shoes. At the Running Network, we review product from more than 40 brands, and about a dozen support our efforts through advertising in our various media platforms. If you see a shoe recommended here, rest assured that Cregg and his tireless wear testers have tried the shoe and taken it through at least 100 miles. All shoes submitted for our testing get the same treatment, whether or not the companies advertise with us. It’s a point of pride that we keep those two undertakings separate from one another.

    We’re in the process of putting all our content online: on social media and on mobile media as well. We appreciate your patience and support as we work our way through this process. And as always, a special thanks to our fearless team of Kristen Cerer (designer), Marg Sumner (proofreader), Cregg Weinmann (reviewer), and Christine Johnson (project coordinator and editor)—the team that has worked together on our Reviews for more than 15 years.

    Remember to purchase your running gear from a real live running store. Thanks for your support!
    Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 4.55.35 PM

    Download the 2017 Spring Shoe Review >>

    Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 4.49.36 PM
    Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 4.50.49 PMScreen Shot 2017-02-10 at 4.52.04 PM

    Download the 2017 Spring Shoe Review >>

  • Running Through the Parenting Years

    by Jean Knaack | 07/09/2016

    By Amanda Loudin

    Before becoming a parent, most runners have a good amount of freedom for training. Yes, there are job, family, and social obligations, but for the most part, carving out time for their favorite hobby is something most runners can pull off pre-kids. In that state of ignorant bliss, these same runners assume that adding a child to the picture won’t change much—the baby will adapt to the schedule, and the runs will continue uninterrupted.

    As most running parents will tell you, that’s a lovely fantasy. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and runners who want to continue training will make it happen. Parenting at any stage makes finding time for running a challenge, but these parents make it work.

    In the Beginning

    Washington, DC–based attorney Ariel Rayman, 39, is getting his first taste of life as a running parent. His baby boy was born last November, and Rayman and his wife have slowly been adjusting to running with kids.

    Prior to becoming a father, Rayman ran several times each week, even completing the 2014 New York City Marathon. For now, however, those long-distance days are on hold. “The schedule has really changed,” he says.

    Rayman and his wife—a shorter-distance runner, who also likes yoga and barre classes—both want time for their workout routines. This has meant forming a loosely structured schedule each week. “We need to make sure we both get our exercise in, so we do a lot of switching on and off,” he explains. “I typically get in two or three short runs after work and then something longer on the weekends. She usually takes classes on Mondays and Fri- days, so I’ll watch the baby then.”

    Where Rayman used to put in 20-plus miles each week, he now averages somewhere around 15. But, he says, he’s become more efficient. “I make sure that the miles I run are quality miles,” he explains. “I haven’t seen much of a drop in my race times, so I guess it’s working.

    At some time in the future, Rayman would like to get back to longer mileage but for now, he’s happy where he is. “We still keep an active lifestyle, so I know I’m in decent shape,” he says.

    The Preschool Years

    Mother of two Carly Pizzani, 38, of Burlington, VT, also understands the quality-over-quantity formula. A per- sonal trainer with 4- and 1-year-old sons, Pizzani leans on a combination of good communication with her hus- band and “flying by the seat of my pants,” she says.

    At the center of her ability to run, however, has been a running stroller. “It’s a lifesaver for me,” she says. “I wouldn’t be able to get in the runs I need without it.”

    Pizzani just finished a training cycle for the Ver- mont City Marathon and used the stroller when her el- dest was in preschool, timing her runs to her baby’s naps. For the most part, long runs happen on weekends. “This training cycle has definitely been challenging,” she ad- mits. “It’s hard because I haven’t been able to run as much as I would like.”

    Her solution, like Rayman’s, has been to eliminate “junk” miles. “If I have the time to run, I make sure that run has a purpose,” she says. “I have to make the most of it.”

    Pizzani admits she looks forward to a time when the schedule eases up and running becomes easier to fit in. “Sometimes it’s a miracle I get the run in,” she says. “It will be nice when I have enough time for more relaxing, unstructured running.”

    The Veterans

    Fifty-three-year-old Marcia Kadens, mother to 10- and 14-year-old girls, has been running since before her kids were born, so she’s experienced just about every stage of

    parenting as a runner. The Long Grove, IL– based mom says dark o’thirty was her running time of choice when her girls were very young. “I’d get out at 5 a.m. every morning,” she says. “It was my ‘me’ time. I think it’s easy to lose yourself when kids are young, and running helped me avoid that.”

    Today, the time challenges come in the form of an on-the-go family. “With one in high school and one in elementary, I’ve lost my ear- ly-morning time slot,” says the stay-at-home mom and popular blogger. “To make it work, I try to run as soon as my youngest is out the door.”

    This does have it downsides, she says. “Obviously, it’s warmer at that hour than in the pre-dawn hours. Plus, traffic is heavier.”

    Evenings, once an option with young chil- dren, are off-limits to Kadens now, as activities require plenty of time shuttling kids here and there. Still, she makes it work, and her passion for the sport has influenced her girls, both of whom have become runners in their own right.

    Bob Gaylord, 67, is a long-term ultra runner, with a grown daughter and one still at home. “Back when my oldest daughter was born, we had no running strollers,” he says, “so I depended on my wife to watch her while I ran.”

    Today he runs with his youngest. “I get my long runs in on the weekends and that’s my wife’s time with our daughter,” he says. “Week- days, I’m out first thing and in the office by 7:30.”

    Lately, Gaylord has switched his normal long-run day from Saturday to Sunday in or- der to coach his daughter’s basketball team. He strongly believes that any parent who wants to run can make it happen. “It’s all a matter of time management,” he says. “Parenting is just another issue to include in your plans.”

    All these parent–runners agree that fitting the two in can be challenging, but none would trade it. “Regardless of the schedule change and the limited ability to run,” says Rayman, “it’s certainly all worth it.”

    Make the Going Easier

    Whether you are planning a race with kids in tow or just trying to get your daily mileage in, our cheat sheet can make the going easier for everyone involved:

    • Coordinate your training schedule and racing plans with your spouse/partner
    • Be flexible about the time of day you run:Take your schedule, your partner’s schedule and your children’s schedules into account. These scheduling challenges may ebb and flow as your children get older.
    • Consider breaking it up: If you are tight on time to fit in one long session, consider splitting your runs into two sessions to help build mileage.
    • Take advantage of your children’s activities: This can be a great chance to use downtime for training.
    • Find opportunities to engage your child in running: Whether in a baby jogger when they are young or including them in training for an upcoming 5k as they get older
    • Bring your family to your races: Watching mom or dad finish a race can be an inspiring experience for children. Many races also incorporate short children’s races as well which is a good opportunity to get the kids in on the act.
    • Consider getting up early/staying up late: These can be the easiest hours to run when you are part of a family life jam-packed with activities.

    Amanda Loudin’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Runner's World, Baltimore Magazine, the Daily Burn, Weight Watchers magazine and many others. She has tackled 15 marathons, an Ironman triathlon, and hundreds of other races over the years.

  • Why Aren't Men Keeping Pace with Women in Event Participation?

    by Jean Knaack | 05/26/2016

    By Heather Johnson

    A little more than 40 years ago, the prestigious Boston Marathon barred women from running. A little more than 30 years ago, women couldn’t compete in the Olympics in any distance longer than 1500 meters.

    To paraphrase those women’s lib–oriented Virginia Slims ads, “We’ve come a long way, baby.”

    For the past two years, women comprised 57% of running event finishers. The margin hasn’t been this wide since 2000, when men eclipsed women at 58%.1

    “In a way, we may have won the battle,” says University of South Carolina exercise science professor Dr. Russ Pate, who also chairs the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan Alliance. “[The] sport clearly set off to make itself more attractive to women, and we succeeded.”

    To be fair, men still have a large presence. With the exception of 2014, when numbers dipped slightly, the number of male participants has increased each year. But women participate more.

    With nearly 20 million Americans showing up for road races, our sport is thriving. The not-for-profit organization Outdoor Foundation reported running as the most popular activity for outdoor recreation in 2012.2

    However, if participation trends continue to rise disproportionately, we’ll face an ironic turn of the table. It’s time to refocus, as a robust running community depends on equal participation. And at a time when nearly 70% of adult Americans are either overweight or obese,3 it’s critical that more people, regardless of gender, participate in physical activity.

    Title IX: The Game-Changer
    To consider how to balance the ratio (keep in mind that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, women comprise about 51% of the population4), we must look at the first and second running booms.

    Ryan Lamppa, researcher, media consultant, and Bring Back the Mile founder, cites Title IX, the legislation passed in 1972 that prohibited sex discrimination in any federally funded education program or activity, as the linchpin for women’s running.

    “Title IX allowed women and girls to participate in sports at the high school and collegiate level,” says Lamppa. “It made it okay for women to sweat. Without Title IX we would not have these record participation numbers for women nor the number of running events in this country.”

    Title IX made it okay for women to sweat, but not many of them did. During the 1970s running boom, women comprised less than 20% of finishers. In 1990, that figure had only climbed to 25%. 1 But Title IX did create a ripple effect that continued into the second running boom, which exploded in the mid-1990s.

    Move Over Bill Rodgers, Here Comes Oprah Large training programs such as Team in Training (founded in 1988), national events such as Race for the Cure (1983) and the Rock ’n’ Roll Series (1998), and the Internet, which made training plans more accessible, have ushered in a wave of new runners, both male and female. But it was media superstar Oprah Winfrey’s 1994 Marine Corps Marathon that really inspired women to head out the door. In early 1995, Runner’s World put her on the cover with the headline, “Oprah Did It, So Can You.” Many women took that to heart.

    “Oprah helped break down the stereotype that running isn’t for big-boned people,” says Lamppa. “Oprah will never have an ectomorphic body, but she’s a runner, too. So she debunked that excuse, and thank you, Oprah, because that mindset change was very important, as it showed and inspired millions of people, men and women, that we all are runners regardless of body type.”

    This new crop of “I can do it too” runners tended to focus on participation, camaraderie, and completion rather than fierce competition. Events catered to women’s needs with fun, family-friendly environments, music, and a festive finish line atmosphere. Women, generally social crea- tures who want to round up friends or family for a lively weekend outing, took to these events like bees to honey.

    “Events [that] centered more on health and fitness, community, and fundraising got more women involved,” says Lamppa. “They told their friends, and participation truly snowballed. Later, sharing on social media got even more women into sports.”

    To further encourage women’s participation, companies and organizations launched women’s-only events, leading to skyrocketing numbers. The Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco (to be in 20 cities worldwide in 2015) attracted more than 25,000 runners last year. Disney’s Princess and Tinker Bell Half Marathons welcomed about 24,000 and 16,000 runners, respectively.

    Gary Westlund, a fitness instructor, coach, and race director for the Charities Challenge Series in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, sees women’s races as a positive force in that area. “These events have helped women recognize that they have an equal place on the starting line, on the podium, and in recognition. If it took women’s-only races, running clubs, and programs to get to that point, it’s working.”

    Shifting the Balance

    Large-scale women’s events have done wonders for participation numbers, but they only cater to one gender. Directors of coed events must remember that men, despite that cool exterior, need encouragement, acknowledgment, and peer support too.

    “The most important thing that we can provide at our events is hospitality,” says Westlund. “Men and women both want to be recognized. If we bring that Cheers TV show atmosphere to our running events, we’ll see

    more men come and come back, because somebody knows their name.” Race directors should consider ways to tap into uniquely male characteristics, such as competitiveness, which running events natu- rally lend themselves to. The Men’s Health Urbanathlon, an event that combines a road race with muscle-burning obstacles, welcomed nearly 2,000 participants to its San Francisco event last year, about 70% of them male.

    Samantha Gattsek, a coach for Gotham City Runners in New York City, suggests holding events that weave in other sports and interests, such as races tied to local football or baseball teams. “In the winter New York Road Runners held a football-throwing contest after a local race,” she says. “That could have a big appeal.” That race, the Gridiron 4M, saw 5,051 participants this year, 2,577 of them men. The balance of male-to- female remained a pretty even split, even with the football toss.

    Pate says that fundamental marketing principles don’t vary by gender, but it could be time to conduct male participation-related focus groups. “Race organizers can ask themselves the same questions for men and women: What’s going to make this event more enjoyable, more memorable, and bring them back next year?” Pate also sees the benefits in tying properly led group training runs to a race for added support.

    While men plot their next move, women can help them get off the fence. “Particularly in families where the husband may have spent the past 20-some years involved in his career, having the wife or children encourage Dad to do that first mile or 5K goes a long way,” says Lamppa. “With the cost of health insurance and health care, more men take their health and fitness more seriously now than [they did] 5 or 10 years ago. Women can help reinforce that awareness, because they are well ahead of men on health and fitness and seeing the doctor.”

    A study from the Commonwealth Fund showed that many men, more so than women, fail to get routine checkups and preventative care and often ignore symptoms of illness.5 Men also show higher rates of obesity and higher incidents of heart disease6—conditions helped by exercise.

    “One thing’s for sure: Regular running exerts an enormous positive effect on health. That’s true in women and men, young and old,” says Pate. “We also know that selling health effects of physical activity in general is not enough. The most powerful influences are more proximal than that. Whether people continue to exercise regularly depends on whether it’s accessible, whether they enjoy it, whether they are successful in the activity, and whether they have sufficient guidance to minimize injuries and maximize improvements in fitness.”

    Start Young for Long-Term Success

    The running community can provide the proximal benefits Pate mentions for adults as well as kids. Many active adults started as active kids; however, the number of youth aged 6–12 who participate in track & field declined by 13.7% from 2008 to 2013. Only 26.9% of youth participated in any activity three times a week.7 This means we must continue to expand and encourage gender-neutral youth programs such as RRCA’s Kids Run the Nation.

    “It’s important to introduce kids to physical activity in a way that doesn’t create a lot of pressure and stress,” says Pate. “We need to start by giving them positive experiences with activity and hope that it sticks.”

    “Sports should provide young people with enjoyment, confidence, and ways to use a variety of motor skills,” says Dr. Jackie Epping, health scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She notes that a main reason young people drop out of sports is because it’s no longer fun.

    If we can encourage more people to walk and/or run and support men and women, boys and girls in their efforts, we will have made great improvements in our population’s health while creating a more gender-balanced running community.

    “When it comes down to it, most men just want to know how to be a better man,” says Westlund. “They want to know, ‘How can I do what I have to do for my family, my business, and for myself and always have the courage to keep going?’ That’s what we learn in road racing.”

    Heather Johnson is a writer based in Oakland, CA and a member of Pamakid Runners, a club formed in 1971 for men, women, and kids.


    1 Running USA 2013 National Runner Survey.
    2 Outdoor Foundation, Outdoor Participation Report 2013.
    3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Table 64. Healthy weight, overweight, and obesity among adults aged 20 and over, by selected characteristics: United States, selected years 1988–1994 through 2009–2012.
    4 United States Census Bureau, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Selected Age Groups by Sex for the United States, States, Counties, and Puerto Rico Commonwealth and Municipios: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014.
    5 Sandman, D. R., Simantov, E., & An, C. (2000). Out of Touch: American Men and the Health Care System: Commonwealth Fund Men’s and Women’s Health Survey Findings. Commonwealth Fund.
    6 Blackwell, D. L., Lucas, J. W., Clarke, T. C. Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2012. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(260). 2014.
    7 Sports & Fitness Industry Association data provided to the Aspen Institute,
    based on 2013 stati

Join RRCA Today

Dedicated to providing quality resources for running clubs, events, and coaches.

Donate to the RRCA

A 501(c)3 organization ​dedicated to growing running for all ages and abilities.

Sign Up for Email Updates

Keep Pace with the running community with monthly emails from RRCA.

Road Runners Club of America