Run The World #9 – MIRNA VALERIO

“Embrace what is difficult so that you may progress. Welcome what makes you frightened.”

Mirna Valerio is a marathoner, ultramarathoner, and trail runner. She ran the 50K NJ Ultra Trail Festival in 2013 and the 35-miles Georgia Jewel in 2014. 2015 was eventful with the 12-hour Midsummer Nights’ Ultra in June, Finger Lakes 50K in July, 35 miles at the Georgia Jewel in September, and 100K at the Javelin Hundred in October. She was back for the 50K Finger Lakes in 2016, and ran the Black Mountain Monster and NJ Running With The Devil – both 12-hour runs in the months of May and June respectively, along with the NYC Knickerbocker 60K in November 2017. 2018 saw her run the 50K Run Amok, and this year she ran the Shore2Shore in April and the Strawberry Fields Forever in June – both 50K ultramarathons. She has also done several 10Ks, 15-milers, half marathons, 25Ks and full marathons in the interim.

marathon

Skirt Sports 13er
Skirt Sports 13er
transrockies
Colorado Rockies – 6-Day Ultra

The 43-year old, 5-foot-7, 250-pound African-American dressed in a ball cap, fitness top, knee-length running tights, and training shoes often receives a double take, which she responds to with a smile and a wave. Despite racism and body-shaming, she continues challenging stereotypes and inspiring others to do the same. “I think that people are really having trouble grappling with the idea that fit comes in many forms and that people can still participate in athletics no matter what kind of body they have,” she says.

2013 Finger Lakes 50s 25K
Finger Lakes 25K, 2013
2010 North Face Half
North face Half Marathon, 2010

 

Mirna was raised in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, bordering the Ridgewood neighborhood. Poverty, drugs, gangs, violence, absent fathers, single mothers, children locked away in apartments to avoid the danger of the streets, type 2 diabetes scourging the community – Valerio knew this world as she was growing up, but love and grit instilled strength and propelled her on an extraordinary trajectory.

Mirna was never a runner. In high school, she thought soccer involved too much running about, and decided to opt for hockey instead, assuming it was like golf – “walking through the field”. Realizing she couldn’t even manage the running drills before the actual game started, she decided to start running as “training for the warm-ups”. Running helped her not only in hockey but also lacrosse, a sport she loved, was good at, and wanted to get better at. “I started running to condition, to be able to be a better contributor to the team. It made me feel better. I fell in love with the act of running early in the morning.” While turning into an athlete, Valerio spontaneously blossomed as a singer. She taught herself to play piano by ear and sang gospel with her church choir. Excelling academically at the same time, Mirna demonstrated a particular gift for languages.

juilliard recital
Juilliard Choir Recital

She continued to run all the way through college, and recreationally through her twenties and thirties. In 2008, while driving to the school she taught at, she felt sharp pain in her chest. She was only thirty-three then, and her son who was with her had just turned five. Blood tests later revealed excessive arterial inflammation. The health scare prompted her to start exercising seriously. She started with 5Ks, subsequently graduating to 10Ks and 15-milers. Her blood pressure, resting heart rate, and cholesterol readings dropped down to healthy levels, and the inflammation in her arteries reduced. She started training for her first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, in 2011.

forested trail in georgia
Running through a forested trail in Georgia
copyrighted
Atop North Carolina’s Whiteside Mountain, National Geographic 2018

Shortly afterward she was drawn to trail running and ultras. She took to the solitude and challenge of the mountains, and also liked the comradeship and spirit of the trail-running community. “Part of a health journey, a fitness journey, a wellness journey — whatever you may call it — is finding what makes you happy. What about running makes you happy?” Reminiscing about a camping trip to the Catskill mountains at age eight, Mirna reveals how she fell in love with swimming in the lake, hiking, and just being outside all day; the sights and the smells all firmly etched in her memory. She loves being outside, whether hikes or camping trips. Long-distance running gives her an opportunity to be outside with a purpose. “Taking care of my body, exploring the limits — or my preconceived limits ― about what I thought I could do. The real appeal of it is pushing my body, pushing my mind, pushing my spirit.”

yoga-copyrighted
Yoga by a waterfall near Georgia’s Blackrock Lake, National Geographic 2018
Black Mountain Monster 12 Hr
Black Mountain Monster – 12 Hr Ultra, 2017
2013 Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise 5K
Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise, 2013

Mirna works at the Rabun Gap-Na-coochee School in the town of Rabun Gap, where she serves as Spanish teacher, choir director, and head coach of the cross-country team. She believes in uplifting the community, the value of discipline, and the pertinence of encouraging people to put their health first. Optimism and ambition pour over into every aspect of her life and splash onto the people around her as well. Her grasp of the complex relationship people have with fitness and her own existence as a plus-size woman who has completed several ultramarathons and marathons — along with her bubbly personality and sense of humor, all make her an inspiring role model.

friends
Warming up before a morning run

But she has her share of detractors as well and knows critics serve to criticize. “People say to me, ‘Anyone who runs as much as you do deserves to be skinny.’ ‘If you do all this running, why are you still so fat?’  People look at me and think, ‘Big as this girl is, how can she possibly enjoy her sport? She’s really just punishing herself.’ They don’t think I’m for real, that I’ve earned the right to call myself a runner. Some people don’t understand why I run in the woods. They think I’m gonna get kidnapped. Others have their own ideas about what I should or shouldn’t be doing, but I just do it anyway.”

tough mudder
Tough Mudder – an endurance event involving a series of obstacle races.

The link below is an indicator of all the races Mirna has participated in, from 5Ks to 100Ks.

https://www.athlinks.com/athletes/248654801/results

She runs about 25 miles a week if she’s not training for a race, 35 if she’s gearing up for an event, with the bulk of the mileage logged on a long weekend run. “Ms. Valerio is the most energetic teacher on campus,” says James Trammell, a senior at Rabun Gap, and co-captain of the cross-country team. Mirna is known to project an aura of inclusiveness in running: No matter who you are or what you look like, you have a place in this sport. Storyteller Jenny Nichols considers Mirna as the definition of a trailblazer. “She is redefining what a runner looks like and she’s doing it with style, grace and a huge smile. Mirna reinforces the fundamentals: Work out, be active, and eat a high-quality diet. Weight loss should be the by-product of a healthy life, not the goal. Writer John Brant is in awe of her all-encompassing pleasing personality.

book
A copy of her memoir

Mirna’s memoir, “A Beautiful Work in Progress“, was published in October 2017. “It’s not  about me being a fat athlete—I want to reach out to anybody who wants to feel good in their own skin, exercise, and enjoy things that they may not feel able or welcome to do,” she says.

book signing
At a book signing event

Mirna has never won any event, she is not the fastest or strongest-looking runner around, she doesn’t have a weight-loss story, and doesn’t have any disabilities. Why is she featured here? Because she is testimony to the fact that everybody can run. One doesn’t need to be on the podium, or lose weight, or run through medical conditions, or overcome visible obstacles, or have people constantly talking about them, to be considered inspiring. Even if no one praises you or writes or reads about you, you still run because it’s something you love to do. Everyone has their own journey and should proudly partake in it, irrespective of what others say.

blackrock lake georgia
Blackrock Lake in Georgia, National Geographic 2018

Mirna sets her running calendar at the beginning of each year, so that people can join her on her runs, as part of an initiative called “Wanna Run With Mirna?” This was her entire running calendar for 2018:

April 7-8 Throwing Bones Run on the Mountains to Sea Trail with Kenny Capps, Boone NC
April 14 – BAA 5K, Boston MA
April 16 – Boston Marathon, Boston MA
April 28 – The North Face Endurance Challenge Series 50K, Sterling VA
April 29 – The North Face Endurance Challenge Series 10K, Sterling VA
May 3-4 – Toughest South, Somewhere in TX
May 25 – Azores Trail Run 65K, Blue Island, Azores
June 1-3 – Skirt Sports Ambassador Retreat and 13er, Boulder CO
June 25-29 – City Kids Backpacking, Canoeing Jackson, WY
July 5-9 – Trail Running Adventures Retreat, Morganton NC
July 21-22 – Tough Mudder Long Island, NY
August 14-19 – Trans Rockies 6 Day
September 13-16 – REI Outessa, Waterville, NH
September 21-23 – Ragnar Adirondacks, Lake Placid, NY
September 27 -October 1 -Hiking Retreat in UT

Mirna realizes that whatever might be your journey – as a runner, a woman, a mother, or whoever one may be – somebody might be looking at you or looking at the things that you do and say, “Oh wow, I didn’t know that we could go and run for six days in the Colorado Rockies. Maybe I could try to do 5K.” We are all not on the same page, we don’t all have the same capabilities or the same financial ability to do things. But “things are possible – like going for a walk“. Mirna’s sixty-year old mom goes backpacking with her. What are her own sources of inspiration? You’re not always going to be motivated. And that’s the reality, you cannot live by motivation. Because you’re not always going to be inspired. You have to be disciplined.”

family
Mirna with her son and husband
magazine
On the cover of Women’s Running

 

Sources:

~www.huffingtonpost.in

~www.runnersworld.com

~www.national geographic.com

~www.themirnivator.com

Advertisements

Run The World #7 – GERDA STEYN

The 2019 edition of the Comrades Marathon finds itself in the record books, thanks to  Gerda Steyn who became the first woman to break six hours in the up-run race, knocking more than ten minutes off the previous mark.

“I had never won this race before, so that was my first goal. Breaking the record was just a big bonus on top of the win.”

The Comrades Marathon is an ultramarathon run annually in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon race. The direction of the race alternates each year between the “up” run (87 km with more uphills) starting from Durban, and the “down” run (90 km with more downhills) starting from Pietermaritzburg. South African runner Gerda had a record-shattering day in June this year at the 98-year old Comrades. The 29-year-old broke the women’s up-run record by more than 10 minutes when she finished in 5:58:53. This made her the first women ever to break the six-hour mark in the up-run at the 90K (55 mile). She even placed 17th overall.

trophy
Winner of the 94th Comrades Marathon – June 9th 2019, Durban, South Africa

In an interview with The Independent, Gerda shares, “This year, I sort of didn’t plan and decided to go with my ability. When I got to halfway, I was looking at my watch, and I knew I was on a course record, so I knew my race would start now. I gave it my all, and I left it all on the road.”

The previous mark was set in 2006 by Russian Elena Nurgalieva who ran a 6:09:23. In addition, Steyn also became the first woman since 1989 to win both Comrades and Two Oceans Marathon (South Africa’s gruelling ultramarathons) titles in the same year.

Born in 1990 and raised in the small town of Bothaville in the Free State, Gerda Steyn studied Quantity Surveying and Construction Management at the University of the Free State (UFS) between 2009 and 2012. She ran a couple of cross country races while studying, and played soccer and hockey for her university. Gerda grew up on a farm and like many South Africans used to watch the Comrades Marathon on TV. “It wasn’t as much the winners who inspired me the most, but rather the size of the field. I was convinced if all those thousands of South Africans could do it, I could too.” And though Comrades fascinated her year after year, she never ran consistently or even joined a running club.

In 2014, she moved from Johannesburg to Dubai to work as a quantity surveyor, and joined a running club there to meet new people and make friends in a new country. It was during this time that she met other runners from around the world who had participated in the Comrades Marathon before and were gearing up to participate again that year. Being from South Africa, she felt she had to join them. One of the members of the group, British pilot Duncan Ross, would later become her husband, and the activity which brought them together would ultimately unearth Steyn’s remarkable hidden talent. As preparation for her debut Comrades, she entered the Dubai Marathon in 2015. Runners over the age of twenty qualify when they are able to complete an officially recognized marathon (42.2 km) in under five hours (The criteria for 2019 was 4h50). During the event an athlete must also reach five cut-off points in specified times to complete the race. The full-time worker and part-time runner successfully recorded her first ever Comrades Marathon finish, her maiden attempt at the 87km  in 2015 in an unremarkable (according to her) time of 8:19:08. Returning the following year, she covered the gruelling course more than an hour quicker in 7:08:23, and in 2017 she displayed her full potential for the first time, stunning the elite women’s field to take fourth position on the Comrades ‘up’ run.

2017
Women’s fourth position at Comrades 2017

Gerda says she started taking running seriously in 2018, and came second to Ann Ashworth in a terrific women’s race. She also won the popular 56km Two Oceans ultra-marathon in Cape Town last year. In October the same year, she set a personal best of 33:36 to finish fifth at the FNB CitySurfRun 10km race in Durban, and in the following month made her international marathon debut, recording the best time for a South African entrant in the New York Marathon, stopping the clock at 2:31:04 over the 42.2km distance and ranking 13th overall. Irrespective of which distance she competes in, Gerda believes, “it is a matter of digging deep and stepping out of my comfort zone with no regrets after crossing the finish line”.

dubai
First lady overall at the 10km event of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon 2018 in a new PB of 34:29
2018
Second position among women in Comrades 2018

To help boost her time and performance, Steyn reached out to running coach, legendary former Comrades winner Nick Bester of the Nedbank Running Club in South Africa, who helped shaped her daily running routine. Post her 2018 runner-up position at Comrades, Gerda said, “I think that I can still improve physically and emotionally. But I am enjoying the process and extremely excited to see what I can do.” Her finesse at the Two Oceans in April 2019 catapulted Steyn’s career into a new realm, outclassing a strong field to retain her title in 3:31:29. Completing the race just 53 seconds outside the 30-year-old record held by local ultra-distance icon Frith van der Merwe, she proved that the long-standing mark could be broken. Her 2019 wins have made her just the third woman ever to win the Two Oceans Marathon and the Comrades in the same year and the first woman to complete an up-run in less than six hours. Spending time in the French Alps, preparing for rigours of the Comrades, she came into the race confident that she had a fast time in her.

france
Rhône-Alpes, France
cape town
Cape Town

Steyn anticipated an early race and she got one from 2018 winner Ashworth. The pair pushed each other forward from the gun and set a pace that enabled Steyn to ultimately shatter the up-run record by over ten minutes. She felt like she had a record-breaking run in her after increasing her fitness levels between the Two Oceans win and the Comrades. Club runners praise her tremendous positivity, and almost always find her with a smile on her face, giving her the moniker of The Smiling Assassin – smiling her way to the podium.

2019 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon: Ultra Marathon 56km

“2018 has been a fantastic year for me. After Comrades I have been training specifically to improve my speed over shorter distances. I surprised myself in the last two months racing against the top runners over 10km and definitely feel like it comes down to the training.”

oceans
Crossing the finish line at Two Oceans 2018
Gerda-Steyn-300x200-364x350
Two Oceans 2018

The secret to her success, Steyn explains, is mixing up the type of training she does which allows her body to better recover from the inevitable strain of road running. “I am a big believer in cross training – running takes a lot out of your body and therefore I mix my training up with cycling and other exercises. I find that it not only keeps me less prone  to injury, but also makes my training more exciting. The most important thing is to believe in your training, and to to stick with what works for you.”

7845221fa6b2eee056c32be04c30170a

Steyn begins her day between 5am and 6am, with a breakfast of a bowl of oats and coffee. “I never skip breakfast.” She then goes on a run that can take between an hour and two hours. “For soft runs (when she’s focusing on building fitness), I don’t focus on kilometres, I focus on the allocated time for running,” she says. When she’s at peak training for an event, she starts focusing on mileage. After the run, Steyn goes home to freshen up, and then it’s gym time. This includes weights, swimming, cycling and various other types of strength training. She then goes home for a hearty lunch. With the morning’s gruelling routine, it is important for her to wind down later in the day. For Steyn this includes a nap and, possibly, a physiotherapy session after lunch. She says coach Bester taught her the importance of remaining injury free. Running can take its toll on one’s body, any form of self-care during the training period is very important.  Steyn loves to go for walks at the end of the day in order to unwind. She emphasizes the importance of nutrition – “For me, it is important to put in what you take out of your body at all times.”

11858e6018cf43fb9a50e1ea2ed19548

Her fledgling career has risen to spectacular heights in just a few years, with the 29-year-old quickly cementing her place as the country’s top women’s ultra-distance runner. Record-breaking performances notwithstanding, Steyn has decided to put the ultra distance on hold to pursue an Olympic dream. “This was a big goal for me and it’s a dream come true, so it’ll be hard to top this, but I have a lot of goals.” Steyn will be dropping down to standard marathon distance in a bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Marathon in 2020. A Comrades record won’t count for the Olympics and Steyn will need to earn her place in Tokyo. Steyn will need to adjust to shorter distances and put up the kind of times that not only allow her to qualify for the Olympic marathon but suggest that she can do well in the race. Her tactical approach to the Comrades suggests that she has the ability to turn herself into an Olympic medal contender. “The marathon for me is a whole new world, but after today I will take some time to figure out where I go to from here”, she had  said after the win last month.

Steyn splits her time between Dubai, Johannesburg and France. She goes hiking in the French Alps, but says Lesotho’s Maloti Mountains as well as Johannesburg are her favourite places to train and hike.

france2
Tignes, France
mountain
Afriski Mountain Resort

Regardless of whatever targets she sets herself down the line, however, there is no doubt she will be back. “Comrades is part of me, part of who I am and part of who I want to be in the future, and I think there is more I can put into this race, so it’s a very exciting time for me.”

gerda-steyn

 

Sources:

~www.businessinsider.co.za

~www.runnersworld.com

~www.thesouthafrican.com

~www.comrades.com

~www.citizen.co.za

~www.iol.co.za

 

Run The World #6 – Abebe Bikila

Abebe Bikila couldn’t find a comfortable pair of shoes for the 1960 Rome Olympics. So he ran barefoot. He won gold. Set a world record. And created history in the sport of long distance running, making East Africans a force to reckon with ever since.

Abebe_Bikila_1968b

The sixth in our series on international runners, Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila was the first sub-Saharan African Olympic gold medallist, and the first back-to-back Olympic champion. He won his first gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome while running barefoot, and won his second gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which made him the first athlete to successfully defend an Olympic marathon title.

Abebe was a member of the Ethiopian Imperial Guard – an elite infantry division that safeguarded the Emperor of Ethiopia. He was a soldier before he became an athlete, rising to the rank of a captain (shambel in Amharic); therefore his formal designation was Shambel Abebe Bikila. He was instrumental in establishing East Africa as a force in long distance running. Abebe participated in a total of sixteen marathons in his athletics career, winning twelve. According to Olympian and sports journalist Kenny Moore, Abebe was responsible for the great African distance running avalanche. He brought to the forefront the relationship between endurance and high-altitude training in all kinds of sports. The Abebe Bikila Award is presented to individuals for their contributions to long-distance running. Mamo Wolde, Juma Ikangaa, Tegla Loroupe, Paul Tergat, and Haile Gebrselassie are all recipients of the Abebe Bikila Award.

Abebe Bikila was born on August 7, 1932 in the small community of Jato. His birthday coincided with the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Marathon. As a young boy, Abebe played gena, a traditional hockey game. In 1952, he joined the 5th Infantry Regiment of the Imperial Guard in Addis Ababa. During the mid-1950s, Abebe ran 20 km (12 miles) from the hills of Sululta to Addis Ababa and back every dayOnni Niskanen, a Swedish coach employed by the Ethiopian government to train the Imperial Guard, soon noticed the twenty-four year old, and began training him for the marathon. In the 6,000-foot high mountains, he led Bikila and others through grueling workouts. Runs were up to twenty miles, including repeated sprints of 1,500 meters and barefoot runs over the rocky soil. In 1956, Abebe finished second to Wami Biratu in the Ethiopian Armed Forces championship.

In July 1960, Abebe won his first marathon in Addis Ababa. A month later he won again in Addis Ababa with a time of 2:21:23, which was faster than the existing Olympic record held by Emil Zátopek. Coach Niskanen entered both Wami Biratu and Abebe Bikila in the marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics, which would be run on 10th September. In Rome, Abebe purchased new running shoes, but they did not fit well and gave him blisters, leading to the decision to run barefoot instead. The race started late-afternoon and finished at night. Abebe’s winning time was 2:15:16, twenty-five seconds faster than runner-up Ben Abdesselam at 2:15:41 and breaking Russian marathoner Sergei Popov’s 1958 world record by eight tenths of a second. On crossing the finish line, Abebe began to run in place, saying that he could have run another 10–15 km (6–9 miles). He returned to his homeland a hero. The emperor awarded him the Star of Ethiopia and promoted him to the rank of asiraleqa (corporal). Bikila’s gold was the first Olympic medal by a black man, and marked the beginning of a new era in international competition.

Abebe_Bikila_1960_Olympics
Bikila, with bib number 11, at the back of the pack
Abebe_Bikila_sprints_away_from_Rhadi_Ben_Abdesselam
Breaking away from the pack to get into lead position
Abebe_Bikila_maratona_olimpica_Roma_1960
Finish line of the 1960 Rome Olympics
Abebe_Bikila_-_Star_of_Ethiopia
Receiving the Star of Ethiopia from the Emperor
rome
On the podium of the 1960 Rome Olympics, with silver medallist Abdeslon Rhadi of Morocco and bronze winner Barry Magee of New Zealand.

In the 1961 Athens Classical Marathon, Abebe again won while running barefootThis was the second and last event in which he competed barefooted. The same year he won the marathons in Osaka (Japan) and Košice (Slovakia). While in Japan, he was approached by a Japanese shoe company, Onitsuka Tiger, with the possibility of wearing its shoes; Coach Niskanen declined the offer. Between his Olympic wins in 1960 and 1964, Abebe also ran the 1963 Boston Marathon —and finished fifth in 2:24:43. This was the only time in his competitive career that he completed an international marathon without winning. The race was won by Belgium’s Aurele Vandendriessche in a course record of 2:18:58.

tokyo4
Training for the Tokyo Olympics with team mate Mamo Wolde

Forty days before the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Abebe felt pain while training. He was diagnosed with acute appendicitis, had an appendectomy on September 16, left the hospital within a week, and was all set to run the marathon on 21st October, this time wearing Puma shoes. Abebe began the race at the back of the pack until about the 10 km (6 miles) mark, when he slowly increased his pace. He entered the Olympic stadium alone, to the cheers of 75,000 spectators, finishing with a time of 2:12:11.2, four minutes and eight seconds ahead of silver medalist Basil Heatley of Great Britain. Abebe did not appear exhausted after the finish, and he again performed a routine of calisthenics, which included touching his toes twice then lying down on his back, cycling his legs in the air.

tokyo3
At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

tokyo

tokyo2

In the book “Olympic Marathon: A Centennial History of the Games”, Charlie Lovett writes, For Bikila, no strategy was necessary. He slowly increased his lead, running with total concentration and precision. His body seemed to float down the streets. He ran  using the least amount of energy and his smooth strides and motionless head made the race appear effortless.

tokyo5
On the podium of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics with silver medallist Basil Heatley of Great British and bronze winner Kokichi Tsuburaya of Japan.

He was the first runner to successfully defend an Olympic marathon titleAs of the 2016 Olympic marathon, Abebe and Waldemar Cierpinski are the only athletes to have won two gold medals in the event, and they both did it back-to-back. For the second time, Abebe received Ethiopia’s only gold medal and again returned home to a hero’s welcome. The Emperor promoted him to the commissioned-officer rank of   metoaleqa  (lieutenant). He received the Order of Menelik II, a Volkswagen Beetle and a house.

In May 1965, Abebe returned to Japan and won his second Mainichi Marathon. In 1966 he ran marathons at Zarautz (Spain) and Inchon Seoul (South Korea), winning both. The 1966 Incheon–Seoul Marathon was the last marathon he ever completed. He did not finish the Zarautz International Marathon in July 1967 due to a hamstring injury, from which he never recovered.

In July 1968, he joined the rest of the Ethiopian Olympic team training for the Mexico Olympics. A week before the race, Abebe developed pain in his left leg. Doctors discovered a fracture in his fibula, and he was advised to stay off his feet until the day of the race. Abebe had to drop out of the race after approximately 16 km (10 miles) and Mamo Wolde won that year in 2:20:26.4. This was Bikila’s last marathon appearance. He was rewarded with a promotion to the rank of shambel (captain) upon his return to Ethiopia.

On the night of March 22, 1969, Abebe lost control of his Volkswagen Beetle while trying to avoid an oncoming car. It overturned, trapping him inside, and he was only freed the following morning where the Imperial Guard hospital declared him quadriplegic –  paralyzed from the neck downOn March 29, Abebe was transferred to Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England, where he spent eight months receiving treatment. Although he could not move his head at first, his condition eventually improved to paraplegia, regaining the use of his arms, though he was paralyzed from the waist down and never walked again.

In 1970, Abebe began training for wheelchair-athlete archery competitionsIn July that year, he competed in archery and table tennis at the Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Games in London. The Stoke Mandeville Games were an early predecessor of the Paralympic Games. In April 1971, Abebe participated in games for the disabled in Norway. He competed in archery and table tennis and defeated a field of sixteen in cross-country sled dog racing with a time of 1:16:17.

archery
At the International Paraplegic Games in Norway, 1971

Abebe was invited to the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich as a special guest, and received a standing ovation during the opening ceremony. Speaking about his accident in a 1973 interview, Bikila said, “Men of success meet with tragedy. It was the will of God that I won the Olympics, and it was the will of God that I met with my accident. I accepted those victories as I accept this tragedy. I have to accept both circumstances as facts of life and live happily.

Abebe Bikila died at age 41 on 25th October 1973, of a cerebral hemorrhage related to his accident four years earlier. He received a state funeral, was buried with full military honors, and Emperor Haile Selassie declared a national day of mourning. Many schools, venues, and events, including Abebe Bikila Stadium in Addis Ababa, are named after him. The American Community School of Addis Ababa dedicated its gymnasium (which included facilities for the disabled) to Abebe. Bikila was not only one of the greatest marathoners of all time, but also won at paraplegic games post his accident – truly a source of inspiration the world over.

On March 21, 2010, the Rome Marathon observed the 50th anniversary of his Olympic victoryWinner and fellow Ethiopian runner Siraj Gena, ran the last 300 meters (984 ft) of the race barefoot and received a €5,000 bonus. A plaque commemorating the anniversary is mounted on a wall on the Via di San Gregorio, and a footbridge in Ladispoli was named in Abebe’s honour. In 2010, the Italian company Vibram introduced the “Bikila” model of its FiveFingers line of minimalist shoes.

Plaque_celebrating_Abebe_Bikila_on_Via_di_San_Gregorio (1)
Plaque at Via di san Gregorio, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Bikila’s Olympic gold win.
800px-FiveFingers_Bikila_outer_side_2
Italian footwear company Vibram’s “Bikila” model of minimalist shoes.

 

A clip of Bikila running the 1960 and 1964 Olympic marathons:

https://www.olympic.org/videos/abebe-bikila-barefoot-to-olympic-gold

 

Sources:

~www.biography.yourdictionary.com

~www.olympic.org

When Wonder Woman Turns Long Distance Runner

A belated write-up of the Halloween Run I had participated in earlier this month. Every edition of the fear n’ fun themed event is held on the first Sunday of November – the weekend nearest to Halloween. While last year I had to orchestrate the event myself in the capacity of SPOC (Specific Point of Contact), free from organizational tasks this year, I could dress up and run. The run is organized on a 21 km route from the Otter’s Club in the Western suburbs to the NCPA in the South of Mumbai, on which participants can run varying distances either as a point to point run or in any desired loop pattern within these points. Being racing season, many runners did a half marathon or distances above 30 kms ( for those training for full marathons). I did a 15 km run – a little after the start point, and up to the end tip of the city. A large number of runners opted for distances of 10 km and below, on account of this being a costume event.

Runners were required to run in costume, in keeping with the Halloween theme. We had Two Face, Batman, Catwoman, Superman, giving company to the great many vampires, witches, zombies and devils.  I went as Wonder Woman! In consideration of the distance required to be run in costume, I settled for a handmade costume constructed out of readily available materials – comfort in long distance running being the priority. The Wonder Woman costume comprised a basic red racerback top, and blue skorts – both in dri-fit fabric. The ‘W’ logo, bracelets and tiara were crafted from glitter foam, and star stickers were used for the skirt, bracelets and tiara. I didn’t make the belt on account of the running pouch occupying space on the waist. Here’s what I ended up with:

1
Protecting the bay!

Overall, it was a fun event, racing through the city dressed as Wonder Woman, and receiving peculiar glances from morning runners who were not part of the event and/or not in costume.

45517267_2263045987063447_3140420472689131520_o
At the early morning start point.

15 km was the longest distance I had attempted since the accident, and pleasantly received company from the halfway mark onward, with a runner attempting 32 km. Step by step we trotted along to the finish point.

45484581_10156918450521177_5991251366696189952_n
When you feel like you’re the only one racing around like a weirdo!

It was a joy to see volunteers at the various water stations dressed up in their spine-tingling best, hiding behind parked cars, jumping out and scaring runners, and capturing a cornucopia of expressions.

45447401_10156918450836177_5746400370687475712_n
When Wonder Woman meets the Devil.

A common sight on Sundays are the vintage car rallies that occur within South Mumbai. Clicking pictures and taking in the sights on the seafront, the never ending run finally came to an end.

rodman (4)
Appreciating beauty on the route.

The only disheartening feature of the event was that many runners didn’t really run, but only showed up at the end point to click pictures dressed in costume. The idea behind a Halloween Run was to run the distance in spooky or fun attire. Merely showing up in costume for the sake of pictures defeats the purpose of a running event. Ah! The flip-side of social media.

45491632_10156918459751177_3857178436250370048_n
The ghosts and ghouls at the finish point.
kavita (4)
With Captain America cum Wonder Woman cum Super Girl

Come Back Stronger Than The Setback

“It’s never too late, it’s never too bad, and you’re never too old or sick to start from scratch once again.”

Post-accident racing mode on! 

The week took off with a spectacular start. I ran my first timed race on Sunday, since the accident last year. For those who are unfamiliar or have recently begun following this blog, I had an accident last August and suffered from nerve damage with subsequent paralysis of the right leg – from hip to foot. I had resumed running earlier but wasn’t yet racing. Sunday’s event marked a comeback to racing. A measly distance compared to the marathon distance I am usually accustomed to, but some start is better than no improvement at all.

The race was tricky, as expected. I had practiced the distance in training runs, but in events one needs to be aware of other racers as well. Some runners overtake you and suddenly stop right in front of you, others sway from one side of the road to the other when they spot photographers, not to forget those who throw disposable water bottles in the middle of the road. Racing throws its own set of challenges, besides the training the body and mind undergo. The weather on Sunday was 34°C, with a humidity of 59% – the monsoons began waning a few weeks ago with some abrupt showers in between, but overall the weather was hot and humid. I did take several walk breaks through the course – the race strategy being more of a walk-jog rather than high speed running. The goal here was to return to race mode and finish injury free. I’m working with distances at the moment instead of speed, having being warned of a possible nerve compression recurring.

Each medal comes with it’s own story, and means much more than merely the name of the place or date of the race. A medal is a reminder of how the run was, the people you met, the challenges you overcame, and your entire journey to get to that place and pace. Another cherished one added to the seven year old collection.

20180930_110018

And of course, one can’t fail to mention the support of the running community, where friends are almost like family. Long distance runners have their own training routes, and events bring everyone on the road together. I had met many people on practice runs, but had missed many others who would usually connect through races. It was great catching up with all. The official race pictures are not yet out – I’ll post some running ones when I get my hands on them. Just a few friendly ones for now.

20181003_191138

Breaking Barriers In Marathon Running

“I lack the words to describe how I feel. It was really hard, but I was truly prepared to run my own race.”

~Eliud Kipchoge

180916071003-01-eliud-kipchoge-0916-exlarge-169

Yesterday was a great day for the long-distance running community. For those unable to fathom our excitement, a new world record was set at the Berlin Marathon. Imagine stepping on a treadmill, setting it to 13 mph, and running at that pace for over two hours. Or let’s use the analogy given by BBC Sports – imagine running 100 mts in 17.2 seconds; or if that’s feels slow, try it and repeat for 420 times without a pause. That’s just what Eliud Kipchoge accomplished at Berlin yesterday – setting a new world record by completing the marathon distance of 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers) with a timing of 2 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds.

The first time a marathon was run as an official race, was at the London Olympics in 1908, where American Johnny Hayes emerged victorious with a timing of 2:55:18. Of course, a lot has changed since then in terms of training and technology. Four years ago, Dennis Kimetto from Kenya had created a new record of 2:02:57 in Berlin. Fellow Kenyan Kipchoge broke this record on Sunday by 78 seconds – recorded to be the largest single improvement in a world record marathon timing in over fifty years. Australian Derek Clayton had knocked down 2 minutes 37 seconds way back in 1967.

graph
Reductions in marathon timings over the years.

Kipchoge, 33, has competed in eleven marathons, out of which he has won ten and finished second in one. He has won both, the Berlin and London marathons three times each, and holds course records at both places. His split times astonished viewers and runners, both amateur and elite, the world over. Kipchoge’s average speed on Sunday was 13 mph, an average pace of 2.52 mins/km for each kilometer of the 42.195 km race, or every 400 mts in 68.8 seconds. He clocked the first 10 kms in world record pace, as led by three pacers from the start.

kenyas-eliud-kipchoge-takes-the-start-among-other-top-news-photo-1034044218-1537089052
With pacers, early on in the race.

Shortly after the halfway mark, all three pacers dropped out, leaving Kipchoge to run the remaining 21 kms alone. Rather than struggling or falling off the pace, he defied the odds and rather sped up, covering 30 kms of the race in 1:26:45, which is the fastest time ever recorded for that distance. He ran the first half of the race in 1 hour, 1 minute, 6 seconds, and went 30 seconds quicker in the second half. He ran from the 40k mark to the finish in 6 minutes, 8 seconds – the fastest known in any major marathon, without any obvious sprint. His overall pace was 4 minutes, 37 seconds per mile – for 26.2 miles. Jon Mulkeen from the IAAF (International Association of Athletic Federations) pointed out, “imagine running 200m reps in 34.60 seconds, and repeating that for 211 times with no rest in between”. That’s what Eliud Kipchoge did in Berlin yesterday.

_103466460_record1
His splits up to the halfway mark

Long-distance runners might remember the “Breaking 2 Project” of Nike last year – an unofficial race to break the sub-2 hour marathon, on a track at Monza. Kipchoge had created a world record of 2:00:25 at the time, guided by a team of pacers. The race did not qualify as an official time, and was seen as more of a project. Kipchoge, however, did show his frightening potential as a long-distance runner, which manifested itself as he obliterated the competition on Berlin’s streets on Sunday. “I believed he was capable of smashing the World Record. He delivered in outstanding fashion and rewrote history”, said Paula Radcliffe – former record holder of the women’s marathon. Roger Robinson from Runners’ World added, “I have watched great runners for seventy years, from Emil Zapotek to Haile Gebrselassie, and not since Abebe Bikila in 1964 have I witnessed a world marathon record set with such focused mastery”. “I felt very confident. I am grateful to those who worked with me”, Kipchoge said after the race. Impeccable pacing and the focus of a Zen master have sealed Eliud Kipchoge’s place as the greatest marathoner of all time.

11265203_682248508587821_3256398405659393902_n
“The lesson of running is to train well, and then have full faith in your training and show the proof in the race.”

 

 

 

Sources:

~www.bbc.com

~www.edition.cnn.com

~www.runnersworld.com

Tribe Of Reader-Runners

As the book collection spirals out of control with frequent bookstore visits, buying new books, scouring second-hand shops for thrift sales, and keeping an eye out for books in general, book gifts by friends helpfully aid that spiral – a progressive spiral to add to one’s home library, and a downward spiral as far as space to accommodate, and time to read them all is concerned.

I was at a running event yesterday, and received this book by ultrarunner Dean Karnanzes from a fellow marathoner. The newest addition to the running shelf. A book for a runner, about a runner, from a runner. 🙂

38612509_10157689916304937_8910547045878595584_n

Touring The World Through Races

Running season resumed here last month, post the scorching summers, and the next couple of months are going to be busy with race strategies, nutrition regimes, schedules for running and cross training – all in preparation for the upcoming races. Our running events here cater to various distance categories – 10k races, half marathons, 25k races, full marathons, 12-hr ultrathons, 24-hr ultrathons. In keeping with the race mood of the season, I have been looking up race scenarios around the world, and the escapades of long distance runners who spend hours on the road, trail or hills. Nothing like a little fun read to tide over all the serious training. In yesterday’s blog-post I wrote about canines who unwittingly entered races in the US and Australia – making themselves at home on the route, running side-by-side with human participants. Today, I came across a parody on the Mumbai Marathon (scheduled for January 2019). Marathoner and author Cdr. (Retd.) Bijay Nair presented a novel take on the marathon race, the route of which covers prominent landmarks in the city of Mumbai, enabling runners from around the world to breathe in the city as they run the distance.

Now the full marathon distance in the Tata Mumbai Marathon begins in South Mumbai, reaches up to the Western Suburbs till the half way mark at Bandra, from where there is a turnaround to return back to South Mumbai – the start and finish points are the same, thereby taking runners on a tour of the city. To avoid overcrowding at the start line and ensure participants are spaced out, registered runners are allotted race categories. Amateur runners begin at 5:40 am, while the elite start the race at 7:20 am. Unsurprisingly, the elite runners overtake the amateurs at certain points on the route (in spite of starting after them.)

Cdr. Nair has composed a hilariously novel approach to estimate one’s timing in the full marathon category based on where the elite athletes overtake you on the route – usually the Kenyans and Ethiopians who win the race. Using prominent city landmarks as indicators, one can calculate what the finish time would be depending on where you were on the route when you got overtaken. Below is his esteemed analysis from years of racing at the same event, and having the elite overtake him at various points of the city landmarks as he edges closer to the finish line. Cdr. Nair has humorously added emojis to aid this “serious” analysis from years of racing experience on the same route. The race literally takes you around the city, as evident from each of the landmarks on the route.

“The Amateur Full Marathon kicks off at 5.40 am and the Elite begin at 7.20 am, thereby providing a difference of one hour and forty minutes.  

If the Kenyans cross you at Worli Seaface while they race towards Bandra, then you rather stop running and play kabaddi. 

If they cross you at the start of the Bandra Worli Sea Link, then your finish time will be 
6.40 hrs. 

If they cross you at the Bandra toll point, you will finish in 6.10. 

If they cross you at Mahim Junction, it will take you 5.45 hrs to complete. 

If they cross you at Hinduja Hospital, then your finish time will be around 5.20. 

If it’s at Shivaji Park, it will be 5.05. 

If it’s at Siddhi Vinayak Mandir, then it will be 4.50. 

If it’s at the Passport Office, it will be around 4.39. 

If it’s on the return of Worli Seaface near INS Trata, it will be a 4.37 finish. 

If it’s near Worli Dairy, it will be 4.33. 

If it’s at Mela restaurant, it will be 4.30. 

If it’s at Mahalaxmi Race Course, it’s 4.28. 

If it’s at the Haji Ali Seafront, then it’s 4.26. 

If it’s on the Peddar Road flyover, it’s 4.23. 

If it’s at the Antilia building, then it’s 4.21. 

If it’s at the Babulnath temple, it’s 4.18. 

If it’s on the Marine Drive Seafront near Wilson College, then it’s 4.12. 

If it’s near Taraporewala Aquarium, then it’s 4.06. 

If it’s near Jazz By The Bay, then it’s 4.00. 🍸🍷

If it’s near Flora Fountain, it’s 3.55. 

If you find yourself crossing the finish line before the elite runners, congratulations!!! You win two nights and three days at Nairobi or Addis Ababa. 

~Copyright@BijayNair-2ndAug2018

full-marathon-map1508873330
The Full Marathon route map for a glimpse of the city.

*kabaddi – a team sport from South Asia, played on a field

*Bandra Worli Sea Link – a cable-stayed bridge which literally connects the city from South Mumbai to North Mumbai, and is only accessible to pedestrians on the day of this marathon.

*Antilia building – a twenty-seven storied skyscraper in South Mumbai which is a private home in it’s entirety.

Some pictures I found online of different sections of the route.

mumbai-marathon-2018_f2ee39cc-fed0-11e7-b07f-b94dbb2f1d8d

Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018

7BMMARATHON

Bornes-Kitur-marathon

If you ever find yourself racing at the Bay, now you know how to pace yourself!