TITLE: A Legend Learns to Respect the Distance AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: November 07, 2006 4:37 PM DESC: ----- BODY:

... that was without a doubt
the hardest physical thing
I have ever done.

-- Lance Armstrong

"That" was the New York City Marathon, which Armstrong ran last Sunday. He is, of course, world-renown as a seven-time winner of the Tour de France, which is among the most grueling and physically-challenging feat of athletic endurance. I have long admired Armstrong's accomplishments on the Tour, overcoming the vicissitudes of competition, the annual challenges from new and younger riders, and the wear and tear of such a demanding event -- and winning, not once, not just seven times, but seven consecutive times. And all this after overcoming a metastasized case of testicular cancer. But the marathon offered him a new sort of challenge. If you have read much of my writing on running, then you have seen me say more than once that you have to "respect the distance". Running a marathon goes beyond what the human body is typically configured to do. It stresses the body in ways that other physical feats don't often. I've never cycled for the distances or remarkable inclines that the Tour de France requires, but I've cycled enough to know that it does not stress the joints like running does. Armstrong found this out:
"I think I bit off more than I could chew. I thought the marathon would be easier," he said. "(My shins) started to hurt in the second half, especially the right one. I could barely walk up here, because the calves are completely knotted up."
So, all of you fellow runners out there, take heart that even the greatest athletes find running at the edges of their endurance and speed daunting. I take heart, too, that they fight through the same pain as I, because I know then that I can do the same. To be fair to Armstrong, the quote I opened with above starts with an ellipsis. The portion of the quote omitted by me -- and most newspapers that highlighted this statement -- is "For the level of condition that I have now". So he may be able to run a faster and more comfortable marathon in the future, if he reaches a different level of fitness. I've seen reports that Armstrong had never previously run more than 16 miles at once, and that he dod no particular speed training before attempting NYC. This explains some of Armstrong's struggle, but it raises another question. Why didn't he train (better) for the marathon? I guess he didn't realize just how much respect we all have to show the distance. Perhaps he could learn something from our old friend Santiago Botero, who once learned something from Lance:
His smile said to me, 'I was training while you were sleeping, Santiago'. It also said, 'I won this tour four months ago, while you were deciding what bike frame to use in the Tour. I trained harder than you did, Santiago. I don't know if I am better than you, but I have outworked you and right now, you cannot do anything about it. Enjoy your ride, Santiago. See you in Paris.'
When Armstrong first publicly discussed the possibility of running a marathon a few years ago, there were two schools of thought. Some folks thought that he would be think he would be a good but not great marathoner -- running something like the 3:00 race he ran in New York. Others thought that, given his great aerobic base and mental toughness, with only a little training he could run a 2:20 marathon better. I was in the second camp -- and still am. This race only highlighted the importance of that little bit of training. And of course, Armstrong's time was still faster than my best time by 45 minutes. I have a lot of work yet to do! -----