Mark Cucuzzella MD, Professor West Virginia University School of Medicine, LtCol US Air Force
2006 and 2011 Air Force Marathon Champion and Air Force Marathon Team Member since 1988
I’ve had the pleasure of running the Boston Marathon 18 times with a string now of 10 consecutive. My only misses were for military and work duties and a foot surgery. In all these efforts had 5 under 2:30, 6 between 2:30 and 2:35; 3 between 2:35 and 2:40; 3 between 2:40-2:44; and one DNF (my first one in 1989 with all the rookie mistakes J ). 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 the 1998 Fatuma Roba, the Marathon Gold Medalist in Atlanta and 3 time Boston winner, scooted over the ground with an incredibly efficient motion. She hydroplaned along the ground, hips extending, arms relaxed, and face always relaxed. She stayed out of trouble by tucking behind the lead pack of more aggressive ladies. I followed behind the train and we hit half way in about 1:13. Fatuma then opened her stride up in the second half moving away from all of us to run a 2:23. An amazing second half effort. I was pleased with a 2:27 that day and credit Fatuma as any thoughts to go faster sooner were mitigated by her patience.
A few years later in 2001 I witnessed multiple world champion and Boston winner Catherine “the Great” Ndereba employ the same strategy. Her light springy stride and complete relaxation of effort were a contrast to other ladies in the pack who’s body language and breathing displayed they were putting out more energy than Katherine. As a group we hit the half in 1:14. Katherine kept relaxed down the last set of downhill during mile 17 then tightened the screws with a huge acceleration over the Newton hills, running a 50 minute last 10 miles for a 2:24. Katherine 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 1997 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.
All of 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 downhills…you could hardly hear them land as they did not employ hard heel striking technique. Their posture was tall and their arms always relaxed. But most vital was their efficient energy conservation and utilization strategy.
Tomorrow: So how does this apply to you in your Boston Marathon, whether you are going to run 2:20 or 4 hours plus?