MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XXXV) – London 2012: STEPHEN KIPROTICH (1989-)

Kiprotich heading towards the finish line (photo by Peter Mooney)

The conditions were hot and humid but they were the same for everyone.   Determination is what matters.

Stephen Kiprotich

The marathon of London 2012 was run on the last day of the Olympics over a course of one small lap of a short circuit and 3 loops of a longer 13k circuit.

Among the favourites was the powerful Kenyan team, and especially Wilson Kipsang, who had won the London Marathon in April and had a PB of 2.03.42, second fastest marathon ever, obtained in Lake Biwa in 2011. His other teammates were Abel Kirui, who had won the 2009 and 2011 World Championships, and Emmanuel Mutai, winner of the 2011 London Marathon. Besides them was also returning the 2004 silver medallist Meb Keflezighi of the United States.

Stephen Kiprotich was the youngest children in a family of farmers from the Kapchorwa District, in Uganda. At 17 he quit school and moved to train to Eldoret, in Kenya, training ground of Eliud Kipchoge too. His previous experiences in the marathon were few. He debuted with 2.07.20 at the Enschede Marathon (Netherlands) in 2011, setting a new Ugandan record in the distance. In 2012 he had finished third in the Tokyo Marathon with 2.07.50.

Back in London, weather conditions offered for the day the highest temperatures of the 2012 Olympic Games: 23°C at the start and sunny skies. Because of this, runners decided to take easily those first few stages.  Brazilian runner Franck Caldeira tried his luck and crossed the 10k in 30.38 after opening a small gap of 8s from a large pack with more than 30 runners.

On getting to the kilometre 12 Wilson Kipsang moved to the front, increasing the pace and breaking up the group into a small one, most of them East Africans. Thus, he crossed the 20k in 59.57 with an advantage of 14s on his closest chasers.

Nevertheless Kipsang was unable of breaking completely the race. His gap decreased until Abel Kirui and Stephen Kiprotich made contact. The trio crossed the 30k in 1.30.15.

Kiprotich seemed to fall slightly behind, but soon recovered and getting to the 37k he made a move, sprinting to the front. Looking relaxed and in control he started to increase his lead, unanswered by the Kenyan runners. At 40k (2.01.12) he had opened a 20s gap with Kirui, while Kipsang was a further 32s behind.

That advantage would be enough for Kipotrich, who carrying a Ugandan flag crossed the finish line in 2.08.01, claiming the first medal for his country in Olympic Games since 1996. Second entered Kirui in 2.08.27 and third Kipsang in 2.09.37.

Also worth to mention the US runner Keflezighi, who being 17th at the 20k run a strong second half to finish 4th in 2.11.06. The Brazilian team was capable of having his 3 runners in the top-15. On the contrary it was a failure for Ethiopia: none managed to reach the finish line.

As for Kipotrich he claimed the victory in the World Championships of Moscow 2013. The next year he won the New York Marathon with 2.10.59. In 2015 he finished second the Tokyo Marathon, improving his PB to 2.06.33. At Olympic level he was unable to repeat his success in Rio de Janeiro 2016 or Tokyo 2021, which was his last marathon to date.

A moment of the London 2012 Olympic Marathon (photo by Peter Mooney)

TRAINING PLANS OF ELITE MARATHON RUNNERS (2/2): TRAINING VOLUMES, INTENSITY ZONES AND TAPERING

London Marathon 2018

In our previous post we focused on periodization and training methods followed by some of the most well-known elite long-distance runners. In this second post we will deepen in the training characteristics of these runners.

 

Training Volumes

Most world-leading marathon runners train 500–700 h/year, relatively low compared to other endurance sports (cycling, triathlon, or swimming for example).

To obtain a relatively high training volume, these athletes seem to compensate by running twice a day most of the week

Most injuries are attributed to rapid and excessive increases in training load. Elite marathoners increase the total running volume gradually during the initial 8–12 weeks of a macrocycle. They start at 40–60% of peak weekly running volume, increasing by 5–15 km each week until maximal volume is reached.

Thus, typical weekly running volume in the mid-preparation period is 160–220 km distributed across 11–14 sessions. Peak volumes can be 20–30 km higher, but only for short periods (2–3 weeks) of time.

Despite this, some marathoners run “only” 130–150 km/wk although with a high proportion (25–30%) at near marathon pace.

Regarding female marathon runners they usually covered around 5% (or 10 km) less distance than males, although they trained 30–40 min/wk longer.

 

Intensity Zones

Training intensity quantification is complicated. No single intensity parameter works well as an intensity guide.

From an effort point of view there can be distinguished Low Intensity Training (LIT), Moderate Intensity Training (MIT) and High Intensity Training (HIT).

Training intensity distribution in long-distance runners have followed mainly one of the next three models:

  1. Pyramidal model: large volume of LIT combined with a small volume of MIT and an even smaller volume of HIT.
  2. Polarized model: same large volume of LIT combined with less MIT and more HIT.
  3. Threshold model: where a relatively large proportion of training is in the intensity range defined by the lactate/ventilatory thresholds.

MIT and HIT sessions are psychologically and physiologically demanding, requiring longer recovery times compared to sessions of LIT.

Most elite distance runners train most of their running distance (≥80%) at low intensity throughout the training year. One of the most important weekly sessions for marathoners are the ones consisting in 30–40 km runs slightly below marathon pace.

 

Tapering

It is defined as a marked reduction of total training load before competition. Its main intention is reducing the cumulative effects of fatigue while maintaining the competitive edge.

A successful tapering period is said to enhance performance by 1–3% in well trained endurance athletes.

Most scientific guidelines define the ideal tapering as a 2-3 weeks period with 40–60% reduction in training volume, while maintaining training intensity and frequency. However, many long-distance runners only start decreasing training volume during the last 7–10 days pre-competition.

 

Conclusions

  • In the general preparation period, elite marathon runners focus on building aerobic foundation, with weekly running volumes between 160 and 220 kms.
  • During this period 80% or more of total running distance is performed at low intensity.
  • From the specific preparation period onward, the training intensity increases, with more running distance at race-pace
  • The tapering process typically starts at least 7–10 days prior to the competition.

We hope that some of these training tips, from some of the most successful marathoners in history, are useful to you.

Don´t forget that most of their training sessions were easy runs. You don´t have to push your limits each training day to achieve your running goals.

 

Bibliography

Haugen, T., Sandbakk, Ø., Seiler, S. et al. The Training Characteristics of World-Class Distance Runners: An Integration of Scientific Literature and Results-Proven Practice. Sports Med – Open 8, 46 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-022-00438-7

Photo by Miguel A. Amutio (Unsplash)

TRAINING PLANS OF ELITE MARATHON RUNNERS (1/2): PERIODIZATION AND RUNNING METHODS

Kipchoge and Kosgei, winners of the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Marathon

Most top-level long-distance runners must endure a period of training of 8–10 years prior to reaching a competitive international standard.

A recent review has explored the literature and publicly available training logs of some of the most successful marathons runners in history. Among them figures such as Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele, Stefano Baldini, Gelindo Bordin or Robert de Castella in men, and Joan Benoit, Ingrid Kristiansen, Constantina Diță, Tegla Loroupe or Brigid Kosgei in women.

In this first post we will show how they organized their seasons and which training methods were mostly used.

 

Training Periodization

Arthur Lydiard introduced the periodization system in the late 1950s. He divided the training year (macrocycle) into smaller ordered phases (meso- or micro-cycles) with the explicit aim of reaching peak performance in major competitions.

Marathon elite runners usually compete annually in 2-3 marathons (separated by at least 3 months), 1 half marathon and around 3 shorter races.

They generally use a double periodization period, with cycles of 5-6 months, based in spring and autumn marathons, with resting periods of 7-14 days following marathon competitions.

 

Training Methods

Continuous running

  • Warm-up/cooldown, easy run. Low-intensive running (typically 3–5 km/h slower than marathon pace).
  • Long run. Low-intensive steady-state running (1–2 km/h slower than marathon pace). Typical duration 75–165 min for marathon runners, with pace varying during the season.
  • Uphill run. Low-intensive steady-state running uphill (3–6%). Typical duration 20–45 min.
  • Threshold run (or tempo run). A sustained run at moderate intensity. Typical duration 20–50 min. The session should not be extremely fatiguing.
  • Unstructured run over varying terrain lasting 30–60 min, where periods of fast running are intermixed with periods of slower running. According to athlete’s rhythms and terrain.
  • Progressive long runs. Commonly used training used by African runners. The first part of the session resembles an easy run, with pace gradually quickening. Typical duration is 45–90 min.

Interval training

  • Threshold intervals (or tempo intervals). Intervals of 3–15 min of duration at half-marathon pace. Typical sessions are 10–12×1000, 6–8×1500–2000 or 4×5000 with 1–2 min recovery or easy jog between them. Recommended total time for elite runners is 30–75 min.
  • VO2max intervals. Intervals of 2–4 min of duration at 10k pace, and 2–3 min. recovery periods between intervals. Recommended total time for elite runners is 15–20 min, although is a method more specific for track runners.
  • Lactate tolerance training. Usually 1–2 weekly training sessions for 5000-m runners in the pre-competition and competition periods. Intervals of 150 to 600 m at 800–1500 m race pace with 1–3 min. recoveries.
  • Hill repeats. Typical incline 5–10%, with repetitions from 30 s to 4 min depending on goal and time of season.

Speed work

  • 5–15 s runs with near-maximal to maximal effort and full recoveries. The main aim is developing or maintain maximal sprinting speed without producing high levels of lactate.

 

Bill Bowerman, one of the co-founders of Nike and US coach at the 1972 Olympics Munich where Frank Shorter won the marathon, summarized his training philosophy as:

2–3 weekly interval sessions, a weekly long run, and as many training sessions of Low Intensity Training (LIT) as possible

This training description has been basically the training organization of most successful long-distance runners during the last 5 decades.

 

In the next post we will focus on training volumes, intensity zones and the important tapering phase.

Photo by Rob Wilson (Unsplash)

VIENNA CITY MARATHON (04/24/22 – 110)

Marathon panel
Runners´expo

Initially I was running the Vienna marathon in its 2020 edition, but like so many others it was cancelled when Covid-19 broke out. At that time, it was going to be part of a holiday in Vienna and Bratislava, which did not happen.

Later, they gave the option of transferring the registration to September 2021, or April 2022, which is the option I opted for. And even this year they gave the option to delay the registration for 2023, although I missed the date to do so.

Thus, with the date set, I bought the flights, with just time enough to run the marathon and little else. And at the last minute I almost couldn’t go, between the medical problem of a family member and a positive for Covid at work. Finally, knowing I was virus-free, I could travel.

Arriving in Vienna at noon, I stopped by the accommodation to drop off my backpack and head to the runners´ expo, in a large pavilion with many stands that reminded me of what these pre-pandemic events were like. I quickly pick up the bag, with the bib-number and little else, because in some of these marathons, which are very expensive, the shirt must be paid separately (€30).

Already free I am headed towards the city centre. The less time available, the more you must take advantage of it. With my return flight early on Monday morning, I will have tomorrow afternoon available too. I visit the Cathedral and surrounding areas, and I retire early to rest.

Start area

In the morning I leave early to take the metro to the departure area. The marathon, half marathon and marathon relay are run together. My starting box is number 2, and I enter it in advance, while it fills up with runners. The starts are staggered, with the elite runners at 8.57, and the other boxes every 5 minutes starting at 9.00.

With punctuality, a great atmosphere, and good temperature, we cross the Reichsbrücke Bridge to over the Danube. A start like the Lisbon half marathon over the 25th of April Bridge. Later we take for the first time the tree-lined avenues where Eliud Kipchoge first came down from the 2-hour marathon in his Ineos project in 2020.

The marathon course is completely urban. During the first 20 kilometres, marathon and half marathon share course. Then the marathon separates while going for its second lap, largely different from the first one. I cross the half marathon in 1.55.07.

Without pacers to keep the pace, due to the staggered starts, and with the runners of the relay running along us, the race becomes even more personal than on other days. Knowing my second parts, I will have to regulate well to get to the finish line under 4 hours. Getting to 30k at 2.46.39 I still have chance.

Once again on the long tree-lined straights of the Kipchoge route, the kilometres go by slowly before heading to the centre of the city again. There, we run the last 4 kilometres, with numerous people supporting us. Still, each curve shows us another long street ahead.

I conclude on 3.59.19. A sub-4 for my 110 marathon, which adds Austria as country 12 in my marathon journey.

Finish area
Medal

I head to the lodging, medal in hand. There is still much to see, and little time. I had almost forgotten the sensation of feeling everything new in a strange country.

We will look forward for other experiences.

SCORE: 4.5 / 5

Pros: flat and urban route; runners´ expo.

Cons: Runner’s bag could have been more generous or include the t-shirt.

#TogetherWeRun #VCM

Imperial Palace of Hofburg

MEM MARTINS NIGHT MARATHON (10/04/22 – 109)

Course view

The Mem Martins Night Marathon coincided with the beginning of the Easter holidays, framed within a weekend of competitions organized by the Camara Municipal of Sintra (Portugal) and the Mem Martins sports group under the name of “24 hours to run Mem Martins”.

Along with the night marathon, starting at midnight between Saturday and Sunday, races of 24, 12, 6 and 3 hours are also organized, all of them on the same course of just over 1 mile, or 1650 meters in length. Over varied terrain, there are long tarmac sections, with a part off-road and another on wood.

Without being our first night marathon (we already have Valtiendas, Bilbao and Pamplona), it was going to be the first one starting at midnight, which slightly altered the logistics of the competition day. After having dinner several hours before, I took a train to Algueirao, in the vicinity of Sintra, and after a short walk, in which I drank a caffeinated energy drink, I arrived at the race park, where the 24-hour athletes were already running from midday.

With just enough time to get changed, I head to the starting area, where only a few runners are going for the 25.5 laps necessary to complete the marathon distance. With 12⁰C the temperature is good to undertake one more adventure, which starts on time.

Race headquarters

The first laps serve to get used to the course. Although there is no need to carry a headlamp, the off-road section requires a bit of caution due to its uneven floor. From that point is a zigzagging section towards the finish area, where the stopwatch, massage area and refreshments are located. Leaving it, we get to the ​​planks area, where I am also careful. After that comes the easiest section, out and back on flat regular tarmac.

Without having brought the Camelbak, nor by extension any container to carry water, when crossing the finish line, I ask for a plastic cup, as they are absent next to the water containers. With it in hand, I’m more relaxed for when I must stop to drink.

Although the temperature remains constant, a low fog appears on occasion. Starting from lap 6, I decide to take a gel or drink water, alternatively, on every even lap. Self-provisioning is not easy, due to the difficulty of opening (and closing again) the hard tap of the container. That will cost me a few unavoidable minutes during the race.

Without being able to mark references very well with the other runners, not knowing who is running what, after the halfway point I start discounting the laps that remain to finish. With 5-6 laps to go I motivate myself trying to capture the runners ahead. The energies seem to respond, and I manage to speed up the pace.

With 2 laps to go, I see that one of the runners, with whom I had been crossing on numerous occasions. is finishing, presumably from the marathon. When they tell me is my last lap, I see that I am going to spend a little over 4 hours. Finally, I cross the finish line on 4.04.28. There they tell me to wait for the trophy ceremony because I have finished in third position. There’s no rush either, because the first train to Lisbon doesn’t leave until an hour and a half later.

3 x 1 medals

During the interval I change my clothes and drink some hot tea in the tent where bifanas, coffee and hot soup are offered during the night. Along with my finisher medal, I end up with another 2, for being third overall and third in the category.

Thus, it is how we finished a small marathon because of the number of participants, although part of a great event, carefully organized by runners for runners… We will try to return, perhaps for its 24 hours.

SCORE: 4.5 / 5

Podium

ZARAGOZA MARATHON (03/04/22 – 108)

In our eagerness to continue adding marathons in different autonomous communities, the next one was going to be Zaragoza. With enough editions behind it, it was strange that we had not run it yet.

Arriving on Saturday afternoon, I didn’t take long to go to the runner’s expo, in a large pavilion in the 2008 Expo area, to get the bib number. Along with the 42k distance, which is the Spanish championship in this edition, there is also a 10k race.

The marathon uses an urban course starting and finishing in Plaza del Pilar. Not very lucky with the accommodation this time, I cannot even leave the luggage, because the reception does not open until 9.00, and the marathon starts at 8.30. Fortunately, I travel light, and the organization has a cloakroom and showers in a sports hall near the start/finish area. There I go early in the morning, with clear skies, but quite cold, hanging around inside until the last moment.

Running expo

This time I want to take things easy, and unlike other times I join the 3h45m group from the start. “Protected” from the wind I spend with them the first few kilometres.

Without caring much about times, I heard some comments that the pacer is going faster than he should. Not the first time that an over effective pacer follows this technique, to have “a cushion” for the final part of the race. In my opinion, a mistake. The goal should be to run as steady as possible, so as not to waste reserves unnecessarily.

At kilometre 14 I decide to get off the hook. Even so, I arrive to the half marathon with a forecast of 3h42m…, and already well behind the 3h45m group. Obviously, they are running fast.

Marathon start
Outside the running expo

I meet some other runner off the hook for the same reason. However, the race is only mine now: no excuses available. For some reason legs feel tired going into the last third of the race. Absent of rhythm, I count down kilometres on my way to the finish line. Undulating sections are followed by others of hard floor parallel to the tram tracks. Nobody expects a marathon to be easy.

Facing Plaza del Pilar, I completed my 108th marathon in a net time of 3.54.08 (official 3.54.42).

Changed my clothes, I still have time to visit the Basilica and be grateful for the fact that I can continue running and adding marathons and places to this adventure.

Finish line

With Aragon on the list, now only Asturias, Cantabria and the Balearic Islands remain to be added. Still going on…

SCORE: 4 / 5

MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XXXIV) – London 2012: TIKI GELANA (1987-)

London 2012 Olympic Park

London became in 2012 the first city hosting the Olympic Games for a third time, after doing so in 1908 and 1948. To do so, it defeated bids from Moscow, New York, Madrid and Paris. 

Despite using existing venues a new Olympic Park was built in the industrial area of Stratford, in East London.

At sports level, London 2012 welcomed the first female athletes from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei, an important step forward for women´s rights in these countries.

The women´s marathon was scheduled for August 5th at 11.00 using a flat course that started and finished at The Mall, very close to Buckingham Palace.

Without the local legend Paula Radcliffe, absent with a foot injury, the main favourites were the African athletes that have shined in the previous World Championships, in Daegu 2011: Edna Kiplagat and Priscah Jeptoo, from Kenya, who had topped the podium, and Aselefech Mergia, from Ethiopia, who had finished 3rd. Also, worth to mention the Russian Liliya Shobukhova, who had won in Chicago 2011 with a PB of 2.18.20, the second fastest of all-time.

From left to right Keitany (Kenya), Gelana (Ethiopia) and Jeptoo (Kenya) at the London 2012 Olympic Marathon

Tiki Gelana was born in Jijiga, a town in Ethiopia famous for producing many top runners, in 1987. Her uncle was the Sydney Olympic Marathon winner Gezhagne Abera. She began competing in road races in Ethiopia before running at international level. Her first marathon was in Dublin in 2009, finishing 3rd in 2.33.49. The following year she run the marathons of Los Angeles and Dublin again, improving her PB to 2.29.53. She didn´t wait long to claim a victory, that came in the Amsterdam Marathon of 2011 with 2.22.08. But she still had room for improvement, as she demonstrated by winning the Rotterdam Marathon of 2012 with a PB of 2.18.58. That was the 4th best time for a female ever. That result, only a few months before the Olympics, placed Gelana as one of the strongest contenders in London 2012.

Just 30 minutes before the marathon start a heavy thunderstorm introduced a typical British summer day to the spectators watching around the globe. Still raining, 118 athletes from 68 nations started the race, chasing a place in Olympic glory.

The 10k was reached in 34.46, with a large leading group where the powerful squads of Kenya, Ethiopia and Japan run comfortably. Things didn´t change much. Valeria Straneo from Italy was leading a big group when crossing the 20k in 1.09.26.

Soon after Mary Keitany from Kenya decided to heat things up by increasing the pace, that quickly reduced the group. By the time the front runners arrived to the 30k (1.42.44) Keitany was only accompanied by her teammates Kiplagat and Jeptoo and the Ethiopians Gelana and Tirunesh Dibaba. They had a 9s lead on fast coming Tatyana Petrova, from Russia, who was only a few seconds ahead over Shanale Flanagan, from the US.

By the 35k (1.59.29) Petrova, Gelana, Keitany and Jeptoo were 4s ahead of Kiplagat and 27s ahead of Flanagan y Dibaba. The leading group only increased its advantage, arriving to the 40k in 2.16.10. It was clear that among these four runners would have to fight for the three medal positions. One of them would miss the podium and taste defeat.

Gelana, who had run mostly within herself, saw her chances increase during the last 1500 metres. When Keitany slowed down, she surged ahead. With Keitany out, and soon after Petrova, everything came down to a duel between Gelana and Jeptoo. In a fiery sprint Gelana claimed victory for Ethiopia in 2.23.07, Olympic record, and another Olympic gold medallist in the marathon for her nation. She was followed closely by Jeptoo (2.23.12), winning the third consecutive silver medal for Kenya, and Petrova (2.23.29) of Russia. Meanwhile Keitany, who had taken leading duties for most of the race, had to settle with the 4th place.

Shortly after the Olympics Tiki Gelana improved her PB in the half marathon to 1.07.48 at the Great North Run and was chosen the AIMS World Athlete of the Year. Selected for the marathon Ethiopian team at the 2013 Moscow World Championship she dropped out after just 5k. She finished 9th in the 2014 London Marathon (2.26.58) and third in Tokyo in 2015 (2.24.26) before retiring, aged 29.

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Summer_Olympics

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athletics_at_the_2012_Summer_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Women%27s_marathon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiki_Gelana

https://worldathletics.org/news/report/london-2012-event-report-womens-marathon

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2012/aug/05/london-2012-womens-olympic-marathon

London 2012 gold Olympic medal

POST MARATHON DAYS: WHEN GETTING BACK TRAINING?

 

With marathons becoming more popular worldwide, higher numbers of amateur runners decide to take the challenge and complete the Pheidippides distance.

Nevertheless, completing a marathon imply a high strain over the body, whose effects can last for days after the race. Among the main symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) there is soreness, swelling, impaired motion and reduced neuromuscular function (connection between nervous cells and muscles). All these symptoms limit the runner’s ability for returning to normal training.

Consequently, optimizing marathon recovery is key for runners to pursue training routines.

A recent study analysed the effects of two types of exercise (running or elliptical training), and resting of the neuromuscular performance and muscle damage recovery during post-marathon week.

 

The study

64 runners of the Valencia Marathon 2016 participated in the study, divided in three groups: Rest, Run or Elip. They were aged between 30 and 45, healthy and with marathon PB between 3 and 4 hours (males) or 3h30m and 4h30m (females).

They performed two tests:

  • a cardiopulmonary exercise test (VO2max), using a treadmill, 2 to 4 weeks before the marathon.
  • a neuromuscular performance test, using a squat jump (jumping as high as possible from a partially flexed position), before and after the race, and 48, 96 and 144h post-marathon.

All participants didn´t train for the first 48h after the race. Then:

  • RUN and ELIP groups trained 48, 96 and 144h after the marathon, or in other words, 2, 4 and 6 days later (40 minutes at moderate intensity in alternating days).
  • REST group didn´t go back training until day 8 post-marathon (1 whole week resting).

The results

  • Muscle damage recovered equally exercising (run or elliptical on alternated days at moderate intensity) and resting.
  • Runners who did a running training session 48h post-marathon showed an enhancement of neuromuscular performance (squat jump test) at 96h, unlike participants who rested or used elliptical training.
  • Faster runners didn´t benefit of a return to running at 48h post-marathon.

 

Conclusions

  • A return to running at low intenstiy could be advisable 48h post-marathon, although for faster runners such return should be delayed an extra 48h due to slower muscle damage recovery.
  • Such return to running should be avoided if there is still much musculoskeletal pain (that could affect biomechanics) and replaced by elliptical training.

 

We hope that you find this information useful and wait for your comments about your experiences post-marathon.

Bibliography

I. Martínez-Navarro, A. Montoya-Vieco, C. Hernando, B. Hernando, N. Panizo & E. Collado (2021) The week after running a marathon: Effects of running vs elliptical training vs resting on neuromuscular performance and muscle damage recovery, European Journal of Sport Science, 21:12, 1668-1674, DOI: 10.1080/17461391.2020.1857441

BRIEF RETROSPECTIVE OF PERFORMANCE TRENDS IN THE SPARTATHLON

Special award of the 25th Spartathlon running

The Spartathlon is one of the most popular and difficult ultra-marathons in the world. Celebrated since 1983 it covers the 246 kilometres of the route from Athens to Sparta, following a tough course that must be covered within 36h.

A race as demanding as this one has entry requirements (obtained during the previous 3 years) as difficult as:

  • 120k (men) or 110k (women) in a 12h race.
  • 180k (men) or 170k (women) in a 24h race.
  • Finish the ‘Western States 100 Miles’ within 24h (men) or 25h (women)
  • Finish the ‘Badwater’ (235k) within 39h (men) or 40h (women).

These conditions ensure that only the best ultramarathoners compete in the race.

A recent retrospective study with data until 2019 investigated the trends in performance and participation in the Sparthatlon.

The monument to the Spartathlon winners in Sparta

Facts and numbers about the Sparthatlon (up to 2019)

  • Officially 3504 ultra-marathoners (3097 men and 407 women) finished the Spartathlon.
  • The age group with the highest number of participants was the 40–49 years group.
  • The country with most finishers was Japan (737), followed by Germany (393), Greece (326), and France (274).
  • The countries with the highest numbers of athletes in the top-5 were Japan (71), Germany (59), and UK (31).
  • About the running speed by age, the fastest athletes were in the age groups of 20-29 and 30–39 years in men and 30-39 and 40–49 years in women.
  • When considering the annual top five finishers and winners, there was an improvement of performance in men and women.
  • When considering ALL runners, performance was relatively stable over the years.

Age and performance in the longest ultra-marathons

It is well known that the age of peak ultra-marathon performance increases with the length of the race.

In 50k ultra-marathons women achieved best race times later in life than men. However, in 100k races, women achieved best performances younger than men.

With no data available about sex differences in performance for ultra-marathons longer than 100k, future studies would need to investigate the age of peak performance and any sex differences over these distances.

Spartathlon medal (front)
Spartathlon medal (back)

Bibliography

From Athens to Sparta—37 Years of Spartathlon. Knechtle B, Gomes M, Scheer V, Gajda R, Nikolaidis PT, Hill L, Rosemann T, Sousa CV. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021; 18(9):4914. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18094914

VALDEBEBAS MARATHON (19/03/2022 – 107)

Most of the marathon participants

Surely many do not even know where Valdebebas (a neighborhood in Madrid) is, and even less that a marathon is held there. Well, there is one, small, among friends, which is now in its fifth edition, thanks to his alma mater David Paños.

Away from the atmosphere of crowded marathons, here you don’t run for a personal best, the route, tourism, or some of the typical motives that lead us to run other marathons. The spirit of Philippides, however, is still present.

We ran the second edition, in 2019, an occasion in which I met for the first time some of the “marathoniacs” with whom I later coincided on multiple occasions chasing the 42k. In 2020, its edition coincided with the day the state of alarm was declared, and even though I was registered, did not attend.

Later we came to appreciate more this kind of marathons, call them artisans, familiar or clandestine. During the long months of absence of popular races, the “Madrid Squad” unleashed, with a frenzy of races in its area of ​​influence. David and Lola, among its most active members, did not hesitate to go to CyL to join the races we organized in Burgos and Valladolid.

Each of these marathons contributed to the total. The Valdebebbas 2022 edition was going to coincide with the 100th marathon of both David and Lola. There was no better reason to go and thus be present at their joining in the “centenary club”. Both were there and contributed (among others) to reach my 100th in the Mapoma last September.

Therefore, a motley group of lovers (or addicts) to the marathon arrived to Valdebebas. Between the 18 participants more than 2200 marathons…

With good weather we face the tough 40 laps of Avenida Alejandro de la Sota, in front of the Real Madrid Sports City. The slight slope and especially the tiled surface did not make things easy. Also add the monotony of counting laps, although due to the proximity between runners there were always words of encouragement when passing or being lapped by others.

On this occasion the marathon was not as much to look for a finishing time (although deep down I was counting on doing a sub 4h), as to share the experience… Crossing the half marathon around 2 hours the race was not going to be an easy task and I start accusing every lap from the number 23.

Slowly, but steadily, I keep adding laps. I face the last one while Lola crosses the finish line of her 100th marathon. My time 4.12.31, finishing with just enough time to applaud David as he completes also his 100th.

There we wait, with family and friends who have come for the occasion, for the other runners to finish. The post-race, well stocked, is worth the effort.

The anecdotes, photos and various memories of these fellow sufferers, a valuable group, are worth its weight in gold. We know that other marathons will come, and perhaps even another Valdebebas (if David is still eager), but now is time for them to celebrate those 100 marathons, which nobody can take away.

We will certainly see each other on other starting lines. This is just the beginning…