August 23, 2004

Paula Radcliffe

Actually y'know what, my previous entry led me off on a mental tangent. No, no, don't worry this isn't train related. It's Radcliffe related. And I'm still gutted even today.

Paula Radcliffe is one of my heroes. Most long distance runners are heroes to me and for generally good reasons. And as the greatest female long distance runner of all time, Paula is top of the pile. Don't judge her on this Athens race. I've seen her run races that would make most others runners gasp.

So why long distance runners? Well take a look at the spinters. Muscle bound, hulking super humans with biceps that would make melons look puny in comparison. Both genders. They accelerate and BANG! They're gone, you could never hope to catch them. They're fast and exciting and they take drugs (except the ones that don't… legal arse covering). But isn't that just a little, I don't know, detached?

This is why football is more popular than polo. It's easier to be like Rooney then like some polo player (Prince Charles). And I prefer long distance runner cos it's easier to be one than a sprinter, at least for me it is. Where else am I going to find women in athletics who are physically like me? Tall, skinny, muscle free, flat chested and looking like they are in absolute agony with every step they take. I like Paula cos she looks like she's struggling and human and that's why what happened in Athens only makes me like her more. She's one of us. Steroids and other nasty drugs ruining the sprints don't work on long distance runners (although EPO does).

Anyone can run 100m but those charity fundraising runs are they over 100m? Nope. They are over long distances 5km, 10km or marathon length. It's in the world of long distance that an unknown like my dad can even consider running the big events, in his case the London marathon, as a competitor. For the record my dad never qualified as fast enough to run the competitive London marathon but he came close. When I run 100m in 22 seconds (my personal best which nearly killed me), ie in over twice the time of a proper athlete, it still feels like a disheartening failure. But to run a marathon in the same proportion (about 5hrs) would be amazing and an achievement to me. It may even be possible.

So there you are. I like long distance runners. Maybe you don't. Maybe you like sprinters. Or long jumpers. Or hurdlers. Or hammer throwers… does anyone like hammer throwers?


- 4 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Chris May

    I'm with you on this one, but for different reasons – I think that the mental toughness needed for top-level endurance events is just leagues above that needed for the shorter stuff.

    I'm sure that Matt. Pinsent & co suffered during the 4s, but it's hard to see it in the same light as what Paula (or for that matter, Mizuki Noguchi ) went through in the marathon. To be able to take that amount of pain and keep going, not just for a few minutes, but for hours, is a really incredible feat.

    And it's true that the mass-participation aspect of distance running sets it apart from many other olymipic events – it's quite hard to empathise with what a hammer-thrower, 3-day eventer or 100m hurdler goes through, but (almost) anyone can go out and run 5 or 10 KM and start to understand what it's like to be a distance runner.

    23 Aug 2004, 15:43

  2. agreed – 3-day eventing is a bit lame as a sport.
    rowing though – how can you say that?! 6 minutes spent neck and neck in an olympic final is probably the longest 6 minutes of anyone's life. and don't forget the hours of training put in every single day by all of the olympic athletes. in terms of mental toughness these guys are all superhumans.
    except 3-day eventers.

    23 Aug 2004, 17:51

  3. Chris May

    Heh, thought that might provoke a response :-)

    Obviously I've never experienced it at the level that these guys have, but if it's valid to extrapolate up from 'club' level, then I've done both (I rowed in the Britannia at Henley last year, and I've raced the LAMM twice , and a handful of other long fell races) and the long runs were definitely harder mentally than the rowing. Overcoming the temptation that arises after about 2 hours or so to say 'oh, sod this, I'll take it easy for a few miles' is something that just doesn't seem to arise in shorter races, especially head-to-head stuff.
    I absoutely agree that for 6 minutes (a bit longer for me!) the rowing is pretty nasty work, but IME the runs can hurt just as much for an hour at a time.

    The point about the training is well made – the thing that divides all of these athletes from us everyday mortals is their willingness to train day in day out at the sort of effort levels that you or I (well, I, anyway) would only ever reach in a once-a-year race, and I wouldn't for a moment want to take away from the acheivements of anyone who's competing at the olympics. But I still think that mentally the endurance events have an edge over the sprints (if 6 minutes is a sprint!).

    23 Aug 2004, 19:56

  4. fair enough – i can't really complain about an opinion that is so well informed! having rowed lots of races and once run a half marathon, i can see the point.

    i still think rowing is better though! :p

    i was at the Britannia last year – sadly, we came just a couple of seconds away from qualifying on my birthday :(

    i'm trying to work out where you row(ed), the only local club i can think of is stratford, who weren't too far away from us in the results…

    23 Aug 2004, 21:25


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