Posted by: David Stewart | January 10, 2010

Cheats, tricks and shortcuts

Last month I finally achieved a major personal goal: running in a 26.2 mile race fast enough to qualify to enter the Boston Marathon.  I have been running marathons since 1998, and have been pretty serious about this goal for several years.

It dawned on me recently how much I have depended on cheating.

I’m not talking here about cheating like Rosie Ruiz who “won” the Boston Marathon in 1980 even though she didn’t run most of the race. But short of this, there are plenty of shortcuts I tried to attempt get an advantage in order to qualify:

  • I tended to pick races that were entirely or mostly downhill.  In 2005 I ran the Fort Collins Old Town Marathon in Colorado, which has a 1200 foot drop. That same year I ran the Tucson Marathon, which has a similar elevation drop. I figured that running downhill would make me quicker.
  • Before some races, I would spend time at high altitude to build up my red blood cell count. Usually this meant some days on vacation in Colorado. Sleeping at high altitude is supposed to build up the “RBC’s” and increase aerobic capacity. As a result, you don’t get out of breath as easily. This is like legal blood doping.
  • If I could have found a race with a consistent tail wind, I would have jumped at it.
  • I would never have considered intentionally running a really hilly course or one with a history of poor weather conditions.

Remarkable that I didn’t employ any of these tricks in last month’s race.

  • Although the California International has a slightly downhill course, it’s too slight to notice, and there are some noticeable uphill segments as well.
  • I had no chance to spend any time at high altitude before the race.

These little tricks were a constant feature of my marathon training in the pre-coach days. Now my coach has me working on getting stronger, more flexible and a higher aerobic threshold.

We Americans like shortcuts. We coin new abbreviations daily (LOL, my BFF) and overuse them unconsciously. We look for the shortest path to our gate at the airport, quickest route on the GPS. But sometimes cutting corners isn’t the best idea. Sometimes the best goals take work, thought and love.


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