April 19, 2011

9-Time NYC Marathon Pioneer Grete Waitz Dies At 57

The world has lost a true pioneer today in the loss of 9-time NYC Champion Marathoner, Grete Waitz, 57, to cancer. The native Norwegian did much to promote the movement for recognition and validation in long distance running for women worldwide.

After winning numerous awards and honors world-wide for her achievements, Waitz was invited by Fred Lebow, founder of the NYC Marathon, to the 1978 race to act as a “rabbit,” a pace-setter for established marathoners. She ended up winning the race, which was her first marathon, with a world record time of 2 hours, 32 minutes and 30 seconds. She then went on to win the NYC race eight more times, setting three world records, something that has never been done by any other marathoner, male or female. She subsequently became the first woman to run a marathon in less than two and a half hours.

In 1978, women’s distance running was still a novelty. Only 938 out of 8,937 entrants in the 1978 New York marathon were women. In 2010, that number increased exponentially to 16,253 out of 45,350 entrants. Even so, the women’s marathon was not included in the Olympics until the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, where Waitz finished second to Joan Benoit Samuelson, winning the silver medal for Norway.

“The women's running revolution, the biggest sea change in our sport in 30 years, began in Norway, where a young track star, Grete Waitz, broke boundaries as well as records,” Amby Burfoot, 1968 Boston Marathon winner, wrote in Runner’s World in 2004 (via NPR). “In 1972, at the Munich Olympics, she ran the 1,500 meters, the first time women were allowed to participate in the event.”

In a 2008 New York Road Runners interview, Waitz said, “We’ve come a long way in a very short time. When I got a little older, I wasn’t encouraged to do sports — it wasn’t what girls should be doing. Even in the media, women didn’t get the same attention. We had to be twice as good. I had to set world records to get noticed.”

Rob de Castella, a world champion marathoner from Australia who trained with Waitz, said, "She was the first lady of the marathon. She was such a wonderful lady, such a wonderful ambassador for women's marathon running back when it was just starting to be recognized as a serious event.”

Grete proved through hard work and perseverance that it was possible that women could run longer distances. When many naysayers felt that women didn’t belong in long distance running, she proved them all wrong. She had always set high goals for herself, and in doing so she broke long-standing barriers against women in sports.

"It was Grete who proved that it was possible for women to compete in the longer distances," said Svein Arne Hansen, president of the Norwegian Athletics Federation.

"Grete is in my eyes one of the greatest Norwegian athletes of all time," Norwegian Athletics Federation president Svein Arne Hansen said. "Not only through her performances in the sport, but also as a role model for women in sports."

In 2008, Waitz was honored with the prestigious Order of St. olav by the king of Norway, for being a role model to female athletes. She also received the St. Olav Medal in 1981 and the St. Hallvard’s Medal in 1989. Waitz also received the International Olympic Committee’s Women and Sport Award for a European athlete in 2010.

Grete’s husband, Jack Waitz, has confirmed that she died Tuesday in Oslo. He has said that during her treatment she never gave in to self pity, quoting her as saying, ‘“if you give up, you lose.”’

Waitz is survived by her husband Jack, and her brothers Jan and Arild. She was buried with government honor at state expense, only the sixth woman in Norwegian history to be awarded this privilege.

April 18, 2011

Kenya's Geoffrey Mutai Sets Marathon World Record: Or Did He?

Another win for the Kenyan’s as once again they have proven their prowess as world-class runners when Geoffrey Mutai set a new world record at the Boston Marathon on April 18, 2011, running 26.2 miles in 2:03:59.

27,000 runners entered the prestigious race with tens of thousands of fans cheering them on from the sidelines on what is a state-wide holiday, little knowing that they were witnessing history in the making.

"When I was coming to Boston, I was not trying to break the world record. But I see the gift from God," Mutai said. "I’m happy. I don’t have more words to add."

However, the race was not without controversy. Although the Boston Marathon is the oldest and most prestigious marathon in the world, drawing runner’s world-wide, in addition to being considered one of the most difficult courses, the international governing body has declared the conditions on this day to be too easy, and disallowed his record time.

Running under ideal conditions, Mutai had the advantage of a 15 – 20 mph tailwind at his back and a downhill course to aid in breaking last year’s course record set by Robert Kiprono Cheruiyto by almost three minutes, and the former world record held by Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie in Berlin in 2008, who benefitted from having pacesetters. The Boston Marathon does not allow pacesetters.

Even so, Boston officials are ecstatic about the new record set on their course. "We had a stunning performance and an immensely fast time here today," Tom Grilk, the head of the Boston Athletic Association, has said. "We in Boston are well-pleased with what has happened, and that's good unto itself. The definitions of others, I will leave to them."

Mutai earned $150,000 for the win, received $50,000 for the world best, and another $25,000 for the course record.

April 9, 2011

The Power of Positive Thinking

It’s been said that you are how you see yourself, and thoughts are everything.  If you think you can, then you can.  Well, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.  It’s all in how you look at yourself, right?  I’m sure everyone has heard of The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.  First published in 1952, it has sold more than 20 million copies and you’ll find that it is still relevant today – the terminology is a bit old fashioned, but it’s not the sort of book that goes out of date.  As the title suggests, thinking positive can be a very powerful tool.  It has been my “go-to” book for the past 18 years and helps me to find balance every time I open it.  I read it at least once a year.  Sometimes I flip through and let it fall open, and then let my finger tip fall randomly on a line to see what it has to say to me.  I also like to go through it to see the things that previously spoke to me enough for me to highlight, underline and write notes in the sidelines.  As you can imagine, it is a very colorful book by this time, and feels like a comfortable, old friend. 

But positive thinking alone is not the answer to success; it is only a beginning.  When you open your mind to possibilities, you open the door to opportunity, as well.  And when the door opens, you need to walk through it.  And quite often, this means risk.  If you don’t take that first step through the door toward your dreams and goals, you’ll eventually be locked out.  I love this quote by Peter Sage: 

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and proclaiming loudly, “Wow – what a ride!”
As scary as that sounds to me, I still want to be able to say, ‘“Wow – what a ride!”’ So where am I going with all this?  I waited half of my life (is 50 years old half?) to finally take control, and take those risks that could lead to accomplishing those elusive dreams that came under the category of “some day.”  I quit a good job and moved to the mountains to pursue my dream of writing.  I also made a commitment to myself to exercise, eat right and get healthy.  And so running became my chosen mode to complete that part of my goal.  I love sports and physical activity and I don’t know how I ever let it go; baseball, basketball, tennis, soccer, biking, hiking – I loved it all, but somehow it all got lost in the day-to-day drudgery that life can turn into if you’re not careful.  And so now I’m getting “it” back. 
I’m a bit of a late bloomer - but I believe it’s never too late to change your life. And this is how I came to be attempting my first half marathon at 50 years old!
I’m coming to the realization that by the time the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon rolls around, I’m actually going to be ready.  13.1 miles originally sounded quite unattainable to me – and yes, it is a long way to run – and very tiring - but now that I’m currently running 9 miles and doing okay, I think I can make it!  I’ll really be ready!  It’s a pretty cool realization, and I owe it all to the power of positive thinking!    
I'm sure you've heard the debate about whether the glass is half full or half empty.  Well, my glass is truly half full.  And it doesn't hurt when it comes with a bottle of wine - just sayin'.