Brian Hieggelke

10-10-10 minus 10 Team Running

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Shh. I caught a secret snap of Jan running in last summer's Elvis is Alive 5K

Ten days till the Chicago Marathon, my second. (You can read my longish chronicle of my midlife journey from a sedentary state to distance runner, which I published last year, here. It was a finalist for the locally prestigious Lisagor Award, losing out to a Playboy article that broke new ground in the Barry Bonds steroids story. Imagine that: a jury thought the writer who broke the scandal about one of the greatest athletes of a generation had a better story than my navel gazing. Oh well. I just wanted to be able to put “award-winning sportswriter” on my resume!) This year, the focus on my running has been not on finishing the race, nor on improving my time. This year, it’s been about running with my wife, Jan, who will be running her first marathon this year. We plan to run together. Nike was kind enough to give us entry into the race via their sponsorship, so we avoided that moment of truth (and commitment) when you break out the checkbook to register back at the beginning of the year. (The race sells out earlier every year; this year registration closed on March 23.)

While I yap about my running to the point of fatiguing everyone who knows me, Jan’s the opposite. She doesn’t want anyone to know she’s doing the marathon. Up until she did her first twenty-miler, she was still saying she might not go through with it, even though she’d been training for months. So don’t tell her I wrote this. I don’t want to get in trouble. Read the rest of this entry »

Public Disservice Journalism

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Today’s New York Times carries a front-page story by Julia Macur that raises the question about whether slow runners should be allowed to participate in marathons, whether their “participation” diminishes the accomplishment. It’s an entirely absurd argument, and a form of journalism that does a public disservice, since it might tend to discourage slower runners from taking up the sport. We’re suffering a national obesity epidemic, and the last thing we need to do is to start shaming the still very few—at any pace—who set out to build the endurance and strength to cover 26.2 miles.

If it were a real raging debate, and I contend it is not, based on my experience, it would be newsworthy. But I just spent a weekend with running journalists from around the country and, while there was one short conversation about the effect of charity runners crowding out mid-pace runners from some of the top marathons, no one suggested that slow runners get the boot. Nor have I ever heard the argument in my three years of serious running and, trust me, runners talk. And talk. No doubt every race has to have a cutoff time—in Chicago it’s six-and-a-half hours—but to suggest that a greater degree of  elitism is needed with marathons  not only runs contrary to the extremely supportive spirit that pervades the sport of running, but where would the line be drawn? I’m sure every critic would suggest the cutoff just a bit after their expected finish.

Rather than positing this as a “slow” versus “fast” story (ironically, one of her naysaying “fast” sources recently recorded the middling time, albeit a bit better than mine, of just under four hours, six minutes), the meat of her discussion was the more realistic dilemma that races have in setting a final cutoff time, if at all, where issues of cost, traffic control and safety come up against the spirit of participation.

But that’s not as sexy as the fast kids making fun of the slow kids. Even if they don’t.

Race Review: Nike Women’s Half Marathon, San Francisco (October 18, 2009)

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NIKE WOMENS MARATHON 3I was on the phone with a Nike representative. They were flying me out to San Francisco for a “global running summit,” to preview their Spring 2010 running collection, and the event coincided with the Nike Women’s Marathon, the largest women’s race in the world. Would I like to run the half or full while I was there?

“Um, I’m a guy?” I asked, bewildered. Turns out that the race is open to all genders, and that a couple thousand of the 20,000 or so runners are guys, so I figured I’d go ahead and do the half. “The course is really beautiful,” she told me, referring to the San Francisco scenery.

At the summit, Olympian Kara Goucher, who’s America’s great hope for the women’s marathon at London 2012, appeared along with Beijing gold-medalist and Chicago’s record-setting champ, Sammy Wanjiru. Goucher, whose gentle charisma and blazing speed has made her the new sweetheart of the running set, was asked about her next race. She responded she’s on “a hiatus” and that she and her husband were “trying to start a family,” after which she’d return to racing in preparation for the Olympics.

That, more than anything else over the weekend, drove home the spirit underlying a women’s marathon: no male racer in the prime of his career has to make room in his training routine for considerations like pregnancy. Men like Wanjiru can focus on just one thing which, in his case, is his mission to break the world’s record. Read the rest of this entry »

Head for the Hills

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It’s sunny. 70 degrees. I’m in San Francisco. Nike’s flown me out for this weekend’s “Global Running Summit” and, while I’m here, I’m signed up to run the half in the Nike Women’s Marathon, just a week after finishing my first marathon. After yesterday’s exuberant run in Chicago, I’m starting to think, should I try and do the full marathon again this weekend? Once I start thinking that way, it can be trouble.

Running in San Francisco’s a whole ‘nother deal than Chicago. I step out of my hotel downtown and see a hill across the street. Of course I want to run up it. Halfway up, sanity returns for a second—I just did a marathon Sunday, and I’m racing Sunday and I don’t EVER run hills. What if my muscles react in such a way I can’t run Sunday? I turn off the hill and follow what seems to be a flat course. Then I turn toward “home”—my hotel—and have little choice about course, since a wayward run and I’m lost. Look at this: I have to ascend Nob Hill whether I like it or not. Epic. Soon I discover that running down a steep hill is a challenge of another kind.

Providence has intervened. I’m sticking to the half on Sunday.

First Run after the First Marathon

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Cabin fever trumped rest and I went out for my first run since Sunday’s marathon, even in the face of Chicago’s near-record October cold and winds gusting at twenty miles per hour. For no particular reason, I headed out on the lower level of the museum peninsula, between Shedd Aquarium and the lake,  toward the Adler. I was the only one, and the run, the music and the crash of waves against the fish tank’s water wall inspired near-euphoria. One by one the water danced along, putting the man-made orchestrations of our finest fountains to shame, an urban Big Sur. And then, my solitude explained as one especially excited wave crashed higher than the others, showering me head to toe in cold water. My fears of freezing through the rest of the run were unfounded, though, as the heavy wind worked like a Dyson hand dryer on my clothes. Nevertheless, I returned on the high road, literally if not metaphorically, taking the parallel bike path where I watched the waves safely from above. Until that surly sea reached up to my higher perch and showered me once again.