Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Zest and the art of Zátopek


Emil Zátopek was a straightforward runner, who had few secret methods: "My running was very simple; it was out of myself. It didn't matter about style or what it looked like to others; there were records to break."


Zátopek discovered tapering - or Zatopek phenomenon - accidently when he got a food poisoning in 1950. He had to spend a few days in hospital before a race, which he won of course (in those days he won every race he entered). But he didn't have any tapering plan.


The champ didn't worry about food too much: "At one time I was so confused by various doctors' good advice that I almost died of hunger and thirst. If you come to think of it, you never see deer, dogs and rabbits worrying about their menus and yet they run much faster than humans."

1952 Olympic Games

Zátopek almost missed the 1952 Olympic Games, twice. "The doctors said I must not compete. I had a gland infection in my neck. Well I didn't listen and what happened? Three golds."

A fellow runner was omitted from the Olympic team because of political reasons. Zátopek said "If he does not go, neither do I". The Czech team traveled to Helsinki without them, but there were 10,000 Finns waiting for Zátopek at the airport. The authorities gave in under pressure, and the two runners boarded the next plane.

Helsinki Olympic Marathon

Zátopek didn't plan to run the Olympic marathon at all in Helsinki, but luckily he decided to give it a try and the rest is history. As it was his first marathon ever, Zátopek simply followed Jim Peters, who had set the world record of 2:20:42 in London six weeks earlier. Peters lead a suicidal pace for the first half.

It was a straigh out-and-back course, and when the lead group approached the turnaround point Zátopek asked Peters if the pace was too fast. Peters, who was suffering, replied that they were running too slow. Zatopek then gradually pulled off from others - except Gustaf Jansson of Sweden, who stayed with the leader for a while. Eventually Zátopek arrived alone at the Stadium and set the new Olympic Record with 2:23:03. Peters failed to finish due to cramps.

Afterwards Zátopek confessed "I was unable to walk for a whole week after that, so much did the race take out of me. But it was the most pleasant exhaustion I have ever known."

"If you want to win, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon."


Zátopek was well aware of the need for speed if he wanted to succeed. "When I was young, I was too slow. I thought I must learn to run fast by practicing to run fast, so I ran 100 meters fast 20 times."

He was known for running intervals almost every day - or night: "I was practicing even during the night with interval running, which at that time was a very unusual schedule." It was an obvious solution for him: "Why should I practice running slow? I already know how to run slow. I want to learn to run fast."

A typical track workouts would consist of 5-20 x 200 meters at about 34 seconds, followed by 20-40 x 400 m between 75-90 seconds and finally 5-20 x 200 m again; all of these with a 200 m recovery jog. It was done for endurance as much as it was for speed.

"You must be fast enough - you must have endurance. So you run fast for speed and repeat it many times for endurance."


For strength Zátopek would rambo 20 miles through forests and mountain trails, wearing army combat boots, and sometimes a tree trunk in his arms.

Zátopek would occasionally fill up his bath with water and dirty clothes and then run barefoot on his laundry.

Once he threw Dana into a river, where she broke her ankle on a rock. Dana couldn't walk for a while, so Emil carried her around on his back while running.


"When a person trains once, nothing happens. When a person forces himself to do a thing a hundred or a thousand times, then he certainly has developed in more ways than physical. Is it raining? That doesn't matter. Am I tired? That's beside the point. If one can stick to the training throughout the many long years, then willpower will be no problem. It's simply that I just have to."

"There's a great advantage in training under unfavorable conditions."


Zátopek preferred the natural vitality of Africans to our Western lifestyle: "We forget our bodies to the benefit of mechanical leisure. We act continuously with our brain, but we no longer use our bodies, our limbs. It is the Africans who possess this vitality, this muscular youth, this thirst for physical action which we are lacking. We have a magnificent motor at our disposal, but we no longer know how to use it."


"If there is luxury, there is the danger of degeneration. Sit behind a wheel of a car and a man gains time, but loses condition. There was no car. I ran instead. Look at the distance runners today: they are mostly Africans, runners from underdeveloped countries. They are not softened by luxury."

"A runner must run with dreams in his heart, not money in his pocket."


Ron Clarke, to whom Zátopek once gave one of his gold medals, said: "I loved his personality, his willingness to help: he was enthusiastic, he was cheerful - all virtues that rank very highly with me. His friendliness and love of life shone through every moment. There is not and never was a greater man than Emil Zátopek."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hal Koerner and Anita Ortiz WSER 2009 winners

Hal Koerner defended successfully his 2007 Western States Endurance Run title today. He ran the 100 mile trail from Squaw Valley to Auburn in 16 hours, 24 minutes and 55 seconds.

The first female Anita Ortiz provided a most inspiring performance, finishing in 18:24:17. By the way, she also won the unofficial 45+ age category.

WSER is never a walk in the park (or maybe it is exactly that), but it seemed like a particularly rough 100 miles for many race favorites. Scott Jurek dropped already at Devil's Thumb (48 miles), followed by his archrival Dean Karnazes at Foresthill (62 miles).

UTMB multichamp Marco Olmo (age 60), Europe's vegetarian granddaddy of ultratrail running, also had enough after 100K.

Respect for all those hundreds of brave runners still on the trail. Remember, life's a race and you are there to win it, so walk hard!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Abebe Bikila's 1960 Olympic marathon in Rome

The Olympic Marathon in Rome 1960 was unusual for several reasons:
  • Abebe Bikila didn't like any of the running shoes provided by the official shoe sponsor Adidas, so he chose to run barefoot (he had trained barefoot in Ethiopia).
  • Bikila was chosen at last moment for the Ethiopian Olympic Team by their coach Onni Niskanen.
  • Coach Niskanen told Bikila to watch for competitor number 26, but for some reason this main opponent Rhadi ben Abdesselem of Morocco wore another number (185), so Bikila didn't know who he was during the race.
  • This is the only Olympic marathon that didn't start or finish inside a stadium.
  • The race was scheduled very late, so it was finished after sunset.
  • Bikila's winning time 2:15:16 was a World Record, and is still the second fastest barefoot marathon (Shivnath Singh set the current barefoot marathon record in 1978 with 2:12:00).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My favorite 4 running shoes

Most runners need different shoes for different circumstances or purposes. Here's my current selection of four shoes. They don't sponsor me (although I wouldn't mind), so these are my honest choices.

For marathon or ultra running I use Brooks Racer ST 3 (the latest model is 4). Can be used on any road and maybe on some easier trails as well.

A slightly lighter and narrower racing flat for track intervals and all fast road running up to marathons: Adidas Adizero Adios.

When I want to run semi-barefoot to strengthen my feet, and also when I walk or jog in a city (shopping etc) Feelmax Niesa is my choice. It's generally good for all traveling also.

Finally for challenging trail running I use the North Face Rucky Chucky. Yes they are a bit heavier, but in extreme conditions safety is more important than speed.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Aalto in search of sixth 3100 Mile Race win

Asprihanal Aalto is at it again, the most awaited summer endurance contest: The Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race. The courier from my hometown Helsinki has delivered the best daily results joyfully.

5-time winner Mr. Aalto (left) enjoys his lunch with four-time finisher Mr. Zuscin (right), photo from Jowan's Day 3 Gallery.

The record for the event is currently held by Madhupran Wolfgang Schwerk of Germany: 41 days 8 hours, averaging 75 miles per day. Aalto's average after 4 days is 75.3 miles, but it may be a bit early to draw any conclusions just yet. So far so good!

Friday, June 5, 2009

What I blog about when I blog about Murakami

The coolest writer in the world today has written an unconventional memoir centered on the act of running - now that's really cool!

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a true story about Haruki Murakami's recent experiences with marathons as well as ultrarunning and triathlon. His motive for writing the book is that "otherwise, I'd never known what running means to me... this book does contain a certain amount what might be dubbed life lessons."

Perhaps not everyone will find it easy to appreciate the hard-boiled style (imagine a modern, athletic and witty version of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe). "You can't please everybody", our running novelist admits.

Haruki Murakami is the most popular Japanese living writer in the world. His bestselling novels include Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka On The Shore. He has already finished a new novel IQ84. "I apologize to any of you who are train commuters - it's going to be heavy" he said in a recent interview.

Murakami's daily routine involves getting up at 4AM to write for a few hours, followed by a 10K run, a swim and a healthy meal consisting of vegetables and fish (he avoids rice and meat). He hits the sack by 10PM.

Murakami talked about running's role in his life a few years ago in a Runner's World interview. Also music plays a big part for him. He owns a collection of over 7000 LPs and prefers MiniDisc Walkmans to iPods.

Knowledge of jazz helped Murakami, a former jazz-bar owner, create his writing style. He noted in a talk at University of California in Berkeley: "My style boils down to this: First of all, I never put more meaning into a sentence than is absolutely necessary. Second, the sentences have to have rhythm... In jazz, great rhythm is what makes great improvisation possible. It's all in the footwork. To maintain that rhythm, there must be no extra weight... You have to cut out the fat."

To lose fat is what what made Murakami run long distances in the first place. In 1996 he was fit (or crazy) enough to attempt Lake Saroma 100K ultra run while listening to Mozart's Magic Flute, but gave up on it in the middle of the course. He concluded that rock music suits running better and then went on to finish the race succesfully in 11 hours plus change.

The 60-year-old writer-runner-triathlete has already designed what he'd like to be carved on his gravestone: 'At Least He Never Walked'. However, in one marathon he was forced to walk a couple of miles because of cramps. The exception proves the rule.

Highly recommended. On my Top Three list of running books. The book lacks a table of contents, so I made one:

(English translation by Philip Gabriel 2008)
  • Foreword: Suffering Is Optional (Aug. 2007)
  • One: Who's Going to Laugh at Mick Jagger? (Aug. 5, 2005 - Kauai, Hawaii) p.3
  • Two: Tips on Becoming a Running Novelist (Aug. 14, 2005 - Kauai, Hawaii) p.24
  • Three: Athens in Midsummer - Running 26.2 Miles for the First Time (Sept. 1, 2005 - Kauai, Hawaii) p.48
  • Four: Most of What I Know About Writing Fiction I Learned by Running Every Day (Sept. 19, 2005, Tokyo) p.69
  • Five: Even If I Had a Long Ponytail Back Then (Oct. 3, 2005 - Cambridge, Massachusetts) p.88
  • Six: Nobody Pounded The Table Anymore, Nobody Threw Their Cups (June 23, 1996 - Lake Saroma, Hokkaido) p.103
  • Seven: Autumn in New York (Oct. 30, 2005 - Cambridge, Massachusetts) p.123
  • Eight: 18 Til I Die (Aug. 26, 2006 - In a seaside town in Kanakawa Prefecture) p.136
  • Nine: At Least He Never Walked (Oct. 1, 2006 - Murakami City, Niigata Prefecture) p.152
  • Afterword: On Roads All Round the World (Aug. 2007) p. 175

Monday, June 1, 2009


A live cover version of YMCA in Finnish TV a long time ago. Still pretty funny, right?