Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Runners World Heel Strikers

I remember this Emo Philips joke really well. Don't ask my why.

When I was a kid, my parents used to tell me "Emo, never open the cellar door!" One day when they were away, I went up to the door, opened it and walked through. I saw strange and wonderful things I had never seen before, like trees, grass, flowers, the sun. That was nice... the sun.

I feel like heel striking is like this joke. Everybody was completely content with slamming their heels into the ground with padded running shoes until all of a sudden (at least it felt that way), heel striking is out. Nike was wrong. What were we thinking? It's hard to find a running publication that isn't warning about the dangers of heel striking. Born to Run slammed the final nail in the coffin I suppose. It's actually fun to see the running shoe companies all trying to get a cut of the minimal shoe market in response to this shift. Minimalist runner or not, I think it's good for everyone when companies are forced to innovate.

Let's be honest, lots of people heel strike. Some will want to transition to a mid-foot strike like I did over a year ago. Some will want to stick with what works for them, especially if they have been running injury free. There are elite heel strikers out there who won't want to mess with success. It is what it is. This post isn't about making judgements about heel striking or making judgements about Runners World for reporting on the shift from heel striking. It's just an interesting observation I made.

Last week when I was looking at Runners World, I couldn't help but think about the shoe advertisements. Many of them show a shoe that is contacting the ground at the heel. I was thinking that the shoe company marketers must be torn. On one hand, they have shoes built for heel strikers and they have Runners World readers who are currently heel strikers. On the other hand, Runners World (like all running publications) is talking a lot about heel striking as a thing of the past—something we need to correct on a path to natural form. No shoe brand wants to be seen as promoting something that isn't good for people or something that is no longer in vogue. After thinking about this and flicking through the pages, I suddently realized that Runners World is full of images of heel strikers. Here are some examples from the last two issues that I screen captured from my iPad...

Homer Simpson's heel strike is so pronounced that it's easy for a running nerd to overlook the pint of beer he is chugging as he sprints on the old mill. 

Here is an example of an elite athlete heel striking. She is high off the ground in this picture, so when she contacts, it will be a less pronounced heel. Clearly it isn't hurting her performance. Desiree Davila was second in the U.S. Olympic Marathon trials and is going to the 2012 Olympics.

I suspect that articles like this feature stock photography. These guys may be models and not real runners but regardless, the guy in white is about to heel strike like it's 1999. 

Probably a model stock photo shoot. It's hard to tell if she is running or power walking. Since it is about running, I have to assume that's what she is doing. The camera angle makes this photo scream heel strike.

Yikes. There is nothing magical about injuring yourself running over the moat of the Disney castle. This lady is going to crack a tile. Even the seven dwarves are all heel striking for crying out loud. See.. we have become so accustomed to heel striking that illustrators draw it as the default.

Holabird is a sporting store near Baltimore. I'm not sure where they got this low budget photo from but the man's a heel striker and darned proud of it.

Lucy makes "activeware" for women aparently. I had to look it up. Their model who may or may not be a runner is just about to heel strike.

Is Lululemon so well known that they can only show their symbol? I'm not so sure. It took me ages to remember who it was. It also took me a while to work out what the ad meant. For a progressive wellness brand, there is a whole lot of heel striking going on in this picture. To be fair to them, it looks like a photo of a real race.

Here we go again with Disney's obsession with heel striking. Thank goodness that candles and mop heads (I think that's what they are) can't heel strike. 

So, what does all this mean? Nothing really. I think the images in Runners World reflect what is happening in the real World. Sports scientists and running publications may be excited to talk about the benefits of a mid-foot strike but there are millions of heel strikers out there. Just because we have become enlightened about running form and body mechanics doesn't mean everyone became a mid-foot striker overnight. Maybe overly padded shoes will become the exception—not the rule. Maybe mid-foot striking will be the default for most runners. Maybe illustrators will think mid-foot when they draw runners. We'll see what the future holds. Until then, check out the discrepancy between articles that talk about running form and running photos in mags like Runners World.

POST UPDATE 03/01/2012
My friend Doug made a good point. He said that a heel strike looks more elegant in a still photo and many photographers love to capture the moment when the foot is fully extended outward. Doug is a heel striker who re-trained using Chi Running in order to avoid chronic injury.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A ballet inspired come-back

My friend Marnie had been following progress of my big toe. I had to have the toe nail surgically removed. You can hear about it and see it here if you dare. She knew that I wanted to get back running as soon as I could and had seen how sore it had been. She was kind enough to bye me this...

Initially I wasn't sure where she was going with it but she explained that ballet dancers use wool to pad the toe of pointe shoes. You'll notice that Pillows for Pointes lambs wool is sterilized for purity. Unless ballet dancers eat the wool after their performances, I'm not sure how sterile the wool really needs to be. It's for stuffing sweaty shoes for crying out loud! I was also amused to see that this one ounce sack of goodness was inspected by Aunt Fleecia. The whole point of having an "Inspected by" note is so that people have confidence that a real person worked on the product. Apparently Pillows for Pointes feels that it is worth making consumers doubt the integrity of all "Inspected by" notes just so that they can have a little word-play with "fleece!" You are playing with fire PfP and that is a bad thing for a company who deals in wool.

Marnie told me that when she used to dance, she used wool like this. What she remembered the most was how it was fine enough to protect without feeling like it took up space in the shoe. She thought that I would appreciate having some protection without having to have a dressing or something that would fill-up the toe box. It was a very thoughtful and insightful idea. I thought I would give it a shot, especially since I tend like to run sock-free as much as possible. I tried to wrap it around my toe but it kept coming loose inside my New Balance Minimus Road 10's. I thought about taping it to my toe, I even thought about filling the toe box entirely with the wool but in the end, I gave up. I just wanted to run without anything changing my gait so that my knee experienced a well balanced first run.

The wool failure led to another good idea. The New Balance Minimus Trail 10's have a massive toe box that is pretty soft. The only trouble is that the rubber strap that goes across the metatarsals had been tight on the left foot when I bought them (a known issue for some people) and had become unbearable after I fractured the foot. The bone had thickened around my metatarsils. You can see the X-ray in this post. I remember reading on some blog about someone cutting the strap and was happy with the results. I decided that cutting the strap was better than permanent retirement. I cut the the left shoe strap and decided to repeat the procedure on the right because I wanted balance. The shoes are probably not as sock-like as they were but are still a snug fit. There is no discomfort from the straps at all now. I hated cutting them and making them visually imperfect but I am delighted to get my old favorite shoes back in rotation. As you can see from the left shoe in the picture, the space is wider where I cut it because that foot needs a little more room.

So, with some old friends on my feet and the excitement of a first run after 3 weeks of knee and toe issues, I planned to go out with my son Charlie (6). He has been asking me about our next run and that has made me very happy. As some of you will remember, I was having a hard time connecting with him. You can read about it here. Our relationship has been great lately and I credit it to many things—running being one. He is a great kid. A wrecking ball but also a sweet boy with an infectious lust for life. I was so surprised how quick he was to identify what he needed to wear for the weather. He even picked out a pair of Maggie's leggings to wear as running tights. Without prompting, he selected a lighter pair of gloves, so that his hands wouldn't get overheated. A real pro.

The Humboldt Park run was fantastic. The 12 minute a mile pace with Charlie was perfect for my first run. I just wanted a great experience with no knee pain and that's just what I got. Charlie chose to run around the perimeter of the park instead of through it. It was a good call. The internal paths would probably have had too much ice on them. The sun shone across the lake and was just warm enough on the face to take the edge of the winter bite. You couldn't help look in it's direction. We ran, we talked, we laughed and we raced.  Every time there was a sign post, Charlie took off and told me (conveniently late) that it was "first to the post." He was so happy to win these short sprints every time. He did his usual veering off the sidewalk to run on the ice and snow which inevitably led to him wiping out. He thought it was hilarious. He didn't seem tired and managed to run the entire 2 miles without a stop—that's a first. We stopped by the lake when we finished the loop and Charlie threw large blocks of ice into the water and made the geese real nervous. He was thrilled to be going home to tell mom he ran 2 miles non-stop. He even asked if we could go again the following day. Why not I thought!

A part of me wants to get an email from an 87 year old Aunt Fleecia after writing this post. I'd have to apologize for not believing she was real but it would be worth it. As for the wool, my daughter Maggie (7) will be delighted to use it for all sorts of art projects and who knows, I may try the toe wrap again, especially if I wear shoes with a smaller toe box like my Kinvara's.

It was a good day. My sinus infection is lifting, my knee pain seems gone and my toe is healing perfectly. I had a fun run with a fun kid. I feel uplifted. The World seems brighter to me through running colored glasses  :-)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I'm addicted to you babe... you're a hard habit to break

Now being without you
Takes a lot of getting used to
Should learn to live with it
But I don't want to
Being without you
It's all a big mistake
Instead of getting easier
It's the hardest thing to take
I'm addicted to you babe
You're a hard habit to break

Yes, it's Hard Habit to Break by Chicago but you already knew that—don't pretend you didn't. It's nothing to be ashamed of.

I'm not going to lie, spending time away from running has made me very unhappy. I'm sure you are sick of hearing it from me. Ironically, it's not this feeling that has me thinking more about running addiction. It's a few comments made by doctors that tuned me in.

World's oldest marathon runner
I once heard that medical practitioners have to ask the average abused women about possible abuse three times before they finally open-up and talk about it. Is there a similar protocol for running addiction? I have encountered references to it at nearly every running related medical visit so far. I couldn't tell if these two doctors were testing me to find out if I had addict qualities or if they were just thoroughly annoyed by running addicts. Maybe it was a bit of both.

Addiction Reference #1
At the end of last summer, I was having some pain in my left foot between the 2nd and 3rd metatarsals. The Orthopedic specialist told me that the X-ray looked OK but that I should rest it for a short time. He said "Maybe you aren't addicted to running because you listened to your body and stopped running."

Addiction Reference #2
At the beginning of last Fall/Autumn, the pain in my foot was worse. It turns out I was right about there being a problem. I had developed two stress fractures in my 2nd and 3rd metatarsals. When the doc called with the MRI results, he said "This is going to go one of two ways. You are either going to cancel you Half Marathon and wear a soft cast for 6 weeks or you will do what the running addicts do and run the Half and get a full fracture which will put you out for a long time. I'm working the medical tent, so I will be there when you get the fractures." I felt that taking the soft cast was the prudent thing to do.

Addiction Reference #3
I had a damaged toenail (nothing to do with running) and had to have it surgically removed. If you have a strong stomach, you can read about it here. The Podiatrist (that's a Chiropodist in other parts of the World) told me to come back in two weeks to see how I was doing. Last week, he told me the wound was looking great. I asked him how soon I could run. He said "If you are addicted a week. If you are not, two." I asked him if it shouldn't have been two weeks for everyone. He said "Addicts don't listen. They won't even wait the week."

I feel like I past these three challenges. I am pretty confident that I am not addicted to running but I was curious enough to look into it a little more. I thought that I could score some pointers to avoid getting addicted in future. From the attitude of the Docs, addicted runners sound like selfish d-bags.

Who would capitalize on addiction but marketers? As insightful as this Nike TV spot is about running, true addiction is something to take seriously. I remember the horrible lack of control when I was addicted to Marlboro cigarettes back in the day. I am told that there are people out there that are truly addicted to running. These are not people who love to run and can't get enough of it. They are people who have no choice. suggests that an addiction like this has a "negative effect on your spirit or your body." That's right folks, these people stop enjoying running because they have lost control. Worse than that, their bodies are breaking down under the strain of doing more than they can physically handle. That's a terrible shame. Like any addiction, exercise addiction has celebs who have "come out" about it [he rolls his eyes]. Renée Zellweger has an addiction of running 7 miles a day on a treadmill. I'm no expert on her but she seems like she is someone who may have had her share of body image issues and eating disorders. Running is a great excuse to inappropriately burn calories. Eminem claims he was running 17 miles a day. He is known to be a recovering addict. Apparently endorphins have a property similar to morphine, so it would make sense. It's a pretty healthy addiction to substitute for a more life threatening one although it sounds like he is suffering from the pain of too many miles.
The tricky part with running addiction is that you can still look good. Renée looks great these days and Eminem has been looking good too. Running is great for you. It's just a shame that for some, they turn the corner, lose the love and hurt their bodies in the process.

So, how do people stop themselves from turning that corner? What are the signs? Well, here are some but as you can see, they can be vague.

You suffer from symptoms of overtraining syndrome
It's a complicated thing to diagnose but it boils down to the body being exhausted and needing rest. Your performance may not be dropping but it may have plateaued. You have an on-going feeling of jet-lag-like fatigue. I don't think I have personally experienced this with running. I like to think I would listen to my body if I did.

You force yourself to exercise even if you don't feel well
What does "don't feel well" really mean? I find that if I go for a sensible run when I have a cold, it really helps me get over it much quicker. If I have full-blown flu on the other hand, I doubt that I would be out pounding the streets.

You almost never exercise for fun
I can't imagine running and not enjoying it. I do it for the love—nothing more. If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't be doing it.

Every time you exercise, you go as fast or as hard as you can
This was me when I didn't know any better. I was using the "no pain no gain" rule. It wasn't until I read Jack Daniels' book that I realized that different types of runs at different types of paces work different systems of the body and make you a stronger runner. Since then, I have done more fun runs without worrying about pace, etc. I do tend to push myself too hard. That is something I have to watch out for. It never used to be a problem but I'm not getting any younger.

You experience sever stress and anxiety if you miss a workout
I am OK missing a workout or two. I only feel more stress and anxiety if I haven't been running for many days and part of that anxiety is the frustration of not knowing when I will be back on track. I don't think it's strange to feel bad about missing something you love, especially when it pumps endorphins into your system. 

You miss family obligations because you have to exercise
Um. No. My running happens around my family. My wife would put me in my place if I was selfish enough to not value that. I do think it becomes important in relation to the family. If running makes me a better me, it should help me to be a better husband and father.

You calculate how much to exercise based on how much you eat
Even when I lost 45lbs, I didn't try to drop the weight by lowering calories. I counted calories in the beginning just to see what my portions were like. In the end, I ate healthier, ate sensible portions and ran—simple as that.

You would rather exercise than get together with friends
I'm a bit of an introvert. I think many runners are. If I wasn't married, I would be living in a cave. I'm social at work but I like time alone. With a wife and three kids, the only times I have alone is when I run or workout. I may be a little guilty of this but my wife helps to keep me balanced. It's one of the reasons I love her.

You can't relax because you think you're not burning calories
That's just loco Neo.

You worry that you'll gain weight if you skip exercising for one day
If I run regularly, I don't weigh myself if I have missed some time off. The one thing I am guilty of is not wanting to gain too much weight when I am injured. There is nothing worse than starting back running and carrying extra weight. I'm just being honest.

How did you do as you read these? I think I OK. If you want to try some other questions to make sure you are not an addict, I found a survey online that I put in a Microsoft Excel document to automate the score. Go to this link on my Google Docs and download it (top right).

All of these points are helpful to keep a temperature check on the situation but for me, the real measure of addiction still comes down to a compulsion to run that is accompanied by a lack of enjoyment and/or a punishing regime that is having a devastating impact on your body. I'm not there. For now, I'm happy being a little obsessed with running and keeping the scale tilted in the right direction:

Healthy Habit / Unhealthy Addiction

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ovett, Coe and Cram

A quick confession and then I'll get on with it. I'm still having a hard time focusing on getting stuff done since I took a break from running. My head is just not in the game. I feel guilty about it. I started this blog when I had a stress fracture and it was meant to be self motivating—a healthy distraction. It turned into a passion that I was starting to believe may be motivating others too. Now, look at me! I'm feeling all blue and not posting very often. It's no good. I really do need to shake it off. I am probably going to try running again in another week or so. Keep your fingers crossed for me that the mysterious knee issue will be gone.

Onto the post at hand... This is a something I have been writing off-and-on for quite some time. It's a follow-up to a post I wrote about rockstar runners of my younger days in Britain. You can check it out here. This post is dedicated to Jim White because he is a track nerd :)

In Christianity, there is the Holy Trinity. In early 1980's British middle distance running, there was Ovett, Coe and Cram. To a kid, they were magical. I had no knowledge of running—no context for what I was watching. All I knew was that when major athletics were on the TV, it was these three men who were dominant and I was hooked like the rest of the country. It was the first time that athletics had been elevated to the rockstar status of soccer. How thrilling it was to see these men bring home major medals. It was an amazing amount of middle distance running talent for such a focused period of time and a small geographical area. I didn't want this post to be just a regurgitation of pure facts. I actually wanted to learn something, so I thought a fun way to approach it would be to see if the myths about them that I believed when I was a kid held true or not. This is what I believed back then:
  1. They emerged magically at the same time
  2. They were from different social classes and had very different temperaments
  3. They were very different runners
  4. They all raced the same distance
  5. Ovett and Coe disliked each other but they both liked Cram
  6. Any one of them could have won
Steve Ovett, Steve Cram and Sebastian Coe
First, let's just get a basic reminder of who they are:

Steve Ovett, OBE
He was born in 1955 in Brighton, England. He was a naturally talented runner who loved to run any sort of race. His family recognized his potential early-on and committed to supporting his running career. He hit the senior running scene big time in 1973 and was dominant through the rest of the 70's and early 80's. In 84, he started to have fitness issues and his career wound down until he retired in '91. When he retired, he did sportscaster work and ended up moving to Australia, a place he had trained during British winters. Ovett was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) by the Queen. The following clip shows Ovett's incredible kick that obliterates a World class field.

Lord Sebastian Coe, KBE
Seb was born in 1956 in London and grew up in Sheffield, England. He was a frail boy who came from a good home. He had a slow start in school and didn't qualify for grammar school but made up for it and attended Loughborough University. His father became his running coach. His first big break came with a win in '77 and he was dominant from the end of the '70's well into the mid '80's. He started to have fitness issues around '88, even though he was still capable of strong runs. After recurring chest infections, he retired in 1990. Seb was the same over-achiever in retirement as he was on the track. He became a member of Parliament for the Conservative Party. He was a Council Member for the IAAF and later became Vice President. He was awarded the KBE (Knight Commander of the British Empire) by the Queen and was given a life peerage which means that he became a member of the House of Lords. He won further admiration from the British public for leading the bid to bring the 2012 Olympics to London. He had a watchdog role for FIFA which he gave up in order to pursue bringing the 2018 World Cup to England. He is still a worldwide ambassador for Nike and owns a chain of health clubs. The following clip shows Coe winning the '80 Olympic 1500m but has a very interesting interview with Ovett where he talks really eloquently about his frustration with the Ovett/Coe rivalry.

Steve Cram, MBE
He was born in 1960 in Jarrow, England. His nickname was "The Jarrow Arrow." He grew up in a hard working family with very little money. That region of Britain was very depressed at the time. When he started making money from running around 1980, he was paying his parent's mortgage. He studied Sports in University. He was only 17 when he first appeared at a Commonwealth Games. He was dominant in the early '80's but started to fade in the late '80's even though he had some strong runs into the early '90's. He retired in 1994. After retirement, he became a very well respected sportscaster for the BBC. He was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) by the Queen. Steve is an ambassador for the 2012 London Olympics. The following clip shows Steve taking the Gold in the '83 World Championships. He was not always the strongest kicker but this is a fine finish against a really talented field.

So, after a little research, what did I learn that expanded or changed my perspective?

They emerged magically at the same time.
There is no doubt that having three World class runners coming out of a small country like England during the same period of time is amazing. No wonder that it seemed magical to me and to the rest of the country.

In reality, it wasn't quite as synchronous as it seemed. For anyone who was following running and not just major televised races (like me), they would have seen the progression. Ovett was really making a name for himself on the senior circuit as a teenager in the mid 70's whereas Coe's running matured a little later. The younger Cram came onto the big stage around '80. There was definitely a window of time when they were all gold contenders but due to injury, their peek periods weren't exactly well aligned. I created a timeline to explore it. More on that later.

They were from different social classes and were very different men
I believed that Ovett was a tough, cocky, working class lad who had a bit of an anti-establishment attitude. I believed that Coe was an upper class gentleman who was calm and quiet. I believed that Cram was a happy-go-lucky working class kid from the North. After a little research, I don't pretend to know these men in great detail but I do feel like I got a more realistic impression of them. I think I got a much better sense of Ovett which wasn't limited by the British press' opinion of who he was.

Ovett really wasn't the street fighter type that he was made out to be. His family didn't have much money but he came from a good home and went to grammar school. He had been cocky and intense from his teenage running years and was certainly an aggressive runner. He was exceptionally confident and was known to throw up his hands in victory as early as the final turn. The fact that he shunned the press made them focus on his "bad boy" shenanigans and contrast it with Coe's exemplary behavior. Some suggest that Ovett's passion to race other people was so intense that his exuberant behavior was uncontrolled and unfairly judged as borderline impetuous. One thing is for sure, off the track Ovett was a very respectful and gracious sportsman. The one good thing about his reputation was that it made him more relatable to the general public. He was a bit of a people's champion.

Coe in contrast was calm, polite and politically correct. He was the ideal athletic role model. He wasn't really upper class but he did have the mannerisms of public schoolboy runners of years past. He was intense but in a more brooding and reflective sort of way. He was incredibly disciplined and focused. He was a warmer person and made time for the press which turned him into a media darling. His words were humble but at times, he seemed a little too self focused. I suspect he thought of his body as an instrument—something to work on and perfect.

Cram is nowhere near as documented as the other two. It's harder to get a feel for him other than his likable personality that shines through in sportscasting. It must have been hard coming up underneath two giants of running. Even in his prime, I don't think Cram had anywhere near the confidence that Ovett and Coe did. He seemed almost too nice at times. He was the good natured working class boy from next door. He always had a smile and a good word for people. He was often referred to as "Stevie" which reflects the affection that people had for him. He was incredibly humble and it felt very honest and heartfelt coming from him.

They were very different runners
At the time, I knew nothing about running but I had a sense of them not running the same way. I think I thought that their running somehow reflected their personalities. In a way, it did.

Ovett was a stalker which is why he did not focus on record breaking earlier in his career. He liked races that were slower and more tactical. He could physically fight to maneuver himself and then hang-back in the perfect stalking position ready to kick. His 200m kick could be devastating. What I didn't realize before spending more time watching him run was how smooth and relaxed he looked in mid flow. He is one of those runners with a short torso and long legs.

Coe was a very disciplined runner. His training with his father was precise and grueling. On races that were slower and more technical he could get himself into trouble. He favored going out very early and breaking down the competition with punishing sustained pace. The amazing thing about him was that when he did this, he inexplicably had gas left in the tank for a final kick. Maybe I am biased but when I see Coe run, he looks like he is floating smoothly along—it's a beautiful and effortless. I'm not an expert on running form but I love to watch him.

Cram was said to have great form. Apparently, the knee lift and turnover was excellent. To my eye, he seemed a little long and gangly. He ran on the balls of his feet and his feet were slightly turned out. To me, it was like watching a young puppy who hadn't quite grown into his body. Don't get me wrong, he looked amazing, especially from the side—just not quite like Coe in my opinion. Cram didn't have the finish that Ovett and Coe had, so his preferred technique was to wind up the pace gradually to the finish and hope that he had run the kick out of his opponents.

They all ran the same distance
As a child, you don't really focus on the distance—not unless you are really interested in running. As a TV spectator with no knowledge, it's all the same thing. Just men running around a track until they are done.

All three men ran various distances. The 800m and the 1500m happen to be the premier distances for major events. It was interesting for me to learn that Coe favored the 800m whereas Ovett favored the 1500m. This was incredibly ironic considering that Coe took 2 Olympic Silvers for the 800m and 2 Golds for the 1500m. Ovett took a Bronze in the 1500m and a Gold in the 800m. Steve Cram was more focused on the 1500m. Obviously the Mile was important to all of them because it was a classic distance and the British obsession with it was forever frozen in Carbonite when Sir Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute barrier.

Ovett and Coe disliked each other but they both liked Cram
Again, this impression was really fueled by the story that the press put out there. The rivalry was a huge deal. Going into the '84 Olympics must have been so intense for these men. Like being at the Olympics isn't stressful enough!

It seems that there was no real grudge between Ovett and Coe other than the usual athletes desire to be dominant. I'm not saying that they were compatible personalities, I'm just saying that they admired each other and both seemed to wish that the press wouldn't play up the rivalry in such a negative way. Ovett said "Seb is the caliber of athlete that only comes around once or twice in a lifetime." At times, the press was just plain unfair to Ovett. On one occasion, they speculated about Ovett arguing with Coe and Coe later reported that Ovett was actually talking to him about another runner that had just beaten them both. Coe said that he never intended to alienate Ovett further from the press by being transparent and accessible to them. He said "Steve was the most talented athlete I ever ran against."The earlier video shows Ovett wishing that the press would celebrate them both and think of them as a team going into the Olympics. I'm sure Ovett and Coe both liked Cram What wasn't to like? The worst thing I ever heard him say was that Ovett's 200m kick was predictable. That's nothing. Kicks are predictable. Ovett's advantage was a turn of speed that outmatched his opponents—not the element of surprise. These three men were always very respectful and complementary of each other. It's how it should be.

Any one of them could have won.
In my mind, I see all three men running. I have the excitement of knowing that there are medals coming home to Britain but there is also the excitement of knowing that there is no firm pecking order. On the day, any man can win.

Maybe Ovett and Coe winning each others favored distances in the Olympics is what made this stick in my mind but it's not really an accurate reflection of how it played out. Their careers didn't quite flow the same way and their peek periods didn't quite align. Cram's dominant period was as Ovett and Coe started their decline. Ovett and Coe rarely ran against each other and they were often not fit at the same time. Even when they traded World records, they were usually not running in the same race. In order to get a better feel for how their careers flowed, I created the timeline below. It's was actually very helpful for me to see it laid out like this. It's missing all the details of races that give a full perspective of their performance but you can you still get a feel for how things played out.

Ovett takes a personal best (PB) for the 400m and wins a Silver in the European Championships 800m

Ovett gets his first Olympic experience at 21 years of age, placing 5th in the 800m final. He did not make it to the 1500m final.

Ovett has a PB in the 3000m and wins a Gold at the IAAF World Cup 1500m.

Ovett has a PB in the 800m and the 2 Miles. He breaks the World record for the2 Miles. He wins a Silver in the European Championships 800m and a Gold 1500m.
Coe came onto the scene breaking some British records. He won a Bronze in European Championships 800m.
Cram got his first experience in the Commonwealth Games at 17 years old.

Ovett has a PB in the 1000m
Coe is on fire this year. He has a PB in the 400m. He takes World records in Mile, 800 and 1500 (in 41 days)

Ovett tied Coe's World record in the 1500m and then took the record outright. He took Coe's World record for the Mile. He beat Coe with a gold in the Olympic 800m and surprisingly took bronze in the 1500m.
Coe had a PB in the 5000m, he took the World record for the 1000m (briefly holding 4 records). He took a disappointing silver in the Olympic 1500m but caused an upset with gold in the 800m.
Cram had his first Olympic final experience, placing 8th in 1500m.

Ovett has a PB and a World Record in the Mile. He won gold in IAAF World Championship 1500m, World Record in Mile
Coe – PB 800m and 1000m, World Records in Indoor 800, 800, 1000, Mile X2, European Championships Silver 800m

Ovett has a PB in the 2000m but suffers from a knee injury.
Coe has a PB in the 2000m. He takes the World record 4x800m relay. He becomes sick with glandular fever.
Cram takes advantage of the other two being injured and has a foundational year, winning the gold in Commonwealth Games 1500m and the gold in European Championships 1500m.

Ovett has a PB and World record in the 1500m. He struggled in the World Championships and was injured.
Coe took the World record Indoor 800m, Indoor 1000m. He became very sick for months with Taxoplasmosis
Cram also was injured but then recovered to take the gold in the World Championships 800m.

Ovett has bronchitis in Olympic finals. He finds it hard to compete in the 800 and drops out of 1500.
Coe takes the Silver in the Olympics 800m and gold in the 1500m.
Cram is injured that year but recovers enough to take silver in the Olympic 1500m.

Ovett couldn’t find his form.
Coe wanted to move to the 5000m distance but had a lot of back issues.
Cram was on fire. He took the World record in the 2000m, 1500m and the Mile in just 19 days.

Ovett had PB in the 5000m, winning a gold in the Commonwealth Games.
Coe had a PB in the 1500m and the 3000m. He won silver in the European Championships 1500m and gold in the 800m.
Cram had a strong year winning gold in the Commonwealth Games 800m and 1500m. He won a Bronze in the European Championship 800m and a gold in 1500m.

Ovett struggled at the World Championships
Coe was out injured
Cram had a Golden Mile win but started to struggle and was 8th in World Championships.

Ovett failed to make Olympics
Coe had chest infections and could not qualify for the Olympics.
Cram won the Dream Mile and had an impressive Olympic trials. He was favorite for the Olympic 800m but a calf injury prevented him from making the finals. He recovered enough to take 4th in the Olympic 1500m.

Ovett continued to wind down.
Coe took a silver in the World Cup 1500m.
Cram started to wind down.

Ovett continued to wind down.
Coe had more chest infections and retired.
Cram only managed a 5th at the European Championship 1500m.

Ovett retired.
Cram eliminated in the European Championships.

After a few years of continuing to wind down, Cram retired

A few other things that I learned along the way:
  • Coe had a great relationship with his father who became his coach. Coe claims that his dad was ahead of his time when it came to training techniques. When people told his father "You are killing him", referring to Seb's training, he would say "Yes, I'm killing him all the way to a gold."
  • Ovett had strange training patterns and often befuddled other runners and coaches by doing things like running a local half marathon right before a major race. This type of behavior is really in contrast to Coe's precise and measured training plans.
  • A couple of fun facts about Coe. My friend Jim said that Seb came to his highschool. He was showing them squat exercises and Jim claims that he had remarkably large quads and hams—not side to side but from front to back. Another acquaintance of mine Victor who used to be an elite marathoner back in the day told me that Coe was doing some sort of exhibition where he was demonstrating an amazing vertical jump. Clearly the man had some powerful legs—no surprise there!
  • In the earlier video, Ovett and Coe both talk about how short lived being a top class middle distance runner is. It's not a topic you hear a lot from top runners. It seems very honest and a little bit sad.
  • Ovett had been dominant in the late '70's. He had a few uneventful races against Coe as juniors. I have to imagine that it must have been a shock for him to see Coe sweep 3 world records in '79. It made me think about the impact they must have had on each other's careers. How much better did they make each other?
  • Coe may have pressured Ovett to become more of a record breaker. Before Coe was on the scene, Ovett was more interested in racing people. In order to break records, he had to change his race patterns. When you are a racer like Ovett, it's a big deal to go out earlier as a front runner to chase down a time.
  • Ovett and Cram got to experience the Olympics without expectation of winning their first time. Coe took a silver and gold his first Olympics. I'm sure this had a lot to do with timing in relation to career development but it's still impressive.
  • When Coe lost the 800 in the '80 Olympics, he was devastated. Apparently the loss really rocked him. It's understandable after years of training to feel that way. I'm not sure how his dad motivated him but to brush himself off and take the gold in the 1500m showed an amazing amount of focus and self discipline.
  • I forgot that Ovett and Coe were under pressure from the British Government and public to not go to the '80 Moscow Olympics. Ironically, the Russians had invaded Afghanistan and the U.S. and Britain was unhappy with them.
  • The '84 Olympics could have been really interesting if Ovett and Cram were on top form. That could have been the big show-down for the three of them. Sadly, only Coe was on form, so we'll never know.
  • Apparently when Coe didn't qualify for the '88 Olympics, they tried to bend the rules to get him in. He even considered running for the Indian team (he is part Punjabi). 
  • It's a shame that Cram was injured in the '88 Olympics. He was always in the shadow of the other two and this could have been his moment to shine without them. Cram never got the credit he deserved. I have always thought about how cruel it is to be a World class athlete at the same time as anomalies like Coe are in your sport. It's the same as being second in the World to Lance Armstrong.
  • It was interesting to see Ovett and Coe trying to turn themselves into 5000m specialists around '85 and '86. I never really heard much about that.
  • I was interested to learn about the death of Steve Cram's younger brother Kevin. He died at the age of 39 while he was running near his home in Wales. He was alone and in a coma for 5 hours before he died because he wasn't carrying identification. Steve was 2 hours away in London. Kevin was in the mortuary for another two days before he was claimed. It was this traumatic experience that led Steve to partner with Reebok to create the CramAlertID wristband. This sad story reminded me of why I decided to get a RoadID. Check out my post about it.
  • In 2010, it was reported that the big Ovett/Coe rivalry was to be turned into a film by the BBC but I never heard anything more. I'd love to see a documentary that digs into the true rivalry—not the personal rivalry that the media exaggerated.

After spending quite a bit of time learning a little more about these men, I am a little ashamed to say that Coe is still my favorite and it's purely from the way he runs versus his personality or some other factor. I really want to watch the Born To Run movie (not to be confused with the book). It looks like it has lots of footage of him training with his dad.

Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram

Here are a couple of quotes to close out the post:

"I became a great runner because if you're a kid in Leeds and your name is Sebastian you've got to become a great runner" Lord Sebastian Coe

"When you're fit, you're fit" Steve Cram

"Sometimes I run and I don't even feel the effort of running. I don't even feel the ground. I'm just drifting. Incredible feeling. All the agony and frustration, they're all justified by one moment like that" Steve Ovett

POST Update Feb 16th, 2012
A couple of people have told me that Coe isn't popular at this point in time. This post is obviously historical and my preference for Coe is based purely on how he ran—not the person he was or is now. As someone who hasn't been exposed to the media in Britain since '92, I'd be interesting to hear from any British readers. I'd love to know how they felt about about all three runners back then and how they feel about them now based on their experiences of them through news and sports, etc.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Warning: This Post Is Gross

You have been warned about this post but before I get into it, please allow me to vent for a little while. I feel like I have to admit that I have been really bad about posting since the holiday break. I think it is because I have been in a bit of a funk this month. It's undoubtedly to do with not running enough. I had a tendonitis type discomfort that evolved into a painful knee problem. The doc didn't think it was much, so I have been resting it and hoping it will fix itself. I am missing those lovely endorphins and the fantastic anti-anxiety and anti-depression benefits that come from them. I am missing not having that clarity of thought and the peace that comes from being in the running zone. I could throw myself into working-out but unfortunately, I just had my big toe nail surgically removed (the subject of this post) and I was advised not to do much for a few weeks. I can't even make myself feel better by spending my New Balance gift certificate because trying on new running shoes with my toe in this state makes no sense. So, here I am. I feel my age and I feel a little blue. What I should have done is blog. I started this blog when I had stress fractures and found it to be a great distraction. So, I'll try to get back into the swing of things. Right! On with the post...

Sometimes I wonder why marketers don't just tell people not to look at their products and services. The temptation of that may well be stronger than any hard sell. There is something so appealing about being told you can't do something or even just warned–off. There is a deviant pleasure in checking–out something you shouldn't. I'd be interested in seeing if the title of this post has that effect. If there is a spike in views, it won't be for the content. It's not that ground breaking.

This is your second warning about this post. What did you decide? Staying? OK, let's continue with the story about my toe. I'd like to say that I lost a toenail because I am like Anton Krupicka and my feet have taken such a beating from running that the nails are like foot soldiers in a war—cannon fodder! It's not like that at all. The truth is, I dropped a bottle of milk on my toe. That simple mistake created a domino effect that has delivered me to where I am right now...

My toe right after surgery.
Grossness Phase 1
I don't think I have ever dropped something on my toe like that before. When that bottle hit my bare big toe nail, I dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. I rolled around on the floor in the glow of the refrigerator light, holding my toe and swearing profusely in the general direction of the salad dressing bottles. It could have been a terribly embarrassing affair but I was on my own and I was free to allow the big baby in me wallow. It was just a toe but oh... my... word.

Grossness Phase 2
A blood blister appeared under the toe nail. At first it wasn't an issue but after a while, the pressure of the blood built–up against the underside of my nail and started to hurt really badly. I remember talking to my father and asking him for advice. He'd had something similar in the past. He told me to burst it or go to the doctor and have them do it. After putting it off as long as I could, the pressure was so bad, I got desperate enough to disinfect a needle and push it between my nail and the nail bed. Unfortunately, the blister wasn't close enough to the end of my toe, so it took a lot of will power to push deep enough under the nail to reach it. I can't begin to explain the euphoric relief that came from the blood running out and the blister subsiding. It literally sent shivers up my spine.

Grossness Phase 3
The damaged nail turned a weird white and developed a hole in the middle. The top of it broke off eventually. When it started to grow back, it was getting in–grown on one side and I had to painfully trim it down. I'll freely admit that I should have gone to the doctor at this point but I have never been to a foot doctor in my life and I was resistant to the idea. Why? I don't know. All I can offer as an answer is that feet in general gross me out. Even my own feet gross me out. It makes sense that doctors who choose to spend their entire career with feet would gross me out too. Having been to one, I have to say that I am a convert.

Grossness Phase 4
The damaged nail developed a fungal infection. We all have fungus in our shoes all the time. The fungus only needs a small invitation to run riot on your feet. My toenail became thick, brittle and orange in color. It was horrible to look at. It grossed the kids out. They avoided it when it got too close to them. I tried to treat it with anti-fungal drops but it really didn't work. Again, I should have gone to the doctor but I was convinced that I could bring it back.

Grossness Phase 5
I finally went to the doctor. He told me that I had a 60–65% chance of keeping the nail. All I had to do was take some oral anti-fungal medication, take some blood panels for my liver because the medication is strong and remove the nail completely, so that it had a chance to grow back cleanly. I didn't have much choice, so I agreed. On the day of the surgery, he injected my toe on both sides with something to numb it. It was surprising how much that hurt. After it was pretty numb, he injected me on both sides again with something that would extend the numbness for 4–6 hours. I felt that the second injection slightly which led to a discussion about some cultures having a higher resistance to that sort of medication. Most of the blood you see in the images come from these injections. When we were sure there was no feeling in the toe, the doc aggressively removed the nail and then dug around in the nail bed to remove some other stuff he didn't like the look of. I watched the whole thing with bloody fascination. He stopped at one point and pointed out that if he was in the Mafia and wanted me to talk, I would be singing at this point. We then had a lovely conversation about how cordless drills have become the go-to tool for torture. He seemed to know way too much about this stuff. He bandaged me up and sent me on my way with instructions to keep it well dressed and cleaned for two weeks.

Grossness Phase 6
This is the last warning. Here is the dilemma you are faced with. Do you want to see the picture of my toe without the bandage or not? I offer you the choice. It was certainly too graphic for a casual Facebook update. My wife banned me from doing that. On the other hand, many people have asked me to see the picture. Most of us don't get to see the fresh underside of a toe nail. So, you are faced with a choice to scroll or leave. If you stay, I don't want to hear complaints about how I grossed you out. You were warned!














Almost there :)











My toe sans the nail before I washed and re-dressed it the next day.

No comments about Hobbit feet please. I've heard it all. I think it's a combination of the blood that looks like dirt and the few hairs. Very Shire-like. A few people have seen this picture on my phone. Initially, they think the nail is still there. The nail bed is nail shaped obviously. My son Charlie (6) thought it looked like a nail made of jello. I have to say that there is little discomfort. It just hurt if you apply pressure—like when my daughter Gwynnie (3) stood on it with her snow boot. Ouch!

So, there you have it. I hope you got the fix you were looking for. Personally, I don't think there is anything sick about wanting to see this photo. The human body is a fascinating thing. Let's hope that nail comes back. Apparently, it will take anywhere form 8 months to a year to grow back if it grows back. Fingers crossed.

Subscribe by email