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The Lance effect

This just in -- Lance Armstrong's return to professional cycling has dramatically increased membership for USA Cycling.

It's not much of a surprise, but then again, there is something comforting about statistics backing up what you believe to be obvious.

In an article this week in Cycling News, USA Cycling announced its number of license holders will reach an all-time high of 66,600 members by the end of the year -- a 5.62 increase in memberships over last year.

This, mind you, is not the total number of people cycling. These are people who are joining USA Cycling -- the national governing body of the sport. While the organization promotes riding at all levels, its main thrust is competition. So most of those 66,600 members have joined because they want to race their bikes, not just ride their bikes. If there was a way to count that, the number of people cycling and the percentage increase would probably be even higher.

While difficult to pinpoint exactly the cause and effect of the membership gains, there is clearly a correlation between Lance and the popularity of the sport.

Again, it's not rocket science. In order to have success in today's over-crowded media world, a sport has to have a strong and compelling personality. It helps immensely if that personality also wins. (Although there are historical cases where that's completely necessary. See Anna Kournikova.)

Alg_lance12 Lance Armstrong's story -- his battle with cancer, his foundation, his comeback, heck even his pop-celebrity status -- have made him a household name, gaining attention for a sport which lacked any type of foothold in the American sporting culture.

"Sports needs people," Armstrong said in the Cycling News article. "It's important to have those stories so people pay attention. As teams and people involve in the sport, you gotta keep that going. If you don't have the athletes who have the story and carry the personality, the sport will go away. It's our job to develop young guys, riders who can keep people interested in cycling and interested in their stories for whatever reason. People look at my story and you can say they're interested because he's a strong cyclist or because he's a cancer survivor."

Ah, but will people's interest change in 2011 if Lance makes the move from cycling to triathlon as he's indicated?

Armstrong first got his competitive start as a triathlete before switching to professional cycling. He has said that in 2011 he would like to race Kona -- otherwise known as the Ironman World Championships. Unless there is some special dispensation for Lance, he will have to compete in at least one other Ironman that year and perform well enough to qualify. Those details aren't the priority right now -- the 2010 Tour de France is.

But just as Armstrong has boosted cycling, there is already talk of what his re-entry into triathlon will do for that sport.

USA Triathlon, the governing body of that sport, announced 115,000 annual memberships -- not quite double the amount that USA Cycling had. The sport of triathlon is growing, in part because of branding and marketing efforts of the World Triathlon Corporation, which owns the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 race series. It's also growing because of the increase in the number of smaller, local races and the plethora of distance available -- from "try-a-tri" events and sprint distance all the way up to the grueling Iron Distance events (whether they be trademarked Ironman races or independent events).

If the sport is already growing, what will the Lance affect be?

In the eyes of Claire Lunardoni of the Boston Triathlon Examiner, it has the potential for widespread disaster.

"While the sponsorship opportunities that Armstrong will bring to triathlon will benefit pros and race directors, mid-pack triathlon veterans are likely to suffer," she writes. "With more triathletes, races will sell out even more quickly and qualification-only events like the world championships in Kona and Clearwater will become out of reach for more and more athletes as qualification slots are spread thinner and thinner across more North American races. ... With a sharp increase in triathlon participation, the sport will almost certainly need to stratify based on ability, bringing the common age grouper farther and farther from the elite level."

Possibly.

But what if a company like WTC looked at how championship spots are given? Right now, you qualify for one of the two championships (Kona for Ironman, Clearwater for 70.3) at designated races throughout the year. How do you qualify? Each race has a certain number of slots allocated for each age group based on the number of participants registered. The bigger the race, the more slots available. The smaller the race, the fewer the slots, though potentially slightly easier competition. 

Maybe a system like one used by the Boston Marathon, with qualifying times and easily understood standards, would make the triathlon process less messy. Maybe there's some sort of combination of the two.

Either way, would the added media exposure, sponsorship dollars and popularity that Lance would bring to triathlon hurt the every-day athlete's experience?

I'm not so sure it would. Qualifying for a world championship should be difficult by nature. And while managing more participation may mean some growing pains and rethinking traditional ways of being, the more people brought to the health and fitness table the better we all are.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Bionic runners

What does an athlete look like?

It's a question which historically has been used to discuss images of female athletes.

But lately, it's a question that can be posed to discuss something broader, something tricker than gender or race.

Disability.

It's a topic that emerged over the last week after a new study found that prosthetic limbs hinder running performance. This contradicts concerns from 2008, when South African runner Oscar Pistorius, a doubleOscar1_2725_full-prt  amputee and pretty darn fast 400 meter sprinter wanted to compete for a spot in the Olympics. He couldn't, said the international governing body for track and field, because his prostheses gave him an unfair advantage.

Yes, a man with no legs apparently had a running advantage.

The concern was over "technological doping" making someone "bionic" or "superhuman." A court of arbitration overturned the decision and Pistorius was able to compete in the Olympic trials, missing the qualifying time by three quarters of a second.

Without the pressure of looming Olympic trials, researchers were able to construct a better design and refute earlier findings that runners with high tech prosthetics gained a performance advantage. (For complete findings, see the article in the Biology Letters of the Royal Society of London.)

Science and technology issues raise ethical questions, as was tackled by Jack Hitt in the New York Times Magazine. Should disabled athletes be allowed to compete with able-bodied athletes? Do high tech prosthetics give disabled athletes an unfair compensation?

"The progressive laws of culture are the brilliant work-around to the brutal law of the jungle," Hitt writes. "So sure, we'll build access ramps, finance kneeling buses, design J blades and invent push-rim wheelchairs -- not out of pity or political correctness but so that a wider range of human talent can enter the fray win or lose."

So often, we miss the stories of winning or losing. We (meaning people in the media, including myself) frame disability sports only as an uplifting, inspirational tale. And more often than not they are inspirational stories. That's one of the things we love about athletics -- the ability it has to inspire us, to give us hope and make us feel good. Those stories surely need to be told. But are we doing a disservice to disabled athletes by only telling the feel-good stories? Should we ask for more every day coverage of Paralympic Games -- the kind that reports on games and events as normal, every day competition where the athletes just happen to have some sort of physical disability?

Should Pistorius be allowed to compete in the Olympics if he qualifies as opposed to being relegated to the Paralympics? 

What does a runner look like? Must he have both legs to be a runner?

Or are we perhaps slightly afraid of what it may mean if the runner with no legs turns out to be a better athlete than we are?

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Biggest Loser: A win turns into a loss

Most. Disappointing. Elimination. Ever.

It was crazy week on The Biggest Loser last night as the field of eight contestants would be cut to six with two people sent home. The twist this week, new to the show, was the introduction of the "red line."

For those not familiar with the show, each week the contestants step on a communal scale and are then ranked by percentage of body weight lost (as opposed to just pure pounds). Depending upon the structure for the week, either a team or individuals fall below the yellow line. There then is a conference where one contestant is voted off the show.

This week, the red line meant instant elimination. The person with the lowest percentage of body weight lost would automatically go home.

The next two at the bottom of the list would be up for the traditional elimination vote.

And the focus was on Shay.

Shay came to the show as its heaviest contestant at 476 pounds. Her personal history included a mother whose description seemed more fitting for a character on an episode of Lawn and Order:SVU than to be an actual mother. The pain and emotion that comes from that trauma was something Shay worked hard to hide -- to the tune of 476 pounds.

And while The Biggest Loser ranch was helping her turn her life around, there just seemed so much more work to be done.

"As much as we haven't been saying it because it's not politically correct, Shay needs to stay here," trainer Jillian Michaels said to fellow trainer Bob Harper.

The question in part for Jillian became who can survive the best at home. Who is ready to sustain the changes at home?

There was doubt that Shay was ready. And from the footage from the week she spent back home, I wonder if she has the adequate support system to help her continue on her journey.

Shay was the first contestant to step on the scale -- and she lost 17 pounds.

That number set a record for The Biggest Loser. She became the fastest female contestant to lose 100 pounds, doing it in nine weeks.

But the record and the impressive weight loss wasn't enough. Motivated by the thought of the red line, everyone else, except Daniel and Amanda, pulled big numbers and bigger percentages.

Daniel, who was on the show last season, was below the red line and immediately went home.

Shay and Amanda were below the yellow line and up for elimination.

And it was Shay who was voted off the show.

Really? 

The person who is the least threat in the "game-playing" and who needs the support of the show in order to survive, that's who you're sending home?

"I came on campus that first week thinking if I don't do this, I'm going to die," Shay said. "It was hard every step, but you see the results and you say screw it, let's go again. I can do it.

"I've been doing my whole life what other people have liked. Now, I'm doing what I like. I've keep my integrity. I keep my word and I walk out of here with all of that and a record. I'm seeing more of me when I look in the mirror because I have a future now.I have a life ahead of me."

I am hoping that Shay wins the battle of the cast-off contestants at the finale. But mostly, I'm hoping that she takes the confidence and that drive which she discovered on the show and lives in it all the time.

The product placement watch this week was Larabar. Actually, I am a fan of Larabars. The energy bar is made with whole fruits, nuts and spices -- unprocessed and with no additives. I only wish the company sold the mini version along with its full-sized bars.

---Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Running with cadence

"Cadence check!"

It's sometime early in the morning, before the sun comes up and the best time to call out "cadence check" is upon hitting a stretch of good streetlights. We count how many times our right foot hits the ground during a 30-second span.

"Stop!"

"48," I tell Sue.

"Me, too," she replies.

And then the run continues with our usual conversation about friends, family and work. Until another cadence check opportunity arises.

Such is the nature of my easy-paced runs. The goal of cadence running is to increase your turnover. The higher your cadence, the faster you will run. And if you do it naturally -- for me this meant shorter steps while staying in my endurance heart rate zone -- you get a bit faster without even thinking about it. The general goal prescribed by my coach is a cadence of 90 or greater. When counting for 30 seconds, that means wanting your right foot to strike the ground 45 times or better. At the beginning of this cadence experiment, I was right at 45. Now I routinely hit 48 and 47.

I'm getting faster.

But I'm also getting stronger.

These days my workouts are in part gearing me up for the Miami Half Marathon in late January. But the workouts are also good base and strength building time, if I allow them to be.

The key point here is allowing the workout to be what the workout is for.

A cadence run is much different than a hilly run. On a cadence run, I'm looking for an easy heart rate zone and high leg turnover. On a hilly run, heart rate and pace don't mean a thing. Instead, the run is about building strength, which will make me faster and increase my fitness in different ways than a flat cadence run will.

It's all about understanding the purpose of the workout and going with that flow.

Not every workout is about speed. Not every workout is about hills and climbing. If I find myself getting too caught up in the math, that's a sign I need to stop. The only math I allow myself to do is count -- including, but not limited to, cadence on a the run and laps in the pool, although quite frankly I lose count in the pool so much there probably is little accurate measure of how far I actually do swim most days.

When I allow myself to be present for each workout, thinking only about that session at hand instead of calculating how it will help me reach my half marathon goal or get me through my next half Ironman swim, the training is not only more enjoyable, it's inherently more productive.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Vacation authenticity

The refrigerator was stocked with yogurt and low-fat milk and fruit. Smoothies became the order of breakfast in the morning, which, when  made with a scoop of chocolate protein mix, became the better way to start the day eating on the go.

"Our kitchen is always healthier when you're around," my sister-in-law said to me.

That's much better than the sideways glances and comments about "oh, that weird stuff you eat" which I often get from others in my long-time circle of family and friends.

Last week brought a mix of the newly popular "staycation" and "fauxcation"-- as in taking your time off from work and making it fun without the cost of a traditional vacation. So I packed up my car (including my bike and the stationary trainer) and set off to visit my younger brother and his wife for the week. I would be leaving my house (the fauxcation" part) but once at their house would really just be camping out not doing very much but enjoying time off (the "staycation" part).

The plan had always been to continue training during this week, continuing to prepare for the Miami Half Marathon in January. But sometimes doing your normal routine in a different place is all you need to smile a bit more and make that "normal routine" not seem so routine.

My introduction to workouts in Binghamton began on Monday at a lunchtime swim at the university's recreation center pool. For $5 visitors could use the on-campus facilities. The undergraduate lifeguard thought I was a student myself and with that start to the week, well, how could I have anything but a great time.

The pool was small and slightly crowded and I sacrificed some quality of the workout in order to adjust to my new surroundings, but the swim felt good and the little quirks (like getting gently knocked in the head by a woman who insisted on doing the double backstroke every other length) made me laugh in the water.

Running was also done on campus, which had more than its share of hills, and the new scenery was refreshing. Bike workouts were done in my brother's basement on my stationary trainer, and for a week, singing out loud to my iPod while I clicked up the gears for strength intervals startled the dog instead of my landlord.

My brother returned from the gym one night to announce had completed a new personal best distance on the treadmill while my sister-in-law, who also did a new personal best, asked me some questions.

And the beautiful thing was the nature of my "influence" on two people so very dear in my life.

All three of us joked during the week about "guilt" and "judgement" because, well, there was none. They could have sat home every night eating two bags of chips, a half gallon of ice cream and two liters of soda pop and it would not have mattered one bit to me. They get to manage their own lives.

Just I like get to manage my own.

And managing my own life means training. Managing my own life means eating a certain diet which may be unusual to others but is enjoyable to me.

I don't ask others to follow my exact lifestyle.

My brother and sister-in-law want to be healthy and happy and enjoy doing the types of things which actually make them happy and healthy. Neither of them are signing up to do any triathlons or marathons. Nor are they becoming vegetarians. They have their own lifestyle goals.

But when you start living a life which makes you happy, others notice. We like to be around people who are joyful. We become inspired by them. Sometimes we go so far as to say that we get motivation and courage from other people. But really we don't. Things like motivation and courage and even inspiration are actually inside jobs. What we get from others is a model. What we get from others is joy and love and unconditional acceptance. And being surrounded by that makes us want to live our own best lives, however that may look.

Being authentic isn't just the best way to show up in our own lives, it's the best way we can show up for one another.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com.amymoritz


Review: Beauty Mark

When Diane Isreal set out to make a movie about the definition of beauty in American culture, little did she realize she would have to face her own demons about body image, self worth and ideals of beauty.

An accomplished runner and triathlete, she had her own battles with eating disorders, over-exercising and feelings of self-worth, something unfortunately not unique to the world of athletics.

As she examined cultural definitions of beauty, Isreal discovers that she has to explore her own family story before she can look at the issue more globally.

The result is the documentary Beauty Mark, a movie which strikes a chord with anyone who ever had second thoughts about the way in which they look, anyone who thought the their outsides didn't quite match up with their insides.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I know Diane Isreal, having met her in 2005 at a Women's Quest retreat in Colorado while she was working on the project. And when I saw there was a screening of of the movie at Binghamton University while I was in town visiting my brother and sister-in-law it was high on my priority list.

Isreal began running competitively at 14. She won the Pikes Peak Marathon and after burning out at 26.2 miles, decided to enter triathlons. She was a player on the professional circuit until age 28, when she collapsed from exhaustion in a race. Her body was broken from over training and not eating.

She was a good athlete who could have been great but she was too thin.

Too thin?

Di_harlem Yes. And she wasn't alone in her story. Throughout the movie, she interviews other female athletes who struggled with body image and issues with food. She wasn't the only one who survived only on a Power Bar for lunch and a salad for dinner. Survived that is, until her body finally revolted.

Isreal then examines her own family dynamic -- having a father who drove her to excel at athletics, a mother who was breathtakingly beautiful but suffered from mental illness and an older brother who was sent away when it was clear he was born with developmental issues.

From there, the movie turns toward examining beauty in the media including interviews with The Beauty Myth author Naomi Wolf, New York Times health reporter Jane Brody and Jane Scott, who was in charge of the global research was used as the foundation for the Dove Real Beauty campaign.

What does beauty have to do with athletics?

A whole lot, on a lot of different levels.

But in this documentary, the issue revolves around body image and what individuals believe about their bodies. There is a competitive edge to be gained from being lean and thin, but the line between drive and obsession is easily blurred.

The film ends with no firm conclusions, choosing instead to challenge individuals to define beauty for themselves and to make peace with their own body image. It's a fitting finish since each person needs to find that definition, that comfort level, for him and herself. Just as we can't fit into an industry standard of beauty nor can we all fit into one definition of positive body image.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

The marriage of motherhood and sports

Coverage of the New York City Marathon included lots of references to motherhood and childbirth.

First, there was discussion of pre-race favorite Paula Radcliffe, who previously had won the race just 10 months after giving birth to her daughter, Isla. In fact, Radcliffe said she got through the difficult parts of those 26.2 miles by chanting her mantra "I love Isla."

Then came this year's winner, Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia, who had two children and spent three years away from the elite levels of running while she struggled to get her weight down and her form back.

I found something inspiring in their stories, despite the fact that I'm not a mother myself. They speak to all women, about the power of possibility, about what you can do at any age.

Then I ran across a recent study by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State which said that the media coverage of tennis star Serena Williams' outburst at the U.S. Open reinforced gender norms. You may remember that Williams had, well, a meltdown at the officials during her match with Kim Clijsters Clijsters. Clijsters was making a comeback after nagging injuries and her desire to start a family led her to retire from professional tennis. But pro athletes don't retire, they go into seclusion before a comeback and with her 18-month old daughter Jada watching, Clijsters won her second U.S. Open title.

In media accounts of her outburst, the study found that Williams was more often compared to male athletes but when she was compared to other female athletes, it was predominately in the negative, especially when juxtaposed with Clijsters.

The conclusion of the media survey was that "society needed a Kim Clijsters, a mother and wife who exemplifies our ideals of femininity, to put us at ease after the Williams outburst."

Huh. I never actually thought that the stories of Clijsters and Radcliffe and Tulu reinforced gender stereotypes.

The argument isn't silly.

Women traditionally are supposed to be mothers and take care of their family. That's the societal norm (Whether that plays out in actual real life or not, it's what's expected.) And traditionally, women give up or reduce their career load to have children. Such is the behavior modeled by the few professional female athletes that gain some mainstream media attention. Women retire to have families. The frivolity of a career in sports ends so that you can pursue more nobel goals -- like raising kids.

But there's another side to the motherhood story.

One which doesn't take into account how other women read the coverage.

For so many women, the idea of coming back to sport after having kids is daunting. There is fear and uncertainty of all kinds. For those who were at a certain level, there's fear of not getting back to that level of success. For those who want to star something new, like running, there's a fear of starting something new. For almost all women -- whether married or single, mothers or not -- there's an emotional tug-of-war about taking time for yourself in order to train and compete, and what that time away means for your family and friends.

But modeling good health, modeling setting goals and achieving them, is a valuable lesson to share with the people in your life and particularly powerful when mothers model that for their children. If being an athlete is part of who you are, pushing that identity aside only does a disservice to you and to everyone around you.

What the stories about moms as professional athletes help demonstrate isn't necessarily a reinforcement of the gender norms but a way in which women don't have to sacrifice their own identity entirely. The roles of "mom" and "athlete" aren't mutually exclusive.

Some women take time off to have their children and then return to the elite levels of the sport. (Although some of my media colleagues do tend to characterize childbirth as some sort of injury or illness from which female athletes struggle to recover.) Some retire from the pro ranks but maintain their active lifestyle, continuing in their former training without the pressure of competition or finding a new sport for fun and health.

Is talking about motherhood and female athletes reinforcing a gender norm? Is it empowering to women, particularly mothers, who need a different kind of role model themselves?

The reality probably lies in some shade of gray between the two.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

The Biggest Loser: D.C. style

On election day it was only appropriate that The Biggest Loser took their show on the road to Washington, D.C. for last night's episode. And the setting provided the backdrop for the overall theme -- using the reality show as a platform to help Americans live healthier lives.

"The Biggest Loser is more than a reality show," trainer Jillian Michaels said. "It's a movement and what we;re doing is lobbying people who can help us affect change."

Michaels and fellow trainer Bob Harper along with the remaining contestants got to meet with two members of congress -- Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.).

Daniel shared his story about struggling with weight issues in junior high and high school, holding up a pair of jeans he wore in high school -- a size 54.

"There are a lot of problems with childhood obesity," he told the congresspeople "My grades started falling. I went from 'B's to 'C's and 'D's and then to failing. On top of that, there were self confidence issues and self worth issues. Depression. As that happens the weight continues to go up because of emotional issues."

Jillian spoke about other issues.

"We've seen in the last 50 years obesity rates skyrocket, especially in youth," she said. "As Americans we have no concept of what we're eating, what's in processed foods. We wouldn't imagine that it would be OK for those things to be in our food supply."

There are two issues here.

First is education. It involves more health and wellness education in school and particularly more physical education. Granted, when up against more testing and other standards, gym class seems low on the totem pole, but all the math skills in the world won't help the next generation if they aren't able to physically leave the house.

Second is reforming the food industry -- which is much more complicated and intricate than can be addressed here, let alone in The Biggest Loser. But there is room for companies to make a profit, for regular old junk food to still exist and for healthier choices.

My favorite moments from last night's episodes included Bob and Amanda walking around Washington D.C. talking about avoiding temptations. When you pass an ice cream cart, for example, instead of giving in and having a 200-plus calorie snack, you can, say, pop a five-calorie piece of gum, like, oh, show sponsor Extra Sugar Free Gum.

For the record, under no circumstances will a stick of gum make me not want to eat ice cream. Ever. 

My other favorite moment, I have to admit, was the elimination round. Tracey and Liz were up for elimination and Tracey was the one sent home.

With apologies, frankly, I just didn't like Tracey, for the same reasons the other contestants voted her off. She dove into the game-playing from day one and seemed more concerned with winning than with her health. As if she didn't quite get the bigger picture. The others didn't trust her and so off she went.

"I played the game. No one likes that," she said. "Loving yourself is really hard. I love the new me. She smiles a lot more. She's happier. ... I can do things now that I was scared to even try."

Perhaps she did end up learning the lesson in the end.

Which, for all the ways she annoyed me on the show, still ends up being rather heartwarming. In a way.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

 

Race report: Chestnut Ridge 10K

In theory, it is a pretty run. Colorful with autumn leaves and generally scenic with winding paths and hills of various degrees, Chestnut Ridge Park is a favorite for runners and walkers of all stripes. It's one of the places I routinely run, introduced to it by friends and a place that challenges me every single time.

The loops both inside and outside the park make me stronger.

So why not run the annual Chestnut Ridge 10K this past Saturday? My training called for a long run anyway.

Again, in theory, a good idea.

But waking up to driving rain, wind and a forecast of falling temperatures my thoughts turned to pure dread. Already a bit tired from my first workout of the day, an hour endurance bike ride on the trainer, the prospect of the run was anything but enticing. 

Still, I gathered my gear, deciding to wear a running skirt with a t-shirt and a rain jacket but bringing a pair of rights and a long-sleeved shirt just in case, and drove to The Ridge.

A steady walk-up crowd had 89 runners ready to pay some sort of penance, covering a tough course on a miserable day.

Instead of judging their sanity, however, their presence lifted my spirits. We're all in this miserable mess together. This is not a course on which to worry about time or pace or place. This is a race whose only purpose is to help in training, to make me stronger and perhaps provide some sort of marker of my fitness level.

Once the fall hits, personal records aren't usually the order of the day.

So it was time to change my mindset. Quickly. Like ... right ... now.

Jogging over to the starting line to serve as my warm up, I set my intention. Forget about the weather and the hills. Run for something bigger. Recently I've read several articles about bringing sports, particularly running and soccer, to girls and young women across the globe, mostly in areas affected by poverty and war. Running can provide such a sense of personal power, personal freedom, offering a strength to stand up for yourself and for your own life. I wish every girl and woman could experience this. And because so many can not, even in this country of wealth and opportunity, this race became a privilege for me to run.

My mantra became "no fear." Cliched, perhaps, but it doesn't matter what the words are, only the meaning you hold behind them. No fear is my wish for those women who are in situations which require courage in the honest-to-goodness definition of the word. No fear is my wish for women who might live in better circumstances but still hold themselves back from what they really want to be in their lives. No fear is the way I will approach the infamous hill, Mother, when I reach her around Mile 4.

With my intention and mantra set, the race began -- immediately up hill. My goal was to measure my effort, to keep it steady and hard but not to blow up early and have nothing left for the end. Mother may be the hill that's most talked about, but there are plenty of them all along this course.

Others sprinted past me. And that was fine. I was running my own race, in my own space. And it was hard. And I was loving it.

By the time we hit Mother I could see three people slow to a walk.

The words of my coach echoed in my head, "Seeing other people walk is like crack. Don't give into the crack."

Passing no judgement on their decision to walk, I kept it in my head to keep moving forward. The road was littered with wet leaves, forcing me to take the run a bit more gingerly, a bit more cautious than I probably could have. But I kept my feet running, short steps. Near the top of the hill I heard the melody of a saxophone player belting out "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." He followed that up with the traditional children's folk song "Shortnin' Bread." Both tunes reminded me of my grandmother. Appropriate since I know that fear was a limiting factor in her life, particularly in her later years. Somehow cosmically I knew that she was happy I was fighting through my own fears.

And just like that, Mother was done.

A few rolling hills remained along with more leaf-lined winding pavement. No fear. I cherished the rest of the run. I took it strong. At the end, I nearly held off one woman, but she had more finishing kick to beat me by two seconds. It didn't matter. I made up at least a quarter mile on her to get to that point. And I couldn't have run one second harder.

My final time was 1:04:42 -- about a minute slower than my only other 10K time, which I ran back in July at Tuscarora on a flat course. This signaled to me an improvement in my fitness which meant not only making peace with my "slow" pace but feeling rather good about it.

More important though than any pace or actual running tactic (such as my attempt to run the tangents on the course) was the breakthrough in my mentality.

Bad mood before the race? Banished. It wasn't about getting into some super focused zone or about getting fixated on a finishing time. It was about getting into a good mental place, one where I could enjoy the day and work hard and face my fears and blast through them.

That's the most valuable kind of training -- learning to clear out the mental clutter, forgetting about what everyone else is doing and running your race, living your own life, with no fear.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

NYC Marathon: A lesson in possibilities

There was genuine belief that an American man could break the 27-year drought at the 40th New York City marathon on Sunday.

And that belief turned into reality -- only not with the person everyone expected.

It wasn't Ryan Hall who carried American marathoners back to the front of the pack but Meb Keflezighi who slugged out the win in one of the deepest men's fields in recent history. 

Hall, the 27-year-old who entered as the American favorite, or at least the one with the most buzz, placed fourth.

It was the 34-year Keflezighi who again brought back American marathoning with a dramatic win. He's no stranger to success on the marathon stage, winning a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics -- the first American man to medal since Frank Shorter in 1976. 

That medal helped kick start an improvement in American distance running, one which helped place six American men in the top 10 -- the most since 1979.

But in the last few years, Keflezighi had faded to the background. Many had written off Keflezighi after he ran into injury problems, including a hip problem at last year's Olympic trials which nearly ended his marathon career.

2493855083 Ah, but welcome another marathon lesson in resiliency. Born in Eitrea, a war-torn country in East Africa, his family left the country first for Italy before settling in the United States in 1987. Coming back from difficult circumstances is a skill he grew up with.

"A lot of things you can recover from in life," Keflezighi said in the post-race conference. "So I hope to be an example when the going goes tough, there is a light at the end of the tunnel if you keep your hopes high."

There wasn't another round of redemption for Paula Radcliffe, who suffered from tendonitis in her left knee which left her unable to run for two weeks leading up to the marathon. Radcliffe stayed with the lead pack but over the final few miles faded and ended up with a fourth-place finish as Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia edged out Russian Ludmila Petrova in the final mile for the win.

Just when you think you know who owns the race, the marathon has a way of setting its own idea.

With Radcliffe struggling in the final four miles, Tulu and Petrova slugged it out. And it was Tulu who finished with a strong kick to become the first Ethiopian woman to win the race. It was her second marathon win, her other coming in 2001 in London, and adds to her resume which includes an Olympic gold medals in the 10,000 meters in the 1992 Barcelona Games and in the 2000 Sydney Games.

But for the past three years, after giving birth to her second child, she hasn't been a factor on the international running scene.

At 37 and the mother of two, her win on Sunday is a testament to cultivating a spirit of perseverance.

"During that time [after having her second child], I struggled a great deal even to lose weight and to regain my endurance," Tulu said after the race. "I had gained up to 18 kilos [around 39 pounds] and it took me a great deal of time to lose that weight. Although I have not had any good results during that time, I have never stopped training.

"Now that I'm much older, a mother of two, and I've been out of the sport for some time, accomplishing this tells me what is possible at any age. If you work at it, if you're determined, you can be a good competitor." 

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish on Twitter at
www.twitter.com/amymoritz

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