To Catch A Marathon Cheat

Rochelle Yang started marathon training two years ago, working her runs into her hectic schedule as a full-time pharmacy student at the University of Iowa. She trained year-round, putting up with snow, sleet, and regular sub-freezing temperatures. Sometimes, it was hard fitting in runs into her day. After a 12-hour day of classes, studying, and working a part-time job, she’d get home at 7 PM, have a quick snack, and then bang out somewhere between 7 and 13 miles, sometimes on less than 5 hours of sleep.

“I’ll be honest,” Yang wrote to me via email, “there were many days I hated running” (although she did add a smiley to the end of that sentence).

She dreamed of running in the Boston Marathon someday, but didn’t think she’d hit the qualifying time in the near future. Her goal for the first marathon she ran, in June 2015, was simply to finish without stopping or walking. She finished in 3 hours 50 minutes, only 15 minutes shy of hitting the Boston qualifier time, commonly referred to as “BQ.” For the next four months, she trained hard trying to shave those 15 minutes off her time.

Read More: Running to Narnia: The Quest for the Two-Hour Marathon

At the IMT Des Moines Marathon in October 2015, Yang pushed herself, particularly in the last four miles, to hit BQ, which is 3 hours 35 minutes for her age group. “I remember thinking I would be okay with everything in my life going wrong for the next year if I could just beat the 3:35 pacer to the finish.”

Yang crossed the finish line, exhausted and numb. Once she regained a modicum of wind, Yang called her parents, fighting to catch her breath and holding back tears at the same time, which, she remembers, made her sound like she was injured. Her parents asked if they needed to call an ambulance. Finally, she got the words out so they could understand.

“Dad, I just qualified for Boston!” She ran 3:32:51, or BQ-2:09.

Yang at the Newport News One City marathon in Virginia.

Yang wasn’t automatically invited to run in Boston even thought she ran a fast enough time to qualify. Every year, more runners apply for Boston with BQ times than the race has slots. So they take applications on a rolling basis, accepting the fastest runners first and working their way backwards. Usually, all the slots are filled somewhere in the final group—between BQ-5 and BQ—but nobody knows exactly where the cutoff will be until the announcements go out. For the application period that ended just before Yang ran in Des Moines, the cutoff was BQ-2:28, 19 seconds faster than Yang’s time. It would be close.

Yang put in so much work to BQ that it never even crossed her mind that some people don’t put in the work. Some people cheat.

Derek Murphy started Marathon Investigation as “kind of an afterthought.” He followed the stories of notorious alleged marathon cheaters like Mike Rossi and Kip Litton on the forums, but didn’t post much. Still, he realized the reason they aroused suspicion and got caught was because they publicized their fabricated accomplishments, attracting attention. After following Rossi’s case closely, Murphy wondered, “How many more people are like this guy but we don’t know about because they don’t put themselves out there?”

A business analyst in Cincinnati with a wife and two kids, Murphy downloads race results and looks for anomalies. For the Boston Marathon, bib numbers are assigned in sequential order, so the earlier you get accepted—and, therefore, the faster time you have—the lower the bib number. Based on this, Murphy can roughly predict what time that runner ought to run in Boston if they qualified honestly. If a runner is far off his or her predicted time, Murphy flags it.

From that list, Murphy looks at the mat times, which, using a digital chip in the race bibs, logs a runner’s splits every time they cross a mat at certain mile markers. From here, Murphy can spot issues quickly. If Murphy finds several missed mats in conjunction with impossible splits, such as a runner increasing their pace significantly over the second half of the race, they probably cut the course.

All in all, it takes Murphy about 30 minutes from the time he gets the data set to when he has a list of people who almost certainly cheated. From there, he researches their qualifying times and races, looking at photos, split times, and communicating with race directors on individual cases.

These methods are not all that different from those employed by LetsRun forum sleuths. Those threads—hotly investigating claimed athletic feats—have been some of LetsRun’s most popular, according to the site’s co-founder Weldon Johnson. Rossi, for example, gained international fame after the principal at his kid’s school sent him a letter about the child’s unexcused absences surrounding the 2015 Boston Marathon, in which Rossi ran. Rossi posted a snarky reply to Facebook, touting his personal accomplishments in qualifying for Boston. “They watched their father overcome, injury, bad weather, the death of a loved one and many other obstacles to achieve an important personal goal.” The Facebook post went viral and got him immense media attention.

But LetsRun’s forums uncovered what they believed to be conclusive evidence that Rossi cut the course in his qualifying race, and that he should have never been allowed to run in Boston. Rossi has denied that he cheated in the race, and Lehigh Valley Marathon race officials did not disqualify him after the fact despite LetsRun’s evidence.

More recently, a man named Robert Young tried set the record for fastest time running across America, but fell short amidst suspicions he was fabricating his efforts.

In the Rossi and Young situations, Johnson said, the threads were likely so popular because both runners insisted they were innocent. Young’s feat was under suspicion in real time, so there were always new developments for the message board to discuss. Most of the other cheating threads tend to be shorter-lived. “But,” Johnson added, “people are amazed at the sleuthing ability of some of our posters.” Indeed, these threads involve hundreds if not thousands of intense runners with finely-tuned bullshit detectors, all doing their own smaller version of Murphy’s marathon investigations.

Sometimes, commenters on Murphy’s site or in the LetsRun forums wonder why someone would cheat in a marathon, the ultimate individual sport. But that’s just one side of the question. After all, if running is such an individual sport, why would anyone spend so much time trying to catch them?

“For serious runners, race day is sacred,” Matt Taylor, Founder and CEO of running apparel company Tracksmith and former head of global marketing for running at Puma told me over the phone. This is in contrast to what he called the “health and wellness movement” over the last decade or so, which encourages people to be active, raise money for charity, and jog in goofy costumes where everyone gets a finisher’s medal. “I think that’s rubbed serious runners a bit the wrong way because it’s something we’ve always held as sacred.”

So is the sleuthing and outing of cheaters a way to re-claim their territory? Taylor thought it was possible, but allowed that it’s only part of the explanation. Particularly in the Rossi and Young cases, these guys were publicly bragging about their accomplishments, using social media to promote themselves. (He also emphasized that he doesn’t much care what other people do and doesn’t “want to be lumped in with people losing their shit over this.”)

Social media and modern technology function as a double-edged sword. The tweets and Facebook posts people put up of finisher’s medals they might not have earned taunt serious runners to out them. And the message boards, digital time mats, and race photos make it possible for it to happen in a matter of minutes.

But the main reason marathon cheats likely incite so much outrage in the running community is because cheating violates the very essence of the sport down to its philosophical core. As LetsRun’s co-founder Johnson explained, “Running in its purest form is not a battle for external recognition but a battle within ourselves. Cheating changes this and is such an affront to the sport, that people spend a lot of time combating this. Many hard-core runners can’t fathom why a runner would cheat in a race, so they go to great lengths to expose them.”

This is, more or less, why Murphy spends many of his nights sorting through spreadsheets and looking at marathon photos of people he’s never met. He also hopes it serves as a deterrent for anyone else who might course-cut their way to Boston. But there’s an even simpler reason why he does it.

Murphy has run in 10 marathons himself, but his last one was eight years ago. Then, he had kids. He doesn’t have the time or energy for training anymore. But, he still cares about running and considers himself a part of the community. Catching cheaters is his way of contributing now that he no longer participates. Also, spreadsheets and data analysis are his thing. He’s good at it.

We’re not saying any of these people cheated, but statistically speaking, one of them might have. Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Murphy first wrote about Jeff and Sheri Donnelly in April. According to Murphy’s research, Jeff ran the Boston Marathon four times: 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015. Jeff qualified for 2015 with a time of 3:27:49 at the Desert Classic in Arizona, but ran a 4:28:04 in Boston, a full hour slower. Or, to put it another way, he qualified with a 7:55-per-mile pace but ran Boston at a 10:13 pace.

The Desert Classic didn’t have mats, but Murphy looked up photos from the race, which occurred at the same time as a half-marathon. Both the half and full marathons were out-and-back loops. Jeff was photographed racing next to a 2 hour 30 minute half-marathoner towards the middle of the race, which doesn’t make any sense. Jeff clocked a full marathon in only an additional hour.

His wife, Sheri, ran in the same race. She signed up for the full marathon, but the organizers dropped her to the half-marathoners because her time—identical to her husband’s—would have meant she was the first female to finish, but they knew she wasn’t.

In late 2015, Jeff and Sheri ran the Surfer’s Point Marathon in Santa Barbara, CA, a two-loop marathon rife with course-cutting opportunities. Murphy found that Jeff wore a blue shirt over a green shirt for part of the race, but switched them at some point; a typical move for course-cutters in order not to be recognized by other runners.

Both Jeff and Sheri—who was also busted for course-cutting at the 2015 Big Wildlife Run in Anchorage, AK—ran BQ times at Surfer’s Point and, according to Murphy’s research, registered for Boston 2017, the same race Yang worked so hard to qualify for. Several calls to the Donnelly home were not returned.

Murphy also suspects Sheri ran the 2014 Boston Marathon with her husband despite the fact that she didn’t qualify by using his bib to forge her own, changing his number #5895 to #5855. As Murphy points out, bib #5855 for the 2014 Boston Marathon was a 42 year old male who was photographed throughout the race.

When asked about Murphy’s efforts specific to the Boston Marathon, a spokesman for the Boston Athletic Association, or BAA, told VICE Sports: “We rely on the race organizers and timing systems they employ to produce true and accurate results, and we also rely on the honesty and integrity of 99.99 percent of competitors who compete fairly and strive for their own personal records.”

Murphy couldn’t offer a precise number, but he estimates roughly three to four percent of Boston Marathon runners qualify by cheating. If accurate, this would mean roughly 600 runners out of 30,000 may have lied their way to the marathon.

“For the relatively tiny minority of participants who seek to gain unfair advantages,” the BAA said, “there is sometimes no better method of rule enforcement than from witness accounts and reporting of fellow participants who also believe in a clean sport. And when such transgressions are reported, we trust race directors to fully investigate the matter, and adjudicate their race results if necessary.”

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

After putting together his dossier on the Donnellys, Murphy notified the Surfer’s Point Marathon race organizer, Bill Escobar, who reviewed the evidence and agreed with Murphy’s findings. In September, Escobar disqualified the Donnellys, and notified the BAA that these runners were no longer eligible for Boston.

That same week, Yang didn’t sleep well. She had applied for Boston and was anxiously waiting to hear back. She knew her chances were slim and tried her best to temper expectations, knowing -2:09 wouldn’t have made the cut for the previous year’s Marathon.

On Wednesday, September 28, she got the email. She was the only one in the office, so nobody heard her shout.


She didn’t know it then, but the 2017 Boston Marathon cutoff time for the female 18-34 age group was BQ-2:09, precisely Yang’s time. She straddled the cutoff line, but managed to fall just inside. Yang may have been the last person accepted for Boston 2017.

That day, another runner, via Reddit, brought Murphy’s website to her attention. The Donnellys weren’t the only runners disqualified thanks to Murphy’s work. Yang concluded that, if it wasn’t for him, she might not be in Boston.

Yang wrote Murphy an email, which he then posted to the site. She explained how she was just barely accepted, calling it “the biggest stroke of luck I may ever experience in my life. And I know I would not have gotten in if it weren’t for the investigative work you do!

“You help get illegitimate runners kicked out of Boston so those spots can be filled by runners who have earned them. The time that you’ve put in, the work that you do that maybe feels thankless sometimes–has allowed a young runner to be able to complete her dream and run in her first Boston Marathon. And for that, I cannot thank you enough.”

It’s hard to say whether this conclusion is true. As Murphy wrote in the post, his work doesn’t free up additional slots. A BAA spokesperson confirmed that disqualified runners don’t have their spots filled. Instead, fewer people run.

But, Murphy also uncovered several dozen runners in the year leading up to Boston registration who, without his efforts, could have registered with falsified BQ times. Would those runners have pushed the cutoff to BQ-2:08? It’s impossible to know.

This ambiguity opens the door to different interpretations, and the way runners perceive this dynamic is indicative of how they perceive running itself. You can believe Murphy helped Yang make the cutoff and that cheaters are an affront to everything the sport stands for. But you can also believe Yang will be running in Boston, not because of a business analyst in Cincinnati, but because of herself. She’s running in Boston because, at the IMT Des Moines Marathon, there were 49 turns, six loops, and 175 feet in elevation change. If she had run a single second slower—slowed up to avoid a crowd before pushing through, taken the long angle around a turn, an extra half-beat when grabbing a water at the water station—she wouldn’t be going to Boston, Marathon Investigation or not.

How to Know If You’re Ready to Start Training for a Marathon

There’s nothing like an ambitious goal to focus your training, and running a marathon definitely fits the bill. Plenty of mere mortals have completed the 26.2 mile race, but it takes time, planning, and of course an appropriate level of fitness. Here’s how to know if a marathon is a realistic goal for you.

If You Can Run Three to Five Miles, You’re Fit Enough to Start

Believe it or not, marathons aren’t just for super athletes. A slew of politicians and actors have run marathons. Sean Combs’s goal in 2003 was reportedly to beat Oprah’s 1994 time. Meanwhile, a course at the University of Northern Iowa teaches novices to run a marathon with just a semester of serious training. The people who teach that class published their program as the Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer, and it’s a great guide for anyone who is starting from scratch.

Most beginner marathon programs start with the assumption that you can run two to three miles a few times a week, and that you can handle a five-miler as your first long run. If that’s not where you are, you need to back up and establish a fitness “base” to build on.

A Couch to 5K program is perfect for that starting stage. If you’re new to exercise, do that. While you could jump straight to marathon training after that, most coaches would recommend that you make sure you can maintain that level of fitness for at least a few months first.

If you’re already an athlete, though, an accelerated plan isn’t so farfetched. You have strong muscles and lungs, but running puts some strain on your bones and tendons that other sports don’t. So you don’t need to build fitness; you just have to get used to running. Then you can jump into a training plan.

Training Takes at Least Four Months


Marathon training plans are structured programs that gradually work you up to the challenges of tackling a 26.2 mile race, over the course of four months or so. Even people who have done marathons before will use a structured program for each race season. Nobody stays in marathon shape year-round.

You can find a series of well-respected marathon programs for free at They’re pretty typical of plans you’ll find elsewhere, including the ones built in to training apps like Runkeeper and Nike+ Run Club.

On any program, expect to go running at least four times a week. A typical program has at least three shorter runs, and one long run. When you get close to race day, your runs will get up to 20 miles or more, but you won’t be doing a 20-miler for every run that week—nobody has that kind of time, and it would wreck your body. Instead, you’ll be doing maybe five-milers on the weekdays, and one grueling 20-miler on the weekend. Usually there is also a midweek day where you do either a medium length run, or some other challenge like a day of speedwork or hill running.

That’s a serious time commitment. At a 10 minute per mile pace, the first week of Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 plan adds up to 2.5 hours of running: not too bad. But the peak week, when you do that 20-miler, totals almost seven hours. Fully half of that is a single long run that will eat up your entire Saturday morning.

If this sounds like too much, stick to shorter races. You can train for a half-marathon with far less of a time commitment, or just stick to 5Ks, where you never have to run more than three to five miles unless you really want to.

But if you’re up for the challenge and you’ve cleared your calendar, then there’s no reason not to proceed. It’s time to pick a marathon.

Choose Your Race Before You Start Training


You want your training program to end on race day, so it’s best to sync up your marathon choice with your training schedule. Most cities only have one marathon, so you can take the date or leave it. If you want more options, you may have to travel.

When to sign up depends on which marathon you choose. If you want to run the New York City marathon, for example, you have to apply in January even though the race isn’t until November. The organizers hold a lottery, and you only have a slim chance of getting in: just 23 percent of applicants were accepted in 2016. On the other hand, if you have your eye on the Pittsburgh marathon, all you have to do is fill out a form and pay the fee. In 2016, it didn’t even sell out until three weeks before race day.

This means if you want to run New York, you need to find out whether you got in, and then start thinking about when and how to train. If you don’t get in, you can start looking at other marathons that might be your second or third choice.

On the other hand, with an easier to enter race like Pittsburgh, you can begin your training with the race day in mind, and then not actually pay the registration fee until you are confident that training is going well. The delayed approach would mean missing early bird pricing, but it may be worthwhile if you aren’t feeling confident. Marathon registration refunds can be difficult or impossible to get.

Expect a Physical and Emotional Rollercoaster


The marathon itself is the experience of a lifetime, but the training will feel like a grueling part-time job. You have to show up even when you don’t want to. It takes a ton of time. You will come home sore.

In the process, you will learn to take care of your body. You’ll have to eat well to fuel recovery, and you’ll find yourself sleeping more. If you run with training partners, you’ll get to know them pretty well. If you don’t, you’ll spend a lot of time with your own thoughts.

You’ll give up your Saturday mornings. You’ll miss sleeping in, but you’ll also feel great when you show up to brunch with a fifteen-miler already in the bank. There will be a day when you run farther than you ever have before, and every step beyond that point is a new lifetime accomplishment.

Over the weeks and months, your runs will get longer and longer. About three weeks before the race, you’ll do your last really long run—almost never 26 miles, but more likely 18 or 20 or 22. That’s because long runs are hell on your body, and you need time to recover.

Those last three weeks are called the taper, when you run less and less because you’re letting your body heal and repair so it will be in the best possible shape for race day. Your body will feel great, but your brain may enter a state that runners call “taper crazy.” Did you train enough? What will you do with your newfound free time? Have you overthought your race day outfit yet?

After all that, you will show up for the marathon, you will run the marathon—assuming you didn’t get injured during your training—and you will finish exhilarated and exhausted. That’s when you’ll know it was all worth it.

Illustration by Sam Woolley. Photos via Pexels.

I ran my first half marathon after training for just one month. Here’s why you shouldn’t

The idea of running a half-marathon had been swimming around in my head ever since I completed my first 10-km run in January 2015. I clocked 76 minutes to run 10 km – nowhere near an impressive timing considering the guy who won that race had finished in an absurd 33 minutes or so. But it was an achievement for me, nonetheless, considering I had never run more than five kilometres in my life before that.

A half marathon was still a long way off at that point. I knew that I had to first finish a 10-km run in 60 minutes or less to even think about running 21.097 km. Later that year, in December 2015, I participated in a couple more 10-km runs in Mumbai, but did not manage to better my timing. It wasn’t surprising since I had not trained for them for more than a month prior to the race. Even for a 10-km run, you need to train for at least two months to be able to do decently well. But in spite of my below-average performance, I decided to make it a New Year’s resolution to participate in a half marathon in the next running season, which meant I had about a year to prepare for it.

The preparation (or lack of)

2016 was a busy year for me, both professionally and personally – I was getting married in December. I took some time out to run whenever possible and had some weeks where I exercised at least thrice, but those were few and far between. In August, I came across a post on Facebook where an NGO was offering some charity bibs for the Mumbai Half Marathon on January 15, 2017. What I had to do was pay a flat sum of Rs 17,000 upfront to the charity and then raise that money myself by promoting it. I was never going to qualify for the Mumbai Marathon myself, with my 76-minute 10ks. So, this was the only way I could do it. It was a risk, considering I had six months to train for it, which is not a lot, and there was no guarantee I would raise the complete sum of my donation. But I decided to bite the bullet, telling myself that it would be a good challenge and motivation to run. Plus, I was doing it for a good cause.

I found myself a beginners’ half-marathon training plan online, which was for 20 weeks – perfect for me. I was really motivated and told all my friends and family about it, and they gladly helped me kickstart my fundraising. However, my 20-week training schedule went for a toss after just a fortnight. In mid-October, I went to Thailand with my friends for my bachelor trip. On a quiet beach in Phuket, I vowed to myself that I would restart my training in full vigour once I return home. Six months were now down to three, but better late than never, I thought. As Diwali came and went, I managed to raise nearly half of the Rs 17,000. I also bought myself a book called Run Your Butt Off!, which taught me to set myself weekly running targets. I was back on track…sort of.

Back to square one

However, by the middle of November, I was back to square one again as wedding preparations kicked in. By the end of the month, I was off for a three-week wedding-cum-honeymoon break. When I was back in mid-December, I had just about a month left for the marathon. It was too late to do anything, but I still restarted my running. In the last two weeks before the race, I ran for five kilometres and clocked 10,000 steps almost every weekday, with some help from a daily step-goal challenge between friends. If this was a 5-km run, I would ace it. If it was a 10-km run, I would probably do the same as I had done three times earlier. But this was 21 km and I was nowhere near prepared.

As D-day arrived, my goal was to just finish the race. I had just over three hours to do it. As I left home at an unearthly hour to make it in time for the 5.40 am start, I considered leaving my cell phone behind, lest I got tempted to book an Uber after five kilometres to take me home. In the taxi to the race venue, my best friend, who had run at least a dozen half marathons and had a personal best timing of somewhere around one hour and 45 minutes, sensed my nervousness and told me to take it easy. “I’m sure you’ll complete it,” he said. “I’ve seen people who were lesser prepared than you who have completed it.” That gave me some confidence.

I had already walked more than three kilometres that morning to reach my section of the crowd behind the starting line. There were at least 15,000 participants and I was right at the back along with other first-timers and corporate-sponsored runners. I saw the official pacers with 2h30, 2h40, 2h50 and 3h flags attached to their backs. If I could do 10 km in 76 minutes, or 1h16, I should be able to do 21 km in 2h40, theoretically. Even if I had to factor in fatigue, I thought I would definitely beat that old man who was the 3h pacer.

Waiting for the start
Waiting for the start

The first half

I decided not to follow any of the pacers as I had been advised to run at my own pace and not get influenced by others around me. As the race began, I jogged along at my own leisurely pace, watching the more enthusiastic and prepared runners brush past me. I had a four-hour-long playlist on my phone for company. Let’s do this!

As I ran past the one-km marker, my legs had already begun to ache, but I pushed on. I had set myself a target of running non-stop for at least 20 minutes to start the race before taking a breather. I pushed myself and managed 25 minutes, by when I had knocked off three kilometres. After that, I set myself a target to run for eight minutes and walk for two, and repeat. I managed it twice, before my legs forced me to revise it to six+two. By the time I finished six kilometres, 50 minutes had passed.

The first 10 km of the Mumbai half marathon are all on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and the Worli sea-face. I expected a lot of sea breeze to slap my face and keep the sweat away, but I got no such assistance. I was anyway disappointed that the pleasant winter chill that had set in Mumbai over the last two weeks had suddenly disappeared, conveniently, the night before the race. So, when I crossed the starting line again, which marked the end of the first 10 km of the race, I was hot and exhausted. This was also when the 3h pacer – that old man who I was so sure I would beat – merrily passed me by, even exchanging a few high-fives with some of the full-marathoners who were running in the opposite direction on the other side of the road divider. I almost called an Uber.

The second half

The last half of the race saw me walk most of the way, as each part of my lower body slowly gave in one-by-one. By the 11-km mark, my calves had given in and didn’t allow me to run more than 500 metres. By the time I reached the Haji Ali junction, around 13 km in, my quadriceps had given in, further reducing my running distance to 200 metres. By the time I reached Girgaum Chowpatti, the 16 km mark, my toes started cramping up if I ran even 50 metres. By the time I reached Marine Drive, for the last three kilometres of the race, my hamstrings had given in and I was near crawling.

But I did not stop. Not once. Along the way, I saw many co-participants stop by the side of the road to stretch their legs and arms. I knew that if I did that, I would want to do it more and more. The only place where I stopped momentarily was on Peddar Road, an uphill stretch of about two kilometres, where some race volunteers were giving runners ice packs to apply on their legs. That was bliss.

As I reached the milestone that said I had only the last 200 metres to go, I pushed my body into finishing with a run. It was the most painful 200 metres I had ever run, with every muscle in my legs almost non-existent, but I managed to do it without a break and without collapsing. I had done it. Almost three-and-a-half hours in, but I had done it. Twenty-one kilometres running, jogging, walking, almost crawling, but without stopping. I had kept my New Year’s resolution, even if it was only just.

Do not try this at home

However, even though this was an achievement for me, I would not recommend the way I did it to anyone. The fact is: I was severely under-prepared. I took nearly three-and-a-half hours to finish. The winner took just over an hour. That’s not to say I was targeting to win, but it’s still a difference of two-and-a-half hours. The last 10 km of my half marathon were not fun. I saw ambulances rush past me at least five times. Later, I saw pictures on social media of people being stretchered off after fainting. It could so easily have been me.

My advice: Do not enrol for a half marathon until you can clock 10 km in 60 minutes or less. That’s my New Year’s resolution for this year. And even if you do enrol, please do not leave yourself with just one month to prepare for it. Give it at least six months, proper, if not more. Otherwise, you will not enjoy the experience, which is the whole point behind taking up running in the first place.

5 Pro Tips on Moving Up to Ultras

Ultrarunner/ski mountaineer Meredith Edwards knows a thing or two about going long distances in the mountains. The 32-year-old from Wilson, Wyo., finished second at the 2016 TDS, a 119-kilometer trail race through the heart of the Alps in parts of Italy, Switzerland and France. In 2015, she finished eighth in the 101K CCC race held on similar trails. This year she has her sights set on the 170K Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc on Sept. 1-2. Here are Edwards’ tips on how to successfully jump into ultrarunning.

RELATED: Overcoming the Myths of Ultrarunning

1. Start slow.

“Run 50Ks,” says Edwards, who laments that too many people pick a 50-miler, 100K or even a 100-miler for their first foray into ultrarunning. Take time to build a base over 6 to 8 months, focusing on gradually increasing your weekly long runs runs to 3 to 6 hours in length and on trails, if possible. “I think it’s smart to start slow,” she says, “to build a solid foundation.”

2. Learn to recover.

“If you can’t recover just as hard as you put the effort in, you’re screwed,” says Edwards, who explains the importance of running fast on the days you need to run fast, and on the days that you’re just out putting in mileage, to run a relaxed effort. Edwards says she often runs with heart rate as her gauge, and warns that runners who think they need to be running fast all the time might see success for a month, but often burn out.

3. Get Stronger.

Edwards, who’s proud to say she can deadlift twice her bodyweight and do five conventional weighted pull-ups (with 15 pounds in tow), is a huge proponent of strength training—and full-body movements in particular. The most important thing is building functional strength—by strengthening the muscle groups related to your running motion. “My strength coach always says, ‘Strength equals speed over time.’ You need to be strong to run fast over distance.” Edwards credits her strength training for helping her stay injury-free.

4. Eat. A lot.

Edward’s regular diet is what she calls “as clean as possible,” in other words, free of processed foods. The trend is to reduce carbs and focus more on protein and fat, but she recommends doing what works for you. “When I want bread, I’ll buy a baguette. I don’t limit what I eat.” During ultras, she relies on gels, chews, waffles and soup. And she explains how she and ultrarunner friend Jim Walmsley joke that “ultrarunning is an eating contest. I eat every 30 minutes during a race.” As an added tip, train with whatever fuel you’re going to race with, and if your system doesn’t agree with it, change things up and try again.

5. Break up the week.

Edwards believes in a structured week . She typically fits a track workout, two weight training workouts, two high-mileage days and some recovery runs all into a typical week of training during ultrarunning season. On Mondays, when she does up to 12 miles of speed work on the track, she hits the gym afterward (so the running workout was the emphasis of her week). She returns to the gym on Wednesdays, sometimes before a running effort, like hill repeats on trail. Tuesdays and Thursdays are recovery runs. Fridays and Saturdays are long runs (back-to-back high mileage). Sundays are days off. The formula has worked for her. “I’m at a point where I’m making gains, and not lifting to repair injuries,” she says. “I’m the strongest I’ve ever been, and the fastest I’ve ever been. It’s all kind of come together.”



By Lisa Jhung, Published Jan. 19, 2017,

Inspiring! This Marathoner wants you to break free

Partially paralysed, but with unbreakable will power and determination, Nihad Panju has beaten the odds to become a fitness freak and is all set to run his 4th Mumbai Marathon on Sunday.

The 26 year old tells‘s Norma Godinho he wants to inspire people to believe in themselves and pursue their passions.

Nihad Panju at the 2016 Mumbai Marathon IMAGE: Nihad Panju at the 2016 Mumbai Marathon. Photograph: Kind courtesy Nihad Panju/Facebook

If thought about deeply, a lot of parallels can be drawn between living our lives and running a marathon.

As we grind our way through the journey of life we set ourselves a few goals to attain, and in our attempt to reach those targets we often stumble upon small and big challenges en route — we recognise them, work on them and then fight them.

Running a marathon is based on more or less the same basics — knowing your target, preparing for the run in earnest, setting the pace and completing the race no matter the weather, the track.

It’s the simple principle of mind over matter.

That is the very principle on which Mumbai lad Nihad Panju has based his life — and it is no ordinary life.

This is an extraordinary story of a young man who was left partially paralysed at just 5 months of age, but has not allowed that to hinder his progress in carving a well-rounded personality.

Nihad, who will be running his 4th Half Marathon at the Mumbai Marathon on Sunday, hopes to better his timing — he completed the run in 3 hours, 25 minutes last year.

An ever-smiling face and optimistic in his approach, Nihad reveals how his Marathon journey started: “In 2011, a group from the gym (at the Cricket Club of India where he trains) were training for the 2012 Mumbai Marathon. I was motivated on seeing their dedication. My gym trainer Rustom Warden seeded the idea of long distance running and I decided to give it a shot. His inputs helped and motivated me and I trained for the Half Marathon in the general category.”

Nihad’s story then veers to the part we are more or less aware of regarding society’s treatment of people with disabilities.

“Except for family and friends, most people were discouraging. But determination kept me focussed on my target and I completed the Standard Chartered Mumbai Half Marathon not only in 2012, but also in 2013 and 2016,” the articulate lad says with a hint of pride in his voice.

But getting to this juncture in life, decorated with success and laughter, was not the smoothest ride for the Panjus.

Misfortune struck the family when at 5 months of age, Nihad was diagnosed with TB Meningitis. He had to go through surgery that left him with left-sided Hemiplegia (partial paralysis).

Nihad Panju IMAGE: At the end of four-and-a-half years of following a programme by The Institute for The Achievement of Human Potential, Nihad became ‘physically fit, physiologically stronger than many and intellectually at level with my peers.’ Photograph: Kind courtesy Nihad Panju/Facebook

Nihad’s parents held on to every thread of hope they could and tried every form of conventional/unconventional therapy they heard of, with little or no success.

The Universe Maker then finally smiled on the Panjus when at age 10 Nihad started a programme prescribed by the Philadelphia-based Institute for The Achievement of Human Potential for which he had to be pulled out of school (till the 3rd standard he studied in St Mary’s ICSE, Mazgaon, south Mumbai).

It was a holistic programme covering physical, physiological, nutritional and intellectual aspects which involved diet and respiration.

He was on the programme from age 10 to 14 years and had to be home schooled. Nihad’s mother worked with him on the programme 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week and was permitted no holidays. Those were lonely, painful days of hard work.

But they received solace as Nihad’s health gradually progressed.

“The programme made a huge difference to my condition and at the end of four-and-a-half years I was physically fit, physiologically stronger than many and intellectually at level with my peers,” explains Nihad.

The programme worked wonders such that, at that point he was confident enough to go back to school — he attended the Mercedes Benz International School, Pune, for two years and then completed his IGCSE through the British Council, Bombay and Symbiosis International School, Pune.

Determined to stand on his feet, at age 18, Nihad gained admission to the Raffles Design Institute, Singapore where he lived by himself.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Interactive Multimedia Design and went on to complete a 3-year course at the Raffles campus in Mumbai and then worked in the fields of branding and design.

Nihad, who now assists his father in running a consulting practice, says he owes a lot to the programme, where he also learnt the importance of physical fitness.

Not letting his condition get in his way, Nihad pushed himself to better his fitness and worked with his trainer Rustom Warden at the gym.

Nihad’s regular visits to the gym resulted in a budding friendship with Rustom, under whose guidance he blossomed into a fitness freak.

IMAGE: Nihad Panju, right, and his gym instructor Rustom Warden train at the CCI in Mumbai. Photograph: Kind courtesy Nihad PanjuNihad Panju (right) and his gym instructor Rustom Warden train at the CCI Grounds in MumbaiIMAGE: At the end of four-and-a-half years of following a programme by The Institute for The Achievement of Human Potential, Nihad became ‘physically fit, physiologically stronger than many and intellectually at level with my peers.’ Photograph: Kind courtesy Nihad Panju/Facebook

And Rustom swears by his ward’s grit.

“He has got more confident in the last 7 years. His will power is great. To complete an 18 km run sometimes takes 3 hours. You have to understand that anyone with a brain injury has poor pulmonary function. His breathing is affected substantially, his breathing at rest is like when one is sprinting so you can imagine how it is when he is actually running, that is the determination he has.”

“Everyday is different for him. Running till he’s exhausted. He wants to overexert and I have to keep him on a leash. This is his 7th half marathon (January 2017). It’s phenomenal,” Rustom says in awe.

No physical limitation could stop Nihad from trying a hand at other sports — golf, table tennis and lawn tennis were other sports he dabbled in.

Nihad’s exceptional drive is measured by the pains he had to undergo to become an athlete.

He has had a few accidents in the gym, but his family trusts Rustom.

“I have used Nihad as a guinea pig, experimenting with different methods and techniques. Because of the misalignment in his body I had to try something different. I had to focus on exercises to improve and strengthen his hand, elbow, legs, fingers; often experimenting with various forms of intervention. I had to keep in mind that Nihad uses the right side of his body optimally,” says Rustom.

The gym sessions were good, but Nihad’s potential as a distance runner came to fore when he decided to join the gym members’ running group.

“We planned a 7 km run and I did not expect Nihad to complete it. People around Nihad said he would not be able to do it and that was all he needed to psyche him up,” recalls Rustom.

“Most of the time we go running together and I remember this one time at the Singapore Half Marathon, Nihad was cramping from the 16th kilometre. But I was amazed from where Nihad got this sudden burst of energy and completed the marathon,” the 36-year-old trainer recalls.

Detailing the routines that involve Nihad’s training, Rustom says his will power is infectious and nothing is impossible for Nihad, who has a varied programme every day.

Nihad says he runs 'because it gives me joy and a sense of achievement having beaten stiff odds. I have a passion for running and encouraging others to remain healthy' IMAGE: Nihad says he runs ‘because it gives me joy and a sense of achievement having beaten stiff odds. I have a passion for running and encouraging others to remain healthy.’ Photograph: Kind courtesy Nihad Panju

“He trains and runs so much, some days it takes time for his legs to go back to normal. Boot camps, lunges, push ups, free hand exercises, core exercise, even the plank on one hand, crunches with one hand below his back, squats, squat jumps are things he does without a trouble,” says Rustom.

Wanting to make his life an example unto others, Nihad has run the Standard Chartered Mumbai Half Marathon in 2012, 13, 16, the Auroville (10 kms) Trail Marathon in 2012, the Poona Half marathon in 2013, the Standard Chartered Mumbai Dream Run in 2015, the Standard Chartered Half Marathon Singapore in 2015 and the 10km Adventure Beyond Barriers Run in 2016. Pune Running Beyond Myself – Adventures beyond Barriers – 2016.

An inductee into the Nike Runners Club, he has also run for Cancer Awareness — the Terry Fox Run in 2012 and 2016 in Bombay, The St Jude India Child Care Centre Footsteps 4 Good 2016.

With the physical and other obstacles he has breached, Nihad says, “I run because it gives me joy and a sense of achievement having beaten stiff odds. I have a passion for running and encouraging others to remain healthy.”

Training for the Mumbai Marathon, Nihad runs 10 to 12 km once a week and shorter runs in between. His other methods of preparation includes cross training that involves an outdoor workout thrice a week and core/freehand exercises workouts at the gym twice a week.

Using his love for sport and running as a medium to inspire others, he has started a project called Run Strong which is in its infancy.

Nihad has a simple message, “There are so many people who do not know their potential and limit themselves because of externally imposed limitations. If I can do it, anyone can. Believe in yourself. Everybody is good at something and needs to find his/her own passion. Find, follow and focus on your passion.”

Summing up Nihad’s life and their relationship as a trinity of “God, me and him” working together, Rustom says, “Had Nihad been injury free, no misalignment of his body or had more time to practice, he would easily do the full marathon.”


Norma Godinho /

%d bloggers like this: