At this year’s Boston Marathon Expo, interactive running software vendor Outside Interactive is sponsoring two attempts to set a world record for a marathon run on a treadmill.
At noon on Saturday, Michael Wardian, a three-time Olympic trials qualifier and three-time US 50K champion, will be trying to get the men’s record back. Wardian’s time of 2:23:58, set in 2004, was surpassed by Eric Blake, who ran 2:21:40 in 2006 at Malibu Fitness in Farmington, Conn.
Then on Sunday at noon, Kim Duclos, a 2:38 marathoner on the roads, will be looking to set an official record for women. Duclos holds the women’s record at the Hyannis Marathon. She’s also qualified for the Olympic Trials and she’s been the top American finisher at the L.A. Marathon. There’s no current official woman’s record, though NASA astronaut Sunita Williams ran a 4:24 in orbit strapped to a treadmill with a bungee cord as an official entrant of the 2007 Boston Marathon.
Outside Interactive sells Virtual Runner, an interactive video/software package that uses high quality videos shot from a runner’s vantage point to allow people to run famous or scenic courses on their treadmill at their own pace. Company founder Gary McNamee was out for a run, trying to think of something Outside Interactive could use “to try and rise above the din of the powers of Nike and Adidas” at their Boston Marathon expo booth. He decided to bring in elite runners to try and break the treadmill marathon records.
Wardian has his work cut out for him. In a 2008 bid to regain the record, he was on pace through mile 24, but that attempt ended early, with a trip to the hospital for an IV. This time he’s curtailed his usual busy racing schedule to prepare, though cutting back is relative for Wardian. Limiting himself to the Two Oceans Marathon in South Africa (a 56K) the week before the marathon qualifies as “a little lighter schedule than normal”.
Duclos registered for the Martian Marathon in Michigan before McNamee asked her to run the treadmill marathon. She decided to compete in both events, even though Martian is the day before her run at the expo. “Martian will be a “comeback” marathon and I’d like to see what I can do. The treadmill will be a first of its kind. So, I’m not sure what to expect there either. I know I can handle that many miles in 2 days easily and I’m actually really curious what I can accomplish despite some people thinking it’s nuts.”
The challenges of a race on a treadmill are different from those in a road race. A runner trying for a record can set the treadmill to a specific pace and let it carry them along, but a treadmill is relentless. If the pace is too fast, runners can easily be carried along past the point of exhaustion. “Just because someone’s a very good runner, that doesn’t mean that translates well over to the treadmill,” says McNamee.
Wardian needs to run at a 5:22/5:25 minute per mile pace for the record. He says, “I will probably adjust the pace a little during the course of the run but I hope to have it at a single pace for much of the event and then pick it up when and if I can.”
According to “The Book of Alternative Records”, the organization that certifies treadmill marathon records, Duclos has to run a sub-three hour marathon for her run to qualify. She says, “I’d like to be somewhere in the 2:50s. I’ll probably start of slower for a few miles and ease in to a faster pace as I get going and warm up more. Then, in the last 5K or so see if I can drop the pace down some more. I’m sure I’ll go up and down in the middle too as I need to eat, drink and take miles at whatever pace is feeling right at the time. I’m not going to go out like a maniac on some PR pace and try to hang on.”
Both runners are looking forward to running in front of the crowds at the expo. “I don’t mind being on display and it will be nice for my wife, Jennifer and our boy, Pierce and Grant as they can see me whenever they want,” says Wardian. Duclos, “can’t stand crowds typically but I also get bored easily and lonely on some runs lately. I learned what it’s like to really have a running buddy that can get me through anything. So, I’m hoping the crowd will be my running buddy for a while.”
McNamee has been working hard to get ready for the event. In addition to finding runners, he’s had to recruit two officials to monitor the record attempt, arrange to have the whole thing videotaped, ship in a specially-configured, calibrated treadmill, and fill out all the appropriate forms. “The guidelines for this are very, very stringent. I didn’t realize this going in. It’s become quite a chore.”
The runners are taking the event seriously, but they both see the lighter side too. Duclos says, “To keep training fun, I don’t take anything really seriously.” Wardian, who’s also the world record holder for fastest marathon while wearing a super-hero costume, says events like this show people, “it doesn’t all have to be super serious all the time and it’s fun to be able to go out and do these things and to have a little fun with it.”
Both runners will be using Outside Interactive’s “Hopkinton to Boston 26.2 Mile Run” package during their race. Spectators who drop by booth #210 at the expo will be able to follow their progress along the virtual Boston course as Duclos and Wardian try for the records. By the time the rest of the runners toe the line in Hopkinton, we’ll know whether they were successful.
Treadmill Marathon, The Book of Alternative Records
Kelly Young, “Astronaut completes Marathon in Space”, New Scientist
Dan Steinberg, “Local Man Fails to Set World Treadmill Record”, D.C. Sports Bog
Ray Charbonneau, “Michael Wardian interview”, Y42K?
All quotes are from personal interviews with the principals