May 7, 2011

Doug Hawley: Running is often no day at the beach


— Many runners from this area enjoy traveling to beaches where they can run. There is something special about running on the sand and soaking up the rays, particularly with moderate temperatures.

That was my plan on an excursion last week for several days to the west coast Florida community of Pensacola. Navarre Beach lay only 20 minutes or so away.

Herb Elliott from Australia, a world record holder during the 1950s in the mile run at 3 minutes and 54 seconds, gave much credit to running up and down sand dunes. His hard-nosed coach, Percy Cerutty, monitored the workouts.

With that bit of history in mind, what could be so difficult about running on a flat beach? Plenty as it turned out.

A few yards into activity, the extremely soft sand brought me to my knees. So much for that plan.

There was Herb Elliott. Then the rest of us.

Realistically Navarre Beach served better to walk and sunbathe. Running action? That came on a paved running-walking track across the road.

That beach, which features houses and not commercial activity, was so sparsely populated that you could have started a nudist colony there. Trust me, I had no plans to be a charter member.

When schools get out in the next month, there will be many more people on the beach and the area.

(For those who have not flown on a commercial airplane in a long time, beware of materials in your belongings. My sin while trying to get through the Atlanta airport was having a large aerosol can of hair spray.

Concerned about making the flight on time, I agreed to throw out the can. At the beach, I had no plans to attend a royal ball anyway.

• Marathon running has become an obsession for many common people. Something can be said for anybody who completes 26.2 miles via their feet.

When people hear times of big-time distance racing champions, they often fail to comprehend the speed.

Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya recently set the all-time marathon record of two hours, three minutes and 2 seconds at Boston. He averaged an amazing four minutes and 41 seconds per mile over hill and dale — a rate that elcipses many high school mile runners on flat tracks.

Mutai did not earn the official world mark because Boston is a point-to-point route from Hopkinton to downtown Boston. There always is the concern of a tail wind and supposedly more downhills.

From having run that event five times from 1976-81, there is nothing easy about the course. Heartbreak Hill, which actually is a series of hills from 17 to 21 miles, has tested the most durable runners over the years.

Some astute observer said long ago that there should be no official world records for road races. Terrain varies too much from race to race.

This is unlike track, which does provide flat surfaces — no matter whether you are in the United States or China.

Doug Hawley has been a competitive distance runner for more than 50 years. Write to him at dhawley@optilink.us.