For Zersenay Tadese, perhaps more than any other athlete who will line up for Monday’s Boston Marathon, the 26.2-mile distance continues to prove the ultimate test of patience.
Tadese, 33, has been one of the best distance runners in the world for over a decade now, with a World Cross Country title, World Half Marathon title and Olympic 10,000m bronze medal to his name. However, for all his achievements, the ability to master the marathon is the one thing that continues to elude his grasp.
Make no mistake, though, Tadese is reaching – stretching the limits of his durability in a bid to finally grasp world class marathoner status. So far, though, he has only been a shadow of his shorter-distance self whenever he has tackled the distance.
In 2010, he finished a distant 7th in the London Marathon, running 2:12:03. Having not taken on anything but water throughout the race, he found his energy tank hitting the red zone long before he reached the finish on the Mall.
Three years later, he finished a lowly 14th in London in 2:10:41. In Chicago, two years ago, he didn’t even reach the finish, his race disintegrating swiftly after being forced to take a number of pit stops in the opening miles due to stomach problems.
He has so far run four marathons and Monday’s race, his fifth, will be first time tackling Boston. Tadese is confident that this time, things will be different. “I have prepared well,” he says, “better than any marathon ever.”
Since November, famed Italian coach Renato Canova has been coaching the elf-sized Eritrean, trying to convert his turbo engine – which has taken him to PB’s of 26:37 for 10,000m and 58:23 for the half marathon – into more of an efficient, slow-burning marathon machine.
It’s taken an absurd amount of work, and indeed an absurd amount of miles, but Tadese is enjoying the process. “He’s nice,” says Tadese about coach Canova, who took over the reigns from Jeronimo Bravo, the Spaniard who had coached the Eritrean for many years before.
“I’ve been running 250 to 300km [155 to 186 miles] per week,” said Tadese, through his agent and interpreter Julia Garcia. Most of those miles have been logged at 2,300m altitude in Asmara, the Eritrean capital, alongside a group of other elite countrymen including Samuel Tsegay and Teklemariam Mehdin, who have different coaches but regularly join forces with Tadese for group workouts.
“The marathon is so different,” he says. “The training is so different to when you’re training for 10,000m or half marathon, but I have done many kilometres.”
On Monday, his plan is to put all that mileage to good use; Tadese plans to go with the leaders for as long as his body allows, and hopefully wind up on the podium for the first time in a marathon. It’s somewhere he’s used to being when it came to cross country, 10Ks, half marathons, but every time he’s tried to get there in the marathon, so far at least, he’s been reduced to an also-ran.
He hopes Boston, with its undulating course – something like a 26.2-mile cross country race on the road – will play to his strengths. “I feel it’s perfect for a cross country runner,” he says. “In the past many cross country runners got good results here.”
Tadese has also ensured to repeatedly practise taking on energy drinks in training, something that should help him combat the depletion he faced in his first two marathons. He’ll find out on Monday whether the change in preparation has paid off.
Beyond Boston, Tadese wouldn’t be drawn on whether he’ll return to two of his old favourites, the 10,000m and cross country, though much of that may depend on Monday’s race. For now, the marathon is all he’s thinking about, and it will likely stay that way up until the 2016 Olympics.
To get there, though, and to turn himself into a medal contender, he needs a good run in Boston. So far, the marathon experiment has been one that always ended in a combination of confusion and disappointment, but if there’s one thing the marathoner requires to succeed, it’s patience.
For Zersenay Tadese, though, he’s getting a little tired of waiting. The time is now.
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