The world champion speed skater ditches the ice for the road this Sunday in New York City.
Written by: Cielestia Calbay
This piece appears in the November issue of Competitor Magazine.
Apolo Anton Ohno has never backed out of a challenge. Out of all the Subway-endorsed athletes challenged by Jared Fogle to run a marathon, he was the only one who stepped up to the start line.
The 29-year-old is best known for his record-breaking heroics on the ice in short track speed skating—he’s racked up eight Olympic medals, making him the most decorated American winter Olympian of all time. On Sunday, he’ll test the limits of his endurance in his 26.2-mile debut at the ING New York City Marathon. He hopes to finish in three hours and 30 minutes.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and I still don’t know how long 26.2 miles is. But I‘ve always wanted to run a marathon and the training for it has given me the ability to take on a sport I’ve never done before,” said Ohno.
For some, a full marathon can last as long as four to six hours. Ohno’s longest speed skating race? Two-and-a-half minutes.
“As a speed skater, there’s an impression that the better you are at running, the less power you have on the ice, so making the transition has been a totally different animal,” said Ohno.
Preparing for 26.2 miles has meant leaving behind his aggressive, go-as-hard-as-you-can speed skating mentality and embracing a plan that would take him from a white-fiber athlete once focused on ballistic intervals to a red-fiber athlete who can endure long-distance races.
“More than half of the battle has been what I put into my body. My caloric intake is much higher, and I’m eating more of the right fats, fiber and carbs,” said Ohno, who loves fueling up with coconut oil and avocado.
He admits he’s not the greatest runner and even remembers how sore he felt after his first 20-miler.
“I’ve learned your body has to get used to running on the pavement, getting your joints and ligaments used to that kind of pounding,” said Ohno. “This isn’t a sprint— it’s about cadence, pacing and a slow-burning pain that doesn’t seem to go away. I’ve strangely become addicted to it!”
His training has also focused on transforming his form from a focus on a lower body-dominant build that specialized in making low left turns to the upright poise of a long distance runner who uses his entire body to propel himself forward.
To achieve the symmetry trainer Todd Rushworth felt was lacking from his body, Ohno completed upper body strength routines in addition to drills, tempo runs and cross-training swims.
“My legs are about 35 percent smaller than they used to be,” said Ohno. “Changing the way my body looks and its mechanics has been amazing. Running gives me so much clarity. It’s a whole new mentality and I’m hoping this will inspire people to run their first marathon.”
Rushworth says he has to remind Ohno that it’s OK to rest. “He isn’t used to the fact that marathoners need to recover to be more efficient because he’s always performed at 110 percent,” said Rushworth.
Prior to training for the marathon, Ohno’s longest run was 11 miles. Come race day, he will have logged nearly 800 miles.
Despite years of training at an elite speed skater level, Ohno says nothing has been easy, especially with his busy schedule, which forces him to travel 24 days out of the month. Outside of training, Ohno is busy with endeavors in the health, fitness and entertainment industries, and is also involved with motivational speaking and strategic planning for corporations.
“You really have to plan, put the miles in and know that setting small goals along the way is the key to success. You can’t just play catch-up,” said Ohno.
When he toes the line in New York, he says it will be a nostalgic experience. “It’s one of the greatest cities in the world and that’s why the race is going to be incredible. Just the idea of shutting down a city and knowing people will be out there cheering— it’s very much like the Olympics,” said Ohno.
As for competing in his fourth Olympics in 2014, he stops short of actually saying he’s retiring from the sport that made him famous. He says he’ll definitely make appearances at the 2012 summer and 2014 winter games; it’s just a matter of whether he’ll have his skates with him or not.
Until then, fans can look for him on the streets of New York City this Sunday.
Editor’s Note: Ohno finished the ING New York City Marathon in 3 hours, 25 minutes and 14 seconds.