The pair will take part in a relay at this weekend’s race in the Czech capital.
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PRAGUE — Ingrid Kristiansen spent Thursday afternoon with a paper map in hand, walking the cobblestone streets of this capital city, admiring its Bohemian architecture and soaking in all of its medieval charm.
On Sunday, the former world record holder in the 5000m, 10,000m, and marathon plans on doing more of the same, but only at a slightly brisker pace as she leads off a RunCzech relay team assembled to celebrate the 20th running of the Volkswagen Prague Marathon.
“I am looking forward to seeing the Prague Marathon from behind,” said the Norwegian, whose last race in Prague was the 3000m at the 1979 European Track Championships. “It is always nice to be in a beautiful city and look around.”
Kristiansen will run the opening 10K of the marathon before handing off to Robert Stefko, a retired Czech runner with a marathon PB of 2:09:53 from the 1998 London Marathon, who will cover the second 10K. Versatile teen Anezka Drahotova, the top Czech female finisher in last month’s Prague Half Marathon and a bronze medalist in last weekend’s IAAF Race Walk World Cup Junior 10K race in China, will cover the third 10K before ceding to anchor Elana Meyer of South Africa, the 1992 Olympic 10,000m silver medalist and four-time half marathon world record holder, for the final 12K.
But don’t expect the bookend icons to throw down anything resembling what they were capable of in their prime. Both women have left their speedier days in the past.
“It is hard to say,” Kristiansen, whose road 10K PR is 30:59, said of her current form. “Of course I am training almost every day because my work is training people, but I never go fast anymore. Every day I am jogging, walking, biking so I am in OK shape, but I am not in any condition to run fast for a 10K. I ran a 10K this fall in 41 minutes. I’m not so good anymore (laughs).”
Added the 47-year-old Meyer, “I still run but it’s mainly for fitness and sanity. I don’t miss the competition.”
Kristiansen, who still exercises between one and four hours every day, said the biggest difference in her training as a 58-year-old is that she pushes when her body feels good, and when it doesn’t she just stops. Nevertheless, she feels like she could still complete a marathon—with one caveat.
“I cannot run fast,” she said. “I could finish in a little bit more than three hours. 3:20, 3:15 maybe.”
Kristiansen both marvels at and questions the safety of the performances by her one-time rival and fellow women’s distance running pioneer Joan Benoit Samuelson.
Last month the 56-year-old Samuelson won the 55-59 age group division of the Boston Marathon in 2:52:10. It was the latest in a string of unworldly times run by someone of Samuelson’s advanced age and mileage. In 2008, she finished the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Boston in 2:49:08 at age 50. She followed that up with a 2:49:09 in New York City in 2009, a 2:47:50 in Chicago in 2010, a 2:51:29 in Boston in 2011, and a 2:50:29 in Boston and a 2:57:13 in New York City in 2013.
“I hope she is doing it for fun,” Kristiansen said. “I think that running a marathon that fast at almost the age of 60—she is one year younger than me—is not healthy. Sorry, but I don’t think that’s healthy. I think it’s more healthy to go out and run and have fun without pushing. Of course, I think she loves to run and maybe her knees and everything aren’t getting worn down.”
Clearly Samuelson has not lost the competitive desire and willingness to push her body to its limits in the same way that Kristiansen and Meyer have.
“I lost that after having my third kid,” Kristiansen said. “It was so hard to come back. I tried but I wasn’t willing to push myself so hard, especially in the competitions. I could go and train hard but when I had a competition I felt like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I will never run as fast as I did before so why not keep smiling and start jogging? That was more my way of doing it.”
Meyer too said that after nearly three decades of elite competition she saw no need in continuing to punish her body.
“I started running when I was 9 or 10 years old,” she explained. “Initially, I was inspired by Nadia Comenechi’s perfect-10 gymnastic performance. When I was little, I just wanted to be a gymnast but I come from a very small town and we didn’t have gymnastic coaches and equipment so they sponsored a fun run at my school. I did well in the fun run and I fell in love with the sport.
“In South Africa, myself and Zola Budd are the same age, so when I was 12 or 13 years old I was running against her and she was world class at that point. At the age of 14 she ran like 4:08 for 1500 meters. I ran 4:18, so I ran well but was far behind. For many years I kept narrowing the gap between me and Zola and then she got the opportunity to go to the Olympics in 1984 because she had a British grandfather. But in South Africa, we couldn’t compete.
“So when I retired in 2005, it was after 20, 30 years of running,” Meyer continued. “I had exhausted all of my competitive juices. I always raced, like Ingrid did, hard from the gun. When I finished running, I had two kids in my 40s, plus I headed up a foundation. So I put all of the energy that had previously gone into running into the business of running.”
With running no longer a priority in her life, Meyer said she is able to enjoy the endeavors she was passionate about but couldn’t risk doing while competing as an elite.
“When I finished running, I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and then I went to base camp at Everest and two years ago I did this eight-day mountain bike race where you go over 120K a day over mountains around Cape Town,” she said.
But Meyer hasn’t totally given up on running exploits.
“I still want to do the two Ultras in South Africa, Two Oceans and Comrades, which is 90K,” she said. “In South Africa, they don’t consider you a runner until you’ve run Comrades so I guess I’m not a serious runner.”