How to run a marathon – really fast!

Esther Lofgren emerged from inauspicious athletic beginnings as a basketball and volleyball benchwarmer to become a four-time World Champion and 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist in rowing. After the Olympics last year, she entered her first marathon on a bit of a whim, and ended up finishing third among women and winning her age group, as well as qualifying for the 2014 Boston Marathon. The Harvard graduate shares her training, racing, running, and life on her blog, Harder.Better.Faster.Stronger, which is also featured on The Huffington Post.
(All photos courtesy of Esther Lofgren)

My cousin, Byron Plapp, was diagnosed this past fall with T-Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, a highly aggressive blood cancer. I joined the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training to support Byron’s fight to recovery and to raise money and awareness for cancer cures!

GT: What are your best 3 tips for speed for a long distance event?

First, steady! My coach always says, “Breathe from the beginning the way you will want to be breathing when it is the toughest.” Second, little goals! I make it my goal to hold my target pace for the next mile, and when that’s daunting, for the next straight stretch or even to the next tree or lightpost. Third, mantras! Usually I have a song lyric or idea in my head that I repeat when I need to dig deep–anything from Lady Gaga’s “(I’m on the) Edge of Glory” to “Worth It” to “We’re in this Together”.


GT: You’re an Olympic Gold Medalist rower, not the ‘typical’ runner type (small and lean). What do you attribute your awesome speed at the marathon distance to?

You’re right–I’m a big woman (6’2″, 170), but the advantage of rowing is that, as a strength-endurance sport, I have great aerobic capacity–rowers have the biggest recorded lung capacities and VO2Max-es of any sport–as well as the strength to move my own body weight. More than that, though, rowing builds mental toughness like nothing else, and has taught me that if I can push through the urge to slow down or quit–that’s usually when amazing things happen!


GT: Who’d you love to have dinner with and learn from (person can be dead or alive)?

As a runner? Emil Zátopek, the innovative and incredibly tough triple-gold-medalist from the 1952 Olympics. Of all time? Abraham Lincoln would be way up there. I would listen the whole time, except to make sure to work into the conversation that he would probably be an excellent runner and rower and should give both a try.


GT: What magazine do you love to read on vacation (or for on-the-airplane reading)?

I actually love to read Men’s Fitness and Men’s Health. They have all these cool gadgets, great recipes, and interesting running and lifting workouts to try. Bonus: it’s also filled with smoking hot guys! 🙂


GT: What is your favorite post-run and pre-run snack/meal?

Post-run: if it’s fall, winter, or spring, chocolate milk. If it’s summer, a nice, cool smoothie with berries, banana, kale, and wheat grass!

Pre-run: I like small, simple things that sit well, like a bar or banana. One of my favorites is the Just Great Stuff Organic Fruit & Veggie Bar from Betty Lou’s. It is 100% high-quality fruit, veggie and nut ingredients, yet manages to both sit well and taste amazing. Oh, and a nice big glass of water!


GT: What is your next big personal athletic challenge?

I’m gearing up for selection to try to make the 2013 World Championship team for rowing (we have a World Championship every year, and then the Olympics every four years). I’ve won four of my five World Championship and Olympic golds in the eight-person boat, and this year I’m trying a new challenge: going for gold in a four-person boat, the women’s quadruple sculls!


GT: What would you tell your younger (16-year-old) self if you could?


You’re tougher than you think. Dare to dream big! …And stand up straight!

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