Monument Marathon Delivers Small-Town Welcome, Tough Course
Monument Marathon Delivers Small-Town Welcome, Tough Course 1024 726 Fergus Hodgson

The America I Love Shines Through in Gering, Nebraska

Review Sponsor: Pure Water (Discount Code: FERG). I have been using a Pure Water distiller for more than two years, specifically the Mini Classic CT, and I am pleased to recommend these distillers to readers. They are quality US-made products, and distilled water is the cleanest you are going to get.

My first trip to Nebraska did not fail to deliver. The Monument Marathon in Gering—held on September 30 this year—offers what I love in small-town America: community spirit, impressive scenery, diligent organization, a warm welcome, and generosity.

The latter included the most lucrative prize purse I have seen relative to the number of participants, with broader race proceeds going to the Western Nebraska Community College Foundation. (Thank you Platte Valley Companies for sponsoring.) The male and female winners set course records and each took home US$2,000. I was second in the masters category and fifth overall in 3:03:25. However, since the masters winner was second overall, he received $750. I won $500 as the first master outside the top three. Two runners from Colorado and Wyoming broke the tape as the top male and female half-marathon runners. They received $750 each, in addition to getting their photos in the local newspaper.

There were 76 full-marathon finishers and 212 in the half, in addition to 144 in the five-kilometer event and 11 relay teams. With fewer than 500 combined finishers, the organizers were able to be readily available for help. Everything ran smoothly, and there were even no queues for the bathrooms. A real bathroom at the marathon start, rather than a line for a porta-potty, was a surprising luxury.

At just over two hours’ drive from Fort Collins (three from Denver), runners can make their way up on the morning of the race, especially for the half marathon. That is if they would rather not pay for a night in Gering, although that is what I did and would do again.

The course is at 4,100 feet but starts higher and is downhill in the first half, including a mile diversion of gravel road. However, the second half—the half-marathon loop—is a backbreaker. Plan to run positive splits. The second half has extended hills and about five miles of unsealed trail. This is probably for local-government vehicles and is up and down, lumpy, and sandy. The terrain takes a lot of work and tries a man’s resilience. I saw three of the top-10 runners walking, and at least one pulled out altogether.

To keep my confidence, even as I saw people give up, I thought back to all my double Bacon Strip 20-milers north of Fort Collins. My local loop of rolling hills has gravel that also takes the energy out of you.

Cool temperatures and for greeted marathoners for the first half of the race in Gering, Nebraska.
Cool temperatures and fog greeted marathoners for the first half of the race in Gering, Nebraska.

There is distinct scenery in the Gering-Scottsbluff area, including the Scotts Bluff National Monument. However, a foggy morning greeted this year’s runners, so we saw little of that while on the course. I assume many of the 50-state runners stayed to take in the surrounding area.

If you are looking for a big city race and a speedy course for a personal record, the Monument Marathon is not for you. However, it is precisely what it advertises to be, and I was glad to be a part of it. As the Gering Courier reported, the race “brings out the best in volunteers [and] participants.”

Four Tips for a Sub-Three-Hour Marathon
Four Tips for a Sub-Three-Hour Marathon 1024 652 Fergus Hodgson

How I Cut an Hour from My Time

In mid-2021 I began a job in Lehi, Utah, and signed up for the Utah Valley Marathon, a scenic point-to-point race that finishes in nearby Provo. I had run plenty through the COVID-19 era to keep my sanity and was quietly confident that I could run a three-hour marathon or thereabouts, a respected target within the running world.

Let us just say it did not work out that way. I went out faster than three-hour pace, but I finished with a chip time of 3:47:11. Along the way I fell apart like never before. Getting to the finish was painful, and I walked some of the way. I dehydrated, and a lady at her front door offering ice to runners was a godsend.

Two years later I returned to vindicate myself, driving the eight hours from my home in Fort Collins, Colorado. My 2023 chip time was 2:38:52, but since I won the masters—which goes by the first across the line—the results only show the gun time: 2:39:02.

The more than an hour off my time poses the question: what did I do so differently? Countless things, but here are four actions that made a world of difference and allowed me to get my three-hour marathon. They are far from the whole story, but they are applicable to many people seeking swift improvement.

1. Prehydrate.

I dehydrated in 2021, and so does pretty much everyone running a marathon.

There is a simple way to get a sense for your fluid loss in a marathon. Go out and run a half-marathon distance at a race-like time of day and temperature. Weigh yourself before and after, and gauge the difference. Assuming you drink during the 13 miles, add that to the fluid-loss total. Double the total for a marathon estimate.

I easily lose five pounds of fluid over just a half marathon, so 10 pounds for the full. Even if you drink at every aid station during a marathon, you are unlikely to make up for the fluid loss.

As you dehydrate your performance declines markedly. In my opinion, water loading is more important than carbohydrate loading, and being well hydrated at the start offers easy minutes off your time.

The precise prehydration strategy is up to you, but a solid one comes from Optimum Sports Nutrition: Your Competitive Edge by Michael Colgan (Chapter 2). This book addresses (1) water quality, (2) electrolytes, and (3) a hydration plan for the marathon. Colgan brought the importance of water distillation to my attention for purity and safety. (I recommend Pure Water distillers made in Nebraska, and my discount code is FERG.)

2. Lose fat.

Before the 2021 race my weight was between 220 and 230 pounds, but in 2023 I weighed bang on 200 pounds. Candidly, I did not realize I was carrying so much excess weight. My line of thinking had been to work out more and let the fat just take care of itself.

Working out is not enough. One of the chief problems of modern diets, among many, is the tendency to snack and spike one’s insulin all day. I had consistently worked out more than four times per week for many years. However, working and studying from home meant snacking all the time and allowing excess body-fat to accumulate.

Many experiments have assessed the impact of body-fat on running speed. A rule of thumb is that each pound of fat lost gives almost a minute off your marathon time. My loss of 20–30 pounds easily gave me a 20-minute boost. Runbundle has a calculator to assess your own situation, but this only works for people with excess body-fat.

The swiftest and simplest way to lose body-fat is intermittent fasting. “The Mystery of Weight Loss,” an episode of Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World, is an eye-opening starting point. It recommends less frequent eating and fewer refined carbohydrates.

Matt Fitzgerald is the guru of how to lose body-fat fruitfully as an athlete, and his primary book is Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance. Stay tuned for my review.

3. Train beyond two hours.

Prior to the last year or two I never ran more than about a half-marathon distance in training—and that distance was a rarity. My training, even during my many years of competitive rowing, topped out at about 90 minutes. Runs tended to be 40–60 minutes.

Two runs of 40–60 minutes are not as valuable as one run of 80–120 minutes. Runs beyond 120 minutes provide serious stimulus for adaptation. Read the biographies of the top marathoners—such as On the Wings of Mercury by Lorraine Moller or Marathon Man by Bill Rodgers—and runs of at least 20 miles are par for the course.

In 2022 I began to include longer runs, and in the lead-up to the 2023 Utah Valley Marathon I ran 20 miles at least 10 times—all at altitude in Colorado and Wyoming. More recently I have gone further and run 23-27 miles, but that is pushing it. I do not recommend going beyond four hours in training, unless you are preparing for trail marathons and/or ultramarathons. Three hours is a handy time to target for long-slow-distance runs.

4. Buy supershoes.

While I am a traditionalist and resisted carbon-plated supershoes, they are here to stay. They have made comparing times from past generations difficult, and that detracts from the simplicity and timelessness of running in my eyes. (The Asics metaracer, with a half-plate, was my first foray, and the women’s model is still available.)

However, nostalgia does not change the fact: supershoes, ushered in by Nike in the late 2010s, have made marathoners faster. The degree is open to debate, and one of my training partners believes supershoes can cut 10 minutes off a runner’s time. My own estimate is 30–90 seconds for the elites—those closing in on two hours—and 60–180 seconds for recreational runners.

The difference is not huge, but it is meaningful. Many people scoff at the price tag of US$200–300. However, if you consider the sophistication of the technology, along with the other expenses associated with running a marathon, supershoes are a no-brainer.

Many brands compete, although Nike has had a slight first-mover advantage. However, the brand differences are minimal now, so I recommend going with the shoe that feels most comfortable.

I have long trusted Asics and have run four marathons in the Asics Metaspeed Sky+. They were my dream shoes, and in 2022 I ordered a pair via Ebay from Japan to get them in time for the Last Chance BQ2 Marathon in Chicago. Now this model is readily available and in more colors.

My Asics Metaspeed Sky+ pair on the left have covered 200 miles and have a few more races in them. However, my new pair on the right have arrived for my target races in 2023.

North America’s top marathoner, Canadian Cameron Levins, uses an Asics Metaspeed model, either the Sky or Edge (they look the same). He placed fifth in 2:05:36 at the Tokyo Marathon this year and set a Canadian record.

The two Asics top-of-the-line models are the Metaspeed Sky and the Edge. The former is for stride runners who increase their speed with length; the latter is for shufflers who increase their speed with cadence.

This list of four actions scratches the surface of what I have done and what you can do to crack three hours and/or take an hour off your time. A round two with four more is in the offing. To share feedback, reach me at

Journey into the Mind of an Olympian with Lorraine Moller
Journey into the Mind of an Olympian with Lorraine Moller 1024 612 Fergus Hodgson

’On the Wings of Mercury’ Pulls Back Curtains, Shares Pain of Public Condemnation

In the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics, a friend scoffed at a US athlete who had opted to pull out of her event and stay home. My friend’s remarks were typical, since prominent sportsmen are fodder for public consumption. Their athletic prowess and technical precision make them seem robotic, devoid of feelings and inert to criticism.

If you want a reality check and warts-and-all view of what goes on in the mind of such athletes, look no further than Lorraine Moller’s autobiography: On the Wings of Mercury (360 pages, 2007). A multi-Olympian and Boston Marathon winner, Moller has seen the highs and lows of elite running, and she shares in lucid fashion the corresponding joys and pains.

Lorraine Moller’s autobiography: "On the Wings of Mercury" (360 pages, 2007)

Moller and I both grew up in rural Waikato, a province of New Zealand, and I remember watching her bronze-medal performance in Barcelona. I was nine years old in 1992, and my teacher at Glen Massey Primary School presented her as a role model of determination. Moller was 37 and, in the eyes of almost everyone, over the hill when she managed her most famous performance.

What Mrs. Russell and I did not know from the video footage and commentary was Moller’s long and fraught path to Barcelona glory. Moller had endured countless bumps in the road, particularly lackluster performances, persistent injuries, and relationship struggles.

As my father used to say, you have to learn to lose before you can learn to win. He meant that a good loser does not let failures divert him from his long-term objectives; nor does he avoid difficult learning opportunities with a high likelihood of failure.

Perhaps out of stubbornness, Moller did not let personal struggles stop her, and she faced more than her fair share. In addition to severe medical difficulties as a child—which scarred her mind—she entered distance running at a time when it was not open to women.

Distance running was not even open to professionalism, but Moller was one of the pioneers who refused to be dissuaded. She and a handful of other prominent athletes ran for prize money and played chicken with gatekeeping officials. Eventually the dam burst as athletics associations could no longer confine athletes to amateur status.

The layman will struggle to appreciate the difficulty of elite training. Typically, its long-term burden leads to an unbalanced life, personal dramas, and performance slumps. The New Zealand public can be especially brutal with athletes who fail to meet expectations, and failing to fight until the end or at least finish is a recipe for widespread condemnation.

Such was the sting of disapproval that sometimes Moller opted to simply stay away from New Zealand, to hide away from the media. Living in Boulder, Colorado, not only provided altitude and trails for fruitful training, it was an oasis for her mental health.

Disapproval came not only from the media and their readers and viewers. Her family, partners, and sponsors were often just as critical. She recounts, for example, the humiliation of being dropped by Mizuno as her sponsor. She tried to negotiate and explained that she was as fast as ever, but the answer was a firm no. It was business, and Mizuno wanted younger, youthful athletes to captivate prospective customers.

There is an odd redemption in Moller’s account, but its complexity belies distillation. Above all, On the Wings of Mercury is a forthright and touching account of a life lived to the full, of how one lady trained herself, ultimately, to self-acceptance. Moller humanizes the stoic athlete and shows the resilience, work ethic, and mental toughness one needs to cut it at at the top.

Along the way the reader is treated to comical episodes from haphazard tours and chaperoned women’s teams, to tales of small-town New Zealand and our running royalty of the 1970s and 1980s. They included Anne Audain, Rod Dixon, Dick Quax, Allison Roe, and John Walker. This era, led by the coach Arthur Lydiard, was one of great pride for Kiwis. These runners, along with the earlier generation of Peter Snell and Murray Halberg, forged our national identity as tough, rugged, and honorable people from down under.

Moller has put it all out there, with plenty of too-much-information moments. When I got to meet her for the first time recently she shared that she was embarrassed at her own mother reading about her less noble actions. However, candor about her shortcomings and misdeeds helps the reader empathize and relate to an exceptional lady. That is the treasure in On the Wings of Mercury.

Note: Lorraine Moller lives in Boulder, Colorado, and leads the Lydiard Foundation. It trains and certifies coaches in the principles of Arthur Lydiard (1917–2004). I met Lydiard briefly in Auckland in the late 1990s. He was already a hero to me, since I had read his books, coauthored with Garth Gilmour (1925–2020), while at boarding school and become a believer. I am now completing Level III of the Lydiard Foundation program under Moller’s tutelage and gladly recommend it to other coaches.

‘Out of Thin Air’ Shares How, Not Why Ethiopians Win
‘Out of Thin Air’ Shares How, Not Why Ethiopians Win 800 400 Fergus Hodgson

Running Story Has More Magic than Wisdom

The glaring dominance of Ethiopian and Kenyan athletes in distance running has spawned a search for explanations and ways to compete. A Scottish gentleman, and handy runner in his own right, went to train in Ethiopia for a year in the mid-2010s and came back with more than a story to tell.

Fortunately, Michael Crawley is a captivating writer who inserts the reader into Ethiopia’s colorful running world, including many hyena stories! Unfortunately, he conveys primarily mysticism and does not subject the assertions in the book to scientific rigor or rational scrutiny.

Out of Thin Air: Running Wisdom and Magic from Above the Clouds in Ethiopia (272 pages, January 2022) offers countless anecdotes and perspectives from Ethiopian runners, coaches, and officials—including celebrities, past and present. However, there is no disentangling of the features, many of them fanciful and confusing, that might have nothing to do with Ethiopian prowess.

On the contrary, Crawley eschews Western attempts to quantify and isolate East African running traits as demeaning. Rather, for his University of Edinburgh doctoral thesis in anthropology, Crawley simply describes Ethiopia the way it is firsthand and in a poetic, reverent fashion. The reader can make up his own mind regarding which Ethiopian habits pay dividends and which do not (or worse, do harm).

A surprising omission is performance-enhancing drugs, which presumably he did not witness during his stay in Ethiopia. Whether that is the case or not, substances such as EPO are an elephant in the room. This problem is not exclusive to one coach or team and was documented in the 2015 film Doping: Top Secret by German journalist Hajo Seppelt. Likewise, the BBC film Catch Me if You Can, also released in 2015, demonstrates EPO’s effectiveness and widespread use.

In fact, during his stay Crawley came across Zane Robertson. He moved with his twin brother from New Zealand when he was 17 to base his training in Kenya and learn from the locals. Robertson’s contention in the book is that East African runners succeed in spite of, not because of, many of their habits and environmental factors. In 2022, after the book’s release, Robertson received an eight-year ban from the New Zealand sports tribunal for EPO doping.

Out of Thin Air does not address whether the Ethiopians succeed on account of genetics, illegal boosters, or training from a young age. However, as the title suggests, it does discuss at length the altitude training that forms an integral part of the locals’ regimen. Altitude appears to be an ingredient crucial to Ethiopian success, not that this is a secret to anyone.

Although there is not a detailed presentation of periodized training plans, other recurring themes merit examination. For example, the Ethiopian athletes always train in groups and frown upon anyone who would dare to do otherwise. In addition, they pursue different landscapes and surfaces for agility and strength.

With phenomenal role models, such as Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba, Ethiopians see professional running as a realistic, accessible endeavor. Those involved do whatever they can to pursue international prize money and membership in sponsored clubs. Recreation and health are hardly at the top of their minds. Since one needs money to train, and money from running only comes after training, there is a chicken-or-egg problem. That means the professional runners often come from relatively wealthy families who can afford to support their kin at the outset.

Crawley’s “magic” in Out of Thin Air comes not from the training ideas. Rather, it comes from being more than a fly on the wall in a fascinating subculture—one that could not be replicated in North America. (The eight-hour audio version adds even more flavor to the account.) The reader will never look upon Ethiopian runners as he did before; he now has a sense and appreciation for the world from which they have emerged. That world was all I could think of, for example, when I saw them take, in chaotic fashion, the first three places in the 2023 Tokyo Marathon.