Slaney May Try Marathon
By: Frank Litsky
The New York Times, February 3, 2001
For most of the time since she became a star at 14, Mary Decker Slaney has been America's dominant female runner. She has broken every American record from 800 through 10,000 meters. In 1993, she won the world championships at 1,500 and 3,000 meters.
Now she is 43, and her body has been beaten up by stress injuries. Her last operation, on both legs, came in 1999, and it took her a year to recover. In the last two years, she has sustained three stress fractures of the fibula.
"I've had over 30 operations," she said. "I've lost count."
It seems time to quit, and she seems ready to quit running, at least on the track. Now she has her eyes on something new: the marathon, maybe the New York City Marathon.
Slaney disclosed her agenda last week when she visited New York with her husband, Richard Slaney, a former British discus thrower, and their 15-year-old daughter, Ashley. On Friday night, during the Verizon Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden, she was inducted into the Millrose Hall of Fame.
From the start, Richard Slaney has been a supportive husband. He sounds resigned to his wife's new agenda.
"She's running a lot," he said. "It scares me. She's thinking about running a marathon. Something is going on. I'm the last to know."
He knows, his wife said, and she added, "much to his disgust, serious is the word."
She explained her thinking this way:
"I want to try the marathon because over the last few years, my injuries have made me want to do something different. I finally have to admit that age is a factor as far as track goes. I find it easier to run a lot of mileage rather than speed. And I have set new goals because I can't try to live up to what I've done. So I'd like to do something new.
"I want to be as good as I was 15 or 20 years ago, so I have to do something I've never done. I don't want to look behind me. I want to look ahead. I could run a marathon today, but I want to run a good marathon."
"I'd like to run a major marathon in the next year, but I'd like to run a smaller one first. I love New York because every year when Fred Lebow was alive and overseeing the race he would ask me if I would run a marathon. I said if I did, I would run New York."
Slaney lives in Eugene, Ore., and Alberto Salazar, who won the New York City Marathon in 1981 and 1982, advises her on training. She is running 80 miles a week, with two or three hours a day at a pace of six and a half or seven minutes to the mile. For races on the track, she was accustomed to a training pace of five and a half or six minutes to the mile.
"It's fast enough now to do some good, not fast enough to get hurt," she said. "I can't stand going that slow, but I don't know if my body can handle the faster training I used to do. Aging — I hate to use that word — has an effect. I used to run hard every day. Now if I run one day hard, I have to run the next two days easy. My mind wants to do much more, but my body is setting the rules."
She wants to start with a low- profile marathon and run it in 2 hours 30 minutes or faster. After that?
"What's the world record now, 2:18?" she asked.
When she was told it was 2:18:47, she smiled.
"Shoot for the stars," she said.
Actually, she has run a marathon, so long ago that Richard Nixon was president. It was 1970, and she was 12.
"It was in Palos Verdes Peninsula near Los Angeles," she said. "I don't count it because I didn't train for it. I didn't even know how long a marathon was. My farthest previous run was 12 miles, but I decided two days before to run. I don't know why my coach let me do it. I ran 3:09:27. I was proud I finished."
She is still running, and she says she knows why.
"I love it," she said. "I wish I didn't. A lot of bad things have happened. I've put a lot of pressure on myself. I have a great family, a great daughter, but I don't feel complete without running. I need to compete.
"I go out and run for three hours and I feel good. I will always run, and at this point I want to compete, too."
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