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On Running: Alberto Salazar: Fastest Run Ever by a First-Time Marathoner

On Running
Alberto Salazar: Fastest Run Ever by a First-Time Marathoner

I watched Alberto Salazar win the 1980 New York City Marathon. Just 21 years old at the time, it was the fastest ever run by a first-time marathoner - 2:09.41.
I could see more to Salazar than sheer talent. There was an audacity about him as he predicted the unimaginable, and then made it come true. He believed in himself more than any runner I've ever watched. It was as if the spirit of Steve Prefontaine lived in the Oregon singlet he wore.
Salazar would win three straight New York Marathons, and win the Boston Marathon in 1982. The Boston race is the most memorable. Salazar dueled with Dick Beardsley for 26 miles. Many times it looked like he couldn't hold on, but he won with a remarkable finishing kick. Salazar simply wouldn't loose. Afterwards, he was taken to the emergency room where he was given 6 liters of fluids intravenously because he didn't drink during the race.
In recent years, Salazar's passion for running has returned in a different form, as a coach. Superstars like Galen Rupp and Adam Goucher train under his leadership at the Nike facility in Oregon. There, Salazar has started to develop American talent to levels we haven't seen since he broke the tape in Central Park.
On Saturday, June 30th, he met some of his runners for a workout. As they walked together, Salazar felt a pain in his neck, and went down on one knee. In an instant, he was on the ground suffering a massive heart attack. At the age of 48, Salazar's heart stopped beating.
It was Galen Rupp who called 911. Others ran for help. Doctors at the facility rushed to give CPR until emergency medical technicians arrived. It didn't look good. Rupp later said it was like watching his father die.
The fourth time the EMTs put the paddles on Salazar's chest, his heart started beating again. By then, it had been stopped for nearly 15 minutes. Miraculously, Salazar made a full recovery, returning to coach on the Nike fields just nine days later.
I have to wonder if Salazar lost some perspective after he won his first four marathons. He must have felt invincible. But, perspective has a way of returning unexpectedly and now Salazar's is crystal clear.
Up to the day of his heart attack, he was running 30 miles a week. He was a picture of health with the look of an elite runner. No one could have predicated what would happen, but it did. The blessing for Salazar is that he lived through it.
It would be nice if life would deliver each one of us a notice; something to tell us it was time to set the small stuff aside, but don't count on it. Instead, maybe Salazar's story should serve as our notice. If it could happen to him, how could we be immune?
So, shut off the world for a moment. Imagine this is the instant that your heart stops beating. Your life is about to end. What would your final thought be? What would you most wish you had done?
Maybe, you should go do that now.

Dave Griffin writes a bi-weekly running column and offers coaching to high school and adult runners of all levels. Contact Dave at

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