Even the most seasoned runners consider the Boston Marathon to be in a league of its own, with its strict entry qualifiers, challenging course and unpredictable weather. Several athletes claim that getting to run the prestigious race amidst the electrifying spectator lineup is reward in itself, but not Uta Pippig. Uta had arrived at Boston to win. And she did – thrice in a row.
Uta started running when she was 13, at a time when the country of her birth was still called East Germany. Born to two doctors on September 7, 1956, in Leipzig, she went on to study medicine before dedicating all her attention to the sport. But her own life was to take quite a dramatic turn before she could pursue running the way she wanted. In January 1990, along with her coach (and partner) Dieter Hogen, Uta left her home and escaped to the freer climes of West Germany, far away from state-controlled sports authorities and closer to her marathon dreams. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in the same year, Uta participated in the 1990 Reunification Marathon – the first great triumph of her running career and precursor of things to come. It was a deeply emotional experience for the 25-year-old as she led 25,000 runners through the once-divided city to win in a course record of 2:28:37. “A shiver went down my spine as I realized, a chapter of history was coming to an end,” she said after her victory. But Uta’s story had just started.
Already a favorite in Germany by then, she went on to win the Berlin Marathon again in 1992 (as well as in 1995). By this time, Uta had perfected her signature move of blowing kisses to the crowd after flying past the finish line – something that American crowds were still to see. In 1993, they did. Uta made an impressive debut at the New York Marathon and left spectators and critics gasping with her record time of 2:26:23 – 29 seconds inside her personal best and more than two and a half minutes ahead of second place finished Olga Appell from Mexico. “I couldn’t believe there was no-one behind me,” said Uta as she remembers the last few kilometers in Central Park, “Then it dawned on me—I was going to win New York.”
But Uta’s sights were set on the marathon that stood for freedom in her mind: the Boston Marathon. From 1994 – 1996, Uta was undefeated at the race, a result of her total and single-minded commitment to the sport. She completed the 1994 run in 2:21:45, and in 2:25:11 in 1995. But it’s the 1996 race that illustrated Uta’s grim determination to succeed as she battled menstrual cramps and diarrhea through the course and still managed to blow jubilant kisses at the crowd after conquering the title for a third year in 2:27:12 and beating Kenya’s Tegla Loroupe in a dramatic finish. It was the 100th Boston Marathon that year, and Uta was officially the only woman to win it thrice in a row.
The indefatigable athlete also represented Germany in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games and has several world records to her name. Though she stopped running competitively after her most successful decade, Uta still takes a keen interest in the sport and is the co-founder of Take The Magic Step Foundation to provide support to organizations that promote education, fitness, and health. An international speaker on her pet subject ‘Running to Freedom’ she continues to inspire several lives even today, through her words as well as her role as a running coach and advisor.
Uta’s marathon tips
Build up steady and use periodization. Build up for a few weeks and then take a rest week. Always move up with hard training followed by easier training. It is the same with your long runs – build up and then have a week with no long runs. As I mentioned before it is crucial to recover after training. You should honor your body by training hard and then letting it recover. The higher your mileage and intensity, the more recovery you need. Recovery is the most important tool to help you have a successful race.