“You’re seeing people escape from prison,” says Rahsaan Thomas, sports editor of the inmate-produced San Quentin News, who is 12 years into a 55-to-life sentence for shooting two armed men. “Here,” says Thomas, who is helping pass out water, “you can only be free in your own mind.” ... If running a marathon is as much a test of mental rigor as of physical endurance, then doing 26.2 miles at California’s oldest prison, home to America’s largest death row, is the ultimate internal contest. On the outside, marathons are movable celebrations that engulf and delight entire cities. The Los Angeles Marathon follows a glittery path from Dodger Stadium, via the Sunset Strip and Rodeo Drive, to Santa Monica Beach; the New York Marathon traverses a five-borough jamboree to the cheers of a million spectators. In the lower yard, a four-acre box on San Quentin’s sloped backside, the only way to re-create that distance is to run the perimeter—round and round, hour after hour—going nowhere fast. ... Sometimes even that exercise in confinement will grind to a halt. No matter the day, alarms punctuate life at San Quentin, signaling fights or medical emergencies, often in corners of the prison unseen from the lower yard. In those moments, every inmate must drop to the ground—runners included—and wait for guards to restore order. During last year’s race, the marathoners had to stop four times. ... when my curiosity sends me digging, I discover why it’s sometimes better not to know. Almost to a man, their crimes are jaw-droppingly atrocious, the stuff of headlines and horror shows.
Yannis Pitsiladis, scientist and provocateur, had come here for the same reason that pilgrims wheezing with bronchitis and emphysema have headed to this low-altitude divide between Israel and Jordan. He had come for the oxygen. ... A quarter-mile below sea level at the Dead Sea, where the barometric pressure is high, there is about 5 percent more oxygen to breathe. The naturally enriched air had been shown to increase exercise capacity in those with chronic lung disease. Would it do the same, Pitsiladis wondered, for the world’s fastest distance runners? ... He wanted to redefine the limits of human endurance by training a man to run a marathon in less than two hours without the use of performance-enhancing drugs. ... The Sub2 Project, as it is called, is an attempt at the extraordinary — to reduce by nearly three minutes the world record of 2 hours 2 minutes 57 seconds, set at the 2014 Berlin Marathon by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya. ... Some consider the goal impossible. Many are suspicious because of widespread doping in track and field, and almost no one considers the feat achievable anytime soon. ... To run under two hours without the use of banned drugs would be to set a record that would stand with the four-minute mile as an ultimate test of human stamina. ... A 1:59:59 marathon would require a searing pace of 4 minutes 34 seconds per mile, seven seconds faster than the pace of the current world record. It would require 85 to 90 percent of a runner’s maximum aerobic capacity — twice the capacity of an average man — and a sustained heart rate of about 160 to 170 beats per minute.
Her mission was modest: to make a decent pair of running shorts that didn’t make a fit woman look three months pregnant—was that too much to ask? She’d grown the company patiently, intelligently, considering all the brand “touch points” (hang tags, packing tape), choosing her fabrics with care. ... It is tough to overestimate how influential Nike is in the sport of track and field. The company, which made $31 billion last year, has been the official sponsor of USATF’s national team since 1991 and will continue to be until 2040. With the exception of shoes, sunglasses, and watches, national-team runners must wear Nike, and Nike only, at all international events. ... Oiselle did $10 million in revenue in 2015. It’s targeting $15 million for 2016, still tiny compared with Lululemon ($2 billion) and Athleta (part of Gap’s $16 billion empire). Oiselle is not yet profitable, either. But even so, Bergesen has managed to shape it into a small company with huge, like-minded pros. ... professional track athletes on the whole are surprisingly broke. According to an analysis by the USATF Foundation, an affiliated nonprofit that promotes athlete development, more than 50 percent of American track and field competitors who rank in the top ten in the U.S. in their events earn less than $15,000 a year from their sport.