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On Soccer Players and Marathons

Josh Gros, running. (Toni L. Sandys - TWP)

While waiting for the media to finish up at training today, Bryan Namoff was muttering to himself about Gros's fitness, calling him "the fittest man alive" and "the energizer bunny" and so on. I asked for clarification.

"It's unfair, the genetics that he has," Namoff said. "It's unfair. He misses some games, misses training, and can come right back."

"I don't even need training, just show up on Saturdays," Gros joked.

"He doesn't even need to stretch," Namoff said. "He could wake up and play 90 minutes. Not even a warmup."

"I have to go through what the team does, but when the team stretches I'll just be walking around," Gros explained. "I hate stretching."

I asked where such genes came from; "It's just that good blood, I guess, just good Pennsylvania Dutch blood," Gros said.

So then I wondered whether he could run a marathon, like, tomorrow.

In other words, whether his level of supreme soccer fitness would translate over 26.2 miles. I was immediately laughed at; everyone said that yes, without a doubt, Josh Gros could run a marathon tomorrow without any additional training.

"Are you kidding? He could kill a marathon," Namoff said.

"I could go this afternoon," Gros said, and this time, he wasn't joking.

"Any of these guys could run a marathon," said United VP of Communications Doug Hicks, who has actually run one himself.

Then we all talked about just how far a soccer player runs during 90 minutes. Gros said 5-8 miles. Someone else said 10 kilometers, perhaps thinking of the figure used to track Gennaro Gattuso's travels during a Champions League match earlier this year. (Carl Bialik of the WSJ has an interesting explanation of where that number came from.) This PhD says 10k for European games, and a bit less for South American games.

Still, whether players who are trained to be fit for 10k in 90 minutes--along with all the contact and skill involved--could necessarily run a marathon without further training is unclear to me, although I guess the answer is likely yes.

"We were just talking about that at dinner the other day," said Ben Olsen, when I asked whether he could run 26.2. "Right now? Like if I had a day off and I just went and ran a marathon? Probably, I might be able to get through it, but the last couple miles I'd be walking," and here he imitated that painful end-of-marathon shuffle you often see around mile 23.

Olsen also speculated about his teammates; "well, [Gros] could do it and maybe break a record," he said. "Namoff, I don't know. He'd have to have [head athletic trainer Brian Goodstein] there to stretch him."

"I couldn't do it without an hour of stretching," Namoff agreed.

"Last year I ran the Marine Corps Marathon and then I played a game later that day," Gros said, I guess joking again, although I wouldn't doubt it.

"You know, I'm going to do it when I'm done," Olsen announced. "I'm going to find [a marathon] right when I retire, and the next one, I'm going to do without training."

So here are my questions, because I have no doubt many of you are experienced both with playing soccer and running marathons:

1) Could every D.C. United player run a marathon next weekend without any additional training? What sort of finishing time would we be talking about?

2) Could every, say, Washington Redskin or Washington Wizard or Washington Capital or Washington National do the same? Excluding Dmitri Young?

3) I'll grant everyone's insistence that Gros absolutely could do so, but how long would it take him? Hicks thinks Gros would break three hours his first time out.

By Dan Steinberg  |  September 11, 2007; 3:37 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. United  
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Gros could do it and he'd post a respectable time. What I respectable time is, I have no idea. But that USMC OCS thing has got to help (even thought that was several years ago). But that kid (it hurts me to call Josh a kid) can do it.

But the whole team? I say no. They could all do a 10k, but I have a hard time seeing backup keepers or some target forwards slogging through a really long run.

Caps and Wizards, a good percentage may be able to do something like a 10k, and some insanely fit guys among them may take a marathon.

Skins? Nope. Not to say that they're unfit, but they're geared for short term sprints, not the long burn that any kind of distance running requires.

Nats? Nope. See my skins explanation.

Posted by: Kim | September 11, 2007 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I bet Gilbert could run a marathon backwards.

Posted by: WaPoLiveFan16 | September 11, 2007 4:16 PM | Report abuse

From my experience playing NCAA soccer, I would bet with a high degree of confidence that every (healthy) DCU player could do it tomorrow, except for the GKs.

I would guess that not a single Redskin or Nat could do it, but there may be a Cap or two that would surprise us.

Posted by: Ghitza | September 11, 2007 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Everyone knows Brendan Haywood practices running marathons backwards on a regular basis.

Posted by: | September 11, 2007 5:01 PM | Report abuse

This one is right in my wheelhouse.

Everyone on DC United except for the goalies and Moreno could run a 10K pretty fast. The running they do for 90 minutes, with a lot of sprinting, is tailor-made for a 10K.

Most could run a 10 miler and half-marathon with little problem. These are top athletes, keep in mind. Some might be a little gassed and break down a bit at the end, but they'd finish.

The sprinting up and back and side to side you do in soccer prepares your legs and especially your lungs for running, but when you get to 20 miles or 26 miles, other factors come into play, the three most important being running efficiency, mental stamina, and the Wall.

Some people run effortlessly due to fantastic mechanics (i.e., little wasted motion, not bouncing up and down too much, etc.), and some require greater exertion, even if they are fit. It sounds like this Josh Gros guy might be the type of effortless runner whose efficiency would let him run 20 or 26 miles.

Playing soccer for a couple hours can be physically exhausting, but it certainly isn't boring. Running in a straight line for 20 or 26 miles isn't excitement in a bottle. These guys might get mentally tired before their bodies get physically tired.

As most marathoners will tell you, a marathon has two halves -- the first 20, and the last 6. The last 6 involves hitting the Wall and dealing with it. DC United's training doesn't involve pushing that Wall out further and/or dealing with it, so I think Olsen got it right when he said he would be walking at the end.

All that being said, if a United player started training for Marine Corps now, in 2 months he would run a very good marathon.

Posted by: Sean | September 11, 2007 5:51 PM | Report abuse, don't tell Etan.

He'll trip him.

Posted by: B.A. | September 11, 2007 7:25 PM | Report abuse

All afternoon I was thinking I had been visiting the Soccer Insider instead of the SportsBog... Well played Steinbog. Well played.

Posted by: sitruc | September 11, 2007 7:57 PM | Report abuse

(answering #2) I dont know much about marathons but I'm 90 percent sure that the other teams could NOT run a marathon...

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2007 8:51 PM | Report abuse

I am putting the gauntlet down right now, Steinbog...Me vs. Any Redskin, National or Capital in a 35 mile run..If I win, I get their paycheck for the week..If they win, then (as Derrick Coleman once said) Whoopdee-Damn-Do, they get bragging rights that they are the fittest on their team

Posted by: JonInVB | September 11, 2007 9:20 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to challenge JonInVB to a run of any distance from 55m to 35 miles if he beats a Redskins, National, or Capital in a 35 mile run and gets their paycheck for a week. If I win, I get the money from the Redskin, National, or Capitals paycheck. If I somehow don't win, JonInVB gets one of my bi-weekly paychecks.

Posted by: sitruc | September 12, 2007 12:22 AM | Report abuse


Make sure that if you race an actual player that you race him in season. They don't get paid during the offseason.

Posted by: Kim | September 12, 2007 9:31 AM | Report abuse

I put my money on me. Bring it on. Starting at Fleet Feet of course and going 26.2 from there.

Posted by: Adrian Fenty | September 12, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Hands down, Josh Gros is a STUD! That guy amazes me everytime he steps foot on the pitch. He makes his overlapping and defense recovery runs look so easy it's sick. Not only that, but the guy has suffered numerous concussions and come back. He runs around with that large cast on his hand and that can't even slow him down. I'll tell you what's funny though. I think Josh finally took Brian Carroll aside at practice last week and taught him how to run. It paid off with that striking run down the left side of the pitch Sunday against New England ending with that cross to Emilio for the goal. I've never seen Brian Carroll move that fast. Anyway, DC United is stout this year and WILL win it's 5th MLS Cup!

Posted by: Mitch | September 12, 2007 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Agent Steinz, this is awesome. A very worthy feature in today's Post, too.

The jokes on this post are great, but Sean says everything I would--a half-marathon or 10-miler, sure. But a marathon? It's a totally different animal, physically and mentally. I'd bet any of the DCU guys *could* do it, but their times wouldn't be great and there'd be some walking mixed in, too. Not to mention, they'd run a high risk of injury--you have to ramp your body up to that distance.

Posted by: DD | September 12, 2007 3:32 PM | Report abuse

^ I'm with Mitch!!! hehehe

Posted by: Lucia Maritza Cole | September 18, 2007 7:48 AM | Report abuse

I have been playing soccer all of my life. At 32, I recently trained all summer for the Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks, Alaska. I was up to 40-45 miles a week and then twelve days before the race, my left LCL decided it had enough and I didn't run the race. Soccer players may be extremely fit, bit running 26 miles straight is totally different. The constant pounding puts an enormous amount of stress on your joints which isn't as bad on nice, plush, grassy fields.

Posted by: Ken Papp | September 24, 2007 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Not only would Soccer players not break a record in a marathon, they wouldn't keep up with good Masters runners. Lance Armstrong was in great cardiovascular shape but couldn't break 3 hours in the marathon. Compare this to the time of the 54-year old Nun, Sister Marion Irvine who (in 1983) ran the marathon in 2 h 51 min and 1 sec. This time would smoke any World Cup soccer player, let alone Haile Gebrselassie's 2 h 4 min and 26 sec world record.

Posted by: Mark Johnson | November 21, 2007 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I am a 29 years old amateur soccer player. I am not even trained properly to play soccer except I play indoor and outdoor games 2 times a week for almost 20 years. But frankly I've never been in a training session with a pro team. I bet a 2 hour real training would kill me. However I think I am better in shape than most of the average Joes. Also I smoke for 9 years between 10-20 cigarettes a day. My sister invited me to run a marathon last year. I read a lot about marathon training and what not. So I decided to buy a treadmill and start training 6 months before the marathon. I trained properly for 2-3 weeks and got turned off for some reason. I was able to run 10 minutes a mile for 5-6 miles 3-4 times a week. When the marathon date came I couldn't bail off and had to run it. I finished the marathon in 6 hours and 45 minutes with running-walking-crying. But hey I finished it. A pro soccer player could finish the marathon without a doubt if he put his mind into it. There is no way a pro soccer player would be able to run it under 3 hrs without proper training. You have to respect the differences between long distance runners and pro soccer players. By the way I was in pain for 2-3 days after running the marathon.

Posted by: cemal engin kilic | January 3, 2008 9:49 PM | Report abuse

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