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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; 3:59 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. United , Misc.  
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I'd bet no wizard or redskin could run a marathon without training. I've played all three sports, and there is simply no comparison in fitness, at least at the high school level. Football players get a 30 second break after playing for 6 seconds, and basketball player might sprint for maybe 10 strides at a time at the most..

Posted by: DC | September 11, 2007 4:17 PM | Report abuse

I would say the keeper couldn't do it, but then Perkins is supposed to be an absolute fanatic about his workouts, so maybe Nolly can't.

Moreno could probably do it, but would take 12 hours...or 3 hours if there were a goal in front of him on a flatbed.

First 12-15 miles would be cake for all of them, then 3 could stop for a sub.

Posted by: Matt | September 11, 2007 4:20 PM | Report abuse

I think a large aspect of running marathons is mental; that is, initially, at least, you have to overcome your own mental skepticism about whether your body can actually do it. If you can convince yourself of that, then, assuming good conditioning, I think a person would finish.

1)So, could every DCU guy run one? Yes, absoluetly, with maybe one or two withdrawals from injury. Times? I'd say anywhere from 2.5 - 4 hours. Some might go out too hard, though, and end up walking it in closer to 5 hours.

2. Other sports? Depends. I think the pounding of 26.2 miles of pavement running on an offensive lineman's knees and back would lead to injury prior to completion. At least some serious IT-band inflamation. As for the others, given the competitive drive of professional athletes, I suspect they would push themselves to finish. Hockey players would do quite well. I wonder, however, about how well the taller NBA players would hold up.

3. I'll give Gros around 3 hours--roughly what Lance Armstrong ran it in.

Posted by: Scotto | September 11, 2007 4:22 PM | Report abuse

I think that many players would be able to finish the marathon, but not all. What they are forgetting or don't realize is how much that much impact and for that long, hurts. Anyone with an even slightly injured toe, foot, or knee would be in trouble. Which in mid-season most of them should have.

Every year in high school I played soccer in the fall and then ran indoor track in the winter. Every winter all the cross country runners would be faster on the 2-4 mile runs. Anything over 6 miles and my soccer conditioning was far superior.

Oh, and no way Jamie even finishes half of it.

Posted by: Dancy | September 11, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Whoops, typed to fast. No way JAIME finishes it.

Posted by: Dancy | September 11, 2007 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I'm sure some of the guys in the 'Skins secondary (and the linebackers) could do it, likewise the receivers. Just because they get those 30-second break doesn't mean that they don't do a ton of cardio training (at least during the off-season).

Posted by: EdTheRed | September 11, 2007 4:26 PM | Report abuse

A baseball player- run a maraton? lol

Not even jose reyes.

Posted by: laur | September 11, 2007 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Forgot about the Nationals. Yeah, I have a hard time believing that many of them could run one.

Posted by: Scotto | September 11, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

What if you put a buffet 26.2 miles in front of Dmitri?

Football players could do it in 40 yard spurts.

Posted by: Kim | September 11, 2007 4:36 PM | Report abuse

well, i think that united has a bye this weekend and, lucky for the players, it just so happens that the montgomery county half-marathon begins at 7 a.m. this sunday near the rockville metro stop. i'm stll trying to figure out how i got dumb enough to sign up for this, but it looks like i'm going to have to go through with it . . .

Posted by: tallguy | September 11, 2007 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I don;t think there's any NFL player that could do it. I think they grossly over train for explosive power. Baseball players couldn't run to the end of their extended driveways. B-Ball players would have to re-learn how to pace them selves. Hockey players? Interesting...

I also think only a few of the DCU players could do it, but not because they are not fit, but rather because some tendon, muscle or ligament somewhere would give out before the finish. Not because of lack of cardio though.

The only guys who ran as much as the Cross Country / Soccer players in High School are the Wrestlers. Those dudes don't know when to stop.

Posted by: JkR | September 11, 2007 4:47 PM | Report abuse

BTW, great insight, Bog-meister

Posted by: JkR | September 11, 2007 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like a great charity event! Not sure when one would hold the event considering the different seasons, but it could be a huge draw...

Posted by: Soy United! | September 11, 2007 4:48 PM | Report abuse

80% of DC United
8% of redskins (recievers/cornerbacks)
20% of hockey players. Without the pads some of the forwards might fing it easier.
10% of wizards (the short guys).

Posted by: DCUnited | September 11, 2007 4:49 PM | Report abuse

If I had to pick one player on a Washington area pro-team to run a marathon to get the fastest time, I would pick Brian Carroll.

I would have gone with Gros, but I'd imagine his wrist cast and head gear would slow him down.

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

Sure, any field player could run a marathon without additional training.
But there are different types of fitness required for running at an even speed over great distances than the fitness required for sprinting around a soccer field.
I used to play sala with some friends of mine who all smoke. One day I brought a friend who had recently trained to run a marathon and had completed it in under four hours, he couldn't keep up with the smokers. Playing soccer required him to use muscles he hadn't trained while training for the marathon, and he had lost his quickness.

as far as other sports...could those professional athletes run a marathon? Yes, (I know some pretty unathletic people who have run marathons.)
But could they run a marathon without training for one...? by sport:
Hockey? Yes (those guys are in ridiculous shape but they are trained to sprint so it would be really tough to keep up a good pace for the whole time)
Basketball? No... (some guards might, but it would be tough)
Football? (depends on the position)
Baseball? No

Really, it is about what is needed for each sport. I'd say that Hockey and Soccer and corner backs, safetys and wideouts would produce the best times, followed by linebackers and running backs. Basketball players knees would give out and baseball players would go on strike if they had to do anything but jog back to their dugout.

Posted by: bribri | September 11, 2007 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Most of United could do it (except Jaime...); at least at a 5 hour pace or something. I think they are talking about running it for a time, rather than just running it slow.

No way any of the basketball or football players could do it. No football player has the stamina and they just carry too much weight; plus they've probably never run more than a few miles at one time in their lives. A few basketball players may be able to do it, but they'd probably have joint problems....

Posted by: Hacksaw | September 11, 2007 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Ask Floyd Landis about the benefits of Pennsylvania Dutch blood...

Which makes me think -- what systems does MLS have in place to test for performance enchancing drugs? Not that I think it's a problem with DCU, but I'm curious.

Posted by: RB | September 11, 2007 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Professional soccer players could go out, without further training, and run a sub 4 hour marathon. Gros could probably do it sub 3 hour. Dude, they run for a living and when playing soccer, at a much higher level of instensity.

Posted by: Capn Marvel | September 11, 2007 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Soccer players are in shape. Football players are in the shape of jello.

Posted by: RK | September 11, 2007 5:43 PM | Report abuse

There's a reason Steve Nash runs around a basketball court all game long without tiring. He plays soccer all offseason!

Posted by: DC | September 11, 2007 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, those football players, they aren't fit at all. Just like sprinters. They aren't athletes - they only run for like 10 seconds!

Posted by: A Football Player Stole My Girlfriend, Too | September 11, 2007 5:54 PM | Report abuse

I like the fact from the WSJ link that said in a Chelsea-Barcelona game in 2006, Petr Cech produced the fastest run by any player when he made a sprint to celebrate the victory. Who would've guessed that?

As for a marathon, there's no doubt any DCU player would be able to finish it, excluding the injured (although Moreno might struggle). Hockey and basketball players are incredibly well conditioned, but it would require a type of pacing they're not used to. Guards could do it, but the big men wouldn't be able to. Hockey players on average I suspect would be better than basketball players. Football is the one sport I never played, but like many have suggested I would bet CBs and WRs could do it, and maybe safeties and RBs, though many are probably too big and conditioned for power and explosion to last.

Posted by: G-Dub | September 11, 2007 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Any high-class professional in a combat sport (Boxing, Wrestling, MMA) could get through a marathon as well. They would probably do as well if not better than anybody named here.

Hell, I'd say most NCAA wrestlers could get through a marathon in under 4 hours.

Posted by: Brian | September 11, 2007 6:18 PM | Report abuse

I ran one with a friend of mine--ex Div I college football player, 6'5", 260--and he finished it in just over 4:15.

Posted by: viv | September 11, 2007 6:20 PM | Report abuse

As a veteran of 3 marathons, and NCAA Division III cross country, indoor, and outdoor track, plus four years of the same in high school, I can say that the whole United team could do one under four hours. There is no question.

... yes... even Jaimecito.

I ran a 3:58 my senior year in high school, so I know they can do it too.

Posted by: David | September 11, 2007 6:29 PM | Report abuse

I think maybe some of the guys on the Bass Pro Tour could do it. Definitely ping pong and lawn darts players. And maybe my grandmother.

Posted by: Tom | September 11, 2007 6:57 PM | Report abuse

I'm shocked that no one has suggested that Brenda Haywood could run a marathon.

Posted by: Chief Clancy Wiggum | September 11, 2007 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Well heck Tom, your grandmother's quicker and tougher than those pansies...'course she's 6'2", 220, runs a 4.6 she just needs to get her priorities straight and sign her committment to her team...

Posted by: EdTheRed | September 11, 2007 7:27 PM | Report abuse

The big advantages United players would have over other players I think is their frames. Generally speaking, soccer players are 6 feet and UNDER and are usually very lean, which would reduce the pounding of a marathon. I think the extra weight/size of basketball and hockey players would hurt them, but I have no doubt some of the smaller/leaner folks would be in sufficient shape to do it. Except for maybe the WR/CB/S spots, I don't think many NFL players could do it.

Assuming they got their pacing figured out, I think the vast majority of United would finish slightly under 4 hours, with some of the fitter guys pushing 3.

Posted by: 2cents | September 11, 2007 7:41 PM | Report abuse

I bet Gros would break a record AND his wrist in the same race :)

I think the real question is: how many washington post sportswriters could finish a 5k?

Posted by: diego r. | September 11, 2007 8:15 PM | Report abuse

1. Didn't the Wizards used to have a challenge on the first day of camp where every play had to complete a mile in 10 minutes? Basketball players are great athletes but I don't know about their distance running capabilities--a few of them (Steve Nash) are the extreme.

2. Football players? Hah! Some are incredible athletes. But saying someone is an incredible athlete and could therefore do it is like saying Mark Spitz would be great at a marathon or lifting weights or sprinting.

3. Baseball? I think some of the younger pitchers who run in the outfield and maybe do more conditioning could do a 10k race. That's about it.

4. Soccer? With a little bit of training or conditioning, I think the entire DC United team could complete a marathon. I think they all have the potential to complete it in a competitive time and without walking. But as someone said, being good at a marathon is a combination of mental (dealing with the pain and the continual one foot in front of the other--refusing to quit. Think of a soccer play who has juggled 1,000 consecutive touches. In theory all could do it but almost none have b/c it's boring and hard to stick to it), conditioning (repetitive motion and pounding would be very tough, especially for those guys like Moreno who have chronic issues like backs or knees or tendons), and pacing. These are all things they could easily adapt to. But going straight into it--it would be a crap shoot. What is generally true of ALL team athletes is that they're incredibly confident at their ability to compete. They are constantly saying "I can do that."

I had a brother who ran marathons competitively, ran track for a major Division I track side and just did his first ultra-triathalon. He said what really thumped his a** was the open-water swimming. He had swam greater distances in the pool but in open water combined with the running and biking he was just overwhelmed. He finished but way below the time he projected and was just blown away by how much having actual experience doing stuff in the circumstance you compete in is critical to your performance.

In otherwords, put a marathoner and a soccer player next to each other and give them fitness tests, measure aerobic capacity and other critical elements and the marathoner would score ahead of the soccer player in the distance elements but the soccer player would be competitive. But having those elements doesn't mean you're ready to compete. I can practice soccer all I want and scrimmage with the team but my first match with a lot of fans on a different field with referees and an opposing team I haven't scrimmaged against and maybe some rain--that will be totally new. And I might handle it all fine or I might stink up the joint. So it's one thing to say "Gros and Olsen with a little bit of training would be great marathoners." It's another all together to say "they could play a soccer game one day and run a marathon without walking the next."

Posted by: JoeW | September 11, 2007 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Just want to give the blog another hit. Good work Dan, keep it up and you'll have your own gig, someday. :)



Posted by: JayRockers! | September 11, 2007 9:45 PM | Report abuse

No love for ruggers Bogman?

Posted by: AlecW81 | September 11, 2007 10:26 PM | Report abuse

why all the doubters on Jamie? But nobody doubts Gomez? That dude always looks tired after 20 minutes.

Posted by: Glenn | September 11, 2007 10:35 PM | Report abuse

Gros, run a marathon? Sure, I can see that. He would have no problem running 26 miles, just don't ask him to put in an accurate cross at the end of that run.

Posted by: soccer nerd | September 11, 2007 10:46 PM | Report abuse

Just seconding a few of the above posters:

1) NCAA wrestlers could certainly run one given perhaps a week to get used to running (instead of doing other cardio) for that distance - but wrestlers certainly are in shape enough to go at that pace for 3 hours.

2) As a former high school baseball player, I can tell you there was a time that I could run about 10 miles, during my best streak. Now, starting pitchers and relievers get a lot of running in to keep their arms fresh. While I've no doubt plenty of them could not finish a marathon (have another slice, David Wells!), there have to be a few....

Don't there?

Posted by: Kyle | September 11, 2007 11:37 PM | Report abuse

Steiny, you were born to blog. it's in your blood. this is why i can't read your blogs at work. i get sucked in and can't put it down ... er ... minimize it.

Posted by: you're not working anymore! | September 11, 2007 11:48 PM | Report abuse

Without training Gros would be able to suffer through a marathon. Some guys in the NFL would dominate the USMNT beep test. Some kids on a U12 travel team have better ball skills than Hejduk. I have run 10 marathons and once ran two in a week under three hours. I also played high school soccer in the 80s. Does that mean I can play for DC United? It is bad enough when I have to read opinions from people who know nothing about soccer, but now running too... give it a rest.

Posted by: Respect Marathons | September 12, 2007 12:18 AM | Report abuse

I think Beckham could do it, but only if that T-Rex was chasing him.

Posted by: bbarrie | September 12, 2007 1:04 AM | Report abuse

I suspect the largest problem any non-runner would face with running a marathon is sheer boredom.

From Soccer, to Wrestling, to the Marine Corps, back to Soccer, and on to Rugby, I've always been able to run all day and then some. However, running for the sake of running over 5 miles is insanely dull. I love a good "runner's high" as much as the next athlete, but I prefer to have more immediate goals than the next horizon. I'd be willing to bet the same is true for many others.

Posted by: AlecW81 | September 12, 2007 1:09 AM | Report abuse

Wizards: I would bet that most wizards except for the centers could finish a marathon with no additional training. Gilbert certainly could. the average time would probably be about 430. I bet the centers could tough it out and maybe finish in less than say 6.5 hrs.

Redskins: I would bet that all of the wideouts and DB's could finish a marathon with no additional training. The average times would be again around 430. The linebackers and tight ends could probaby finish. I am not sure about the lineman. I really dont think they could "run" 26.2 miles in less than 7 hours. Not sure if they could finish.

Nationals/Orioles - I would bet that about 60% of the baseball pros could finish a marathon in under 530 with no additional training. I would estimate that most if not all should be able to finish, except for catchers and those with bad knees.

Posted by: Patrick | September 12, 2007 1:58 AM | Report abuse


Tom's Grandmother has grown. In my day she was only 6', 200, runnin' a 4.8.

Just keep livin'. L-I-V-I-N.

Posted by: Grotus | September 12, 2007 7:34 AM | Report abuse

OK, well, I play soccer regularly, and I've run a marathon. Running 10k in a game is great, but when it comes to the marathon i am sure I don't know. A regular 10K runner in great shape can almost certainly bump that up to 20 or more, but a marathon is 42K.

The human body really wasn't made to run 42K, and you need to train up to it; muscles and joints start doing wierd things, your body goes bonkers trying to maintain mineral and sugar levels...... i won't believe that even these guys can just pick up and "run" a marathon until they do it. Gros included.

Posted by: Perk | September 12, 2007 7:55 AM | Report abuse

Ah the Penna Dutch blood. I would be more likely to believe it is the good food waiting at the end. Some scrapple, pig stomach and shoefly pie with Yuengling to wash it down!

Posted by: Menno-Soccer-Man | September 12, 2007 9:11 AM | Report abuse

I play soccer on 2 coed teams, and I also run competively. I did Philadelphia Marathon last year in 3:50, and am presently training to run Army Ten Miler next month and Baltimore Half Marathon a week later -- and that's while I continue playing on my 2 soccer teams.

I think soccer and long distance running do compliment each other. Right now, with the soccer seasons coming back for fall, I'm using soccer as my speed training and cutting back on the track workouts I did over the summer. Then on non-soccer days I focus on endurance work. It's an experiment but I think I will be well prepared for my October races. However, neither of those are full marathons; when it comes to marathon running, you really do need to set aside other athletic pursuits and focus on it. The time commitment is substantial, i.e., putting in the long runs, and don't forget about the 3-week taper prior to racing.

To the question, could Gros or other United players run a marathon? Gros, without a doubt could. Could he break 3 hours? With the proper training, absolutely. With no training other than soccer, no way. In the latter case, he probably could get through 26.2 but would bonk at around 14-15 miles. He still might get a 3:30, though.

Posted by: CMJHawk86 | September 12, 2007 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Bennie could run a marathon at his usual workman's rate. Both his ankles would break by mile 5 (re-aggravated from his England playing days) but he'd finish the race on two stubs regardless of the pain. And...he'd have grown a full beard after shaving just prior to the race.

Posted by: Beans | September 12, 2007 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Bennie and Boz would start the race together, and finish it together -- at about mile 3.7... that's where the pub is offering "Beat the Clock" night.

Posted by: Joe Doc | September 12, 2007 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who thinks someone could just go out and run has obviously not gotten off the couch in years. Yes, some of these professional athletes are in great shape (soccer players probably more than most), but running a few miles once or twice a week does not a marathoner make. Look at Lance Armstrong - many would say he was the fittest athlete in the world. Then he went out and barley broke 3:00 in a marathon (with personal escorts throughout). This year he did a bit better with a little more training. But he called it the toughest thing he had ever done! Some pro athletes could make it through a marathon, but it is insane to think that one of them could come in and run a 2:30 with no extra training.

Posted by: DH | November 14, 2007 12:59 PM | Report abuse

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