Kiss, Kiss, It's Uta Pippig!

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, April 1996

Kiss, Kiss, It's Uta Pippig!

The fastest woman who ever ran Boston, on foes, fears, and the perils of German cheesecake
By John Tayman

When Hollywood makes the movie of Uta Pippig's life, Meg Ryan will get the role. Disarming charm, tousled golden hair, Macintosh apple cheeks--attach an unusually musical German accent and the actor's preparation will be complete. Of course, Ryan would have to run a marathon, blowing kisses to her cheering fans as she crossed the finish line in record time. Or the film could simply cut to Pippig tearing up the course, as she may again this month in Boston, hoping to become the first female runner to take the race three years in a row. Six years after the long night when she and Dieter Hogan, her coach and companion, bundled into a darkened car in East Germany and fled that country's state-run sporting machine, Pippig is on the verge of becoming the sport's first female superstar: The 30-year-old has melted David Letterman, graced high-profile ad campaigns, and scored a Nike deal worth a reported $500,000. The Boston triumphs and her 1993 victory in the New York Marathon make Pippig a prohibitive favorite at the Atlanta Olympics, where she'll compete for Germany. Between her sporting accomplishments Pippig notched her doctorate in medicine and will soon settle into the residency grind. Clearly, Pippig is racing through life, but a couple of months before Boston, she took a break at a café in Boulder, Colorado, where she lives and trains with Hogan, for one of her more important pre-race rituals: the last cheesecake.

How did you get into this thing of blowing kisses to the crowds during a race?
It's because I'm so emotional, to give something back. That sounds very simple, but really, what should you do? You can't stop at everyone, tell them, "Thank you for cheering for me." If you train so very hard, you are really sometimes like in a hell, and then spring comes, the Boston Marathon comes, and you come out of this hell. You say, "Hello out there!" Then you can run a very, very good marathon, and people are sharing that with you. I just want so much to give them something, a smile, a good result. [Laughs.] Maybe I give too many kisses.

You set the course record in Boston in 1994. Is it your favorite marathon?
Oh, yes, because it's connected to our history. It was our first big race after we left Germany, and the people in Boston gave us a very nice welcome and helped us in many ways. And always there are the strongest competitors there, the best battles. I've seemed to do well there, and the people like me now and yell for me.

Haven't they always cheered for you ?
The first time I ran, in 1990, Rosa Mota was doing well, and all along the course you could hear people going, "Rosa! Rosa!" And only one time, I hear my name, "Uta!"

[Hogan: It was probably me.]

[Laughs.] Probably! But now it's "Uta. Uta. Uta." It's wonderful.

So what's the significance of the 100th running of the race for you?
There's just so much history. Then maybe to be the winner, to be even more a part of the history, that would be something. And of course I always want to do well for Boston. It's like when you are going to a friend's house and you have a nice present and you are a little bit nervous. You want very much to say something special. It's the same with me and Boston.

Boston is known for having unpredictable conditions. What's it like to wake up on race day and find bad weather?
It depends on what mood you are already in. If you are nervous before, you'll be nervous if it is sunny or snowy. The thing is, if you've got bad conditions on race day, it affects everybody. So the problem doesn't come with your ability to win; the problem is if you are going after a world record. Last year it was a little like this. It was too warm already at the start line. And then it gets warmer and warmer, and I'm a little bit sad because I was running a world-record pace for eight or ten miles. I had to change the tactic simply to win, not to break the record.

How disappointing is it when you realize you're not going to get the world record?
Normally you go to a race to win a race, so it doesn't affect you then. But it hurts a lot afterward, if you've lost an opportunity because of the wind or the weather or an injury. You can only run so many years. But it's not good to worry too much about it, because if you get the world record, six months later another runner can come along and take it. But the win you have forever.

What marathoners do you fear?
Maybe fear is not the right word. I know that the others train hard too, so I respect a lot of them. But not too much, you know. [Laughs.] So respect, that's a better word. I respect Elana Meyer, from South Africa. She's very good; she took second and third in Boston. Another is the Olympic champion from 1992, Valentina Yegerova. And then there is the Kenyan girl Tegla Loroupe, who has won the New York Marathon twice.

When does the pressure to win a particular race start eating at you?
The minute I start thinking about it. It does not hit all at once, this high pressure, because as you train you are getting confident. But it gets tough if I stay in Boston too long before the marathon--say a week, with each day getting worse. Then you can't talk to me anymore. [Laughs.]

So your personality changes the closer you get to race day?
Oh, yes.

[Hogan: Oh, yes.]

I'm not easygoing during the last week before the marathon. Still, I always try to stay on the ground. Because if you are too concentrated and too focused it can go the other way, you know.

OK, what I really want to know is, What happens to your training if you guys fight?
[Laughs.] If we fight? Dieter, do we have fights?

[Hogan, laughing: I don't remember.]

Do you run together?

And do you talk while you're running?
No. Maybe that's not normal. Here in Boulder it's fantastic, so we just look around. Maybe we'll say one time, "How do you feel?" "Uh, good."

You train, you compete, you study medicine. Is there time for anything else?
[Hogan: She plays piano.]

Oh, Dieter, you shouldn't tell this! OK, I play a little bit. It's nothing. I played as a kid, and I started up again a few years ago. I love Bach and Schumann.

[Hogan: I prefer Elvis.]

It's true. He does.

Don't you ever get sick to death of running?
I don't miss running if I go without it for a while. But I always come back. After six or seven days of not running, I have to have a little jog. It's kind of like a freedom inside.

When you're running, how do you use those hours in your head? What do you think about?
Many, many hours you are not able to think about anything at all. You have to concentrate on your speed, on your running technique. You forget about other things. Oh, sometimes, if you are having a problem, the solution might come into your head out of nowhere. Then, when you are done, you have solved something. You are much more relaxed.

Are medicine and running linked for you?
The body is not very simple. You learn about biochemistry and nutrition, and you see how it is all connected to how your body works. It's possible to see how to run better.

How long do you think you'll keep running?
Maybe five years? For as long as I can improve my times. Although there will come one race when I don't finish first. I mean, I will not win forever. Look, for me, life is short. And there are so many nice things to do. And you have to go inside yourself and say, What do you want, really? Many people do just one thing because they've done it for years and years. And the truth is, I want to do more.

Have you ever gotten lost on a run?
That's what Dave Letterman asked me on his show. [Laughs.] Yes. I had a cross-country race once, and I took a wrong turn and went off and ended up running about 300 meters more than I should have. But as I told him, I still won the race.

Do you ever celebrate your wins with a couple of beers or a bottle of wine?
Ha! Oh, yes. If I have a vacation, or with a meal, sometimes I'll have a half bottle of wine. But I drink nothing at all for three months before a race. And you know what happens after all that time away from it? I can drink one glass of red wine and get happy. I get very happy.

What's your favorite indulgence?
Oh, cheesecake. I make a very good German cheesecake. They make good cheesecake here, too. Whenever possible, before the heavy training, Dieter and I come and sit here with something nice to drink and some cheesecake.

So when do you have to give it up?
[Looks mournfully at her plate.] This may be it, the day. Dieter, it's our last cheesecake!

John Tayman interviewed weight lifter Mark Henry for the February issue.

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