Astronaut to run marathon in space

Boston marathon qualifier will mimic race on treadmill in space station.
Sunday, April 15, 2007 | 11:46 p.m. CDT; updated 7:27 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

BOSTON — All systems are go for astronaut marathoner Suni Williams.

Williams, who qualified for the Boston Marathon before learning she would be at the International Space Station on race day, was cleared for a 26.2-mile simulated run at 9 a.m. CDT on Monday, just when the real event will be leaving Hopkinton down on Earth.

That would allow the U.S. Navy Commander to run at the same time as her sister, Dina Pandya, fellow astronaut Karen Nyberg and about 24,000 others who are expected to face heavy rain and head winds on their way to Boston’s Back Bay.

Williams will run the equivalent distance at the space station, in low orbit about 210 miles above Earth, while tethered to a treadmill by bungee cords so she doesn’t float away.

“I was joking around, saying it would be a nice relief if it broke and I could get off it,” Williams said on Friday in an interview. “But marathons are hard on the body. It’s hard on the machine. I hope both of us survive.

“Just joking on that,” she added. “I think both of us will survive.”

The treadmill, which is specially balanced to avoid vibrations that could disrupt the space station, has had its share of mechanical problems. Williams and crew mate Michael Lopez-Alegria performed extensive maintenance on it about six weeks ago.

“I think both of us are as ready as we’re going to be,” Williams said of the treadmill.

Williams qualified for the Boston race by completing last January’s Houston Marathon in 3 hours, 29 minutes, 57 seconds. But she left on the shuttle Discovery on Dec. 9 and has spent the past five months in space.

Because of the demands of Williams’ sleep and work schedule, NASA had considered having her run on Sunday evening. But spokeswoman Eldora Valentine confirmed on Friday that Williams will be able to run at the same time as the main event.

While marathoners usually taper their training to prepare for the race, Williams has to worry about the effects of zero gravity on bone and muscle density. She planned to run three miles each day until the race.

But she’ll stick to the traditional when it comes to the pre-race meal.

“I’m going to eat some pasta. We have lasagna and ravioli. I think I might have both of those the day before,” she said. “My mom is having a big pasta party in Massachusetts, so I just wish I could be there for it.”

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