Wednesday, August 23

Marathon's getting worse

Marathons. People are obsessed with them. Not with racing them, just with finishing. As if putting one foot in front of another for 26.2 miles is the equivalent of climbing Everest or something.

Don't they get it? Humans are designed to cover long distances on foot. There's nothing special about it.

Those that have done a few soon get to realise that. They're left with two options: train like a proper runner and do a marathon in a decent time, or run longer: run 50 miles, or 100 miles instead. In the context of a world marathon record of 2:04 -- that's 13 mph for two hours -- the second option is a lot easier and much more likely to get you noticed.

Ultra-runner Dean Karnazes has got himself on Oprah following this strategy. His latest gimmick is to run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days, for which feat he has already won a ton of sponsorship and full-colour 8-page (yes eight) advertising spreads in the running glossies. Amazing. The hype, not the performance. It's already been done.

" 'Normal Guy' Thompson Finishes 51 Marathons in 50 Days" headlines Runner's World news service this week. "Sam Thompson, hoping to raise awareness of Hurricane Katrina victims, finished his quest with 26.2 miles in Bay St Louis, Mississippi on Saturday, after 26.2 miles in New Orleans the day before. He even added the District of Columbia to one of his one-marathon-per-state days. 'He's a totally normal guy', says Thompson's girlfriend. 'He's just very driven. He's got a great deal of passion and intensity.'

Meanwhile, Chuck Engle, a 35-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, is running 52 marathons in 52 weeks -- at a decent speed. So far he's done 34. "The fastest was a 2:31:34 in Sarasota. The slowest was a 2:54:54 at Gateway to the Pacific in Elma, Washington, which was good enough to win. Last Sunday, Engle won the Silver State Marathon in Nevada in 2:44:52; the hilly course, a 5000-foot altitude, has a five-mile stretch of sand. 'It's such a euphoric feeling you get when you finish a marathon', states Engle. 'You cannot explain it to someone.' "

But never mind all that. The monks of Japan's sacred Mount Hiei run for seven years. In one 100-day stretch they cover 52.5 miles a day. This is while dressed in hand-made straw running shoes, with hat and stave, on mountain tracks as well as on roads. Kind of puts in perspective.

* Picture: "Ajari Sakai Yusai, veteran of two 1,000-day marathons, on the Imuro Valley Course". From "The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei" by John Stevens (Rider, 1988), now out of print.

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