"Chairman Mao!" Emmerton said. "I don't want to meet your bloody Chairman Mao!"
As Emmerton strode off, he could hear the Chinese protesting. "But Chairman Mao is a very famous long-distance swimmer."
But for Bill Emmerton, Singapore will always mean a different sort of intrigue, a flirtation with an attractive Canadian, then, a week later, a luncheon date in London. "I'll be back for afternoon tea," he said. "I have my training to do." Norma Arkles, on holiday from a teaching job in Malaysia, couldn't figure out the brash Australian. "He didn't know what my plans were," she says. "He just presumed everything." At best it was an unlikely match, of college classrooms and lonely roads, concert halls and locker rooms. Emmerton went to concerts for the first time in his life, and Norma started jogging. "I thought he was a madman," she confesses. "But then I became very interested in what he was doing. He believed it was right to keep fit and I admired that."
Marrying Norma worked wonders on Bill Emmerton. Piddling one-day, 100-mile runs would no longer do. Within a year of his wedding a brewery paid him $250 to practically kill himself running 500 miles across the Australian desert in 100� heat, wearing COOPER'S STOUT FOR STAMINA on his T shirt. Then, six months later, the International Wool Secretariat dressed him in wool shorts and paid his expenses to run the length of Britain (952 miles) from John o'Groat's, Scotland to Land's End. The run would take 18 days 10� hours and, as Emmerton says, he was near death more than once. In Devonshire he ran with an umbrella to deflect sleet, hail and snow. Going across the moors at 3 a.m., he could hear the hounds howling from distant Dartmoor prison—The Hound of the Baskervilles, he thought. When it got tough he would debate with himself: "God, what the hell am I doing? My feet are bleeding, my muscles are sore. I'd give anything to lie down on a soft bed, to have a good meal." Then, as he says, "I'd think of the thousands of miles I'd traveled and of all the training. 'Just 500 miles to go,' I'd say when I really got down. 'Just 400 miles to go.' After all, I'm the sort of bloke doesn't like to admit defeat." The town of Launceston was 80 miles from the finish, at the top of a hill, and Emmerton carried a scroll for the mayor, given him by the mayor of Launceston, Tasmania, his home town. He sprinted up the hill, met the mayor, began giving a speech to 4,000 people who'd gathered to meet him and passed out for five minutes. He recovered and ran the last 36 hours with only two hours' sleep. Norma had followed all the way in a jeep, ready to massage cramped legs, to wash 10 pairs of socks a day and to dispense her peculiar brand of encouragement. "I'm sufferin' with ya, honey." she would yell from the jeep. "but please go a little faster."
More pleasant, more adaptable women than Norma Emmerton would be too good for mortal men. How else could she be part of this story? "When I start thinking of it, I've got all kinds of grounds," she says, gibing her husband. "But he was very honest before we got married. He said the main interest in our life would be running. 'Does it take all your time?' I asked. 'Yes,' he replied." Their wedding morning was no different from any other. "I couldn't neglect my 10-mile run just because I was getting married," Emmerton says. "If you can get away with it the morning you're married, you can get away with it anytime, 'cause then they know you mean business."
Norma's relatives had been apprehensive. The facts seemed to indicate that the bridegroom was something of a wild man. Fifty of Norma's clan were at the Toronto airport to greet them on their first visit, lined up behind a glass wall like new fathers, peering curiously for some sort of creature with long legs. The plane finally unloaded and the man-beast jogged through the doorway and began doing laps around the luggage rack. "Stop it," Norma whispered nervously. "No running in here. They'll think you're crazy."
All the Canadians were very proud, though, when plans for the longest run in their country's history were announced—390 miles from Toronto to Montreal's Expo 67. As it turned out, they almost lost their hero. One morning Emmerton was doing a 10-mile training run on a lonely road in Banff.... But let him tell it: "When you're belting along you're oblivious to everything. Suddenly, about two yards in front of me, this monster grizzly bear rears up on its hind legs. It looked about 10 feet tall, it did, and I just stood there afraid to move. I think my heart stopped beating. I turned around and ran as fast as I could. I don't know what happened to the bear. I never looked back for about a mile." Two days later Emmerton read in the paper that two people had been killed by a grizzly in Glacier Park, only about 250 miles away (SI, May 12 et seq.).
The worst moment, though, came near the end of the run, outside Montreal. A policeman told Emmerton he had only six miles to go and he stepped up his pace. Exhausted after about 5� miles, he slowed down to find out that he had been misled. There were still 12 miles to go. The shock was too much. For the first time in his life his nerves went completely. He couldn't stop crying. Finally he recovered and ran on. The last 10 miles were on freeways, and though he was suffering, the police refused to allow any rests. They said it would be too dangerous. By the end of the run both of his big toenails had fallen off.
As in the British run, Norma was always nearby. "I don't miss decent clothes or hairdos," she says. "All that can wait. I'm like a pit boss who has to think quick to keep the machine in good shape."
Norma has recently earned a degree in Swedish massage, and at least twice a day she lovingly kneads her husband's toes, arches, calves, ankles and thighs with a concoction of olive and rubbing oils, vinegar and an analgesic.