The result is what I am. A method runner. A runner who reacts totally, letting the pain become visible in my face and audible over the countryside.
This is not the way I was taught. In my childhood my heroes were those who withstood pain without flinching. The Spartan youth who, uncomplaining, allowed the fox to eat away his stomach. The Indian brave who impassively watched his own torture. Everywhere in my reading I was encouraged to be a stoic, given as models those who were silent in the face of suffering, those who went to their deaths with a smile on their lips.
I have tried it that way and I can't handle it. When I come apart, the disintegration is total. I come apart all over, and with a loud noise. So I subscribe to Ken Doherty's holistic approach. The former Penn coach always espoused the idea of a total body-mind-spirit reaction. It takes extra energy, he stated, to maintain a passive expression when you're hurting inside. Don't do it, he said. Be yourself. Accept the pain, show it and then you will be able to use it in a positive way. You will be able to relax.
One of the great British runners, Gordon Pirie, was of the same mind. The stiff-upper-lip philosophy, he wrote, costs the runner and prevents him from reaching his greatest heights. Better to react completely and use it in the running. "The free relaxed runner shows in his face and gesture that it is torture and agony to give his last ounce of energy," Pirie wrote. "How silly to pretend it is not."
Anyone who runs near me knows that I am in agony, knows that I am ready to give my last ounce of energy. If indeed I haven't already done so. This has so disturbed some runners against whom I have competed that they have written to me complaining about it. Apparently they did not want to say anything to me during the race for fear I was about to collapse.
One colleague sent a note to me asking that I please not run within 200 yards of him in the future. He added the hope that I would desist from calling upon the Deity.
Another younger runner wrote, "Your constant wheezing drains my energy. I feel as if my lungs are a reserve tank for your breathing." My sighs shattered him, too. They contained, he felt, all the despair in the universe. "My mind quickly leaps," he wrote, "to why finish? Why race? Why are we here? Why exist? Please stay away from me."
I sympathize with them. It must be disturbing to have a 59-year-old man hanging on at your shoulder, using your pace, being carried along in your draft, all the while wheezing and groaning and sighing as if every breath will be his last, and continually asking his Creator to take notice of what is going on.
It must be even more disturbing when this aged suffering soul noisily takes off on a sustained sprint and beats you to the finish.
But then the renowned Australian coach, Percy Cerutty, could have told them that would happen. Conscious control, determined maintenance of proper style and decorum of facial expression was, he said, "a concept of weakly men."