SI Vault
James E. Shapiro
July 28, 1980
...and we've run the whole night through. So reports the author, No. 18, emerging from the fog at London's Crystal Palace after enduring 15 hours of a grueling 24-hour race
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July 28, 1980

It's Seven O'clock In The Morning

...and we've run the whole night through. So reports the author, No. 18, emerging from the fog at London's Crystal Palace after enduring 15 hours of a grueling 24-hour race

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At 15 minutes to go I feel my entire body surge with excitement. I ask again for my exact mileage. The motion is plodding and the breathing labored, but dammit, I want every yard now. I can afford to pour out the last drops of reserve. I grab the race program, which contains a list of the top world performances, and look to see who is within my grasp. Morelli of Italy, 222.4 kilometers. Unsuspectingly, he dreams on his bed of ink and paper while I plod on to seize possession of his house.

Five minutes to go. Now we are all whipped up. The crowd calls out—"Come on! You can do it! Let's go! Great job!" We all respond as best we can. A mad notion of trying to run again seizes me. Well, why not? But let's not rush such things. I keep walking as fast as I can. Anything can be tolerated now. Although I do not notice it, I learn later that some of those who watch are crying. And some of the recorders who labored for so long to keep track of their flock cry as well.

Three minutes. There is something lovely happening now, the general awareness of the brevity of all time—long or short—the funny, madcap, unbelievable adventure coming to a close. Adam, a friend, had said the day before that he wondered about the worth of such a venture. Later, after witnessing the will that drove the scrambling, strung-out mob forward in the last few moments, he said that it may not have had much meaning beyond what it was in terms of ordinary worth, but that it was worth doing for its own sake. It was very special.

I lumber past Jack. We give each other a quick sideways hug, and then I am off to get in a few more meters.

Two minutes to go. I break into an insane canter, the weakened superstructure teetering, the cordage of tendons and muscles creaking like rigging under too-full sail, but the bark holds, and noses forward. God, how people are yelling!

One minute to go. I go round the curve, mad as a hatter, past the yelling faces. Someone runs toward me with an orange traffic cone, the final marker of my voyage. A gun fires and the cone goes down with a whump. I stop a stride or two later and bend forward, hands on knees, chest heaving. Some strangled half-broken sobs, and at last the long sought release comes, the tide of emotion lifts the" forlorn boat out of the mud-banks. I paddle around in my little puddle of joy. Isn't it nice to feel so good! Down the backs of my legs comes a strong physical feeling of release and warmth. There are hugs, pictures, handshakes, congratulations all around. Word comes that I have covered 138 miles, 1,228 yards for fourth place. It is not 140 miles and it is not a lot of other things, but for what it is I am profoundly grateful. I am content at last.

The survivors clump in toward a bench. Jones, a blue-lipped winner at 153 miles, 1,143 yards, holds the Percy Cerutty Cup aloft and drinks some ale from it. We pass it around. Jones gives a little speech. A bank of faces close in on every side. It is a happy feeling to be among friends.

Adam drives me back to the hotel, and after a hot tub and some food, I am left alone to sleep. Only, as I know from before, there will be no sleep. Toenails are torn from their moorings, broken clumps of blisters weep between the toes and the harsh recriminations of overtaxed feet and shins make sleepiness a torment. Ending the race is just the beginning. The body claims its due. The cave beckons, and I must lick my wounds after the hunt, until driven by hunger to go out again on the long chase.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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