- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
My sister comes to the edge of the track, a face in the window of my cell, to say she is returning to central London. Next lap we say good night. She vanishes and I consider for a moment that she will go to sleep in a warm bed and wake up on another day and have breakfast, and all the while I will be awake, still here. It simply is not real.
At 7:45 p.m. my thighs are worse. I do some quick stretching but it doesn't help. First food of the evening is chicken noodle soup. The body expends about 100 calories a mile, 700 calories an hour, perhaps 16,000 calories by the end of the race. There is no way to eat enough to keep up, but fat metabolism will carry one for the whole distance. The soup is delicious, but when I try to eat a banana it seems repugnant.
It takes me a long time to decide to change from a mesh T shirt and shorts even though I can see Melanie bundling up during the early evening. There is always the chance of losing too much body heat, so I call out on one lap for her to pin numbers on a sweatsuit. As the clothing is being readied, I run a couple of laps, then two more before I stop, and another mile is gone. So they go, still seeping away with minimal effort, punctuated by little events that are most important to the venture.
There is, for example, the critical matter of urinating.
There is no toilet by the side of the track, so we are asked to run into one of the dressing rooms under the stands. The rules require us to come back on the track exactly where we left off, but no one is checking. The mere idea of cheating among such a group seems absurd. All the same I watch myself and note a convenient post that I use to mark my departure so as to make an angle for the dressing room door with a minimal waste of meters. But a little later in the evening I see two runners relieving themselves side-by-side on the grassy swath, a few yards from a fence. There are no women in the race, and those who are handlers do not wander down by this spot. I decide that I, too, shall use this corner. I am taking liquids copiously for such a cool night, and tension or excitment or the weather or something is making me urinate sometimes as frequently as every six or seven laps.
Around this time, about five hours into the race, Ritchie's feet are slapping at a tremendous rate, and I wonder how anyone can run that hard for another 19 hours. Then he says something going by me. "What's that?" I say. "Damn silly race," he says. It seems a bad attitude to have so early, and I guess that he might drop out. I feel more certain of it later when he sits down on the track, a blanket over his shoulders while an attendant bandages his right foot to prevent a deep blister from getting worse. I hope he will soon fade back or drop out. It is nothing personal—I like Don very much—but I simply want to be the top survivor by the end of the next day's daylight.
As the night continues to wear on, a white mist begins to dim the floodlights. A few minutes after every hour I have Joe climb up to the officials' box and check on my progress. It is another focus point. The word is good: 1 hour—7� miles; 2 hours—14 miles; 3 hours—20� miles; 4 hours—27� miles; 5 hours—34 miles; 6 hours—41 miles; 7 hours—47� miles.
Ritchie drops out after more than 50 miles of running. At least I will not be the first. Stalwart Mike Newton of London, running in shorts the entire way, is making good time and has moved into second place behind Bristol. The two of them go through 50 miles in less than 6� hours, world-record pace for 24 hours by a big margin. I figure they have to fade. Can't worry too much about them, though, I have some serious catching up to do. Knippenberg has lost his social chatter and complains when I ask him about stomach cramps. He mentions a 400-kilometer run (248.4 miles) he competed in this year that took him more than 43 hours to complete. Veterans of such efforts are not to be dismissed lightly. I remind myself of the sort of sour and impoverished character in Balzac waiting for his relatives to die off. I cast a quick look at Knippenberg. He just may not last, I think.
Once in a while now I pass someone else on a lap. That feels good. There are bits of conversation. Frank Thomas, of the Chelmsford Athletic Club in Essex, just north of London, mentions 100-mile runs he has done over the hilly countryside of rural England. He runs lightly with an incredibly upright, springy carriage, and he is running conservatively. I josh him about his knit cap, what a garish collection of colors it is, but as we get into the night hours he grows quiet, so I leave him alone.
At 10 p.m. the loudspeakers say there will be no more amplified comments until seven the next morning so local residents will not be disturbed. After the announcer signs off, the message board, with its yellow light bulbs, posts information on our relative positions and time covered. Personal messages are displayed: So-and-so is thinking of you now with all her love—things like that. The silence in the stadium grows steadily deeper. Now even the leaders begin to stop on occasion to grab a drink and walk a few yards. Extra pullovers are put on. The blue flames of camp stoves keep pots of tea on the boil, the steam rising from spouts straight up into the calm unbroken cold. Off to the north the lights of central London brush the clouds with red. A dog howls somewhere nearby but the donkey has been silent for hours now. I simply go on, trying to keep arm action relaxed, palms relaxed, to release through my heels, as my stretch teacher in New York told me to do. There is no boredom out here for me. I am used to night running. I think briefly of running home from a nighttime cooking job in Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge and up through the stone arroyos of lower Manhattan. That was lonely in the same nice way. Night running is always quiet and detached.