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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I have long since abandoned the idea of stopping for stretches and I contemplate the ironic fact that it is far more comfortable to run for 24 hours than to try to ease through it. As long as I keep moving I will avoid freezing up, but my progress slows between 4 and 5 in the morning, when I cover only six miles. I think of a few running friends in New York. It is midnight there, and they have probably thought once or twice, well, Jim's well into it now. I get a small smile out of that.

At 5 a.m. I have done 90� miles and I tell Joe that I can smell 100 miles coming up. It is only a temporary goal. Too many 24-hour men strain to reach that and then crack, slumping from 8-minute to 11-minute miles. So I allow my enthusiasm a short leash. Someone tells me my pace will bring me to 156 miles at the finish.

I am slipping. There is no point in discussing the slowly rising waters. Like hemlock drinkers, I can feel the numbness coming up, the slowly piercing message of deep fatigue, that the muscles and tendons and bones are voiding even extraordinary stores. I get it most clearly in my feet, some sort of rare feeling as if they are long strips of flapping flesh. I had made a pretense of saying that I would stop short of really damaging myself, but that isn't true, and just before dawn I nod at the realization. "How are you doing?" Melanie asks. "Very comfortable," I say. "Well, not too comfortable."

At 6 a.m. I complete 95� miles. About an hour and a quarter earlier, Bristol, still the leader, went past the 100-mile mark in 13:46:12. He is perhaps nine miles ahead of me. With nine hours to go I must make up at least 4 laps every hour. It doesn't look likely. At 15:45 I get my own 100-mile split. I have improved my best time for 100 miles by about 35 minutes. I say in a burst of enthusiasm to no one in particular, "Well, at least I've done a decent workout so far." There is laughter from some listeners, although I hadn't meant to be humorous.

Eight twenty-five in the morning brings me to 110 miles and third place. Jones is closing on Bristol, who's just 20 minutes ahead of him. I am now in new territory. Every step makes it the longest run of my life. Most of my companions look the worse for wear. Hart is limping along, cheerfully giving me a verbal boost every time I go by. But he is walking, no chance of his running again. Englishman Malcolm Campbell, who was finally persuaded at some ungodly hour to put on warmer clothes, has at long last faded back to walking and slow running. When I lap him I ask how he's doing. "I'm running on memory," he says. Twenty minutes later he puts on a burst of speed and is going faster than anyone else on the track. And so he goes, alternating between a crawl and a mean run. Knippenberg had retired during the dark hours. Some of the others walk; hardly anyone runs very fast anymore. One man sits down on a chair and takes a few drags on a cigarette while his taut-looking legs get a massage from several pairs of hands. There are 13 survivors.

I have no appetite. I never really did, after all. Cups of hot chicken noodle soup are nice. Cups of tea with milk and sugar and a handful of grapes give a bit of a lift. Melanie asks about the meal of mashed potatoes and peas I had once carefully plotted in; I shake my head. I am getting a little cranky sometimes now about being asked if I want this or that. I miss my sister. I want her to get back before I crack and start to walk. About a quarter to 11 Harriet shows up and tells me how wonderful I look. That cheers me up. Only a couple of days later do I learn how well she lied. "You were holding yourself in check but by morning you were just crawling around out there with your arms pulled high and jutting out to the sides like little chicken wings," she said. I had no idea. True, at one point I had gone into the dressing room and debated whether to take a look at my face in the mirror—simply objective curiosity, just as a medical student might study a burn victim. I looked, and I had to laugh I looked so bad—chalk white, new lines in the face, the quick aging you get when G-forces squash you out of shape.

Sunday morning in London, even at Crystal Palace, does involve a few things other than a 24-hour run into eternity. Through a fence beyond the scoreboard appear some young lads practicing field hockey. Like a child with its face to the bus window, I stare with simpleminded wonder at the sight of new faces and sights. When their practice is over they come and stare at us.

The fog has relented and the sun has come out. Clouds have blown away. The sun, bright and white, pours down, although the air is still chilly. There are four hours to go now, and I am second. My recorder, John Legge, who had introduced himself before the race, comes down from the stands with a little piece of paper in one hand and waits at a quiet corner of the track. He has run one of these monsters himself. He does not appear capable of such madness; with his bulky white sweater, casual slacks and glasses below the tumbled brown hair, he looks like a professor of economics on a Sunday afternoon in the park. His manner is quiet but his words are firm.

"You're simply urinating too much," he says. "You lose a minute every time you stop. You're in second place and Gordon Peddie is third, about 11 laps in back of you. All you have to do is keep running steadily, not faster, just steadily, and you have no idea how hard it is for someone to make up time on you. Just think about that."

It warms me to have an ally. Someone wants me to be second. It is like a strong voice coming from across the room that no one else can hear. He has been through it; he knows. He has watched me all night; he radiates conviction as well as warning. I apply myself to my work, continue to bear down. Brusquely I refuse drinks, like a reformed alcoholic.

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