"Don't tell me
you're still feeding your gut," I think, but don't say so, because I
possess more tact than courage.
dangerous is the old friend who has long since accepted your hobby but in a
gathering of strangers forgets that others may not possess an equally liberal
mind. "I saw you running in the park the other night," he says with a
Clear across the
room it is as though the strap holding Jayne Mansfield's evening gown had just
snapped. "My husband runs the marathon," my wife explains. She might
just as well have told them I was a Buddhist priest. A dozen tongues click and
the women look with sympathy at my wife. Having a husband who is a marathon
runner seems infinitely worse than one who is an alcoholic or a mere
After facing the
menacing fangs of dogs in the parks and the equally menacing fangs of Martini
sippers at parties, it thus comes as quite a relief to the runner to be able to
shed his clothes and compete in a race where, if not adjudged completely
insane, he at least is considered only moderately odd. Such a race is the
The race owes its
existence to a Greek courier named Pheidippides, who in 490 B.C. ran from the
plains of Marathon to Athens to announce the Athenian victory over an invading
Persian army. "Rejoice, we conquer," he gasped, dropping dead and
thereby doing irreparable damage to the Greek image of physical fitness. With
the Olympic revival in 1896, a Greek shepherd named Spiridon Louis wandered
down out of the hills to win the gold medal in a race following the approximate
path of Pheidippides.
Pheidippides nor Louis ran the present distance of the marathon. Poor
out-of-shape Pheidippides covered a mere 22 miles and 1,500 yards and Louis'
route was about 25 miles. When the Olympics came to London in 1908 the British
moved the starting line back to Windsor Castle so the royal family could watch
the start of the race from their royal balcony. Windsor Castle just happened to
be 26 miles and 385 yards away from where the race would end in the Olympic
stadium. Britain no longer sets the standards for the world, but on this point
she prevailed. Now, whenever a present-day marathoner slogs footsore past the
25-mile mark he always mutters under his breath, "God save the Queen"
(or words to that effect).
Impressed with the
1896 Olympic race, Boston Athletic Association Team Manager John Graham
imported the marathon to the U.S. in the following year. Fifteen runners
appeared at the start, and any distance runner in this country who has ever
amounted to anything has either consciously or subconsciously yearned to come
home first in Boston ever since.
What can attract
so large a group of intelligent men to so materially unrewarding an experience?
(The modest prizes include trophies for the first 10 finishers and medals for
the next 25.) John Gray, a schoolteacher from Walpole, Mass., sent out a
questionnaire to 100 runners and received 66 replies. Among other things he
discovered that the average marathoner had run about 2,000 miles the past year.
The lowest total reported was 230 miles, the highest Mike O'Hara's 5,100. The
average respondent had raced the full marathon distance 14 times, five of them
in Boston. O'Hara finished 100 races, a record. On the average, the marathoner
was 32 years old, figured he would run for another 19 years, with Nat Cirulnick
stating flatly, "I intend to compete for 58 more years, until I'm
mean much, of course. The runner's own words express the real appeal of
marathoning better. Dr. Leon Kruger, a 41-year-old pediatrician and a far-back
finisher in Boston, told Gray, "Running makes me feel different from men
who don't run. I'm more conscious of living rather than just existing."
Sam Ouelette, a
58-year-old janitor from Maine, has finished in Boston 18 times and has three
sons who have finished a total of 13 times in a great demonstration of
marathoning togetherness. Sam says, "I've never been told I was too old or
not good enough, like they say in team sports. If a person wants to stay young,
compete the year around."