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Chapter 12:

Just the Facts
Saturday, January 8, 2000

In 1999 I trained harder and more consistently than at any previous time in my life.[34] I'm obliged to ask myself whether I'm any better off for it. To answer that question I need to examine some data.

[34] 1998 wasn't bad, either!

Following are some factoids concerning my training year.

Judging solely by the way I felt, I was in my best condition of the year in August, when I ran 216 miles, with three weeks over 51 miles, and the fourth over 50 miles. My long runs that month were 24, 18, 26.2, and 13.1 miles. This was followed on September 4 by an indoor 50K training run. Then I began tapering for Twin Cities Marathon. By the time of the race my body had become a bowl of pudding. I haven't felt as good since as I did in early September

It's likely that my present condition is as good as my geezerly body will ever let me get, though I still entertain ideas of losing more weight, and of continuing to run more marathons and ultras.

I'm no longer one of those guys who sits in front of the TV with a bag of chips and says, "Man, I've gotta get in shape!" Instead I sit in front of the TV with a bag of cookies and say, "Man, I am in shape!" But only when I'm not too busy running, writing, or dealing with Real Life.

True, I have three handfuls of blubber around my middle. But the rest of it is reasonably well distributed. There's enough fat covering that I don't look like a muscleman. The muscle must be under there somewhere, because I've been lifting weights consistently since I took up running. I'm too old and not vain enough to be training for looks. I'm not planning on prancing around at any bodybuilding shows in a men's bikini anytime soon.

I trust you're relieved to hear that.

Them Dry Bones

Yesterday I performed a post-race damage assessment audit of my body parts from the ground up, to determine how I'm faring in the wake of last week's run.

In summary, considering the enormous stress I subjected myself to last week, I seem to have borne it well, and am recovering quickly. Today my seven-day mileage accumulation, usually a useful statistic, dropped from 81.52 to 0.00, because I haven't run since the race. I've been riding the stationary bike and lifting light weights. Tomorrow I'll try to walk a few miles, but won't run until next week.


These are some points of interest I didn't mention in the body of my ATY race report or elsewhere in this journal.

There's a large 24-hour race in Olander, Ohio, each September that is frequently declared to be a 24-hour national championship, as it was in 1999. I compared my ATY distance with the finishers in that race. If I had run the same distance in that race, which had 43 100-mile finishers, I still would have placed 64th of 158 runners, in the fortieth percentile, among competition that included the likes of Yiannis Kouros, and the best fixed-distance ultrarunners in the US.

Now I want to go run that race! The trouble is, the race in 2000 is on the same day as our wedding anniversary.

Nope, I shouldn't even think about it. Not this year.

Remember Richard the podiatrist? He was last mentioned on September 28. The last time I saw him was the day before we headed off to Twin Cities. He was working hard to get ready for a marathon in Milwaukee a week after mine. It appeared he was starting to skid, from trying to complete the training in too short a time, and was saying he'd run this one, but would never do it again.

When a person says that before his first marathon, it's probably true. It suggests that he is no longer much interested in running his first, either, but doesn't want to waste the training or lose face.

Richard struck me as being headed for a crash. My guess is that he probably finished under 4:00 and has hardly run since. I was hoping to find out before bringing this journal to a conclusion. Richard used to be a regular at the gym. He hasn't been there in over three months, at least not when I've been there. Formulate your own theories on why.

This discussion leads me to sharing a thought I've been kicking around for a long time, concerning post-marathon depression.

Often beginning runners report that after running their first marathon, they experience post-marathon depression, or that they stop running, sometimes entirely. When that happens it may be because they have been running for the wrong reasons.[35]

[35] Some runners would argue that whatever motivates a person to run is a good reason.

If running is about completing a marathon, then once that goal has been reached, there's no reason to do it any longer, and not running leaves a void. No wonder runners who think that way get depressed. But to runners for whom running is about living a healthy life style, the races become mere mile markers in the greater race of life, as they move through one and on to the next.

Some runners are able to make a "success" of distance running. This doesn't necessarily mean that they are fast or that they win hardware in races. Some don't race at all.

Rather, it means that they continue to run and train regularly, day in and day out, all year long. Running becomes an integral part of their way of life to such a degree that it's hard to view those persons without noticing that running is a part of what they are, even if it isn't the primary thing in their life. (And should it be? It should not!) I like to think that I've arrived at that state of balance myself.

Success at distance running is made possible by hard training, sustained over a period of years. Newbies who excitedly announce: "I'm gonna runa merrython!" before they can run a mile usually fall out early, or they become one-shot wonders.

Pass it on.

Just a Rumour

It was inevitable that I would eventually see Richard the podiatrist again between the original posting of RTtM and its completion in book form, and learn the true story of how he fared during and after his marathon. One day during the last week in January I encountered Richard at Bally's, when we had a chance to stand and trade war stories.

Except for anticipating his time, my estimation of how he would do was completely wrong! He ran the race with his brother-in-law and a friend, and finished in 3:54. He adjusted his pace down for his companions, which undoubtedly did him great good at the end of the race. The brother-in-law, who has run several marathons, had some difficulty around fifteen miles, and dropped back, but urged Richard and his friend to continue. They were reluctant, but surged ahead. By mile eighteen, the friend, too, was starting to hurt, and needed to walk for a while, but again exhorted Richard to go for his best performance, since he was still proclaiming it would be his only marathon. Richard pressed on alone.

As Richard told it, he felt wonderful the whole way. The last three miles he realized that he had only one gear left; he could go only the pace he was running, and had no ability left to kick to the finish, but he was in no great distress. Richard finished with a second half split time only twenty seconds longer than the first half. As I see it, that means his pacing was as close to perfect as it can get.

When I talked to him, over three and a half months after the race, he talked about it with excitement and jubilation. Obviously, I was dead wrong in my prediction that Richard would handle the running and aftermath of his marathon with difficulty, and that I greatly underestimated the guy. Nevertheless, as much as he enjoyed it, and as satisfied as he is with his success, he remains staunchly convinced that he will never run another marathon.

The only reason I hadn't seen Richard in all the intervening time was because he had been living a different routine, running from home, and taking his workouts a little more easily. He has a wife and four children, and wants to be at home with them more after work.

There were two ways I could have dealt with this influx of information. One was to go back and change the original text to conform to the reality. But doing so would have tempted me to present a revisionist version of my view at the time, which would have been contrary to the progressively revelatory spirit of this journal.

It's fun to make such discoveries. Every new experience lends more evidence to support my belief that no two people operate exactly the same way. As Internet runners like to add to their advice-filled posts: YMMV.[36]

[36] Your Mileage May Vary.

Answers to Questions

At the beginning of this journal I asked two questions. It's time to answer them.

  1. Were my target goals at cross purposes with one another? Was it reasonable for a geezer to hope to do well at Twin Cities, then set a PR at Tucson two months later, and then in less than a month participate in and survive a 24-hour race?

    That looks like two questions, but it's really one. The second part is an elaboration of the first.

    My honest answer to this question is Yes! these goals do conflict with one another.

    In attempting to do both my first two ultras and at least one "good" marathon, I probably cheated myself on the marathon. During most of the year I hammered out long, slow distances, with walking included. Without speed and intensity work, how could I rightly have expected to set a marathon PR, while carrying a body that has been gradually puffing up like a toad? Now I know better.

    Does this mean it was not worth doing all three races, or that I didn't enjoy myself? By no means!

    It's true that in some details I failed to reach a few of my goals. But I love running marathons, and expect to run many more in the future. Surely I benefited myself from trying my hardest. No one can justly accuse me of not giving it my best shot.
  2. Was running a 24-hour race an unrealistic goal for a geezer like me who had never run one, and had completed only one previous ultramarathon?

    For me there can be only one answer to this question: an unqualified No! I need only cite my performance as proof. If it had been unrealistic I would have fallen flat on my face. That didn't quite happen.

    The answer for someone else might be different. It depends on how badly one wants to run 24 hours, the reasons he wants to do it, and what he's willing to put forth to accomplish it. Each one must answer the question for himself. As for me — I wouldn't hesitate to do it again, and believe that I will not only do so, but will surpass my first performance.

Some Lessons Learned

My bullseye at ATY supplies evidence to support the theory of specific training. I run most of the time on an indoor track and am quite used to it. Whenever I've gotten out on the road in a race, with hills and other relatively new variables, I often don't do as well as I expect or would like to. Then last week I went to a track and found that I could run around it all day long, like a hamster in a wheel. There should be no great mystery about why, should there?

It's best to specialize one's training in order to target a particular performance. Not all running is the same. If you'll be running far, train far. If you'll be racing down hills, train down hills. If you'll be racing on trails, train on trails. If you'll be racing around and around on a track, then train by running around and around on a track.

Any coach would have told me that, as do the how-to books on running. I've read it all before. But I don't have a coach, and books don't yell at me, so I had to learn by experience.

Pass it on.

Let It Be

After two less than spectacular marathons I'm glad there is a happy ending to this venture.

In non-running circles observers variously regard marathoners as everything from heroic to fruitcakes, and those who run ultramarathons as from another planet. I used to think that way myself.

Most people are capable of far more than they ever dreamed. They just don't know it yet.

There's a traditional wisdom and approach that accompanies marathoning. We read it in every issue of Runner's World. It dictates that we train so many days a week within a certain range of paces, to rest a certain amount, to taper before races within some accepted range, and of course, to allow some amount of time for recovery after the marathon.

A year ago I started reading the Ultra List and learned that the training of many people who run ultras doesn't fit the traditional pattern. They run not one ultra a year or two, but sometimes dozens. Some have run hundreds of marathons and even more ultras.

During periods they aren't participating in race events, it's not uncommon to see them doing thirty-mile runs every weekend, or long runs back to back on consecutive weekend days, with relatively little running during the week. Yet they don't get run down or destroyed. They are as healthy as the marathoners or more so. The ultrarunners I've known also tend to be better informed about physiology, biomechanics, and the science of running than other runners.[37]

[37] In fairness, I should add that well-trained elite athletes at any distance generally understand these matters. But almost any normal, healthy person can run shorter distances. Local 5Ks and 10Ks are signed up for by tens of thousands of people, some of whom train hardly at all. It takes training to excel at any distance. But the longer the distance, the more specialized knowledge is required, just to go the distance, and to avoid injuries, stay healthy, and maintain the ability to run.

In July I began reading about people who participate in extreme endurance contests, such as the Sri Chinmoy 3100 mile race: 5600 laps on a sidewalk around a high school in Queens, NY, for 51 days, during a record-breaking heat wave, each participant averaging 100K a day. Four out of five starters finished. They are remarkably healthy, too. Reportedly, all are vegetarians. And all have done this sort of thing before, and will be back for more.

The conclusion I draw from this is similar to the one King David made thousands of years ago.

I shall laud you because in a fear-inspiring way I am wonderfully made. — Psalm 139:14

We do not really yet know the full limits of the human organism. It will not be my body that will prove to be the guinea pig demonstrating what the ultimate limits are. You won't be reading about me out on the sands of the Sahara in the Marathon de Sables, or climbing up the Tibetan side of Everest without oxygen. I'm content with the knowledge that at an age when many people think it's time to settle back and enjoy the good life, I took up a challenging physical pursuit for which I thought I had utterly no capacity, and in a mere five years reached goals that some observers regard as impressive and out of reach.

A primary point I've tried to make in this journal is that such feats are not as difficult as we initially perceive them to be. Perhaps it's true that not everyone can do it. On the other hand, if I can do it, then certainly many more who think they can't, but would like to, really could, if they would only attack their goals methodically, and progressively, one at a time.

Finally, if my example provides inspiration for readers, or if the information related in this journal in the form of experiences, reasonings, notes on encountering and overcoming obstacles, training techniques, and all the rest, is somehow useful to others, then the adventure has been all the more worthwhile.

And so I've come to the end of a great personal adventure, and also to the end of this journal. But it's not the end of my explorations in the world of running. I prefer to view it as a new beginning, a renewal of the quest that had its seeds sown on a warm day in June, 1994, the day I headed out the door in a new pair of running shoes and found that I could run less than a block. That day is barely a memory today, but in retrospect marks a significant crossroads, a milestone worth noting, in the same way that people remember the dates they graduate from school, move to new homes, and form new relationships.

Similarly, the completion of training leading to two marathons and a 24-hour race, along with the writing of RTtM, is not an end to my running, but a gateway into an as yet unknown future. Years from now, when this project is just a memory, documented by the existence of this book, I hope to look back on the period just passed with the same fondness as that day in June, 1994 — not as a time that I completed something, but as a time when I began something new and rewarding, some new exploration that will continue to yield benefits and satisfaction for all the remaining years of my life.

Today is so quickly encased in history.
So soon it is yesterday, the day before yesterday,
one day last week, last year.
Still on and on it flies, winging quietly into the last decade,
the last century, the last millennium,
forever captive in the embrace of the eternal past.

— Carolyne Butler

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