Even if we lived in a world where we had to jump through a ring of fire every time we wanted to change the channel, marathon runners would still make us look lazy — and at the same time much more sane.
Think about it. Marathoners run 26.2 miles, while at any second, their bodies could “hit the wall.”
Look to 1996, when Uta Pippig famously won the Boston Marathon for the third consecutive year, this time, with her own diarrhea and menstrual blood dripping down her leg as she crossed the finish line. Marathoners train too hard to pull themselves from a race, especially if they think they can still win or set a personal best.
Ohio University Zanesville professor Kitty Consolo has won more than 400 races ranging from the mile to two RevCo Cleveland Marathons despite suffering from severe asthma and multiple allergies. In 1985, she said she was in fantastic shape but developed a sharp pain in her right side. It turned out to be a grapefruit size ovarian cyst, and she had to have major surgery to remove it.
“(It was) kind of like having a C-Section without the baby,” she said. “I was told not to drive or work for 8 weeks and wait even longer to run. The next day, I jogged 15 minutes in the hospital parking lot and did not need morphine.”
She said she went home in three days instead of seven and went back to driving and teaching the next week. Four weeks later, she flew to Barbados and won a 10km. Three weeks later she ran the Cleveland marathon and won for the second time.
Craig Leon, a former Ohio University runner and coach, is now a professional marathoner having finished 26th at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Relatively new to the sport of marathon running Craig still marvels at how he is able to complete such a grueling task.
“It’s (finishing a marathon) hard to even describe,” he said. “It’s such a surreal feeling. Even at any point in my training, I never go out and run 26.2 miles. My biggest workout is a 30K, so you’re thinking to yourself, I’ve got to run X number of miles more and do it at a faster pace when I get to the race. I’d be lying if I did not say it doesn’t scare the crap out of me.”
That feeling eases with experience but always looms before a race, he said.
“Each one I feel more comfortable, but I’m always nervous because you never know what can go wrong in such a long race.” Leon said. “On any given day you can really pop, but at the same time, even if everything is going well up until the race, you can wake up with a sinus infection or get a blister on mile 15 and you’re done. It’s really a cruel race.”
It’s not just the race that is spoiled by something as petty as a cold or a blister. It is the months of training and sacrifice. Leon runs twice a day every day whether the middle of summer or Christmas day. Still in his 20s, Leon wishes he could cut loose more.
“I’m at the point of my life where I’d love to go out with my friends and live it up, but as a runner you’re so reliant on your body you can not abuse it, like say a golfer,” he said.
Consolo is now making her return to running as an Elite Masters Runner. She trains 37 hours a week including physical therapy. She has also written for Runner’s World and other magazines. She said she thinks patience is important to distance running and holds most of America back from competing with the rest of the world.
“One has to be able to focus for long periods of time and be patient,” she said. “Many today want a quick fix. Marathon excellence takes years of persistence to develop, and maybe that is why countries like Ethiopia and other African nations excel.”
Leon also said he thinks patience is the greatest skill a runner can have.
“You won’t see a return on investment tomorrow,” he said. “It will be months, years.”
In spite of all these sacrifices, the reward is not winning. There are not enough major marathon victories to go around. The competition fuels them, but the places they see and the people they meet make it sweeter.
“Runners go through these struggles together, even though we compete against each other,” he said. “We’re friends outside of the races and were constantly traveling to places that are nice enough for a marathon to be run there.”