Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Mysteries of running revealed

As fog slammed into the Golden Gate Bridge on a recent Sunday morning, I found myself yelling at a Livermore city official. “Doug!” I shouted to Doug Horner, Livermore’s newest city council member. He was passing within a yard of me, his glasses fogged, his S.F. Giants hat snug on his head. He was running toward Marin as I was running toward San Francisco. He looked up at the sound of his name, but, caught in the flow of more than 4,200 damp humans running the San Francisco Marathon, he didn’t see me.

This was my tenth marathon, Horner’s first, and also my wife’s first.
My wife, Pamela, who is the economic development director for the City of Pleasanton, trained many months for the race, and ended up beating her goal by running it in 4 hours and 15 minutes.
Here's a video clip of her training on a long run:
Scenes along the 26.2-mile route included a runner with hair shaped into foot-high spikes who dashed away from a sprinkler to save his hairdo; a retired Army Ranger carrying a POW / MIA flag and calling cadence; and a runner dressed like a Greek, complete with armor helmet, breastplate, a shield, and a spear.

Of course, creative outfits are part of the San Francisco running culture, mostly associated with Bay to Breakers.

But while Bay to Breakers is reasonable at just over seven miles, the marathon requires many hours of running. And for non-distance runners, this can be a mystery: Why on earth would anyone run for three, four, five, and, for some people, six or seven hours straight?

Bill Radulovich, an elementary school principal in Pleasanton who has completed 60 marathons and ultra-marathons, says that running long distances “is an existentialistic thing” and allows individuals to “ create the meanings of their own lives.”

Radulovich believes that running long races can create personal transformation and growth in life: “You set demanding goals, dedicate yourself toward them, work through adversity and discomfort, and you forge a new self.”

Having achieved his personal goals in racing, these days Radulovich trains and supports his daughter and a few of her college-age friends. This year alone he has run 5 marathons, 3 of which were as a pace setter for the girls.

“Watching them as they forge new selves is the greatest gift that running has given me,” he said.

While the marathon as a race was inspired by the story of a messenger named Phiedippides who ran from Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. with word of a Greek victory—and then died of exhaustion after delivering the news—some scholars believe that particular run never happened. While Greeks did use couriers to cover distances, this story cannot be found in records of the time, and didn’t appear until 600 years later. Plus, if a courier did run to Athens, it probably wasn’t Phiedippides since even before the battle he’d been dispatched to cover 150 miles to Sparta to seek help as the Persian enemy was gathering in Marathon.

While dedicated runners may feel disappointed learning this, we can take heart that Phiedippides, who ran the 150 miles in two days, was actually an ultra-marathoner.

Another tidbit about the race is that the distance of 26 miles, 385 yards, came about by chance. When the modern Olympics were established in Greece in 1896, the marathon was 24.8 miles, and then varied every four years depending on the venue. When London hosted the Games in 1908, the distance was planned at 26 miles, from Windsor Castle to London. But because the royal family wanted a better view of the finish, the distance was extended 385 yards to the royal box. This set the official distance forever after.

Many aficionados argue that the most prestigious of all marathons is Boston, which has been run every April since 1897. To run Boston, a runner has to qualify by completing a prior sanctioned marathon no slower than a certain time, depending on age and gender.

And speaking of gender, women were not allowed to run the Boston Marathon until 1972, nor the Olympic Marathon until 1984. While it’s often assumed race organizers in those days tended toward male chauvinism, many race officials truly believed they were protecting women from the damage of strenuous running. This mind-set became prevalent after the 1928 Olympics when three women collapsed during an 800-meter run. While the women simply hadn’t trained enough, the world saw this as evidence that women didn’t have the stamina for long distances.

Over time, and with the running boom of the 1970s, women began successfully completing marathons, and in recent years marathon attendance has increased thanks to more women seeking the personal fulfillment that comes with finishing the long race.

It’s this fulfillment that prompted council member Horner to start training. ”My wife has run three marathons, my brother and my brother-in-law have both run one, so in a way, I also wanted to be in that club,” he said. “I wanted to be able to say I’ve run one. After it was over, I was filled with a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction.”

1 comment:

she said...

congratulations ren! -and to your wife and friends!

it is an awesome accomplishment

-to have all that dedication and training pay off

and i loved in this article learning the history of marathons, and their distance

i myself (thank you to carla graci/coach kao) completed the nike half marathon in san francisco a few years back

"wow" i thought as i waddled across the "i'm finished" line

and wasn't long after that i hung up my shoes and picked up a flute.

equally transformational and much easier on the knees

"cheers to all you runners!"

signed, princess-sitting-barefoot- learning-flute