Every now and then in my running and training, I like to compare myself to elite athletes. I like to see how far and fast they run in training, just to put my little regime in perspective. I’m fascinated by the amount of running some of them can do and I love looking at weekly or monthly training schedules. Usually I find inspiration in their mileage and running work-load. However, there are a few stories which I’ve come across which inspire me for other reasons and make me believe that my lifestyle habits are no excuse for poor performances. Here are some of my favourites:
Between 1978 and 1986, Toshihiko Seko won the Fukuoka, Boston, London and Chicago marathons, and set records in the 25 km and 30 km distances which stood for 30 years. He was renowned for running high mileage, averaging a marathon distance a day and getting as high as 50 miles in a day. However, what I find fascinating about Seko was his beer drinking. According to the book Running with the Legends, he often ran so much in a day that his stomach would be upset so he couldn’t eat. Instead he would drink up to 10 beers for dinner! Are you kidding me? He didn’t one time drink 10 beers – he often did it in the middle of his heavy training weeks! No longer will I feel guilty when I have an extra pint when out with friends. Nor will I feel sorry for myself when doing a long run the next day!
Rogers was a dominant marathoner in the 1970’s. He won the New York Marathon and Boston Marathon four times each. He ran 59 marathons in his career, 28 of them in a time under 2:15. And according to an article from People from 1978, his diet was atrocious. His diet was “made up of large amounts of milk, soda and fruit juice, plus such junk foods as chocolate-chip cookies, olives, pickles, Fritos, ketchup, horseradish, tartar sauce, potato chips and various dips involving quarts of mayonnaise.” I’m no purist when it comes to eating, but I think I would have a very hard time trying to eat that badly. No longer will I feel guilty about the odd chips and cookies in my diet!
Priscilla Welch was a 35 year-old out of shape pack-a-day smoker in 1979. That was when she met her husband who wanted to coach her to run a marathon. She took on the challenge and four years later made the British Olympic team. She went on to run many masters’ world record times for the marathon including a 2:26 in London. What I take from this story is that I can never let myself feel like I’ve wasted potential or gotten left behind with missing some years of training. Obviously you can start from pretty much anywhere and become great!
Roger Bannister was the first person to run under 4 minutes for the mile, which he did in 1954. What I love about Bannister’s story is that although he placed a big importance on running, it never consumed his life. He fit his training into his lunch hours while studying at medical school. Often he only had 30 minutes to train. This makes me believe that I can fit my best efforts into my life which has other priorities. If Bannister was able to break through what was believed to be the limits of human achievement during his lunch breaks, I’m sure I can find time in my busy days to make my own small improvements.
My take-away from all of these stories is there is no perfect model and there are no excuses. And that runners are some pretty crazy characters.