Homer Hastings and I had a nineteen year benign competition going on, each of us had run all of the Mount Rushmore Marathons (nee Black Hills), and neither was about to take a year off and let the other win. Homer met me at the starting line that early fall morning, with his customary original poem, a banner attesting to our ‘streak’, and a shirt that read, “Twenty A Plenty.” In his taciturn mountain man humor sort of way, a suggestion to calling it quits after this year.
We didn’t, but that’s another story. The reality is, Homer was right. Twenty is plenty. The first Olympic marathons were twenty miles, but the Queen of England wanted her children to watch the finish from the Tower of London, so the distance was extended by 6.2 miles. That’s a 10K, an eon, a reason to question the wisdom of royalty.
The human body can store enough glycogens to fuel a 20 mile run, but after that it’s guts. Twenty miles with training; 6.2 with heart. I’ve tried the Galloway training suggestion of over-distance…it worked in cross-country…but getting my head around 28, 29, 30 miles; nope, not unless it’s a legitimate ultra and I’m going to wind up with a buckle. Philosophically it works. In my first marathon the longest training run I’d done was only 14 miles, so when I passed that “milestone” my body was probably ok, but my head kept reminding me I had never run that far before! Not pretty. Now I know that I have that distance in my head and in my legs, but over twenty and I’m just hangin’ on.
Dagny Scott, in The Complete Book of Women’s Running, discusses a beginner’s program that advises the long run be no longer than 3 ½ hours. She says that over that time the risk of injury is greater and that no added benefits accrue with increased mileage. I think I agree, although I routinely run four or more hours when I’m training for a marathon. Twenty establishes a strong base, increases the network of blood vessels, strengthens the soft tissue, and lets you know you are one heck of a person; fast, slow, or somewhere in between. So yes, there is some wisdom in “Twenty-A-Plenty,” Homer, thank you very much.
Runners are of a notoriously addictive personality. That of the, “If a little is good, a lot will be better!” school of thought. The “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth over- doing!” criteria. Collecting mileage, recording mileage, pushing the movement envelope in speed, distance, marathons, medals…even running shoes! (I once knew a runner who was a recovering alcoholic and he owned over 100 pairs of running shoes. Not just collectively had owned, currently-in-working-order-usin’ shoes 100! He said, “I hide them from my wife. I don’t know why, I never hid the booze…”)
In fact, many runners have traded a negative addition, such as alcoholism, for the positive addiction of running. And they approach it with the same zeal and singleness of intent. “Moderation in all things,” is not in their game plan. I realize I own a piece of that personality trait, recognizing that when I cross the finish line of a marathon, I’m already planning where I can go next. Now as to whether that addiction is to running, traveling, conquering, or simply the adrenalin rush, the affect is the same. It requires a lot of dedication, time, money, and an understanding spouse.
That’s why I say, with Homer, “Twenty A Plenty.” Balance is a good thing.