26 Miles, 385 Yards

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

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It's Patriots' Day in Massachusetts. As I understand it, there are three ways to celebrate the holiday.

1. You can participate in, or watch, reenactments of important battles from the Revolutionary War (Concord and Lexington).

2. You can festoon your front door with bright flags and buntings

3. You can stand on a Boston sidewalk, holding orange slices and bottles of water, to cheer for endurance athletes.

My brother, an avid runner, is celebrating his second Patriots' Day today. He drove across Massachusetts, from Williamstown to Newton, to watch Robert Cheruiyot, Dire Tune, and some 25,000 other marathoners amble up Heartbreak Hill.

It wasn't as competitive as usual this year, he told me. (The London Marathon was last week, and America's best female marathoners ran yesterday, hoping to qualify for the Olympics.) But the streets were lined with spectators.

On today's program, we're going to talk about the marathon. Who runs them? Why do they do it? (I've asked myself this question over and over again.) And what's the best way to train for one? Marathoners John Bingham and Gabriel Sherman will join us to answer these questions, and field yours.

The marathon has become a badge of athleticism for hundreds of thousands.... Should it be? If you've run one, we'd love to hear your story.

Comments

 

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After running for 20 plus years I ran mu first marathon at age 40. why because people had asked me when I would run one and my answer was always "when I'm 40". I have since run over 10 marathons and it took me 3 to break 4 hours. At 49 I'm still hoping to qualify for Boston. I run for health and because I love food.

Sent by Don Piper | 3:18 PM | 4-21-2008

I'm female, 27 and have run 5 marathons; all with finishes around 3:40. My next one is this weekend. It's the Big Sur marathon (CA) and goes from Carmel to Big Sur along highway one and it perfectly encapsulates why I run; the challenge of pushing myself to my athletic limits, the fulfillment of being outdoors/enjoying the scenery, and the supreme sense of accomplishment each time I finish one!!

Sent by Nicole | 3:18 PM | 4-21-2008

For myself, I ran my first marathon just to see if I could do it. At that point (1996) I didn't even know anyone who had run one. I bought the Jeff Galloway Book of Running and followed along as I trained. After that first one, I ran the next 15 to see if I could better my time. My PR was run in 1999, but in the years hence I've run within a minute of that time on 4 different occasions. Chasing that 1999 time, which was the first time I ran a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon, is what keeps me going all of these years later. I am currently recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery (not running related). As I watched the womens' Olympic Trials yesterday I looked forward to the day that I can get back out on the road to train for the as yet to be determined marathon #17

Sent by Henry | 3:23 PM | 4-21-2008

My fifty year old brother ran his first marathon and was extemely diappointed when he cramped up and had to walk the last part of the race. He was really into the competition.

Sent by Velvet Ann Volonte | 3:28 PM | 4-21-2008

A curious thing, the marathon. I have run 45 of them..many of the US biggies (Chicago, NYC, Bostin, many smaller ones. It is very understandable to me how people are challenged by the marathon, though only an nth percentage are going to win anything. What is curious are the runners who think that only running a marathon can define them as a runner. I have run 2:41 as my best, but I recognized a long time ago that shorter distances are my better racing distances. I have a 1:12 1/2 marathon I am still proud of. That time indicates I SHOULD be capable of a faster marathon, but everyone who runs a marsthons knows they are a fickle events! Thanks for the show!
Terry Reiiiy, Milan, MI

Sent by terry Reilly | 3:30 PM | 4-21-2008

My marathon ritual:

Pre-race: the best classic sushi - simple rice and tuna maki, and miso soup, and lots of water the night before

Post race: the best burger and fries in the area! (Marine Corps Marathon, Washington, D.C. ~ Five Brothers!!!)

Hail to the "Penguin", John Bingham! He was one of my running mentors in my early marathons! :)

Sent by K. Yamada | 3:31 PM | 4-21-2008

From Mr. Shermans website:

"A competitive runner, he has run six marathons. In 2003, he finished the New York City Marathon in 2:56:29."

That's 50 minutes slower than the winner.

Where is the cutoff- Interesting that Mr. Sherman suggested that 3 hours is an important finish accomplishment.

Sent by Doug King | 3:32 PM | 4-21-2008

I think that Neil's response to the caller Ed's call is the perfect example of what frustrates competitive runners. Ed said that he made the Men's Olympic Trials after having been a weak high school runner. Then Neil asked Ed if he had improved. This is like asking someone who said they made the NBA after not making the starting five on their high school basketball team if they had improved. After all, only the top 120 men marathoners made the Olympic Trials. It's not that seriously competitive runners don't think less competitive runners should be running marathons, they just want runners like Ed, who has obviously worked extremely hard to improve, to get the recognition they deserve.

Sent by David | 3:43 PM | 4-21-2008

CORRECTION: The medical risk of overhydration is hyponatremia (low blood sodium), which has nothing to do with blood glucose as Gabriel Sherman said.

Sent by Rudy Dressendorfer | 3:59 PM | 4-21-2008

My wife and I ran our first marathon in 2006, Dublin, Ireland. I was 51, she was fifty. We ran to raise $ to fight cancer. It was great fun, very uplifting with spectators along the entire way, "Good show", "Almost there!", we passed one "runner" drinking Guiness and smoking a cigarette; he smoked one every five miles or so "For a lift" haha.
Slainte!

Sent by Dean and Nancy | 4:19 PM | 4-21-2008

I had to write in after listening to Gabriel Sherman yesterday suggest that 5+hour marathoners do not do the work that faster runners do therefore they should not really be running marathons. I started running at 53 and run 11 -12 minute miles. If he thinks that I am not working just as hard or even harder than someone who runs 5-7 minute miles he is really out of touch with reality. Someone who runs a 6 minute mile will finish a 10 mile training run in 1 hour while it will take me 2 hours and my heart rate will be in the 80% zone the whole time. Who would you say was working harder? A 6 minute miler will finish the 20 mile training run necessary to be prepared for a marathon in 2 hours while it will take me 4+ hours. Again, who is working harder? Somehow faster runners have come to the conclusion that those of us who are slower are slower because we aren't putting in the work. The truth of the matter is some of us just don't have natural talent but choose to run anyway. We want to be the best we can be and if 12 minute miles is the best we can do, so be it. We need goals to help us continue to run and since improving our pace is next to impossible, we extend the distance to challenge ourselves. That is why slower runners run marathons- for the challenge, the same reason faster runners run marathons so please don't take that away from us.

Sent by Margaret | 11:50 AM | 4-22-2008

The appeal of the marathon is deeply embedded in the frontier ethos of the American collective unconscious. It epitomizes what Huckleberry Finn, Bessie Smith, and Ralph Ellison all described as "Going to the Territory," with the marathoner a combination Johnny Appleseed, Sal Paradise, and Ishmael [all female counterparts included], but unequivocally not Ahab.

Territorial games like football are warfare by proxy with the various players representing aviation, artillery, and infantry divisions. In cycling, the "Postal" imperialism of Team US is on annual display on the home turf of the great dissenter Allies.

Marathon runners, by comparison, are shaped more in the mold of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great individualist of Concord. Bill Rodgers, who broke the American record at Boston in 1975 while stopping three times to tie his shoes, was a conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam who paid his debt to society by working at Mass General Hospital. He won more of the major races of his era than almost anyone, however, despite his competitiveness, he didn't seem obsessed with a numero uno self-image. He was ranked #1 in the world three times, but only in odd-numbered years: 1975, 1977 and 1979.

I lived in Boston during those years and would always walk over to the intersection of Commonwealth and Mass Ave. to watch the finish, not knowing that a decade later I, too, would be running marathoners, albeit in my own inimitable style.

Sent by Mike | 11:59 AM | 4-22-2008