Crazy Legs, a high-Pulsed friend of mine, has a running schedule this fall that puts his itinerary close to the touring pros of the PGA Next Sunday, he's doing the Schlitz marathon in Gaitherburg, the following Saturday the Lynchburg, (Va), 10-miler, and then the Mayor Daley marathon in Chicago Sept. 24.
In October, he'll do the Washingtonian magazine half-marathon, then travel north for the New York marathon. He'll return here two weeks later for the Marine marathon.
At that point he'll come home, relearn the names of his children and get ready for the writer season - the Baltimore marathon, the Beltsville, then the Virginia Beach Shamrock and, in early spring, Boston.
"I'm sure that if I checked around - I can't bear to - I'd find a full pack of others whose legs and minds are going soggy this way. Running is at the point where one or two marathons a year, perhaps two or three 10-milers, is not enough. A schedule like that is strolling, not running. Training 50 or 60 miles a week is sloth. Five percent body fat is obesity. Having only two permanent injuries is perfect health.
What may be happening is that long-distance runners who once saw themselves as the elite of American sports now feel the pack closing in. Where once a runner could go to a dinner party and be assured of being the evening's only marvel who ran in Boston, now every other schmuck around the cheese dip has been there and half of them with better times.
Only one course is open: a runner must become a super-runner. He has two choices: sprint off to every marathon he can find or afford, or take up ultramarathons. The current Running Times lists 12 ultras - 50-milers, a few of 50 kilometers - this fall, and those are only in the East. With every oaf in the neighborhood running in marathons, the only way to leave the masses stuck in their cheese dip is the 50-miler.
I have been able to contain myself so far, but what has me wondering is not whether I'll ever do an ultramarathon but, if I do, what dazed motive will lead me into it. Already, I've made good use of the ultra. The week before a 26-mile race, I think about 50-mile races: the pacing, hitting the wall at 20 miles and then again at 30 and 40 for wall-to-wall ecstasy, and getting up a kick for the final eight inches. After a few days of this mental training, a marathon is defanged - no longer a viper but a mere garden inchworm.
I know only a few ultra runners.
Most have moved to the country, away from the cars and fumes so they can delight in 20 or 25 miles a day of hillwork with clean air and scenic views. When they want to do speed-work, they enter a marathon, after a 50-mile depletion run the week before. In the marathon itself, these are the ones who dash past you at 18 miles, just as you are caring in. When you start The Trudge, they begin The Glide.
A friend of mine came back from a few weeks in France, where he struck up a friendship with one of these gliders. The Frenchman runs so much, it seems, that even his techniques for running are different. He gave my friend some advice on holding his arms closer to his body, doing this with his legs and that with his feet.
I understood little of it. But I am now worrying that my friend believed all tbe bunk and may be about to leave the rest of us behind. He will start reading the running magazines only for the schedules of 50-milers. And then, he will go into the final phaseout: 100-milers through deserts.
Last April in Boston, a film was shown in one of the runners' hotels about two eccentrics who ran through Death Valley in the summer. I found myself among the few who though the film hilarious, while around me were the serious sounds of rubber hammers making knees jerk to the idea of such a race. Skip Boston, head for Death Valley.
If that's where all of us are going our model is no longer Bill Rodgers or Frank Shorter. "It's Park Barner. He's the fellow, according to the first issue of The Runner, who has done the New York 50 and the Harrisburg 26 on consecutive days four years in a row. He once finished second in the Baltimore marathon after running to the event from his home in Enola, Pa, 72 miles away.
Park Barner, come off the back burner. You time is here.