Goodloe Byron never knew it but he had become a classic study: a man who got into running and discovered that running was soon into him.
The death by heart attack of the Maryland congressman two weeks ago, near the end of a 15-mile run on the C&O canal, has created talk, confusion and comment that is likely to last for some time. Few other events in the running world have attracted as much attention - from runners and nonrunners, exercise physiologists, cardiologist, and even editorial writers.
Questions are being asked.
Why did he keep running after being told to stop by two cardiologists who said that his heart suffered "a severe abnormality?"
Had running become such an addiction for him that he couldn't stop?
What did he think when filling out the form for the Boston marathon and seeing the warning against running without a physician's sanction?
Did he believe that because of his family's history of coronary trouble - one brother dead at 32 of a heart attack and another with two coronary bypass operations - he was lucky to have lived past 40 and that running had created the luck?
Did he dismiss the advice of his doctors because he sensed that he knew more about the workings of his body than their machines did?
Did he shun further medical tests because he knew how enfeebled heart patients can become when they allow medicine to "save" them?
These are a few of the questions I've heard in recent days about Byron. Most of them are unanswerable, if only because the congressman is gone. Even during his life the answers probably were deep in his subconscious.
Some clues, though, are available. Byron was known to have gone to great trouble to learn about the workings of his body. Every runner who gets past the year or so of solid distance work needed to bring the body into a new level of physical sensitivity has come to understand the workings of his muscles, bones and blood as he never understood them before. Through his many marathons, Byron was on that level.
At the same time, it is likely that he learned early in his adulthood that he had a physical machine that worked well - except for one part, the four-part one-pound muscle in his chest. In 1963, Byron began to exercise his weakened heart muscle in the best way known - by running. If doctors told him he was foolish, he perceived the foolishness of doctors: People who knew something about disease but not much about fitness. Look at all the doctors having coronaries because they don't exercise. Medical schools have improved since the 1960s, but they still turn out people who know more about the physical workings of frogs and cats than runners.
By choosing to run, Byron became a gambler who cared less about defeating death - no one does that - than about reducing the odds against early death. He was in his mid-30s when he began to run, watch his diet and listen to his body. He had already lived beyond the 32 years of his younger brother. Now he was trying to live beyond the years allotted him if he had never started running at all.
It needs to be remembered that Byron began all this in 1963. That was long before the boom, before running boutiques, before sweat suits were being dry-cleaned and before running gurus held out the lure of mystical vision after 18 miles. Back then, motives for running had to be the purrest: it wasn't a trend, fashion or glory to the Creator more than long.
If one fact in the Byron case is troubling, it was that of late his passion became so compelling that it got the better of his judgment. With his cardiologists advising him last January against entering marathons, he should not have run at Boston this April. The entry form specifically requests that runners compete only with the sanction of a physician.
That momentary lapse, however, was minor. Runners and nonrunners would do better to reflect on te quiet beauty of Byron's conscientious effort to live fully - and to make running a part of that fullness. Whole lives give gory to the Creator more than long lives.