Races and Training: Chapter Nine



IT’S not often you strike a really ” soft ” job even in local athletic records, but when you do you can’t decently ignore it. I’ll tell you of one that came my way when I was in America. The thing cropped up quite suddenly and without any warning. We only heard of it one afternoon and I took a stab at it the next morning : it came along as a welcome change from the usual routine.


For about seven weeks we had been running along the road from New York to Los Angeles in Pyle’s second great Transcontinental Footrace and had stopped the night at Miami, a copper mining village in the Western desert. Our goal next day was to be Superior, another small mining centre, said to be twenty-two further on; but between these two hamlets there was a sizeable mountain, and the only connecting highway went right over the summit. Perhaps that was why we had such a short run, for the usual daily grind was anything from thirty-five to forty-five miles with a daily average on the wrong side of forty.

It’s curious how some of those out-of-the-way villages remain ignorant of the advance of the outside world ! The inhabitants around here had a local record for the journey afoot between the two places of three hours and twenty minutes, and they thought it so excellent that they were very confident the Pyle runners would be unable to lower it. And these runners were the best-trained men in the world at that sort of game ! We just laughed at the idea, for we knew well that any of the faster men could cut off 25 or 30 per cent, and do it fairly easilv.

But there, you can’t expect tired men—for we never got a day’s rest throughout the entire journey—to look for extra work, and heavy work at that, especially when they were only two-thirds of the way through their present job ; it wouldn’t be fair. Yet one and all of us wanted to see that record put in its proper place. I was the only man running with them who was no longer competing in the race and I was just getting reasonably fit : I had been run over by a car some five weeks earlier and suffered a broken shoulder blade and a few other trifles. But I had now almost entirely recovered and, although my left arm had been strapped up tightly for a month after the accident, I had just got it free again. Not only that but for the past three weeks I had been running with the competitors along the road day after day, helping them along and encouraging them as I could, for Pvle had asked me to carry on like this as ” Technical Adviser.”

We had a short meeting that night to discuss the matter and it was decided that the best way to pulverise that ” record ” without giving the actual competitors any extra work would be for ‘me. personally, to attend to the business. The idea was that I should start well after the race was under weigh so as to avoid getting to the control first, and I could then finish up among the many others more or less unnoticed. So we broached the matter to the officials who willingly agreed to appoint a car with the necessary timekeepers to accompany me.

About half an hour after the runners had gone off next morning I set out all alone in glorious desert weather, no wind or clouds but yet not uncomfortably warm. There was about a mile of easy going and then we came to the real business. The surface was all that could be wished, a splendidly graded macadamised and tarred road, just as good as a main thoroughfare here at home. The gradient of course slowed me down a lot, but I knew what to


expect because it had been rubbed into all of us that the climb was a severe one. Hard work, as you can imagine, but the scenery made up for much : the road was quite a wonderful piece of engineering through such a tumultuous upheaval of rocks. The strata, seemed to be outcropping almost vertically and only on the actual roadway was any sort of going, other than actual climbing afoot, possible.

Presently I got to the tail end of the race and had a word with some of the men who were walking ; the hill was so long and so steep that only a very small percentage trotted all the way up. They sped me on my way with ” Good luck.” Heavens ! that was ” some ” climb !—we were told it was over 2,000 ft.—but at last I arrived at the summit to find a garage planted there rejoicing in the name of ‘”The Top of the World.” You bet I was thankful to note it, for after that I knew I was in for an easv spin down the other side, where I reckoned I should be able to make up for a lot of time lost in climbing.

The descent was almost as steep and the scenery not a whit worse. Some of the shoulders of the mountain had to be sharply rounded on escarpments—even cars had to travel slowly and carefully to ” make ” the bends—while one towards the end was tunnelled through. As there wasn’t the slightest sign of houses or industry, I was beginning to wonder how much further it could be when, turning an acute corner, I found myself in open country again with Superior not a quarter of a mile away. A minute or two later and it was all over : time, two hours and eleven minutes.

Have you spotted what was wrong ? There can be no doubt the local people judged the distance by the amount of travel involved in covering it. But I knew jolly well I couldn’t run twenty-two miles over a mountain like that in two hours eleven minutes. Personally I’m quite certain it wasn’t a yard more than twenty miles, possibly a shade less. I’ve always been a stickler for accuracy in these things.