AN INDOOR MARATHON RACE
EL OUAFI, hailing from the Argentine, had recently won the Olympic marathon ; Joie Ray, of New York, had waltzed off with the Irish event, and both men had returned to America. I was training in the Catskill Mountains at the time, a part of New York State where there were good roads and excellent scenery. There came a letter from Hugo Quist, who had been Paavo Nurmi’s manager in his tour of the States, asking me to compete against these two men at Madison Square Garden, Boston. It suited me all right and I accepted.
I had a pretty long journey in the train to get there, and put it off until the last moment because I knew the atmosphere of a large city would have a cumulative and adverse effect on my lungs ; smoke and dust penetrate the air of all big cities and there’s no escaping them.
I was up against two of the world’s best at their own distance, not at mine ; for I had specialised consistently at fifty miles.
I knew, then, that my chances of a win were not too good, and of course knew that the race was to be run round an indoor track. From my point of view this was quite the worst of the whole business, for having done all my work on open roads the continual circling of a small indoor track made me giddy and actually physically sick. Still, you never know : I could at any rate try to put up a decent show and, if my luck were very much in, for I was every bit as well trained as either of my two rivals, might even win. Anyway, it was worth trying.
When we started off I was unexpectedly pleased to note that both my opponents were content to begin with a very modest pace ; in fact it was so modest that I found I was distinctly putting on the brake more than I thought wise in order to keep at their heels. This went on for two or three miles till I began to feel that if we kept it up much longer the spectators would get impatient and begin to think we were not really racing but merely—which we actually were—playing a waiting game. After about four miles therefore, I considered it would be wise to make a change by opening up to ten miles per hour ; if it took me ahead so much the better, for it might(?) give me an easier time later on.
The other two men however had no intention of letting me go, and after a single lap we were in a bunch again, though I was now in the lead. This went on for many miles until, when about half the distance had been covered, I felt the usual symptoms of giddiness and nausea, which always spoilt my running on a small track, slowly coming on. To fend it off as far as possible I reduced the pace. Not so the other two ; having disposed of me they held on to their ten an hour and after a mile or two both of them lapped me. The further I went the worse I got, and I lost a couple more laps to both of them during the next half-hour.
About this time I noticed that the pace was beginning to tell on them, for I ceased to lose ground, and before long, in spite of feeling so bad, actually began to pull up again. I still had plenty in hand, but was so groggy that I daren’t attempt to go any faster.
How greatly they had overdone their effort—they were keen rivals and had evidently been doing their utmost to ” kill ” each other—became apparent when, to my surprise, I began to lap them. But I was nearly a mile in the rear and as there was no more than a quarter of an hour to go I felt my chances of a win were slim indeed. My hopes brightened for a moment when the leader dropped into a walk and Ray went to the front, but El Ouafi soon struggled back into a trot again. No, I just couldn’t do it ; I lapped both of them and tried my best to make up for lost time, but it was too late.
Near the end Ray also took to alternate walking and running, keeping an eye on El Ouafi all the time, while I still carried on at about eight an hour. We finished with Ray in the lead, El Ouafi a fairly close second, and me a bad third. Didn’t I just wish they would challenge me to a similar race on the open road !
I gathered afterwards that both men suffered from bad blisters, which largely spoilt their running, though I felt sure that had they not kept up such a hot pace for three-quarters of the journey their troubles would have been less severe. I had no foot or leg troubles at all, but no sooner did we stop than my stomach vented its displeasure and my lunch at the same time.
Once more I had had the lesson rubbed in—run your own race regardless of all others. Commonsense should have started me off at about 9¼ an hour and after a mile or so. when thoroughly warmed up, increased it to 9¾, taking no account of whether the others followed or left me. Ten miles per hour was my maximum racing speed ; if I wanted to exceed that it meant altering my natural stride, and any change of that would take it out of me unduly, unless it were for a very short period.
Remember, too—and this is where so many go wrong – it is a mistake in these races to start off with the pace you intend to rely on ; you should always begin a trifle below and work up quite gradually to your reasonable maximum.
There can be no doubt that had I acted more wisely I should have made a better job of this run ; even the giddiness of continual circling would probably have been somewhat mitigated, or at any rate postponed, for I should not have developed the ten miles per hour gait till later. So next time you go for a marathon remember these mistakes of mine and see they don’t spoil your chances.