AGE AND THE MARATHON
HOW old ought a fellow to be before he goes in for the marathon ? Well, you have two different opinions to choose from (a) that of those who haven’t done much good at it, and (b) the others who have. The former, and of course they’re in the majority, tell you that men should not seriously tackle the race before they are around 26-28, in fact they seem to think that it is an ” old man’s event ” ; the others, that there is no reason why anyone between twenty and forty should not indulge. I agree with the latter, though I would extend the useful limit to fifty—Webster, the Canadian, was well past the forty mark when he won the event in the Empire Games.
We seem to have been brought up with an impression that this long-distance race is too strenuous for any but specially favoured individuals. Indeed the man in the street is so frightened of it that constant medical supervision is regarded as essential for any
who take to it, and you won’t be allowed to enter one of these events unless you comply. As a matter of fact the better-trained you are for this kind of work the less likelihood there is of your sustaining injury from it at any time. But as doctors haven’t personally had much—if any—experience of running by the hour you can’t blame them if they keep to what they consider to be the safe side. Did they but know it the ” safe ” side has nothing to do with distance ; it is solely a matter of speed.
Did you ever hear of the American Transcontinental Footraces ? They started at one coast and ended at the other. Many competitors were youngsters of around twenty—the winner of the 1928 event was exactly that age, while one runner was no more than sixteen—but not one of them was the worse for his three thousand miles in seventy-nine days. In collaboration with the doctor who travelled with the contestants, the American medical fraternity satisfied themselves on this point immediately after the conclusion of the first race. The bulk of men were between twenty-four and forty-five, and of the fifty-five who finished, all ages from sixteen to forty-nine were represented. If that doesn’t prove that distance running is not dependent, within certain limits of course, on age, I don’t know what does. And remember these men averaged daily a much greater mileage than the orthodox marathon. Those of them who indulged in speeding dropped out in the first week ; the rest travelled leisurely at a dead easy pace, the leaders doing about 6½ miles per hour.
So it doesn’t seem to matter a rap what your age is provided you’re between twenty and forty; the younger you happen to be the sooner you can get into decent trim. But your mind is not so experienced in the early twenties, and at that time the work may appear to be too gruelling altogether to make it worthwhile. So long as you’re just about fully grown, as the great majority are at twenty, there is nothing to stop you from becoming first-class at the marathon or any other event you happen to be reasonably fitted for.
Aren’t we just as much animals as horses and dogs, albeit certainly brainier ones ? Any well-grown animal can keep pace with the rest of its kind within reason, and if we are trained for it there’s hardly a man who couldn’t become a decent marathoner. Donkey’s years ago when our forebears were savages every individual must have been a first-class distance merchant as well as a decent sprinter. Convenience has made us drop prolonged travelling afoot but games have kept a certain amount of sprinting going, with the result that the training for distance must now be more arduous than it is for shorter events.
Where 99 per cent, of younger men go wrong in their training for long races is in speed. They ignore the fact that they’ve already got much more of this than they’re ever likely to require for the purpose ; what they haven’t got is the ability to keep going for the length of time, and of course it’s that that wants developing. Did they but realise it they could afford to ignore speed and train solely for distance ; if they feel they must let out occasionally the last half-mile of the daily run is the time to do it.
Your system will get accustomed to almost anything if you practise often enough. There’s nothing fearsome about walking because you do some every day, perhaps several times a day. The same can be said in a way about marathon running if you follow similar methods, i.e. take a long run practically every day.
Fellows fail to make really good at it only because they fail altogether to fit in the necessary preparation. The prospect of fifteen miles a day for six days in the week would stagger most of the youngsters yet that is far from being too much. Twenty miles would be better. Certainly it can be done. Ballington, the South African, used to average a lot over a hundred miles a week—he was then in his early twenties—and there wasn’t a marathon man in England at the time (1936) who could be sure of beating him in spite of the fact that he did not specialise at the distance but merely took it on as a sideline. Ballington’s forte was fifty-milers.
So if you intend to make any sort of show at the marathon you’ve got to make up your mind right away that the first thing to do is to get busy with real work ; not too heavy to start with perhaps, but gradually increasing as you feel you can manage it until, after a lapse of about eighteen months, you are covering something in the region of a hundred miles per week or a bit more. If you need an incentive remember that there are certainly men who will extend their mileage to that figure and if you are determined to give them a good run you’ll have to knuckle down to it yourself.