Strange Marathon Stories
The idea of running a marathon has a lot of appeal - after the event. The race used to be dominated by scrawny people with a negative body-fat percentage. But today, average folk are moved to take part, which, says Runner’s World, has changed the race: “Since 1980, average marathon times have gotten slower (by 44 minutes for men and 38 minutes for women), a result of runners of all abilities joining in.” "All abilities" is a euphemism for those of use no longer in the peak of physical condition.
So, for couch potatoes, here are some goofy marathon ideas, and some for really keen competitors who are going to have the event to themselves,
High Altitude Marathon
For many of us the trip from the recliner to the fridge at half time is about the limit of our exercise program. But, there are those among us who want a mightier test of stamina. For them, 26.2 miles is not enough.
So, let’s go to Gorak Shep to check in on these intrepid runners. Just getting to the starting line is an ordeal because Gorak Shep is in Tibet, at an altitude of about 17,000 feet (5,184m).
The air up there is thin so runners have to acclimatize. That involves a 15-day trek from Kathmandu while under medical supervision. It’s all about getting oxygen into the bloodstream. At high altitude there’s less oxygen so the heart has to pump harder to maintain adequate levels. That means fatigue sets in earlier than at sea level.
Assuming they’ve made it to Gorak Shep without keeling over with altitude sickness, runners are ready for the race. The finish line is Namche Bazaar, altitude 11,300 feet (3,446m).
“WooHoo, it’s downhill.” Not so fast Binky. The folk who run this event point out there are “two steep uphill sections.” Not only that, the ground is rough with patches of snow and ice as well as rickety suspension bridges. And, there’s the ever-present possibility of encountering an ill-tempered yak, not to mention the yeti.
Not surprisingly, the winners are almost always locals because their bodies are totally at home with the altitude, and, probably, because they rarely eat potato chips or drink beer.
The current record holder is Ram Kumar Raj Bhandari of Nepal, who finished in three hours, forty minutes, and 43 seconds. The cost of being part of this insanity is around $2,500, but that does not include airfare to Katmandu.
The Wino’s Marathon
Trust the French to come up with the Marathon du Médoc.
Over the 26.2 mile course through Bordeaux’s picturesque vineyards and magnificent chateaux, participants engage in activities that are the antithesis of the long-distance runner’s creed. Fancy dress is very strongly encouraged; so competitors might find themselves jogging along in the company of a Pope and a Smurf.
Five kilometres into the run is the first refreshment stop; it is, of course, for wine. There are 22 more such reviving stations along the way, and it is not uncommon for runners to be over-revived. This being France, there’s also food to sample – cheeses, bread, fruit, foie gras, steak, and, near the end, oysters.
This intake has a predictable effect on those with a more delicate digestive system, so competitors may spot a Roman centurion or Wonder Woman throwing up in the ditch.
The organizers set a time limit of six hours and 30 minutes for the event and those that beat the clock get a complimentary bottle of wine (of course) and engraved wine glasses. The entry fee for the September “race” is $95, and each year around 10,000 people take part.
Triple 7 Quest
Time to get serious. Steve Hibbs of Wyoming takes all the blame for creating a company called Marathon Adventures, which organizes seven marathons, in seven days, on seven continents.
The ordeal starts in Perth, Australia and then goes to Singapore, Cairo, Amsterdam, Garden City, New York, Punta Arenas, Chile, and King George Island, Antarctica. That’s 183.4 miles, often while jet-lagged.
The cost of $16,000 includes accommodation, but only the air fare from South America to Antarctica. The awesome physical challenge and the price thins the number of entrants down; nine runners took part in 2017.
One of them, Chau Smith, was celebrating her birthday by completing the Triple 7 Quest in 2017. Most people might go out to a nice restaurant and chug down a few wobbly pops. Not Chau Smith. Oh, by the way, it was her 70th birthday.
Not content with inflicting this kind of torture on his clients, Steve Hibbs has upped the ante for 2018. The Triple 7 Quest is now the Triple 8 Quest, with an additional marathon in New Zealand.
The Modern Marathon Is Born
A Greek soldier called Pheidippides is said to have run the roughly 25 miles from Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of victory in battle over the Persians. According to what is likely a myth he is supposed to have said “Niki!” (Victory!), and then dropped down dead. That was in 490 BCE.
When Pierre de Coubertin resurrected the ancient Olympic Games in modern form in 1896 he decided to honour Pheidippides. The longest race of the games was from the Marathon Bridge to Olympic Stadium in Athens, a distance of 24.85 miles. The marathon distance varied a bit until it settled down at 26 miles.
Then the British royal family messed about with the course. The 1908 Olympic Games were held in London. The marathon course was laid out from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium, about 26 miles. So that the finish line could be located opposite the royal family’s viewing box an additional 385 yards had to be tacked on.
Several years of earnest discussion by high-profile officials ended when the official distance was settled on at 26.2 miles.
Fairplay, Colorado is the place to be if you want to drag your ass, literally, around a marathon course. Competitors must complete a 29-mile course in the company of a donkey. The animal has to carry 33 pounds of mining gear. On the surface, the purpose of this event is to pay homage to prospectors and miners of the gold rush. More likely, the motivation is an excuse to kick back and have a few giggles.
Justine Galloway completed the 2017 New York Marathon in six hours, six minutes, and 51 seconds. That was well below the winning woman’s time set by Shalane Flanagan of two hours, 26 minutes, and 53 seconds. There’s a good reason why Ms. Galloway took almost four hours longer; she ran the race backwards. A neurological disorder caused her to lose some muscle control when running forwards but it doesn’t bother her when jogging backwards.
The Big Five Marathon takes runners through a South African game park. Its name is derived from the big five animals - elephants, rhinoceroses, buffaloes, lions, and leopards. The organizers boast “No fences, no rivers, nothing at all separates the runners from the African wildlife!” So, encountering the big cats might put a little extra zip into the runner’s strides. If they have lost any marathoners as a feline lunch item they have kept very quiet about it.
- “The Marathon du Médoc: Running the World’s Longest, Booziest, Race.” Vicky Lane, The Guardian, September 17, 2014.
- “Meet the 70-Year-Old Runner Who Ran 7 Marathons on 7 Continents in 7 Days.” Melissa Hung, NBC News, February 22, 2017.
- “The 10 Strangest Marathons on the Planet.” Chas Newkey-Burden, The Telegraph, March 12, 2015.
© 2017 Rupert Taylor