When you run far, things get weird and wonderful.
From the persistence hunters of the Kalahari, to the fact that women are faster than men over longer ultradistances, to the first woman to run a marathon, to the first man to run all the way around the world.
Distance runners are known for pushing at the edges of what is physically and mentally possible.
This fact can only lend itself to the creation of mind-boggling anecdotes.
In this article, you will find an eclectic mix of interesting facts and incredible feats, all adding to what is the bizarre and amazing world of long-distance running.
1. The Longest Race in the World is the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race
Conceived in 1996, the race takes place in Queens, New York from June to August every year.
Runners must complete 5,649 laps of a 1.04km city block loop, all while the streets are in normal use.
The Self-Transcendence 3100-mile race can be broken down into two factors: the physical dimension, and the spiritual dimension.
The physical dimension:
To complete the race, athletes must run 3100 miles (4989km) in 52 days. This means logging an average of 59.6 miles (95.9 km) per day!
For the runners, the day begins at 6 am and they are free to run until midnight, taking as many breaks as necessary along the way- as long as they complete the distance.
The race organisers provide campers in which the athletes sleep, and plenty of vegetarian food to keep the runners energised.
The spiritual dimension:
The race was conceived by its namesake, Sri Chinmoy, a spiritual teacher, athlete, and humanitarian.
His spiritual teachings emphasised self-transcendence- a concept that involves the expansion of personal boundaries and the dissolution of the self, experiencing life as oneness, and as an integral part of the universe.
The race organisers claim that self-transcendence is an integral part of ultrarunning.
It comes into play when during a race one’s physical capabilities have reached a limit. It is here when the runner has to rely on their own inner strength to continue.
This inner strength is referred to by Sri Chinmoy as the ‘infinite spiritual power’, ‘the soul’, and representative of ‘the ultimate Divine Being’.
And the prize upon completing the longest road race on earth?
Either a T-shirt, a DVD, or a small trophy.
2. As the Distance Increases, the Gender Pace Gap Closes
According to a recent report by The State of Ultrarunning 2020, women are running faster than men over long distances. And by long, they mean 195 miles.
The study found that over a 5k distance, men run a significant 17.9% faster than their fellow female competitors. The gap then continues to close as the mileage increases.
For the marathon distance, the pace gap shrinks to 11.1%.
For 100 mile races, the difference becomes almost insignificant, with a mere 0.25% difference between the genders.
According to the study, the 195-mile marker is the tipping point where we see women inch over the men’s top speeds and become faster by 0.6%.
3. The Marathon Monks of Japan Complete a Seven-Year Ultramarathon
The Marathon Monks of Japan take on Kaihogyo, a seven-year endurance pilgrimage to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
Only 46 monks have completed the 1,000-day challenge since 1885.
They wear white, the Buddhist colour of death. This serves as a reminder that the journey will take them to the limits of life itself – and beyond.
Daily, they are allowed to eat just one bowl of rice, and one bowl of noodles.
For the first three years, the monks have to run 30km (18.6 miles) a day for 100 consecutive days.
For the fourth and fifth year, the monks have to run 30km a day for 200 days.
After five long years of running, the monks then have to go a full nine days with no food, water, or sleep.
The sixth-year calls for 60km (37.2 miles) of running a day for 100 days.
Finally, the seventh year requires a mind-bending 84 km (52 miles) a day for 100 days, followed by 30km a day for the remaining 100 days.
If they die during Kaihogyo, they are buried under an unmarked grave in a sea of unmarked graves on the hillside of Mt. Hiei, just outside of the old capital, Kyoto.
If they fail, they must perform hara-kiri – ‘honourable suicide’.
If they survive the Kaihogyo they become a living saint.
We’ve got a full article diving deep into the story of the Marathon Monks of Japan, looking at what they wear, their pace, and lifestyle.
Check out this mini documentary on the Marathon Monks:
4. Robert Garside, ‘The Runningman’ was the First Person to Run Around the Globe
After two failed attempts, British runner Robert Garside set out from New Delhi, India, completing this spectacular feat over the course of almost 6 years– from the 20th of October 1997 to the 13th of June 2003!
Covering around 25 miles per day, he was sure to run into many challenges and adventures. Notably:
- Whilst running through Venezuela, Garside met Endrina Perez, who would later become his wife.
- Garside spent three nights in a jail cell in China because he lacked proper documentation.
- He wrote that his most challenging experience was a period of three days in which he ran without eating a single thing.
- In Panama, he was held hostage at gunpoint, whilst two men tried to steal his backpack.
Although there was a fair amount of controversy as to whether he did in fact complete the run, after years of reviewing the evidence, the Guinness World Records declared Garside’s run authentic.
5. The Longer The Race, The Faster The Pace
This holds true for both genders and all age groups.
For instance, in the male 40-49 age group, runners who compete in 100-mile events run a whole 30 seconds per mile faster than those competing in 50 mile and 100k events, and almost an entire minute faster than those participating in 50k races. Weird.
6. The San Bushmen of the Kalahari Are The Worlds Last Persistence Hunters
You might have heard of the theory that the original humans hunted by running down their prey.
The theory goes that by using our ability to keep cool (sweat), and our running economy and endurance, we could outrun even an antelope over long distances, who, only being adept at sprinting short bursts, would eventually collapse from heat and exhaustion.
The San people are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, having lived in the region for at least the last 20,000 years.
They are a testament to the theory of persistence hunting, being the last people on earth who still use this technique.
A hunt can take all day. Sometimes eight hours, often longer.
The San feel the rhythm of the animal’s movement by the spacing between their tracks. At times where it is impossible to make out the animal’s tracks, the San imagine the path which the animal would have taken- all while running.
One hunter says- “Tracking is like dancing, I feel happy.”
Eventually, the animal collapses. The animal is killed with an arrow, and the hunter performs ceremonial acts, sprinkling sand over the animal’s body, ensuring its spirit returns to the sand from which it came.
The hunter rubs the animal’s saliva onto his aching legs to relieve their pain.
Finally, the hunter has the duty and the right to distribute the animal’s meat between everybody in the village.
Watch David Attenborough narrate an 8 hour San hunt:
7. Before 1980, Medical Science Prohibited Women from Running Marathons
Women’s participation in marathon races has increased in leaps and bounds over the last 50 years. Nowadays, the world average proportion of women marathon runners is 31.36%.
But history tells a different story.
After an official ban instated in 1961 by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) on women running road races, Katherine Switzer defied the rules and signed up to the Boston Marathon in 1967 under her initials, K. V. Switzer.
As she ran, Switzer had to physically escape the grips of race official Jock Semple, who tried to pull her off the course.
After finishing the Boston Marathon in 4:20, Switzer was subsequently banned from the AAU.
in 1972 women were finally allowed by the AAU to enter amateur marathons. But they were to have a separate starting time to the men.
Women at the 1972 New York City Marathon refused to subscribe to the segregated start times. In protest, they sat on the floor until the men’s starting gun went off– then they all got up and began the race together.
In 1980 The American College of Sports Medicine released a statement in support of women running in the marathon in the Olympics, stating that “There exists no conclusive scientific or medical evidence that long-distance running is contraindicated for the healthy, trained female athlete.”
It was not until 1984, after years of lobbying that the women’s Olympic Marathon made a debut in the Los Angeles Summer Olympics.
Joan Benoit, the first female Olympic gold medalist later said “Once I passed through that tunnel, I knew things would never be the same.”
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