Running Is Such Sweet Torture
Loyola's Tom O'Hara can clock a Mile in less than 4 minutes, and for hours without a halt. Hardly anybody is able to catch up with him—until he stops. Then his rampaging doubts do.
By John Underwood, Sports Illustrated
A Mile runner does not run a Mile, he bombards it with logic. He plots it, schemes it, calculates, bisects, barbecues and bakes it. He plots not only against the men who run against him but against the distance itself, because in the end, to be successful at his lonely project, he must be prepared to cross the finish line—to break the tape, if his itinerary is right and God is willing—at the moment his lungs turn to brimstone and his legs to apple butter. Cary Weisiger, a successful Miler, schemed to upset Peter Snell, the most successful one a year ago, by beginning his kick (his stretch drive) an unnaturally long distance from the finish—600 yards or more. Weisiger became actually, physically sick at the starting line just thinking of the torture he was about to put himself through.
If by surgery you could expose the psyche of a Miler, you would find such a complexity of hot wires and fuses that you would think you had lifted up your head in a terminal box. Milers are the same only in their primordial passion for the race (is it the pain they court? the purifying pain?) and in that curious, introspective, esthetic quality that makes each one appear to have been born in the gatefold of an old book. You half expect Milers to blink in the sunlight. They are loners, with ruggedly individual theories and practices that, individually, they cherish. Dyrol Burleson, who has been America's best Miler outdoors this season, strikes his fellow Milers as being exceptionally evasive (one Miler who is less guileful than Burleson wonders if he is just not very friendly). Actually Burleson is not so much taciturn as he is tactical. He was unsettled recently when it was revealed in print that he had been working privately at increased distances, up to 140 miles a week. "Gee, I didn't want that out," he said in his desperate, invasion-plan, loose-lips-sink-ships voice.
Any hiker can run a Mile. It takes thought and maturity to be a Miler. But most of all it takes passion, and a man cannot reason his passion any more than he can hold his heart in his hand or see love in a glass. What he can do is live with his passion or live it down (often the wise alternative) or put it to use in the form that it takes. "Why do I run?" asks Tom O'Hara, whose passion since his mid-teens has been to run great lonely distances. "Maybe a psychologist could tell me. Or a psychoanalyst. But why should I know? If I knew, then I might not run anymore."
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