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Running on third wind

  Running on third wind
Author: Mike Tymn
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (2009)
Language: English
ISBN: 1439262284
Buy this book

I've never run a marathon in my life, but I once hiked 50 miles. Back in 1960, John Kennedy was President, lean and trim and a national shot of energy after grey, old man Eisenhower. In 1962, Kennedy challenged his staff to a 50 mile hike, the media picked up the story, and out in a small college in Illinois five 19-year olds, including me, decided we could do that. Piece of cake, right? With tennis shoes and no preparation, we started strong, faded rapidly, walked the last 30 miles, and limped home exhausted 12 hours later. It left me in permanent awe of champion marathoners who can run 26 miles non-stop, and finish in just over two hours.

Author Mike Tymn never ran a world-record, but he's won his share of laurels. Most middle-aged men can't hustle out a hit to first base in a softball game without getting winded. Mike soared after 40, winning four national masters championships, and took the 1979 Maui Marathon crown with a remarkable time of 2 hours, 28 minutes, 43 seconds.

What else soars is his new book "Running on Third Wind" (BookSurge Publishing, November 2009, ISBN-13: 978-1439262283). This delightful, eclectic collection of 72 columns was selected from 350+ pieces covering three decades of Mike's reporting on runners and running for "National Masters News." (A prolific scribe, Mike also wrote for "Runner's World" for five years, and has been penning a monthly feature for "Running Times" since 1994).

The finely polished work in this anthology include columns written as recently as 2009, but among the best is the earliest, an August 1980 gem called "The Mile as a Microcosm of Life." A mile race requires equal amounts of strength (anaerobic capacity) and endurance (aerobic capacity), notes Mike. "And so it seems with life."

As we all are in youth, the runner in the first quarter mile is "fresh, spirited, impulsive," just like England's Roger Bannister who ran history's first sub-4 minute mile. Back in 1954, many people firmly believed the four-minute barrier was unbreakable. On Bannisterís initial lap, "His legs felt no resistance and it was as if he was being 'propelled by some unknown force.'" In the second lap (young adulthood), we're all striving for position and the battle intensifies; success requires us to establish a position and a rhythm in our own life race. Bannister's helped him clock a 1:58 half mile; he was half way home, his dream intact. The third lap, like middle age, can be comfortable and even serene for runners and non-runners alike if we maintain a steady pace, keeping our focus and composure as Bannister did. "He slowed to a 62.7-second autumnal lap, still well within reach of four minutes." The gun lap, old age, writes our ending. Physically and mentally tired, we need both belief and willpower to cross the finish line with our youthful goals intact. "My body had long since exhausted all its energy," Bannister recalled, "but it went on running just the same. The physical overdraft came only from greater willpower." Bannister covered the last lap in 58.7 seconds, lunging across the finish line a mere six-tenths of a second under the magical four minute mark, igniting a worldwide celebration of the human spirit. Mike's neat analogy works.

His writing throughout is tight and bright. His 1980 profile of woman masters runner Sister Marion Irvine begins: "You've heard of the flying nun and the singing nun. Now meet the running nun." Mike expected a woman in a wimple and black habit, clutching a rosary. Instead, "Five minutes past our appointed time, a red compact car came screeching to a halt, stirring up dust in front of the convent. Out jumped a spry, tall (5-foot-10), wiry woman dressed in shorts, sandals and a colorful cotton shirt." As they made their way inside to the convent sitting room, "I had to shift gears and lengthen my stride to keep up with her." Few people her age could. In her first marathon, the Dominican sister recorded a time of 3:01:55, shattering the record for women aged 50 and older by almost three minutes.

Her miraculous story is just one of 25 fascinating interviews with legendary runners included in this collection. 1936 Berlin Olympian runner (5000 meters) Lou Zamperini tells Mike how he almost got shot trying to steal a swastika flag from the chancellery flagpole (Hitler eventually told the guards to give him the souvenir). Kansas great Jim Ryun, the first American high schooler to break a 4 minute mile (1964, in 3:59:0; only two other kids have done it since), tells Mike how he turned from chasing gold (as in medals) to God when he found "something was missing" in his competitive racing life. 1972 Munich Olympic marathon winner and American hero Frank Shorter talks about the ravages of time. "The biggest problem when you turn 40 is that you still have a mind that wants to run 120 miles a week but a body that can run 90."

The dark side of running pops up in several thoughtful pieces. What drives the occasional marathoner to cheat, surreptitiously joining a race at the half-way point, risking humiliation and disqualification? "I can understand, though not condone, some clown jumping in the race toward the end as a lark," Mike muses following a 1988 race scandal. "I can even understand someone with a criminal mind doing it to collect the prize money. But I do not understand what motivates two supposedly mature men to fly a few thousand miles to win nothing more than a trophy valued at about $20."

Can running become an unhealthy addiction? Mike didn't think much of it until a runner friend of his visited a local psychic who informed the runner she sometimes saw spirits of deceased runners tagging along on his daily workout. Mike's interview with Maggie the Mystic turned into one of the book's concluding columns, "Do Runaholics Go to Hell?" It left him wondering. "Is Maggie some sort of kook or does she really know something? All I can say is that she comes across as a very credible and sincere person. My friend, her neighbor, agrees and has cut back his weekly mileage from 90 to 50 while also giving up his Sunday morning long run to accompany his wife to church services."

Mike Schmicker

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