In 1896, the first modern Olympics in Athens staged a marathon. The next year the Boston Athletic Association followed suit. Just 18 men ran that day, and the winner finished in about three hours – something office workers can beat today.
Most people thought they were crazy – if they thought of them at all. Many people probably still do.
Marathoners don’t care.
“We are different, in essence, from other men,” said Czechoslovakian star Emil Zatopek – and he would know. After winning the 1952 Helsinki Olympic gold medals in the 5K and 10K, he decided at the last minute to enter the marathon – and won that, too. “If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”
Greg Meyer knows exactly what Zatopek was talking about. Like Zatopek, Meyer wasn’t made to run the marathon – but he couldn’t resist it.
Meyer grew up in Grand Rapids, and enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1973. Before his sophomore year, Michigan hired a new cross-country coach named Ron Warhurst, another unlikely figure in this drama. Warhurst had returned from Vietnam with two Purple Hearts, and a hard-won lesson: “The world doesn’t stop because you’re scared.”
Warhurst had been a good runner, but was a great coach. He had an uncanny ability to get inside his runners’ heads, and get more out of them.