By Gordon Cherr
Several years ago, I happened by chance upon a marvelous quote by John Medinger, a noted ultra runner, regarding his performance at the Wasatch 100 mile run, in 2000:
“Executive summary: It was fun. It was beautiful. It was challenging, no, strike that, it was hard. It went reasonably well for about 65 miles. Then it got ugly. Then it got very ugly. Then it got stupefying, Bataan death march, lurching, staggering, crying-for-yo’-mama-in-the-middle-of-the-night ugly. That went on for several more hours and then I finished . . . .”
Medinger’s comments struck me as hysterically funny, brutally honest as well as inspiring, and a copy of it was taped it to the bathroom mirror, where it remains, much faded and dog-eared, to this day. I look at it every morning and sometimes it gets me out the door when I might not otherwise want to log those miles. It always makes me laugh. It has also lead me to collect quotes about runners and running, mostly from runnners (but some not), and I share these with you in the hopes that one will inspire you or make you laugh or cry or think or just get you out the door to the road and trails. I have tried to give credit on each as accurately as I can, I take no credit whatsoever:
When you are 99 miles into a 100-mile running race, your brain is not the same brain you started with.
Any idiot can run a marathon; it takes a special kind of idiot to run an ultramarathon.
The race continued as I hammered up the trail, passing rocks and trees as if they were standing still.
-Red Fisher, Wasatch ’86
It hurts up to a point and then it doesn’t get any worse.
If you start to feel good during an ultra, don’t worry you will get over it.
You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming.
Life is short. Running makes it seem longer.
Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts.
Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible.
We can’t all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.
Marathoning is like cutting yourself unexpectedly. You dip into the pain so gradually that the damage is done before you are aware of it. Unfortunately, when awareness comes, it is excruciating.
-John Farrington, Australian marathoner
Jogging is very beneficial. It’s good for your legs and your feet. It’s also very good for the ground. It makes it feel needed.
To a runner, a side stitch is like a car alarm. It signifies something is wrong, but you ignore it until it goes away.
It’s unnatural for people to run around the city streets unless they are thieves or victims. It makes people nervous to see someone running. I know that when I see someone running on my street, my instincts tell me to let the dog go after him.
I always loved running…it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.
The gun goes off and everthing changes… the world changes… and nothing else really matters.
-Patti Sue Plummer
The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.
I have met my hero, and he is me.
No negative thoughts cross my mind on race day. When I look into their eyes, I know I’m going to beat them.
Tough times don’t last but tough people do.
I cannot have survival as my only goal. That would be too boring. My goal is to come back in my best running form. It is good for me to have that goal; it will help me.
-Ludmila Engquist (Olympic champion hurdler facing cancer and chemotherapy)
There are clubs you can’t belong to, neighborhoods you can’t live in, schools you can’t get into, but the roads are always open.
What matters is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired.
I’ve always felt that long, slow distance produces long, slow runners.
The will to win means nothing if you haven’t the will to prepare.
-Juma Ikangaa, 1989 NYC Marathon winner
Stadiums are for spectators. We runners have nature and that is much better.
-Juha Väätäinen, Finland
The start of a World Cross Country event is like riding a horse in the middle of a buffalo stampede. It’s a thrill if you keep up, but one slip and you’re nothing but hoof prints.
The freedom of Cross Country is so primitive. It’s woman vs. Nature.
To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who’s never run it is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind.
Marathon running is a terrible experience: monotonous, heavy, and exhausting.
-Veikko Karvonen, 1954 European and Boston Marathon Champ
There is the truth about the marathon and very few of you have written the truth. Even if I explain to you, you’ll never understand it, you’re outside of it.
-Douglas Wakiihuri speaking to journalists
We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.
If Cross Country were easy, it would be called football!
If you feel like eating, eat. Let your body tell you what it wants.
-Joan Benoit Samuelson
It’s elevating and humbling at the same time. Running along a beach at sunrise with no other footprints in the sand, you realize the vastness of creation, your own insignificant space in the plan, how tiny you really are, your own creatureliness and how much you owe to the supreme body, the God that brought all this beauty and harmony into being.
-Sister Marion Irvine
If the furnace is hot enough, it will burn anything.
-John Parker, Once a Runner
Believe in yourself, know yourself, deny yourself, and be humble.
-John Treacy’s four principles of training prior to Los Angeles ’84
Good things come slow – especially in distance running.
-Bill Dellinger, Oregon coach
Running is a big question mark that’s there each and every day. It asks you, ‘Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?'”
-Peter Maher, Irish-Canadian Olympian and sub-2:12 marathoner
Fear is a great motivator.
-John Treacy, 1984 Olympic silver medalist
Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.
-Inspirational sign on a runner’s office wall
Dream barriers look very high until someone climbs them. They are not barriers anymore.
Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were younger the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was never tired…You’ve always got to make the mind take over and keep going.
-George S. Patton, U.S. Army General and 1912 Olympian
Mind is everything: muscle – pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.
Run hard, be strong, think big!
Once you’re beat mentally, you might was well not even go to the starting line.
The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy…It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed.
-Jacqueline Gareau, 1980 Boston Marathon champ
Scientific testing can’t determine how the mind will tolerate pain in a race. Sometimes, I say, “Today I can die.'”
If I faltered, there would be no arms to hold me and the world would be a cold and forbidding place.
-Sir Roger Bannister
Sport is not about being wrapped up in cotton wool. Sport is about adapting to the unexpected and being able to modify plans at the last minute. Sport, like all life, is about taking risks.
-Sir Roger Bannister
No pain, no gain.
Top results are reached only through pain. But eventually you like this pain. You’ll find the more difficulties you have on the way, the more you will enjoy your success.
-Juha “the Cruel” Vaatainen
Out of the silver heat mirage he ran. The sky burned, and under him the paving was a black mirror reflecting sun-fire. Sweat sprayed his skin with each foot strike so that he ran in a hot mist of his own creation. With each slap on the softened asphalt, his soles absorbed heat that rose through his arches and ankles and the stems of his shins. It was a carnival of pain, but he loved each stride because running distilled him to his essence and the heat hastened this distillation.
-James Tabor, from “The Runner,” a short story
I am both proud of and embarrassed by that run. What kind of geek goes out and runs in a cloudburst just before midnight on his honeymoon? Me, I guess. But probably many others, too. You know who you are.
-Mark Will-Weber, The Quotable Runner
We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves…The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom. No one can say, ‘You must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that.’ The human spirit is indomitable.
-Sir Roger Bannister
God determines how fast you’re going to run; I can help only with the mechanics.
Running is a lot like life. Only 10 percent of it is exciting. 90 percent of it is slog and drudge.
-Dave Bedford, English distance runner who occasionally put in 200 miles a week in training
A lot of people don’t realize that about 98 percent of the running I put in is anything but glamorous: 2 percent joyful participation, 98 percent dedication! It’s a tough formula. Getting out in the forest in the biting cold and the flattening heat, and putting in kilometer after kilometer.
-Rob de Castella
You have to go through cycles of extreme poverty and suffering for a while; they are used to that…They get up early, run hard, rest, drink tea, get out and run hard again. When Simon Dirorie gets up at 4 a.m . . . I’m dedicated, but I’m not that dedicated.
-Keith Brantly, on why the Kenyan runners are so good, 1993
Workouts are like brushing my teeth; I don’t think about them, I just do them. The decision has already been made.
-Patti Sue Plummer,
I’ll train like a madman, un loco. Well, not like a madman, perhaps, but as if it were my last race.
-Rudolfo Gomez, prior to the Los Aneles Olympic Games
Those who say that I will lose and am finished will have to run over my body to beat me.
I haven’t seen too many American distance men on the international scene willing to take risks. I saw some U.S. women in Barcelona willing to risk, more than men. The Kenyans risk. Steve Prefontaine risked. I risked – I went through the first half of the Tokyo race just a second off my best 5000 time.
My whole feeling in terms of racing is that you have to be very bold. You sometimes have to be aggressive and gamble.
A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways as they’re capable of understanding.
It came like electricity, it came from every fibre, from his fingertips to his toes. It came as a broad waters come through a gorge. He called on it all.
-Norman Harris, description of Jack Lovelock’s finishing kick to win the 1936 Olympic 1500
In a country where only men are encouraged, one must be one’s own inspiration.
-Tegla Loroupe, Kenya, 1994 New York City Marathon champion.
No one could have scripted a more celebratory inauguration of the new era than Benoit’s victory and the great race she led….A woman was enabled to achieve what Benoit accomplished. A woman was welcomed in that achievement by a roar of acclamation that was unequaled for any male through the whole Games. Women competed with each other to the absolute rigorous limit of their will. And a woman endured utter exhaustion in the sight of millions of people – because she chose to do so. I have been astonished that so few feminists outside the USA seemed awake enough to fanfare the magnitude of what was achieved that day.
-Roger Robinson, Heroes and Sparrows
The marathon is like a bullfight. There are two ways to kill a bull, for instance. There is the easy way, for one. But all the great matadors end up either dead or mauled because for them killing the bull is not nearly as important as how they kill the bull. They always approach the bull at the greatest risk to themselves, and I admire that. In the marathon, likewise, there are two ways to win. There’s the easy way if all you care about is winning. You hang back and risk nothing. Then kick and try to nip the leaders at the end. Or you can push, challenge the others, make it an exciting race, risking everything. Maybe you lose, but as for me, I’d rather run a gutsy race, pushing all the way and lose, then run a conservative, easy race only for a win.
-Alberto Salazar, 1981
The marathon’s about being in contention over the last 10K. That’s when it’s about what you have in your core. You have run all the strength, all the superficial fitness out of yourself, and it really comes down to what’s left inside you. To be able to draw deep and pull something out of yourself is one of the most tremendous things about the marathon.
-Rob de Castella
And my personal favorite:
Maybe I shouldn’t have had breakfast at Denny’s.
-Jordan Kent (who vomited after running the 400 meters in the 2002 USA Junior National Championships held in Eugene, OR)
After reading this column, Jeff Bryan was kind enough to send me another quote for my collection. Here is his message and his worthy addition:
Enjoyed the quotes. You left out one of the best ones though:
“That race was so tough that I won’t have to go home and lie to my friends about how tough it was.”
Dana Stetson describing Mountain Mist.