Friday, July 31, 2015

The True Locomotive

Recently, someone referred to me as a locomotive. Now, they could have been referring to my immense size and weight, or my inability to turn, or even my overall steaminess. Turns out, what they meant was I was: When I get going, I'm almost "unstoppable", like a locomotive.  And, while I appreciate his compliment, I know that there was only one “Locomotive”. He is my running idol and his name was Emil Zatopek.

Emil Zatopek was born in 1922 in Czechoslovakia. He started running at age 18 when he was ordered to participate in a race by the sports coach at the shoe factory in which he worked. A mere four years later he held the Czech national records for the 2k, 3k & 5k distance.

In 1952, at the Helsinki Olympic Games, Emil did the impossible. He won the 5k, 10k & marathon in the span of 8 days, breaking the Olympic records for all three in the process. And, the marathon was his first ever! At one point, he held every world record from the 5k up to the 30k and had won something like 40 consecutive 10k races.

Zatopek was not known for his gracefulness. His running form was not considered to be a very efficient style at the time. His head would roll, face contorted with effort, while his torso swung from side to side. He often wheezed and panted audibly while running, which earned him his nickname.

But, what Emil lacked in style he more than made up for in heart and courage. He just plain trained (and raced) harder than anyone else was willing (or able) to do. In the winter he would run through the snow in heavy army boots. And, when the snow melted, he was known to do as many as 80 - 400 meter repeats in one track session.

Here are a few of my favorite Zatopek quotes:

"Why should I practice running slow? I already know how to run slow. I want to learn to run fast.”

"If you want to win something, run the 100 meters. If you want to experience another life, run a marathon."

"I was not talented enough to run and smile at the same time."

"It's at the borders of pain and suffering that the men are separated from the boys."

Sometimes, when I'm having a difficult time getting motivated for a run, I just think of how hard he worked at becoming such a great runner. And, that run usually ends up being my best workout of the week. If I could be one iota of the runner that Emil Zatopek was, I’d be pretty happy.

Postscript: This story first appeared in my "pre-blog" blog called Mine Falls Milers and I'm re-publishing it now because it was 63 years ago this week that Emil Zatopek won the Long Distance "Triple" at Helsinki.

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