(This piece is for my latest book titled Pacesetters: Runners Who Informed Me Best and Inspired Me Most. I am posting an excerpt here each week, this one from November 1991.)
DEMAR-VELOUS. A recently republished book tells about its author winning the Boston Marathon repeatedly. It tells of training with high mileage and about overtraining. It tells of racing after age 40 and of adjusting to aging.
It isn’t Bill Rodgers’ book, although in Masters Running and Racing he does pay homage to this other author. Rodgers wrote, “One of my favorite running books is Clarence DeMar’s autobiography, Marathon.”
Besides his historic collection of seven Boston wins, he was the last American to run in three Olympic marathons and the last between 1924 and 1972 to win a medal. He was the first great master, though that word didn’t enter running language for almost 40 years after he’d turned 40.
DeMar wrote Marathon in 1937. The book’s material has aged so well that Cedarwinds Publishing has reissued it. I just reread it and was reminded again of how little is new in this sport.
The physical rules haven’t changed since DeMar trained for his first Boston Marathon win before World War One. He got good by running lots of miles and got hurt from running too many, too fast.
“I covered nearly a hundred miles per week in practice for a couple of months with several 20-mile jaunts,” he said. “The first of many physical difficulties I have met before races annoyed me at this time. My right knee became stiff, [but] I didn’t go to see a doctor because I had a sneaking notion that he would tell me not to run until the knee got well.”
DeMar called the 1912 Olympic Marathon his most disappointing race. Considered a favorite, he finished 12th and blamed this poor showing on overtraining.
The coach made U.S. marathoners run 20 miles a day when they should have been tapering. “We didn’t race,” DeMar recalled of that training, “but neither did we loaf. Alone, I’d have run much slower part of the time. Eventually, a week or so before the race, with the nervous strain of trying to make good every day instead of once a fortnight, I went stale.”
He found, as today’s runners are rediscovering, that a long training run every two weeks or so worked best for him. He could go very long if the pace was right.
DeMar was an early ultrarunner who sometimes entered a 44-mile race as training for Boston. At this distance, he wrote, “one can slow down 25 percent from a marathon. Instead of 10 miles per hour, 7½ is satisfactory. I found that I could run this slower pace indefinitely without the nervous strain of the marathon.”
DeMar later became one of the first “lifers” in the sport. He promised after winning at Boston in 1930, “I’ll keep running as long as my legs will carry me.” He kept running Bostons until 1954 and continued racing until shortly before his death four years later at age 70.
As Clarence DeMar came to terms with aging, he wrote, “No longer does my success depend on the amount of practice I do. Frequently a rest and just a little practice causes me to make a better showing. No longer does slow practice always produce the best race. Sometimes speed work causes me to do better.
“So the older I get, the less dogmatic and sure I become as to the best way for anyone to get into physical condition. Not only are there individual differences, but the same individual has to change his method of training over a period of years – even as old people change their glasses.”
UPDATE. In an era when the Boston Marathon was the most important race outside of the Olympics, Clarence DeMar won seven times there in three different decades between 1911 and 1930. That record will stand forever.
His 1930 Boston victory, at age 41, still makes him that race’s oldest male winner ever. He was at the time, and remains all these decades later, the greatest Boston marathoner ever.
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. Latest released was Memory Laps. Other titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]