(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 April 1982.)
PAINS AND GAINS. Three great myths of running are, “There can be no gain without pain,” “There can be but one winner in a race,” and “There can be no running life after racing ends.” The greatest of these is the first, the one dealing with suffering.
Derek Clayton trained hard, perhaps harder than any marathoner of his time or any earlier one. Maybe that’s why he held the world record from 1967 to 1981 – as the first runner to break both 2:10 and 2:09.
The Australian absorbed a gluttonous amount of pain. When training to a peak, he ran up to 200 miles a week. He didn’t just pitter-pat through those miles either. He believed there was no sense in running much slower in practice than he would in a race. So his base pace in training was close to five minutes a mile.
A typical weekend run was a full marathon in 2:20 to 2:25. Not content with doing just that in the morning, he would return in the afternoon for another 10 miles at five minutes each.
The reward was world-record marathoning. The immediate price for this routine was chronic fatigue. Clayton once ran himself into such exhaustion that he smacked into a tree while training.
The longterm price was chronic injuries. During his career he suffered through nine surgical operations – from back to knee to achilles.
Enduring all this pain, day after week after month, simply wore down his soft tissues. Sure, he reached some of the highest peaks in the sport. But he also endured some of the deepest valleys in between.
The goal that means most to a competitor is not a record, which only means he has beaten a mechanical object. Above all he wants an Olympic gold medal.
Clayton never won a medal of any color. He was injured during the Mexico City Games, when he went into the race with the fastest time by far. He wasn’t at his best for Munich, when his time again should have made him the class of the field. He retired before Montreal.
At the time he made a blunt, bitter retirement statement. He said that now he could honestly admit that he never enjoyed a minute of his running and was relieved to be done with it.
His career ended like too many others. At the final finish line, all that pain hadn’t equaled gain. It had added up only to more and more pain – until finally it had eroded health and enthusiasm to the point that he had no reason to push on.
But Clayton’s story didn’t end there. After a few months away from running, he started missing it. He didn’t miss the pain. He certainly didn’t miss the 200-mile weeks or the marathons that had beaten him up so badly. He missed the daily routine of running itself.
He began to run again. He limited himself to a quick five miles or so each day. Years later, he still does the same.
Recently I shared a speaking stage with him in Texas. He said there, “Running has changed completely for me, from being grinding work that I barely tolerated to being one of the bright spots of my day.”
The running that Clayton does now is an answer to all three of the sport’s great myths. He runs without pain, but who is to say that he isn’t gaining? He wins no races, but who is to say he isn’t a winner? His serious racing ended in the early 1970s, but he is moving proof that running life goes on after the best races have been run – and that this new life can be just as rich as the old, in a quieter way.
UPDATE. Careers at the highest ranks of running are brief and the afterlife is long. Derek Clayton’s racing was done by age 30. Later he lived for several years in the U.S., working for Runner’s World. During that time he wrote the book Running to the Top. Copies are rare today but still available, for a premium price, from Amazon.com. Now in his 70s, Clayton is back in Australia.
[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, 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.]