Day Six: 3 pm - 12 midnight
It was my observation that men and women approached the race differently.
'Ach! Boys!' - or Why Women are Superior in Every Way
I think I must have looked worse than I actually felt.
For quite some days I felt as if I were running along quite well, but Karnayati Morison made several remarks about how I was walking. I wanted to wail, ‘No, no! Look I’ve got my elbows bent and am moving my arms back and forward. I’m running! I’m running! I’m not walking!’ In fact, what I was doing probably didn’t even merit the word walking. Once, the lap-counter failed to recognize me and called out ‘got you Pavol’ to me. Fortunately Sanatan was there and corrected her - ‘That’s not Pavol, it’s Barney. Barney can’t walk.’ People were very kind and solicitous and encouraging. I obviously looked pretty ugly. At one point Ingrid Kirschner from Munich slowed as she passed me and asked if I were taking anything for my leg. When I answered no, she offered the use of her helper to ply me with remedies. Her helper turned out to have the entire pharmacopoeia of homeopathic and natural remedies – every pill, potion, balm, tincture, compress and medicament known to man. She, very generously, pressed upon me any number of small white pills. They all looked the same to me and all seemed to have the same effect – to wit, none at all. I was very grateful none-the-less. One of her pills that I had actually heard of was arnica. When my Germanic good Samaritan asked if, even if I were taking nothing else, I at least was surely taking arnica. I had to answer no. ‘Ach, Boys!’ she exclaimed, ‘Zey never take anything for anything!’ It set me to thinking about the basic difference in the way men and women approached the race . . . and the inherent stupidity of one group and the obvious superiority of the other. I watched the women trotting happily along the path with their neat little ankle socks with the little pink pompoms at the heel, their clean, fresh-laundered running gear, the little shining, decorative hair clip holding their shining hair in a tidy pony tail – and I felt like a Neanderthal. Smelly, unwashed, unshaven, sun burnt, my bandages grubby and tattered, a little of last night’s fine dinner down the front of my shirt – I was a pioneer out to conquer the distance with sheer guts, thrusting with unfocussed machismo through the miles. My new, and disapproving, assistant told me that ‘Ze girls have been taking arnica for several days before ze race started.’ What?! Take sensible action ahead of time to prevent the swelling of tissue that was so painfully debilitating me? Who could have thought of that? . . . except a woman. The very fact that Ingrid Kirschner had this helper and I didn’t have one, exemplified the different approaches. ‘A healthy respect’ – it was a phrase that my brother used to use. He thought it a good attitude. And no doubt it is – as is a healthy disrespect. A 'healthy respect' for the enormous challenge of running for ten days is what the women showed in arming themselves not only with arnica but also with a helper – someone who could provide all those little things that make the undertaking more possible: someone to do your laundry; someone to get you some ice at the end of each running stint to cool your feet down; someone to help you out of bed and into running gear and out the tent flap at 3 am; someone to press necessary food or drink upon you when you are too befuddled to realize you need it; someone to scuttle off to get your woolly hat from the tent when it is needed; someone to . . . hand out the arnica and tell you when you need some obscure tincture; someone, in the end, to just be a friend and give a word of encouragement; someone to sing you a song when you are down. A man – what does he want with these things? With absurd gung-ho spirit he shall plough on alone. He will get his own ice, do his own washing - perhaps - (let us not delve too deeply into that subject) – he will waste time staggering off to get his woolly hat from the tent himself, he will do without arnica and food and, as he falls apart, he will sing his own little funeral dirge to himself. At its best, let us call this a 'healthy disrespect'; a cavalier disregard for the pride of frightening distance. Alternatively, one might just call it plain old stupidity. It is interesting to note that the men who conformed most closely to this approach were the runners from ‘pioneering’ countries: ‘civilized’ Europeans less so. Those of us from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa - and I have raced with them all in the multi-day races I have done – men whose great grandfathers headed into the savage wilderness with just an axe and an unquenchable belief that anything that God, nature or man threw at them could be overcome purely with grit and ingenuity, we were the ones out ‘colonising’ the miles with the same spirit. It was retired US general Jay Garner who once said, ‘We ought to be beating our chests every day. We ought to look in a mirror and get proud and stick out our chests and suck in our bellies and say: ‘Damn, we’re Americans!’ Trying that in your tent at 3 am before heading out onto the track was not necessarily the best plan. In the end, the superiority of women is not speculation – it is a quantifiable fact. Take the 22 competitors in the race: the average distance covered by ‘the blokes’ in the ten days from April 26 to May 6 was 495 miles; the average member of the weaker sex managed . . . 503 miles.*****************************************************