Episode 23 – And I ran So Far Away…

Oct 2, 2020 | 0 comments

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Welcome to Interesting If True, the best podcast I make my wife listen to.

I’m your host this week, Shea, and of course my co-host, Aaron!

I’m Aaron, and this week I learned that the hardest part of going for a run isn’t the running, it’s putting down the Doritos… and getting dressed… and leaving the house… and running…

Few updates this week. We still need to record an episode of 4 More Beers, apologies on that but real-life happened, but don’t worry—we’re on it! It’s another two man production this week. Jenn is under the weather and Steve is on vacation for a bit. Jim may be around once life allows but he’s doing his best not to actually be Mr. Flaming Pants, send him your well wishes. While Shea and I love doing a buddy-show we’re going to try to fill the empty seats with some guests in the coming weeks. No spoilers now but it’ll be good. It’ll be good…

If you’ve enjoyed the show so far please do us a solid and leave a 5-star review wherever you listen!

Worlds Fail

The 2020 olympics were unfortunately moved to next year to keep athletes and spectators safe from the current pandemic, this shows great preparation and forsite from the officials and a compassion that definitely wasn’t seen back in the 1904 Olympics, especially if we’re talking about the marathon.

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The 1904 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the III Olympiad was celebrated in St. Louis, Missouri from July 1 to November 23 at what is now known as Francis Field on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.

The city of Chicago had won the original bid to host the 1904 Summer Olympics, but the organizers of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis would not accept another international event in the same time frame.

The exposition organization began to plan for its own sports activities, informing the Chicago OCOG that its own international sports events intended to eclipse the Olympic Games unless they were moved to St. Louis. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement, gave in and awarded the games to St. Louis.

So St. Louis wasn’t as prepared as we are nowadays and they were competing with the World fair at the same time. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition or world fair was celebrating the Louisiana purchase and as the Olympics were only a few years old many of the events were lost in the chaos of the city. The president of the world’s fair actually declined to invite anyone to the opening ceremonies so on July 1st he did it himself in a humdrum “ceremony.”

The participants totaled 651 athletes – 645 men and 6 women representing 12 countries. However, only 42 events (less than half) actually included athletes who were not from the United States.

This is just a small peak at the craziness that came during the olympics that year but I want to focus on the main event! The first organized marathon was held in Athens at the 1896 Olympics, the start of the Games’ modern era. The ancient games, which took place in Greece from around 776 B.C. to A.D. 393, never included such long-distance races. The idea for the modern marathon was inspired by the legend of an ancient Greek messenger who raced from the site of Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40 kilometers, or nearly 25 miles, with the news of an important Greek victory over an invading army of Persians in 490 B.C. After making his announcement, the exhausted messenger collapsed and died. To commemorate his dramatic run, the distance of the 1896 Olympic marathon was set at 40 kilometers or 24.85 miles.

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Official course 1904 Marathon

If you take away anything from this story I hope it’s that no matter how hard you try, you can’t mess up nearly as well as they did here.

To start, the officials made a great decision and designed a course that could easily break an athletes ankles. the 24.5 ish mile course—which one fair official called “the most difficult a human being was ever asked to run over”—wound across roads inches deep in dust. There were seven hills, varying from 100-to-300 feet high, some with brutally long ascents. In many places cracked stone was strewn across the roadway, creating perilous footing, and the men had to constantly dodge cross-town traffic, delivery wagons, railroad trains, trolley cars and people walking their dogs. Also for some reason the organizers thought it would be better to hold it during the afternoon instead of the morning, my guess is they wanted to have an audience even though most people were at the fair… This became a very dumb idea as athletes were forced to run in almost 90 degree heat. There were only two places where athletes could secure fresh water, from a water tower at six miles and a roadside well at 12 miles. James Sullivan, the chief organizer of the games, wanted to minimize fluid intake to test the limits and effects of purposeful dehydration, a common area of research at the time (I love being a guinea pig). Cars carrying coaches and physicians motored alongside the runners, kicking the dust up and launching coughing spells. This is only the start of the race, they have 25 grooling miles of this yet to go.

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Len Tau (AKA Len Taunyane) and Yamasani (AKA Jan Mashiani) from South Africa.

Fred Lorz led the 32 starters from the gun, but by the first mile Thomas Hicks edged ahead. William Garcia of California nearly became the first fatality of an Olympic marathon we he collapsed on the side of the road and was hospitalized with hemorrhaging; the dust had coated his esophagus and ripped his stomach lining. Had he gone unaided an hour longer he might have bled to death. John Lordon suffered a bout of vomiting and gave up. Len Tau, one of the South African participants, was chased a mile off course by wild dogs, he and his team mate Mashiani, were also the first two black men to compete in the olympics. Félix Carvajal trotted along in his cumbersome shoes and billowing shirt, making good time even though he paused to chat with spectators in broken English. On one occasion he stopped at a car, saw that its occupants were eating peaches, and asked for one. Being refused, he playfully snatched two and ate them as he ran. A bit further along the course, he stopped at an orchard and snacked on some apples, which turned out to be rotten. Suffering from stomach cramps, he lay down and took a nap. Carvajal could have been the least prepared runner. A cuban postman who lost all o, hitchhiked to St. Louis, cut off his trousers, trying to make them look as close to running shorts as possible, also he hadn’t eaten in 40 hours, hence the need for a snack.

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Félix Carvajal and his cut-offs

Sam Mellor, now in the lead, also experienced severe cramping. He slowed to a walk and eventually stopped. At the nine-mile mark cramps also plagued Lorz, who decided to hitch a ride in one of the accompanying automobiles, waving at spectators and fellow runners as he passed.

Hicks, one of the early American favorites, came under the care of a two-man support crew at the 10-mile mark. These men by the way were not his coaches, just some guys who I call free range scientists. He begged them for a drink but they refused, instead sponging out his mouth with warm distilled water. Seven miles from the finish, his handlers fed him a concoction of strychnine and egg whites—the first recorded instance of drug use in the modern Olympics. Strychnine, in small doses, was commonly used a stimulant, and at the time there were no rules about performance-enhancing drugs. Hicks’ team also carried a flask of French brandy but decided to withhold it until they could gauge the runner’s condition.

Meanwhile, Lorz, recovered from his cramps, emerged from his 11-mile ride in the automobile. One of Hicks’ handlers saw him and ordered him off the course, but Lorz kept running and finished with a time of just under three hours. The crowd roared and began chanting, “An American won!” Alice Roosevelt, the 20-year-old daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, placed a wreath upon Lorz’s head and was just about to lower the gold medal around his neck when, one witness reported, “someone called an indignant halt to the proceedings with the charge that Lorz was an impostor.” The cheers turned to boos. Lorz smiled and claimed that he had never intended to accept the honor; he finished only for the sake of a “joke.”

Hicks, the strychnine coursing through his blood, had grown ashen and limp. When he heard that Lorz had been disqualified he perked up and forced his legs into a trot. His trainers gave him another dose of strychnine and egg whites, this time with some brandy to wash it down. They fetched warm water and soaked his body and head. After the bathing he appeared to revive and quickened his pace.

“Over the last two miles of the road,” wrote race official Charles Lucas, “Hicks was running mechanically, like a well-oiled piece of machinery. His eyes were dull, lusterless; the ashen color of his face and skin had deepened; his arms appeared as weights well tied down; he could scarcely lift his legs, while his knees were almost stiff.”

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Thomas Hicks, assisted by his trainers.

He began hallucinating, believing that the finish line was still 20 miles away. In the last mile he begged for something to eat. Then he begged to lie down. He was given more brandy but asked for tea. He swallowed two more egg whites. He walked up the first of the last two hills, and then jogged down on the incline. Swinging into the stadium, he tried to run but was reduced to a graceless shuffle. His trainers carried him over the line, holding him aloft while his feet moved back and forth, and he was declared the winner.

It took four doctors and one hour for Hicks to feel well enough just to leave the grounds. He had lost eight pounds during the course of the race, and declared, “Never in my life have I run such a tough course. The terrific hills simply tear a man to pieces.”

To finalize:

  • 1st- Thomas Hicks- After rat poison and brandy
  • 4th- Felix Carvajal- After taking a nap
  • 9th- Len Tau- After being chased by wild dogs and running barefoot.
  • 12th- Mashiani-
  • DQ- Fred Lorz Took a cab
  • DNF- William Garcia Just about died
  • DNF- John Lordon Couldn’t stop puking
  • DNF- Sam Mellor Too many cramps

Only 14 runners crossed the finish line and around 25 were strewn about the course in various stages of decay.

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Other Terrible Sports

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To follow Shea’s marathon of misery I bring you… why you shouldn’t work out, or, how to die in the process.

So, since they stopped feeding people rat poison and booze marathons have become safer. That said, they still kill between 0.6 and 1.9 out of every 100,000 people who run an officially sanctioned marathon. Dying during a marathon is a proud tradition over 2500 years old, going back to the first marathoner, Pheidippides, who ran from Marathon to Atheins to deliver a message and then fell down dead. I guess no one told him about FedEx. The tradition continues today with Harry Vroulis, a 74 year old runner who… first of all, you’re 74, knock it off, but sadly he died January 19th, 2020 of a heart attack during the Houston marathon. Of the deaths listed by running on wikipedia, about 40, half of them are American. Because we’re the best at everything, including eating cheese burgers to train for a marathon. Avoiding running is why humanity invented the wheel, learned to train riding animals, and I assume, shoot. It’s why I learned to shoot—so that I don’t have to run from anything. According to a BBC article I found, if you run a marathon, you’ll probably die of heart failure, shin splints, micro-fractures in your joints, dehydration, or a tiger. Who knows, you’re not in the safety of inside, you’re in the tiger-infested outside.

Let’s face it. Running sucks. So let’s talk about cycling, running’s still-terrible-but-at-least-there’s-a-seat cousin.

The most dangerous sporting event on Earth takes place on the aptly named Isle of Man, because you have to have big-ol balls to enter this hot mess. Sexist jokes aside, in an era where everything comes with a warning label, from packages of peanuts warning you about them containing peanuts to chainsaws advising you not to try to stop the moving chain with your genitals (yes, that’s real) it’s a wonder the Isle of Man TT, or Tourist Trophy, is even allowed to happen.

The event first happened on Tuesday 28th, May, 1907 as the International Auto-Cycle Tourist Trophy race. Auto-cycle being the yee-oldie term for motorbike… because bikes that are powered by you are just bipedal locomotion. The race has happened nearly every year since though they did take a breather for WW2. After the war the event was folded into the Grand Prix (now MotoGP) until 1970. See, the Prix folks wanted more money just for racing, and these things called safety measures, but the TT folks knew that paying people was a terrible way to make money and crashes are the only reason to watch a race. Today, the Isle of Man TT is considered the most dangerous sporting event or race on Earth.

The race was divided by motorcycle CCs and since I don’t know what that means we’re skipping over it. From wikipedia I gather it’s kid’s bikes vs. roided-out speed bikes. You know, stuff that goes fast enough to kill you. The track follows the Sneafell Mountain Course, which is about 40 miles long, with 219 turns, and covers much of the island. Eventually the course was modified to make it… more… twisty and turney and thereby, somehow, safer. The death toll however does not back this claim up.

To date, well… 2019, they took 2020 off too… there have been 252 fatalities associated with the race. Unofficially, that number is 260. I guess it takes some time to add them to ESPN or whatever tracks this stuff. It should also be noted that the 260 number only includes racers. If you add spectators who failed to dodge a flying motorcycle, the number goes way up.

The course was difficult from the onset. Even with yee-oldie coal powered I assume auto-cycles people died. Today you can get a Kawasaki that does over 200 miles an hour… and then do that. James Hiller, in fact, registered 206mph on the famous Sulby straight. Which is insane.

Of note is one death, that of Steve Mercer. He was killed in a head-on collision. See, earlier in the race Dan Kneen fatally wrecked so police hopped in a flag car and speed to the scene… forgetting to mention to the other racers that, as they flew down the streets at over 150mph, a car was going the other way at rescue speeds. They collided and he died.

So far the UK has lost over 200 people, leaving “not specific but with a Union Jack flag” in second place with 64, the Isle of Man have lost 18, and the remaining countries haven’t broken double digits.

Outro

I’m Shea, and this week I learned a blue whales anus can stretch approximately 3 and a half feet, making it the 2nd largest asshole, just behind Mitch McConnell. I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-hosts.

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Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.

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