Mile 6: An Imperfect Hero

“If you want to win something, run the 100m. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.” Emil Zátopek, Czechoslovak Olympic Gold Medalist

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After reaching a training distance of 14 miles this morning, and with a knot in my right calf refusing to go away, I try my best to look to all my running heroes for inspiration: Mo Farah, Eluid Kipchoge, Paul Radcliffe, Usain Bolt… but they make it all look too easy.

But Zátopek? Ah, Emil Zátopek. Thank God for true heroes… he made it look hard!

Winner not least of three gold medals at the 1952 Olympics Games in Helsinki for 5,000m, 10,000m and the Marathon, he set 18 world records, and went undefeated over 10,000m for six years but all the while he never tried to hide the pain in his face…

He was as much remembered for his crazy playfulness and generosity of spirit as for his redrawing the boundaries of endurance (and all this without even mentioning what he suffered at the hands of the invading communists after the Prague Spring of 1968).

And at the start of the 1956 Olympic Marathon, with temperatures around 35 degrees, still recovering from a hernia operation which rendered him out contention for a medal, as others lined up in solitary nervous silence, he turned to his fellow competitors, and smiled:

“Today we die a little!”

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