That was the question I got asked most during a tour of the 2000 Vancouver International Marathon’s elite athlete reception that my elite running friend from Nova Scotia, Smartex Tambala, had taken me to out of his kindness. To be fair, a lot of the elite marathoners in that room got asked that as well, almost like the standard greeting to ask to start conversations, but the reception wasn’t just for the elite athletes. It was also for their friends, family, and other guests, of whom I was one courtesy of Smartex. However, I seemed to have looked the part enough at 5’2″ and about 102 pounds that the other elite athletes risked being wrong about me not being one, rather than potentially insult me by assuming I wasn’t elite athlete material. It’s been the only instance in my life where I had been presumed that way rather than the opposite. And as ridiculous as the question was for me at the time, peaking at maybe half of that mileage weekly, it stayed on my mind long enough to be a psychological itch I ultimately had to try and physically scratch.
I first met Smartex at the Dartmouth Natal Day Road Race in the summer of 1999. I had been living in Vancouver since 1995, where the non-athletic me had picked up distance running. I was home visiting my Parents and eager to show them this new side of me that could now run marathons, with a small racing agenda of a race every weekend I was home. Knowing nothing of the Nova Scotia running scene, I did a little research before I came home and discovered that there was some ultra-fast guy named Smartex Tambala running around and winning a lot of races, often quite handily. I noted other runners, too, but had since forgotten their names because they were either not as memorable, nor did I have a chance to interact memorably with them as I did with Smartex’s visit to Vancouver the following year.
I can’t remember if Smartex won the 1999 Dartmouth Natal Day 6 Miler, but will assume he did because there was no surprise in my memory about my conversation with him after the race, as if it had been a bad day for him or something. I had made it a point to go find him after the race to “meet” him, like a celebrity seeker, and talk to him about his running to see if I could maybe get a few tips I could apply at my much lower level. It wasn’t a long conversation, but I left him with my email in case his racing happened to take him out west where, if I could, I would go watch him run. I also put in a good word for the Vancouver International Marathon, which I had completed just months before in May, as well as the city and west coast. As Fate would have it, Smartex opted to run the Vancouver International Marathon in 2000, and I was there to meet and watch him, as promised.
It was during my time with Smartex in Vancouver before the 2000 marathon that he took me to that elite athlete’s reception for them and their guests. The question asked of me of how many hundred miles week I ran during the year was a stunner to me at first, just trying to imagine what I’d have to do to rack up that mileage in a week. That was like a short long-run each weekday and two long long-runs on weekends, probably spaced out some other way, but it was still staggering! Something like 10 miles per day for 5 days and 25 miles for two days! And how many times a year??? Sure, that’s what it took to be elite, but I still thought these guys were crazy… which is sometimes a bad omen for me.
When I started training for distance running, it was for 10 km races, in the Vancouver Sun Run (10 km) training clinics. There, I met many people who had ran the marathon, which was over four times what I could muster, or could imagine me wanting to run! In terms of running marathons, I had told many people I knew, that was crazy, subtly implying I thought these marathoners were crazy, though not in a heavy sort of judgmental way. Well, as it turned out, Fate likes to mess with me because within a few years, it gave me circumstances I couldn’t turn down and I ended up running one on about 12 weeks’ of mileage build-up. It wasn’t pretty, but neither was the scene the next morning when I asked my ego if at the age of 26, and not having been athletic all my life, that was as fit as I was going to be. HELL NO!!! was the violent reply, and with that, I was off to what is now 34 marathons 22 years later. I was also 26.18 years old on that day, 26.2 if you round it, but hadn’t realized it until many years later, so Fate was messing with me enough you could argue it was really fucking with me and my life, and not just messing with it! As for what I deem crazy, that just seems to mean something I’d eventually try, or would like to try if I couldn’t yet get the chance, though I didn’t know that for then.
Over the years, as I trained more for the marathon, I upped my mileage. Yet, it was going through the Dalhousie Cross-Country varsity program, where we ran only 10 km races, as a mature student in my 30s that really upped my mileage most. It was a disciplined and demanding program that took my running to another level. Through it, I hit 100 km training weeks enough that I wouldn’t have been an imposter in a room of runners where the standard greeting might have been “how many hundred km weeks do you run in a year?”. However, there was no disillusion regarding the gap between 100 km and 100 miles a week of running was not only vast, but that the vast difference was on top of the 100 km ran, and not just more mileage to be done some other time. Still, as I converted back to marathon training after a few years of Dalhousie’s Cross-country program, I was able to hit 110 km of running per week, then 120 km per week, at which point, the legendary 100 miles or 160 km per week, felt within sniffing distance.
“What if during one of my base weeks I just ran a lot and not worry about speed training, for which I wouldn’t have the legs doing big mileage?” I asked myself after one of these 120+ km running weeks. “What if I moved my long run from a previous week’s Sunday morning to a holiday Monday morning to squeeze in two long runs in one week, and also allow me a day and a half of recovery time for the Tuesday run? Then up the mileage on other days, or do double run days on some of them to keep each run shorter. Would I be able to hit the 100 mile running week?”
There was no way to really know the answer to these questions other than to try, of course, so tried I did! I was going to do it during a week I had off from work to allow more recovery time, proper eating and rest, and not be interrupted by potential over time work, not to mention greater flexibility to run in better weather should parts of certain days be bad weather. Running, and everything associated with it, was going to be my number one priority that week. I felt it had to be if I were going to have a decent shot at succeeding, and I was right!
In some year in the late 2000 aughts, I succeeded in doing my 100 mile running week. I ran 162 km from tediously fine tracking on Google Maps’, just in case there was still a one percent error. I ran everyday, with two double day runs, and it took nearly everything out of me. I have it all tracked in a spreadsheet, but don’t want to look back because seeing the details of what I once was capable of isn’t something I tend to be keen on doing. That’s why I have trouble remembering my best race times, and general race times, even though I can get the former correct when I try. Reflecting from memory is a different matter, because it’s about the experience, not the results. And how did I feel about my 100 mile running week? Legendary, just like the goal was to me. Like being a marathoner, it was about being able to do something I once thought only people I deemed to be “gods” could do, in general parlance and not an actual religious context. People who could run not only distance, but marathons, were once like gods to me. Then I became one. Now, I could tick off another such comparison with people who could run hundred mile weeks, even if I might only ever do one in my life whereas they do one every month or second week. I at least now knew the experience, which included the struggle to eat and drink enough as much as the struggle to run enough. I have an insane metabolism, and it was as crazy as the idea of running a hundred miles that week!
In the mid-2010s, as I was retiring from marathon running before I tried compression socks that kept my calf muscles from cramping some of the time, I wanted to see what kind of toll time has had on my body. Outside of race times, I wanted to see if I could pull off another hundred mile running week. Same preparation and routine. Body limits would dictate how far I’d go. Shockingly to me, I ended up doing over 170 km, with double run days on all but the two long run days, from my experience the first time around. Definitely “insurance” and a guarantee I did the hundred mile running week if Google Maps had actually been off during my first go around. I had only allowed a 1% margin of error, after all, which wasn’t much. Again, I have the week tracked, but will refuse to go look for it. I did it was all that mattered, and it felt even better than the first experience, especially considering I was close to a decade older. Who was aging again?
Fast forward now to this past week, which started on Victoria Day in 2021. With a new running style where I put the other foot in front of the one, instead of one foot in front of the other, I wanted to see what my body could take for a real high mileage running week beyond 100 km that I had just done a few weeks ago. I didn’t feel the need to prove I could still do the hundred mile week, so I didn’t take the week off work. I would also join some teammates for speed workouts during the week that would not fit in well with what I would need for less effort to do the super high mileage. Besides, I was going to stop if my body started not to cooperate, to prevent injury in running more on my forefoot and midfoot rather than heel striking I had done for over two decades. I just figured how to do it properly a little over a month ago, having failed in a handful of previous tries. Foot down underneath me, not in front of me. It was that simple. It was just that nobody had corrected me properly before.
Without the hundred mile or 161 km goal in mind, and a Garmin now to track distance a bit better than Google Maps, I surprised myself by being able to do 150 km, with some junk miles added for mileage on top of the quality runs and speed workouts because I didn’t feel up to doing double run days. Unlike those previous hundred mile weeks, though, eating enough was much more challenging this time around. I would say it was more challenging than the running only because I had to make sure I had enough food in me, via body weight, before each run to determine what I could do without putting myself in a counterintuitive situation where I was doing myself a lot more harm than good with the running, to the point of not being able to function much otherwise. I might be crazy but I’m not that crazy!
Sitting here and reflecting on the week in writing, I feel pretty good about the week. 150 km, almost 30,000 steps per day with other walking, and over 50,000 steps today for a new personal record with my 4 weeks old Garmin. I ain’t old yet! However, seeing what the effort took out of me, and how I am no longer willing to take a week off to try the hundred mile running week thing any more, I’m also a little sad to think this might be the last time I might ever run this weekly mileage total. It will be downhill from here, though I’m fine with that as I really don’t love running anywhere near that much. Just maybe half. I also have a lot of other hobbies going on I am not willing to sacrifice that much time and effort to running. Hobbies I had been training for when I am no longer able to be so active. Opportunity cost, they call it in economics. I’m not going to achieve anything all that notable with my running times or mileage. Maybe just the occasional fluke race against a bus that I was shocked that many people cared about, but that’s not from all this training. On the other hand, with my other artistic pursuits, including writing, there’s a chance, even if the tiniest chance, I could actually change the world in some small way. Considering my life strategy is titled “For Good”, I’ll take those chances any day. It might be crazy, but I think you know me and crazy by now.
* I am too tired to figure out where this might fit in at this time, but given this isn’t a writing competition entry, I’ll just append the information here. Smartex didn’t have one of his better days in Vancouver at the marathon in 2000, running a relatively “slow” 2:25 for him. However, as you can see, what he did for me from that invitation to join him in the elite athlete reception has left some wonderful and indelible memories and experiences. I don’t remember what Smartex said for answering how many hundred mile weeks, but I didn’t remember anybody else’s answer either. It was all too stunning, just the thought of running one, to a recreational runner like me. It still is. The only memento I still have of my time with Smartex is a photo of him and I with the Harry Jerome statue in in Stanley Park when I gave him a small tour of Vancouver, via transit since I didn’t own a car. The photo is in storage but I remember it like I have it in my hands. I’ve since lost touch with Smartex, and living in Nova Scotia again now. Wherever he is, though, I hope he’s doing well and that I’ll be able to share this story with him one day. Thanks, Smartex!