Richard Benyo: Articles and Columns

Beginning Running

Runner’s World

February 1979

Looking for New Stars

There has been a great deal of discussion recently centering on a very interesting question: With the millions of Americans getting into running, how come there aren't any new faces cropping up under the winner's laurels at the major races. Well, I did hear it discussed at the RRCA hospitality room in New York which means that there will probably be a learned paper published on it within the next year through the auspices of the New York Academy of Sciences. So I figured that before the academics get to launch their theories, I'll offer mine.

It is true, of course, there are millions of new runners in America. But runners like Rodgers and Thomas and Bjorklund and the rest are winning most of the races. There are no superstars coming from the ranks of the reborn runners. It seems like the odds should be in favor of at least a few new runners emerging as long-distance flashes. So far there are none.

My admonition is to give it a few more years. Not even Bill Rodgers' base was built in a day. Here is the explanation of the holdup in new stars.

The Theory of Re-educated Molecules: When a person doesn't do something for a certain period of time, his/her molecules gradually learn to not do that thing very well. In other words, if you don't run for 10 years, your body learns to not run very well. The lessons learned—or unlearned—saturate every molecule in your body. Molecules in your fingernails learn how not to run as well as do molecules that constitute your right ear lobe; every molecule in the body, we know, carries the potential of creating the whole organism. This is the theory upon which cloning works. A molecule lazily sitting on a lawn chair in the forest of hair follicles on your forearm has all the genetic traits that the basic reproductive apparatus has. There is a grand plan to the whole body—a communications system that educates each molecule to what is or is not going on in the whole organism. This is what I call the Rotten Apple In the Basket Syndrome, or RAITBS.

If you smoke, the RAITBS lets all your molecules know you're smoking. If you quit smoking, it takes a while for all the little molecules to find out that they are no longer in a smoking organism. The same with running. If you haven't been running for many years, if you've been a fatty and a physical lazy, the RAITBS is really into inertia. The individual molecules throughout the body organism are pudgy little buggers; they individually think in pudgy terms.

When you start running, there is a long re-education process. It takes a long time and a great effort to overcome inertia. Inertia is one of the greatest un-forces in the universe, you see. The body begins to lose weight and it begins to tone up, but the individual molecules are sluggish in making the transition, because it takes time to change over each little trait in each molecule; sort of like if the telephone company decided to change the number of every phone in the country. It wouldn't happen overnight.

Eventually the process will be accomplished and the molecules will be changed. They will accept discomfort at running fast because it will then seem natural, they will assure the mind that the body can crest that last hill in a hard workout, they will bug the brain when it doesn't want to run so it finds that it must run.

I've tried to come up with a formula that will fit this theory, because no one believes a theory unless there are formulas involved. I figure in my own case it will take three years until I'm changed over to a real runner, and another year at least until I'm a tolerable racer for my age group. That's four years. Now, since I laid off running for 10 years (between 21 and 31 years of age) and because I gained 55 pounds (from 152 to 207), I translate the years to months, get 120, add the 55 pounds and get 175. Dividing that by four, I get 43.75, which is the number of days they figure it takes an out-of-shape person to get back into shape, and my formula works.

You go ahead and try the same formula and see what you get.

And the next time you enter a race and don't win, just kind of limp away, muttering under your breath just loud enough for the winner to hear: “Wait ‘til next year.”