Nonrunners often imagine that people can cover 26.2 miles only because they have lean, muscled legs and a highly developed cardiovascular system. Nothing could be further from the truth. The runner’s most important organ, by far, is the brain — the source of our dreams, drive and determination. Almost a century ago, the great Finnish distance runner Paavo Nurmi said: “Mind is everything; muscle, mere pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.”If so, my brain has taken a beating over the last 30 years. Once I could reasonably expect to run a couple of marathons every fall and perhaps one in the spring. These days, I turn out for a five-kilometer race in the spring, and run it at a pace slower than I ran any of those long-ago marathons.
Certainly, discipline and determination are required. But running those distances make physical limitations very clear. I was never going to run the sort of time that Burfoot ran--I could not long sustain training at about half the weekly distance elite runners did, for I would notice injuries beginning. Even in shorter races, there I was only so fast I was going to run. As recreational runners went, I was pretty fair, but there was an obvious and unbridgeable gap between the elite runners and the rest of us.
Nurmi's statement is fine, as regard those very few with comparable physical abilities--those, as they say, who have picked their parents carefully. For the rest of us, Damon Runyon may be the sounder guide:
The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way they're betting it.