Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Great Britain's Real Marathon Man


What more can you say about Buster Martin. His life is the stuff of legend. He is England's oldest employee, being 101 years old (though he has two official birthdays, so his claim to be 101 is not verifiable by Guiness - if the other birth record is correct, Buster is a "mere" 94 years of age). He's the father of 17 children. As of two days ago, he may well have become the oldest man in the world to complete a marathon.

Last year, he also played in a rock band that made the charts (covering, what else, The Who's "My Generation"), as well as fought off three teenage attackers by kicking one hooligan in the groin.

And if that's not enough, Buster is an unapologetic drinker and smoker.

In fact, at the halfway point in the London Marathon (April 13), Buster paused to have a beer and a cigarette (which sounds so much more exotic in the British slang: "a pint and a fag"). Here's the story.

Obviously, smoking is bad for you. Drinking to excess as well. But, there is something refreshing about Buster standing defiantly over and against the "nanny state" that wants to tax, regulate, and ban anything that responsible people might want to enjoy in moderation without having a busy-body bureaucrat imposing on us. One has to wonder how many members of parliament and anti-tobacco crusaders are willing to run a 26.2 mile race like old Buster. There is a part of me that is thrilled there are guys like Buster out there standing like a "thin gray line" between personal freedom and some nosy "suit" trying to make it illegal for me to eat lasagna, like this New Zealand professor who wants to tax butter, which he considers a "poison" as "bad as cigarettes." Oh brother!

I can't help but share a bond with Buster as a brother marathoner.

I ran my first marathon in 1989, having trained with a bunch of guys who had two passions: distance running and partying. My friend Mark could actually drink beers right before the race and still manage to turn impressive times. Our friend Jody was a really fit U.S. Navy guy who polished off a sixpack before entering the 10k - for which he hadn't trained. At least that's what he thought he was running. He got into the wrong line, and ended up running the marathon instead. He completed the race, but even he was pretty sore the next day.

Now, far be it for Fr. Hollywood to recommend that people "drink and run," but this is simply the reality of my training partners "back in the day."

After completing the race in a little more than 3 hours, Mark ran back another mile to join with me for my last mile, encouraing me so that I would break the 4 hour barrier. After crossing the finish line and having the medal placed around my neck (and though I was not much of a partier), I joined in the festivities with my friends by swilling from a bottle of peach schnapps (I was still years away from acquiring the taste of beer) and puffing a churchill-sized cigar - still clad in my tights with my number pinned to my shirt. My other marathon friends were all sharing the stogie with me, though they were drinking beers. I do recall some looks of shock at our blatant display of political incorrectness. It was amusing. But I figure, I just ran 26.2 miles, sprinting the last mile, - and if I want a shot of schnapps and a cigar, that's my business. Sort of my version of "a pint and a fag."

Of course, I was 25 years old, not 101. Buster is truly entitled to a little display of "vice" in the course of his heroic performance. Non sum dignus, mi amice! Here's an article about Buster's marathon training.

To see a video clip of Buster's mid-race beer break, check out...


No comments: