This is topic running distances in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by babooher (Member # 8617) on :
I am about to finish a short story that uses a kind of running of the gauntlet. The protagonist has to run across a section of desert that is infested with ground dwelling beasties that love to chomp on the flesh of land based beings.

Knowing I'd die from the physical exertion of running three steps, I thought I'd look up typical track sprints. The longest short distance I found was 400m with the shortest midrange distance being 800m. I had picked 500 yards or about 470m.

Again, I'm prejudiced by my lack of physical ability, but does anyone else think 500 yards is just too darn long of a run? I need it long enough to be a challenge, but the runner isn't an Olympic track guy either. That's 5 football fields. Too much, not enough, just right? What do ya think?

Posted by philocinemas (Member # 8108) on :
I don't think 500 yards is that far at full sprint. I'm about 15 lbs overweight for my height and physique. I used to run track and cross-country about 25 years ago, and I occassionally feel guilty and throw out mile here and there. It would depend on what kind of shape the fella is in.

The sand is going to make it a bit more difficult. With that factored in, I might have to stop and take a couple of deep breaths now and then, and I'd probably have a couple of falls on the way.

Posted by babooher (Member # 8617) on :
Thanks, philocinemas.

The desert I'm using is all hardpan but the guy is in boots, not running shoes.

Now I'm worried it isn't long enough. It's all about timing what the protagonist is doing with what is going on elsewhere.


Posted by MAP (Member # 8631) on :

Do you know how long it should take your MC to reach the other side? If you do, you can calculate the distance by multiplying the time by a reasonable speed, depending on how in shape your character is. FYI, make sure the units match up.

Posted by JSchuler (Member # 8970) on :
The desert I'm using is all hardpan but the guy is in boots, not running shoes.

You could have him lose the boots and go barefoot.

Posted by MartinV (Member # 5512) on :
Not here to criticize your plot but I believe that 500 meters/yards is a very short distance to run if you want to make a survival challenge out of it. Make it a marathon run, taking a day or even a few days. Surviving that in a hostile environment would be an accomplishment.
Posted by axeminister (Member # 8991) on :
Is the gauntlet set up by some kind of evil person/people as a test? Or is the character trying to escape or something and that's how far he has to run?

The reason I ask is because you are very close to a quarter mile. (440) which might make for a dramatic sentence. "You must run this quarter mile and survive." etc.

Two minutes for a quarter mile is 7.5 MPH. This is the pace I can run a few miles at any given time. I'm 6' with a big stride and years of practice.

In elementary school, they had us run the 440 occasionally. With no warm up and only running around the playground and playing at home I was able to finish the race every time without stopping. However, toward the end my lungs would BURN because of said lack of warm up. I recommend factoring this in.

Only the most out of shape kids with zero motivation stopped along the route. Some were pretty slow, but they finished without dragging. If there were scorpions, etc on the ground I bet every kid would have finished. Boots or sneakers.

Thus, I'd say your guy would have no trouble finishing this distance in heavy boots in the hot sun under peril of flesh chomping, but he's going to be pretty wasted by the time he's done. If there's a finish line to cross into safety he'll totally collapse until the fire in his lungs subsides.


Posted by babooher (Member # 8617) on :
Thank you all. All good advice and info.
Posted by philocinemas (Member # 8108) on :
I agree with axeminister. The boots will make a big difference. I can usually run a mile at about one fifth full speed (takes me about 8 minutes nowadays), but put some boots on me and it's a different story - I get exhausted walking 100 yards up a hill in the snow, which would be similar to sand.
Posted by skadder (Member # 6757) on :
I run 5 miles in 47 mins--but I have small stride. I run for fitness reasons, but i reckon if someone was after me with an axe (i.e.running for my life) I could probably up my pace a little--maybe.
Posted by Teraen (Member # 8612) on :
There is an inverse relationship between distance and speed - the farther the distance, the slower the pace. A marathon runner goes much slower than a sprinter. But is one race necessarily easier than another?

If your character needs to outrun some beasties that would chase him during the gauntlet, you can make the guantlet as long as you want, and simply make the beasties too slow to catch someone going at the right speed, but fast enough to catch someone who is too slow. For instance, it could be 150 miles, and the person has to do it without sleeping because if they stop and rest, the monsters will catch them. That would be just as grueling (if not more) than a sprint. So it all depends on the type of challenge you need...

Posted by rstegman (Member # 3233) on :
There was an annual desert race for horses, which also became a running race. 100 miles in 24 hours. A lot of people did it.

there is the Iron Man triatholon where one swims 2.6, miles, bicycles 250 miles, then runs 26 miles and have about twelve hours to do it. Most make it in time.

AS said before, farther you have to run, he slower you will run. You could run in a fast sprint and then slow down as you go farther, but the overall speed will be lower than if you ran the first part properly as you will already be tired.

There were several tribes that had children run through a gauntlet where the adults whipped them with switches as they ran between them.

The training of the person makes a big difference. Yesterday, I walked less than four miles with rests half way through and that was all I could handle. I could not do half that today because my body took enough abuse for the week.
I might run a hundred feet but not run farther.
On the other hand, someone who hiked with equipment or packs regularly, and did a lot of running, would not have problems with the guantlet you are discussing. They may be wasted at the end, but they would be able to cover the distance I could never pass.

Posted by Kitti (Member # 7277) on :
If your MC is used to trekking around in boots, they won't pose a significant problem for him. I've run in boots before, and while there's a certain amount of tension against the ankles (at least for boots that go up that high) that's not a huge issue. The weight on the legs might tire you some, but no more than wearing a pack (each pound of boot weight is supposedly equivalent to 5 pounds in your backpack).

I'm a sprinter (read: no stamina whatsoever) and I can definitely tell you that adrenaline (outracing someone vs. timed sprints) increases my speed incredibly. So adrenaline will probably get your MC through it okay, unless you write your MC as completely out-of-shape, overweight, ill, or something similar (in which case I suspect your MC would be dead long ago). But your MC might collapse on the other side (I sprint myself into the ground on a frequent basis) and need to rest for a few minutes and guzzle some serious water to get over the aftereffects.

Also, not to TMI, but sprinting past your endurance levels in serious heat will probably make your MC puke.

Posted by Smaug (Member # 2807) on :
I agree with Kitti on many levels, but especially the adrenaline and the puking. I too ran track, and although I mostly did the intermediate hurdles (which in my day were 330 yards), my coach one time asked me to run a 440 to see how I'd do. So with no training at that distance--back in those days, I didn't see the value of training at over distance--I was able to complete the race, though for the last 50 yards or so, my legs felt like jelly. I'm thinking your character sounds a lot like me, kind of in shape, but not for this particular event. That's where the adrenaline kicks in. A person in fear for his or her life (or someone else's life) can do feats that no ordinary mortal can do--such as lifting a car off a loved one--or running 500 yards to escape. Consider looking up information on fur trapper John Colter and his escape from Native Americans for a realistic view.
Posted by JamieFord (Member # 3112) on :
I agree, 500 yards doesn't seem very far as far as a life or death thing. There's a great book called Born to Run about ultra-runners, these maniacs that run 50-80 miles over 24 hours. That sounds more like life or death to me.

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