The Greatest Marathoner You’ve Never Heard Of

By Mario Fraioli

Some of you are going to debate me on this, which is totally fine, but I’m willing to bet most of you living outside of Canada have never heard of Tom Longboat. In fact, your first exposure to the 1907 Boston Marathon champion was likely this recent Google Doodle, which celebrated the legendary runner’s 131st birthday. Or maybe it was the brief mention in Ed Caesar’s excellent book, Two Hours. Or perhaps you might recognize his last name from an obscure reference in the 2004 film St. Ralph, when young Ralph checks out Longboat’s fictional book, Secrets to Marathon Success, from the library. Regardless, Longboat doesn’t get nearly the recognition he deserves for being one of the best runners of his era. Not only was he the first member of a First Nations community to win the Boston Marathon—his Iroquois name was Cogwagee—but he also owned several world records at various other distances and won a couple of world championships. Unfortunately, Longboat also dealt with his share of racism because “he was to so many not ‘the Canadian’ but ‘the Indian,’ according to CBC Radio—Canada.

Finally, he caught a lot of flak for incorporating rest and recovery days in his training routine, often accused of being lazy. (More on this topic later in this week’s newsletter.) But the man clearly knew what he was doing at the time, even though not many people knew what he was up to over a century ago. Anyway, I’m glad he got a little more light shone his way last week.

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