A Dialogue: Voices From The Plains Of Fennel

Mark Collis had run the Ottawa Marathon. He let the marathon out that was within him which would qualify him to run the Boston Marathon.

Ozzie Gontang has shared his folklore on marathoning for twenty-five years. Ozzie Gontang has shared his folklore with rec.running (a news group on the Internet) for seven years.

Ozzie and Mark have never met in person but their friendship has grown over the past 3 or 4 years.

This is a dialogue they shared. Ozzie and Mark have never been to the Plains of Marathon but the voices of Marathon binds them mind/body/spirit.

The word “marathon” is derived from the Greek word meaning fennel. The Plains of Marathon was so named because they were covered with fennel. And when in bloom, it is a magnificent sight to see. On a day in 490 BC, it was the site of a battle in which the outnumbered Athenians and their allies defeated the invading Persian forces.

This dialogue started after Mark had posted his report on his Ottawa Marathon.

Thanks Oz.

Your marathon thoughts and words were with me all the way in Ottawa and every LSD training run before it.

There was nothing special about this race, except that I was ready mentally and physically. Everything in it’s own time.

“Waiting is.”
– Michael Valentine (Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinline)


Life is the great experiment. Each of us is an experiment of one-observer and subject-making choices, living with them, recording the effects.
Dr. George Sheehan


Sounds like you were present, mind/body/spirit. I can grok that.

I’d be interested in your experience in using the marathon thoughts and words I’ve shared. I’d like that kind of perspective as a jumping off point for continued dialogue.

Look forward to hearing from you.

In friendship,


Hello Ozzie,

I’ve always reviewed your Marathon notes before every race. I find that it helps me “center” and find the right mind set. It reminds me of all the little things that you can do before the race to take away from your performance. It also reminds me to think about energy conservation and the fact that good form and efficient running go hand in hand. I guess rereading it has become part of my mental preparation for the race once all the physical preparation has been done.

Before the race start I try to become that calm eddy in the middle of the rapids. It’s more an extension of the “Empty Boat” philosophy on reflection than anything else. I try not to get caught up with the hubbub around me that will get me geared up and excited. I think on the words of my training partners, friends and coaches and remain calm and loose.

During the race, I remember the Sky Hook. Out of all the things in those notes that I have shared with others, I’ve had more fellow runners comment that they also found the Sky Hook to be the most insightful and useful piece of lore on the long run. It all flows from the top of your head to your toes. The second thing is self-talk. Periodically I’ll remind myself to run loose, relax the shoulders and hands, “Hook-ON!”, watch the horizons, run with light feet and good form. When I hit the hills, I remind myself to resist the urge to race up and instead shorten the stride and spin. If I have paced myself correctly, I crest and increase my turnover and power down the hill with Mother Nature’s assist. Hill training in action.

During the last 5 km when the tough part of the race starts for me, I focus even harder on form and using my whole body to run. In my head, I start singing my mantra. Nothing fancy, usually just a song that is in my head at the time that has the right beat. I’ve used Bill Staines “All Gods Critters” and Stan Rogers “Barretts Privateers” in past races. The beat helps me remember to keep my turn over rate up and not to give in to the desire to slow down. The last five kilometres are the reason that I’ve done all the long LSD’s and long race pace runs.

I guess, in summation, that the marathon document reminds me that although I run the race alone, I am not alone. Many have gone before me and offer their support by their experience.

At this race I came to a realization. I thought that the marathon was about energy conservation. Now I think that energy conservation is only part of the equation. The more important thing is pacing. Find that optimum pace and hold it. The tough part is finding out just what that pace is. This I learned in Columbus last fall, and I applied that knowledge in Ottawa this year.

Is this what you were looking for? <GRIN>



Nail/Hammer/Dead center!


The door is open. The world is yours.

The fish trap’s purpose is to catch fish.
When the fish is caught
The trap is forgotten

The rabbit snare’s purpose is to catch the rabbit
When the rabbit is caught
The snare is forgotten

The purpose of words is to share thoughts and ideas.
When the thoughts and ideas are understood
The words are forgotten

Where is the runner/poet/artist/saint who has forgotten the words.
He is the person with whom I want to speak.

– Adapted by GAPO from Chuanz Tzu [xxvi. II.]

Breathing in, I am aware I am breathing in
Breathing out, I am aware I am breathing out.

Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I smile

Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.

– Thich Nhat Hanh , author, poet, Buddhist monk

The marathon creates a similar trance state as experienced by a whirling dervish. The only difference is the marathoner unwinds the spin for 26.2 miles.


Man’s Search for Meaning and In Harm’s Way both touch on the human spirit and how each of us respond to the reality that confronts us. Each of is challenged everyday to keep mind/body/spirit present and in the moment no matter what the reality.

– Jerry Eppler

When in the heat of battle,
Keep your heart at the lotus feet of the Lord
(Krishna to Arjuna just before a battle he does not want to enter)

In friendship and the joy of forgotten words.



Hello Ozzie,

I don’t think that I can add a jot or tittle to improve perfection. I only thank you for allowing me to work out my own perfection by encouraging the sharing of thoughts.

Post away MacDuff.


By Mark G. Collis & Austin “Ozzie” Gontang, Ph.D.
December 24, 2003