Really Going The Distance

When people in New York circle the block, over and over again, they're usually looking for a parking spot. But what if they're circling without a car? Steve Hartman meets a few runners who are doing just that in this week's Assignment America.

People who drive by say it's the strangest thing. They report the same 13 runners have been circling the same block of Queens, N.Y., all summer long.

They've been out there morning, noon and night - the same 13 people, rain or shine. Round and round and round … over and over and over again.

"Why are you here?" Hartman asked.

Still running, one said, "To improve on my performance from last year."

They stop for no one, which made Hartman's job considerably tougher than normal as he jogged after a runner asking questions.

Another yelled: "This year 56 days!"

Fortunately, Hartman wasn't the only curious bystander. Jerry Shaber stops by every day after work. Hartman gleaned from Shaber that what he was seeing was actually a race.

"This guy is always bouncing a ball," Shaber said.

"He's always bouncing a ball?" Hartman asked, puzzled.

It's a race that's not so much about speed as distance. It's a race that every year draws the world's most insane long-distance runners.

On a tote board is written the mile log. The race goes 3,100 miles. That's like running across the country. Contestants have seven weeks to finish - and will go through up to 15 pairs of shoes, and suffer countless blisters and Charlie horses.

That's again why they prefer not to stop for anything - not even to explain why they don't stop for anything.

"I have to run daily from 65 to 69 miles," one runner told Hartman.

That's two marathons a day - and then some.

"We sleep about four and a half, five hours in the night," another said.

Fifty-two-year-old Suprabha Beckjord is the oldest runner, the only woman and the only American competing. When she's not running here, she runs a gift shop in Washington, D.C.

"I've always gotten so much out of it that spills into my, the rest of my life," she said.

It's her 12th year running the race. And so far, she's finished every time. And what does one get for finishing?

"If you could bottle satisfaction, that would be it," said the race director, Rupantar Larosa.

In other words, nothing. Larosa says even the winner only gets a plastic trophy.

"To set yourself to a Herculean goal and to achieve it … is priceless," he said.

Unfortunately, sometimes "priceless" comes at a price.

"The more you focus on it the worse it gets."

The gift-shop owner is down to just five good toes - although she prefers to look at the bright side - just 500 miles to go.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.