Running has thrown up some great rivalries over the decades: Landy v Bannister, Coe v Ovett, Benoit v Waitz, but perhaps none has captured the world’s imagination as much as the intense, no-holds-barred and often outlandishly violent tussle between the Road Runner and Wile E Coyote. And how they have made us laugh amid the mayhem!
It is hard to believe these two have been going head to head since 1949, but that is not the most extraordinary aspect of their ongoing duel: in 71 years and contests too numerous to count, Road Runner has never lost to his rival. Not once. But here’s the crucial thing: Wile E Coyote keeps coming back for more; Wile E Coyote never gives up. So while we admire the bewildering speed and focus of the road runner, we bow before the never-say-die (but-come-so-close-to-it!) spirit of Mr Coyote.
Runner’s World had the privilege of sitting down with the two great – and ageless – athletes to talk about their many races, their diets, their running styles and what keeps them going after so long. It was a privilege to talk to them.
(This is an edited version of a longer interview. Some answers are RW’s interpretations of animal noises)
RW: Great to see you both. How’re you feeling after your most recent encounter?
Wile E: I’ve been better. Probably shouldn’t have strapped on those rollerskates, tied that giant fan to my back and lit the dynamite at the same time! Live and learn.
Road Runner: Same old Wile E! The ultimate competitor. Seriously, he’s great. Keeps me on my toes.
Coyote: Oh now…
Road Runner: It really wouldn’t be the same without you.
RW: (wiping tear) It’s so touching to see you two showing such affection for each other after so many years and so many near-death experiences, at least for you, Wile E. How do you keep going?
Road Runner: I love to run.
Wile E: I love to chase. It’s as simple as that. And one day, one day I’ll catch him. It’s inevitable.
Road Runner: And that, right there, is what keeps me going.
RW: The thought he will one day eat you?
Wile E: If that’s not an incentive to run, I don’t know what is!
RW: (adopting thoughtful expression) Road Runner, can we talk a little about your diet. You’re still in great shape. What’s your secret?
Road Runner: Bird seed.
RW: That’s it?
Road Runner: That’s it. Plain old bird seed. Mounds of the stuff. I mean, this guy will sometimes put a bomb in it – one of those round, cartoonish things with the fuse sticking out – but I always eat around it. He’s such a loon. Also, off camera, I smash lizards against rocks and eat them whole. We’re not allowed to show that.
RW: Right. How about you, Wile E? You’re incredibly lean. What’s your diet like? I’m sure our readers would love to know.
Wile E: Now that you ask, I can’t think of the last time I ate anything. I’m hungry pretty much all the time.
RW: (frowning with interest) So what do you use for fuel?
Wile E: I have a lot of rage. So, mostly rage. And hunger.
At this point the interview was interrupted for a short time; Road Runner retired for his morning preening and Wile E Coyote was examined by a doctor, as he had recently ploughed into a wall that had been painted to look like a road.
RW: Can we talk running form for a moment. You two have very different styles when it comes to the chase, as it were. You, road runner, you keep it simple. Pure.
Road Runner: It’s all about the basics with me. Just feathers and feet. I’m like the guy who won that race running barefoot – Abebe Bikila.
Wile E: Yes, you’re exactly like the double Olympic marathon champion.
RW: (chewing arm of glasses) But you, Wile E, you love your tech: rockets, jet packs, earthquake pills, dehydrated boulders, leg-muscle pills; even, once jet-propelled shoes…
Wile E: Look, we may as well accept new technology and make the most of it. It’s here to stay. The genie is out of the bottle and the genie did a spell and the bottle vanished. I’m telling you, one day, all running shoes will have little rockets at the back. Two or three, at least.
RW: And yet…
Wile E: Ha ha! I know where you’re going with this.
RW: This is all state-of-the-art kit, but…
Road Runner: I’m still here! All that fancy gear and he never catches me. Hilarious!
RW: You do seem to have a lot of problems with your major sponsor, Acme
Wile E: I have to use their kit, but there have been some…technical issues.
RW: Multiple fractures, internal injuries, becoming stuck in a giant spring, repeated incidents of flattening…I could go on.
Wile E: It’s in the courts, so I can’t really say much. You understand.
RW: (nodding in sympathy) I can tell this is painful –
Road Runner: Not as painful as falling off a cliff, right?
Wile E: Was that necessary?
RW: Let’s get back to form: Road Runner, you have an imperious, upright running style; totally focused, while you, Wile E, seem far more, well, animated.
Wile E: I think I’m a people pleaser. I want to give the fans their money’s worth, so I put on a show.
RW: All flailing arms and legs, and that tortured, desperate expression…
Wile E: I have a lot of emotions to draw on. And I see myself in the tradition of Emil Zátopek. You could always tell he was working his ass off.
Road Runner: Zatopek set 18 world records and won three Olympic golds in one Games. If someone gave you a medal, you’d eat it and it would explode in your belly. And then you’d hold up a sign saying ‘Yikes’.
Wile E: You could learn a lot from Emil, pal.
Road Runner: Such as?
Wile E: Politeness. Decency. Respect for your opponent. He never stuck his tongue out at opponents and said ‘beep beep’ before running away.
RW: (tilting head to indicate seriousness) Let’s talk about that, Road Runner. It could be seen as dismissive, even rude. Why do you do it?
Road Runner: It’s just my thing, my trademark move. I don’t mean anything and I apologise if anyone has been offended by it.
Wile E: Not anyone – me. It’s only ever me.
Road Runner: I had no idea you felt this way.
Wile E: Sometimes, a little bit of your spit gets in my eye. And that hurts more than any anvil.
RW: Let’s get back to form, if we may, as I know you two are back on set in a few minutes. Wile E, I’ve always wondered about one aspect of your running style.
Wile E: What’s that?
RW: Well, I’ve noticed that you tend to run holding something, often a knife and fork.
Wile E: And?
RW: (raising eyebrow) I’ve always thought that if you dropped the cutlery and just ran on your four legs, you’d be a lot faster.
Road Runner: Um…
Wile E: Do you know, I’ve never really thought about it.
RW: You should try it. I mean, your top speed in pursuit is about 40 miles per hour. A road runner can hit 25, at a push.
Wile E: Wow! This really is food for thought…if you know what I mean. I need to talk to –
Road Runner: I can fly!
Wile E: What?
Road Runner: I can fly. I’m a bird. I can fly.
RW: (smirking) Not well, though, isn’t that right?
Road Runner: Well enough.
RW: Short bursts is what I hear. Mostly gliding.
Wile E: I’ve never seen you fly.
Road Runner: Never had to, if I’m being honest.
Wile E: I’m going to put down my knife and fork. I don’t even know why I have them. Can you take these?
RW: Sure. Road Runner, looks like this long-term rivalry might be entering a new phase.
Road Runner: Wile E, old buddy, old pal, can I have the number for Acme?
Wile E: No problem.
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