Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 14 Apr 2007 06:16:38 -0400

This Old Man


(Rerun from March/April 2005 Marathon & Beyond. This is the last of my 40th-anniversary columns; others were "New Year's Revolutions" in RC 657 and "My Lucky Day" in RC 667.)

My most memorable moment from the Athens Olympics was Deena Kastor's finish in the marathon. She melted into tears (and we viewers along with her) on learning that she would medal, then quickly composed herself to give the best post-race interview of those Games.

Her comments on NBC-TV were uncommonly gracious and articulate. Kastor's words echoed those of Joan Benoit 20 years earlier. Joan had given credit to the pioneers of women's marathoning who opened up the opportunity for her.

Deena said, "I might look like I was alone out there, but I wasn't. Many people made this race possible." Then she thanked some of them by name -- her coach Joe Vigil, her husband Andrew.

We're never alone in marathons, and I'm not talking about the hundreds or thousands of strangers who surround us on race day. We aren't alone, either, on solo training runs. Everyone who informed, inspired, coached and cheered us is there beside and inside us all the way.

As a young marathoner I appeared to be alone most of the time. That was the nature of the sport when road runners were few and widely scattered.

But my long-distance running was never lonely. Even then I ran with a large support team.

So do you. Think now about who makes up your team, then name its captain -- the one person who had the most to do with turning you into a marathoner. Mine is Johnny Kelley.

In 1966 I was a recent college graduate but already feeling old as a runner. Most of my teammates had retired. My last PR in the mile was two years old and looked permanent.

The sport already had taken me further than I'd ever expected to go. I'd run track meets from New York to California, from Minnesota to Texas. I'd run twice in NCAA cross-country meets.

What was left? Johnny Kelley pointed me toward the long road ahead. He didn't know this at the time, but heroes seldom recognize the reach of their influence.

The best marathoners of that era ran at unimaginable speeds. But Kelley, who was slowing by then yet still running at Boston each spring, inspired me.

He was older (at 59) than my dad, older than I could ever imagine becoming. If someone that old can run a marathon, I thought then, why can't I?

This became my goal: to run a marathon, singular. After finishing it, I could retire happy. And if I was to run but one marathon, it had to be Boston, the only one that mattered in the 1960s.

To run this marathon, I had to break old habits. The point of all my running to date had been to race short distances faster. Now I had to slow down and go longer.

My plan was just to finish the 1967 Boston before time ran out. Getting in required no qualifying time, but official finishers needed to break 3:30.

That's eight-minute pace, so I trained to only run those eights. My long runs peaked at 20 miles that late winter. I'd intended to step on up from there, maybe reaching 22 or even 23.

Life had other plans. Great ones, to be sure, but they seemed to erase the marathon from my spring calendar.

(to be continued in RC 672)
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