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

Fri, 03 Oct 2008 05:56:02 -0400

More Marathons


[Continued from RC 747; photo, by Michael Lebowitz, shows part of our latest Marathon Team]

A myth has spread that most of today's marathoners are too temporary. It's said that they train, minimally, for one marathon and then move on to the Next Big Thing on their lifetime to-do list.

This hasn't happened with my Marathon Team. Almost everyone has returned for a second round, and some for more than a half-dozen added attempts.

No one has run with all nine Teams to date. But one runner, Jean, missed only the first. I'll tell a story about her later.

The sport's health depends on runners sticking around. It also relies on volunteers, and so does our Team. Our growing alumni association, along with partners of those runners, now supply more than enough help each Sunday. This is another way that Team spirit has spread like a friendly virus.

I caught it too, as a runner. For many years I thought I'd retired as a marathoner. I never used the R-word, but the latest marathon, in 2000, looked more and more like it would be the last.

Then the Team either inspired me or shamed me into trying another marathon. I told these runners at the time, "If I ask you to do this training, I should be willing to try it myself."

Following their schedule, I ran (or more truthfully, ran-walked) the 2006 Yakima River Canyon Marathon. My only time goal was not to set a PW -- a personal worst. I avoided it by a minute.

Afterward a longtime runner asked, "Didn't it embarrass you to take so long to finish?" My reply: "Not at all. I'm as proud of my 5:01 as I was of my PR of 2:49."

Both times I ran as well as possible that day, given my current abilities and limitations. That's all I ask of anyone on the Marathon Team.

Two more years passed between marathons. Then 2008 brought an anniversary to celebrate, 50 years since my first race.

I was already headed to the Napa Valley Marathon that month, thanks to the generosity of Rich Benyo (the race's co-director and my co-conspirator at Marathon & Beyond). What better way to mark my 50th than by running there?

Rich let me wear number 50. My first goal was 5:00. But as that one slipped away, I wanted to finish in 5:0-something. That one too passed out of reach in the last half-mile, so I was content with 5-anything.

At Napa, I did set a PW -- of 5:11. Hundreds of thousands of marathoners break 5:11, but not many have run for 50 years.

Back home two days later, longtime students of mine brought a cake to the running class. It read "50th."

A stranger walking past saw the numbers, looked at me and said, "Happy 50th birthday." I could imagine looking and feeling younger than my true years, but only for a couple more months.

On my calendar birthday I suddenly went from feeling pretty young and healthy for a 65-year-old to just the opposite. I happened to schedule a doctor's appointment that day in June.

My urologist reported results of my latest screening test for prostate health, the PSA. This reading had dropped the last time, after years of climbing, so I thought this visit would be routine.

It was anything but. "Your PSA has more than doubled since last year," said the doctor. "You need a prostate biopsy right away."

The biopsy came during the Olympic Track Trials in Eugene. I still wasn't saying much about this condition, so the friends I met at the track didn't know why their excitement so much exceeded mine.

My doctor gave his verdict in early July: prostate cancer, but apparently in a local and most treatable stage. Soon I was revealing my condition to anyone who needed to know. Even this relatively mild illness was too big a secret to carry alone.

Then my case took a more ominous turn when the doctor called to say, "We found a suspicious spot on a lung. You need to get that checked out."

Teamwork, I learned, extends outside of running. The Marathon Team that I'd supported for many years now rallied around to support me.

The most touching story involved our longtime Team member Jean. In her other life she works as a lab technician for pathologists.

When she learned of my upcoming lung biopsy, she said, "Let me know when and where it will be, and I'll make sure the results are read by our best doctors."

Jean first handled the sample herself, then had three different pathologists check it -- and rule the lesion blessedly benign. That's great teamwork, both with her professional team and with the Marathon Team.

That's the essence of a team. We take care of and look out for each other.

My closest teammate in dealing with this condition is my wife Barbara. She's a breast-cancer veteran (a term we prefer over "survivor").

Her plan four years ago was to "treat this like training for a big athletic event. I got a schedule, checked off the 'workouts' one at a time and trusted that they would lead to a successful finish." They did for her, which gives me hope now.

I have my "training schedule," and the "workouts" are underway. This will be our fall marathon, for me and my team.
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