It's inevitable that all runners who have been pounding the pavement for a very long time will eventually slow down. Having run every day since November 30, 1978, Scott Ludwig certainly falls into this category. Considering that he can no longer run a single mile at the pace he ran 26 of them when he set his marathon best many years ago, Ludwig finds he is ready to accept the reality of slowing down with age. Now that he has entered the ranks of the "grizzled veterans," he seeks to offer runners all the wisdom and insight he gained from his many years—and miles—on the roads and trails. A "do as I say, not as I do" runner, Ludwig has compiled his advice for runners who find they may not run quite as fast as they used to in Running Out of Gas, a humorous take on aging gracefully. Relating his own personal running anecdotes, Ludwig prepares runners for what's to come, while sharing a few laughs along the way. Runners of all ages and mileage will enjoy Scott Ludwig's Running Out of Gas.
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For the runners I call grizzled veterans…And everyone who hopes to be one.
The contents of this book were carefully researched. However, all information is supplied without liability. Neither the author nor the publisher will be liable for possible disadvantages or damages resulting from this book.
A LIFELONG RUNNER’STAKE ON SLOWING DOWN
British Library Cataloguing in Publication DataA catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Running Out of Gas
A Lifelong Runner’s Take on Slowing Down
Maidenhead: Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd., 2018
All rights reserved, especially the right to copy and distribute, including translation rights. No part of this work may be produced–including by photocopy, microfilm or any other means–processed, stored electronically, copied or distributed in any form whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher.
© 2018 by Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd.
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Email: [email protected]
2013 – Passing the Torch
Big Business Is Ruining Running
The Running Dead
The Next Step
Bombs on Boylston Street
The Big Three
Eight Is Enough
Farewell to an Old Friend
You Can Call Him Al
Rapture in the Rain
130 on a Saturday Morning
Ten Years After
The Little Engine That Can
The Accidental Marathoner
Snapp Out of It
Passing the Torch
Passing the Baton
Sticking With It
2014 – A Change of Direction
The Emperor’s New Shoes
Long Way to Run
Be Like Mean Joe Greene
This 1812 Was No War
In My Skin
The Time Is Now
Last Call at Wakulla
2015 – Going Out With Both Barrels Blazing
The Next Chapter
Running on Fumes
All the Proof I Need
Al at 70
The Next Big Thing
Taking Care of Business
Baby, the Rain Must Fall
Trail Running. Yay!
Taking a Mulligan
The Death of Me
Running Is My Church
2016 – Serious As a Heart Attack
An Imperfect 10
A Perspective on Perspective
Running Under the Influence
The Running Widow
Making Memories in Moreland
The Third Rule
The Other Foot
I’m Not Superman
Fool in the Rain
If I Did Run
Creating a Monster
2017 – Well Past the Finish Line
A Shoulder to Cry On
Lowering the Bar
Let It Go
When I’m 64
It’s inevitable that all runners who have been pounding the pavement for a very long time will eventually slow down. Having run every day since November 30, 1978, I am certainly one of those who fall into this category.
Fortunately for me, I’ve had my good friend and running partner, Al Barker—almost 10 years my senior—preparing me for the inevitable for quite some time. Al has taken the time to walk me (both literally and figuratively) through the reality of slowing down with age gracefully so that when the moment finally arrived—and by all means it has definitely arrived—I would be prepared. Now that I can no longer run a single mile in the pace I ran 26 of them when I set my marathon best many years ago, I can say that Al has done a great job. I’m totally fine with it.
So where does that leave me now? I’d like to think that places me clearly among the ranks of what I’ve always referred to as the “grizzled veterans.” The kind of runner you look to for the wisdom and insight they gained from their many years and miles on the roads or trails.
I’m here to tell you I’ve got plenty of both. Well, the miles for sure; the wisdom and insight—you be the judge. Some of it is pretty sound and sensible; then again, some is not. As you will soon learn, I’m definitely a “do as I say, not as I do” type of runner. I can dole out pretty good advice, but I’ll be damned if I’m able to follow it.
Maybe the best example I can offer is when I ran the Western States Endurance Run in 2006, a 100-mile race through the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. After running 62 miles and for more than 16 hours with my shoes and socks soaking wet, courtesy of traversing through an assortment of snow, melting snow, and overflowing streams, I stopped at an aid station to have my feet examined. A medic removed my shoes and socks and advised me to pull myself from the race because the balls of both of my feet were split wide open, and there was a pretty good chance of infection, not to mention the possible loss of one or both feet if I kept running. I looked him squarely in the eyes and said the first and only thing that crossed my mind: “Got any duct tape?”
So what you are about to read is my advice to you, dear runner. Listen to what I have to say, but be warned, it might be best to shy away from most of the things I’ve done.
In other words, do as I say, not as I do. In the long run you’ll be better off. Trust me.
When I began writing this book in February 2013, I had already been running every other day for more than 34 years, accumulating 130,000-pluse miles and completing over 800 races. I provide this information to give you the foundation for what you are about to read.
Today was a special day.
I ran with my good friend Al this morning for maybe the 2,000th time. Somewhere between the fifth and sixth mile of our 10-mile run, I reached my 130,000th lifetime mile.
Al and I have been running together for almost 20 years. We both started running during the “Running Boom” of the 1970’s, and neither one of us has had the inclination or desire to stop.
We’ve run races—mostly marathons—in states all across the United States. Florida (Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Five Points of Life), Massachusetts (Boston), Minnesota (Grandma’s), Alabama (Vulcan, Mercedes), Virginia (Shamrock), North Carolina (Grandfather Mountain), South Carolina (Columbia), Nevada (Las Vegas), Utah (St. George), Illinois (Chicago), and Georgia (Atlanta, Tybee Island, Callaway Gardens, Chickamauga Battlefield, Macon, Albany, Museum of Aviation, and Soldiers). We’ve competed in ultras in some of the most amazing places on the planet, including the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and Death Valley. We also managed an embarrassing last-place finish in an ultra at Oak Mountain (Alabama) several years ago. Al and I are cut from the same cloth: the cloth indicating you’re going to be a lousy trail runner.
If you ever want to know more about Al, I’ve written about him in one way or another in all of the books I’ve written about running.
In fact, one of my books, In It for the Long Run: A Decade With the Darkside Running Club has an entire chapter devoted to Al.
Over the years and the miles, Al and I have pretty much solved every problem known to humanity. We’ve dissected our respective physical ailments thousands of times. We’ve psychoanalyzed every last one of our friends, foes, and family members. We’ve met every crisis in both of our lives head on, and we know deep down inside we’ve figured out a way for things to work out in the end. Hell, we’ve even figured out how to obtain world peace; now if only someone would ask us.
Today was a special day, but not because I ran my 130,000th mile. Today was a special day because, after running a cumulative 70-plus years and 200,000-plus miles, Al and I still have the health and the desire to run 10 miles at 5:30 a.m. on a bitterly cold and dark Saturday morning…and appreciate every second of it.
Footnote: I posted this story on my Facebook page. I received a great deal of comments but one in particular stood out:
I appreciate you, your heart—for running and for grand parenting!—and your motivation, inspiration, and encouragement—all of which you have given to many through the years.
I’ve spent my entire running career doing everything in my power to promote the sport, and my grandson Krischan means the world to me. That being said, I sent a note to the author and told her it was one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. I have never been more sincere in my life. Stellise—one more time, thank you.
Many of my friends think I’ve been running with Al Barker longer than anyone else. My friends would be wrong. The truth of the matter is I’ve been running with Valerie longer.
Val and I started running together in early fall of 1993. Her goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. We circled Thanksgiving Day on our calendars, the (then) traditional day of the Atlanta Marathon. We trained hard for several months, and on one incredible Thursday, Val ran a sensational race and qualified to run Boston the following April; I ran alongside as her pacer. At the finish line Al came over to congratulate Val…and he and I met for the very first time. The three of us began running together every Sunday; 20 miles was our minimum. Occasionally we’d run 25, 30, even 40 miles depending on what we were training for. We began running marathons and ultras (races longer than 26.2 miles) all over the country. There was an article about the three of us in a running publication that covered the sport in the southeast. The article was appropriately titled, An Enduring Friendship.
Last May, Val, Susan, and I began running from Val’s property every Sunday morning in beautiful Senoia, Georgia. If you’re a fan of the hit television series The Walking Dead you would recognize some of the scenery we have the privilege of enjoying every week on our long runs along the rolling asphalt country roads of Senoia (or Woodbury for you Walking Dead fans). In fact, I am so enamored with the area that in six weeks I will be putting on The Running Dead Ultra, a 42.6-mile race along many of the roads we’ve explored these past nine months (you’ll hear more about it later). The race will start and finish in front of Val’s property.
This morning, however, Susan didn’t show up for our run. I’ve been running with Susan for over 10 years, and she has always shown up, even on the couple of days when she should have stayed in bed (she, like Val, Al, and me, is a trooper when it comes to our running commitments). If Susan is running late she’ll always send a text message or email. However, today was different. Not only because of Susan’s inexplicable absence, but also because this morning brought the thickest, densest fog I’ve ever seen in my life. To say I was worried about her would be an understatement. No Susan, no word from Susan, and fog as thick as pea soup—a pea soup that Susan had to drive over 40 miles through to meet up with us. I called her cell phone but could only leave a message when she didn’t answer.
Val and I waited 30 minutes for Susan before we headed out for our run. I told Val how worried I was about Susan; she assured me Susan would be just fine and probably just overslept. I told Val I was worried about the used car I helped my son Justin buy the day before: the test drive, the sale, and everything associated with the car went so well that I kept hearing “if it seems too good to be true it probably is” in my mind. Val said the car would be just fine, and I was wasting my time worrying about it; whatever will be will be and all.
It wasn’t too long before we found ourselves switching roles. Val was now on the couch, unloading her recent fears and anxieties, and I was in the big leather chair offering reassurance and guidance. To say our run was a highlight reel for the Doctor Phil Show wouldn’t have been far from the truth.
But that’s how it is every Sunday on our long, relaxing runs along the asphalt country roads of Senoia. Call it what you will: therapy, counseling, friendly advice, telling one another what we want, no, need to hear, or simply talking to make the miles pass by quicker.
Regardless of what you might call it, we’ve been doing it for over 20 years, and I’ll be the first to tell you it works.
After Val and I finished our run, I had a message on my cell phone from Susan. She woke up very, very sick in the middle of the night and sent me an email shortly after midnight saying Val and I should go on without her. However, her email never made it to me (I told you the fog was thick!). But Val was right: Susan was just fine. I now had faith she was right about Justin’s car as well.
I love running with my friends for many reasons. It allows us to catch up with one another’s lives. It provides us the opportunity to share our hopes and dreams, our problems and fears. It makes running fun.
Most of all, I love running with my friends simply because they are, in the truest sense of the word, my friends.
I ran the Comrades Marathon in South Africa in 2011. It was my 50th ultramarathon, and I thought that would be a nice round number to round out my ultramarathon career.
I ran the Honolulu Marathon in 2012. It was my 200th marathon, and I thought that would be a nice round number to complete my marathon career.
Why put an end to something I enjoy doing? It all comes down to a matter of health; or in my case, the lack thereof. I haven’t been anywhere near 100% physically since I ran 62 miles in the Sierra Nevada mountains in the summer of 2004. The race, the Western States Endurance Run, was my first attempt at running 100 miles on trails. As evidenced by the 62 miles I mentioned earlier, I didn’t finish the race. I did, however, manage to lay the foundation for subsequent damage to my body should I ever try something as stupid as Western States again; after all I’m a “flatland runner” and would much prefer running on asphalt roads rather than treacherous mountain trails.
The damage was complete when I returned to the same race again two years later. This time I managed to finish the race (in last place; but I finished, dammit!). I also managed to put the finishing touches to the foundation I laid two years prior. A bulging disk in my lower back led to numbness in my right leg that led to circulation problems that led to…well, let’s just say the list goes on and on.
I’ve enjoyed running since I began in the summer of 1978, but I’ll be the first to admit every run since the summer of 2006 has been somewhat of a challenge. 2012 was a difficult year, as it was my goal to complete 15 marathons during the year to finish with number 200 in Honolulu in December. Cindy met me at the finish line in Honolulu with a kiss and a question: “How does it feel to be finished running marathons?” (Coming full circle: Cindy gave me a kiss and wished me luck as I began my first marathon in Gainesville, Florida, almost 34 years prior.) I surprised myself with my answer: “Fantastic; I am so glad it’s over.” Until that very moment, I could never have imagined having those feelings.
For over three decades I had been running marathons, enjoying each and every step. Crossing the finish line was always one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced…until the last three or four times. The thrill was gone. It was time to call it quits. No looking back.
So today I ran in a friend’s race in Cumming, Georgia: The Stroll in Central Park 12-Hour Run. I told my friend I would come up and run for a few hours but would have to leave as I was meeting Cindy in Atlanta; we were running the Georgia Half Marathon the next morning. I also didn’t want to run 26.2 miles or more and ruin my nice round numbers: 50 and 200.
The course was a 1.03-mile loop. I ran an easy pace and decided I would have to be finished running by 1:00 p.m. to meet Cindy (the race started at 8:00 a.m.). As I was finishing my 25th loop around 12:45 p.m., I told the scorer I was finished for the day. I was content with my 25.75 miles. The scorer was a friend of mine and encouraged me to run “one more loop” to finish a marathon (26.2 miles). Another friend said to run enough laps to qualify my run as an official 50-kilometer (31-mile) ultramarathon. I reminded them both that I was finished with both marathons and ultramarathons. I said if I ran a marathon today I would then have 201, and being the anal person I am that would require me to run enough marathons to get to the next round number: 210. And if I were to finish 210 marathons I would feel obligated to get to the next round number: 300. (Note: When I say I’m an anal person, I’m not exaggerating. Not in the least.) They both understood that I was in no way, shape, or form joking and as such immediately backed off from encouraging me to run any farther.
Before I left I asked my race director friend if by chance the course was actually one-point-oh-FIVE miles long, which would mean I had already run a full marathon. She assured me the loop was 1.03, preserving my record of 200 marathons. 200 even.
On the ride back to Atlanta, I was proud of myself for the restraint I had shown. Years ago—before the injuries of 2004 and 2006— the word was not even a part of my vocabulary.
At this stage of my life, restraint is very much in my vocabulary, especially if I want to preserve what’s left of my health. I owe that much to my grandson (and any future grandchildren I may be blessed with).
I mentioned running in the Stroll in Central Park 12-Hour Run several days ago. I enjoy races of this nature: low key, nice course, simple logistics, wonderful amenities for the runners, supportive and enthusiastic volunteers, and a race director who truly cares about the runners. And best of all, a reasonable entry fee.
There are also races I don’t enjoy (Are you listening, New York City Marathon?): high profile, congested course, ridiculously difficult logistics, mediocre amenities, glamor-seeking volunteers, and a race director who cares primarily about making a profit. So expect to pay an exorbitant entry fee. (Close to $300 for the afore-referenced marathon!)
Road racing (particularly marathons) has turned into big business. Large corporations have taken over the world of marathoning (think ING, Rock ‘N Roll, Nike). It’s not uncommon to pay $150 or more to run 26.2 miles. If it’s an out-of-town event, factor in the cost of transportation, meals, and hotels (which jack up their rates accordingly for their captive audience). If you’re not a runner, the total expense to run a major marathon in a big city would astound you. If you are a runner, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve gone on record in a couple of my other books saying you won’t find me running the major marathons (New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.). Big business seems intent on taking the joy out of running, and I personally want no part of it.
Getting outfitted in a pair of shorts, a shirt, and a pair of running shoes shouldn’t cost the same as a new washing machine, but it does. At the expo for the half marathon Cindy and I ran last Sunday (Cindy had a free entry for a survey about the prior year’s race that I filled out in her name, while I registered early for a substantially reduced entry fee; otherwise we wouldn’t have been there), a brand-new pair of Hoka running shoes were on sale for the reduced price of $149 (normally $159). A good pair of running shorts cost $40 or more; shirts may run slightly higher. Then expect to pay $15 or $20 for a really good pair of running socks. Factoring in any accessories (GPS, chronograph, sunglasses, cap, running belt, etc.) and BAM, you just paid for a washing machine. Speaking of washing machines, you can now purchase laundry detergent designed especially for washing running clothes. Anything to make a buck, right?
I admire, respect, and support those who promote running simply because they love the sport. I choose to ignore those who are simply out to make a dollar at the runner’s expense and care nothing about the preservation of the sport.
When I finished the Stroll in Central Park last Saturday, the race director gave me a bottle of Blue Moon to drink once I got home and showered. When I finished the half marathon the next day, I grabbed a bottle of water from an unattended table just past the finish line.
You can probably guess which race I’ll return to next year.
And it won’t be because of the beer.
I have been hooked on the television series The Walking Dead since its debut. That it’s filmed near and around my home in Peachtree City—mostly in the neighboring town of Senoia— makes it that much more appealing.
You see, I’ve been hooked on Senoia ever since I began doing my long runs there with Valerie last May. Val has a nice home with 40 acres along a lightly traveled asphalt country road, which happens to be my absolute favorite venue for running. On that very first run together 11 months ago, I told her I wanted to establish a long-distance footrace in Senoia because everything about the area was a perfect fit for an ultramarathon: beautiful scenery; long and rolling country roads virtually free of traffic; and her 40-acre farm that was just perfect for a post-race get-together. Added bonus: Plenty of room for the runners to park their cars!
We began running and exploring different 15- to 18-mile segments of the area each Sunday. Before long we started putting together a route for the race—approximately 40 miles in length that would include many of the locales, venues, and scenes from The Walking Dead television series.
I laid out a tentative course in my mind that included (you non-Walking Dead fans can skip to the paragraph after these bullet points if you’d like):
•Running right through the middle of “Woodbury” (Senoia), allowing the runners to see (among other notable buildings in the television series) town hall and the Governor’s residence.
•The mill scene in the last episode of season 2 where Rick proclaimed their small group was “no longer a democracy.”
•The building where Rick and the Governor reached an “agreement” toward the end of season 3.
•The long road (Dead Oak) through the woods used for many of the driving scenes in the show.
The only problem was the course measured out to be 37 miles, a bit shy of the 41.3 miles I was looking for (66.6 kilometers; I thought 666 was a good number for a race with the word “dead” in its name). Eric, who will take over as race director next year, added a little loop along hilly Dolly Nixon Road at the end of the course, stretching the distance to 42.6 miles. Perfect, as far as I was concerned. Added bonus: Dolly Nixon was used to film the scene in season 3 when the backpacker tried (and failed) to hitch a ride with Rick and later in the episode was discovered to be zombie roadkill.
After a few emails, discussions, and one lone meeting with the good people of Senoia and Coweta County, the race was given the required blessing.
The plans for the race were set in motion when I named the race The Running Dead Ultra. I referred to it as 42.6 miles of Heaven …and Hell.
It was fun advertising for the race on Facebook. The posts for such an unusually-themed race came quite easily:
•There’s only one rule for this event: Do not feed the zombies.
•If you’re chased by zombies you don’t have to be fast; just faster than the other runner.
•Smearing oneself with roadkill is a known zombie deterrent. It should be in ample supply all along the course.
There were officially 23 finishers in the inaugural event (for the history books, the “Male Survivor” was Steven Bothe and the “Female Survivor” was Kim Ruple; most races would call them the champions, but hey, this was The Running Dead Ultra!). Three runners failed to finish due to assorted physical ailments; they were listed in the official race results as “carnage.”
As a bonus, runners enjoyed a trip through an old cemetery around the nine-mile mark along the course. One of our volunteers, decked out in full zombie makeup and wardrobe, hid behind one of the larger tombstones throughout the morning so she could greet each of the runners as they precariously ran along the cemetery, waiting to be scared.
We didn’t let the runners down.
Good luck with the race next year, Eric. It has the potential to be one of the best of its kind in the country.
Scott and “Senoia Rick,” who you may recognize from The Walking Dead
I would classify myself as an optimist. I always see the glass as half full. I find the silver lining. I look on the bright side of things.
That explains why I worked for more than 24 years for a company that did everything in its power to convert me to pessimism. Every day for over 24 years I would wake up with one thought in my head while driving into work: “Today is going to be a good day.” However, the number of times I was right in those 24-plus years I can count on one hand. Have you ever had this thought during the course of your work day: “If I knew it was going to be this bad I would have stayed in bed”? If so, that pretty much describes every single day of those two-dozen years.
My current job is just the opposite. This December 1, I will have been with this company 10 years, and so far (knock on wood), I can count the number of bad days I’ve had on one hand. Perhaps “job karma” is rewarding me for my positive thinking those prior 24 years. Good things come to he who waits. Patience is a virtue.
Being an eternal optimist can be frustrating at times, particularly when it comes to my health. I’ve been battling various ailments and injuries since 2000 when I noticed numbness in my right thigh after running a marathon in Virginia Beach. Three years later after running a 135-mile race across Death Valley, I noticed a loss of quickness in my leg turnover. The next year I entered a 100-mile race through the mountains, only to drop out after 62 miles because both of my thighs felt like they had been sledgehammered; no, jackhammered. (Truth be known I had about as much business running in the mountains as an elephant has being on a skateboard. But I digress.) Two years later I returned to this same race intent on reaching the finish line. I finished the race…and my back hasn’t been the same since after being subjected to more ups and downs than my body ever had been before.
I’m currently battling a bulging disk between my L-4 and L-5 vertebrae, most likely the result of the aforementioned 100 miles in the mountains. The effects of the bulging disk painfully manifest in various spots below my waist, apparently at the mercy of whichever direction the disk decides to bulge on any given day. Whatever the case—numbness in my leg, a sharp pain in my hip, stinging sensations in my calves—the pain has a dramatic effect on my running stride and almost always causes a significant amount of pain. But throughout these past 13-plus years I approach every run with the hope and perhaps expectation that my next step is going to be the one pain-free step I’ve been dying to take for a long, long time.
So far I haven’t taken that step, but it doesn’t darken my hopes and spirits that tomorrow will be the day I enjoy my first pain-free run in many, many years.
It truly is a double-edged sword: Experiencing the highs of hoping for the best and realizing the lows from realizing the disappointment. Such is the life of an optimist.
But then again, tomorrow is always another day.
There was a time when I referred to the weekend of the Boston Marathon as my “Christmas in April.” I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to run in the greatest footrace in the world 12 times. When I first started running in 1978, I dreamed of one day lining up with the finest runners in the world in Hopkinton to run the fabled 26.2-mile route to Boston on Patriot’s Day, a civic holiday in Massachusetts commemorating the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War.
My first experience in Boston, perhaps my finest and certainly my most emotional, was in 1987. I can still vividly remember choking up as I ran the final stretch on Boyleston Street when the finish line banner was clearly within sight. To think that someone like me could run in this, the most prestigious marathon in the world, was indeed quite the thrill. I feel honored to have experienced that thrill 11 more times over the next 23 years, my last trip to Boston being in 2010. Ironically it was the first time Cindy made the trip with me. Although I didn’t run particularly well in my Boston swan song, I was glad Cindy finally got to see me run beneath the most recognizable finish line banner on the planet.
I have some great memories of Boston. I lowered my personal best marathon time at my first Boston in 1987. I ran on the Atlanta Track Club Men’s Masters Team several years, breaking three hours (my personal indicator of a solid effort) three times; my younger son Josh made the trip with me and was there to witness one of them. In 2003 I ran the course from the finish line to the start and then turned around and ran the race with everyone else to celebrate my 100th lifetime marathon. (Note: I was training for the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile event I would be running three months later.)
Nana, my grandmother on my mom’s side and arguably my biggest supporter in running, passed away the weekend of the 1999 Boston Marathon. When I called my parents to tell them how I did after the race (it was my fastest Boston since my first one in 1987), my mom told me that Nana had passed away the day before, but she had waited until then to tell me because she knew Nana would not want me to be distracted from running well. Ironically, I was running in the pair of running shoes Nana had given me for Christmas four months earlier.
I had the privilege to meet many of my running idols during the Boston Marathon weekend: Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, and Bobbi Gibb, to name a few. I feel honored to have told Bobbi’s story in my book A Passion for Running: Portraits of the Everyday Runner. Bobbi was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon and her story is remarkable. (I won’t tell you about it here in hopes that you’ll track down a copy of Passion!) I met Bobbi in person after the 2010 Boston Marathon (my 12th and in all probability my last) and will always remember what a genuinely nice and sincere woman she is.
I won’t be running the Boston Marathon this year. Many of my friends will be, however, and for them I have one piece of advice:
Savor every step.
By the time you are reading this, what happened yesterday in Boston will be a part of our country’s history.
Bombs were detonated on Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Clouds of death and devastating injury left an indelible, devastating mark on one of the greatest celebrations of life, health, and camaraderie in the world.
Many of my friends and running club members competed at the Boston Marathon yesterday. Thankfully all of them are safe; some perhaps not so sound. Throughout the afternoon, I saw Facebook posts from their family members and other friends indicating they were unharmed. All except one: My very close friend Gary from Tallahassee. I texted him and left a message on his cell phone asking if he was OK, only to learn that the people in Boston were asked not to use their cell phones for fear of detonating other bombs (if there were indeed other bombs). I called his wife Peg who was back home in Tallahassee; I had to leave a message there as well.
Twenty minutes passed before Gary returned my call. He had finished his marathon less than 15 minutes before the bombs exploded and was about half a mile away from the finish line when it happened. Everyone near him was in the dark about what had happened back at the finish line, police and race officials included.
I had the same reaction when I heard Gary say, “I’m OK, pal” that I had an hour earlier when I saw video of the explosion on the television in the breakroom at work: I broke out in tears.
One day later and I still can’t explain why the incident struck me the way it did. Maybe it’s because the Boston Marathon provided me with some of my fondest running memories. Maybe it’s because I had many friends and club members run the Boston Marathon this year, some for the very first time. Maybe it’s because I paced one of them to their Boston-qualifying race to get them into this event for their very first time. Maybe it’s because I could have been running in the marathon; there was a time not too long ago when it was an annual ritual of mine. Maybe it’s because if I had run this year’s Boston Marathon, my finish time would have been very close to the moment the bombs exploded. Maybe it’s because the Boston Marathon will never be the same.
The lasting image of this year’s Boston Marathon is of a photograph I saw. It was the three-stripe Adidas logo (the long-time sponsor of the race) and the Boston Marathon unicorn logo on the sidewalk of Boylston Street…splattered with human blood.
Certainly, the Boston Marathon will never be the same.
During last week’s Masters, the opening ceremony of golf’s most illustrious weekend was perhaps the most replayed segment of the tournament on the CBS broadcast: golf’s “Big Three,” Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus, each hitting a ceremonial drive off of the first tee at Augusta National. For a person like me who grew up playing golf in the early 1970s, it brought back a lot of vivid and exciting memories of a time when a golf ball was hit off a tee with wooden clubs.
Tonight, my oldest running friends Al and Valerie joined me for a ceremonial run as part of a memorial tribute to this year’s Boston Marathon. As it was for me, at one time the Boston Marathon was Christmas in April for both of them. In fact, the three of us made the trip to Boston together many times in a 10-year span starting in 1994 and we have the same number of Boston Marathon finishes: 12. At one time the three of us were referred to in running circles as the “Three Amigos,” not only because our training philosophy was based on staying in marathon shape year-round (because you just never know when a marathon was going to break out), but also because we took it to the next level by running as many marathons as our busy schedules allowed. The three of us collectively have somewhere in the neighborhood of 450 marathons to our credit; many of them we ran together.
The evening produced a decent turnout for an event with little more than 24 hours advance notice. Al, Val, and I posed for a photo, the three of us side by side in the same formation we were photographed in almost 19 years ago to the day after we finished the 1994 Boston Marathon, the first of several we would travel to together. We, along with 60 or 70 others, then gathered for a group photo for the local newspaper, followed by a moment of silence to pray for the many lives impacted by Monday’s atrocity. Then a simple command from the club president: “Let’s run 6.2 miles!”
Al, Val, and I ran together as we had for many, many miles before, reminiscing about our favorite memories of the many trips to Boston and wondering if we had enough gas left in our tanks to qualify for the Boston Marathon one more time. Based on our individual efforts, finishing a simple 6.2 miles in the twilight of a warm April evening, we realized how much work we all have to do to find our way back to the starting line in Hopkinton any time soon.
But forgive me if I had images of Palmer, Player, and Nicklaus in my head as the three of us completed the 6.2-mile route which started and finished at the Peachtree City Library, a favorite running route of the local running club, the very same club of which I was president when the three of us started running together so very many years ago.
Getting old has its privileges, so I’ll take that privilege and call Al, Val, and me the “Big Three.” At least for tonight, even if it’s only for one memorable 6.2-mile run.
There was a great post on Facebook last Monday not long after the senseless destruction along the finish line of the Boston Marathon: If you’re trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to target.
I can’t help but think it’s in the cards for the Big Three to celebrate Christmas in April once more.
Today I hosted the 11th edition of the Darkside 8-Hour Run, an annual springtime event where runners do exactly what the name of the event implies: run as far as they can in eight hours.
Ten years ago this month was the first installment of this event. In 2003, I decided to run at the local 400-meter rubberized track for eight continuous hours as I wanted to experiment with my hydration techniques in preparation for my upcoming 135-mile run across Death Valley (the Badwater Ultramarathon) two months later. I invited all my friends to join me. While many ran several laps and some several miles with me, no one opted to run the entire eight hours with me. So, by default I was the winner of the inaugural Darkside 8-Hour Run with 52.5 miles (the runner-up had 17).
In the years that followed the event has had its fair share of everything under the sun. It’s been held on a 400-meter rubberized track and a .423-mile path around a pond. It has started at 8 a.m., 4 p.m., midnight, and once at 10:15 p.m., the latter in anticipation of a “sunrise finish” at 6:15 a.m. the following morning. It has subjected runners to temperatures in the low 70s as well as temperatures in the high 90s. There have been occasional encounters with wind and rain and one particularly frightening encounter with monsoon-like conditions with a little thunder and lightning thrown in for good measure, requiring a one-hour “timeout” until nature had restored order.
But this year’s event, held on a 1.02-mile circular asphalt driveway in the beautiful environs of Bear Creek Farm in Moreland, Georgia (featuring a 7 a.m. start), knocked the “timeout” year out of the top spot with steady rains throughout the entire day and the occasional (and frequent) downpour, heavy winds, and unseasonably cold temperatures in the mid-40s. The wind chill made the conditions throughout the day resemble something you might encounter during February in Minnesota rather than May in Georgia. Some of the runners thought there was sleet at certain spots on the route. Two things I do know for certain: (1) I have never seen my breath before during the month of May in the 34 years I’ve lived in Georgia, and (2) I am so, so thankful to Hal and Linda, our hosts for the race, for opening their property to our group of 30. I also know (so I guess that makes three things I know for certain) that without the roaring fire Hal started in the fireplace in the outdoor pavilion serving as race headquarters, we may have encountered some serious cases of hypothermia with not only the runners but the volunteers as well.
Today reminded me of the 2009 Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic (50 miles) when runners were subjected to steady temperatures in the high 30s throughout the day and even steadier heavy, heavy rains all day long. I went on to win the men’s masters (ages 40 and over) championship that horrific December day, but in all honesty what I really won was the battle of attrition: There were only 7 finishers from a starting field of 27 runners.
The Darkside 8-Hour Run has a great history. Some runners compete for induction into the Oval of Honor that is reserved for men who run 48 miles or more and women who run 40 miles or more. Jeff Olive currently holds the men’s event record with 56.68 miles; the women’s record holder at the moment is Beth McCurdy with 50.34 miles. Joe Fejes, who currently holds the world record for the 72-hour run with 329 miles (he did it just over four months ago) is in the Oval of Honor with 52.03 miles (making this the only event I can claim to be one-up on Joe). Rico Dorsey, this year’s 8-Hour champion, will be competing in the Badwater Ultramarathon a little over two months from now; perhaps he was using today’s event for the same reason I did 10 years ago.
I started my day today as I do any other day when I direct a race. I woke up at 1:30 a.m., drank a couple cups of coffee, and went for an 8-mile run. On eight-hour race days in the past I usually managed to sneak in another 5 to 20 miles of running during the event.
Today, however, was a much different story. I kept waiting for a break in the weather to run a couple of laps but that break never came. My 8-mile run at 2:30 a.m. would be my only run of the day.
On this particular day, eight was enough.
A couple months ago, I read in the local newspaper that several schools in Fayette County would be closing soon. One of them was Brooks Elementary School, a quaint little school in a quaint little town not far from my home.
The school hosts a road race on the second Saturday in May every year in conjunction with their annual Brooks Day celebration. The race was founded in 1983, making today’s race the 31st running of the event. I first ran the Brooks Day 10K in 1986 in a solid time of 37:44, good enough for 14th place. I returned the next year and moved up a few spots, finishing in 6th place. In 1989, I was given race number 1 as I had the fastest estimated time of all the race applicants: 37:30. As fate would have it I ran exactly 37:30, but several members of the Atlanta Track Club Men’s Competitive Team competed, and I wound up in a disappointing 9th place. My best Brooks finish was in 1999 when I took 4th place. While I’ve never won at Brooks as my friend Bob Dalton has done many, many times (I might also add that today was Bob’s 22nd consecutive Brooks 10K), I’ve always enjoyed running in the beautiful countryside of this quiet little town.
In 2006, I ran both the 5K and the 10K with one of my training partners, Paula (the 5K begins at 8:00 a.m. and the 10K at 8:30 a.m., so if you can finish the 5K in less than half an hour you have time to run the 10K). In a performance for the ages Paula was the first female finisher in both events; as for me I finished an overall 7th in the 5K and 22nd in the 10K, but I had a blast tagging along for the ride and seeing Paula win both races.
As I mentioned, Brooks Elementary will be closing its doors for the last time later this month. The closing of the school may also signal the end of the race, as the school’s PTO has been the driving force behind the race for many years.
I ran the race today so I could pay my respects to the good people of Brooks Elementary School for all their hard work over the years. I have so many fond memories of the Brooks Day Race (now Brooks Beat) that you can’t find in the majority of today’s “big” (read: major sponsors!) races:
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