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

Sun, 27 Jun 2004 09:55:18 -0400

Beyond Winning

RUNNING COMMENTARY 525

(rerun from June 1998 RC)

As a 21-year-old in 1968, Amby Burfoot won the Boston Marathon and worldwide acclaim. He would forever wear the words "former Boston winner" before his name.

He now goes back to run Boston every five years to refresh his aging memories. 1998 was one of those years, the 30th anniversary, and Amby didn't think well of his prospects.

His goal was modest. It wasn't to win in his age group, the 50-54s.

"I just want to come within an hour of my '68 time" of 2:22, he told me in early March when he ran the Napa Valley Marathon in a little under four hours. He was hurting before that race, and more afterward.

Less than two weeks before Boston, Amby said, "I'm a mess. My old achilles problem has flared up again, and now I've pulled a butt muscle."

Amby had written an article on R/W (the run/walk system) this spring for RW (that's Runner's World, where he is the editor). "I might have to use the WALK-walk to finish at Boston," he said.

I sent him a note of encouragement. It didn't remind him that all pains magnify before a big race, then magically ease on raceday. He knew this, and that his pains weren't imaginary this time.

I told him about a recent experience of mine. After running 16 miles at Napa, a chronic ache in the right ankle-heel acted up again. One day in mid-March I bailed out after just 10 limping minutes.

This problem led to changes in my R/W (run/walk, not magazine) pattern. I began taking the breaks daily, and upped their length to as much as five minutes in every 10.

The changes eased my pain. (Running NOTHING might have eased it more and quicker, but that would have been a last desperate move after all others had failed.) Even then I hobbled so badly the day before the Around the Bay 30K in Ontario that running there seemed unlikely.

A routine miracle saved me. With an assist from Advil I ran the whole 18.7 miles with no ankle or heel distress.

"Miracles can happen," I told Amby. "The race atmosphere has amazing curative powers."

Amby's Boston time didn't make news this year. It didn't even appear in the online version of Runner's World.

I found his result in Boston's database. He ran 3:35, missing his goal of 1968-time-plus-one-hour but beating his injuries by doing as well as he did. My e-mail to him read: "Miracles DO happen."

His reply told of winning in another way. He hadn't said anything earlier about his second goal.

Though his walk-break story in the magazine was well received... and though he'd mentioned using the "walk-walk" system... and though I'd told him how more and longer breaks had helped me, he wanted none of this at Boston. He intended to RUN the marathon.

"I resolved not to walk a step this time, and didn't," he said. "A little hard but not the worst I've run, and I'm well pleased."

Winning can be as simple, and as difficult, as fighting off the forces that conspire to keep us from starting or finishing.

UPDATE. Amby Burfoot's every-fifth-anniversary practice continued at Boston in 2003. He ran last year with wife Cristina Negron, daughter Laura. And, unintentionally, with comic-actor Will Farrell.

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