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

Sun, 19 Feb 2006 08:40:48 -0500

My Last Marathon

RUNNING COMMENTARY 611

(continued from RC 610)

Frank Shorter coined a phrase that I've recycled many times since first reading it in the 1970s. No one since has spoken more truth in fewer words than his: "You can't think of running another marathon until you forget how bad the last one felt."

This might take a few hours to a few days. Or the painful memory might remain too fresh too many years later.

You can't fake a marathon. I wrote that line almost as long ago as Shorter spoke his simple truth. Maybe you can run a 10K without training for it, but not a marathon.

My problem was remembering what I'd written. Memory failed me in midrun at the 2000 Napa Valley Marathon.

I'd gone there without thinking of running that far. I wasn't ready, having run no longer an hour since a half-marathon race almost two months earlier.

My thought was to run the first 10 miles or so with Jan Seeley, the publisher of Marathon & Beyond. Rich Benyo, M&B's editor, co-directs Napa Valley. He insisted I wear a race number even if not planning to finish.

The sport's great thinker George Sheehan once said, "When you pin on a number, you pledge to do your best." I didn't consciously take this oath but now wore the evidence of having done so.

At 10 miles I told Jan, "I'll run a few more." At 13, "I'll keep going as long as you do."

Jan was running 16 miles that day to prepare for a later marathon, and she stuck to that plan. As she stopped, I told her, "I'll go a little farther and then catch a ride."

More miles down the road, no ride could be found. I was told, "You can wait for the sag wagon, but it could be another hour before the last runner gets here."

Rain had started to fall. Running mixed with walking seemed a better choice than standing and waiting.

This later became walks mixed with brief runs. I finished. It wasn't pretty, but my time wasn't a PW -- a personal worst. (A photo of that finish, with time clock carefully edited out, appears on the home page of this website.)

Another truism of marathoning: The less you train before, the more you suffer during and after (and usually vice versa -- more training equals less suffering).

My hurting was mild on race day compared to the after-effects that struck later. For six years the memory of how bad I felt then have kept me from trying another marathon.

(to be continued in RC 612)

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