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

Sat, 21 Apr 2007 05:28:00 -0400

Time of My Life

RUNNING COMMENTARY 672

(rerun from March/April 2005 Marathon & Beyond; continued from RC 671)

My time as a running writer began in spring 1967, at Track & Field News. While moving from Iowa to California and settling in there, I quit training for the Boston Marathon. Three days before the race I told new boss Dick Drake about being entered but not going because I'd earned no vacation time for this midweek trip.

"Not going!" he said. "You have to go. You can't miss a chance like this. Take two days off, then come back and work the weekend."

I erased most of my savings account for my first coast-to-coast plane ticket. Two friends from Iowa, first-time marathoner Tom Murphy and Boston vet John Clarke who'd come east to watch this race, let me crowd into their hotel room.

A short night's sleep, a light breakfast, and soon we boarded a bus for the start in Hopkinton. So much had happened so quickly that I didn't leave time to worry about never having gone this far before and not having trained long enough lately.

My aims were modest: to average the eight-minute miles needed to sneak in under 3:30. This had been the pace of my longest run of 20 miles. I hoped somehow to squeeze out another half-dozen miles at that same pace.

Neither watches (which still had hands then) nor checkpoint distances were reliable back then. The few times I heard along the course either meant nothing to me (as Boston took them at traditional crossroads such as 6-3/4 and 13-1/2 miles) or sounded too fast to be trusted. Roughly halfway at a sub-three-hour marathon pace? Impossible.

I basked briefly in the roar that rolled along with every Bostonian's hero Johnny Kelley. He couldn't have heard me if I'd thanked him for bringing me here, so I didn't try.

I almost topped Heartbreak Hill before knowing this was it. Too soon, it seemed, the Prudential building loomed in the near distance. The race would finish there in another couple of miles.

My watch said, and an occasional building clock confirmed, that nowhere near three hours had passed since the start. Could this be happening?

I can't say those final miles were easy. Marathon finishes never are. But neither were those miles slow.

Coming down the homestretch, I saw no time displayed. Digital clocks wouldn't appear at finish lines until the 1970s.

Confirmation that I wasn't dreaming or hallucinating finally came from my Iowa friend John Clarke. As I walked away from the finish line, he rushed up, thrust his stopwatch into my face and shouted, "You broke 2:50 -- by 12 seconds!"

Marathoning didn't end for me at Boston. It still hasn't ended. I never bettered the clock time run that day, but kept coming back to repeat the good times HAD on my first day as a marathoner.

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