Thursday, February 14, 2019

My Marathon Journeys: Kansas City 1985

The first half of the 1980's was filled with running indifference.  I trained haphazardly, I raced sporadically, with the feeling that the clock was ticking on my running career.  I was in a running rut.

Professionally, as a television news producer, my life was hitting on all four cylinders.  But my hours were all over the map and I was frequently asked to work weekends.  Because of my complete lack of self discipline, training on a consistent manner was impossible.

Outside of one shot at the Hospital Hill half marathon, a 10K the following year with a marathon in 1982, the only other race I recall running during that period was a 5K in Lawrence, probably the first or second Maupintour 5K in 1981 or 82 and a 10K in 1984 when I was very out of shape.  I know there were other races during that period, but I didn't keep a training log until 1986.

Something about that 10K in the fall of 1984, where I ran about 45 minutes, probably sparked me to some serious training.  I had my eye on the Kansas City Marathon.  I have checked the records.  There is no date or results on line for the 1985 Kansas City Marathon.  Fortunately my friends from the University of Kansas, the Mad Dogs, list the race as having happened on May 12th.

The course for this edition was used only once.  It was a double loop course which started on the Country Club Plaza and took runners all the way out Brush Creek to the V.A. Hospital to the east.  It was hilly but not overly so for a Kansas City race.

I figured I was in about the same shape as I had been in Lamoni in 1982.  I had told my girlfriend to park at the 18 mile mark on the 2nd loop in case it went badly.

Boy, did it ever.  I rolled through the first loop with nary a problem.  I hit the half marathon in 1:31 and felt great.  I must have looked too great because the girlfriend figured there was no need to go to the 18 mile mark.

I knew by mile 17 that it wasn't going to be my day.  I didn't want to destroy my legs running a three hour plus marathon.  I hit 18 miles and no girlfriend.  Same at mile 19 and mile 20.  I was one unhappy camper as I made my way through the streets and hit the finish in 3:11.  I was beat all to hell and knew there must be a better way to running a marathon.

Fortunately, my training continued and improved.  I managed to run a sub 30 minute 8K in Eugene, Oregon the following month.  I would run through the summer and spring but it wasn't until December that I would come across a man who knew the secret to running a decent marathon.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

My Marathon Journeys: Lamoni 1982

Some marathons are made to be forgotten.  So it is with the fourth marathon I attempted.  I can't remember why I decided it made sense to run a marathon in the fall of 1981.  Since the Grandma's marathon of 1979 my running and racing was sporadic at best.

I had moved to Little Rock in March of 1980.  I trained fairly regularly despite a summer that turned hotter than hell.  I can remember going into work at 1 p.m. during the months of July and August and seeing a bank clock hitting triple digits.  I did most of my three to five mile runs at night, after 11 p.m.  It was the only way to survive the hottest summer on record in years.

I ran only one race in Little Rock.  It was a 10K in September.  I was over-matched and ill prepared and barely ran 42 minutes.  A month later I had moved to Kansas City for a better television job and the running was on again, off again throughout the winter and spring.

I ran the 1981 Hospital Hill Half Marathon.  I must have been in decent shape as I broke 1:30.  The time was still a good five minutes slower than my best half at the time but at some point in the weekend after the early June race I had decided to run a marathon again.

It would be another year before I raced again.  First, I ran a 10K in Louisburg, Kansas finishing somewhere in the top ten in 39 minutes.  This was the first weekend in September.

I checked the calendars and had decided on a late September marathon in the little southwest Iowa town of Lamoni.  The town is home to Graceland College, which produced 1976 Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner.

I arrived in Lamoni having no idea what to expect.  One thing was clear as I toed the line with more than 100 other runners, it was going to be hot.  Organizers were starting a 10K, half marathon and marathon together.  So figuring out my competition was a little difficult.

The marathon course consisted of two large loops, some paved, some gravel and some brick with a mix of gentle, rolling hills.  When the gun sounded I found myself out in third place among all of the runners and that's where I would stay through the first loop. Second place was out of sight and I could see no one behind me.

Somewhere after 17 miles I rolled up and passed the second place runner.  First was a good 20 minutes ahead of me.  The last loop became pretty intense over the last six miles.  I negotiated the brick streets over the last two miles praying for the finish line which I crossed just under 3 hours and 12 minutes.  I had a second place medal to show for a race that didn't offer a lot of competition.

At this point in my life work and not running was becoming a bigger and bigger priority.  I would run the occasional road race after that, but my marathon running days seemed to be behind me.  It would be two years before I decided to give 26.2 miles another go.

Friday, February 8, 2019

My Marthon Journeys: Grandma's 1979

Validating a sub-three hour marathon became a big deal to me.  My junior year in college I had managed to break three on a minimal amount of training.  Two years later, now out of college and working full time in Minneapolis at the NBC affiliate I saw an opportunity to run another marathon.

Grandma's was a relatively new marathon and I had heard a lot of good things about it.  I knew that I could get a relatively decent amount of training in beginning in April when the brutal grip of winter begins to ease in the Twin Cities.  I had three months to prepare for the late June race.

I was living in a part of the city that afforded me easy access to running around Lake of The Isles... a lake then known as Lake Calhoun and even Lake Harriet for extremely long runs.  I probably averaged 40 miles a week with a long run of 15 miles over the course of the lead up.

A co-worker, reporter Dr. Michael Breen told me in March he wanted to run the race as well.  It would be the good doctors first marathon.  He was short on training when he joined me for our only run together leading up to the race in May.  Breen ran step for step with me for 12 miles.  He pushed me all the way and was feeling pretty pumped up about what was to come.  I warned him that 12 miles isn't 26.

I ran no races in preparation for this marathon, probably not the smartest of moves, but I was about as fit as I had been for my 1977 marathon with a little less leg speed.  Saturday June 23rd dawned with perfect weather and nearly 1,300 runners were off.  I had let the local Duluth NBC station know I was running the race.  They actually captured video of me running which I have to do this day.

As for the race I vividly remember three things.  First, I hit mile ten at 65:00.  That was pretty quick for someone hoping to run 2:55 or so.  In fact, I was on 2:50 pace and none the wiser.

Second, shortly after ten miles marathon elite, the late Steve Hoag passed me chatting with a couple of buddies with his arm in a cast.  Steve had finished second to Bill Rodgers at Boston.  Their remarks were like a punch in the gut.  Steve said, we can push it and run 2:35 or take it easy and run 2:45.  I knew I was in a world of shit.

It started catching up with me after 19 miles.  The slow die began but I had banked enough time to break three hours, then the third unforgettable thing rolled up.  I could smell it coming and when I looked to my right, I spotted a woman who had soiled herself, crap running down the length of her right leg.  The stench was undeniable.  I had to back off and let her get a big enough gap so I didn't have to look or smell the running shit can.

I got to 25 miles knowing I had almost no margin of error to break three hours.  I busted a gut, thankfully didn't see the shit girl.  I could see the clock from about 200 yards clicking up to three hours.  I hit the finish in 2:59:50, in 256th place and extremely happy with my effort.

I stood around waiting for Dr. Breen.  I first saw NFL great, Alan Page, a Vikings defensive line man complete his first marathon in 3:57.  Mike never finished the race.  He gave it up at around 22 miles admitting that things began to fall apart at around 16 miles.  He had gone out too fast, overly optimistic about our 12 mile run together.   The marathon is a demanding beast, no matter your relative fitness.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Greatness Gone

It hit me in the heart.  Frank Robinson is dead.  I wasn't an Orioles fan, or the Reds for that matter.  I was and am to some extent, a baseball fan.  Robinson was a superstar when baseball was still America's national past time.

You can read much better articles about why Frank Robinson mattered.  In my estimation he is the second most important African-American to put on a major league uniform, behind only Jackie Robinson.  My heart ache stemmed from my feeling that Robinson never the full respect or due for his incredible career both on and off the field.

Imagine being a 20-year-old breaking into the major leagues in Cincinnati in 1956.  Cincinnati was racist as hell.  What he must have endured making his way to winning Rookie of the Year honors and hitting a then major league record 38 home runs for a rookie.

Just five years later Robinson would lead the Reds, which had been a joke for the better part of 20 years, to a National League pennant taking the league's Most Valuable Player award.  His Reds had the misfortune of playing one of the greatest Yankee teams ever in the World Series and so it goes.

Five years after that Robinson was gone from Cincinnati. I remember reading he was an "old" 30.  He had only hit 33 home runs, drive in 100 runs and hit 296 in 1965. I remember writers calling Robinson a difficult and angry player.  Writers said he was difficult and angry.  Even then as a young boy, the descriptions spoke to me of a proud man, who didn't suffer fools gladly, a proud Black man which made it even worse.

In 1966, old Frank would hit 49 home runs and win the Triple Crown for Baltimore in leading them to a World Series title over my beloved Sandy Koufax and the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Robinson won the American League's Most Valuable Player award becoming the first and only player to win the MVP in both leagues.   He would follow it up with three more trips to the World Series and bring one more crown to Baltimore.

Fittingly he became the game's first Black manager in 1975 and managed four different times over the next 20 years.  Robinson's team's never had the best talent, but they always played better than you expected.  His pride in the game, the drive to win, he willed upon those who played for him.

He was one of my early baseball heroes.  The game owes him more than I can even begin to literate.  A giant among us is gone.

Monday, February 4, 2019

My Marathon Journeys: USTFF 1977

The marathon pulls at anyone who considers themselves a distance running.  Once you've given it a go you begin to think and scheme about how to do another one and run it better than the last.  I went into the spring of 1977 with a goal of running a sub-3 hour marathon.  Given the way I trained, it wasn't a very realistic dream.

I had run consistently through the spring.  I had even put in one ten mile run, that's right, one ten mile run two weeks before the marathon.  But I was in very good shape.  I ran an open mile at a high school track meet about a month before my planned race in Wichita.  The mile in Topeka gave me a lot of confidence.

I ran along in that race with an experienced marathoner, Rex Lane.  Rex had encouraged me to run the Wichita race where he was planning on running 2:45 if not better.  Rex and I raced along together in the mile as we watched Lowell Paul, a member of a world record setting 4 x 880 relay team pull away to a 4:14 mile.  Rex and I split the finish line together in 4:45.  Rex was exceedingly happy to stay stride for stride with me to the finish and I was shocked that I could run under 4:50, much less on a cinder track.

So at the end of May, Rex and I toed the line at the United States Track and Field Federation (USTFF) marathon in Wichita.  USTFF was a poor man's national championships designed mainly to be a thumb in the eye of the  Amateur Athletic Union.  The AAU was the 800 pound gorilla in track and field back then and it was hated by coaches and athletes alike.  The annual meet in Wichita offered world class competition, although our marathon field was mostly first rate collegians.

It promised to be a warm day on a rolling course taking us from Wichita State University into west Wichita and beyond.  I immediately took up with a high school senior excitedly running his first marathon.  We talked and kept each other calm as we clipped along at 6:30 mile pace over the first seven to eight miles.

By mile ten the high school kid was gone and I was in a no man's land between groups of runners.  I was slowing but not significantly.  In fact, as we hit a stretch of gravel road I was passing runners here and there.  My only significant late race memory is hitting the last water table at around 21 miles and thinking it was getting really hot.

The last five miles were a grind, but I knew I was going to break three hours if I didn't completely fold up.  That thought and feeling carried into the gates of the stadium where I circled a half lap of the track, hitting the finish line in 2:57:14.  Much to my surprise there stood Kansas coach Bob Timmons, grinning ear to ear.  He was honestly happy for me and congratulated me on the finish.  It meant the world to me.

Rex had run a couple of minutes under 2:50 and he was shocked to see me. I told him  my time it would be just under three hours or a 3:15 blow up and I think he was betting on the latter.  I was 21st overall out of more than 100 runners.  The race was divided between open runners and collegians.  Since I wasn't running for a college team I was considered open and claimed the third place medal in the open championship.  Yep, I was technically third in the nation at a national championship.

The Wichita race is one of the dozen most satisfying races I have run.  I had run smart, in control and paced myself properly based on my condition.  I had conquered a barrier, three hours, that every marathoner dreamed of and I did it at the age of 21.

Friday, February 1, 2019

My Marathon Journeys: The Kansas Relays 1976

Running a marathon is rarely a completely enjoyable experience.  If you do attempt 26.2 miles in a serious manner you have to put in many long runs and prepare you body for those last very difficult five to six miles.  Your body only stores about two hours worth of energy and lactate builds up in your muscles making your legs hurt like hell.

In 1976 energy boosters like GU didn't exists.  Top flight marathoners often drank defizzed coke to give them sugar and caffeine to carry them through the race.  And water tables were every six miles.  No one thought to carry water bottles with them.

So I lined up for the 1976 Kansas Relays with 150 other souls in even worse shape than the previous year's attempt.  There was no Kirk Duncan to hang onto and I was left to my own devices.  Worse still, the weather was terrible.  It was a wet, windy day which featured a howling wind directly out of the north. 

I could feel the windy helping me along as I headed south toward Vinland.  I was running almost the exact same pace as I did the year before but the effort wasn't as easy.  My mind began to drift back to the stadium.  The marathon had started at 7:30 a.m.  I knew that 11 a.m. Olympic marathon champion would be taking the track in the 5,000 meters against Colorado's Ted Castenada.  I knew it would be an entertaining race and I knew that I wouldn't be hitting the stadium in three hours.

I then started thinking about what the run back into Lawrence would be like.  It would be doubly brutal back through the hills that figured prominently from mile 13 to mile 20.  And that would back to the stadium would be into a steady 15 to 20 mile per hour gale.  

I had hedged my bets the morning of the race asking my mother to go to the halfway point in Vinland.  It was one of the best decisions I had ever made.  I was elated to see her sitting there in her red Ford at the turnaround and I walked over to the car.  She was in shock.  I had run the half in 1:31 and she remarked at how good and easy I looked.  I told her there was no way I would survive the nasty winds back into town.

I never regretted the ride home, the shower and the trip to the stadium to watch Shorter bury Castenada.  I have quit only a couple of races on purpose in my life and this is the only time I was actually happy about doing it.  It remains the only marathon that I did not finish.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

My Marathon Journeys: The Kansas Relays 1975

In my ten plus years of blogging I haven't detailed the 20 plus marathons I have attempted in the course of my running career.  When I ran my first one in April 1975 there was still a great deal of mystique to grinding out 26.2 miles.  Break three hours was the seminal barrier for most runners in that era and was generally enough to get a begrudging nod of approval for top regional runners and even elites.

When I made the decision to run the K.U. Relays Marathon I was poorly trained.  My running career had been derailed by a couple bouts of serious illness in my senior year of high school.  My efforts to walk on the Kansas cross country team a little more than six weeks before coach Bob Timmons gave me the boot despite beating most of his scholarship freshmen in time trials.  Soon after I got a nasty case of strep throat and I was putting on my freshman 20.

I had never run more than 15 miles in training and only had a couple of ten mile road races under my built.  I hadn't raced a step since the previous spring and in the buildup to this particular race I was putting in 20 to 30 miles a week.  A lot of the runs were tempo efforts on the indoor track at Allen Field House.

I had only one thought on the morning of Saturday, April 19th when I lined up on Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence a hundred to 200 runners.  I wanted to finish instead Memorial Stadium and to do that I had to hit the stadium gates before the 3:15 mark.  I had no idea what I was in for on this sunny spring day..

Much to my surprise one of the running heroes of my youth showed up at the start, on a lark, looking to run his first marathon.  Kirk Duncan held the city's junior high record for the 880.  He had been a very good high school runner and went to Stanford going for pre-med.  He told me his plan was to run easy, seven minute mile pace and he promised to toe me along as he could.

The course was flat and gentle up to about six mile before we started a very hilly seven mile stretch that ended in Vinland, south of the city. At the turnaround, still feeling fresh, we made our way back to the hills and you could see the ravages of the race taking its toll on our fellow competitors.

You always hit a wall, unless you are a super fit, and I hit mine at 18 miles.  I began to fade and Kirk said he was sorry and must be on his way.  He ended up running just over three hours.  I struggled really badly over the last three miles.  I was famished dreaming of a big, juicy steak.  I faced the daunting task of heading up the steepest part of Mount Oread that would lead me down the other side to the stadium and the finish over the last mile.

Despite my unrelenting fatigue and legs of lead I was aglow as I saw the gate still open as I rolled down Campanile Hill into the stadium.  I was the last runner granted entry to the finish line on the track clocking 3:14:15.  It is one of my most cherished finishers medals.

I hurt.  I ate everything in sight.  Then I painfully climbed the stairs to the stadium press box where I helped broadcast a full afternoon of track and field at the Kansas Relays.  I couldn't walk right for a couple of days.  But in the back of my mind I knew I would have to give the marathon another try at next year's Kansas Relays.