Running and racing is a learning experience. I was a decent runner. Running a sub-3 hour marathon is certainly something every serious runner aspires to as well as running a BQ, a Boston qualifying marathon. I didn't care about running Boston. I had an itch that I needed to scratch and that was a 2:45 marathon, something I had missed out on at Grandma's the year before.
Moving to Phoenix was a blessing and a curse. I had found a great long run group that operated out of Scottsdale. My long runs went from the 21 mile staple to 16 miles. That was an adjustment. I eventually would find a new coach, Fred Moore, who would teach me one of the most valuable run lessons of my life. But it would take nearly a year for his advice to sink in.
My training was really back to indifferent. My racing was stagnant. I couldn't hold a decent pace for a 10K. It was a mysterious frustration because my conditioning told me something different. Plus my job was stressful, the promised promotion never materialized.
For reasons that remain a mystery to me these three decades later I skipped all of the mid-winter marathons in the Phoenix area and decided I needed the extra months to run an early May marathon in Long Beach, California.
I remember one lead up race in particular. It was called the Mad Dog 50. It was in April in Scottsdale which means warm weather is certainly in the cards. You had a choice of 50K or 50 miles. I was no dummy. A 50K run three weeks out from my race sounded perfect.
I planned to run 7:30 pace until 20 miles and then push to the marathon and then hold on for the last five miles. The course was a 5K loop through a park little that would qualify as a hilly. As I recall there weren't more than 50 runners for this insane exercise.
It all went as planned. Sometime after 15 miles I started picking off runners here and there. I pushed for about five miles after 20 and could barely run seven minute pace. My log shows that I went through 25K in 1:57:05. I was gassed by 27 miles. In the end I finished third overall and ran 3:56. For what it was worth, which isn't much, it was the 100th fastest 50K in the United States in 1988.
The race told me I was as fit as I needed to be to run 2:45. I knew that if I was lucky I could break 2:50. I wasn't lucky. The weather was hot on Sunday May 1. The course offered no shade. It would turn into a death march.
The first ten miles were right where I wanted to be. I hit 10 miles in 63:05, which is about 2:45 pace. I hit 20 in 2:07:45 which kept me in the ball park for a 2:47 but the wheels were coming off. It took 31:55 to run from mile 15 to mile 20. Mile 20 to mile 25 took 35:18. That's 7:04 pace. The heat took it's toll and I ran 2:51:55.
I was happy in the sense that I had run a decent time in the heat. But the wheels in my life were about to come off. A little more than a month later one of my close former work colleagues, Sue Parcell would be dead at age 31. We had been college classmates, co-workers for seven years and really good friends. It was a gut punch. I barely ran the rest of the summer.
The final blow came with the death one of my closest running friends, Jon Blubaugh. Jon was one of the joys of my running life. I had met him in the fall of 1974 when I had been kicked off the K.U. cross country team and he was just a 9th grader full of potential. I lived my running dreams through him all through my time in college. He became a state champion but injuries cut short his promising career.
He was only 28 years old and his death only helped push my personal life deeper into to the shitter. I didn't care about anything. I was heading to age 33 and I just didn't see much to get excited about in my life. My personal funk wouldn't snap until the beginning of 1989. It came in the form of a wake up call that would force me to re-examine my personal lifestyle and send me a glimmer of hope that I might, just might be able to break 2:40 in the marathon.