Twenty miles from the start, I am beyond being tired. There are spectators on the side of Scottsdale Road saying, “Only six more miles to go.” I’m thinking that they must be mistaken because I feel as if I have run at least twenty five miles already. Then after what seemed like five more hours a spectator said, “You are almost there; only two miles to go.” With every muscle in my body crying in pain, I could only think I should respond, “Shut up: you’re not helping.”
Finally, nearly dead, I see Scottsdale Community College in the distance. With renewed hope of surviving I make it across the finish line. My time: three hours and twenty-five minutes. Not bad for an “older” runner.
Let me explain how I got into this situation. It started innocently enough. I worked at the Honeywell Computer factory at Thunderbird Road and Black Canyon Highway in North Phoenix. In order to encourage physical fitness in the workforce Honeywell engaged some motivational speakers to make presentations promoting exercise. I was forty-four years old and out of shape, so I attended one of he meetings. Tex Earnhardt, the auto dealer, was the speaker. He told us that he had recently completed a 26.2 mile marathon in five hours. I said to myself, “If that old son-of-a-gun can do it, so can I.” Sure, nothing to it.
Dr. Mollen’s clinic contracted to do physical examinations on March 8, 1977 of all those of us planning to start an exercise program. I was found to only have a heart murmur, which was “no problem.” It was recommended that I begin with a mile daily of alternate running and walking. It sounds easy, but if you haven’t run in twenty years it can be difficult.
I found that the best time to exercise was before breakfast. After some time I was able to run two miles before breakfast. The leg soreness was only bad when going up stairs. Longer runs were done on Saturday mornings after I drove along the route beforehand to cache water bottles in the bushes.
The Fiesta Bowl Marathon was scheduled for December 2, 1978. Early on a Sunday morning in November, while doing a twenty mile run to Glendale, I pulled a groin muscle. I was about nine miles from home. Walking home was difficult. The injury disrupted my plan to run in the 1978 marathon.
The following year provided opportunities for running in several 6.2 mile (10K) races and/or 13.1 mile half-marathons. The half-marathon was my favorite distance; it is longer but not so intense as the 10K, and still it is not so long that you are dead at the end.
The December 5, 1979 Fiesta Bowl Marathon started out in the desert beyond Carefree and ended at Scottsdale Community College. It started easily enough, but turned into an experience of dealing with pain but continuing. I finished in three hours and twenty five minutes without walking. It may seem like insanity to the casual observer, and it is, but for the runner it is the satisfaction of overcoming that which is difficult. I have done fifteen marathons, but none compared with the personal accomplishment of the first.
There are two things required to be a distance runner: determination and an understanding spouse.
This article originally appeared in Roadrunner Extra!, the resident newsletter of Beatitudes Campus.