A few months later I read an article in a medical journal stating you lose 10% of your I.Q. every time you run a marathon. At that point my marathon total stood at nine, so I did the math, decided I didn’t have any wiggle room left, and gave up long distance running. Well, that’s what I tell people, anyway. In truth, much earlier I had injured myself while running barefoot on the beach, cutting ligaments, tendons, etc. so badly I can’t bend the toes on my left foot. This initially didn’t seem to be much of a drawback, but as I headed into middle age, my “on the ball of the foot” running style couldn’t handle the resulting ankle instability, and anything over a five mile run became very painful, so much so I had to move on to something with less pounding and abuse, like bicycling. Marathoning had become a thing of the past.
|After hiking the Appalachian Trail,|
anything seems possible!
At age 65, my running career had been given a new lease on life, and I added one more item to my bucket list: four decades after running Boston in 1973 and 1975, I wanted to return and run the famous course one more time. After this long hiatus, I found I had a lot of re-educating to do. Unlike the last time I ran, there were now qualifying standards by both age and gender (good), but one did not simply decide to qualify and enter the race less than a month ahead of time, as I did back in ’75 (bad). Then there was the matter of the entrance fee, which had slightly increased from the $2.00 cash I paid back in the day.
I was fortunate to have local running friend Kenneth Williams (who had begun a string of ten straight Boston finishes at age 61) available to convince me the training schedule I had used at age 26 would not work all these years later. He provided some more realistic figures as a target. And training with his “Lunatic Fringe” group throughout the winter on some of the tallest hills in Mississippi kept my training moving forward.
I would have liked more time to prepare, but I also didn’t want to try to run a fast race in the heat, so I started looking for a flat marathon in early spring. In the end, I settled on Virginia Beach’s Shamrock Marathon, where I had run both their, and my, initial marathon on St. Patrick’s Day 1973, exactly 40 years ago to the day. The possibility of strong wind off the ocean makes the Virginia Beach race a roll of the dice in March, but except for two trips over the Rudee Inlet bridge, the course is flat as a pancake.
My wife and I arrived a few days early to visit relatives and get in a run on the beach at Nags Head NC (needless to say, with shoes on). We were blessed with an ideal weather day on the Outer Banks as I got in one last six mile training run: hard flat beach, no wind, cools temps, and just the hint of fog at ocean’s edge. Things were looking up for the weekend!
|Marathon training at Nags Head, NC|
|At the half way point, Virginia Beach marathon - 1973|
|At the half way point, Virginia Beach marathon - 2013|
|Virginia Beach, St. Patrick's Day 2013|
A month later, we were following Kenneth Williams’s progress at the 117th Boston on line while driving home from Nashville. His split at 40K was a little slower than he’d hoped for, then after that we heard nothing. We refreshed our smartphone again and again, but still no further update. What had happened to Kenneth? It wasn’t until a half hour later we started getting news of the bombing. All of a sudden, next year’s race and my return to Boston were going to be a good bit different…
One day while running with Kenneth, he got talking about the Bill Rodgers autobiography Marathon Man, and he mentioned Rodgers’ status as conscientious objector. I interrupted and said “No, you mean Jon Anderson,” who famously was washing dishes as alternative service in a Eugene hospital kitchen before his Boston win in 1973. Kenneth replied firmly, “No, Bill Rodgers.” At which point I realized other than his winning a bunch of big time marathons, I didn’t know much about “Boston Billy.” Borrowing Kenneth’s autographed copy, I dug into his life story, discovering that Boston 1973 was Rodgers’ very first marathon, and on that hot, hot day when I staggered to the Prudential Center in very demoralizing 358th place, Bill Rodgers was having an even tougher day, dropping out at 22 miles. All these years, my biggest athletic achievement ever, and I hadn’t even known about it: I had beaten Bill Rodgers in 1973!
Of course I had to get a t-shirt made to tout this accomplishment, and wearing it while training was a tremendous motivational tool. I was also wearing it when I bumped into Bill before a race in Jackson MS. He was signing books at the expo and happened to glance over my way. I wish you could have seen the expression on his face when he read my shirt! Well, actually you can. It looked just like this:
I have to admit one of my all time life highlights was when Boston Billy asked if he could take MY picture!
The twelve months between Boston ‘13 and ’14 were filled with both highs (a hike of the John Muir Trail, my wife’s first marathon) and lows (some Achilles issues that lingered on and on, having a marathon cancelled at the last minute because of an ice storm), but on Good Friday we flew into Boston. The last time I ran Boston, I stayed in a bare dorm room at Boston University. This time we found the downtown Sheraton to be a big improvement. We headed over to the expo, where after several months of grousing about the color, I found myself buying a “Neon Cheeto Dust” official marathon jacket. And lots of other stuff. [I remember on the day after my ’75 Boston, the futile experience of walking the streets looking for any kind of marathon clothing or souvenirs. Times have definitely changed!]
My favorite expo experience was a session presented by several former Boston Marathon Champions. I had not seen Jacki Hansen since she breezed by me in the closing miles on the way to her 1973 win. It was great to have a chance for a short chat with this women’s running pioneer. Getting a chance to meet 1968 winner Amy Burfoot was like the icing on the cake!
|41 years after Jacki Hansen springboarded to fame by passing me at the|
end of the 77th Boston Marathon, we finally bury the hatchet.
|Hopkinton Officer: "And if cars honk while they are stopped,|
I make them wait longer!"
|A Return to Hayden Rowe Street|
|Celebrating with the "Forever Young" John Kelley|
|"Oh, not you again!" |
With Bill Rodgers on his home turf.
|A very special Easter at Old South Church|
|Where else but Hopkinton!|
After 39 years away, Ashland, Framingham, and Natick all looked familiar, if not quite the same. Certainly more people along the route. The sound of the Wellesley College Scream Tunnel may have been negatively impacted by Easter weekend (I actually thought the crowds at Boston College were more boisterous), but the girls more than made up for any diminished numbers with their “creativity.”
|Still looking like a "Wicked Runnah"!|
|Some days, even an encouraging sign just isn't enough...|
|This was not a day for stopping. Not here. Not now...|
|Heartbreak Hill has good cell service|
|A Heartbreaking photo op|
The crowds at Mile 25 were so thick and loud I wondered if I’d be able to spot anyone I knew. But I was able to locate my two fans, and pause for a brief greeting before I headed off to make the last two turns. I wanted to look smooth and limber after I made the “left on Boylston” and I almost got away with looking like a runner, until one last attack of leg cramps hit me in the last 150 yards. But as painful as it probably looked, it was done, and after 39 years I had made it back to the Boston Marathon finish line. When I last ran Boston in ’75, only some ridiculously low number of runners, I want to say 15, were awarded medals; and back then those medals were about the size of a thumbnail. Mine today was much bigger, was given for a placing over 27,000 further back, but was equally, if not more appreciated.
|Trying to put up a good front on Boylston.|
|"Nothing was expected of him, but somehow he managed to do even less."|
|The ignominy of being outrun by a football player:|
Tedy Bruschi already giving interviews by the time I finish.
From World War II until I first ran Boston in 1973, Americans had won only two of 27 races (John Kelley the Younger in 1957 and Amby Burfoot in 1968). However, not only was there an American winner in both previous years I ran (Jon Anderson and Bill Rodgers), there seemed to be a residual effect for my participation, with eight of eleven American wins from ’73 to ’83. However, after that magic wore off, the next 30 years produced no American winners. Now, after 39 years away, I was back and once again we had an American winner. Obviously I am the U.S.A.’s good luck charm. Every single time I run Boston, an American wins. Other than this year’s first timers, I doubt anyone else in the 2014 race can make that claim.
|American winners at Boston - I am three for three.|
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