UNDER FOUR HOURS
Could I do it in under four hours, without resting? Why was I doing it at all? What got me started? And is setting a goal to run a marathon at age 50 a good idea? Those were the big questions.
It all started in October 1977 when my son Steve asked me to go with him on a Boy Scout backpack of Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. I was overweight, out of shape and wondered how I could carry a fifty-pound backpack from the Isthmus to Avalon, crisscrossing the isle as well. The only answer was to get in shape. The outing took place the last week before Christmas with six scouts and three leaders committed to the ordeal. I had eight weeks to get into shape so that I would not embarrass my youngest son and myself. Preparing for this backpacking event ultimately resulted in my getting hooked on running - a lifetime habit.
Training started on the San Clemente High School track where it was difficult for me to run 100 yards without resting. After several days of running and walking I was able to complete one lap, then four laps, and so on until I was able to run twelve laps equivalent to three miles. It was at this level of fitness that I joined the scouts on the Catalina backpack in late December 1977. A side benefit of the training was I lost over twenty pounds and my waistline was reduced by two inches. The training really paid off. I had very little difficulty carrying my load and helping others.
Once I was in shape and running regularly for four months, I decided to run the six and one half mile race from the San Clemente High School to the end of Avenida Pico and back. Up to that time I had been running about three miles a day four or five times a week. The route included two long hills going out and the same on return. The day was cool and the race well managed, so it was a nice introduction to road racing for me. I maintained a smooth pace throughout the race and was happy with my sixty-three minute time for that distance. That was to be my first of over one hundred races.
After running several 10K (6.2 mile) races and some half marathons (13.11 miles), I decided to train for and run a full marathon during the year of my fiftieth birthday. In the summer of 1981 I mailed my registration for the 1981 Heart of San Diego Marathon and began the grueling training program - less than three months. October 18th, 1981 was the date for the race. My goal was to run the full distance (26 miles and 385 yards) in less than four hours. The big question was, “Could I do it?”
I was both determined to train well and finish the race in style, i.e., standing up. I followed precisely the recommended training schedule published in the February 1981 issue of “Runners World”. Most of my training occurred during lunch hours or after work in the hills and canyons within the 2,800-acre TRW Rocket Test Site. On the long runs, i.e., over ten miles, I ran after work from TRW to the coast (about six miles), and then in the direction of Dana Point. The turnaround point to home depended upon how far I needed to run to pick up the extra miles. My longest run prior to the marathon was eighteen miles and that was performed on the TRW - Dana Point route.
I started my training on August 17th with a five-mile run. Up to that time I was running thirty-two miles a week and the training schedule required increasing the week’s total by four miles each week until reaching sixty miles. The last week training schedule was only twenty-four miles, allowing recovery and diminishing the possibility of residual fatigue. The two weeks prior running schedule was sixty miles each week. Those two weeks were much more difficult than the 26.22 mile marathon. There was no question that if I could survive the training, I could easily survive the marathon. I did most of my long runs with the same running gear that I planned to use during the marathon, namely, Nike Internationalist shoes with cotton socks and Dolphin shorts and singlet.
At home the morning of the marathon I weighed in at 155 pounds in my running gear. I was curious to learn how much weight I would lose as a result of the demanding race. I had previously determined at TRW, using a precision scale, that I lost one pound every twenty minutes which translates to one pint of water. I wanted to make sure that I replaced that loss during the run.
On the day of the race, Joyce drove me to Jack Murphy Stadium (AKA Qualcom Stadium), the end point of the marathon. From there I boarded a bus to the start point of the marathon at Coronado High School. That’s when the nervousness set in. This was it, and there was no backing out. Backing out never occurred to me until I got on that bus, and then it was way too late. What worried me most during the training and up to the race was that something would occur preventing me from starting the race, such as sickness or injury. After all that training it would have been a major disappointment. Luckily I felt fine and had no mental or physical problems.
I arrived at the start point about fifteen minutes before the race and positioned myself with the nine minute per mile runners. The smell of thousands of armpits from the nervous athletes was staggering. Up to the day of the marathon my racing speed was seven minutes per mile and my training speed was eight minutes per mile. So running at a nine minute pace should be a walk in the park. At seven a.m. the starting gun was fired and the race begun. It took two or three minutes for me to reach the starting line because of the several hundred runners ahead of me.
After passing the one mile marker I approached the Coronado Bridge. The three right lanes were closed to vehicular traffic, so there was ample room to ascend 260 feet to the highest point. From there on it was downhill to the San Diego city streets where I stopped at every water station to drink about six ounces of water. I ran into my first bit of trouble at mile nine on Harbor Island. I had to wait over ten minutes to use the toilet facilities. My concern was the possibility of leg cramps when I resumed running. Luckily everything went smoothly until mile seventeen near Sea World where I developed a large blister on the ball of my right foot. I had no choice but to continue running. As I turned east on Friars Road toward the finish line nine miles away I felt the effects of a full-blown Santa Ana wind. I had to buck the wind and the warm, dry air for over an hour. Several runners collapsed from heat prostration in this stretch. I suspected that they had not taken the time to drink liquids during the run.
At mile eighteen I had run as far as my longest training run. From then on every step would be a new experience for me. The remainder of the run was relatively flat and I felt that if I maintained my nine minute pace and drank a lot of water I could finish in good shape and maybe make my goal of “Under Four Hours”. As I rounded the last turn and headed into the Jack Murphy Stadium I could hear the cheering onlookers as they were encouraging the runners to keep up the pace and finish in style. Inside the stadium Joyce had been watching the elite runners coming in, some of them collapsing from exhaustion before reaching the finish line. As four hours approached, I entered the stadium and crossed the finish line at three hours, fifty-six minutes. It felt exhilarating to finish in good form and style. Completing that marathon gave me added confidence that with good preparation, the most difficult tasks can be accomplished.
I estimate that I drank close to a gallon of water while running the marathon. When Joyce met me the first thing she said to me was “you smell like urine”- I suppose most runners did, considering the enormous sweating that occurs over several hours of running. Slowly I began to stiffen up and when we reached home an hour later I had difficulty exiting the car. Walking up the stairs was not nearly the problem as walking down stairs. I weighed myself in at 148 pounds, a loss of seven pounds.
Two days later I began to get back into the running routine, starting at three miles. After that first run all the stiffness disappeared, and I was back to normal. When I began to get interested in running another marathon, Joyce threatened a divorce! That’s OK. One marathon is enough!
Prior to the race I had bid at a church auction on a poem to be written by Reverend Larry Tyler-Wayman. My bid was the highest, so all I had to do was give him the topic. Since Larry started marathon training with me, I picked “Marathon”. Four days later he presented me with this poem:
The heart will beat with passion
in breasts of heaving power,
When the starters gun sounds “go on”
at the appointed hour.
Thought sharpens focus
in the chaos of the road.
“Electrolytes be for us!”
We shout in hero’s mode.
Where will this struggle end?
We cannot say for certain.
Yet placed across the way we wend
We see a strange-like curtain.
It is a role we play,
Running for all our worth,
Light-garbed soldiers of the day.
Lean of sinew, slim of girth.
The rest area looms before us.
We condescend to stop.
Our energy is boundless.
We need no help or prop.
Dauntless we speed our way;
ten K’s pass on the fly.
Where is this pain the which they say
no runner can pass by?
Ouch, what was that?
I never felt such a twinge before.
Is it a molecule of fat,
not purged from my endurance floor?
A hose, some ice, a Jiffy John,
I’m glad they were so thoughtful.
A place to rest for daring Don
before the final long pull.
There is the crowd; as if one voice
calls on the weary runners.
We’re glad this finish was the choice
for losers and for winners.
But what is win and what is loss?
What matters is to finish.
Twenty-six miles are not dross;
‘Tis a feat none dare diminish.
That poem, written by Larry, hung on my office wall for many years. It was a constant reminder of the accomplishment, the exhilaration and the importance of preparation in undertaking any difficult task.
AT THE FINISH IN JACK MURPHY STADIUM
SAN DIEGO, CA