It seems that we are all constantly talking about how quickly time flies by. Friday arrives to signal the end of a work week and beginning of the weekend. The calendar turns to November and our holiday season of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Day are just around the corner. The weeks turn into months; the months turn into years and suddenly decades have gone by. Over three decades ago, on a cool November 4th day in our nation’s capital, I ran my fastest marathon of 2:22:34 in placing tenth overall in the 1979 Marine Corps Marathon. I can’t believe it’s been 34 years.
I was a novice marathon racer in the fall of 1979. I ran one on a lark over the 1976 Christmas break during my sophomore year in college and somehow finished in 2:34 despite not running over 15 miles in training and taking a wrong turn during the race which added about five minutes to my time. My second marathon was a ‘training run’ during the July, 1979 Grandfather Mountain Marathon. I was on 2:42 pace on the 1,000 foot net uphill course after 17 miles when my left hamstring started cramping intermittently. I walked and jogged in to finish in 3:14.
After completing my collegiate track and cross country eligibility in the spring of 1979 I decided to take aim on the 1980 Olympic Trials Marathon qualifying standard of 2:21:54, the 100th fastest U.S. runner in the previous year. I trained strongly over the summer and into the early fall and was as ready as I could be. So I toed the line for my first ‘real’ marathon and set out at 5:20 pace. The race went well as I clicked off the first 10 miles in 53:12 and the second 10 miles in 53:16. The Trials qualifier was within reach.
Unfortunately, after about 22 miles I started losing steam. I hadn’t eaten anything before the race and there was only water along the course to drink – so I needed energy that I didn’t have. I had been running with marathon veteran Bill Hall since mile two and he slowly pulled away. I gave it my best, but having to run uphill on a grassy surface to the Iwo Jima Memorial finish line stopped any possibility of my having much of a kick. And so I came up 40 seconds short. I always thought I would run faster, but starting my work career made that an impossibility.
When I look back on that day where I ran 26.2 miles at a pace of 5:26.7 per mile, it is hard to believe I could once do that. Heck, last month at age 56 I ran a five mile race in 32:08, which is about 6:25 per mile and was excited to go that fast. My marathon pace was an ‘average’ of 16:55 per 5k for over eight 5ks! Now I can’t run even one 5k in under 18 minutes unless I go into huge training for several months!
On the bright side I am healthy enough to still go out and run 34 years after setting my marathon personal best time. I ran six miles today on trails in the woods including four quick uphill repeats and four fast downhill repeats. I saw a few deer and enjoyed getting away from civilization and out into a natural setting. When I set that marathon PR I was very happy, but I didn’t realize at the time I’d mark that day every year. 34 years ago today – may God bless me with good health to run for 34 more years, or more!!!