Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Memories of jogging and marathons. . .

It's strange how the mind works. There I was just driving along and suddenly the word "marathon" popped into my mind. And then it brought back memories of the years I lived in Springfield, Illinois and old friends in the Springfield Roadrunners' Club and the 3 marathons which I entered and finished. As I recall. The Springfield Roadrunners organized somewhere in the mid-1970's. I am not clear on the exact year but it might have been about 1974 (+/- 1 year). As I started writing this, I was surprised to find, as signified by the link above, that the club still exists, and has a website which appears to have been created in 2000. None of the names I came across on that site were familiar to me and that seems logical since I left Springfield early in 1982. But that's not where I thought I was going with this.

I'm trying to remember why I started jogging. It may have been recommended by my primary care physician; in those days I think we called him a family practice doctor, Stuart Yaffe. He wanted me to lose weight (and I weighed less then than I do today) and mentioned that he jogged most days in Washington Park, about a block from the old house I had recently bought. And so I started. And as it built up I started running in local 5K and 10 K races. Not very fast but respectable finishing times and I did earn an occasional age-group ribbon. I started getting Runner's World magazine which was not nearly as flashy as it is today. But from reading it, I decided I wanted a pair of New Balance shoes. But they were relatively new on the market and not to be found within striking distance of Springfield. As it happened, I was scheduled to go to Boston and, while there, I bought a pair of NB 320s (I think that was the model number) and to my knowledge was the first person in Springfield to own a pair of New Balance.

Somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to train and run a marathon. And eventually I did run in 3: The Marathon Marathon at Indiana State University in Terre Haute; the Drake Relays Marathon in Des Moines, Iowa, and one whose sponsorship I can't remember that was on the grounds of Allerton Park and Retreat Center which was a continuing education center of the University of Illinois near Monticello, IL. And I trained hard. . .well as hard as a somewhat overweight guy in his mid-30s could train. And occasionally I overdid it. At one point I was the local expert on plantar fasciitis, sometimes called a "heel spur," which in my case was incredible pain along the tissue of the bottom of my foot that connect the heel bone to the toes. Actually, as I recall, rest was the best way to treat this pain but that was not a viable choice when training for a marathon. But I survived the inflammation and did complete all 3 races.

I did find a good description of the Marathon Marathon (sponsored logically enough by Marathon Oil) on the blog A Portrait Of The Runner As A Thirtyish Man.) While I did finish in well over 4 hours, it was a painful experience. The temperature on the day I ran was in the low 90s. I was made ill by the smell of creosote soaked ties in a railroad yard along the route. I did hit the proverbial wall and hurt so badly I should have quit. But I was too stubborn to do so and, with a fair amount of walking instead of running, finally made it to the finish line where I was immediately carried into a first aid tent and treated for heat exhaustion. Perhaps the highlight of the day was on the drive back to Springfield when we stopped at an A&W Root Beer stand where I had the best root beer float I ever had. I can still taste it today, more than 30 years later.

My 2nd Marathon was the one held in conjunction with the Drake Relays. A history of its first 25 years can be found here. It started near the State Capitol in downtown Des Moines and the course wound up to the stadium at Drake University. The race ended inside the stadium just prior to the final events of the Relays. And I was lucky. With a time just under 3:45, I was one of the last runners allowed to finish inside the stadium. It was the highlight of my "athletic career;" entering a stadium filled with nearly 20,000 track fans and doing a finishing lap around the track being cheered by the real athletes warming up on the infield for their own races. As I recall, I was so high, I grinned all the way back to Springfield after the race.

I can't find any references to the marathon held in Allerton Park. I know that there were many of us from the Springfield Roadrunners who participated. I was having a rough time during the final 1/3 of the course when a fellow Springfield Roadrunner, who had finished well ahead of me, showed up at my side somewhere between 22 and 23 mile markers and ran along cheering me on to the finish line. He was a pleasant fellow named John Block, who not only was a good runner but he served as Secretary of Agriculture in Illinois and in Washington, D.C. under President Ronald Reagan. I will always remember John because without him I never would have finished that marathon.

Of all the races I ran, mostly at the 5 and 10K distances, I remember more detail about the marathons. I remember friends like Stu Yaffe, John Block and Carmen Chapman. I remember the trips with club members to the races and especially meals in St. Louis, probably the best carbohydrate loading city in the country for fans of pasta and great Italian food.

When I moved to southern California in 1982, I tried to keep up my running but it gradually faded away, a victim of my knees and the very hilly roads of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. I did run one 10K race after moving here and by the undulating end I knew that it was probably my last competition. And it was. But I still have many good memories.

An afterthought – when I started running in the 1970s, there were occasional articles that no one who had ever run and finished a marathon ever had a heart attack. Well, that was a myth that was put to rest. And I am also proof that it was a myth, having had a mild heart attack 11 years ago, an angioplasty and insertion of a stent a year after that and, 3 years ago (August 30, 2004) an emergency triple coronary bypass operation. Yet, I am healthier today than I have been in decades and I do give the years of my distance running part of the credit for my simply being alive today; that and some phenomenal doctors and a great hospital.

1 comment:

Eric Valentine said...

I enjoyed your blog about your running Leon. Sometimes I think it is a little weird, the parallel comparisons between you and I. :)

I too did a lot of running in my younger army years. Your story could have been about me ~ I will run mine by you one day. Good post Leon. (Pardon the pun :) )