I first heard of the Boston Marathon when I was in my early teens, and I thought running it was about the coolest thing possible.
What made it so cool was it was an ultimate challenge, like climbing Everest, swimming the Hellespont or hiking into the city of Lhasa.
I told myself I'd run the Boston Marathon someday - but I didn't actually believe it. For one thing, walking 26 miles seemed impossible, let alone running it. And second, running any distance WAS impossible since I had no endurance.
Of course, I had no endurance because I didn't run, jog, or do anything that would've developed it. In theory, I knew what it took to build stamina. But I also knew it was a lengthy and somewhat painful process and I wasn't into either pain or delayed gratification. Back then, my entire approach to life can be summed up as "Long on dreams, short on discipline."
Plus something else made running the Boston Marathon unimaginable: Back then, almost no one knew anything about training. With every sport it was pretty much hit or miss, with a lot more misses than hits.
Preseason training of any significance was nonexistent; systematic and constructive building of strength and endurance was unknown. Coaches did their best to help athletes reach full potential, but almost none of them knew how to go about it. So when we thought of something extreme like running a marathon, we just assumed the men who ran it were supermen (I'm not being a sexist here: the first woman was "allowed" to enter the Boston Marathon in 1972, and the first women's Olympic marathon happened in 1984).
Out of ignorance
This all changed in the early 1970s when the running craze hit and the marathon got reduced from impossible dream to achievable challenge. It was knowledge that did it. The increased knowledge of training banished the ignorance we'd all labored under. Suddenly, the world was flooded with all kinds of specific, sensible training plans.
At that point I'd been jogging daily for several years, but not terribly far or seriously. Then something shifted, and I found myself running farther, faster, and much more seriously. So much more seriously that I decided to run a marathon.
It was the Paul Smiths to Lake Placid marathon, which with all the hills, was one very tough run. Because I'd trained well, I finished it with a time that qualified me for Boston, which I ran in spring of 1974. And that was the end of career as a marathon runner or at least a serious one. I jogged a bunch of marathons after that, but didn't train for them so much as get by on a combination of leisure time jogging and extreme youth.
Plus there was another factor that helped immensely: I had confidence. I knew I no longer could run the times I had when I trained seriously, but I also knew I could finish if I just took my time, went on cruise control, and kept pickin' 'em up and puttin' 'em down.
Finally, I quit doing marathons altogether. I don't know why, but I think because I knew I could run them, they quit being a challenge. Certainly, they didn't hold the excitement they had when I first started.
and into folly?
So I became Marathon Runner Emeritus - at least for a few decades. Next week I'll try to run a marathon.
Unlike 30 years ago, I'm not doing this one on impulse. I decided to do it last winter and spent the summer sort of training for it. I say "sort of training" because I really CAN'T train anymore. At least, I can't train as hard or often as I should. If I did, something would break down - either physically or emotionally, and each is as important as the other.
Instead, I just trained as much as I could.
But will that be good enough?
Only one way to tell, and that's to just suit up, show up and shove off.
But I've got a lot going for me.
First, I'll be doing the marathon with my old-time running partner, EmJ. She's much faster than me, so we can't run together, but just having her in the melee will be a major morale booster.
Second, while I'm no young hardbody, I'm in decent shape for an ancient wheezer, thanks to lots of good jogs with my training partner, Professor Longhair.
Third, this isn't just any marathon I'm running. Uh-uh. This is the Denver Rock n Roll Marathon, Bubba. They've got a rock band at every mile, all 26 of them, playing their lil' ole hearts out. What with me having too much soul to control, I figure I'll run as far as I can and then just bop on through the rest of the way.
And what if I don't finish?
Well, years ago that would've been a huge deal, because I finished every race I entered. Never having DNF (Did Not Finish) after my name in the race results was a great source of pride to me.
But now I see it differently.
I'll do the best I can, which is all I can do anyway. And if that (and the power of rock and roll) doesn't get me across the finish line, then so be it.
I've finally reached the place in my life where if my best isn't good enough to accomplish some task, it's still good enough for me.
Maybe, at long last, I've started to grow up at least a bit.