El Sobrante Press


London Monuments Half Marathon

London, England, March 24, 2019

Yanks Ramble Across London

It had been over four months since that half marathon in Las Vegas. It was once again time to test my mettle at that distance and seek running glory, or at least get to the finish line. I had long ago committed to run the London Landmarks Half Marathon by joining one of the many teams running for charity. Most of the entrants in the race had done likewise. I chose to support Alzheimer’s Research, UK, a British organization seeking answers to this terrible affliction.

I was only able to run this race because dozens of people felt so strongly about this cause, stepping up to contribute a total of nearly $1,200 to my charity page. This was close to double the minimum I had to raise, propelling me into the top 5% of all fundraisers. The race itself was expected to pull in close to 7 million pounds (about $9,450,000.) for the various charities. I was deeply grateful to all those who contributed and to those who wished me well.

As for the race details, it all started for us on Thursday night, March 21 in Oakland as my partner and I caught the redeye flight to London aboard a Norwegian Air 787 Dreamliner. Although we opted for the cheap seats, the ride was nice. The flight arrived at Gatwick at noon on Friday and we took the train into our central London hotel. On Friday night we met a Swedish friend at a pub near Trafalgar Square for some traditional fish and chips and a brew.

Although I did some orienteering in the army, my sense of direction failed me on the Friday night walk back to our hotel. Crossing the Thames and arriving at the Waterloo Train Station, it should have been an easy jaunt down Waterloo Road to the hotel. However, Waterloo Road proved elusive. After walking down one street and up another, and then ending up near the train station again, we threw in the towel and flagged down a cab—I love those London cabs anyway. As it turned out, we were less than a 5-minute cab ride from the hotel. It’s standard practice for distance runners to avoid long hours on their feet the day before a race. So much for that rule.

The River Thames and Tower Bridge

Saturday was spent sightseeing along the River Thames with my partner’s relatives, including a stop at St. Paul’s Cathedral and a walk across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern Museum. We followed this with a pasta dinner in preparation for Sunday’s race. Normally, the Saturday prior to a race would include a trip to the race expo to retrieve bibs, race shirts and check out sale items. Interestingly, this race did not have an expo. Race shirts, bibs, etc., were all delivered by mail.

Crossing the Jubilee Bridge to the race start area

Race day started with a premature, but ready-to-go wakeup at 3 a.m.—possibly the 8-hour time zone change at work here. Still, there was plenty of time to get stuff together and head off to the start area across the Thames. Getting to the start meant a 35-minute, 1 and a quarter mile walk across the Jubilee Bridge to Trafalgar Square. There was no chance of getting lost; a stream of runners showed the way. With a 50-degree temperature and overcast skies, there was a chill in the air.

Awaiting the start at Trafalgar Square

I dropped off my sweats at 8:15 a.m. and waited with thousands of others in the area of Trafalgar Square under the watchful eye of Admiral Nelson atop his column. The race was due to start on nearby Pall Mall at 9:30 a.m. and it wasn’t long before runners started streaming that way. There were rumors of upwards of 15,000 runners in the race. As it turned out, it was more like 12,000. The race would begin with eight waves, each group of over 1,000 separated by 8 minutes. I was in wave three, with my running partner behind me in wave four. My goal was to keep her behind me…

The royals get involved

The race began with a push down Pall Mall and around Trafalgar Square. From there it was deep into the streets and avenues of London’s downtown on the north side of the Thames. Our run took us across the Waterloo Bridge to the south bank, but we stayed only briefly. Runners retraced their steps across the bridge and continued the tour of the north bank. We were heading east down the Thames toward the infamous Tower of London. Thousands lined the route, cheering us on, giving high-fives and calling the names of runners. “Common’ Jim, you can do it!” I didn’t know I had so many friends in London! Our names were in large letters on our bibs.

I know we passed St. Paul’s Cathedral, approached the Tower of London and had great views along the Thames, but with the tightness of the streets and the many turns, it was hard to pick out many of the other sights of interest. Several times I’d be on one side of the street watching runners on the same street going in the opposite direction. We made so many changes of direction it was difficult to determine if those runners were ahead in the race or behind us.

At 10 miles we reached the Tower of London fortress, turned around and headed for the finish on Whitehall near 10 Downing Street. The return took us west along nearly 3 miles of the River Thames. The last all-out stretch down Whitehall propelled us past the mounted sentries on Horse Guards Parade and then to the final dash across the finish line.

Passing Horse Guards Parade near the finish

My finishing time was 2:29:53. This was my slowest half marathon and my first run in nearly a month since I received a pacemaker implant to help control Atrial Fibrillation (AFIB). Even so, the time was good enough for a first place in the men’s 75 and over age group. Of course, there were only three us in the group, so my odds were good.

I accomplished this race in a run-walk scenario, never exceeding a half mile in each running stint and walking as fast as possible when not running. I generally walked when the breathing got too labored and the leg muscles started talking to me. It’s possible that, with the pacemaker and a good training regime, I’ll someday regain some speed and endurance.

I’m happy to say I reached a prime goal early-on in this race. That was to catch and pass a certain individual ahead of me. This was a very fit individual moving along at a good pace. He just happened to have only one leg and was on crutches. I didn’t get his name or race number, so I don’t know his finishing time. But what an inspiration, 13 miles on crutches!

I never did see my partner during the race. She had gradually worked her way up through the field to make up over four minutes on my lead—even though she took time to kibbutz with Brit friends along the route. She finished in 2:25:01. It’s possible jet lag, time change, and too much walking beforehand had some effect on our times. But a general lack of good fitness is just as likely.

The London Landmarks Half Marathon was a fabulous race! I had tried in three different years to get into the full London Marathon but never made it through the lottery. This half marathon allowed me to run the streets of London and see so many fabulous sights through a very reasonable charity process. The race itself was mostly flat and well supported with water stops, cheering fans, great views, musical and choral groups, and supporters in costumes of old England. All for a great cause!

Celebrity runners (l to r) Big Ben, The Cheese Grater, two ordinary people, and The Shard

It’s no small feat to close off so many streets in the heart of London for several hours. But the city supports this event because the race does so much for charity. My Alzheimer’s Research charity also provided a great after-race party to salute its runners. Other charities did likewise.

After the race, I had the opportunity to spend several days in the city, seeing many of the monuments up close. The London underground, double-decker busses and iconic cabs provide rapid transport everywhere, although I must say that most of my excursions were on foot, covering 5 to 10 miles a day. The London stay was followed with a train ride to Edinburgh, Scotland and a very enjoyable three-day visit there.

The London Landmarks course


Music City Hits the High Notes                             

  Jim Buck
On April 25, 2018 Jane McFarland and I showed up in Nashville, Tennessee to run our first-ever race in the Music City, home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Johnny Cash Museum, a bunch of other sights, plus more honkytonks than you can shake a beer glass at. The Nashville event is part of the Rock and Roll series and includes a marathon, half marathon and 5K. We were there to run the half.

Following heart surgery last year, this was to be a gauge of whether such events were any longer in my bag of assorted running tricks. Before that heart thing, I had completed 33 marathons in Europe and across the USA and Canada. Destination marathons were a way of staying fit while combining the marathon experience with a vacation in a new venue. Both were usually a learning experience. But with the advance of father time and this inconvenient health issue, perhaps half marathons were now a more reasonable goal.

Further Incentive for the trip was a chance to meet-up with a couple of New York buddies who were heading to Nashville for some time with their adult children, for the half marathon and for a little golf. Not to be outdone, Jane and I decided we’d take up the challenge and accompany them in all three!

Nashville was a new venue for us, we’d never been to the heart of the city. There’s the great modern architecture of the Music (Civic) Center where the race expo was held; and the 33-story, AT&T Batman building, resembling the caped crusader’s iconic mask; there’s the old Union Station railroad depot—now a hotel; and the singing pedestrian bridge across the Cumberland River. The honkytonks are lined along both sides of Broadway with bars on one, two and three floors. And if you marched up enough stairways there was often a bar on the roof. On the streets and in the bars everyone is friendly--tapping their toes to the music and seemingly enjoying good conversation. Maybe that’s because they couldn’t hear exactly what was being said anyway.

Race day started with the clanging of the alarm clock at O’ Dark Thirty on a cool Saturday morning, April 28, 2018. A cup of strong coffee and a dry bagel provided some wake-up spark as we got ready for the struggle and waited for our 6 AM car pool into the city. Mary’s daughter, Katie, provided the transportation, while Mary and daughter, Molly, would join us in the running of the half.

It’s very rare that a runner is ever fully trained for such an event, at least that they will admit. Mary had a nagging hip problem, Molly wasn’t able to run all the necessary training miles, Jane was still recovering from a nasty fall on a training run, and I was nursing a groin pull (right adductor) that occurred a week before the race. We would try our best but were prepared with our reasons in the event it didn’t work out.

On getting us close to the race, Katie hit the ejection button and we hobbled off a few blocks to the mid-pack of the starting line. After stops at two different hotels for potty breaks, we were soon standing tall on Broadway waiting for the 7:15 start. Around us were about 2,000 marathoners and another 15,000 half marathoners. Runners filled Broadway in front and behind as far as the eye could see. One street over stood 3,000 additional runners preparing for their 5K dash.

Our 17,000 runners were separated into a system of 38 corrals along Broadway. At 7:15 AM the first corral scampered off, the last following over an hour later. Thank heaven for those timing chips. Our corral #19 crossed the start line at about 7:45. The race began with a nice multi-block downhill run, the turning of a corner and then the first of many sizeable uphill challenges. We had been advised beforehand that the course had its hills. And true to rumor, the streets trended upward, a lot. For those that grimace at the slightest rise, this would not be a fast race.


As for me, I felt pretty good until about 1 and 1/4 miles when my adductor seized up, bringing me to screeching halt. Once over the shock, I picked it up again, this time at a slow trot. With roughly 12 miles to go, my plan was to run-walk as best I could to avoid making the problem worse. Semper Avanti was the plan.

I found that I could stride longer with the healthy left leg and then shorten the stride with the faulty right—amounting to a running limp. Eventually the adductor would seize up again and I’d be forced into a limping walk. Interestingly, with the adductor problem, I found it more comfortable to run slow and steady up the hills and ratchet back when going down. I good bit of my walking was done on the down slope.

Strangely enough, as the race wore on and the muscles warmed up, I was able to increase my speed between adductor spasms. Around mile 10 or so, I was almost a normal person, although slower than average. Three times I caught up to Jane and then fell back into a run-walk as she continued the charge. Twice, I would surprise her with a bump of the shoulder, scuzzy!, scuzzy!—reminiscent of an event in Italy’s Venice Marathon. In a minor runner’s miracle, on the third time I caught Jane, we ran together for a bit and then I picked up the pace. From then on it was a mostly steady pace, through the gulch section downtown, then across the bridge and the Cumberland River to the finish line at the Tennessee Titans stadium. At 2:18:25 it was not my best half marathon, but I did come in 3rd of 9 in the 75-79 age group. A sign of progress. Jane finished in 2:26:18 and attained an excellent 5th of 76 runners in the women’s 65-69 group.




We thoroughly enjoyed the Nashville Half. It was a challenging course, no doubt. But the weather was nice (sunny, 50-70 degrees), the spectators and bands along the route provided great support, the refreshments—water, sports drink, energy gel—were plentiful and everyone seemed to be enjoying the contest. If not in it to win it, they were at least in it to say they did it! And race day itself was topped off with a free open-air, country music concert for all participants. What’s not to like?

The city of Nashville is a happening place. There’s that great southern cooking and all those music-related venues, including the Country Music Hall of Fame, honkytonk bars and even a singing pedestrian bridge--well, it does hum along to the wave action of the river below. Also, across town in Centennial Park there’s the fabulous full-scale replica of ancient Greece’s Parthenon.

We never did play a round of golf. John came to town following shoulder surgery. Instead, we substituted the golf for a visit to President Andrew Jackson’s former Nashville home, The Hermitage; an interesting and informative side trip.

Perhaps my years of destination marathons have given way to a new and less devastating way of taking a vacation. Maybe they could be Sabbatical Halves…or perhaps Holiday Halves…

June 12, 2016--Another Year, Another Dipsea

                                                                        Jim Buck 

As for this year’s experience, the best I can say is that I survived another round of mountain madness. I crossed the line in an hour and 31 minutes (actual time) at number 393 of 1,427 finishers. Of course that was only possible with a substantial 24 minute handicap head start (making my time 1 hour and 7 minutes). There were only 4 runners in my coral (the second group to start). One of the four was previous winner 65 year-old Jamie Rivers, and she came in at number 11. If I had just stayed ahead of 358 of those runners I’d have earned the last Black Shirt—the coveted prize awarded to the first 35 finishers.

Even though I struggled up those 670 steps, the hardest part for me was the steep climb out of Muir Woods, probably because my energy tank was already on empty. I went across the Muir Woods Redwood Creek bridge at runner number 10 but reached the high point at Cardiac Hill at around 110. To keep my mind off how slow and exhausted I was I kept track of the numbers of runners going by, as best I could. Nevertheless, I even gave up this effort after the 300th runner passed me by.


It was far from a walk in the park. Five miles into this 7.5 mile race, at the beginning of the so-called Swoop, where one must make a decision about taking the steep narrow trail straight ahead or the easier/safer path to the right, I momentarily took my eyes off the ground. I paid the price by stubbing my left toe on a rock and taking a complete head-first dive into the dirt. Knees and elbows got pretty roughed up. I pulled myself up as runners scooted by. Many asked if I was OK but were long gone down the narrow ravine before I could answer—but they were being polite. Anyway, I spit out some dirt, brushed off the trail debris and waited patiently until I could jump back into the charging row of maniacs going down into the abyss.


While waiting I saw that no one was taking the easy route, so I followed the crowd and down I plunged into certain danger. The dusty, rutted trail was no more than two feet wide with heavy shrubbery on both sides but nothing to hang onto if your balance got lost. Even so, the trail gods were nice to me from then on and I had no further mishaps. There was lots of poison oak on the trail but I used plenty of Tec-Nu afterwards and am hoping I erased any of the poison. If any ticks landed on me, they didn’t hang around for long. Perhaps it was all that fast running… As usual for me, this year’s Dipsea experience was concluded with a long walk down Stinson Beach into the cool refreshing depths of the ocean, well, to about two feet anyway. But once that first icy wave broke over my chest, I did an immediate about face and moved my shivering body back to shore.


I am disappointed with my time but let’s face it, I’m not a mountain man trail runner. Even with all that, I did enjoy the experience. There’s always a lot of excitement, tradition and apprehension with that race. At least I qualified for invitational status next year by finishing in the first 450. But do I want to be up front in next year’s first starting coral, with all the pomp and circumstance. But that’s where the 74-99 year-olds must go. They will give us one more minute head start. Even so, it does not mean they’ll be taking it easy on the old folks. They’ll still be pointing west to the mountain, telling us to start climbing, and have a nice day.



The first wave takes off from Mill Valley and the race is underway


The second wave begins a minute later. JB is second from the left

Second wave

Just like a politician, JB acknowledges race fans.

In the last half mile

JB enters final 200 yard stretch to the finish

The youngsters are gaining

JB, 81-yr old Bill Dodson, Eric Clifton at the finish

JB preparing to rinse off with a walk into the ocean at Stinson Beach





The 2016 Rome Marathon: Arrivederci alla Maratona?
                                                                                                                  Jim Buck

It was early on a Sunday morning in Rome as I left our hotel and joined the stream of walkers heading for the marathon start line. During the half-mile trek we passed around the Colosseum, approached the Arch of Constantine and a strolled alongside the ruins of the Roman Forum. Our pedestrian tour of Rome was underway—and the grand 26.2 mile (42.2 kilometers) excursion had yet to begin!

This was to be the 22nd running of the Rome Marathon. This April 10th, 2016 began with bright sunshine and temperatures at 8AM at a cool 50 degrees. Forty-five minutes later the first of three waves of runners had crossed the start line to begin a foot-powered, ground-level tour of the Eternal City. By the time I returned nearly 4 ½ hours later I was dripping sweat in the relative scorcher of a 70-degree afternoon.

 The path of the marathon begins and ends on the wide, Mussolini-built, via dei Fori Imperiali that splits the ancient Forum in two. Almost immediately runners encounter the grand memorial to Italy’s first King, Emmanuel II, and gravesite of Italy’s unknown soldiers. As they pass around the memorial they also get their first taste of Rome’s many literally rock-hard cobblestone streets. Somewhere I read there were about 7 kilometers of cobblestones sprinkled along the marathon route. For me, it just added to the charm of the marathon.

Victory monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy's first king

Once around the King’s memorial runners were presented with one after another of Rome’s famous sites. We ran along the Circus Maximus, turned right and headed to the 1st century BC Pyramid gravesite of a Roman magistrate, crossed and re-crossed the Tiber River, ran along its banks, making side trips along alley ways and piazzas seeing basilicas, Egyptian obelisks and fountains. A couple of klicks short of the halfway mark we turned a corner and there looming before us in all its majesty was the Basilica of St. Peters. Catholic or not, it was truly inspiring to run close to this magnificent structure.

Rounding the Circus Maximus at kilometer 2

The Pyramid at kilometer 3

St. Peter’s Basilica—taken after the race

Passing St. Peters near kilometer 18

Piazza di Popolo (Plaza of the People) near kilometer 39

By kilometer 40 (mile 25) we had passed through Piazza Navona and Piazza di Popolo and were just going by the Spanish Steps. Soon we’d once again pass the King’s memorial--this time from the other direction enroute to the finish. I crossed the line in 4:25:43. This was almost an hour slower than when I completed the same marathon in 2002. Time and wear and tear do take their toll.

Nearing the finish on the via dei Fori Imperiali at kilometer 41

JB near kilometer 42

A Roman legionnaire welcomes the finishers

For anyone considering a marathon in Europe, I’d highly recommend Rome. The race is well-attended (nearly 14,000 finishers) and the course is about average in difficulty. Rome was built on seven hills but you don’t have to run up and down all of them. The course is scenic and well-supported with aid stations located at least every 5 kilometers serving water, sports drink and munchies. Abundant spectators line the route providing enthusiastic support. But don’t be put off by those Italians shouting “Die, Die, Die.” They mean you no harm. They’re really saying “Dai, Dai, Dai”--in English “Go, Go, Go.” High fives to the kiddies and everyone was having a good time, for at least a little while.

In addition to refreshments along the route, lots of inspiring music was provided, ranging from full military orchestras to amplifiers playing heavy metal music through giant loudspeakers. At some aid stations wet sponges were available to those needing to douse themselves with cool water. The sponge provision seems peculiar to long European races. I haven’t seen this in the states. So when running in the mid to back-of-the-pack sections of the race, the runner not only has to navigate through the usual sea of crumpled paper cups thrown down by those in front but also must avoid hundreds of 4”x 6” sponges tossed into your path. Of course, all this can be avoided by running a sub 3-hour marathon.

Another interesting feature of this race was the use of three separate clocks at each 5-kilometer check point. The clocks represented the three starting waves of runners. So a runner always knew his time as it related to his starting wave. Official photographers took lots of pictures along the route, both photos and videos.

These European marathons can be kind of fussy with their rules. Every one I’ve done has required a medical certificate from a doctor assuring you’re healthy enough for such exercise. This one also required the runner to purchase one-time medical insurance for 30 Euros—unless the runner was a member of a running group that provided such coverage. I chose to spend my money by signing up with the USATF.

This was my fourth marathon over 4 hours and the slowest of the previous 35. My three hour-plus marathon days are definitely over. The marathon was a struggle most of the way but particularly in the second half. Metatarsal problems in both feet have worsened in recent years and any kind of long distance running becomes painful. I’m still trying some fixes but am not optimistic. Throughout the second half of this race I kept telling myself that I couldn’t do this anymore. The only relief I find during the race is to walk for 20-30 seconds until the burning stops and then pick up the running again. Doing this dozens of time during the race is not pleasant—especially when people are shouting “Dai, Dai, Dai.” I hear it and I think “Yes, dying might be more pleasant.” Nonetheless, I live to talk about it.

There were several participants in the race who recognized the California aspect of my running outfit. Usually I got words of recognition and encouragement. One Italian runner recognized the shoes I wore and asked me about them. So as we plowed forward across the cobblestones we talked about shoes. Well, since I knew little to no Italian, let’s just say we talked in sign language. I looked down at his shoes and, sure enough, he wore the same brand—Altra running shoes with the unusually large foot-shaped toe box. I pointed to mine and said “Buona” or something that sounded like that. With a thumbs, up he agreed they were good and he moved along.

After the marathon

The ideal part of doing destination marathons is that after the pounding of the pavements is through you’ve earned a vacation--three more days in Rome followed by three in Paris—what’s not to like? Both are fabulous cities for walking, running, eating and sightseeing.

Is this now my last marathon? In the absence of some miracle, the answer is yes. I’ll miss the excitement and challenge on race day but not necessarily the months of training that precede it. Arrivederci alla maratona?


Jane also ran the Rome race for her second marathon. She finished with a personal best of 5:10:14. Four days later she was running the streets of Paris. Go girl!


Spokane and the 6th Annual Windermere Marathon, June 1, 2014

                                                                                                Jim Buck

In the early morning hours of June the 1st, runners arrived at Spokane’s local stadium from all directions. The first school bus leaving for the marathon and half marathon starts would get underway at 5:00 AM. Although the two races began at different locations, they were scheduled for simultaneous 7:00 AM starts. Not wanting to hang out too long at the start, I figured I’d catch the 5:30 AM transport. Well, nearly everyone thought the same thing when, due to lack of passengers, the first bus didn’t leave until I got there.

The Windermere Marathon begins about 17 miles east of Spokane in the City of Liberty Lake. From there runners take a tour of Liberty Lake neighborhoods, mainly along well-maintained bike paths for about 7 miles before joining the Centennial Trail and heading due west to Spokane.

The 37-mile Centennial Trail follows the contours of the rapidly flowing Spokane River and is fully paved along its length. Marathoners will ride the trail into downtown Spokane and finish along the river in Riverfront Park. Runners in the half marathon join the same trail about 13 miles out from Spokane in the town of Spokane Valley. It is our duty as runners in the full event to see how many of the half marathons we can catch and lap before they finish. I must say with some pride that I did overtake a few halfers. So they were heavyweights and only barely walking, that’s not the point.

The marathon start at Liberty Lake suffered about a 20 minute delay this year when a bus and a van were late getting there. This was a little uncomfortable since many had already been sitting at the curb or standing for an hour or more. But the 55 degree temperature was ameliorated somewhat by the calm air and full sunshine. Sitting at the curb, I could already feel the heat on my shoulders.

Just prior to the start, Elaine Koga-Kennelly, the race director and long distance member of San Francisco’s Dolphin South End running club, introduced a 79-year-old runner who had been seriously injured at last year’s Boston Marathon. Bill Iffrig had part of his right quadriceps blasted away. Nevertheless, he has healed nicely and this was to be his first attempt at the marathon distance since Boston.

 After the national anthem and a starting toot from the race director, the runners headed onto

the streets and bike paths of Liberty Lake, a very clean and upscale neighborhood. Within the first half mile one runner went down hard onto the concrete when she failed to navigate a curb. But in the entire race that was the only injury I saw. Of course, there was the injury to my pride when I look at my time, but that’s another issue. Just after passing the water station at mile two, I walked for the first time—only a few yards, but it was an ominous sign. This was not to be my day. It’s possible I just don’t have any days anymore. I ended up walking, sometimes power-walking a couple dozen times in the race, finishing in 4:14:23.

JB: !00 yards to go

When my watch showed 1:57 at the halfway point I saw a chance to finish under four hours but the endurance was not there.  Amazingly, 79-year-old Bill Iffrig finished only six minutes behind me at 4:20:36. We completed the race 1st and 2nd in the 70-98 age group. Bill was very disappointed there was no 75-79 age-group for him to lead. But as geezers go, there’s something to be said for just being alive.

Elaine presents age-group award to Jim Buck

The marathon course along the Spokane River is very scenic, the trail crossing over the river a few times just to keep things interesting. The water of the Spokane flows very swiftly in a westerly direction--so fast, in fact, that I never saw a boat or a person in the river. It’s probably much too dangerous.

The course is slightly downhill over its full 26 miles, dropping over 100 feet. Nevertheless, there are those rolling up and down sections that just don’t show up on a course profile. Still, if you like long straightaways, personal records could be set. Although the course was well marked at every mile, very much like other marathons I have run, the mile markers seemed to get further, and further apart as the course wore on. Maybe it’s all in my head…or my feet.

Mile 18 Along the River


Water stops and aid stations were plentiful and well-organized, occurring roughly every two miles. Most stations also provided small cups of Gummi Bears, a pleasant new wrinkle for me. Although there were adequate water stops, the heat undoubtedly took its toll, particularly for mid-pack and back-of-the-pack runners out on the course for an extended time.

Just before crossing into downtown Spokane the runners passed through the beautiful campus of Gonzaga University. The campus not only touts a powerhouse basketball team but also has an excellent little museum of Bing Crosby memorabilia. The crooner attended Gonzaga for a time before deciding to head to Hollywood. 


Mile 26 in Riverfront Park

The Windermere Marathon was well organized and provided a great post-race buffet. Like most such events it’s always a work in progress. The event is growing every year, particularly the half marathon. This year’s event saw 420 marathoners and over 1,300 in the half. Some considerations for the future might include placing a clock and chip-timing mat at the 10-mile point and providing some runner-rousing music here and there along the route.

At the marathon start area in Liberty Lake I chatted with Elaine, the race director. She was very excited to have someone at the race from her old San Francisco running club. Elaine is very enthusiastic about Spokane and its Windermere Marathon. She’s intent on making the race a premier event, equivalent to San Francisco’s own 26-miler. She’s on the right track.

This was my first visit to Spokane and didn’t know what to expect. But this city of over 500,000 has lots to offer and I was impressed with the hospitality. The highlight is the Spokane River flowing through the heart of downtown, providing scenic views of water falls and rapids. It’s a walker-friendly city with plenty to amuse, offering parks, sculptures, and gondola rides above the river. Restaurants are plentiful and varied.

Riverfront Park, Spokane


Sculpture: Bloomsday Runners, Spokane


A bonus to visiting Spokane is the relative closeness of Idaho (about 40 miles east) and the beautiful town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and its 30-mile long namesake lake. I spent a day and a half there, hiking and cruising. Well worth it.

Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho



************************************************************* The 28th Running of the Venice Marathon, October

                                                                                                                                Jim Buck
With the aid of a cool breeze and a starless gloom, the early morning darkness sends chills through the body. Runners staying in Venice make their way to the marathon pickup point by way of narrow alleys and waterbuses. If one had the cash to spare, a high speed water taxi could be employed to whisk us along the Grand Canal in a fraction of the time. But alas, we can’t all play the James Bond role (Roger Moore in Moonraker (1979). As for us plebeians, the waterbus slowly cruises through the murky water, allowing time to contemplate the 26.2 mile challenge ahead. It’s 5:45 AM on Sunday, October 27, 2013 in Venice and the marathon will be underway in a few hours.

Venice Waterbus

By the time our street bus pulls up at 7:00 AM daylight is creeping into the sky and dozens of runners have arrived from all over Venice. There’s a mass scramble for seats. But I’m not concerned. I can display stamina by standing for this 10-minute ride to the mainland. Well, so much for stamina, 23 miles and 50-minutes later I’m still standing as our bus arrives at the small town of Stra southwest of Venice. It’s full daylight now. The sky is overcast and a low fog hangs over the area.

The start area is situated between the 16th century Villa Pisani and the River Brenta. Passing through villages and small towns, runners will follow this river and canal most of the way to the Adriatic--then begins the long causeway leading to Venice. But first there’s time to rest in one of the large tents—to have a cup of hot tea, remove outerwear and pare down to running essentials. Runners are here from all over the world. In the crowded tent there’s a strange mixture of incomprehensible languages and dialects—Scandinavian, German, Greek, Japanese and, of course, Italian. By sheer chance, I choose a spot beside two English-speaking people—a Brit and an American. As we ready ourselves for the march to Venice, there’s interesting conversation about races, training and expectations for today.

Villa Pisani in Stra, Italy

After 45 minutes of walking and waiting, 5,500 runners are lined up in three consecutive corrals along the River Brenta. I’m in the middle group. The elite runners are up front. Three months of training have brought me to this point. If all goes according to plan, I should be capable of a 3-hour and 45-50 minute marathon. However, to coin a line from a Robert Burns poem, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.” At about 9:30 the starting gun fires and the fun begins. It’s two minutes before I reach the actual start line and several more minutes before there’s room to reach a reasonable stride.

Start of Venice Marathon, October 27, 2013

It’s not long before we’ve exited the Villa Pisani Park and are proceeding down the local highway toward the first of many small towns and villages. This four-lane thoroughfare, often with the river on the right, is the main street of most of them. Sadly, although I had reasonable expectations of performance, it took only a few miles before I realized this might not be my day. There was no spring in the legs and I seemed to be working much too hard just to keep up. By mile four I watched as the pale blue balloons carried by the 3:45 pacesetter dwindled to a mere speck in the distance ahead. I was falling behind. Nevertheless, there was still hope, the 3:50 pacesetter had yet to pass me—if only I could get into a rhythm, channel positive thoughts. Twenty-two miles to go. A couple more miles and the long wait for the race to get underway now necessitated a potty break. I suspect the 3:50 pacesetter went by while I was otherwise occupied. I actually never saw any other pacesetters until the 4:15 balloons glided by me at mile 24. By that time my concern was just to finish the race. I didn’t like those sissified pale blue balloons anyway.

Back in the early miles of the race, realizing expectations would not be met, fatigue took hold. It wasn’t long before I fell into a run-walk mode. Where the Roman legions once tread, legions of runners were passing me by—a severe blow to the ego. Nevertheless, I knew I would finish. I’d been here before. Slow down but never stop—Semper Avanti, always forward. As Shakespeare might have said, if he were in the race, Ah, a water stop ahead, per chance to walk and quench thy thirst.  Refreshed once more, the struggle is rejoined.

By mile 18 runners were entering San Giuliano Park near Mestre. This is the last major location on the mainland before crossing the 2.4 mile causeway leading to the 118 islands that make up the City of Venice. Once on the causeway, Venice and the journey’s end was within view. 

San Giuliano Park, 18 Miles


Venice Causeway, 21.8 Miles


The marathon’s last few miles through Venice itself provided wonderful views of the city—it’s canals, bridges, piazzas, buildings and waterfront. Ramps on the 13 or more bridges over the canals allowed runners to avoid the stairs. A special temporary bridge for runners had also been erected across the Grand Canal to eliminate collisions with tourists.  These little bridges were some of the only elevations facing runners in this relatively flat race. As insignificant as these climbs were, in miles 25 and 26 I thought this must have been what Hannibal faced when he crossed the Alps to invade Italy.

Temporary bridge over Grand Canal

By the time most runners reached the city it was midday and Venice was thick with tourists. But temporary railings kept tourists and runners apart—except for the exuberant high fives shared along the route. The run through the Piazza San Marco was spectacular! Seemingly thousands of people were cheering the runners while pigeons flew around startled and confused. In fact, it was such an emotional rush to be there, I used it as an excuse to walk a few steps and take it all in.   

Piazza San Marco race morning

 Piazza San Marco, 25 Miles

Piazza San Marco, 25 Miles



 But there were more bridges to cross and the finish line was less than a mile away. The little signs in front of each bridge telling how many bridges remained were beginning to get annoying—only 7 bridges left, only 6 bridges left! Stop it! I don’t want to know! Eventually, I struggled to the top of the final mountain, I mean bridge. There, about 200 yards directly ahead was the finish line arch. Reaching deep inside I found a small reserve of energy and burst into a dash to the finish, passing many who had slipped past me earlier.  As I watched to race video later, the burst of speed was more akin to a fast trot. But at that point in the race anything quicker than a walk seemed a high speed maneuver. I crossed the line at a chip time of 4:14:51--my second slowest marathon ever. My thoughts were that marathoning was no longer for me. I ended up fourth of sixteen in my age group. I was the only non-Italian in the group. The first of these 70-year-old men finished in a remarkable 3:24:30.  It’s been seven years since I’ve been in the 3:20’s.

Over the last bridge, 26 Miles

The Finish Line, 26.2 Miles

The Finish Line area the next day, October 28, 2013

The Venice Marathon lived up to the expectations I had for it, although my performance did not. It’s a scenic race over mostly flat terrain. A personal record here is definitely possible, although the weather can vary widely. This year the temperature was around 50-60 degrees, no rain, but very humid. Last year it rained throughout the marathon. Big, enthusiastic crowds lined the course in all the towns and villages and there was lots of music from live bands along the way.

The Venice Marathon course, October 27, 2013

With a few exceptions, the race was well done. A couple of drawbacks, the pins for attaching the race bib were very weak. I had to take time to re-pin the bib at one point when a pin came open and the bib flopped around annoyingly. At the water stops, sports drink was provided in paper cups, as normal. However, water was only available in half-liter bottles. As runners went through the many water stops, thousands of bottles were handed out. Most runners took a sip or two and threw the bottle down. For an environment-conscious, green Europe, this seemed an incomprehensible waste of resources. The Paris Marathon I ran in 2003 did something similar but at least their bottles were a smaller, one-quarter-liter size.

In the days since the marathon I’ve had time to rethink my performance. Perhaps I’ll give the distance another shot--maybe somewhere closer to home; somewhere out west. As we age it’s possible all this flying time, sightseeing side trips, time zone changes, weather, diet changes, and so forth become more difficult to adapt to. After all, I’m not 65 anymore. But deep inside, I feel that it was just not my day. Anyone who has participated in extreme sports knows that some days do simply do not seem to go according to plan. It’s a bummer though when this occurs on race day. In an earlier time, I would have ground out a more acceptable result, even though the spark was not there. And so it goes.

On the positive side, visiting Venice, with side trips to Verona and Paris was wonderful. Italy and its people are great. I know little to no Italian but most Italians know some English. With a combination of pigeon-English, bad Italian and hand gestures, there was never a problem getting a point across. The pasta was great, the wine tasty and the gelato excellent. Walking the alleyways, riding the waterbuses and a gondola, taking a murder mystery tour, and experiencing the sights and history were certainly a treat. As a bonus, I also came through the marathon with no injuries and no problems along the course--other than exhaustion. But I wish I could have smiled for the camera at least once during the race. How do they do it?
Maybe there’s a marathon in the spring, somewhere out west…





Side trip to Paris during pre-marathon 10-hour layover at Charles de Gaulle Airport, October 25, 2013

On the Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal, October 28, 2013


Juliette’s balcony in fair Verona, October 29, 2013


Indianapolis Mini-Marathon, May 2013
                                            Jim Buck


Seemingly all of Indianapolis turned out on May 4, 2013 to watch or participate in the 37th edition of the 13.1 mile Mini-Marathon. It was an overcast grey day with temperatures in the mid-50s--perfect running weather. I was in the front third of over 30,000 runners, joggers, walkers and those who didn’t know what they were doing there. All were anxiously awaiting the signal to start. Some stood quietly; others bounced up and down, attempted stretches, or tried to squeeze ahead a few more feet through the masses--as if it really made a difference.

The 5K runners, all 4,000 of them, had left a half hour ago. They get the early start but we get the Grand Prix, so to speak. We get to run the 2 ½ miles of the Indianapolis 500 race track! It’s 7:33 AM. Okay folks, start your engines. There’s the starting signal! We’re off--6 miles through city streets to the world famous Indianapolis Speedway.


But of course, the crowd of runners is so dense it takes nearly eight minutes to reach the starting line of the race. Until then, we just shuffle forward. Those further back must shuffle for the better part of a half hour. Thank God for chip timing! Once across the timing carpet things begin to open up, although there’s a lot of lateral running, left, right, slow down, speed up. It’s a couple of miles before you can choose a pace and stick to it. The anticipation runs high as the numerous small bands along the way get us pumped up for the grand circuit around the track. 

After the first mile we’ve left the tall buildings of downtown Indy and crossed the White River. There on the left is the zoo. Wave to the elephant staring at us over the fence! Crazy humans! The rest of the way it’s local neighborhoods--lots of people taking high fives. There are no water stops for runners. Well, there are but in this area they’re called Pit Stops. And there are plenty of them.

Eventually, the speedway looms ahead. Runners make a left turn down the tunnel, under the roadbed and out onto the infield. A couple more turns and there we are, on the asphalt, the speedway opens before us. There are no tires squealing or engines roaring, just the sound of heavy breathing and of feet striking the hard black surface. The mere act of being on the speedway makes the legs move faster, we’re in a race!

In its 2 ½ miles the speedway has four turns leading in and out of the highly banked oval ends. On a whim after turn three I left the crowd, crossed the grass verge and ran to the outside top of the track. This was a noticeable uphill climb. As I turned to run down to rejoin the group, the steepness of the high bank was very evident as the gravity-assist propelled me back to the pack. This was one of the few hills in the race, and it was one of my own making.


One more turn and the horde of runners was headed to the Indy 500 finish line and the famous “Yard of Bricks.” This yard-wide band of bricks crosses the speedway inches after the white finish line. The bricks are all that’s left of the speedway surface that once lined the entire course in the early days of the Indy 500.  Many runners paused to kiss the bricks—a tradition begun in recent years by the Indy 500 winning driver—drinking a bottle of milk and kissing the bricks. As for me, I couldn’t see kneeling down to kiss a brick. Would I be able to get back up again? Besides, my concern was whether there was enough gas in the tank to get me to that other finish line 5 miles away.



But I did make it to the finish line, at 1:55:14, a little slower than I would have liked. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable run with plenty of refreshments along the way. The bands were small but numerous and entertaining. Lots of enthusiastic spectators lined the course. Indianapolis has some great monuments and museums, lots of civil war and western history. With its canal and river trails it’s a great walking and running town. A tour of the speedway the day after the mini-marathon was well worthwhile. On Memorial Day over 300,000 people will pack the Yard for the annual Indianapolis 500 race; the biggest one-day event in the sporting world.







Going for Gold at the Lost Dutchman Marathon, February 2013                                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                Jim Buck

The town of Apache Junction, Arizona, located east of Phoenix at the foot of Superstition Mountain, once again hosted the Lost Dutchman Marathon. This year’s 26.2 mile trek through the desert, along dirt roads and local highways began at 7 o’clock, just as the sun peeked over the top of the mountain, on the 45-50 degree morning of February 17, 2013. Something less than 400 runners had left the relative comfort of the open campfires to directly confront the early morning chill.






The first six miles of this marathon are along a well-maintained dirt road in Gold Canyon that eventually leads out to the local streets and highways. Along the route, with the mountain at our backs, we passed through a beautiful desert landscape populated with giant saguaro cactus on both sides. Here I kept an eye out for prospectors, burros and Apache Indians but, apparently, either they were hiding from the cavalry, or they just had the common sense not to be roaming about at this hour.

There were a few more rolling hills in this course than I had envisioned and I’m sure my finishing time reflected this. But an interesting phenomenon occurred along this rolling dirt road that was evident to all. Many times as the road dipped into small depressions for 50 to 200 yards or so, the air temperature dropped noticeably, perhaps by as much as 10 degrees. I heard other runners remark on this. The chill on my hands and shoulders had me wishing for a pair of warm gloves and maybe a Mexican serape. As we rose out of these depressions the warmth in the air was equally noticeable--but also very welcome.

The remainder of the marathon took us along local highways and the back streets of local communities. We were heading generally northwest toward the other end of Superstition Mountain. Its rugged peaks were never out of our sight for very long.



This marathon course fooled me. Although it finishes about 500 feet lower in elevation than the start, those rolling hills and long straightaways did me in. Of course, peak performance requires good conditioning. Injuries in that final month leading up to the race severely curtailed my training regimen, eroding any stamina I might have had for the long run. In my years of running I’ve come to realize that, with age, it takes longer to establish a certain level of fitness but, conversely, that level of fitness dissipates much quicker with inaction than in the days of our youth. Nevertheless, this race venue was very appealing and I was determined to participate, even if I had to walk the entire course—and I did much of that anyway. My finishing time was 4:17:56, my first race over four hours. Amazingly, it’s still a Boston qualifying time! See, there is a benefit to entering a more advanced age category.

From mile 10 in this race my quad muscles were talking back to me, balking at every attempt to lift my legs for the next stride. Only a run-walk strategy got me through this. From this point on I’m thinking, “What am I doing out here? If I were running the half marathon, I’d be near home by now!” In the last four miles of the race I noted I was gaining on another grey-haired runner who was obviously in my age group. If only I could keep up with him; not let him pull away. Eventually, it came down to the last half mile. My plan to use a last minute sprint to zip by him was a valid one but only my mind was ready. The legs had other ideas. Instead of sprinting, I slowed to a hobble. A second grey headed runner went by. Okay, I pulled it together, disregarding the quad talk, and sprinting the last quarter mile. But it was too little, too late. The two competing geezers finished seconds ahead.




Although I discovered no gold along the way, the race did have a silver lining! I found out later the two geezers finishing in front were actually in a younger age group! If these two showed the effects of their age, and they were actually youngsters, what must I look like? Don’t answer that! It was a rhetorical question.

I would highly recommend this marathon. It was not only scenic but it was very well supported and orchestrated. The warming fires at the beginning were a nice touch. Temperatures had probably reached the low 60s by the time I finished. Refreshments along the route were plentiful, including water, Gatorade, energy gels and fruit. There was no lack of volunteers. The full marathon had less than 400 runners finishing, down from previous years. This is because there are now three marathons occurring in this area within a month.  The other Lost Dutchman runs that day, the half marathon, 10K and 8K had over 2,100 total runners.

Now about that lost Dutchman, the general idea I had was of an old, grizzled German prospector arriving in town, with his burro in tow, one day in the late 1800s. In his saddlebags he carried a sample of remarkably high grade gold nuggets that he had mined from a newly-discovered lode. Naturally, this caused lots of excitement in town. But the prospector loaded supplies on his burro and headed back into the hills to make his fortune. Sadly, he was never seen again. His body and the mine have never been discovered. For well over a hundred years thousands of individuals have roamed the Superstition Mountain chain is search of this lost treasure. Many have died in the process.  Wikipedia has some interesting background on all this and a different take on the story. See  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Dutchman%27s_Gold_Mine



A Capital Run on Christmas Day, December 2012

In training for a possible marathon in February 2013, my long-distance schedule for Christmas week called for a 14-mile run. Being in the Washington, D.C. area, I elected to run along the Capitol Mall on Christmas Day, December 2012. The weather couldn’t have been better, 45 degrees and loads of sunshine. Dressing for the occasion, I donned shorts and a green turtleneck—slipping over it a red Wayne Rooney Manchester United soccer shirt. To top it off I added a red Santa’s hat and green gloves. The perfect geezer elf!


After a one-mile jaunt down North Capitol Street I reached Capitol Hill and began a circle of the Capitol building. The grounds were mostly deserted of the usual tourists and politicians—the politicians having fled the area with their fiscal cliff homework. From there I skirted the Capitol Hill reflecting pool and took the path heading west along the left side of the National Mall—the tall obelisk of the Washington Monument straight ahead.


As I jogged along, giving and receiving a “Merry Christmas” greeting from those I passed, there on my left were the various buildings of the Smithsonian, including the modern air and space museum and the red sandstone gothic-style Smithsonian Castle.


Because of construction on the mall a circuit of the Washington Monument was not possible. Detouring to the left, I headed cross-country, over the grass to the D.C. World War I memorial.  The white marble domed structure lists the names of D.C soldiers killed in the War to End All Wars. The memorial was recently closed for about a year and several million dollars were spent to clean up the structure after decades of neglect. Unlike the following picture, the marble is now a gleaming white.


After pausing to check out the building and pay my respects, I headed along Independence Avenue looking for the relatively new Martin Luther King Memorial. Sure enough, a half mile or so down the road and across the street was the reverend himself, standing tall—30 feet to be exact. The posted sign said “No Running” so I paused for a moment, tipped my Santa hat to Martin and strode out of the memorial.



As I left, I noted that MLK was staring out across the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial on the far bank. Seeing the footpath that circles the basin under the cherry trees, I decided to take that route and say hello to our 3rd president.  On my way I high-fived another Santa hat wearer and paused once more to check out a memorial I hadn’t seen before. About a quarter mile from Mr. Jefferson was a larger than life bronze statue of George Mason, depicting him relaxing on a bench, a pile of books at his side. George was one of the founding fathers and a delegate to the constitutional convention. After sitting with him for a couple of seconds, it was off to see that president.


Although probably a little smaller than the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson’s shrine is very impressive. The dome and columns are somewhat reminiscent of Jefferson’s home at Monticello. After a circle around the building to take it all in, I mounted the steps to the interior for a closer look at the statue.  I didn’t linger long but did take time to read a few lines from the Declaration of Independence. 


As I headed out north along the Potomac bike trail, I passed a family leaving the Jefferson Memorial. As I trotted by I heard the man shout out “Hey, there goes Wayne Rooney!” Somebody knows his English soccer. I acknowledged with a raise of the arm. No time for chatting. I was on my way to the Arlington Memorial Bridge and across the Potomac. All this and I still had clocked only about 5 miles of the 14 miles I needed. The route was interesting even though I was making it up on the fly.

The impressive Memorial Bridge leads directly to the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery. After a little cross-country run up the hill to the entrance, I was again headed west, this time across the Potomac to the National Cemetery nearly a mile away.  On reaching the entrance I reversed course, returning on the opposite side of the street. On a hunch, I took a bike trail to the left and continued along the outside perimeter of the cemetery. Here I was presented with a stirring view of row upon row of gravestones, most with Christmas wreaths laid at their base. I ran up to the fence and paused for a minute, reading names from graves nearby.


Continuing along the trail, my hunch was rewarded with a direct connection to the Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial at the top of an Arlington hill. The midday sun shone brightly as the marines in bronze raised the stars and stripes. I took a few minutes to study their faces, check out their WW II weapons and circle the monument, reading the long list of battles the marines participated in through history.


And now it was time to turn this journey around and head back to the start. As I reversed course to the Arlington Cemetery trail, I came across the Netherlands Carillon—a bell tower, guarded by two stone lions. This was donated to the U.S. in recognition of what the U.S. did for their country in WWII. As I stopped to read the plaque, the bells tolled the Westminster Chime and then the twelve gongs for noon. In an added surprise, as I continued along the trail, the carillon played the hymns of the five services. As I ran, I heard the strains of the Coast Guard Hymn fading out behind me. All this was very inspiring, taking my mind off the pounding of my feet.


And so I went, back across the Memorial Bridge, the Lincoln Memorial lying straight ahead. (Note: As I typed the last line, the TV to my right, which is showing the Cowboys-Redskins game, suddenly displayed a live nighttime view of the Lincoln Memorial, honest Abe sitting, contemplating. Coincidence?)  Approaching the memorial from the rear, I circled around and still had the energy and inspiration to run the steps to the top. Hundreds of tourists crowded the steps and interior of the building. After a brief stroll through the crowd, I paused to read the Gettysburg Address etched on the wall to Lincoln’s right. It’s always inspirational.


I paid my respects to Mr. Lincoln and took off down the steps and along the left side of the recently renovated reflecting pool, heading once again for the Washington Monument.


But before reaching the obelisk there was one more memorial to visit. At the far end of the reflecting pool sits the National WWII Memorial. The memorial, with its fountains, arches and granite slabs inscribed with inspirational quotes is dedicated to those Americans who gave their lives in that war. I didn’t linger here, taking just a quick pass along the eastern edge. My legs were beginning to feel the distance now.


The final few miles of this trek carried me along the eastern side of the mall, past the fenced off Washington Monument toward Capitol Hill. A left turn for the final mile up North Capitol Street and it was all over. The overall pace of the run (9:45 per mile), with all the stops and strolls was not the greatest but this was by far my most enjoyable-ever 14-mile run. Even better was the fact that, according to my Garmin GPS, I had only run 13.6 miles.

The run was completely unscripted, with lots of memorials and other sights still unseen. I highly recommend such a journey to anyone visiting the Capitol. But beware, the outdoor water fountains are turned off this time of year. It’s astonishing how close many of these memorials are for a person travelling on foot. An automobile ride to these would have taken all day and caused untold frustration. Let’s see, next time there’s the White House, the Korean War Memorial, etc. etc.



Marines Cross the Potomac—Invade Washington, October 2011

         Jim Buck

    Yes, it’s true. It happened on a cold fall morning at the end of October 2011 when thousands poured across the Key Bridge into Georgetown. It was the fifth mile in the 36th running of the Marine Corps Marathon. The bright morning sun rose over the hilltops ahead as the invaders turned left and worked their way alongside the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. It was still early in the event but 21,000 runners had signed up for this 26.2 mile incursion into Washington. D.C and nearly all, over 98%, would survive to cross the finish line hours later at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington.

    It all started at 8 AM on October 30th in Arlington, Virginia just south of the Iwo Jima Memorial and across the river from Washington, D.C. The wind chill factor was definitely in evidence as I walked the mile and a quarter from the Metro stop with hundreds of others, crossing the Pentagon parking lot, heading for the starting area of the marathon. The official report says it was 39 degrees at the start. I believe it. Still, the streets were dry and there was no trace of the snow which came down heavily at times the day before—threatening a truly enhanced marathon experience. Once in the general starting area there was no time for dallying. Thousands had arrived late because of delays at the subway and had to immediately begin peeling off the excess layers of clothing. These we turned in for pickup after the race. It was very sad to hand over the warm jacket and pants. Clapping my hands for warmth, teeth chattering and knees knocking, I nevertheless made my way to the starting line.

    I was hoping to finish this race in or around 3 hours and 45 minutes but was surprised by the multitude of runners and how solidly they were packed in the starting area. With some easy elbowing this way and that, I made my way through the sardines, avoiding stepping on toes, and eventually reaching the demarcation line for those hoping to finish in 3:45. A couple of Marine Corps V-22 Osprey aircraft flew in formation overhead and shortly afterward the starting gun went off. Although it was all too far ahead for me to witness, the comedian Drew Carey had pulled the trigger as the official starter. He then took his place among the runners streaming across the starting line. Carey is a member of the Marine Corps reserves. This was his first marathon.

V-22 Osprey       

 Drew Carry (Courtesy of Marine Corps Marathon Photo Stream)

    It took a few minutes to make my way to the start line as the crush of runners made it difficult to do little more than waddle along. Things opened up a bit going through Rosslyn, VA; however, getting into a long stride was difficult without running up someone else’s legs. In that first mile I heard some commotion directly behind and turned briefly to see a middle-aged guy go down full length onto the concrete.  A little misstep in the big crowd is all it takes. That might have been the end of that runner’s marathon day.

Marathon starting area (Courtesy of Marine Corps Marathon Photo Stream)

    The morning cold was particularly evident as the runners approached the Virginia side of the Potomac. After a climb onto an overpass near the river we encountered ice on the surface. It was like black ice, you knew it was there because your feet were slipping but it couldn’t be seen—I immediately slowed and tip-toed across to solid ground. No sense in going down for the count this early.

    With the exception of a couple of good-sized hills in the first 9 miles, the marathon course was fairly level. One of those hills occurred in the first four miles on the Virginia side of the Potomac and the other was in Georgetown as we turned from the C&O Canal and headed SE toward D.C. central. The major hill in Georgetown was a bit bothersome since we gazed directly into a blinding sun during the climb. Coming over the top onto the downhill slope, we crossed a street into heavy shade. Before my eyes could fully adjust to the change, I saw what appeared to be a small log in the dark shadow exactly where my left foot was landing. Not knowing what this was, I instantly lengthened my stride to land beyond it. But because we were on a downhill slope, I came down heavily on the knee and it buckled under the impact. For an instant as the pain registered I thought my race was over; however, I limped through the next 100 yards and gradually regained my stride. Luckily, the knee was not an issue after that. It’s probable the log in the road was nothing more than a couple of leaves clumped together. But when you can’t see clearly, instinct takes over.

    By mile 10, runners were hugging the Potomac and had just passed the Kennedy Center followed shortly afterwards by the Lincoln Memorial. I didn’t get close enough to see Mr. Lincoln but I’m sure he was still sitting there taking in the action. It was around this time that a young 20-something guy went past me wearing a Marine Corps olive-drab T-shirt. I only remember him because on the back was stenciled “Gay Marine.” I guess the military’s “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy truly was history. This marine was literally running out of the closet.

    The race continued along the water for a flat, uneventful 4-mile jaunt around Haines Point which is a spit of land sticking out into the Potomac. But the turnaround near the bottom of the Point had its significance—the 13.1 mile halfway mark had been reached. We were on the road back and would be treated to a little tour of the monuments. For a good 5 miles runners cruised along Independence Avenue and the National Mall, passing the Jefferson, Martin Luther King and WWII memorials. Next up was the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian buildings, capped off by a jog in front of the Capitol Building.


Lincoln Memorial

JB and Washington Monument

Capitol Building 

Jefferson Memorial

Martin Luther King Jr Memorial

World War II Memorial

    Most of the serious sightseeing was done by this point. At mile 20 the route had turned SE for a re-crossing of the Potomac into Crystal City, VA. As in most marathons, these last 6 miles were the most difficult. Energy levels are depleted, feet are sore, knees are aching and the streets are closed so you can’t even call a cab.

    Sometimes it doesn’t pay to have a good memory. In 2001 as we crossed the 14th Street Bridge back into Virginia it was already mile 23 and we simply had to do a few turns around the Pentagon area before heading north to the Iwo Jima Memorial and the finish line. In 2011, however, the course changes gave us an three extra miles to get through before heading for the finish. Nevertheless, the enthusiastic crowds in Crystal City helped us along—making me reluctant to slow to a walk to ease my aching feet. But pain won out over embarrassment and I geared down to a walking hobble a couple of times. Walking, even if only for 30 yards or so, provides the opportunity, while others are running by and the crowds are screaming, to contemplate the bigger issues in life, like—What am I doing here? Whose idea was this? Even while contemplating these issues, I’m implementing a running philosophy that I’ve followed for several years now. It’s borrowed from the Marine Corps motto “Semper Fidelis” (always faithful). That philosophy is “Semper Avanti” (always forward). Essentially, in any endeavor, including running, walking or limping, keep the goal in mind and keep going forward, whatever the speed.

    The final two miles took us around the Pentagon, near its own 9/11 memorial, then onto the final climb to the finish at the Iwo Jima Memorial. That last quarter mile, even with hundreds of supporters cheering, is a challenging and winding trudge to the top. I can’t believe I once again had to stop for a 10-yard walk. Now tell me, Who can’t run a quarter mile? I guess that would be me. When I finished this marathon in 3:11 back in 1993, I still slowed for a brief walk there at the end. I guess that’s why I did three years in the army instead of the marines.

wo Jima Memorial, Arlington, VA                                                                

Finisher’s Medal (Courtesy of Runningwithhorses.com)          

    I crossed the line this time in 3 hours, 51 minutes, managing once again to stay under the 4 hour threshold. It was very nice to see that great Iwo Jima memorial. As usual, the marines did a fine job with this marathon. There was lots of support from marines and civilian volunteers along the route. Gatorade and water were provided often and, on at least two occasions, packets of energy gel were distributed. This is also one of those rare marathons that offers globs of Vaseline later in the race—a life saver at times. Once across the finish line there were the usual bottles of water and bananas but this time also including a box lunch containing some pre-packaged, high protein edibles.  The red, long-sleeve, mock turtleneck cotton T-shirt was of high quality and the finisher’s medal was unique—featuring the Marine Corps emblem with a rotating globe. The three-day runner’s expo at the armory in D.C. included lots of merchants—plenty of bargains, free trinkets and food samples.

    Fan support was great, particularly in Georgetown, around the Washington Mall, in Crystal City and on the final jaunt up to the Marine Memorial. Trading high-fives with grown-ups and kids along the route is always a kick. The race provides a great tour of some of the capital attractions. Although you don’t get too close, it’s inspiring to be in the area and see how the memorials and monuments are laid out. Since it was the day before Halloween, a few runners were decked out in costumes, including one wearing a foam-fabric shark suit with only the runner’s face and feet showing. I still don’t know how that guy finished ahead of me. I did, however, manage to stay in front of the race’s oldest runner, 90 year-old Jonathan Mendes of New York who finished in just over 7 hours. Unlike me, however, he finished first in his age group. Drew Carey also ran a good first marathon, finishing in 4:37. He later appeared on the Jimmy Fallon show, talking about his experience and displaying the finisher’s medal. That appearance can be viewed at the following:


    If the Marine Corps Marathon had a down side, it would have to be the less than optimum performance by the Washington Metro System. Although the subway cars and scheduling were fine, the system was over-taxed when it came to handling the large crowds passing through the turnstiles. After arriving at the Pentagon station that morning, hundreds of anxious runners waited 20 minutes or more to pass through an inadequate number of turnstiles. The problem was repeated after the race as large crowds of runners heading home in Arlington attempted to enter the nearby Metro station. Nevertheless, it was a great event, with Mother Nature providing a cool start, clear skies and sunshine to brighten the spirit.






The Battle of Gettysburg: The North-South Marathon

         Jim Buck

    There on the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, amid the farms and orchards of a once peaceful country setting, the battle for Gettysburg rages on. Struggling up the last hill and over the crest, wounds and intense weariness taking their toll, the soldiers of north and south glimpse the spires of the city dead ahead. They’re on the Mummasburg Road just beyond the memorial of the eternal flame where the road dips steeply into Gettysburg. The long battle is reaching its climax. It’ll take all they have to cross the line and join their comrades on the other side. Join them in victory after this long and arduous struggle.


    The glorious road ahead into Gettysburg is lined with the citizens of this fair town. They are smiling, cheering and waving banners as these foot-soldiers charge headlong down their streets, breaking through and over the line at last. For these combatants, the contest has ended. Weary soldiers, both blue and grey, fall exhausted into the arms of comrades, limp to the rear, or stride away triumphantly--but all earn medals signifying commitment, perseverance and strength of heart.

    And so it went, on the morning of May 1, 2011 as over 700 marathoners and nearly 400 marathon relayers participated in the first-ever running of the Gettysburg North-South Marathon. In all parts of the country America is commemorating 150 years since the Civil War. This weekend the City of Gettysburg kicked off its own program of remembrance--undoubtedly to be highlighted two years from now by the 150th anniversary of the pivotal battle there on July 1-3, 1863.

    I had first come across news of the Gettysburg Marathon in mid February 2011 while searching for a reason to visit the town. It was time to see old friends who lived there. The May 1st date, however, would leave little more than two months for training. Normally, I’d train for three. Nevertheless, the opportunity to run through the historic town and portions of the battlefield was too much to resist.  The accelerated training began. As most runners know, a rapid increase in mileage makes one prone to injury. I would not escape the curse. Over time I developed a strain in the adductor muscle of the left groin and an Achilles problem in the right foot.

    I received physical therapy for the injuries and treated them with ice, massage and moderate running. I did manage a 20-mile training run and two 40-mile weeks, so my fitness level wasn’t all that bad. The morning of the marathon I was apprehensive but confident I could finish if I could make it to the halfway point. Walking and trotting were always an option. I was just excited to be a part of the event.


    The marathon was laid out on an out-and-back course beginning in the northwest section of Gettysburg and very quickly heading out of town and along the Mummasburg Road, past the railroad cut, the eternal flame memorial and into the rolling countryside. There were no major battles in this particular area. Confederate forces occupied most of the ground and fought with Union troops around the railroad cut. As the runners left town they encountered the first of many hills, some more challenging than others but all taking a toll on the legs. This is Pennsylvania farm country, with crop fields and orchards on either side of the road as far as the eye could see, interrupted occasionally by large barns and farm houses. Fields were being tilled and planted but there was little to be seen in the way of agricultural production going on. Nevertheless, the fields were mostly shades of green with large swaths of yellow flowers blooming here and there. 


    By mile three, a slight ache began in the right Achilles, an ache that would stay with me through the remainder of the race and get progressively more tender. But I knew how to take it easy and would cruise the hills as gently as possible. When slowing for a walk on the tough hills and through the water stops, I resumed running first with a limp, then a jog and finally with a near-normal stride. I credit this procedure with getting me through the 26.2 miles. At around mile nine, the road assumed an almost 1.5-mile unbroken descent before briefly leveling off and once again climbing. I remarked to a fellow runner how great it was to get this gravity-assisted push down the hill. We promised to enjoy it while we could, for on this out-and-back course, we’d encounter this same hill later, but from the bottom looking up.


Support for the runners was very good. Water stops appeared every two miles with plenty of water and Gatorade. Energy gels were also provided at a couple of stops, although I must have missed these. Spectator crowds were thin and mostly at the exchange points for those doing the relay. If it takes rock bands and lots of music to get you through a marathon, then I’m afraid you would have dropped out early. There were none of these. However, there were long stretches of country roads where it was just you, the farms, and runners in front and behind; plenty of time for contemplating the next hill, the next farm, the next footfall. There was no fighting for a place to run; no pushing or shoving. Lots of wide open space…

    A marathon attack plan evolved in phases as the race progressed. If I could just make it to that mile 5 painted on the road, perhaps I would have settled into a cruising stride. If I could achieve mile 10, then the halfway point at mile 13.1 should be reachable. After that, we’d be heading back and every step would take us closer to victory.  

    I eventually reached that halfway mark. Was there a clock displaying our time? I don’t remember. But I do recall checking my watch and feeling a slight letdown. The time was just under 2 hours at 1:50. Since the second half struggle is invariably slower than the first, I discounted the possibility of a sub-4-hour marathon at that point. It would be another 12 miles before I looked at that watch again. But for the time being I had turned around, heading back on the course. For the next several miles I continued to pass runners on the other side of the road heading in the opposite direction making their own approach to the halfway mark. I saw and felt their efforts, determination and sometimes pain abounding in the faces. But seeing these runners moving in the other direction also provided a quiet boost to my own spirits, I was already headed back.

    At mile 17, I got a thumbs-up from a fellow runner as I shouted excitedly that our remaining distance was now in the single digits. But oh, if we could just get to mile 20, those sweet 20’s. In the latter part of the race, while falling behind during run-walks up the hills, I consistently traded places with other runners. Once over the top, my running tempo would gradually increase, allowing me to slip ahead on the downslope. I also found myself regularly peering ahead at the road, squinting to make out the mile markers. I always looked far too early and they always arrived far later than I supposed.

    Eventually, I rambled over the mile 24 mark. Hallelujah! Just 2 more miles ‘til the line is crossed and the battle ends. Who couldn’t run 2 miles? I kept a sharp lookout for mile 25 while trudging up another long hill. Where were those big white numbers? Finally, as I pulled alongside another runner, I asked if we had unknowingly passed the mile marker. He checked his watch and, God be praised, surmised that we were well beyond that point and that, like mile 1, mile 25 had not been marked. It was shortly afterwards that we crested the final hill and all Gettysburg, such as it is, opened before us.

    Aching quads and Achilles be damned, I began a rapid descent into the city, less than a mile to cross the line. As the road leveled off I encountered a young lady walking ahead on the left. I had noted her running, then walking as I moved down the hill. Seeing my chance to encourage a fellow runner, I pointed to my watch and shouted that we both could finish under the four hour mark. My watch read 3:55. With a quarter mile to go, she thanked me and immediately sprinted onto the course, finishing seconds ahead of me. But my running adventure was not over and would be topped off by a near catastrophe. As I rounded the last corner, making a mad dash for the flag, a mother and son appeared on the road ahead of me. Just as I prepared to go around, the boy lost his cap and the mother stopped and crossed my path to pick it up. Only the sheer power of adrenalin kept me from a race-ending collision as I hurtled over mother and cap, staggered, mumbled an expletive, then regained my balance and continued the last 100 yards to the battle’s end.

    I finished the race in 3:57:13, making this the slowest of my 30 marathons. Even so, it was one of the most fulfilling, ranking right up there with Boston. I truly expected to be well over the 4-hour mark. The Achilles problem, the lack of training and a difficult course were setting me up for this. This finish made me realize again how a good marathon time is so dependent on good health and adequate training. It’s increasingly true as we age.  The two weeks of exercise and physical therapy for the left adductor apparently paid off. That strain was never a factor.

   The marathon planners went out of their way to kindle the spirit of 1863. Runners from southern states wore grey bibs; those from the North had bibs of blue. The sporty race shirts were well-designed in technical material with a mix of blue and grey. Age group awards went only to first place finishers; however, the awards were special little 6-inch brass and iron canons reminiscent of 1863. This unofficial battle for Gettysburg was once again won by Union foot-soldiers. Union runners were declared victorious (whether by sheer numbers or by finishing times I don’t know). As a token to the victors, each of us blue-coats received a commemorative drinking glass. “Glory, glory, hallelujah!” But as a personal demonstration of impartiality, and in a spirit of reconciliation with the south, the girl that I encouraged to fight on in those last brutal moments of the contest was wearing the grey bib of the southern states. My sportsmanship had nothing to do with how good she looked…


    The original plan for this race included two separate courses, one for the north and one for the south. They were to come together in the last few miles where a fight to the finish would commence. But resources and regulations caused this to be scrapped in favor of the one out-and-back rendition. All-in-all, the race was well done, particularly considering it was a first time event. I suspect it will only improve. It should be particularly exciting in the sesquicentennial year of 2013. This is a tough marathon course but well worth the run.

Tripler Ridge Hike, Hawaii March 2011
                                                                    Jim Buck
    For some months now I’ve been contemplating one of the forbidden hikes of Hawaii, the trek up the 3,922 steps of the Haiku stairs—the Stairway to Heaven. It’s forbidden because the stairs are not open to the public. It’s a grueling and sometimes dangerous climb. For this reason a watchman stands guard at the entrance during daylight hours to prevent average citizens from putting themselves in harm’s way. Nevertheless, there are ways around this obstacle—notably starting the hike in the early morning darkness before the guard’s arrival, crawling through locked gates and under fences whilefollowing muddy, hidden trails by flashlight.




    In a recent two-week trip to a friend’s estate in Aiea, Hawaii, near Pearl Harbor, I fully expected to take the Stairway challenge. But just when circumstances of timing and transportation cast their doubt on the mission, my Hawaii host, Miss V, heard from a co-worker about a little known alternate path to the top of the stairs—the Tripler Ridge Hike. Intrigued by this only somewhat illegal alternative, and inspired by the opportunity to start a hike at a more civilized hour, some internet research was in order. Enlisting the aid of an internet guru, we discovered an excellent narrative on the adventures of a very recent hiker of the Tripler trail (a). 

    The hiker provided great photos and spoke of the wonderful sights and challenges but he also cautioned on the very real dangers of the 6-mile one-way trek along the ridge. Even so, Miss V and I were psyched. Here was a chance to reach the apex of the fabled Stairway to Heaven without starting out at the ungodly hour of 4AM. We would wave our water bottles in the air as conquerors and then take a leisurely stroll down the steps, give a smug, hero-like thumbs-up to the guard and make our way to a bus ride back to the start.  Bring it on!
    And so went the planning. But as any student of military history knows, the first casualty of the battle is that glorious plan. The mid-morning start turned into an early afternoon kick-off. After all, there were chores to do, backpacks to prepare and lunches to make. The Tripler Ridge Trail begins in the housing area behind the Tripler Army Medical Center, the complex of flamingo-colored buildings visible on the hillside above Honolulu.

    It was close to 1PM as we located the trailhead and donned our packs. The weather was in full cooperation with temps in the low 80s, partly cloudy skies and a light breeze—a great day. The first sign we encountered at the start of the paved trail indicated the trail was off-limits to anyone but hikers and military vehicles. Since we fit the first category, we continued on. The path begins its upward climb from the first step. There’s almost no level passage until the first ridge is reached. About a quarter mile after our start another paved road branched off to the left. The sign there warned about trespassing and prosecutions but, in the absence of a sentry and feeling lucky, we took the turn, stepped over the chain barrier and pressed onward and upward.



    As we marched up the trail, periodically, I’d turn around to gauge our progress. It didn’t take long before the Tripler complex was left far below.


    Within a half mile a look to the rear offered stunning, panoramic views of civilized Oahu in the distance. In the first mile or so we were constantly rewarded for our climbing efforts with these spectacular extensive views of all we left behind.

    The weather in the islands can change at a moment’s notice. Mother Nature reminded us of this with an early downpour that mercifully lasted for only about ten minutes. Long enough, however to have us scrambling under a scraggy tree and donning our rain gear, which for me was nothing more than a SF Giants cap—more a psychological boost than any real shelter from the elements.
    Colorful wildflowers, berries and other vegetation of various types were abundant along the trail. I can’t name them but they did make the journey that much more pleasant. 


    We passed an unmanned communications station about a mile up the trail. The paved road ended at this point. It would be dirt and mud from here on out. And it seemed the further along we traveled, the narrower the trail became. As warned in the internet article on the hike, we maintained a watchful eye for wild hogs and the hunters who track them. Both would not be uncommon here. Even so, the closest we got to that kind of danger was the potential for looking up and getting a bird dropping in the eye.

    On reaching the top of the ridge line for the first time, we encountered a complex of towers supporting power lines passing across the ridge. The trail became more rugged from here, often dropping sharply into a valley before rising again to the next ridgeline. The footing was somewhat dubious with lots of slipping and sliding going on. The forests of strawberry guava trees and other heavy foliage often hid the trail but also provided welcome handholds during the near-continuous ascents and descents. At several locations, previous hikers had tied small ribbons to branches to indicate the correct direction. Also of considerable help was the occasional strand of rope left behind to assist in steep muddy drops or precarious climbs.  






      As we crested each successive ridgeline and drew closer to our destination the nature of our trek became more obvious. The final ridgeline and the top of the stairs were miles away. In between were other ridges and steep valleys of thick undergrowth. Taking another queue from the internet article on this hike, I retreived a pair of long pants from my backpack and pulled them over my hiking shorts. The trail was becoming increasingly encroached upon by heavy folliage. Without complete coverage, a lot of nasty cuts and scratches would be going on. As the trail wound its way here and there, up and down, there were several spots where significant drop-offs were evident. A slip in the mud, a roll off to the side, and a person could tumble tens or even hundreds of feet into the valley—an interesting scenario to contemplate.




     Already two hours into the hike and only 2 ½ miles toward our target, I could see that the goal of reaching the stairs much before dark was questionable at best. Almost four miles of the most precarious segments of the hike lay ahead. And then we needed to descend the stairs, stroll through the Kanehoe neighborhood and locate a bus stop. It was at this point we decided it best to take a lunch break and then retrace our steps back to the trailhead. We now had a good idea of what this trail was all about and would live to hike it another day.


    While eating our fabulous lunch of cheese, turkey and crackers—chased down by pure Hawaiian H2O and followed with a few handfuls of trail mix, I took several pictures of the far ridgeline. A possible man-made structure out there looked very much like it could be the communcations dishes at the top of the Stairway to Heaven. Later, on enlarging one of the photos and comparing it to an internet article on the stairs, I confirmed that the structure was indeed the pair of old microwave dishes sitting atop the abandoned station. This was important for us since it confirmed that the trail did in fact lead to a rear access to the famous stairway. We had been on the right track!


    All-in-all the Tripler Ridge Trail was a very enjoyable hike. According to my GPS tracker, we started at around 750 feet above sea level and hiked to about 1,600 feet before returning. Of course, there was a lot of hiking up and then down, followed by more hiking up and then down. We never reached our intended destination but we never seriously thought we could anyway. Meanwhile, there was good exercise, great views and another Hawaii adventure in the books. 
    The internet article on this hike warned of the many dangers to be encountered, particularly in the last few miles as the trail narrowed and became more precarious. The author talked of crawling spread-eagle at times to keep from sliding down a slope. He got to within a few hundred yards of the Stairway but was in real fear for his life if he continued. At times the drop-off could have been 1,000 feet and the path was only five inches wide. With the danger and the press of time, he decided to turn around and head back.
    As for lessons learned for me, and also for Miss V, an early morning departure is best for the Tripler hike because progress is often slow, and particularly if its entire length is to be attempted. One must keep in mind there are no rest stops or coffee shops along the way. All food and refreshment must be carried in. There are very significant dangers encountered on the hike and the chances of finishing it, or it finishing you, need to be considered. On the other hand, that 4AM early morning start and trek up those 3,922 steps of the Stairway to Heaven is beginning to look better all the time... 

(a) http://punynari.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/tripler-ridge-oahu/

The Baltimore Marathon, October 2010: How 'bout Them Oh's?
    The tenth anniversary running of the Baltimore Marathon was held on Saturday, October 16, 2010. I was there to see it all go down, literally. Well, OK, the race itself was an overall success but the El Sobrante representative had personal problems. Those knowing that chap might well ask: What’s new about that? But I digress. 
  The morning of the marathon began cool and crisp in downtown Baltimore as marathoners and first-leg relay runners gathered near the Orioles baseball stadium at Camden Yards. As we approached the 8:00 AM start the temperature had reached about 50 degrees, the sky was a clear blue and the sun had begun its ascent from somewhere behind a wall of buildings. 
    Runners did their last minute stretches or bounced up and down and flailed their arms to keep warm. It was a colorful and eclectic group, including Baltimore Ravens purple, Orioles orange, and all the colors of the rainbow. Some wore tights, some shorts. Others wore several layers, some almost no layers. Several wore the long-sleeved shirt given to all registered marathoners. I must say, I don’t think I’ll be wearing that shirt for any casual running. Made of 100% polyester, it’s hot lime in color, much like the glow necklaces kids wear at Halloween.
It undoubtedly can be seen for miles. In fact, as runners moved into position moments before the start, I was momentarily blinded when a person wearing this shirt stepped in front of me, forcing me to avert my eyes. This is what it’s like when a delirious man, lost in the hot desert, looks up at the glaring noonday sun. This is probably a great shirt but it’s best viewed from a distance wearing sunglasses.

    Just prior to the national anthem and the marathon start, we were treated to an airborne delivery of Old Glory. A skydiver slowly came into focus from about a mile away. His canopy blazed red, white and blue; red smoke trailed from his shoes; and a large American flag fluttered from his feet. He came to a perfect soft landing a few yards from the start line. In the presentation of the national anthem, when the singer arrived at the start of the stanza “Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave…” hundreds in the audience joined the singer in a loud shout of that first word, “Oh!—a tradition at all Oriole home games.

Unfortunately, I got into the habit of taking these every day, probably masking a gradually worsening injury and preventing adequate healing. 
    So there we were, heading up Paca Street from the tall buildings of downtown to the local neighborhoods of north Baltimore. It was a gradual but steady climb taking us along streets walled-in on both sides with the traditional brick-front row homes of many an eastern city. Eventually, the course wound into picturesque Druid Hill Park with its tree lined paths and grassy meadows. Interested spectators and curious residents offered cheers of encouragement. The sun was fully up by now, at times blinding our view of the road ahead. Even so, its light buoyed the spirits and warmed the air, making for a potentially pleasant romp through the city. My hamstring caused an occasional grimace, behaving more cantankerous than expected. Nevertheless, I assume    When the race finally kicked off, the temperature had risen a bit, probably due more to the press of runners and the body heat than to the weather. There may have been close to 4,500 runners there at the start, counting the full marathoners and the over 900 runners doing the first leg of the marathon relay. The events that morning included the marathon, the 4-person marathon relay, the half marathon and a 5K race. With over 8,000 runners, the largest event of the day was the half marathon. The Baltimore event is staged by the same organization that produced the Oakland Marathon of March 2010. In both races the half-marathoners start later in the morning and then merge into the full marathon course. The co-mingling has a positive impact on morale and esprit of runners in both races.
Now as to the saga of the El Sobrante runner, well, this ended up a sad day. I had been experiencing left hamstring pain for the past several weeks, perhaps the result of a strain on the tennis court. Nevertheless, I had accomplished long runs of 18 and 20 miles. These were not without a constant nagging ache in the upper hamstring where it joins the hip. But a couple of ibuprofen several times a day eased this somewhat. d it would settle into a dull ache and I could attempt to ignore its complaints. Surely the three ibuprofen I took hours before would put this inconvenience to rest.  

But it was not long after passing mile six, following brief chats with a couple of folks about California, that a debilitating bolt of pain struck my left leg, along the hamstring and coursing into the hip joint. With a sharp cry of “Oh!”, I immediately lost all support on that leg, somehow managing to keep from crashing into the asphalt. An attempt at another step brought me to my knees. My day was done. Atlanta, the Greek goddess of running had sent a bolt of lightning in my direction—punishment for not heeding her warnings…or perhaps for passing one too many women on the route. At any rate, I hobbled over to the curb, evaluated my condition and contemplated how to get back to the start area.  
    When Orioles baseball fans have something favorable to talk about, the phrase “How ‘bout them O’s” is often the first words out of their mouths. For me this day the phrase was shortened to just “Oh my.” Surprisingly, walking, even at a brisk pace, was still a possibility. With short steps, the pain was somewhat bearable. And so I began the four-mile limp-walk back to Camden Yards. Occasional attempts at a trot proved too painful. I could have awaited the rescue wagon and taken a ride back but I assumed the walk, if possible, would do me good. As I advanced down St. Paul Street marathoners of all shapes and sizes ran
on by. Then the back of the packers trotted past, followed eventually by the walkers. I was left to eat their dust. This was my first DNF (did not finish) result. And so it goes. You play the game and take your chances.



    A visit to the sports medicine doctors afterwards indicated a somewhat torn hamstring. Running would be out of the question for at least two months. According to the doctor, those moderate doses of ibuprofen taken in the days and hours before the marathon undoubtedly masked the severity of the hamstring problem. The pills also probably inhibited normal healing by greatly reducing the inflammation the body employs when rebuilding injured tissue. Ibuprofen is truly a miracle drug but it’s wise to know the limitations.
   Although I traversed little more than a third of the course, I was impressed with the marathon and its implementation. The course had its elevation challenges, although not quite the hill climbs of the Oakland Marathon. The start and finish in the area of the two sports stadiums was interesting, providing plenty of parking and elevating the overall feel of a major sports event. The pre-race expo at the Ravens stadium featured many displays and merchants.
 It’s too bad I was unable to complete the run. Just the same, for the brief time I participated, the course inspired fond memories of races gone by when, as a new runner I pounded the streets of Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington, DC. Most of my racing PRs were accomplished in these neighborhoods.

The Inaugural Oakland Marathon, March 2010    

So here we are heading up Broadway in the center of downtown Oakland. We’ve just passed the splendid art deco-styled Paramount Theater on our left. This isn’t so bad. Where’s the challenge here? The streets are on an even keel. There’s a gentle upward slope a few blocks ahead but nothing unreasonable. But wait; just coming into full view now, I see a range of tree-covered hills off ahead in the distance. Is that where we’re headed? Hmmm, I’ve been running with the 3 hour, 20 minute pace group. I think it’s time to pull back a little. Save some steam for the demands ahead…
    So it was as roughly 1,000 runners headed up Broadway at 7:30 AM on March 28, 2010 for the inaugural Oakland Marathon, the first 26.2 mile event in the city in 25 years. It was a chilly morning at 50 degrees but the day was dry and the sun was there to brighten the spirit. Perfect!
    A few minutes before all this started, as we stood around in anticipation of getting underway, a very tall black man, dressed head to toe in black and followed by a cameraman, crashed through the front ranks and jogged up through the middle of the runners, offering high-fives and best wishes. Those around me wondered, “Who was that man without a mask? A basketball player? A rap musician?” He did look familiar. As it turns out, it was comedian, actor and Oakland native, Mark Curry. Check him out on You-Tube, but I warn you, it’s not suitable for delicate sensitivities. Mayor Dellums followed this with a few words, a local resident sang the national anthem and then off we were. 
    The course took us through some challenging terrain and a nice sampling of Oakland neighborhoods. From the heart of the city and Broadway we headed onto Piedmont Avenue with its quaint shops and local restaurants. From there runners re-crossed Broadway and eventually made their way to College Avenue in Rockridge. We were headed toward the University of California at Berkeley but soon made a U-turn and retraced our steps. An advantage of a local marathon is the likelihood of encountering familiar terrain and acquaintances along the route. In Rockridge, a fellow but semi-retired runner, Jerry, got my attention and paced me for awhile, about 30 yards, before thinking better of it. He also warned that I was far behind and that my manhood was in jeopardy since about 100 girls were ahead of me. In the end that number was wildly overestimated--and this from a math professor!
    At about 5 miles, a left hand turn off College soon started us on the major climb of the marathon. For the next five miles, runners faced steady and sometimes steep ascents along local streets and bike paths. It wasn’t too long after entering this section that we faced the first casualty of the day. Good Samaritans were tending to a female runner who lay on her back, out cold, in the middle of the street. It seemed a tad unusual to have a casualty so early-on in a marathon. There were still over 20 miles to go. Mind you, I think it entirely possible that someone intensely concerned with such challenging hills might swoon and fall to the ground at first sight of the task ahead. Swooning has been known to happen.
   But some of us had a plan. With a longtime disdain for hill training, I knew I’d be weak in this section. My approach would be to run a portion of the hill, then gear down to a power-walk, alternating this until reaching the summit. Many runners passed by during this process; however, my plan included taking revenge on the downhill. And so it was. 
    Runners continued the climb, passing Lake Temescal and entering the Montclair community. Hundreds of happy, exuberant onlookers lined the paths and streets in this area, shouting encouragement and embarrassing me into running, even though my plan at times called for that tactical stroll. The wishes and high-fives from supporters, known and unknown, does wonders to lift the spirit of those passing through. In that regard, I make it a point to wave to onlookers to acknowledge their presence and good wishes. This in-turn often raises the decibel level of their shouting.


Figure 1: Nearing the end of the hill ascent.

    Not long after Montclair, around mile 10, high in the Oakland hills, we encountered the picturesque Mormon Temple. Here we had fabulous views overlooking Oakland and the bay area in general. But more significantly, the daunting hill climb was done! Let the downhill roll begin! This section of the course was very exhilarating, like being in a racecar and moving through the gears into overdrive. Gravity takes over. The legs turn over quicker and the stride lengthens. I ran pell-mell down the hill for nearly 3 miles, passing many a runner, although several would later return the favor. For a brief period Lincoln Avenue became Easy Street. I gazed straight ahead, zigging to the right, zagging to the left, skirting around those taking a more leisurely approach. The legs were on automatic, feet striking the ground heel first, rolling on and pushing off with the toes. The machine was functioning. Such bliss—all the more enjoyable after a serious climb.


 Figure 2: Lincoln Avenue.

    But this was a marathon and not a sprint and the good times would soon give way to new challenges. These obstacles, however, would be of my own making. The course for the second half of the race, through the Fruitvale community, past Jack London Square, around the city’s beautiful Lake Merritt and then on to the finish line would be mostly level and easy-going. By mile 14 the runners had turned right onto International Avenue heading west toward the waterfront village of Jack London Square. It’s here that I started to feel trouble behind the toes at the ball of my right foot. A large blister was developing and getting worse with each step. As a result, I eased back, implementing a strategy of running a mile and walking 50 yards en route to the finish 12 miles away. This had worked for me in past marathons when injuries threatened a completion.

    Nevertheless, as the pain worsened, the alternating strategy turned into a mere quarter mile run followed by the same 50-yard walk. And so went the last 8 miles. Attempting to run by striking the ground with only the heel or only the toes does not work and amounts to a gimpy style that only leads to other problems. But that didn’t stop me from trying it. However, the best method I’ve found is to run normally as far as possible while enduring the agony and cherishing the reward of that 50-yard walk. It’s amazing how simple things can feel so rewarding—an enlightening marathon moment.

 Figure 3: A demonstration of the run-walk for the half-marathoner in back.

    Continuing west toward Chinatown, our course merged with runners in the half marathon event. These runners had started their race an hour and a half after the full marathon. The two groups would run the last 10 miles together. This transition came off smoothly and provided a welcome relief from the sparse marathon-only company of the last few miles. These were largely the back-of-the-pack half marathoners. Nearly all were in high spirits, chatting and seemingly enjoying themselves. Several times as I passed some of these runners, they recognized the “FULL” tag on the rear of my shirt and would shout words of encouragement. Marathoners were required to wear this tag to distinguish them from the half marathon and relay groups.  At this point in the race, it was my thought that the tag had been misprinted. Instead of F-U-L-L it should have read F-O-O-L. 
    Shortly after the merge of the two races, most of us passed under a smoking, fiery cast metal arch erected by Oakland’s Crucible art institute. I wish it had been me causing those flames but, alas, my speed was not about to set anything on fire. Next up was the waterfront neighborhood of Jack London Square. The big push was now on to make it through to Mandela Parkway and the great 3-mile circuit around Lake Merritt. The lake was the last major geographic feature and hurdle before once again hitting the downtown streets and the glorious finish.  
   There we were, heading for a left hand turn along some city street in West Oakland (by this time the twists and turns of the route were just a blur in my mind), people watched and cheered from along the curb. Then, up ahead to my right, I heard and saw a rather heavy-set lady screaming out loudly from the sidewalk “Don’t any of you people go to church on Sunday? Don’t you know I missed my gospel session this morning because of you?” That was a different kind of sentiment, although it did bring a smile. I thought briefly, lady, how about doing something good for yourself-- jumping in here and running to the church for a change. Nevertheless, I’m sure others were also upset with the traffic snarls and road closures. Yet this was a wonderful day for Oakland, bringing people together and enlivening the city in a great cause for fitness and camaraderie. 
    Well, I eventually made it to Lake Merritt, a sparkling jewel in the heart of the city. It looked lovely, indeed. If I had had a rear view mirror it would’ve been even lovelier as I left it behind, knowing less than a mile separated me from the finish. Upon turning the last corner and seeing that banner down the street, I charged the line with all I had, wincing all the way but also realizing I could limp to my heart’s content once on the other side. 





Figure 4: The finish line early in the race. 

     It was a complete surprise to see both the half and full marathoners crossing the same finish line near City Hall close to where it all started. But the computers sorted that out easy enough, although it did make for some crowded conditions. All-in-all, this inaugural Oakland Marathon was well done. The course was challenging but I thought my fitness level was right—considering I had pre-planned to power-walk some of that hill section. Overall, perhaps an extra 5 minutes was spent on the hills. The foot injury was the real issue, probably resulting in 10 to 15 minutes of lost time. I crossed the line in 3:47:55.
 Refreshments after the event were adequate: water, sports drink, bananas and bagels. The D-Tag throw-away chip timing worked well and the long-sleeved technical shirt handed out looks like a good addition to the wardrobe. Refreshments and aid stations along the route were frequent and well-staffed. The volunteers were enthusiastic. Individuals were happy to see this event in their neighborhoods, offering passing runners candy, fruit and, in one instance, beer. Parking downtown was free and easy. Entertainment along the 26 miles included rock musicians, drum ensembles and people in costumes celebrating the city of the Athletics and Raiders. Crowds were heaviest on the streets of Montclair, around Lake Merritt and near the finish line. A sense of curiosity, excitement and pride seemed to fill the air. 
    For this race, I wore on my running shorts the Maryland State flag, representing my former area of residence. As I moved along the marathon route, at least eight people recognized the flag, shouting out “yeah Maryland” or some such remark. When I’d raise my hands and return the salute, I’d get another, higher volume yell of support. After the marathon, while limping around trying to stay loose, a few visitors and former residents stopped to share words on Maryland. I was startled when one big guy rushed up and proclaimed he really liked my running shorts, while simultaneously raising his arm to my face, proudly displaying his right bicep--plastered with a tattoo of the Maryland flag! Figure the odds… 
    As for the foot injury, the podiatrist surmises there was an abundance of friction taking place in that right shoe, causing a massive blister. The solution is to reduce the foot motion—possibly through tighter lacing, a narrower shoe or a shoe with slightly more stability around the toe box. There’s no lasting damage to the foot. I foresee a few months to contemplate solutions, then a new race, a new plan.

Quebec City Marathon des Deux Rives, Quebec, Canada,
30 August 2009

            The sultry month of August is perhaps not the ideal time for a marathon. But in Canada the dog days of late summer take an early exit. By the end of the month the mornings have a chill in the air, the afternoons warming pleasantly in the midday sun. Such were my expectations for the Quebec City Marathon, the running of the two shores of the St. Lawrence River, on Sunday, 30 August 2009.  
            I had reached Canada on Friday by way of a two-day, 750-mile drive from Washington, D.C. through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. A major stop along the route included an overnight at New York’s Lake George and visits to Lake Champlain and the Revolutionary War’s Fort Ticonderoga. I retraced this route on the return, but on that occasion making an overnight stop and visit to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point
  Saturday’s trip to the marathon expo necessitated a ferry ride across the St. Lawrence River from the south-bank city of Levis to Quebec City on the north shore. The sailing, however, was unexpectedly delayed for two hours--unexpected by me, that is. As it turns out, the fighter jets of the French Air Force’s aerobatic team put on a scheduled display of flying precision that dazzled crowds lining both banks. The aircraft zoomed up and down the river carrying out precarious maneuvers while trailing streams of red, white and blue smoke to brighten an otherwise grey, gloomy sky.


          The expo was a fair size, featuring mostly clothing sales and marathon pundits hawking various events, but alas, I could find no free food. I retrieved my race packet and timing chip and stared blankly at the volunteer giving me directions to the pasta party table. The elderly gentleman chattered away in French but I recognized none of the words. Being accommodating, I nodded, mumbled and pointed to the end of the room. He grinned affirmatively as I moved off in that direction. The pasta party later that evening was very nice; no special entertainment but lots of spaghetti, salad and dessert
       Race morning dawned dismal and wet. There in the south bank city of Levis most runners huddled inside a local high school as a steady light rain fell outside. Temperatures hovering in the low 50s greeted them as they moved outside for the 8:30 start. The statistics would later show a total of 871 runners joining the fray. Not a large total but enough to make it interesting. And as long as the rain stayed light, the conditions were good. As usual in these events, runners were dressed in everything from tank tops and shorts to full length tights and jackets. 
         Waiting for the cannon shot, I initially took up station near the middle of the pack; however, on glancing about I noticed a tall fellow a few steps ahead. He was no different from the other runners, except for the rabbit ears sprouting from his head. Inked on the ears were the numbers 3:30. This was the pace group leader assisting those wanting to finish at 3 hours, 30 minutes or below. My personal goal was in the 3:30-4:00 range, although I felt fit and would try to get as close as possible to the 3:30 time. With that in mind, I weaved ahead through the ranks and put the rabbit behind. As the cannon sounded, I quietly resolved not to see those ears again. 
        The marathon course passes along local neighborhood streets and bike paths as it makes its way to the St. Lawrence River. The runners approach the river from the east and then begin a westward trek, staying mostly within sight of the river on the right. The bridge that would carry them across the St. Lawrence to the north shore looms far off in a distant haze. The majority of the race occurs on the south shore. Once across the bridge, only 15 kilometers remain to the finish in Quebec’s old walled city. But getting there is the issue.
    As the runners worked their way to the south shore they were treated to great views of old Quebec across the river, highlighted by the towering landmark of Hotel Frontenac. Aside from that, the sightseeing was limited to ships at pier and local river traffic plying the waters. The course itself was a good one. There were the occasional hills, but none too long or too steep. Once over the bridge and headed east along the north shore toward old Quebec and the finish, the route was mostly level and fast. Of course, ‘fast’ would be a relative term at that point.

           The rain coming down in the opening moments subsided for awhile as we headed down the streets of Levis. An interesting aspect of this run was the marking of the course. With Canada being totally on the metric system, there were no mile-markers; however, each of the 42.2 kilometers was brightly posted in black on yellow. Not only that, but the markers counted down the kilometers in reverse. So the first sign encountered was 42K, followed by 41K, etc. Running by kilometers seemed to have a confidence building benefit. Unlike running miles, the kilometers came up much faster, giving the false impression of more rapid progress.
           Somewhere in those first few klicks a young runner ahead caught my attention. He had a waddle of a running form for one, but as I casually pulled forward of him, he sprinted to the front once again. Then, while still moving forward, he began traversing horizontally back and forth across the running lane. OK, so maybe he didn’t like getting passed by an old geezer—but pretending to be a California Highway Patrol car doing a traffic break? To his credit, Mr. CHP continued to move ahead and I never saw him again in the race.
      The crowds along the route were small but enthusiastic. Slapping high-fives with youngsters brought laughter and shouts. They were happy to be in the game. As I passed under the half marathon banner at 1:39 I realized I was six minutes ahead of a 3:30 finish.  My spirits soared. Also, looking around at the equipment and barriers in the area, I could see this was where the half marathon race had begun. Those runners were now many kilometers to our front. The half marathon included an additional 2,042 runners. It’s now obvious why there were more spectators and musical entertainment in the marathon’s second half.  That entertainment ranged from small orchestras to two-person combos, even an all-girl singing group. One ensemble consisted entirely of bongo drums. All the groups were under cover of small marquees to protect against the off and on showers.
          Crossing the Quebec Bridge over the St. Lawrence provided a view downriver toward the distant Atlantic Ocean and also to the finish area in Old Quebec, now fewer than 15 klicks away. Once down off the bridge, the river on my right, the most difficult part of the course was over. It was simply a matter of plodding straight ahead, attempting to keep up with the individual and small clumps of runners. But that became a losing battle. While I jogged past a runner in trouble here and there, others slipped ahead of me.






            Around the 10 kilometer mark I began getting an ache in the front end of each foot as it struck the ground. Perhaps the shoes I wore did not have sufficient support? Since taking a sit-down break was out of the question, I began short-duration walks every kilometer and then every half. My greatest shock during one of these brief strolls occurred when the man with the 3:30 rabbit ears hopped on by with about 4 klicks to go. There was no crowd with him; only two or three runners. Immediately I resumed the run, attempted to keep up. But the foot pain was too much. While I fell behind, a little demon on my shoulder admonished: “This is a marathon. You’re supposed to suffer! What a wimp!” To no avail, I continued a run-walk routine and the rabbit hopped out of sight. 
        About 2 or 3 klicks from the finish the skies opened up again, this time with a heavy downpour. By this point, however, it was of little consequence. I eventually reached the long red carpet and crossed the finish line at 3:33:22. It was not under 3:30 but close enough for a moral victory. All participants received a large multicolored medal with an unusual feature. At the touch of a button a stream of little red lights blinked across the medal--very suitable for Halloween or Christmas.  After helping myself to some refreshments, I limped over to the far corner of the finish area where free massages were provided. It was nice to crash on the table as two Canadian ladies each took a leg and proceeded to rub away the fatigue. Neither spoke any English but they recognized my pain as I periodically recoiled in agony from the muscle cramps. Nevertheless, a massage is always positive.

           The Quebec City Marathon was very well done. Along the route there were plenty of well-attended water stops. They also provided Gatorade that was not overly diluted and, in the latter half, stops offered fresh fruit and sports gel. Race clocks were positioned at the half marathon, 10K and 5K points. Counting participants in the 5K and 10K races, a total of 4,894 runners took part in events that day. The only down side for me was the poor quality of the race bib. The paper could not stand up to the rigors of my particular long run. Within 15 klicks of the start the upper pins had torn through and the bib was flapping in the breeze—very distracting. No fewer than four times during the race I had to slow to a walk in order to re-pin the number. All of this was caused by copious amounts of rain, drinking water, Gatorade and sweat running down the shirt. 
          As if the marathon wasn’t great enough, Quebec is also a very picturesque and historical vacation spot. In addition to the majestic Hotel Frontenac dominating the city, there are wonderful restaurants and places of interest. It’s a city conducive to walking, with lots of shops, narrow streets, and colorful houses dating from the 17th century. It was outside the walls of Quebec City on the Plains of Abraham where British regulars defeated the French garrison in 1759—a battle that led to the ousting of French forces and the eventual British takeover of Canada. One could look at Quebec as a poor man’s visit to France. It’s steeped in French language and culture and is certainly worth the trip—even if you only run the 5K!




Spring Placed on Hold: Adventures at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon, April 2009
    The day was drawing to a close in Seattle as I worked my way through late rush-hour traffic, nosing the little rental car toward the Yakima Valley 120 miles to the east, across Washington’s Cascade Mountains. Although still daylight, heavy clouds cloaked the sun, the wipers working hard to stay ahead of a steady downpour. 
    It was April 2, 2009, two weeks into the new spring. But about 30 miles outside Seattle, an ominous sign indicated winter was not ready for an exit. Rain had given way to cute fluffy snowflakes. They fell lightly at first then increased in intensity as the car moved steadily east. Not to worry, these were big wet flakes, the kind that melt as they hit the ground. 
    At a convenient point, I pulled to the side of the road and telephoned ahead to my friends that I was indeed on my way but was encountering some white stuff. Bill and Mary Jo live in Ellensburg, only a stone’s throw from the starting line of the marathon. “That’s okay,” Bill assured me. “The summit pass at Snoqualmie is clear, and traffic is moving.” That was reassuring; however, did Bill really mention a mountain summit and a place named after snow? 
    As I headed east and gained altitude, the snowflakes changed to the smaller, drier variety, the kind that lingers. The white stuff accumulated on the road, and most traffic began slowing accordingly. Daylight was quickly fading and taking visibility along with it. Within a couple of miles of the summit, all traffic began narrowing down from four lanes to one. Cars, trucks and assorted big-rigs pulled to the shoulder to mount snow chains. My little Kia sedan came equipped with front-wheel drive…but no chains. Hmm, this would be interesting. Many cars had difficulty getting traction. One expensive sedan lay crumpled against a retaining wall, steam curling into the air. 
    Soon it was my turn to enter the single file of vehicles creeping their way to the summit. There were several inches of accumulation now as the snow continued to fall from a nighttime sky. Vehicle headlights and an occasional street lamp provided the only illumination. In squeezing down to one lane, I was reluctantly forced to bring the Kia to a complete stop. Now, as I gently pressed the accelerator, the car moved, not forward as intended, but sideways to the right, directly into the path of a slow-moving big-rig, its headlights glaring and engine roaring. I had a sinking feeling about this. What was my insurance situation? Would I be spending the night in the mountains? Where was my overcoat? Was this marathon really that important? Ever so lightly, I applied the brake and the Kia slid to a halt. With not a second to lose, I shifted into reverse and once-again squeezed the accelerator. Miraculously, the little car moved smartly back. The truck, trailer and all its massive wheels churned up little wads of snow as the whole structure slipped ever so closely by. 
    As the big-rig cleared the front of the Kia, I remembered something Bill had said during a cell phone update--one of those calls when he suggested there just might be a slight problem at the pass. He advised that, if the snow should be heavy, I’d do best to fall in behind one of those eighteen-wheelers and let it clear the way through the snow. With that in mind, the car in a forward gear, and the wheels spinning I took off after the truck. Staying within twenty yards of its rear bumper for the next couple of miles up and over the pass, I periodically glanced at the speedometer. The needle never rose above the 5 MPH mark. Even so, I was supremely happy just to be moving forward. 
    As we made our way up the pass, only blackness showed in the rear view mirror. As it turns out, my vehicle was the last to venture across the summit that night. Ahead, the snow continued to fall, visibility limited to about thirty yards; my scenic view limited to the rear end of a tractor trailer. Also, the poor visibility made it mostly impossible to determine if we were on a two or four-lane highway, somewhat akin to driving through a tunnel with snow falling from its ceiling. 
    Once over the summit, my big-rig trail blazer eventually pulled to the side of the road and left me to my own resources. At that point, however, it was strictly a matter of staying nose-to-the windshield, peering into the void and keeping the car moving ahead at a steady 25 MPH. Touching the brake and turning the wheel were done with great trepidation. After about 20 miles the flakes stopped falling and the highway began to clear. On arrival at Ellensburg, the stars were blinking and the roads were dry. It hadn’t rained or snowed there. Mary Jo had made some wonderful chicken, and I had dinner at 10:30 PM. The normal two-hour trip had taken five hours. Three days later as I returned to Seattle, I would see the snow piled high above the shoulders around Snoqualmie Pass. Although too late to assist in my travails, the snow plows must, indeed, have been brought out of premature summer storage to fight the elements one more time. 
    Oh yeah, the marathon. The course begins in Ellensburg and follows the Yakima River as it meanders through the Yakima River Canyon to the rural town of Selah, north of Yakima City. Runners move along the asphalt surface of the Canyon Road which is closed to traffic for the event. Through most of the 26.2 miles, runners have striking views of the canyon walls rising 3,000 feet on either side of the swiftly-moving river. The rocky cliffs are dappled in pinks, browns and grays as the sun moves along the surface, snow-trimmed mountains forming a picturesque backdrop. The marathon has about a 300-foot elevation drop from start to finish and a nearly two-mile downhill charge to the finish line. Unfortunately for hill-wimps, these features are offset by a rolling course and two major hill climbs. 
    Because Bill provides emergency support for the race through his local amateur radio club, we drove the course the day before. He performed radio checks and I surveyed the true nature of the challenge ahead. It was a nice drive, very scenic. I was anxious to get my feet on the course, particularly as our vehicle crested the last hill and I saw an inviting descent to the finish. The next day, however, I was painfully reminded of the difference in driving a course vs. running it. When ascending a hill on foot, there is no accelerator to boost the RPMs. It can be more akin to getting out of the car, going around the back and pushing it up the hill. 
    On race morning, Saturday, April 4, the weather was cool and crisp, perhaps in the low to mid-30s. But the sun shone brightly and there was little wind. At 8:00 AM a big-rig gave a long blast on its air horn and just fewer than 500 runners set off down the road. I came dressed in my traditional California running shorts but, in deference to the temperature, wore gloves and both a long sleeved and a sleeveless shirt. The lightness of the outfit proved crucial as temperatures rose to about 50 degrees by the time the finish line was crossed. 
    I took my place in the middle of the pack and slowly moved forward as the run progressed and I reached a reasonable pace. After a couple of loops through farmland on back roads the course settled in along the river and we encountered our first hills. I had already passed my friends at their radio position near the 3.5 mile mark. Runners were spreading out now. Some of the early sprinters were falling off the pace, and I began to reel them in one at a time. Around mile twelve, I caught up with an older gentleman carrying a large American flag. He is a naturalized citizen who loves this country and celebrates by running the race every year. As I approached I recited the national anthem, and we saluted as I went by. 
    Later, the course began to catch up with me as we entered the second half of the marathon and attacked the more significant hills. Some runners were now turning the tables and slipping past me. This was not a good sign. The young lady I had been trying to keep up with, who had obviously inspired me with her form, was now way off in the distance. With fewer than 500 people in the race, and a course that curved with the river, there were occasions when I ran alone for several minutes at a time, no runners in sight—a far different experience than the big marathons like Berlin with 40,000 runners and hundreds of competitors always in view. There are pros and cons to each race. 
    Water-stops were provided every 2-3 miles and I took full advantage, walking through them as I downed water and sports drink. Around mile fifteen I began slurping my one packet of energy gel, hoping this would boost me over the big hill I knew was lurking in the distance. But these last hills, particularly the mile-long climb beginning around mile 21 were too much for me. I had no reason to give my life for this course and soon began occasional walks to conserve energy. Upon cresting the last of the hills around mile 24, the time had come to pick up the pace. As I put more energy into my effort, I noted with dismay that my legs were not moving any faster. The hamstrings and quads were balking. This is where the lack of hill training came home to roost. Instead of powering through the last two miles, I continued a run-walk routine. The legs were shot.
    At the mile 24 water stop, a runner who appeared to be in my age group had stopped for replenishment. Spurning the last-minute water, I instead cruised on by. As I passed, he must have noted the grey hair and became concerned that another old guy might grab his prize. He shouted a question about my age but must have misunderstood my reply, for a few minutes later he came charging past me, full of determination, once again regaining the lead. Talking to him after the race, neither of us knew our actual age-group finish. In the award ceremonies later that day, his furious dash to the finish had been unnecessary; he took first in the age group below mine, but still in the geezer category. 
    For one of the smaller events, the Yakima Marathon was very well run, and I would highly recommend it, although it would be smart to include some hill work in your training. The water stops were sufficient and well staffed. There was a pasta dinner the night before and an awards dinner after the race. The post-race meal included baked potatoes with all the toppings plus a fresh salad and a wide variety of fixings. At both meals there was plenty of good company and several entertaining speakers. The Marathon Maniacs running club attended in force, including one maniac who had run all fifty states—and did it nine times! This was my 26th marathon event—a bit skimpy compared to some of these other achievements. 
    Since the Yakima Marathon is run along a closed course, there are no big crowds to cheer on the competitors. Running inspiration had to come from within and from your fellow marathoners. There were also no live music groups to provide excitement. Nevertheless, some rousing music was encountered at a few spots along the route. Atop one of the hills, large speakers blasted strains of high-energy music far down the canyon. Also, there were several locations where someone had scaled the cliff face and placed a portable boom box in a niche in the rock. It was curious to approach these spots on the run, look around for the music source, and eventually see a boom box there all by itself, providing entertainment to some lonely runner. 
    Plenty of refreshments were provided after the marathon, and massages were offered at the bargain price of one dollar a minute. Bus transportation was provided back to the start, and, for those so inclined, free showers, including shampoo and towels, were offered at a nearby high school. This race was not one of my best; those lie in the distant past. I hoped to finish under 3:30 but settled for 3:43. It was good enough for an age-group first but no course records. Perhaps the sub-3:30 days are behind me too. Perhaps I just need a kinder, gentler course… 
    As an integral part of these “destination” marathon vacations, I spend some time absorbing the sights and sounds of the local culture. This occasion took me back over the Snoqualmie Pass and into Seattle. There I hiked the waterfront, ate fish and chips, visited the downtown library, rode the monorail and toured the harbor. The sun was out in all its glory, and it was time well spent. I also learned first-hand of the goodwill and honesty of the local populace. On my last day in Seattle, I had demonstrated my absentmindedness on two occasions by leaving my expensive little camera on the ground in a parking lot and later by leaving the camera bag in the back of the rental car. I didn’t miss either one until about to board the flight back to California. I also had no idea where I had left them. After a number of phone calls and emails to Seattle over several days, both items were found and subsequently delivered to me in excellent condition. We hear a lot about people behaving badly, but I take heart in knowing there are probably many more folks out there prepared to do the right thing.

A Saintly Quest: Le Marathon du Mont Saint Michel, May 2008 

    One of the most picturesque sights in all of Europe, the Abbey of Mont St. Michel, was also the destination of 5,000 runners on a stormy wet afternoon in late May, 2008. Below a dark gray sky in a steady downpour, I stood amidst this colorful mass of humanity. With the rain that fell heavily all that day, perhaps it is more rightly termed a “sea” of humanity. We were huddled together, checking our watches. The loudspeakers undoubtedly provided last minute directions, although the static-filled French words lay beyond my comprehension. 

    I was beginning to feel cramped as runners squeezed closer to the front. Fully half were wearing plastic trash bags over their running clothes, fending off as many raindrops as possible. As for me, I took the more noble approach, wearing tank-top and shorts open to the ravages of nature. Of course, no one had offered me a trash bag anyway. 
    All these bodies were entirely too close. If we must cram together, can’t we at least sprinkle a few women into the group? Rubbing shoulders, grunting and snorting with other men must be a European thing. I stood poised for the retort of the starting gun, wearing my traditional California flag shorts and sporting an Orioles baseball cap—low key emblems of America. I felt compelled to display my nationality but in no way sought to strut these symbols as if on parade. I normally do not wear the cap; however, on this day it had an essential purpose. The long bill extended forward, keeping the rain off my face. The major downside of the rain was thereby limited to the wetness and weight of shoes and socks. But the rain also provided advantages in those 55-60 degree temperatures by refreshing and cooling the body. 
    This day began ten hours prior as I awoke in the seaside resort of St. Malo, about 200 miles west of Paris. St. Malo is in Brittany on France’s channel coast. To most of the world that would be the English Channel. Here it’s simply La Manche—the sleeve, the channel. In medieval times this walled city was fortified, essentially to keep out the English. The most unusual aspect of the Mont St. Michel Marathon is that it begins, not in the morning when marathons generally get underway, but in the late afternoon at 4:30 PM when most sensible people are thinking of what’s for dinner. I reasoned that such a late start was needed to get runners across the causeway to Mont St Michel while the tide was out. It would be bad publicity to have runners washed out to sea when about to fulfill their dreams of marathon glory. Later, as I traversed the causeway to the isle, I found this was not the case; the causeway is elevated sufficiently to keep the roadway dry. The late start remains a mystery to me. 
    In mid afternoon I was chauffeured to the small coastal town of Cancale for the start of the race. From here the marathon course extends 42 kilometers eastward along the coast from Brittany to Mont St. Michel and the edge of Normandy. The rain beat heavily on the car as I reluctantly exited and popped open the umbrella. The high school grounds at the race’s start were about a half mile walk. 
    At the high school I shed my jacket, sweats and umbrella and would collect them later at the finish area. It hurt to see that umbrella go. For the next several minutes, I walked along the school grounds searching for shelter with thousands of others. People were huddled under trees, standing under the eaves of buildings and crowding inside the school gymnasium. I eventually found cover with some thirty others standing inside the boys’ locker room. 
    Shortly after 4 PM, a mass migration began to the race start area on the nearby street. On the way, many paused for one last go at the porta-potties. Speaking of porta-potties, in addition to the standard variety that included doors and seats, the resourceful French had invented a modern rendition of their traditional curbside urinal. These devices were about the size of a regular porta-potty but had no doors. They incorporated back-to-back urinals and could accommodate two customers at one time. The customer would simply step up, conduct his business in the free and open air and then move on. This was very efficient but just slightly more sophisticated than urinating against a wall. I did not see any women using these urinals. Of course, I would not have looked anyway. 
    When the gun sounded at 4:30 PM, I was about mid-way in the pack. I had been watching and listening for fellow Americans or Englishmen. They were there, I’m sure, but I never encountered any there or over the next 26.2 miles. Nevertheless, I sensed through the incoherent chatter that everyone was anxious to get the event underway. Feet began moving up and down, although it would be a few minutes before we actually surged forward and crossed the chip-timing carpet, beginning hours of roadway adventures. 
    The streets of Cancale and nearby villages were nothing like the wide boulevards of Paris and Berlin so the first few miles entailed a lot of zigzagging. I moved left and right to avoid puddles and to get around folks who should have started farther back in the field. Even so, I was comfortable with this. I purposefully wanted to start slow in an attempt to avoid the groin pain that had plagued my long training runs over the last several weeks. 
    The rain continued to fall off-and-on for the first two-thirds of the race as the course took us through small villages and along country roads. In the villages, enthusiastic bystanders applauded and shouted support: Bravo! Allez! Allez! (Go! Go!). I generally ran along the sides of roads to give high-fives to youngsters lining the route. They had caught the spirit of the race. The streets drained well and the rain was not a real factor in the footing--except for one section about midway into the race. We had entered a section of back roads and farmlands. Here the surface changed from asphalt to packed dirt. Under dry conditions this would have been an excellent running surface. By the time I arrived, however, there were numerous puddles and lots of mud to go around. The pace slowed and there was no way for anyone to avoid a coating of light brown mud from hips to toes. This went on for about a mile and a half. Even so, by race’s end, rain and sweat had cleansed most of this from the legs. The socks were another issue; they went straight into the trash can. 
    Sadly for me, the adductor groin muscle problem surfaced late into the first half of the marathon. This took the form of a constant pain in the upper left thigh/groin as the leg extended forward. It’s possible this was aggravated by the increased weight of the shoe on this day. Nevertheless, it was not as debilitating as it had been in past marathons. I knew to slow the pace and not to overextend my stride. The pain subsides completely when the running stops; however, in a race this is a costly option. It’s like having a toothache, it can be endured for a while—eventually you’ll see a dentist. The fact that the adductor pain ends when the running stops is an all too handy temporary fix, one that I indulged in countless times before crossing the finish line. 
    When passing the banners marking the half-marathon point, there was still cause for optimism. I still had two minutes in-hand toward my goal of a sub 3:30 marathon. There was always hope this adductor thing would go away. But that was not to be the case and the bouts of walking eventually ate through the padding of my two-minute cushion. As if that were not enough, somewhere in the late stages of the race I began feeling a burning sensation on the bottom of my left foot. The intensity gradually increased until it felt as if the entire sole of my foot was on fire. But it was only painful as the foot struck the ground. Unfortunately, gravity and forward motion made it hard to avoid. I had never encountered this problem before. Was the water rolling down my face from the rain in the sky or the tears in my eyes? Nonetheless, after a couple of miles the pain subsided. But while my foot burned, it became an excellent method for ignoring that nagging adductor problem. 
    Support during the race was excellent considering the less than ideal conditions volunteers had to endure. Water stops provided bottled water to runners as they passed by—as opposed to water traditionally offered in paper cups. These half-liter bottles seemed wasteful since most runners would take two or three gulps and toss the bottle aside. This was also a curious feature of the Paris Marathon, although there the bottles were half-again the size. At Mont St. Michel, an unidentified, colorless sports drink was served in paper cups at many of the water stops. It had little taste--and certainly did not provide an energy boost to me. 
    The sponge sections included at several of the water stops did not get a lot of takers this day. These are normally marathon favorites, with runners grabbing sponges and squeezing icy-cold water over head and shoulders. Today, however, the cool liquid falling from the skies was enough to saturate most folks. 
    Here and there along the route, music filled the air. Performers ranged from one person playing a catchy tune on an accordion to whole orchestras of students playing classical numbers. Nearly all were under cover of some sort. Many had instruments and speakers wrapped in plastic to shed water. A rock band belted out tunes from a small garage. They were nearly inaudible until the runner got blasted by sound waves on crossing the entrance. The music quickly faded as the garage drifted behind. 
    About ten miles out from the finish the course passed along another country back road near the shoreline. This time, there off to the left in the distance through the haze, I could see the unmistakable pyramid-shaped silhouette of Mont St. Michel. Oh, how the spirits soared! I looked around to nearby runners. I wanted to shout “Look! Do you see it? The abbey!” But I kept my emotions to myself. The few around me seemed oblivious, fixed in their personal thoughts or conversations. Here and there until the eventual finish, the abbey made an ethereal appearance; always somewhat hazy but creeping ever closer. 
    In those last few miles to the finish, the race was taking a mental and physical toll. I frequently winced, less from pain than from the sight of youngsters and geezers alike passing me along the route. At this point though, I figured I was lucky to finish. I’d show those guys next time! Eventually, I turned the last corner and entered the causeway to the island. What a wonderful sight: Mont St. Michel up-close and personal. I took a deep breath, tugged on the brim of a soggy Orioles cap and did a reasonable facsimile of a sprint to the finish. My chip time registered 3:45:55. 
    The Orioles cap did its job, keeping the water from my eyes and staying put for the entire 26.2 miles. I had never worn a cap in the previous twenty-three marathons. I had also never run in these conditions. There was new respect for Oprah Winfrey who valiantly finished the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon when heavy rain prevailed throughout. 
    I recommend this marathon to anyone seeking a fast, flat course in a scenic environment. On any normal day, this course would have PR potential. The area is also a great jumping-off point for touring the sights of Normandy, particularly the D-Day battlefields and the haunts of William the Conqueror. The day following the marathon, I returned to Mont St. Michel to walk the abbey and the battlements. It was a bright sunny day with wonderful blue sky and little puffy white clouds here and there. The abbey had looked good as I finished the marathon the day before--but I think I like it better dry. On this new day, I saw a young man walking down a flight of stone steps with his family. They scampered along ahead of him while he gingerly followed behind. I motioned to him, pointing at his legs and said “Le Mont St. Michel Marathon”? He grinned and nodded in accord. The walking wounded.


The 2006 San Antonio Marathon: Remember the Alamo!


    The 2006 San Antonio Marathon occurred on Sunday, November 12. It was Veteran’s Day weekend and the starting point was directly in front of the Alamo, the historic shrine to the nearly 200 men who died there in 1836 to free Texas from Mexico. To those runners who knew the story of the Alamo, the site no doubt inspired them to their own quest for glory, to raise their arms in triumph as they crossed the finish line after pounding along 26.2 miles of asphalt and concrete.

    Approximately 2,700 runners gathered behind the start line, about 1,000 running the full marathon and the rest doing the half. The morning was cool; the temperature hovering around 40 degrees. Daylight was just barely established when the race got underway at 7:00 AM, the start being signaled by a volley of musket fire from a squad of soldiers dressed as defenders of the Alamo.

    As I awaited the start, I was feeling good and doing my best to keep warm on this unexpectedly cool morning. Gloves would have been nice, but they were in California. Nevertheless, experience has taught me that the body warms up quickly once the race is underway. Temperatures were forecast to climb another 30 degrees by midday. These were ideal marathon conditions, cool air, very little wind and a glorious sun to lift the spirits. The colorful flag of the California Republic decorated my running shorts—in silent tribute to those who died at the Alamo, setting the course for the creation of the Texas Republic.      

    The three months of training leading up to this marathon seemed adequate. If I had apprehensions this race morning, they centered on the absence of my usual pre-race light breakfast and on the packet of energy gel that I, unfortunately, checked with my sweats thirty minutes before the start. Once those muskets roared, however, I put such thoughts behind me until my tank of energy began running low about two-thirds of the way into the race.

    This year’s marathon followed a new route, first heading north from the Alamo and then turning south, passing through the downtown area and proceeding through neighborhood streets, crossing the San Antonio River several times. The course continued south with long, scenic sections next to the river, mostly on wide bike paths with grassy slopes leading down to the water. The course reached its southernmost point shortly before mile 17 and then once again started north. Although the runners were now heading north, the course had looped to the east so that runners further behind and still on a southerly heading could not see them. Thus, the morale of slower runners is not dampened. The marathon course passed near all five of San Antonio’s Spanish missions, the most prominently seen being the Alamo itself and mission San Juan Capistrano. By mile 25, runners had re-entered the downtown area and were headed for a great finish inside the Alamodome, home of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. Spectators inside the arena could view the finishers on two very large and spectacular, high definition video screens.

    The marathon benefited from excellent organization and fine weather from Mother Nature. Replenishment included water and Gatorade at nearly every mile along the route, with energy gel provided in the latter stages. Refreshments at the conclusion were plentiful, including bananas, beans and rice, soft drinks and beer. As marathons go, this is not one of the biggest, but it is growing as more sponsors come forth and advertising increases. In my talk with the race director, he indicated the city is solidly behind the race and expects significant growth in the coming years. The new course is a good one, being mostly flat, with some rolling hills for an occasional change of pace. The finish inside the Alamodome was a major addition. Downtown hotels are within walking distance of the start and finish. Sights to be seen include the Alamo and other missions, the River Walk area, with its restaurants and nightlife, and the 750-ft tall Tower of the Americas for a panoramic view of the city.

    As for my own adventures during the race, I cruised across the halfway point at 1:38, well on the way to my goal of a sub-3:30 finish. It wasn’t long, however, before the tank was running on empty and I was forced to begin a run-walk scenario. My normal procedure is to walk through the water-stops, drinking plenty of fluids and resuming the pace at the other end. With a reduced energy level, however, I was now taking walks in-between the water stops. Crossing mile 20 at 2:35, my mathematical mind indicated I had 55 minutes to complete the remaining 6.2 miles and stay under 3:30. Who couldn’t do that? Well, a stop and go performance would make such a finish a very tenuous possibility. 

    Thinking I had time to spare, my confidence was shaken at mile 25 when a man in a bright yellow t-shirt cruised by. In big red letters on the back was written something like “Official 3:30 pacer.”  This was the first time in the race I had seen a pacer and my immediate thought was “I can’t let this guy pass me”! The pacer had about 100 yards on me and I was threatening to throw in the towel when he turned around and headed back in my direction, apparently to encourage some other runners to my rear. Shortly afterwards I entered the Alamodome and crossed the finish line with the clock showing 3:30:09. But because I had started the race several seconds back from the start line, my actual marathon finishing time was 3:29:58. I had accomplished my goal with time (two seconds) to spare. 

    But my marathon experience did not end there. Shortly after finishing, a reporter for the local paper cornered me for an interview. The ten minutes this took was disastrous for my health. As he asked questions and I responded with my take on the course and the marathon in general, my eyes began clouding over, things were going dark and I was feeling slightly queasy.  But I fought it all the way, thinking I could give an interview and control my body. The reporter asked if I was okay and I naturally responded in the affirmative. I must have looked very shaky.

    With the interview over, I followed other finishers, taking several paces toward the long refreshment table. The next thing I remember was the strange feeling of taking several steps backward and then hitting the cement floor, first with my butt and then the back of my head. Apparently, I had passed out on my feet and started reeling backwards. I was out for only a couple of seconds and folks were helping me to my knees. Blood was flowing from a gash in the back of my head. I declined a trip to the hospital, not really knowing the extent of my injury. But a cold compress stanched the bleeding and I was led to a nearby table. All this was very embarrassing, but I benefited by being the center of attraction, with good Samaritans fetching me all the refreshments I could eat and drink.

    The head injury turned out not to be serious. I was able to spend the rest of the day and the next walking around town, seeing the sights. I attribute my fall to the complete absence of food since dinner at 6:00 PM the night before. Every marathon is an adventure and this one proved no exception. As an added bonus, the Saturday before the race was Veterans Day and the Alamo was the scene of official City of San Antonio remembrances. An extensive parade of vehicles, floats, veterans and marching bands also wound through the streets and past the mission. I visited the Alamo several times during that weekend, always feeling on hallowed ground and never tiring of the story of Davey Crockett, Colonel Travis, Jim Bowie and all those who fought for liberty against overwhelming odds.




The 35th Running of the Avenue of the Giants Marathon, May 7, 2006


    “Okay, I think I’ve seen enough Redwoods now.” That’s what I thought after about 3 miles into the Avenue of the Giants Marathon. But with 23 miles to go, I was destined to encounter a few more. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    The Avenue of the Giants is a 31-mile scenic road in the heart of the redwood forests of coastal northern California. It’s situated about 250 miles north of San Francisco and passes through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The olive green waters of the Eel River meander along beside the Avenue as it snakes its way south. Redwoods here are among the tallest in the Pacific Northwest. It all makes for very picturesque viewing.

    The marathon is held on the Avenue and nearby roads twice yearly, in the spring and fall. The fall version is the Humboldt Redwoods Marathon. My marathon day began early Sunday morning, 7 May in a campground a few miles south of the starting area. Because of an absence of hotel rooms in the area, camping had been my next best option. For convenience and a quick getaway, I slept in the back of my SUV. Not the most comfortable of choices but it was only one night.

    When the two alarms sounded at 5:30 AM, I fumbled around, turned them off and prepared to head to the showers. At the instant I unlocked the car door, I unfortunately and single-handedly managed to awaken the entire campground. The headlights began flashing on and off and that obnoxious car alarm started sounding: beep, beep, beep. It took several seconds and a mad scramble to find my keys and press the all-clear button. At that point I lay still for a minute, expecting shouts, rocks and other debris to come flying my way. I then slithered out of the vehicle in the early morning darkness and walked to the showers, keeping a low profile. A car alarm? No didn’t hear any…

     After that auspicious beginning, I expected the worse; however, the demons never materialized. I drove to the starting area, arriving early and parking on the banks of the Eel River about 100 feet below the road surface. The river makes one of its many turns here and the banks are wide and gravelly. This was the main parking area for the race. By race time at 9:00 AM the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds, the temperature nearing 50 degrees. Good weather. The outfit of shorts, light tank top and gloves would be sufficient.

    The marathon is a two-loop keyhole course. The first loop covered 13.1 miles to the west, ending with a return to the start, followed by a second loop to the south. Race day activities included a half marathon and 10K, with the half and full marathons starting together. Something less than 400 people started the marathon, with about 1,000 running the half. The lower number of runners in the full marathon became more apparent as they continued on alone into the second loop.

    Running with the half marathoners can be a two-edged sword. The good part is it increases the number of runners in the game and sets a faster pace. The bad part is it increases the number of runners and sets a faster pace. Nevertheless, I come down on the positive side. A marathon alone, such as this, would probably not be economically feasible with less than 400 runners.

    Nearly the entire marathon takes place under a canopy of tall redwoods lining the road every few feet like sentinels of the forest. These giants spread their branches across the sky, filtering the sunlight, keeping temperatures cool and making sunblock unnecessary. Although the entire road is paved asphalt, the first half of the marathon traverses an older road and is a bit rough, with many patches, cracks and gravelly areas. The second half is on the Avenue of the Giants which is a little wider and is in much better condition. Mile markers were posted every mile; some including volunteers giving split times. Sports drink and water were provided at 2-mile intervals. If you like crowds in the second half of a marathon, this race is not for you. But if having room to run and a good view of the road ahead appeals to you, this is your race.

    My personal goals were to finish under 3:30 and to leave the race injury free. When we rounded the final turn-around near the 20-mile mark, I was still on track for both. Nevertheless, there was the mounting lactic acid pain in the leg muscles and the ache at the bottoms of the feet from the constant pounding. But with only a 10K (6.2 miles) left and fully 53 minutes remaining before I turned into a pumpkin at 3:30, I had a new-found confidence. It didn’t last long but it was nice for awhile. Faced with dwindling energy reserves, I implemented a routine of taking a short walk break at each mile marker and then running to the next. By mile 24, I was taking a break every half mile. Even so, I did my best imitation of a sprint to finish, breaking out of the forest into the sunlight, crossing the bridge over the River Eel and dashing across the line. Sixty-five degrees and I still wore my gloves.

    My chip time registered at 3:28 and, with the exception of sore legs, walking was not a problem. There were none of the Achilles, groin or hamstring aggravations that plagued me during the weeks of training. The race organizers provided plenty of post-race refreshments, including bananas, oranges and cookies. The marathon gets a thumbs-up from me. A couple of notes: if you prefer hotel lodging, reserve well in advance; and the pre-race spaghetti dinner in the little town of Weott is well worth the price.



I Am a Little Doughnut – The Running of the Berlin Marathon


    September 25, 2005 marked the 32nd running of the Berlin Marathon. I was there amidst a very international field of 40,000 runners, by far the largest field for any marathon I’ve ever done. This was my 21st. It was a gloriously sunny morning in the heart of Berlin’s Tiergarten area. The temperature was perhaps 55-60 degrees and there was no wind to speak of. I had walked to the starting area from my rented apartment about a mile away. The walk was sufficient to get me limbered up and in the mood for heavy movement. Runners were formed up in groups based on previous marathon performance, placing me in the front quarter. Amazingly, I was in probably 5,000th place and the race hadn’t even started yet.

    Having gotten to the start area an hour early, I found a conveniently placed picnic table, took a seat and struck up a conversation with a couple of Brits from a small town south of London. My ears had perked up as soon as I heard them talking. It was definitely not German. These were two 18-year old guys who crossed the channel to run their first marathon. We had a good discussion about marathon do’s and don’ts. These boys and I were about to put all we had into this same 26.2-mile test of endurance. They had youth and vigor. I had age and determination. For me there was also an additional 45 years of worldly experience to draw upon. That number astounded me. At once I was happy to have been around that long but sad that the light at the end of the tunnel might be the grim reaper holding a lantern and beckoning to me. Nevertheless, today it was his cousin, father time, that concerned me most. My goal was to finish this marathon somewhere around 3:15, certainly below 3:30.


    The Berlin course is almost completely flat. No hills to speak of. Accordingly, the current world record of 2:04:55 was set here in 2003. Moving onto the Boulevard Strasse des 17 Juni to take my place in the field, I stood on my toes and peered over the heads of the masses. I could see the Brandenburg Gate a quarter mile or so behind us. Ahead were the start line banner and, a quarter mile beyond that, the gilded angel of victory atop the 233-foot triumphal column of the Siegessaule. The starting horn sounded at 9:00 AM, hundreds of white balloons rose into the air, and feet began moving up and down. They weren’t going anywhere, just up and down. Eventually came the surge forward and we were underway. Probably owing to the pleasant weather, the number of obstacles to avoid on the ground, such as discarded clothing, plastic trash bags, and water bottles was greatly reduced.  In the much cooler start of the Paris Marathon of April 2003 these presented a major hazard during the first mile.

    As I crossed the start line, three and a half minutes were showing on the clock. But the timing chip on my shoe made this irrelevant for me. Continuing down the boulevard, runners passed around either side of the Siegessaule heading for a grand tour of the city. Berlin is beautiful, rich in history and tradition. Our 26-mile journey took us through many of Berlin’s neighborhoods and past numerous significant landmarks. Nearly all vestiges of the wall which once separated west Berlin from the Communist east are now gone. In the 15 years since the dismantling began, the stark contrasts between east and west are giving way to the homogeneity of a unified city.

    Except for the portion spent in the Tiergarten, the marathon course wound mostly along Berlin’s wide boulevards through residential, business and cultural areas. We passed the city hall (Rathaus Shoneberg) where President Kennedy in 1963 expressed solidarity with the residents of West Berlin. We ran past the upscale shops along Kurfurstendamm, past the old and new towers of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, the ultra modern Potsdamer Platz, across the bridges of museum island, passing by the magnificent Berliner Dom church and classical architecture of the Altes Museum. From here the runners were on the home stretch down the tree-lined boulevard Unter den Linden. On the front of the Deutsches History Museum a 40-foot likeness of Albert Einstein stared down as we shuffled by. Yes, E=MC2. If only that energy were available now. Up ahead in the middle of the boulevard stood the equestrian statue of Frederick the Great. If only I had that horse… But it was only a mile to the finish. Soon the Brandenburg Gate was in sight. As we passed by its columns, the finish line, adjacent to the Soviet memorial, was in clear view. But a desperate dash to the finish could not salvage my marathon goal. I crossed the line at 3:31:07.

    The Berlin Marathon was expertly managed. Refreshments for runners were more than adequate along the route, including water, Gatorade and, periodically, tables of apple and banana slices. The first few miles were crowded with runners and it was frustrating at times not being able to establish a steady pace. But eventually, the wide avenues allowed runners to spread out and establish their individual rhythm. Occasionally we passed bands or one-person DJ stations providing a musical beat. Two groups of football-style cheerleaders with pompoms and short skirts provided a touch of Americana. Marathon supporters and the people of Berlin lined the route in the thousands and provided spirited encouragement. The most enthusiastic of these were the Danes. The red flags with white crosses were everywhere. Whenever I was afforded a long view of the road ahead, I was always amazed by the mass of runners as far as I could see. This is not surprising when the number of participants is taken into account. I finished in 5,168th place overall and a distant 27th among the 646 males in the 60-64 age group. Nearly 35,000 runners were bearing down on me as I crossed the finish line. A runner from Poland won my age group in a time of 2:50:24. The overall male winner was a Kenyan in 2:07:41. A Japanese woman took first in 2:19:12. Interestingly, she is the reigning Olympic marathon champion and her likeness is embossed on the back of this year’s finisher medals. It was only fitting that she should win this marathon. Also of interest, a fellow Bay area runner and member of the Tamalpa running club, Melody-Anne Schultz, finished in 3:27:22, taking first place in the women’s 60-64 age group. I never saw her during the race. Maybe she was always 4 minutes in front of me…

    The hamstring and groin injuries I dealt with during the months leading up to the marathon were not a factor in the race itself. However, the intentional slower training pace that allowed me to continue the marathon build-up, probably also reduced my marathon speed. Training speed invariably has its affect on marathon race pace. My technique in running the marathon was to walk through each water stop, drinking a full cup of water or Gatorade. In the second half of the race I also dumped a second cup of water over my head, the cold water sending a shiver down my back. The drenching, however, kept my shirt and race bib soaked. Three times in the last 10 miles I was forced to walk while re-pinning the race bib that had torn through the pins, flapped in the breeze and threatened to fly off down the street.

    I spent nearly a full week in Berlin, arriving on a Thursday evening and leaving the following Wednesday morning. Although there’s a 9-hour time difference between Berlin and San Francisco, arriving two full days before the race made its impact negligible. The City of Berlin rivals Paris in its history and beauty. In the 50 years since the end of WWII it has been rebuilt and reborn. Getting around is easy using the subways, trolleys and buses. Little or no German is required. Most people know some English. People were polite, helpful and had a sense of humor. I got along well with a few German words and a lot of hand gestures. As a destination marathon, this is expensive, but one of the best. Oh, and the beer is good.

    One last thought. Much like President Kennedy in 1963 when he said “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner), I feel an affinity for and friendship toward the people of Berlin. Some linguists; however, say that Kennedy’s translator gave him inappropriate words and what Kennedy was really saying in the local parlance was “I am a little doughnut.” You see, in that city, a "Berliner" is the name locals apply to a favorite little doughnut treat. Perhaps that’s why the thousands of Berliners who gathered in front of the rathaus gave him such a rousing ovation. Here was a world leader with a sense of humor.





The Honolulu Marathon, December 2004

                                                                    Jim Buck


    So, I left the land of fruit and nuts and traveled to the land of palm trees, pineapples and macadamia nuts. The question is “Were the two months of intensive pre-marathon training worth it all”?  I guess the answer is a resounding, yes, yes, no and no! Yes, I did get to spend 10 days in paradise. Yes, I ran the race and finished. But no, I did not have the result I hoped for (but do we ever?). And no, I did not get close to any hula dancers in grass skirts!

    This was my second running of this marathon in two years, so did I have a foolproof plan for victory. Well, I did have a superb plan but, as any student of military strategy will tell you, the war plan itself is always the first casualty of battle. That being said, I was never as ready for any previous marathon. I had the necessary long runs, the high mileage weeks, some speed work, I was eating well, the weather was fine and the course was…acceptable. My strategy was to go out slow, carry my own mixture of Gatorade and water, a pack of energy gel, pick up the pace in the second half, and no walking to admire the views. The 65-degree start and gradual warming would be a challenge but I worked on that. At every water stop I poured water over my head and squeezed an ice-cold sponge over my face—a little damp but hey, I was soaked from sweat after 2 miles anyway!

    So what went wrong? Why was I a baby-stepping cripple two-thirds of the way through the race? My goal of a triumphal 3:15 finish had been replaced with a just-thankful-to-finish 3:39. That, my friends is the challenge of the marathon. Just short enough to raise your confidence. Just long enough to beat you up and teach you a lesson. For all my preparation, I could not have planned for a major groin pull on/about mile 16. With long runs of up to 23 miles in training, I had no indication of a weakness there. Even in paradise, this was painful and debilitating. Taking a normal long stride was out of the question. It was walking and baby steps for me. Nevertheless, I was able to combine walking and ½-mile jogs into a respectable finish.

    The lesson for the next time is to save the $80, select a palm tree in the Waikiki sand, have a mai tai-complete with tiny umbrella-and raise a toast the runners going by. But then I could start a groin-strengthening program…I’ll have to think about this.

    Now as for the marathon itself… It is billed as a “scenic” marathon but I’d have to challenge that. With a 5 AM start, for many runners the first half of the race occurs in darkness. Nevertheless, the downtown and Chinatown areas are gaily lit for the Christmas season. Views of the ocean and Diamond Head are rare since the course is not run on the beach and there are more than enough shrubs, trees and houses to obscure the vistas. Having said that, Hawaii is a wondrously beautiful state with lots to do. There just isn’t time to see and do them during the marathon.

    The marathon course is relatively flat with most of elevation gains and losses being around Diamond Head--the runner gets to enjoy that twice. The last two miles include an easy downhill sprint before leveling off for a dash to the finish (or mild jog) through Kapiolani Park at the foot of Diamond Head.

    Some notes of trivia:  Two runners at the start wore ammunition belt-loads of energy gel packets. Each runner must’ve had 10 packets of the stuff. Perhaps they thought this was the 24-hour Ironman. The race had its celebrities. I saw Spiderman at the start line. Santa Claus was there in various renditions throughout the race, including his mini-skirted helpers. One Santa was in full regalia. He wore the usual red and white wool outfit, but was tall, skinny and sweating profusely, with 13 miles still to go. I gave him a cheery Ho, Ho, Ho. A Japanese lady was not far behind Santa wearing a full kimono from neck to ankles, finished off with a pair of running shoes of course. There were a few bands and some crowds of on-lookers here and there. After all, it was early in the day. Of the over 25,000 entrants, more than 15,000 were from Japan. The refreshments at Kapiolani Park were a veritable feast, but only if you just showed up from Eritrea: three cookies, an apple and a bottle of Amino-Value sports drink. There was no guava juice, no pineapple slices, no coconut pies, not even one macadamia nut.

    My advice? Do it! But save at least one day after the marathon for water sports. It’s great fun and it helps with the healing. Surf at Waikiki, go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay east of Diamond Head or go ocean kayaking with the sea turtles on the east shore at Kailua Bay.    


Philadelphia Marathon, November 2003
    Time: 3:29:31
//To be continued//
Paris Marathon, April 2003
    Time: 3:18:35
//To be continued//
Honolulu Marathon, December 2002
    Time: 3:31:04
//To be continued//
Rome Marathon, March 2002
    Time: 3:26:12


//To be continued//
Marine Corps Marathon, October 2001
    Time: 3:20:31

//To be continued//
Grand Canyon, Colorado, North Rim to South Rim, 26 Miles, September 2001
    Time: 6 hours
//To be continued//

No Honeymoon at Niagara Falls, October 2000


    What a nuisance! I’m in this beautiful park, running past the historic battlements of Old Fort Erie, and all I could think of was the mundane effort of putting one foot in front of the other. I had this nice new blister on my right foot and a dull ache in my left hip. If nothing else, I had symmetrical pain. It was mile 6 of the Niagara Falls Marathon and I had just made up my mind to stay the course and continue the race. The quickest way to the finish line was under my own power. Chances are, convalescing in the back of a rescue van would be even more painful.  Just 20 miles to go...

    Probably like a lot of folks, I didn’t know Niagara Falls had its own marathon.  When I read about it in the summer of 2000, I figured this would be a nice vacation and a perfect marathon course. There weren’t a lot of hills to deal with and the elevation was close to sea level.

    On Sunday morning, October 22, 2000 myself and 1,400 of my newest and closest friends were bused from Niagara Falls, Canada to Buffalo, New York. The marathoners were to begin their adventure at 10:00 AM but before that about 240 in-line skaters would get a half-hour head start on us. The action would begin in the cool shadows of downtown Buffalo’s business district. Although the temperature was in the low 40’s, there was no discernible wind-chill factor and the sun was guaranteed to warm things up later. Watching the skaters roll across the start line about 15 minutes behind schedule, I wondered if I’d catch up with any of the stragglers later on.

   Our race began with a run along city streets through local neighborhoods. We were working our way west toward the Niagara River. Unfortunately, by mile 4 little warning messages were reaching my brain from the bottom of my right foot. I knew there might be some problems with a nagging hamstring injury but a blister did not enter the calculations.

    At mile 5 we were atop the Peace Bridge over the Niagara River and on our way into Canada. The top of the bridge offered stunning panoramic views. It’s the highest point in the race and just about the only hill to speak of.  On the right, the bridge provided our first real glimpse of the Niagara River with its dark blue waters moving inevitably toward the precipice of the falls many miles beyond. On the left was the wide expanse of Lake Erie, the lighthouse in the distance suggesting deep water and big ships.

    Once across the bridge, it was a left turn through the streets and park lanes of old Fort Erie. On leaving the Fort, runners followed the Niagara River Parkway northward toward the finish 18 miles away. The river, its width varying between 1/2 and 2 miles, was always only a few feet away on our right.  This was a very scenic and also very grueling part of the course. It remained much the same until the finish, river on the right, country homes on the left, and small but spirited groups of well-wishers here and there.

    The spray rising high above Niagara Falls gradually entered our view somewhere around mile 23. The finish was reached after a great 1/2 mile gentle downhill sprint. We crossed the line at a power station alongside the rapids directly above the falls. To actually see the falls, you had to continue running another 500 yards beyond the finish. I don’t know that anyone actually did this.  Most would have saved the view for a leisurely stroll at a more appropriate time.

    My own performance was respectable, but only after contriving a workable plan to deal with my little inconveniences. After deciding at mile 6 to continue the run, I made a pact with myself to attempt a combination of running and extensive walking. I would walk through every water stop, take my drinks, and begin running on the other side. Although I was sorely (pun intended) tempted, I did not walk between water stops.  The task became easier after mile 10 when water stops appeared at every mile. The walking provided the opportunity to wiggle the toes and move the hips in a way that provided some respite from the constant pounding on the asphalt. And, the logic goes, any wimp can run for just 1 mile. A little unconventional hip movement was safe--this was not San Francisco. As luck would have it, I even achieved a decent running speed at times. I crossed the finish line with a time of 3:16.  It was not a PR but it was a finish under my own power. I never did encounter any in-line skaters. I did, however, see a skater after the race who had a close encounter with the Parkway surface. She was sporting a black eye and a large bandage over her cheek.

     With segments in both the USA and Canada, the Niagara Falls Marathon is one of the few truly international races.  It was well organized and included a free pre-race pasta party, plus free pizza at the awards ceremony. The course was mostly flat and would be conducive to a PR performance. Although this day was sunny, pleasantly cool, and mostly free of wind, I am told that strong head winds are always a possibility.  If you’re interested in your progress along the route, bring your watch. The miles were well marked but elapsed time was provided only once along the route.  Also featured in the marathon was a four-person relay. Thirty-three teams had entered. But perhaps the most determined participants of all were the dozens of folks who signed on to walk the entire marathon course. These I had no trouble passing...

    This was a pleasant time to be in Niagara Falls. The days were sunny and the temperatures were in the upper 50s. The Canadian people are very hospitable and the town certainly caters to the tourist. There’s a lot to see and the falls are magnificent. Although the marathon was no honeymoon for me, it seemed the perfect marriage of course and weather. Two weeks after the race the City of Buffalo was buried under 2 feet of snow.




Strange But True: The Bungay Black Dog Marathon, April 2000

                                                                                                        Jim Buck


    Hundreds of runners gathered in the usually quiet English town of Bungay. It was a Sunday morning in early April. The weather was sunny but cool. Situated northeast of London not far from the North Sea, it’s the scene of the centuries old hauntings of a marauding and fearsome black dog. It’s the home of the Black Dog Marathon.

    This was my first opportunity to race outside the U.S. and, of course, the first race I’ve done in England. The choice of the Black Dog Marathon was serendipitous, being the only race in the area during my two-week stay in the UK. Not being in condition to run much more than a 10K, I opted to run the Black Dog Half Marathon instead of the full 26.2 miles. Those doing the full marathon did two loops of the same course--not always the best of experiences.

    It was April 9, 2000. The starter gave the command at 11:00AM and upwards of 600 people charged off down the road and out of town. I estimate that slightly less than half the participants were in it for the full 26.2 mile treatment. These runners were much like those you’d encounter in any stateside race. Some wore tank tops and shorts. Others wore tights, long sleeved shirts and jackets. The mixture of men and women, adults and youngsters seemed much the same as in the U.S. An added attraction, however, was an appearance by Superman, complete with red and blue tights and flowing cape. He started with the rest of us but I never did see him rocket past me. Maybe I’m just faster than I give myself credit for.

    The marathon course was very challenging for the first 6 miles as it followed the rolling hills of a major connecting route between Bungay and other small towns in the area. We kept to the left of the highway--in England that’s running with the traffic. The route then took us through some local villages and along country lanes bordered on both sides by small farms. As the multitudes shuffled by and I struggled to maintain a decent pace, the cows and sheep just stared in boredom. Was that a yawn or just a cow chewing its cud? There were water stops, or feeding stations in the local parlance, every 2 or 3 miles. Interestingly, instead of handing out water in paper cups, it was distributed in little narrow-mouthed plastic bottles. These were excellent to prevent spillage. In fact, it was difficult to get any water at all out of them. The best method was to hold the bottle inverted over your face and hope you got more in your mouth than your eyes.   

    At mile 12 the runners were heading back through Bungay. Thankfully, the second half of the course was mostly level and a runner could finish with a flourish. Needless to say, at 1:32 I was not the overall winner. But I did finish! I was also silently thankful not to have to run another 13.1 miles.  There were no black dog sightings and no black cats for that matter. Given the sometimes gruesome tales of the Black Dog, it would have been much more fitting if nature had provided an appropriately dark and foggy morning for this race. Nevertheless, I did not intend to turn down some warm post-race sunshine.

    My day was done. I was ready to chow down on the goodies before all those marathoners crossed the line.  Well, that was my intent. In actuality, I had to make do with two cups of watered down fruit juice. Unlike most large races in the US, there were no bagels, no assortment of drinks, no soup, no yogurt, no coffee or tea. Of course this was a charity run and there were booths where one could purchase a cucumber and butter sandwich or a large hamburger. But alas, I was a little short on the queen’s currency. Those one pound coins are too heavy to carry around anyway. The hamburgers looked tempting, sizzling away on the grill. Then I thought about that Mad Cow Disease...

    EPILOGUE: The black dog that haunts the Bungay countryside first made its appearance during a nasty summer storm in 1577. At that time it was credited with mauling to death two parishioners during a local church service. The dog escaped into the night as suddenly as it appeared. Perhaps the parishioners’ singing had an undesirable effect on sensitive canine ears.

     In the ensuing years there have been numerous sightings and tales of terror involving the rascally creature. One of  the eeriest events involved yours truly 4 days after the race. I had returned to the States and sat channel-surfing in front of the telly (TV). Suddenly, the image of a large black Labrador caught my attention. It was the Animal Planet cable channel with a special program about animal hauntings.. Imagine the chill that went down my spine. I sat mesmerized. At that very instant they were discussing the bizarre tale of the black dog that haunts several villages in southeast England, including the town of Bungay. Was this a curious message from beyond; a hint this tale should not be taken lightly?



To Sur With Love...

                                              Jim Buck


Sunday, April 26, 1998.


     It’s 7:00 AM and the pop of the starter’s gun signals the Big Sur International Marathon is underway. Twenty-five hundred runners begin the shuffle across the start line. Considering the weather, my attire would be anything but appropriate for the average pedestrian. It’s 44 degrees, but thankfully there’s no wind.  I’m moving forward in my lightest tank top and Maryland flag shorts. A few shivers now are scant sacrifice for the major comfort of a cool outfit later.  The air is crisp and dry.  We’re in full daylight now. The California Highway Patrol is providing a motorcycle escort for the lead runners. Only 26.2 miles to go...

    The prerace ceremonies were appropriately stirring. Running greats Frank Shorter and Jeff Galloway were on hand to provide words of encouragement followed by a military color guard and the playing of the national anthem. A flock of white doves were released, taking to the air in all directions.  The runners were given no such freedom. Straight ahead for us. We had a chore to do.

    This was the great “El Nino” Big Sur Marathon. Winter rains that pounded the west coast in January and February took their toll on California’s famed Rt. 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.  Several points between Carmel and the town of Big Sur were completely washed out. Big Sur itself was completely isolated. Although the highway department was working hard to bring the road back on line, gaps still remained on race day. This forced race management to take drastic measures. This year’s marathon would now be an out-and-back course. Instead of the normal straight run up the coast from Big Sur to Carmel, the race would begin at Carmel and proceed down the coast for 13 miles before returning via the same route.

    Though initially disappointed it was not the traditional course, I found the Big Sur Marathon a delightful experience. The coastal views were tremendous, the surf crashing against offshore rocks before meeting its end on the craggy cliffsides and sandy beaches. There was a never-ending parade of  picturesque hills and valleys, steep gorges, streams, and bridges.  The Bixby Bridge, which arches high over a steep canyon running down to the sea, is a spectacular Big Sur landmark. Unlike the one-way trip in normal years, we had the pleasure of crossing Bixby twice. The bridge makes its appearance about 13 miles into the race. Shortly after reaching the southern end we turned around and repeated the course in the other direction. Our new heading gave a differing perspective to these amazing views.


    The Big Sur Marathon is a high brow affair. An event with a sense of style and class. At the northern end of the Bixby Bridge the air was filled with classical refrains as a tuxedo-clad virtuoso stroked the keys of a grand piano.  Musical entertainment was plentiful, temporarily replacing the rhythm of feet meeting pavement.  There was at least one full orchestra, several bands, bagpipes, a choral group, and one boom box playing the Titanic theme song. 

The Big Sur Marathon is a high brow affair. An event with a sense of style and class. At the northern end of the Bixby Bridge the air was filled with classical refrains as a tuxedo-clad virtuoso stroked the keys of a grand piano.Musical entertainment was plentiful, temporarily replacing the rhythm of feet meeting pavement.There was at least one full orchestra, several bands, bagpipes, a choral group, and one boom box playing the Titanic theme song.

    Big Sur is also a rural marathon. No busy city streets, just lazy back roads. No screaming crowds of on-lookers.  But those in attendance were vocal and race support was excellent. It’s a rolling course, rising and falling, twisting and turning throughout its length. Each long uphill trek was usually rewarded by an equally long downhill sprint. Like the San Francisco Marathon, Big Sur also incorporated a marathon relay race, with each team member running between 4 and 7 miles.  These runners add population to the event and can provide an excellent source of pacing. It’s also an ego thing when you occasionally get to pass one... 

    Lots of volunteers were on the course, providing time checks at every mile and refreshments at 2-mile intervals. Closer to Carmel on the return trip some youngsters were offering fresh fruit, including strawberries. I helped myself to one just to show an appreciation for the support. Strawberries as marathon food?  I’m glad I was over the rise and out of sight before my coughing started.  I haven’t perfected the fine art of eating such delicacies and gasping for air at the same time. The galloping gourmet, it has a ring to it.  

    This wasn’t my fastest marathon but the near continuous hill work definitely made it the toughest. Nevertheless, the day couldn’t have been better. No wind, no rain, no fog, just bright sunshine, blue skies, and moderate temperatures.  Draped in the Maryland state flag from the waist down (well, not too far down), I drew shouts of recognition from many an ex-patriot Marylander.  I responded with an approriate gesture. The flag was in good hands...or some other body parts.

    The training was moderately hard for this race, incorporating lots of hill work in San Francisco and the Marin Headlands.  I started the race slow, settled into a reasonable pace, and saved a little for a semi-sprint in the last mile. The first mile went by in 8:30,  the last in 6:55.  In the last 100 yards, without realizing it, I zipped past one of my age group competitors, garnering fourth place in the process.  Another plus for this marathon is that age group prizes are awarded five-deep. Because of their generosity, yours truly strutted away with a plaque, a Bixby Bridge poster, and a bottle of Monterey’s finest Pinot Noir.  Big Sur in the year of “El Nino.”  A lovely experience.  Oh yeah, finishing time:  3:19.


July 1997: The San Francisco Treat

                                                    Jim Buck

    (This is the latest in a series of articles by Jim Buck, a long-time member of the Annapolis Striders, relating his adventures and observations in marathons around the country. Jim’s initiation into the 26.2 mile club was in 1992 when he became a student of the Moore’s Marines School of Marathoning.)

    It was 4:30 AM on a Sunday morning in mid July. Any sensible person would be under the covers sawing logs somewhere in the lumberyard of their dreams. But in and around San Francisco a different breed of individual was stirring, driven by some force incomprehensible to anyone with a brain. In 3 and 1/2 hours the clang of a cable car bell would signal the start of one of America’s most scenic marathons.  The months of preparation were over. Let the fun begin...   

    I arrived at the starting area at Vista Point on the Sausalito side of the Golden Gate Bridge at about 6:45 AM. It was daylight but the sun was nowhere to be found. We were welcomed instead by 50-degree temperatures, 20 knot winds, and the usual morning fog. As I searched for shelter the 8:00 AM start seemed a long way off.    

    By 7:40 AM I had trimmed down to tank top and shorts, bouncing in place to keep warm. The temperature makes the waiting difficult but the running bearable. Where else can you run a summer marathon under late fall conditions? When the bells sounded at 8:00 AM the runners funneled into a single lane as we left Vista Point and streamed across the Golden Gate. The dull red of the bridge towers outlined against the gray sky pointed the way to San Francisco.  The fog was still present. We’d get no spectacular views of the skyline or Pacific Coast.

    As runners zipped past the toll booths (unlike cars, southbound runners do not pay a toll) they turned left and headed into the Presidio. I was surprised to see my friend Bill here shouting encouragement. Bill was one of several people associated with the Chestnut St. Fleet Feet store who were out here to cheer us on. I gave him the high sign. Life was good. Two miles down, 24 to go. This part of the course was mostly downhill followed by some generally flat stretches. A right turn took us away from the Bay and amongst the Greco-Roman columns of the Palace of Fine Arts.  Here a band was playing something appropriately stirring but I was concentrating too much on the running to figure it out. With a turn back toward the Bay we left the Palace and entered the Marina District.

    At mile 5 the runners are taking on the hill at Ft Mason Park and getting a great view of the bay and Alcatraz Island.  From here the race proceeds back into the city to North Beach’s Italian district. We run down Columbus Avenue past scores of trendy Italian eateries.  Nevertheless, this is not a good time to be thinking about that creamy rich plate of Linguine you had the night before. The stomach does a slight flip, but you’re still cool... Chinatown is next. Chickens are dangling in the breeze and the ladies are picking over the morning’s vegetables. We pass through the Dragons’ Gate and exit the orient for the tall concrete, steel, and glass towers of the Financial District. We zip by the broad base of the TransAmerica Pyramid. Do they sell policies that insure against Montezuma’s Revenge.

    As the runners approach mile 9 they are nearing another of the Bay area’s engineering marvels, the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge. Gray morning meets gray steel as the towers reach for overcast skies. We enjoy it while we can; this part of the course is mostly flat as we move along the waterfront through the China Basin area--home of the SF Giants’ future baseball park.  Soon enough, the runners would make a right turn away from the bay and begin the steady climb back into the city interior.

    By mile 13 the air is getting rarefied as we wound our way through the Mission District to the top of Haight St. hill. This upward trend started at mile 11 and would go on for the next 3.5 miles. If there’s anything to be gained from inflicting this torture upon oneself, it’s the magnificent downhill straight-away that appears before you when the summit is reached. It’s a personal accomplishment to have made it 3/4 of the way to the top before deciding that walking wasn’t such a bad sport after all.  Halfway up the hill, Fleet Feet Bill appeared again and shouted encouragement. It was great to see a friend at this point in the race when encouragement is so gratifying. I’m also glad I saw him while I was still in the running mode.  He probably thinks I ran all the way up that hill. 

    Coasting down Haight St., we passed the famous (infamous) corner at Ashbury St. I remember little of the cheering on-lookers here but I’m sure, amongst the average citizens were the usual off-shoots from society that one encounters in this neighborhood. Some probably still here from the late 60’s.  I noticed one sign advertising Tattoos and Body Piercing. Too bad I was pressed for time. Oh well, gotta run...

    The marathon next took us 3 miles down the length of Golden Gate Park, which occupies a significant slice of San Francisco’s west side.  We ran past the lovely all-glass Conservatory of Flowers, past the rose garden, and past the herd of buffalo. The buffalo never once stirred from their morning nap, telling you something about how exciting a marathon can be.  At around mile 16 I caught up with a lawyer racing chum who was running the course as a bandit. I mentioned the legality of this but, as you might figure, he had some legal excuse like “these streets belong to the public.”  From mile 17, about mid way through the park, I fell in beside a female runner who was setting what seemed like a reasonable pace. I decided to tag along. We ran side by side for the next 3 miles--up and down the rolling hills and blazing a probable 6:45 pace.  At mile 20 she recognized some friends, got enthused, and turned up the pace.  Once again I became the lonely marathoner. I congratulated her later on such a fast pace--only to learn she had not run the marathon but had instead run three 5-mile sections of the marathon relay.  We had a good laugh over my dismal efforts to keep up with her. (Was she laughing at me or with me?)

     Getting back to Golden Gate Park, just beyond mile 18 the race exits the park and turns left onto Ocean Highway. Here we parallel the Pacific Ocean on our right, watching the whitecaps roll in, breathing the salt air, and taking a steady battering from the coastal breeze.  I actually found this 1 mile run along the beach quite refreshing. Heaven’s own air conditioning.

     Another left turn took us into the southern side of Golden Gate Park and a gradual uphill run for the next mile.  Around mile 20 the course takes a 1.5 mile dog leg to the right along Sunset Boulevard and then the same distance coming back. This section of the course you either love or hate. Personally, it was the latter for me.  I find it boring and fatiguing to run a straight-away course for this distance. I’d prefer not to see how much further I need to run before reaching the turnaround. Also, I have to watch all those guys on the other side of the street who are already on the return loop.

    The end of the Sunset loop returns the runners to Golden Gate Park at about mile 23 where it’s a mostly uphill climb to the finish at Kezar Stadium, former home of the SF 49ers. Here one of my Fleet Feet buddies jumped into the race and we ran together at a fair clip. It was great to have such support in the closing miles.  However, when I stopped shortly after to ease a troubled stomach, I thought it was rather rude of him to continue on. Later I learned he was another of those relay guys. OK, I’m confused...

    The marathon has a great finish inside Kezar stadium. Runners circle the field to the applause and cheers of thousands of fans. That trot around the track is also the longest quarter mile in the race, a seemingly slow motion affair.  My finish in 3 hours, 19 minutes was not exactly blazing, but was a good pace for a moderately difficult course. The 4,210 finishers was the largest field ever to run this race.

    The San Francisco Marathon has a lot going for it. It’s scenic, it takes you through many of the unique San Francisco neighborhoods, the climate is right. and it’s got good crowd support.  Although some might be disappointed that no Rice-a-Roni was served, the post run refreshments were excellent and plentiful--at least for those who finished early. A hometown marathon has an advantage if you get lots of personal support. It’s amazing how pumped-up you can get when people you know are cheering you on. Regarding the relay runners, I certainly had my adventures; however, I believe they are a definite plus. They swell the numbers of participants and add another dimension to the race. It allows more people to feel some of that high achieved from running a marathon and this race  is small enough that they don’t over-tax the course. This marathon is not PR material; it does have its challenges. Even so, it‘s a San Francisco Treat that gets high marks for enthusiasm and visual ambiance.



CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: The 1996 California International Marathon

                                                                                                                                         Jim Buck


    There I was loping along about 2 miles into the race when I started hearing snippets of a conversation behind me, disturbing my attempts to place my mind in a dream state.  One runner mentioned finishing his last marathon in 3:00:58.  I knew without turning around this was the 72-year old runner they spoke of before the start--he was trying to establish a sub-3-hour personal record today.  A subdued panic set in.  Although I hope to be in his kind of shape when I’m in my 70s, I was not about to let a septuagenarian finish this race ahead of me!  I stopped dreaming and shifted into high gear...

    It was a crispy late fall morning in Folsom, California.  The prisoners were behaving and Johnny Cash was no where to be found.  This was December 8th and Sacramento’s 1996 California International Marathon was about to get underway.  I’d been preparing for this for 3 months.  The CIM is billed as one of the fastest marathons in the country and it was my opportunity to finally break the 3-hour barrier.  My goal was 2:59:59 but I’d take anything lower.  Having run the streets of San Francisco would give me the hill training I’d need to excel on the straight-aways 

    The gun went off at 0700.  The daylight was only minutes old, it was 50 degrees with overcast skies and virtually no wind.  Ideal conditions.  The weather was great.  The course was right.  I was the only variable still in doubt.  I soon realized why many people spoke highly of this marathon.  It was managed in excellent fashion.  Water stops with H2O and XLR8 were located at 2-mile intervals.  Every mile was clearly marked with 2-foot high numbers.  Times were provided at each mile and a second person also shouted your current race pace.  Sometimes they even provided your expected finish time at that pace.  This was good information and, as long as I was ahead of my projected pace, it quietly fueled my confidence.

    My race strategy was to repeat the game plan used in my previous best marathon, a 3:05 at Pittsburgh, Pa.  In Pittsburgh, except for the first 5 miles,  I attempted a steady 7-minute pace throughout.  That day the first 5 miles were at a 6:30 pace--putting me over 2 minutes ahead and giving me some extra doodling time at the far end.  Because the CIM would be a faster course, I was hoping to keep an overall pace closer to 6:50.  This would give me the sub-3 hours I was after.  To prevent dehydration I would also walk through each water stop and drink a full two cups of water.

    With the first mile under my belt I knew my prerace jitters about being overfed and sluggish were unfounded.  About an hour before start time I had a large bagel and a bottle of water.  This was on top of the previous night’s massive spaghetti platter, king size salad, milkshake, and late night bagel snack.  At mile five I was flying high.  I was clocked at 32+ minutes and Mr. 70s was still behind me.  I felt good.  Just a matter of turning on the cruise control.  I consciously eased the pace and tried to maintain an optimistic 6:40.  Nevertheless, the clock began creeping up on me.  At the halfway point I logged in at 1 hour and 28 minutes--I still had 2 minutes in the bag.  At 16 miles I reminded myself there were merely 10 miles to go.  I’ve done 10 mile training runs--a piece of cake.  Right?  Keep the mind’s dream machine going as the legs methodically stroke the warming asphalt.

    At 18 miles I was running a 6:45 pace but the rate was steadily climbing.  At the 20 mile point they were handing out packets of energy gel concentrate--a bit late for my liking.  Only a 10K race to go.  I was going strong... 

    It was shortly after 20 miles that the mean spirits began invading my daydreams.  An uncomfortable feeling on the bottom of my feet was turning to pain.   By mile 24 I was in severe trouble with blisters on the forward half of each foot.  Although I still felt relatively strong, trying to avoid striking the ground hard was slowing me down considerably.  At one point I stopped and walked for about a quarter mile but picked up the pace again as other runners encouraged me on.  By now I had blown my chances for a sub-3 hour finish. Even so, a new personal record was still a possibility.  I grit my teeth and turned the legs a little faster, doing my traditional 1/4 mile sprint at the end. 

    I finished at 3:02 with an overall 6:58 pace.  John Keston, the 72-year old from McMinnville, CA finished 3 minutes later.*  I also remained ahead of  a man who ran the entire 26 miles backwards, finishing in approximately 4:30.   He stayed on course with the aid of a rear view mirror taped to his hat.  There were 2600 finishers in the race. A Kenyan was the overall race winner, coming in at 2:14.  My 3:02 brought me in 210 places later. One of the best things about running a marathon, besides getting it over with, is getting fed at the end.  They had good refreshments at the CIM--bagels, yogurt, fruit.  There was also hot soup served up to dying runners by some darling little school kids playing nurses for a day.

    My overall impressions of the CIM were good.  It was billed as a fast course but to me there were more rolling hills than I’d counted on.  There was an elevation drop of over 300 feet from the start in Folsom to the finish at the statehouse in Sacramento.  Although it didn’t seem like much of a drop when spread out over 26 miles, the blisters on my feet were evidence of substantial downhills out there somewhere.  The route included a sprinkling of live bands playing appropriately stirring music.  Plus, around about the 12 mile mark the familiar strains of “Chariots of Fire” boomed from someone’s doorstep. There were also a fair number of supporters along the route to cheer on the runners.  Late in the race a well-meaning spectator handed me a drink.  The beer in the cup gave him a laugh and me a coughing fit. 

    Some positives about this marathon:  Bill Rogers flew out from Boston to give a great informal talk the day before the race; the Red Lion Hotel (Race Hqs) provided good service and had a 12 noon late checkout; there’s a great mall across from the hotel for shopping freaks; Old Town Sacramento is a real gem with lots of turn-of-the-century charm.  Just a couple of negatives: the awards ceremony was not held until 3 PM and the course was not esthetically appealing.  The route passed through local neighborhoods without any grand views or significant attractions.  If you are not psyched and are spending a lot of time on the course, I guess it could be boring.

    Perhaps I’m lost in a dream but a sub 3-hour finish is still a possibility. If John Keston can get that close at 72, time is still on my side. I’m visualizing it now...with proper training, the right conditions, and the theme from “Rocky” thundering in the background...



* John Keston’s age group world record pace for the October 1996 Twin Cities Marathon was reported in the January 1997 issue of Runners’ World Magazine.

Napa Valley Marathon, March 1996
    Time: 3:09:50
//To be continued//

Pittsburgh Marathon, May 1995
    Time: 3:05:40


//To be continued//


I Love New York
- Adventures in the November 1994 NYC Marathon


                It was early November.  I arrived in New York City with a mixture of apprehension and excitement.  To run the NYC Marathon was one of my top two race goals of 1994 - the other being that 26-miler in Boston.  Having done only two previous marathons and getting tired of this long distance stuff, I declared at the beginning of the year that I'd run the two great ones in 1994, Boston and New York, and then retire from the marathon scene.  The competition let out a sigh of relief...or was it a yawn?  I ran respectably in  Boston, but that's a different story.  

                Through the first month, the preparations for New York were going smooth.  I was accepted into the race in August by way of the last minute lottery and was training with the Annapolis Striders on the weekends.  In mid-August, however, I began having Achilles' tendon problems - apparently the result of over-training and too many hills.  I compounded this by attempting the Annapolis 10-miler, with all its ups and downs - not a smart move.  Limping through the last 5 miles, I spent the next 2 months trying to recover.  I brought my running back very gradually, over relatively flat courses, and relying mostly on 10-speed and stationary bikes to maintain an endurance level.  Even without back-to-back running days, by the end of October I had pushed my Saturday long runs up to 18 miles.  At that point, New York City was worth a try.  With all the hassle of getting into this race, beginning with the application mailing on New Year's Day, I would not go down without a fight.

                Any weekend in New York can be full of fun, adventure, and the occasional  weird sighting.  This is doubly true on marathon weekend.  Runners, including 10,000 from around the world, were taking over the city.  That weekend New York was aglitter with running outfits and warm-up suits of all shades and styles.  Taste had taken a holiday.  On Broadway and in Times Square, running teams in search of bargains and bagels were in full force and, unfortunately, in full view.   It was not unusual to see several runners dressed in the same warm-up clothes and sneakers.  When you sighted two persons with the same shirt or jacket, you knew another running team was on the scene.  But let's face it, tacky or not, these people were here with a mission in mind.  This was one of the world's greatest marathons.  Being cool was not a consideration.

                I picked up my race packet early on Friday afternoon.  Although strictly serendipitous, it was a good move since the lines got much longer as the afternoon wore on.  On Saturday the lines were out of sight.  New pick-up procedures were in effect and I was told it was much worse in prior years, even with half the number of runners.  As it was, I waited only about an hour.

                Race day began at 5:00 A.M. on Sunday  I donned my running outfit and topped it with sweat shirt and pants for the walk to the buses and the long wait on Staten Island.  Temperatures in the upper 50's and low 60's were predicted for race time, but it was still cool at this time of the day.  With the fairly high race time temps, my choice of outfit was tank top and shorts.  In support of my home state and to show the flag, so to speak, I wore Maryland flag shorts and a black Orioles Baseball top - a colorful combination that anyone familiar with Maryland would recognize.  After a breakfast of bagel and orange juice, I began the 12-block walk from Times Square to 42nd St and 5th Avenue.  The buses were forming up in front of the NYC library.  In the city that never sleeps, the only people I saw in the darkness of 6:00 A.M. were runners like myself.  People were converging from every direction for the quiet and contemplative ride to the start.

                Arriving at the start at 6:45 A.M., there were over 4 hours until the start of the race.  This, I believed, would be the most trying time of the whole day-how to wile away the hours until this thing got underway?  Surprisingly, time went by at a rather modest clip.  I found a nice grassy patch and settled down with coffee, rolls, and all the water I could drink.  Tents had been set up to provide shelter in the event of foul weather, but the rain held off and most people sprawled about in the relatively balmy early morning weather.  There were magazines to read, but instead found myself passing time with the occasional conversation, walking around, and people-watching.  The morning's entertainment included music, aerobics for those so inclined, and an early morning wedding of two marathoners.  The groom wore a white shirt, tie, and black bicycle shorts.  The bride wore a white tennis-like outfit with corsage.  I also got to see, up close and personal, the World's Longest Urinal.  Fully a city block long, this trough was occupied over its entire length by runners feeling the early effects of hydration.

                By 10:00 A.M. I was making my way to the Blue starting area, one of three separate start positions.  With 30,000 people sprawled out over several acres, it was difficult to get from point A to point B, even if you knew where you were going.  With the race scheduled to start at 10:50 A.M., I thought there was plenty of time - wrong!  When I eventually formed up with the rest, I was about 100 yards to the rear of my designated start point.  I was behind and the race hadn't even started!  I consoled myself that destiny was at work.  After all, the objective was to start slow and go easy on the Achilles.  Don't worry about time; the idea was to finish healthy.

                 Meanwhile, standing amongst this mass of humanity, I couldn't help but be struck by the immensity of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge just ahead over the trees.  I couldn't see the entire structure, but the two nearby support towers were so huge they generated a profound feeling of respect and awe at the engineering that went into such a structure.  The anticipation of the crossing was building.

                Twenty minutes before the start, people were still moving into the crowd from the holding areas.  Here I was, bodies packed all around, as far forward as I thought I could get, and yet some runners were still pushing deep into the crowd trying to weave their way up front.  Anyone who has been fairly close to the front during a crowded race has experienced the person who is trying to move up in the last few seconds.  It's never pleasant and always aggravating to have one of them stop directly in front of you, occupying your space, making it difficult to move and breathe.  Even in the best of circumstances, the obnoxious will be present. 

                In the half hour before the start, the runners began peeling off their excess and expendable clothing.  Anything shed here would not be seen again.  Trees lined the road where we waited and for those that knew, the ritual had begun.  Runners took careful aim and attempted to ensnare their shirts, pants, jackets, and hats on the limbs of the nearby trees.  According to tradition, those managing a landing would have luck in the marathon.  Good luck or not, the clothes would later be collected and donated to charity.  An otherwise gray and overcast day brightened considerably as my old sweatshirt traveled 20 feet through the air, landed on and then held tight to the branches of a nearby oak. 

                With 10 minutes to go, we shuffled forward to the final start position, the bridge's towers looming directly ahead. People were still shedding clothes, tossing them in the air and to the sidelines.  What a sight it must have been with all the runners gone - clothes all over the ground and on the trees.  To a youngster, this would be the place where clothes were grown.  But right now, to the unwary runner, tripping over a pair of sweat pants could end the race before it began.  From somewhere up front, mostly unintelligible last minute instructions were wafting through the air.  Not to worry, just follow those in front.  Suddenly, a cannon boomed:  Let the games begin!

                With 30,000 runners starting at once, early movement in the back of the pack was not expected.   However, after only a few seconds of running in place, the pack surged forward.  The benefit of three separate starting groups was evident.  Within only 1 and a 1/2 minutes I had reached the blue line marking the actual start of the 26.2 mile trek.  In Boston, it took 3 minutes to get there with only a third the number of participants. 

                I was now caught up in the slow jog across the bridge, runners still tightly packed all around.  The excitement at crossing this magnificent bridge was tremendous.  I had the conflicting emotions of wanting to get on with the race and wanting to hold back to absorb the splendor of this whole experience.  The view was superb.  In the distance to my left lay New York Harbor and the towering skyline of Manhattan.  The bridge itself was a mass of people in front and behind, all bobbing up and down and jockeying for position.  Several runners had cameras and were climbing the barrier to take pictures of friends and scenery.  The 1-mile clock appeared about halfway across the bridge.  I was over 12 minutes into the race and had only a mile to show for it...this trip could take awhile!  By the mid-point of the bridge there was a bit of running room, particularly if you jumped the curb and ran along the median strip.  Most of the time a burst of speed only resulted in a sudden stop when you couldn't get around the next group of runners.  Such are the trials of those working their way forward from the back of the pack.

                Anticipating the view, I was not disappointed.  What I was not prepared for was the surprise motion of the bridge itself.  How weird to be running forward, expecting your foot to land in a specific spot, predetermined by the laws of geometry and physics, and then having that spot move before you got there!  It was not a constant phenomenon; most likely it varied with the force of the wind.  The bridge was swaying ever so slightly.  This massive structure seemed to come to life.  Not exactly comforting when you're 230 feet above the water!  This was excitement that far exceeded any violently heaving carnival ride.  This was real!  There was an element of danger but, for the most part, it was all in your mind.

                Halfway across the bridge the first rain began to fall, lightly at first and then much heavier.  By the time we were off the bridge and heading up Brooklyn's 4th Avenue the downpour was upon us.  Fortunately, the rain soon tapered off to a drizzle and, except for some brief showers, remained that way through most of the race.

                Along the 4th Avenue straight-away, about 3 or 4 miles into the race I began to reach my stride.  My left Achilles' tendon was also making itself known with a constant dull ache.  The plan was to hold back on speed, ease the tendon through these early stages, and see how things went.  Somewhere between 3.5 and 4 hours was the likely finishing time.  I would try to run negative splits.  If all went well, the time for each mile would decrease until, for the last 6 miles, I'd run at a 7-minute, 15-second pace.  It was all theory at this point but, except for the tendon, all parts were in good operational order.

                I can now say that the Achilles was never really a factor in this race, perhaps because the speed was kept down in the early stages.  It was a constant dull ache throughout the 26 miles but it never got any worse, never to the point of severe pain.  This was actually a welcomed relief from the trauma of the previous 2 months. 

                Here I was, running down the center of 4th Avenue, jumping over puddles and weaving my way through the pack.  I was consciously staying to the right of a heavy rope that separated my Blue running group from the Red and Green runners in the other two lanes.  Perhaps it was around mile 3, I'm not certain, but the rope was down and runners were crossing back and forth.  It wasn't long before I found myself running on the left side of the median, a situation that caused no undue concern at the time.  I had assumed the rope was down on purpose and that intermingling was now permissible.  Weeks later I read that a runner could be disqualified for crossing the median.  The three separate starting groups would not officially merge until 8 miles into the race.  The mile markers were actually at different locations for the Red/Green and Blue groups by a matter of perhaps up to 300 yards.  To this day, I do not know if by crossing over I ran a longer or shorter marathon.  I'll assume it was longer.

                It was after crossing into the Red/Green zone that I encountered this morning's new bride.  People were running alongside and wishing her well.  The groom was no where to be found.  Taking my turn at her side, I gave my congratulations and got a big smile when recommending she not use all of her energy in the race, but save some for later.  One of the things that keeps me going in these long events is the occasional conversation with other runners and the quips and comments about peculiar aspects of the race or its participants.  If someone is wearing a distinctive or unusual outfit, I'll give them a "thumbs up" or, better yet, a one-liner comment that leaves them laughing or wondering.  Coming up with an appropriate remark helps occupy the mind as the body works away. 

                Continuing along 4th Avenue, I passed the 5-mile mark about 46 minutes into the race.  By mile 8, all three running groups were merging and I was fully in my stride, making up time and closing in on an 8-minute average pace.  Even so, there was always a good number of runners around me.  One problem I ran into, almost literally, were the running teams.  Many of these traveled together in packs, often running side-by-side and taking up a good portion of the roadway.  They were doing their thing and having a good time, so that's OK.  It just left me biding my time until an opening came.  Such is life in the crowded inner city...

                All along the marathon route, thousands of people of all ages were cheering us on, despite the overcast skies and occasional shower.  A seemingly unbroken chain of spectators lined the course as the race passed through one urban neighborhood after another.  Youngsters enthusiastically slapped hands with the passing marathoners.  Bands played heavy metal and hard rock to put the runners in a moving frame of mind.  People offered orange slices, bananas, and candy as we passed by.  I remember one old codger holding out a lollipop, saying "Somebody take this!"  I left it for the next person.  A lollipop is not the easiest or safest thing to be eating as you're dashing along at break-neck speed.  OK, maybe I exaggerate the speed! 

                Still in Brooklyn but now on Bedford Avenue, I was dancing around pot holes and skirting puddles when I encountered the unusual sight of a dollar bill about 50 feet ahead.  In the seconds before I straddled and then passed it by, I decided this good fortune was not for me.  A dollar bill in the street, in plain sight of so many fanatical marathon fans?  What's wrong with this picture?  How many runners had fallen for this ruse and reached down to the rain-soaked asphalt-only to have someone pull a string and yank the bill from their grasp at the last second?  After all, it was Brooklyn and people were having fun!    

                Further along Bedford I came upon a couple of real marathon personalities.   The first was a historical character apparently transported from the banks of the Tiber.  Sprinting along the course before me was a Roman centurion.  He was in full regalia: plumed helmet, breastplate, wristbands, and short skirt - a superb outfit marred only by the sneakers which replaced the standard army-issue sandals.  As I moved closer to give him a "thumbs up," I had an inspiration and shouted "Hey! Just Roman through the streets of New York?"  At that, the centurion turned to me and let fly with a couple of unintelligible phrases.   Either he was delirious or I got cursed out in Italian!  It was time to move on. 

                The second personality was a female caped crusader.  This shapely long-haired blonde was dressed in red and blue satin with a cape that was flapping in the breeze.  This was Wonder Woman and she was getting lots of attention from the crowds as she zoomed by.  As I moved past I shouted that she looked truly "super." 

                Half way occurred at about 1 hour, 50 minutes into the race, just before the short bridge into Queens.   I was doing better than expected and just might finish under the 3:30 mark.  This was my unspoken goal. After all, 3:30 was the 50-54 age group cut-off for those accepted into the Boston Marathon.  To me it was the difference between average and good.  I had no intention of going to Boston again, I just wanted to qualify.  It's an ego thing.  At the crossing into Queens people congratulated us - not on our great running prowess, but on having survived the passage through Brooklyn. 

                At around mile 14 in Queens, I was in the midst of a dog leg turn to the west when I heard those first faint notes.  Frank Sinatra's New York, New York was about to blast upon the marathon course.  How fantastic can it get?  Running this great race and being serenaded by the chairman of the board himself.  My ears perked up.  I could feel the goose bumps rising.  Like magic, renewed energy was being pumped into my legs.  I extended my arms, pointed, then waved to those providing the music.  The sad part is, I couldn't take it with me.  Just as Ol' Blue Eyes had begun crooning, I was well around the turn and headed west.  I couldn't have heard more than 30 seconds of that tune but it was sufficient to provide a much-needed jolt of inspiration.

                At mile 15, on the approach to the Queensboro Bridge, there was a subtle change in my running condition that took a few seconds to identify.  I had stopped sweating!  For a person who sweats profusely, this was a danger signal.  It meant dehydration.  From the emotional heights of New York, New York, my spirits took an immediate nose dive.  I needed water quickly but had enough long distance running experience to know the damage was already done.  Any water now would not take effect for another half hour; meanwhile, I was depleting the reserves stored in the muscles and tendons.  The cramps and pain would not be far off.  There were 11 miles to go.  I'd walk through the next few water stops, drink all I could and hope for the best.

                It's worth noting here that the dehydration was caused by a failure to follow good marathon discipline.  In training, my practice was to run in 2-mile increments, stopping  and drinking a full cup of water between each segment.  This routine worked great when applied at the Boston and Marine Corps Marathons.  At New York I got caught up in the excitement, missed some water stops and drank sparingly at others.  It's a lesson I had to learn all over again-no matter how good you feel, if you sweat a lot, you better be drinking a lot.  It's in the second half of the marathon that early indiscretions take their toll.

                And the race went on...  Crossing the Queensboro Bridge over the East River, we entered Manhattan, the fourth of New York's five boroughs.  Running along the bridge's south side railing, the view was magnificent.  There on the approaching shoreline were the towering buildings of upper Manhattan, including the UN complex along the river and the Empire State Building off in the distance.  Looking down river, you could make out another bridge and see the skyline of lower Manhattan, including the twin towers of the World Trade Center.  This was an excellent vantage point.  I was sad to see it pass. 

                Once in Manhattan, the race turned north for a 4-mile straight-away up First Avenue.  At this juncture there were more spectators than at any other part of the marathon, except for Central Park and the race to the finish.  People were shouting encouragement from upstairs windows, while other spectators below jostled for a place at the curb.  As the crow flies, we were a little over a mile from the actual finish line.  But for us, flying was not an option.  There were 10 miles to go. 

                First Avenue is a fairly wide street, providing lots of room to maneuver.  You could trundle along at your own pace with little concern about colliding with those around you.  There were noticeably more flags of various nationalities along the route.  Most prominent was the Tricolor.  Roman centurions aside, there seemed to be more Frenchmen in this race than any other group.  I also encountered a couple of fellow Marylanders on First Avenue.  As I moved along, one called out "Hello Baltimore!"  Too tired to turn around, I raised my hand in a thumbs-up salute.  The second compatriot was a little further ahead.  It was the "Maryland" in large letters across her back that gave her away.  I shouted a weak "Let's go Maryland!" as I eased slowly by.  My Maryland flag shorts provided all the identity I needed and I got a rousing "All Right!"

                Upon reaching mile 18, there was a sense of satisfaction that I was still holding up.  Eighteen miles had been my longest training run.  I was now charting new territory with each step, but the mild euphoria didn't last.  Near the 20-mile point at the top of First Avenue I was crossing the short bridge into the Bronx, and was feeling the full effects of dehydration.  The water consumed during each of the last five miles wasn't helping much.  Muscles and joints were aching with every stride.  Although most of this was from dehydration, I'm sure the lack of training played its part. 

                Our stay in the fifth borough was brief.  By mile 21 we had crossed another bridge out of the Bronx and into the Harlem area of Upper Manhattan.  We were now turning south and heading directly for Central Park.  The people of Harlem offered music and encouragement as we entered the home stretch to the finish.

                The last 4 miles were through Central Park.  I was now fully aware that a sub 3:30 marathon was out of the question.  That planned 7:15 pace for the last 6 miles was long since scrapped.  The new plan: move straight ahead; worry about pace some other day.  The route through Central Park was a series of gently rolling hills.  Although not normally a problem, today these seemed like mini mountains.  Five or six times during this last stretch I gave in to the pain and walked for about a 100 yards.  At one of these junctures I noted the earlier lady Maryland passing me by.  After each such interlude I'd hop back into a jog, then gradually increase the pace to a moderate run.  The crowds in Central Park were fabulous - the shouts of encouragement; the high five's.  They made the struggle bearable. 

                Eventually, I made the final turn and headed north to the finish line a third of a mile away.  The needle was on empty but there was enough fuel in the tank for a moderate kick to the finish.  I made no wrong turns.  I learned later that the eventual marathon winner, German Silva of Mexico, took a wrong turn near the finish.  He realized his error, reversed course, and went on to win.  Had I known about this wrong turn during the race, I might have used the opportunity to catch him.  Yes, and if you believe that, there's a New York City bridge that's for sale.

                My finishing time was 3:34!  There were 4,500 runners who completed the race ahead of me and 25,000 runners still out on the course.  From this perspective, it was not run a bad race.  I was certainly well within my advertised 3:30-4:00 finishing time.  This was by far the biggest race I had ever run.  My running cap in salute to the New York City Road Runners Club.  The race was well orchestrated and expertly run, including all the pre- and post-race activities.  The people of New York provided tremendous support.  There were no worms in the Big Apple this day.  I Love New York!


Post Script:      

                A word of advice to potential marathoners? First, train adequately to build endurance and speed.  Second, run with a plan.  Do the race in increments.  Make the marathon just a series of short races.  Match the increments to the water stops or neighborhoods.  Concentrate on these mini races, not on the overall 26 miles.   Third, drink lots of water - a full cup or two every 2 miles.   Don't be afraid to walk rather than run through the water stop.  You'll catch those runners who pass you by.

                Regarding my post-race physical condition: Within 4 days the aches and pains of the marathon were mostly gone.  More significant and intriguing, the nagging Achilles injury that had been around since mid August seemed completely cured within a week.  Was this race magical or what?

                Having completed Boston and New York, what about the plan to give up marathons and stick to the shorter distances?  Hmmmmm.  Maybe I'll try one more...

Mile 24 in Central Park

Finish Line in Central Park



Boston Marathon, April 1994
    Time: 3:14:08 (after subtracting 3 minutes taken before crossing start line)

//To be continued//

Marine Corps Marathon, October 1993
    Time: 3:11:07
//To be continued//

 Marine Corps Marathon, October 1992
    Time: 3:20:59
//To be continued//

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