GROUND HOG DAY 1980
Through a break in the trees on my left I can see Lake Superior shimmering in the sunlight. It’s a clear day and I can see forever — or at least I can see Duluth some 23 miles away around the curve of the lake. My legs move effortlessly along the black-topped old Highway 61, shared this morning only with some 1600 other runners, most but not all, in front of me.
Grandma’s Marathon. It started in Two Harbors, Minnesota at 9:00 a.m., Saturday, June 23, 1979. It will end at Grandma’s Saloon and Deli on the Duluth waterfront 26 miles, 385 yards away — at about 11:15 for the winner, at 1:30 for the last official finisher, and who knows when for the last weary straggler. It’s a perfect day for running — no wind, not humid, high 50s, sun at our backs.
And I am running gloriously at about an 8:30 minutes per mile pace. Keenly aware of the clear air, the views of the lake, the other runners as I slowly pass some and others slowly pass me. At 5 miles the first refreshment station. I grab a paper cup of ERG, stand still 3 seconds to gulp it down (others try to drink without breaking stride), toss the cup and am on my way. Thea is one of many volunteers handing out water and ERG — and picking up a thousand cups after we’ve left. She and the others are the unsung heroes of a marathon. There’ll be stations every three miles from here on, and I’ll drink one or two cups at each of them.
My first marathon. But my sixth road race. The racing started when my friend Tom Johnson, on his way to be elected County Attorney, sponsored a “run for justice” as a publicity gimmick in Sept. 78. I entered just for fun, jogged along at my own speed, and finished 94th out of 129 in a time of 50:14 for the 10 km. And I was hooked. I’ve been jogging for more years than I’ve been writing these letters, but this was a new dimension. So far from winning that there’s no pressure, but running with all those others and even finishing ahead of some of them. So I entered two more races that fall and brought my minutes-per-mile down from 8:06 to 7:53 to 7:34. And in that last one I discovered that they gave awards by age groups and that the really good runners were mostly in a different race so I’m the proud possessor of a bronze medal for finishing 3rd in the “50–59 male” class.
Of course, if I’m going to race 6 miles I have to up my regular jogging from its former 2 to 3 miles. And with this much running I should probably get real running shoes. But which? This question led me to the shoe survey in the magazine “Runner’s World” where I read all sorts of articles on jogging, running, racing, training. By now I was an addict. I could fill pages with the details, but if you’re a road running idiot you know them already, and if you’re not I’d tell you far more than you want to know.
Slowly I toyed with the idea of marathon. I read. I trained. I ran farther. I ran hills. I ran intervals. I ran LSD (long slow distance) of up to 20 miles. I sent in an application.
And here I am. Along with some 1600 other people of all ages, size, and sexes. 5 miles. 10 miles. 13.1 miles — halfway there and still feeling good. Someone slowly overtakes me and either slows down or I speed up. We talk a bit, as we run. Compare training routines and things like that. As we pass the 14-mile marker he pulls out a pencil and paper and writes down his time. I lose him at the next aid stop — and match up with someone I’d run part of a race with last month. 17 miles. A kid on a bike goes past the other way announcing loud and clear that the race has already been won by Wilde — with Bjorkland second. We could kill him.
18 miles. We enter outskirts of Duluth. Only half the road to ourselves now, but traffic cones and volunteers keep runners and cars apart. 20 miles. The legendary “wall.” But I don’t feel it. My pace has slowed a bit but I still feel great. I drink two ERGs and go on. Only 6 miles left — and I’ve run lots of 6 mile races.
22 miles. Suddenly my toe starts to hurt. Try to change stride to relieve it. Not good. Think. It pushes against end of shoe with each step. Maybe shoe could be tighter. Stop at next hydrant to tighten shoe (at this point I do not bend as far as the ground!). It works.
23 miles. That’s Alan Page ahead, the professional football player. He’s struggling. I pass him easily and think I’m glad I’m not carrying a football to challenge him. He is big.
24 miles. 25 miles. I catch up with my former next-door neighbor Joyce. She and her husband passed me at about 10 miles. Doug is long gone but Joyce has a sore knee. I tell her “anyone can run a mile” and she proves it by sprinting ahead of me. Turn the last corner. There’s Thea with a camera. Wave and smile. And run. A quarter mile to go 100 yards. I can’t catch Joyce. At the last minute an 11-year-old boy sprints past both of us. But I finish! 3:51:23.4. Under 4 hours which was my goal. Keep walking. Try to do stretch exercises. Find Thea. Put on warm-up clothes — suddenly I’m cold. Find car. Find hotel. Soak in tub. Drink. Eat banana. Drink. Soak. Dry. Dress. Put on my red “finishers” t-shirt and head for hotel restaurant. Lots of runners there. We all smile (grin), wave. Easy to identify by the t-shirt or by the limp. We did it. I did it. 3:51:23.4!
As you probably figured out, the above was written last June. Since then I’ve continued to run, including the Marine Corps. Marathon in Washington, D.C., last November, which I finished in 3:47:36. And as I gaze out our picture window at the snowy landscape I am already planning which ones to run in 1980.
The rest of my family tolerates my latest obsession. Thea relaxes from her stimulating and ever-changing responsibilities as Assistant Director of the University Computer Center by accompanying me to out-of-town races, holding stop watches, serving drinks, and taking pictures. At one race with about 3000 runners bearing down on her vantage point with the camera she confided to the young woman next to her “They go by so fast I’m not sure I can recognize my husband.” “How long have you been married?” “Thirty-six years” (It’s now 37, and each one better than the ones before). And the other woman said “That’s something to be proud of even if you can’t recognize your husband!”
In fact, I had a good cheering section for that race since it went right past our house and we were being visited by Sue and her family. She is doing real well in her job at UCLA — gave a paper at a national meeting in Minneapolis (we had another great visit) and is being considered for a tenure-track position. David is now “My son-in-law, the Assistant Professor of Pediatrics” at Harbor Hospital in Los Angeles — strictly research, I assure you. And her “family.” Do you realize that I’m on page 5 already and I haven’t once mentioned my beautiful, brilliant, precocious, adorable, almost-three-year-old granddaughter? Bet you thought I’d forgotten. I really feel sorry for all of you whose granddaughters may be exceptional but not as much so as April is — and even more sorry for those of you who through being too young or from some other oversight don’t even have a granddaughter.
And one of these days I may acquire an instant six-year-old grandson. Son Philip and his young woman-friend are making noises about getting hitched. They’ve got some problems to work out, but I like both Cindy and her son Bobby, so they’ll get no objections from this quarter.
Lisa’s news is mixed. She has left CDC and is enrolled in graduate school at UCLA where she did very well last quarter. However, she has a very serious back problem which so far is not responding well to treatment. Her current address is 945 Gayley Ave., Apt. 205, Los Angeles, CA 90024, in case you’re keeping track.
At the other end of the generation progression, Thea’s mother is hanging in there, although she’s not as young as she used to be — and my mother is in excellent health. I think she gets younger every year.
I know the pundits disagree, but as far as I’m concerned when the 7 changed to an 8 it signified a new decade. Welcome to the 80s — may they be fun for all of you.