Every once in a while, we sluggers manage to carve our little ray of sunshine, and I guess I got mine on Sunday. But it came hard.
In late August I had planned my Fall of races, and had duly noticed that Dick Fedion’s 60’s division course record at the Nifty Fifty was somewhat in my ball park. The record was 7:52:15, and I had run within three minutes of that time in 1998, the last time I had run the race. But that was also the year I was in great shape, having done a 19:46 100 and several marathons in the fall around 3:20. Plus I was three years older now, with the usual trickle of aging detria. Time doth march on, as Ponce Deleon even found out.
I had crashed and burned in my Slam pursuit over the summer, so knew I needed to take inventory and do something different. I began a slow diet, losing about a pound a week, with a goal of 162 for the race in eight weeks. I am a natural heavyweight, and if I eat “normal”, I gradually grow to over 190 despite 50 or 60 miles a week, which has predictable influence on my times. I have a rough tab on this effect in my 30 years of Jim Fixx and John Jerome running logs, which is almost irrelevant to the skinny guys, who simply don’t relate. My mileage and training hasn’t changed significantly for 20 years, after a learning period of 30 years before that, as I was one of the original subscribers to Track & Field News back in 1953, when it was Bert & Cordner Nelson’s newsletter.
I ran the Clarence Demar in 3:48 (170lbs.), Cape Cod (very hilly) in 3:38 (166), then the week before sort of skated through Jeff Washburn’s new Stone Cat Ale trail marathon in 5:26 because it was a very forgiving course and I wanted to show my support for a good friend’s new venture (superb in every way, I might say). Called it my last long run, which I always do closer to a race than advised anyway, but always on non-pavement so I get the low impact of the beach or golf course.
Through my buddy Rusty Snow (13th American at New York this year in 2:22), I have learned and practiced the depletion diet before a race, plus a few other logistical squeezers, like following strict tangents (Jim Garcia is a master at this, I noticed during the race — and why not? After all, he is an engineer), peeing on the run, racing through the aid stations with prearranged grab bottles, etc.
I also had the luxury of changing shirts on the fly, as my girl friend Jane was there every loop, and as it grew warmer, it was great to run barechested for a while in my best Walt Stack imitation, as is my usual wont. I would have liked to slip out of the tights just to shorts, but the comfortability factor wouldn’t have warranted the time lost for this. Didn’t want to stop for nothin’. Including, I hasten to add, a rascally little white toy poodle who came yapping out at us, then BIT me in the ankle, the little #X*%!, as Steve Peckonis observed, grabbing a stick up. Oh well. Life in the battle zone.
The pace was the key. I puposely went through the marathon slower (4:01 to 3:59) than in ’98, hoping to slow down less in the late stages, and had noticed in admiration some of the great negative-split patience of folks like Betsy Laflamme in previous years. Every running cost-efficiency test I have read bears this out, but few have the discipline to bring this to practice, save a few great track runners. (check out the last mile of every 10,000 meter world record) The best I could do was to slow down less, and at all costs avoid anything resembling the wall.
It was very hard. From my laminated sheet tucked in my shorts, I never had the luxury of a three or four minute cushion to relax with, but had to grind away. A loop course offers some extras, like Garcia and Setnes duel for 35 miles as they whizzed by me, the many greetings from my fellow grunters as we trudged along. Missy Heeb and Ruthie Kesler and yes, Dick Fedion himself, shouted encouragement every time I came to the home station. Boy, that helps. And there was always Jane, my noble Jane, who had seen me through all the other wars of Vermont and Leadville and Western States. This was tough, but damn, isn’t everything you every really wanted tough?
The last loop was scary. I knew I had about a minute and a half margin, but was wobbling and knew I was right on the edge. I could fall so easy. I had to be careful not to blow it. All the planning and training and hopes that for once, I would be in the record books right alongside those other real runners. An old man can dream, can’t he?
The last mile was an exercise in focus and balance, and when I could see Don Allison and Mike Menovich about 300 yards away in front of the Washington Oaks School at the finish line, I couldn’t bear to glance at my watch. Don announced the good news to me, 7:50:50, my fastest 50 ever, and a scant minute 25 seconds inside the record. I collapsed into Jane, who of course was crying and who was the one person who could truly know what it all meant.
Now, I know I’m a little pea in the pod, and I know the difference between “Well done, lad,” and true greatness — like a Bernd Heinrich (same age!) running a full hour faster than me a month ago at a race in Maine and winning the damn thing outright, but I also know that our sport offers each one of us a chance to pursue our goals for our very own right. And that’s got its own importance, and can be so beautiful.
After the awards ceremonies, Dick Fedion came over and congratulated me on the new “improvement” on the age group record, wryly adding, “But thanks a lot, Pete.”
Yet somehow I don’t think he minded a bit.
See you on the trails,