Exactly one week and one night left, now. All of the serious work is behind me, and I have only anxiety and travel and accomplishment (or failure) to anticipate. I never wanted to be a runner; I successfully avoided it for forty years.

In grade school, we had a once a year track meet involving a cadre of elementary schools, grades 4-6. Running and jumping events filled the afternoon. One qualified for the day off from academic work through one’s performance in gym class. There were several levels, based on a combination of one’s age and grade level. Since I was a year younger than others in my grade, I was routinely a rather poor performer in gym class; but then come track meet time, I qualified for the triple jump (literally that: stand and jump forward three times) and the relay (4 x 50 yds). So apparently I was a competent runner, compared to my peers. I had no interest in trying to get better, though, and I don’t know why.

The summer after 6th grade, my father promised me a transistor radio if I joined the swim team at our local summer pool. I wanted to (a) listen to Cincinnati Reds’ games and (b) immerse myself in rock ‘n roll, so I joined, got the radio, and adopted swimming as my competitive sport, replacing baseball. I never gave running another thought until medical school. One of my roommates was short, thin, and had a father who’d died of a heart attack at age 48 or so. He’d discovered the world of aerobic training to improve cardiac performance, and was into running as a prophylactic. I was still swimming, weight lifting, and bike riding, and had started skiing rather well, so I only saw his running as a way to get sweaty, tired, and hurt. As time went on, I viewed a runner as “Mr. Aerobic”, an aesthenic, holier-than-thou monomaniacal pseudo-athlete, who knew how to use only part of his body, and who disdained the weight room, gravity sports, and fun in general.

My swimming and biking eventually pulled me into triathlon after I saw a brochure one summer for a “sprint” race, which involved only 3 miles of running. At the time, I was on the Board of Directors of the company I work for, after having been its chief executive for 7 years, and a general manager for 7 years before that. I had to run for another term (this is a professional company, almost like a partnership, where the 800 or so shareholders are also the employees), and I discovered that I didn’t really want to “campaign” one more time, as I’d been doing periodically for 15 years. I promised myself that if I lost the election, I’d take up triathlon and start running on Jan 1st. This is still the only New Year’s resolution I’ve ever made.

I’d given my wife a professional grade Nikon camera that Christmas. (Little did she know at the time it would cement her own obsession with and new career in photography). Together with several of our kids, we drove the half-mile up the hill to the local middle school track. I “ran” three laps, and started my own new career as a triathlete. During the first year or two, I continued to actively hate running. I would complain to myself at the start of the run in each triathlon I did about how much I hated to run. I had to force myself to do almost every run I did, unlike my eagerness to bike and my willingness to swim. The only enjoyment I have ever gotten out of running is watching my performance improve. Oh, and the “hitting one’s head against the wall” phenomenon – it feels so good after I stop.
Triathlon is a seasonal sport, mainly from April thru October. I became addicted to competition, and so after three years, decided, with as much forethought as I’d gone into triathlon, to try some running races. My very first was a half-marathon. Based on that time, and my 5K and 10K times, it appeared I had the innate speed, if trained and sustained, to qualify for the Boston Marathon, something that has a certain cachet among semi-serious runners. (Serious runners are more obsessed with training models, interval speeds, and two-a-days. Yeah, I know.) Since I wanted to separate myself from the joggers, and identify myself as a runner (just as I am a biker and a swimmer and a triathlete, and a skier) I though I should check this one off my life list.

I’d “run” several marathons at the end of Ironman triathlons, so the distance didn’t scare me. I signed up for the LA Marathon in March of 2002. I ended up walking much of the last 7 miles, and finished slower than I had in the California Ironman a year earlier. Hmm – maybe this isn’t as easy as it looks. Running a marathon – as distinct from the shuffling death march one does at the end of an Ironman – requires a bit more than 3 days/25-30 miles a week. Most important, it requires a number of “long runs”, at least 3, preferably 5-6, spread out during the 12-16 weeks prior to one’s marathon. To run 20 miles at a time, even at a jog, requires some pre-training training. I didn’t like running long, even less than I liked running short. So I faked it.

Running is a brutally honest sport. You get out of it exactly what you put into it. It’s not like most team sports, where “on any given Sunday” a team with inferior athletes can find a way, through brains and teamwork and a bit of luck, to defeat a clearly superior group. Your speed at shorter distances, combined with the amount and type of running you do in traininb, will tell you exactly what you are capable of in the marathon. If you overestimate your ability, and run at a faster or harder pace than you are capable of and trained for, the marathon will brutalize you at about 19 miles out. You literally run out of gas (muscle and liver glycogen), and the final 7.2 miles becomes a mental and physical embarrassment. Patience, humility and stark honesty are the name of the game.

So the next year, I signed up for the San Diego (now Carlsbad) marathon. This time, I did a good twelve weeks of training, with three long runs, and went 3 times a week, from 25-45 miles a week. Pretty good I thought. So, I ended up running into the wall – again - at about 20 miles, I kept on running, though, and brought my time down about 25 minutes, but still 25 minutes short of the Boston time. This was most frustrating; at my shorter race times indicate I can go about 50 minutes faster. Clearly, I hadn’t done enough training. I didn’t know if I ever wanted to do enough training, so I put Boston aside for a while.

My next two triathlon campaigns were marked by increasing success. If I didn’t win a local race, I felt a failure. I started getting “on the podium” at regional and national races. My running became more consistent, and became something I had a bit of confidence in at the end of a race. It still hurt like hell, but I’d learned I could run just this side of the hurt, and finish well.

In the first of those years, I entered a spring half-marathon, and bested my previous record by 6 minutes – a six percent improvement. I finished 6th (one step off the podium), but felt it was one of my best races ever nonetheless. As I would “age-up” the next year, I vowed to win the race this year. I did, and beat my previous time by seconds.

So another assault on the Boston Qualifying standard seemed foreordained. I have the speed; I have the ability to train. I have the mental capacity to hold a race for at least the 3-½ hours required. Unfortunately, knowing all this, I will consider myself a failure unless I can beat the Boston Marathon time of 3 hours, 45 minutes. My shorter race times, even my training times, all indicate I should be able to run in the range of 3:16-3:28. This year, I devoted over 20 weeks of run training to the effort, upping my days from 3 to 5 a week. Upped my miles to a sustained 40-50+ per week. Did 3 20-mile runs, including one in the heat of Hawaii, in times better than the years before. Followed a program billed as “Advanced Marathoning”, for people who are serious, not just seeking to finish, but seeking to meet their internal capability.

I picked a race in early December, in Sacramento, with a course that goes gradually downhill. I got plane tickets cheap, reserved two nights in a downtown suite, and ordered a Budget Rent-a-Car. I got new training and racing outfits, and a new GPS based time and distance measuring contraption for my right wrist (the heart rate monitor goes on the left). I am so ready, and convinced I can do this, that I do not yet have room for failure in my heart. It’s all over but the running.

Back to Triathlon Diary  On to Boston!