triathlon training

Tucson Marathon Race Report

will I qualify for The Boston Marathon after 30 years of trying?

I've been a runner since I was in the ninth grade when at the urging of a science teacher I tried out for the track team. He explained how he was amazed at how it had turned a certain troublemaker into a young man with a purpose. I was a troubled youth also and could envision such a miracle. Later that very week the track coach had me run a 4.5-mile loop and was surprised when I returned less than 45 minutes later. That was 30 years ago and ever since I've had dreams of running the Boston Marathon.

On Sunday December 5th, 1999 in Tucson, Arizona I tried once more to qualify for the crème-de-le-crème of the running world that starts in Hopkinton on Patriot's Day. I've come close many times and even had qualifying times at today's standards but 15 years ago a male under 40 needed at 2:50 to toe the line. On Sunday I needed a 3:25, which is 26.2 miles at a 7:55 mile pace.

I felt confident this was going to be the day and was even hoping to break my PR of 3:11 set 15 years ago in Honolulu. That year I had just quit smoking 6 months prior and had only put in a few 18-20 milers during the 3-month build up. It was hot and humid; I went out too fast and intermittently walked the last 3 miles.

This year I logged 50-mile weeks with 3-hour runs each week for 2 months and turned in a 40-minute 10K three weeks before race day. If ever I was ready this was it. I lost 10 more pounds from a high of 185 and weighed 167 on race morning. That's 3 pounds more than when I was 18. This 45-year-old man is trying to prove he can fight middle-age crisis and win. I don't run as fast but I can still run until it hurts.

Race morning was about 5 degrees warmer than the freezing temperatures we had just 24 hours before. I brought gloves and ear protection and would not relinquish them both until 6 miles into the race.

We parked our cars a mile from the finish line in an industrial park and took the shuttle buses 26 miles to the point to point course that drops just enough elevation to still qualify as an officially sanctioned marathon. There is always an ambiance of anticipation and nervous conversation and I amaze at how long it takes to drive 26 miles.

My school bus was hot and no one minded when I asked to open a window. We gazed out in silence to see the blue-orange twilight as we raced with the sun to the starting line. No one knows who won but with lonely wilderness and dusty dirt road to meet us we waited anxiously for the warmth of the first few miles running to remind us why were here. Only an arch of balloons, a few cases of bottled water, and some tall boxes for sweat drops indicated that this was too be a major road race with talent from all over the country vying for Olympic Trials qualify times.

We milled about and I set off on my usual quest of out-smarting the port-o-potty lines. The first method of using the woods is a given but I really out did myself when I found the nicest diesel bus coach and settled in the heated bathroom complete with soap and towels. I found an empty row of seats and took out my secret weapon for the race: a new Mylar hula-skirt I made and a bright orange singlet with lei sewn on. This weapon would retain heat if cold and retain water if hot.

My friend Edward shows up to be the official race-start photographer. He gets a photo of me. Soon afterward we are waiting the extra 10 minutes for the delayed start and the next thing we all know, the race has begun. People are running and it's official, I remember to start my timer by keeping my finger on my newly bought Timex Ironman Data-link. I wanted to know each and every split for future reference. If I failed to qualify, I wanted to know why.

At the start we were looking up hill and that caused my first mile split to be 7:45. That was actually exactly what I wanted it to be. The next miles were easily falling away under my feet at the average rate of 6:50. That was too fast for an even pace marathon for me but right on course for a PR. I knew this day would have to have at least 2 hours of red-line effort to make it a day to cherish forever. I hit the 10-mile mark at 1:10, right on course for a stellar day. But sub 3 isn't within my reach and I try to settle back.

It's a lot of fun running as the hulaman. Fifteen years of wearing this festive garb has served me well. People shout and cheer you on. Runners comment as they pass or get passed. But today I need to contain my usual glee and conversation to concentrate. I realize by mile 3 that I will need to communicate by sign language and keep my oxygen for the effort. I wonder if someone will wonder why such a serious attitude. I feel out of place and a contradiction. Occasionally I quietly say thanks being careful not to use up too much energy. It's not like me to not thank each volunteer and spectator so I feel badly and out of sorts. This doesn't keep me from smiling though and I hope it shows. I'm not sure I want to do this again and vow to keep running fun or don't do it.

I ran through each aid station like a pro. Sometimes I got water and sometimes I got the energy drink. Energy drink in the eye stings and I'm thankful it goes away fast. I never missed a beat taking cups through all the stations and still haven't any idea if I actually got enough to drink. I did learn quickly to reach out and let them know I wanted a cup. Otherwise I would end up with a messy spill.

At mile 15 I noticed my split for the mile was 7:45 and I had tried my dandiest to get it down. I realize that I am much too early to be running anaerobic with still 11 miles to go. I tried to relax and settle into a comfortable pace of 8 minutes per mile, which would get me in on time enough to reserve a New England bed and breakfast next April. I trained at an eight minute pace and knew I could run forever, but not when I'm already filling with lactic acid. I started to call upon a power greater than myself to get me there on time.

I do know that if I am going to hit the wall, it should be coming up fast. 18 miles have gone by and each mile my legs get just a little more sore. My body is doing fine and my breathing is deep and relaxed. I took out a GU that was pinned between my skirt and shorts. I made sure I waited just before an aid station so I could wash it down.

At the 20-mile mark I knew what faced me. I had run this gradual downhill portion of the race 2 weeks before at 6:30 pace. Other than a quarter mile rise just before the finish I knew all I had to do was to keep from pushing too hard and forcing a cramp. I just needed 9-minute miles and that is all I was getting out of my legs. There were a couple of people who would stop and walk only to sprint by me seconds later. They appeared to be begging for a game of leapfrog and I couldn't join in, I needed to focus on running my own race. I've played the 11th hour tag and run before and I don't like it. This day the Gods blessed me; I was passing mortal men.

I heard a loud female voice go hulaman! Go hulaman! Go hulaman! When the voice suddenly said my name I realized this zealous fan was the one and only Perry, my sweetheart. She was up on the bank holding back Ruby, our dog, who always wants to join in the run no matter how short or long. I was home now and I had not stopped once for any reason. It was just a matter of doing the footwork by turning the corner into the driveway of the Sheraton and sprinting 500 yards to the finish. I was shocked to see a clock far away with 3:24:xx and panicked. Could I come this far and miss my goal by a few seconds? I didn't want to find out. My calculations told me I would make it with a couple minutes to spare but I forgot about the last 2 tenths of a mile. I gave it all I possibly had and more.

I usually yuck it up with the finish line crowds but this was an important race with lifelong dreams at stake and seconds ticking away. That didn't stop them from yelling and screaming for me to finish. Gosh, you would think they had never seen a man in a hula-skirt before. I managed to raise my arms for the finish and ended my death stare on the clock to see it had not changed to 3:26 or more. I had done it! I needed the finish line volunteer to hold me up as I tore off my proof of purchase tag complete with bar code. It was over and a 30-year dream had come true, I had qualified. Now the dream of running the Boston Marathon is yet to come.

GOOD LUCK and Keep It Fun!!!
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