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My First Time

My first marathon. West Bloomfield, Michigan. April, 1977.

I was 21 and had been running regularly for about a year. I had never run farther than 13 miles. Living at home in Redford, I didn't train on any hills and did no speed work. I was clearly not ready for a marathon.

Two weeks before the race, I happened to see a notice about it in the local Observer & Eccentric newspaper. "How hard can that be?" I asked myself, and planned on being there. Ignorance and youth were my biggest assets. I've forgotten most of that day, that race, but here's what I do remember.

With only maybe a dozen road races under my belt, I didn't know enough to be scared or anxious. I just showed up. The day was a little blustery, but not awful. I think it would rain later in the day. The first miles seemed ridiculously easy. At about the five or six mile mark I saw something unusual. Folding money. Laying there on the shoulder of the road. Lots of it, $5's and $10's. I pointed and shouted, "money!" I looked at the faces around me. No one smiled. No one turned their heads. And certainly, no one stopped to pick it up. "These guys are serious," I thought. I did what they did. I kept running.

10 miles went in 63 minutes. And it wasn't hard at all. At about 24 miles, after running up and down some rolling hills, all of a sudden, it got hard. I stopped. I just stopped, feeling out of gas. I didn't feel bad. Just empty. I wondered whether I could finish. A runner passing by gave me a pat on the butt, and called out, "come on, it's only a couple of more miles." I recognized the runner from some of the few races I'd done around Detroit. It was Bob Paklian. Nearly 20 years older than me, Bob and I would go on to hook up in a lot of races over the next few years. (Amazingly, Bob got faster as he got older, eventually running in the 32's for 10K in his late 40's.)

I started running again. I didn't stop until I crossed the line. The clock showed 2:54 and change. I looked around. The skies were dark, looking like it was going to rain. I walked across the street to a supermarket and bought a half gallon of orange juice. I wasn't really tired. Just a little weary and a little lost. I didn't know anyone, so I went home. The whole thing seemed so simple that when I realized I'd run fast enough to qualify for the month-away Boston Marathon, I entered that.

Boston was harder. Much harder. A hot sunny day and fast early pace had me pulled off the course at the 10 mile mark. A guy told me that I looked like I was having problems with the heat. He gave me a beer and steered me to a lawn chair in the shade. After a few minutes of sitting there, I decided that I hadn't come all the way to Boston to drink a beer under a tree. I got back on the course. I remember finishing around a lot of folks who looked like they felt worse than I did. Recently, I found my finishing certificate from that run. Over the years, my memory had condemened me to a finishing time for that race of somewhere around four hours. In fact, I'd finished in about 3:15. Youth can forgive so much.

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