Quoting Sgt. Pepper: “It was 20 years ago today …”
It has been called the ultimate athletic achievement, and it certainly was mine.
I’ve never forgotten running the Los Angeles Marathon, but it was another wake up call this week when the runners traversed Los Angeles streets. Yes, it was 20 years ago when I started and finished my only effort at the 26.2-mile distance.
In 1991, it happened to be the same day as the infamous Rodney King videotaped beating. But something good happened on the streets of Los Angeles that day, too.
It was months in the making, but it was also years in the making. I had been a runner for more than a decade, starting with a pair of cheap Nikes and getting more sophisticated as my experience and income grew. Moving to San Diego certainly stoked the habit, as that city’s wonderful climate and beach boardwalks made the activity almost a compulsion.
My years of 10-kilometer runs and a couple of half-marathons had left me with the desire to eventually try a marathon. But there also was a marital motivation. My then-wife was understandably obsessed with her nursing school (she was obtaining RN credentials, which she has been using since then), and I had a lot of empty time. So, the inspiration hit.
There was a weekly mileage goal, usually 50 or 60, and that grueling one-day routine of 19 or so to whip myself into shape. Plus, there also was the equally challenging matter of few or no 12-ounce curls. But when you are that into fitness and with such a goal, the urge really does fade.
This is a challenge. There is no one cheering you on during training runs. Of course, you can have partners, but I didn’t then, other than seagulls and occasional familiar faces.
Landmarks such as the Big Olaf ice cream stand and the Mission Beach lighthouse became distance markers. The course from the lighthouse to the plaza and back was about 6.5 miles, and three trips constituted the weekly gasser. Marathoners know you gotta do those to prepare your body for the senseless but nirvanic pounding you are about to give it.
I deemed myself ready in about four months. Remember, I already was in decent 10-k shape. I made the journey for the weekend in LA by myself. In what was something of a marital sore spot, my then-wife did not see fit to come along and be at the finish line for support. She preferred to stay in San Diego and study. (You are welcome to weigh in, but when she graduated from nursing school in ’92, I was at her ceremony.)
The pre-race dinner was memorable because of one guest: Muhammad Ali. Yes, the aging champ, still able to get around then, toured the tables, giving us all the famous punching routine. (That remains a memorable missed photo op. Another is Donald Trump donning a construction hard hat for a groundbreaking at his LA golf course development in 2005. These days, with smartphones and all, no excuse for such.)
The race? Fairly uneventful, showing that I had trained properly. It was warm by SoCal standards, but not oppressive. My one vow: don’t prove anything. Walk if necessary, and don’t whine if you have to drop out. But only after mile 20 did I feel it wise to walk for some stretches. How far, not sure, but it was only for two short stretches, and there still was plenty of running.
And in what seemed like no time I was done. Time? Four hours, 27 minutes. Very respectable, especially for a first-timer. The real adventure came on the trip back to the hotel. My race number tag, visible in the above photo, disappeared. That was supposedly the shuttle bus ticket, but the driver obviously knew a frazzled racer when he saw one. Get my point about a finish-line companion?
Back in San Diego, the first congratulatory call came from co-worker Buster Olney, now ESPN’s baseball reporter.
And the regrets: I’ve never done another marathon. It was a great achievement, with no negative physical fallout, and one should always build on such. Also, I’ve allowed the running habit to lapse. The mix with newspaper hours got to be a grind in the mid-90s, but if one wants to do something bad enough, you will find a way.
But there’s still the future. And that memorable moment from the past.