Thursday, August 29, 2002

TR Reno Marathon

August 23 –28, 2002

Before you start this report I need you to do me (and you) a favor. Go to your bar or wherever you keep your booze and pour yourself a tall, cool drink. Got the drink? Good! Now take a good stiff drink and settle into your favorite chair. Comfy? OK let’s get started.

You need to relax and set the correct atmosphere/mood because I am going to ask you to start by going back in time. Pretend this is a Hollywood script. Your favorite chair is a time machine that not only moves you in time but also can move you to any location in the world. Have another drink and you will get the hang of it! Ready? Now push that time lever --- gently!!----because you only want to go back 20 years in time – precisely to Sunday, September 19, 1982. And set the location to Reno, NV or more precisely the Bower Mansion on Washoe Lake, about 20 miles south of Reno on Hwy 395. Are you there? No? Have another drink and try again!

Good! You finally made it. In front of you are many runners approaching the start line of a race --- ummm, let’s see – the banner says ‘ Silver State Marathon’. Try to pick out that middle-aged male runner over there on the right side of the start line – the one with blonde hair wearing a ‘Silver State Strider’ singlet with race number 324 pinned to the front. Got him? Good! Now we can begin Scene 1.


The runner is a young 38 years old and looks fit. He appears nervous. He doesn’t know anyone at the start line and what’s probably more frightening is that he doesn’t know anything about running a marathon. It’s his first marathon and in his hometown. He only started running a few years ago to lose the weight he gained when he quit smoking. Running is just a recreational exercise to be done only in good weather a few days a week. Sure, he has run a few local short races in Reno –5 and 10Ks – but got discouraged with those short distances/races when his oldest son –only 11 years old and with no training – whomped his butt in a recent ‘Fathers and Sons’ 5-mile race! Perhaps he should concentrate on long distances? After all, he always feels his best and most comfortable when he does those long 8 to 10 mile runs on the weekend. There seems to be something relaxing and wonderful that kicks in after 4 or 5 miles?

But does that really explain what he is doing at the start line of a marathon? Is it destiny or just a manifestation of a mid-life crisis – trying to prove that 38 is not the end of his life (or manhood)? Surely running a marathon will prove to him and the world that he is still young and strong? Able to compete with the young bucks! Maybe that explains why all-of-a sudden he had announced to his family and friends only a few months earlier “I think I will run a marathon”. He had absolutely no idea how to train or indeed that special training was needed to run a marathon? So his training included increasing the number of daily runs and weekly mileage to 40 miles per week. Heck – he even ran two long runs of 18 miles! So now he is ready and standing at the start line for this new and great challenge in his life! He had either read or heard somewhere that a 3:30 marathon (8-minute pace) was recognized as a challenging/important target for most marathoners so that became his goal.

6am! The race starts– the adrenaline is flowing! The runner has decided to go out at a 7:30 pace to give himself lots of margin – after all, he does expect to slow down a bit in the last 10K! Due to inexperience he gets sucked into following the lead group and runs the first mile at a sub 7-minute pace but quickly realizes that he cannot stay with those runners and backs off. He crosses the Half in 1:38 – he is really doing great – right on schedule and still feeling OK. But he already recognizes that he might not be able to hold this pace to the finish so decides to back off to an 8-minute pace. By mile 18 the legs are beginning to feel rubbery and very heavy? It becomes a struggle and it is starting to hurt just to run an 8-minute pace? By mile 20 his legs feel like they weigh 1,000 pounds each and he can’t believe how much it hurts just to keep his legs moving at an unbelievably slow 9-minute pace? But he is tough and can handle this for another 6 miles!

However he is not prepared for the SOB who built an 8-foot high, 8-foot wide solid brick wall across the marathon course at 22 miles! And he runs smack-dab straight into it! This is his first experience with the ‘WALL’! It is not pleasant!
His body feels like it has been hit with a giant sledgehammer. He picks himself up and tries to continue. He must climb over that wall! He must finish! Quitting is not an option. His family is waiting for him at the finish line! His manhood is on the line! He tries to run again – not possible- his body shuts down and refuses to move! He tries to walk and run but the pain is excruciating and the fatigue unbearable! So he starts cursing and screaming at himself – “how could you do something so painful and stupid”. He tries to move his legs forward but it hurts too much. He is not a very religious person but he looks up to the skies and prays, “please, please God, just help me finish this race – ‘ALIVE’- and I promise that I will never do anything so stupid ever again”! He begins to walk – his body finally allows this simple motion without unbearable pain. Then he tries to run again but this only results in more excruciating pain and prayers. So goes the next few miles – take a step –scream a curse and say a prayer. Finally around 24 miles his body recovers enough that he can begin to walk and run – still lots of pain and curses with each step but prayers no longer needed. At 25 miles he realizes that if he can just manage to jog the last mile he can still finish under that ridiculous goal of 3:30. Why is that so important? More prayers and lots of curses are needed but he finally crosses the finish line in 3:28:34 to the loud and exuberant cheers of his family. His first comment after he passes through the finish chute is “ I will NEVER, EVER run another marathon as long as I live!”

He and his family enjoy the post-race activities. No award for such a slow time in the 30s age group but he does get to talk to a few experienced marathoners and listen to their conversations about ‘fartleks’, ‘tempo runs’, ‘track work’, etc. What are these strange words. He has never heard of these training activities? But those runners must plant some kind of inquisitive or competitive seed. For about two weeks later the runner is sitting at dinner with his family and he is probably more shocked/surprised than his about-to-become sports manager when he looks her straight in the eyes and these incredulous words come out of his mouth “ YOU KNOW, I THINK IF I TRAINED HARDER AND SMARTER I COULD RUN A MARATHON FASTER?”

OK readers – time to ease back on that time lever and return to the present in your favorite time chair/machine.


Go back to the bar and pour another long, tall drink. I’ll give you a few minutes to get ready. Take another long hard pull on that drink. Comfy? Relaxed? Good? Time for Scene 2.


Give that time lever just a slight tap because you only need to go back one week – to Sunday, August 25, 2002 – and the same location – Bower’s Mansion in Washoe Valley.
Look - there’s a group of runners approaching the start line of the ‘21st Silver State Marathon’. Can you spot our runner over there on the right side of the start line again? You know - the one with the blonde hair – only this time he is wearing a singlet with ’50 States Finisher’ on the back and race number 200 pinned to the front. Good – you have spotted him? By now you have guessed whom ‘the runner’ is and therefore I am going to switch my story telling to first person-present tense to better describe the action.

Yes, that is ‘moi’ standing at the same start line – but 20 years has passed since I first stood at this line. A lot has changed in those 20 years! Unlike you in your favorite time machine – I have aged 20 years! The hair is still blond but not as thick and plentiful. I am still in fairly good shape and, at 144 pounds, weigh 14 pounds less than I did at that first marathon. My face and body have a lot more wrinkles due to the 20 years and my body has acquired many scars and nagging aches and pains due to running injuries suffered over those 20 years. But the biggest changes are not visible or apparent. They are the psychological and physiological changes that have occurred within my body and mind. I am no longer that nervous and frightened novice runner. I have run another 198 marathons and countless shorter races since that first naive/inexperienced marathon. Today I am running marathon # 200 – I know what to do and what to expect!

But why am I here? After running marathons in all the states, all the provinces, all the continents and 55 countries – why did I come back to Reno for #200? Because of a few unique and special circumstances! As fate would have it, my 200th marathon is happening exactly 20 years after I ran that first marathon in Reno. Since I believe that those 20 years and 200 marathons have now brought me to a stage in life where the effects of age and associated physiological changes on the human body cause such a rapid degradation in physical and athletic limits/capabilities, I want/need to test or confirm where I am on that scale of life. To do a realistic and fair test I need to return to the place where it all started 20 years ago i.e. run the same marathon on the same course and hopefully under the same conditions.

To be honest I was not very confident that I would be able to match or beat my time in that first marathon. I had not announced this goal or ‘dream’ to anyone for fear that it would cause me to put too much stress and pressure on myself. All I would admit is that I wanted to run as close as possible to my original time. But as you know I trained very, very hard for this challenge/test. I am lucky to live in the mountains in the summer because that provides altitude training every day – but I ran ‘Fourteeners’ just for extra hill work and altitude training.

Thus when I walked up to that start line on Sunday morning I knew that I had trained as hard and as smart as I could for this challenge. The other main factors affecting the outcome of this race/challenge would be the course and the weather. Fortunately the ‘Weather Gods’ are kind to us and the temperature is a chilly 37 degrees at the 6am start – and there is no wind! The only potential problem is the course. It has changed slightly from the original course that I ran 20 years ago. My sports manager, a running friend (Edson, who had flown out from NYC just to run the race and help me celebrate my 200th) and I had driven the course on Saturday - or at least we tried to! The original course had followed a paved road around Washoe Lake – the new course follows the same road but the race director has taken about 6 to 7 miles off road. I overheard a local runner say that the off-road sections were dirt trails. That should be OK?

As I stand at the start line with Edson I decide that if I want to achieve my secret or dream goal that I will have to go out as hard as I can and run right on the edge of my physical limits until I either cross the finish line or crash and burn in flames – whichever comes first. This is no time to be conservative!

6am. Bower’s Mansion (elevation 5,050 ft). The race starts. I go out behind the lead pack and they drag me through the first 3 miles –uphill- in 23.04. (7:41 pace) Miles 4 and 5 are flat and fast but then we hit the first off-road section – OH DAMN! There are two miles of sand trails running along the lake and anyone who has run along a beach knows how difficult it is to run on sand. Because my feet sink into the sand and I cannot get good traction I continue to expend the same amount of energy but my pace slows to 8 minutes/mile. At 7 miles the course emerges back on to the pavement and my pace drops back down to the 7:40s until mile 11 when the course turns off-road again. We are now faced with 4 torturous miles of sand trails and roads and my pace slows to 8:05s and 8:10s and I am pushing as hard as I can! This really sucks! I pass the Half in 1:41 and change. In spite of the torturous, sucking sand my overall pace is OK. But I know that I cannot run this same time in the second Half.

Finally we emerge back on to wonderful, black pavement at mile 15. Because I know that the toughest hill on the course is located at Mile 20 and that will certainly cost me time, I feel that I must push the pace through the next 5 miles to bank some more minutes. I know it is risky but I push the pace back down to 7:40s and 7:50s and I catch 3 runners over the next 5 miles. As I pass mile 20 in 2:37:25 I close in on another runner who looks like he might be in my age group and we use each other to push ourselves up that hill. The hill climbs 200 vertical feet over the next mile to the highest point of the course (5,250ft) but it feels like Mt Everest. We crest the hill at Mile 21 in 8:31 – my slowest mile split! Thank goodness that there is a water/aid station at the top of that hill because it gives me an excuse/opportunity to slow down while I swallow another carbo gel and wash it down with some water. I try to let my body recover as we enjoy a short downhill before attacking the last hill – a small one- at mile 22. My age group competitor cannot recover and I pass him on that final uphill and reach mile 22 in 2:54:08. A quick calculation determines that if I can run an 8-minute pace to the finish line that I will just barely beat my original time. But can I do that? My body is crying out in pain and fatigue – it wants to slow down!

That is not acceptable – the margin is too close! I therefore decide to take a huge risk that I would seldom ever take at this point in a marathon – I decide to make an all-out push over the last 4 miles to the finish line! My hear rate soars to 93% Max as I lower the pace to 7:36 over the next mile – my fastest mile split so far. My body is now screaming at me in pain but I must ignore it for 3 more miles so I continue to push --- until we hit a final ½ mile of sand trail! I am so pissed at the race director. Why would he do this crap at this point in a marathon? “Quit whining - everyone else has to run the same crap”! But not everyone is trying to achieve my goal!

Finally I emerge from that soft, sucking sand from Hell at Mile 24 on to a paved road that runs straight and flat to the finish line. I ignore the screams and pleas coming from my exhausted and pain–ridden body and drop the pace back down to 7:50s. I can smell the finish line and I will not be denied! I reach mile 25 in 3:16:56 – one more mile to go! But my body is now telling me that it has used up all readily available energy and there is nothing left. That means that it has to break down fat and muscle tissue for energy but that process is slow and therefore it cannot support a fast pace and I must slow down. No! No! No! That is not acceptable. I have come too far, endured too much pain and I am too close to success. I cannot – I WILL NOT be denied! I WILL NOT concede defeat and slow down!

But what can I do? In desperation I send an urgent plea to ----- the Maddog! HELP ME!
Maddog comes immediately to my rescue and begins screaming his favorite motivational speech “PAIN IS ONLY TEMPORARY – MEMORIES ARE FOREVER”! “ Now get your lazy, tired ass moving”! I will never truly understand how Maddog did it but I believe he used a special mixture of willpower, adrenaline and energy fumes to bump my heart rate up to 97% Max and push my pain-ridden, totally exhausted, old body through the final mile in 7:31 – my fastest mile of the race. But it was without a doubt the longest and most painful mile that I have ever raced in my entire life. However when I reach mile 26 in 3:24:27 and can see the finish line and the finish clock the excitement and exhilaration of sweet success completely overwhelm the pain and fatigue and my mind and body seem to slip into another zone or ‘dream dimension’ and ‘float’ along the final corridor of 285 yards. Now I can read the finish clock –3:25 and something. My mind thinks “Gee that is such a nice sounding number - 3:25 – that has to be our finish time”. Somehow that ‘dream mind’ forces the ‘dream body’ to accelerate into sprint mode and we all continue to float the final 100 yards and cross the finish line together in 3:25:57!

Then – BANG! The dream dimension suddenly vanishes and reality returns instantly. I find myself about three feet across the finish line with a body racked in pain and no energy to move. Not one single step more. In fact if breathing weren’t involuntary that function would stop also! Fortunately a race volunteer recognizes that I am in trouble and grabs and supports me through the finish chute. When we reach the end of the chute and another volunteer puts the finisher’s medal around my neck there is another immediate transformation. The pain and fatigue begin to fade rapidly to be replaced by a sweet memory. Life /fate had presented me with a golden opportunity – with a special set of circumstances to come full circle in my running life/career and test the capabilities and experience of my old bod and mind against the performance of that same body when it was 20 years younger. And I had responded successfully with one of the best running performances of my life! Yesirrrreeeeeeeeee – the Maddog was right. I will cherish this sweet memory forever!

But now it is time to get some recovery fluids into me and go back to the finish line and wait for my friend Edson. I expect Edson to finish under 4 hours but he runs into problems and wisely decides to take it easy and jog across the finish line in 4:13.
We then decide to check the results board. I am surprised but not disappointed to learn that I only place 3rd in my age group (50 –59). There are lots of good runners from the Bay area and Sacramento running the marathon and two youngsters (50 and 53 years old) from the Bay area place 1st and 2nd. The age group awards are solid silver medallions minted at the Nevada City Mint so I decide that I will wait around for my award. I plan to put together a special memento of the race and want to include the medallion.

So #200 is now history and happily a sweet memory.

But unfortunately this is still not the end of this report. For I would be remiss (and in a lot of trouble) if I forgot to report and emphasize that there was a more important event happening during this trip – our 35th wedding anniversary on Aug 26th! So my lovely bride/sports manager and I traveled up to Lake Tahoe for a few days after the marathon to relax and celebrate our anniversary. No details on that part of the trip except for the following comments on Reno and Tahoe. Reno has grown and changed significantly (for the worse) but fortunately Tahoe seems to be in a time warp and has changed very little in the 23 years since we first visited there.

Now you will be happy to hear:


John aka Maddog

P.S. Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me.

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