Clippings: Son inspires father to go the distance

I always thought I’d be able to tell folks exactly where I was when I decided to run my first long-distance race. You know, one of those sobering, psych-yourself-up moments you never forget.

Turned out to be quite the anti-climax, really. We were riding in the car around four months ago when our son, Mark, blurted out, “Dad, we’re running the half-marathon in Burlington this May.”

Oh.

“Thanks for signing me up, son,” I believe I muttered under my breath. “Did you put me down for the firing squad, too?”

Fact is, I really shouldn’t have been upset. In somewhat of a head-spinning role reversal, Mark was metaphorically throwing me into the swimming pool to get me to do something I had been saying “maybe” to for a couple of years. Having shed a few pounds and already established a regular running regimen of around four miles a day, I had been wanting to test my stamina and endurance — it’s just that 13.1 miles demands an awful lot of endurance. I know, you’re probably thinking, “Hey, start whining when you have to run a full marathon.” A fair observation, but truth be told, it wasn’t that long ago that I finally got off my can for something resembling regular exercise, so I’ve got to start somewhere.

As days turned into weeks and the miles melted beneath my feet on the treadmill and at the Mount Abraham Union High School track, I began talking myself into what I feared would be a running joke. You see, my longest run had been seven miles, at which point my 48-year-old joints told the rest of my body, “Knock it off, stupid, you have a car, ya’ know!” I stubbornly kept at it, though, blotting out the pain with Tylenol and drawing some inspiration from Mark’s casual approach to the race. A week before the big event, Mark, 17, wasn’t obsessed with training. He explained that he had been running a lot throughout the lacrosse season, mostly chasing other kids with a stick. Hey, that would really spice up the marathon, wouldn’t it? But I digress.

As Memorial Day weekend dawned, I went through my to-do list: Think solemnly about the contributions of our veterans. Check. Do some yard work. Check. Get some stuff to grill for family dinner. Check. Buy some energy goo, Gatorade, saline drip and hospital bed reservation for half-marathon recuperation. Check.

Well, I learned on race day that at least Mark and I wouldn’t be alone in our long trek into the unknown. More than 8,000 people of all ages, sizes and levels of physical fitness had signed up to the run the Vermont City Marathon. And Mark and I had some extra time to consider what lay ahead of us. We would be running the second half of the marathon, taking over for our two teammates who joined the teeming masses at the starting line. It seemed like two minutes had passed between the starting time and the point at which those at the back of the marathon colony finally were able to move their feet.

Mark and I and our dedicated fan, a k a “mom” (Dottie), took the bus to almost the mid-way point of the race. I say “almost” because the bus dropped us off around a mile and a half from the relay point. Apparently, 13.1 miles wasn’t enough, they wanted you to get a nice warm-up.

After swigging some Gatorade and stretching, Mark and I slapped each other on the back and took our places, shoulder-to-shoulder, with people who looked a lot more serious about racing than we. Adorned with water belts, Under Armour, uber-iPods, $300 sneakers, designer sunglasses and 1-percent body fat, I felt decidedly JV in my $60 sneaks, sleeveless Stevie Ray Vaughan T-shirt, baggy shorts and $14 plastic-rimmed shades.

Oh well, the race must go on. And it did.

Our teammates handed us our yellow wristbands at around 2 hours, 20 minutes. Mark and I chugged along together, side-by-side, around the Burlington waterfront and up Battery Street. The first four miles flew by like a breeze, our confidence artificially boosted by our ability to overtake dozens of marathoners who had already run 13.1 miles and had that distance yet to run. I wouldn’t have blamed them for giving us a one-finger salute.

Reality kicked in around mile seven, when my legs predictably sent my brain signals that I had come to my logical stopping point. But on this day, I was being illogical and forced my legs to keep churning through the repetition. Breaking up that repetition were welcome diversions you just don’t see on a treadmill or track — the thousands of people cheering, offering water, orange wedges and sprinkler water under which to run.

But my biggest inspiration proved to be Mark, who refused to leave his old man in the proverbial foxhole, even when I had to tie my shoes three times and answer the call of nature once along the way. We both adjusted our respective paces to accommodate the other.

It was at mile nine that I knew I could finish the race and mile 11 when I could taste the finish line. But I began losing that taste at mile 12, when my knees — rapidly surrendering to the pavement pounding — stopped wanting to bend. But thanks to the encouragement of the crowd, we summoned our last bit of our energy reserves to cross the finish line, hands clasped and raised high.

Mark and I were thrilled to learn that we had run our first half-marathon in approximately 1 hour, 56 minutes.

A little more than a week has passed, and Mark’s young legs are back to 100 percent. Mine — not so much. I can now climb the stairs without grabbing the rail, which is a big ego boost.

Will I run another half-marathon, or even a full marathon? Tough to tell. Though my legs right now are telling me “no way,” there’s nothing more dangerous than a personal time to beat.

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