2001: Qualifying for Boston "One Last Time" and Retiring from Running Marathons

n October of 2001, just 10 years ago, I ran the Dublin Marathon. I had trained hard over the summer, and moreover, I had hoped to do Dublin as a Boston qualifier. But not for the 2002 Boston, to be run the next April, but for the 2003 Boston. In those days you could qualify starting in October of the 2nd year before. In fact you could qualify for 2 Bostons with one race. Ironically, due to the increasing demand to run Boston, the recent registration changes made this year require you to use a fall marathon for the 2nd next Boston. That's the way it works now, but a decade ago it was just a quirk.

There were two reasons I wanted to do it this way. First, I was getting tired of running marathons and two within 6 months was too much, so I would have 18 months between qualifying and running Boston rather than 6 months. The other reason was that I would turn 60 in October 2002, so my qualifier would be as a 60 year old even though I would qualify when I was 59. A small difference, you might say, but an increasingly important one to me as I got older.

I had retired from work in early 2001, and I made running a marathon and qualifying for Boston my first "project" as a retiree. Marathon training as a retiree certainly has advantages. Not so much that you have more time to do your runs — most of us get them in when we must, retired or not. No, the big advantage is having more time to rest. That is a big one.

The summer of 2001 was tough for training, somthing that's always been true for New York summers. Then the disaster of September 11th changed things so much and so fast, that I nearly didn't go to Dublin. But I did go, and with a great deal of hard work, I made my qualifying time of 3:40. Actually I did a 3:40:35 — we always got a 59 second bonus, something that also disappeared this year.

To make a long story short, I did the 2003 Boston but strained my calf early on and had a rough time finishing. A year later I dropped out of the Jersey Shore marathon with a pulled calf and then I ran Vermont City in 2004 hurting the whole way. At that point I had had it and I officially retired from running marathons. My 2003 Boston was my 4th Boston and it was to be my last. It was not fun any more and I decided to stick to shorter races and get back to doing a lot of hiking, something I always loved and something which I never got injured doing.

For more on the story of my getting to and getting through the 2003 Boston Marathon starting with the 2001 Dublin Marathon, See .


2011: Approaching 70 and Un-retiring from Running Marathons

n the years from when I "retired" from running marathons to this year, I did pretty well in my running and my hiking. I got serious about cross country running and managed to place in (and occasionally win) my age group both in the VCTC summer series and the NYRR fall series. I even managed to get a 3rd place in my age group in the 2010 Brooklyn Half, something I had never before done in a major race. I enjoyed a lot of hiking as well, completing the New England Hundred Highest Peaks as well as numerous lesser peaks, some with no names.

But there were setbacks, particularly in the last 2 or 3 years. I did a stint of 12 weeks of physical therapy in 2009 to address some chronic calf problems, and again in late 2010 I had repeated calf strains that kept me from running at my best. So early in 2011, I got in touch with Joe Yates and underwent a series of coaching and massage sessions which I believe got to the root of the problems. With foot drills to stretch and strengthen muscles I didn't know I had, and periodic massages, I got back into top running shape by the spring of this year.

But the approach of my 70th birthday, coming a year from now, got me to thinking that I needed to do something special. The tipping point came when I started working on the . I couldn't help but notice that for the 70+ men's age group, with the exception of a 5 miler Jerry Flower ran in 2009, the chart was empty. I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be nice to put some records in that age group, especially a marathon". And what marathon would anyone want to put there but the Boston Marathon! So the seed was planted and I told first a few friends and later everyone, that I was going to try to qualify for Boston again, this time in the 70 year old age group. The new BAA registration procedures aligned nicely with my own preference for qualifying as far ahead as possible, so I looked into possible early October races and St. George — whose down hill course had a reputation as a big Boston qualifier — stood out.

I followed a training program that Susan Snyder, my running partner, had gotten from a book available from Runners World: , and worked hard throughout the summer. I put in the miles and the hours but unfortunately the New York heat and humidity denied me the feeling that I was really making progress. Of all the 20 milers I did (I did five 20s plus two 18s), never could I say "That was one great run". No, it was more like "Yuck, another death march!". Of course, the real test comes at the end, and I was objectively in good shape as the Oct. 1st race date approached. Susan also applied for St. George and we both got in through the lottery. And I would like to point out that Joe Yates deserves a great deal of credit for enabling me to get through my training and get to the starting line for this race.

St. George Utah

t turns out the getting to St. George was a marathon in itself. We had a non-stop filght from JFK to Las Vegas on JetBlue which was due in at about 5:00 PM, PDT on Thursday, September 29th. But instead of being a non-stop, it turned out to be a non-start. Because of thunder storms passing through the area, we sat on the tarmac about 3 hours. Then because of some Federal regulations, they had to taxi back to the gate and let us all off, and then on again. We finally took off about 4 hours late and spent almost 10 hours in the plane all-told. Curiously, since we were all gointg to Las Vegas, sin capital of the U.S., everyone on the plane stayed totally cool, jovial almost. At the airport in Vegas, my daughter, who had flown in from Portland OR to meet us (and waited around for hours), met us, and having picked up a nice rental mini-SUV, she drove the 2+ hours to St. George and the Coronada Inn. Not till the next morning did we see where we were, a fairly nice motel on St. George Boulevard.

The next morning we met up with Susan and her husband for breakfast. He would go off hiking for the day, and Susan would join with us for some sight seeing at Snow Canyon State Park, a few miles north of St. George (see ), and then we would all go to the Expo and find lunch. A good plan.

The St. George Marathon

Note: I wasn't taking pictures in the race, but there were a number of good ones on the which I've included in two sets below. They were originally part of an excellent video available here: . Their web site was very helpful in all phases of the process: from the entrance lottery, to where to stay in town, to planning you training and race strategy. If you're thinking of doing this race, you'll want to bookmark it.

he next morning I met Susan at 4:45 AM (thank God for the time change) and we got one of many, many orange school busses for the 26 miles ride north on route 18 to the town of Central UT, where the race started. The race started at 6:45 and we had actually very little excess time. We basically got off the bus, put our bags onto the truck, stood in lines for the porta-sans, got out of the lines for the porta-sans and used the bushes, got into the throng and started running when the horn went off.

My goals were two: 1) Minimum goal was to qualify for Boston, which required a time of 4:25. This is a little slower than a 10 minute/mile pace so that pace would be my basic pace. 2) Feeling good goal was to do a 4:15, ten minutes faster than the minimum. This woulld require a bit under a 9:45 pace. My strategy was to start with a 10 minute pace, run the hills at an equal effort and pick it up after the hills. The initial down-hill slope changed things.

We started in the dark and not till about mile 3 or 4 did the sun get over the hills to the east. Now I could see my watch and realized that although I was taking it easy, I was running around a 9:30 pace. So I decided to keep it going and do the hills as planned. The much steeper down-hills would come around the mid-point of the race.

The following graphic combines the elevation chart with my splits and gives a good picture of what I was doing. The 9:45 pace line is outlined in red:

The initial down-hill section to the town of Veho was very pleasant. The sun came up, people were chatting and the going was very easy. I took a pit stop behind a bush around mile 4. Who knows if the minute or so spent doing this could have been saved if I had taken care of things just before the start. We'll never know.

An amusing thing happened in these early miles. I started hearing a periodic rattle that had the cadence of someone running, and I looked around to see who was responsible for this minor annoyance. I discovered it was me! I had put a few Advils in a TicTac case and each step I took would cause a rattle. I tried to stifle it but couldn't. I didn't want to ditch it since I needed the Advils, so I put up with it. During the run I occasionally got comments from other runners — thankefully, none abusive. Some were humerous and one runner thanked me for setting such a steady pace!

The set of pictures on the right shows a little of the start, and then moves along to the town of Veho. Then the fun, and the hills, start. Click on the pictures to advance through the set.

The hill was long but the scenery was magnificant. A cinder cone (dormant volcano) stood at the top of the hill about two miles away. The hills rise about 250 feet to the high point at mile 11 and my pace (an 11:02, 10:09, 9:57 and 10:11) reflect this. But I felt strong and was actually worried a bit more about the sun than about the hill. The hills continued on to around mile 11, and then there was another mile or two of ups and downs before the serious down-hills begin around mile 13.

If you're planning on running St. George, don't worry about these hills. They do go on for 4 to 6 miles (depending what you count as a hill) but they are nothing you can't handle if you're in good shape and you've done plenty of hill repeats.

The second half gets interesting. The down-hills speed you up but kill your legs, and the hot sun sucks your life out like a vampire. Look at the chart:

When you peak out around mile 13 the fun begins. Somewhere (I think it was at mile 14) there was one of those amber diamond-shaped highway warning signs which shows a truck heading down a steep grade with the notation "8% Grade". Wow, that's a serious grade. And it was. I just tried to take it easy and not brake my pace but I could feel the pounding in my legs, big time.

But then the most magnificant thing happened. Just after mile 14, where the steepest grade occurs, the road turned a bit to the right and before me lay one of the most beautiful landscapes in any marathon, maybe in the whole world. I was suddenly in Snow Canyon, with a view of an endless series multi-colored sandstone mesas and ridges — it had to be seen to be believed. Click through the set of pictures at the right and you will get an inkling of what it was like.

For a moment I forgot the steep down-grades and the hot sun and I literally wanted to weep from joy at the sheer beauty of it.

As I moved out of the canyon and approached mile 20, I felt no wall. Yes, my legs were trashed and hurt in the later miles, but I had the energy I needed to move. I had taken a Power Gel (and an Advil) at the start, mile 7, mile 13 and at mile 21, and that probably helped a lot. I also took water at every water stop (located at every odd mile, starting at mile 3). I generally added Gatorade to the water and walked a few steps to drink. The slight delay in doing this was possibly made up for by the refreshing break afforded the leg muscles. Ironically, my fastest mile was mile 21. If you look at the elevation chart you can see why. There's a uphill before mile 20 and then a nice down-hill. You can also see it in the last two frames of the course photos.

The last miles were really tough because the sun and heat were taking their toll, and the legs were hurting. Luckily we had some relief earlier from some overcast as we went through Snow Canyon, but after about mile 20 it was clear blue sky, bright sun and 80 degrees (it would be in the mid 90s that afternoon). You can see from the chart that my pace was starting to slow noticeably in the last two miles.

I got a lift around mile 25 where my wife and daughter were stationed. I heard someone calling "Ricky, Ricky" and I finally woke up and realized that was me. So I turned and got a nice wave and the only photo taken of me in the race (except the MarathonFOTO ones of Susan and me plus some of Sungwon's in the slideshow below). The nice thing this photo shows is that I seemed to be the only one running, the rest are walking or plodding. I felt their pain but managed to dig deep and keep moving.

The Finish — YES!

I never did know exactly what my start time lag was (the time to get to the starting line) so I couldn't tell from the times on the clocks at each mile what my "chip" time was was going to be. But my watch showed all my splits so I depended on it. At the finish line the clock showed 4:23 something, so I knew I had made it under 4:25, my BQ time. Then I checked my watch and found my watch time was 4:16:13, not quite the 4:15 I would have liked, but well under my Boston qualifying time. Later I found my official time was 4:16:09. I also discovered that I finished 15th in the 65-69 age group out of 65 runners in that group, which honestly surprised me. My splits were almost exactly even, running the first half in 2:08:16 and the second half in 2:07:53 — pretty close — amazing, considering the hills, both up and down. Although one of the slowest marathons in my career, it was the best finish in relation to the BQ time I have ever done. And I plan on being in Boston on April 15, 2013 for the 117th running of the Boston Marathon!

Fellow Flyers Joe Jones did a BQ of 3:29:57 (a PR), Sungwon Hwang did a "fun run" (her words) time of 4:02:10 and Susan Snyder did a 4:41:41. Susan said she loved the course and would do it again and was very happy that her knee didn't act up, and unlike myself, her legs did not hurt from the down-hills. I got the photos back, so I added the slideshow above which includes these friends.

The rest of marathon day was a blur, but the next day, Sunday Ocober 2nd, our vacation began in earnest and we drove to Zion National Parl and later to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. You can read all about those adventures in a seperate article ().

Was it fun? No!.
Am I happy? Yes!
Am I retired from running marathons? Not any more!