Running a Marathon – The Rest of the Story

Okay, I have decided to run a spring marathon, in yet another attempt to qualify for Boston.


Many would say, the challenge, peer pressure, redemption or all those other words that we use to describe “why we want to do something”, especially when we have been unsuccessful so many times in the past.

My reason:

A promise made a long, long time ago by a 12-year-old child to his grandfather.

Nana and Gramp 1960's
Nana and Gramp 1960’s

The promise was that I would someday run the Boston Marathon.

I know that I should have forgotten about this promise years ago and probably would have, except for one thing.

When I said that to my grandfather all those years ago, he laughed at me and it was not that joking around laugh that adults have for kids who are saying something they think is dumb.

No this laugh was the nasty laugh that he used when he was talking to other adults, who were telling “tall tales” and it was meant to belittle that person, especially when he added in the “yea right!” at the end to punctuate his derision.

Even then I knew the difference.

My grandfather supported me in many things 100% and I thought of him more as my father, than my grandfather for many years, but his not so gentle dismissal of what I said about running Boston that day has stuck with me and still is something that haunts me after all these years.

It is unfortunate that something that happened more than 44 years ago still affects me this much. However, it does and I can remember after he got done with the “yea right”, how I looked at him as only a pissed off 12 year old boy can and yelled “I will run Boston” and stomped off – hurt and humiliated.

We didn’t talk about it again until 1982, even though I remembered it very clearly and followed the Boston Marathon results every year. When I came back home for Christmas that year and he asked me “how my marathon had gone”. I had started the Marine Corps Marathon that year and dropped out at 12 or so miles and had to ride in the meat wagon. He then just said “So when are you going to run Boston?” There was more than a little sarcasm in that question. I mumbled “when I fucking qualify”, got pissed, stomped off and proceeded to get drunk – you know another one of those successful family holiday times.

The next year I finished the Marine Corps, but didn’t qualify and I was dreading the trip up to Maine for Thanksgiving and hunting season. It meant I had to face Gramp again about the marathon. He knew I hadn’t qualified for Boston, because Mom told him and the only thing I remember that he said was “congratulations you finished a marathon, but it wasn’t Boston was it.” It hurt – a lot, but I knew it was coming, so I just tried to ignore it, laughed it off and quietly drank my beer (drinking was just a part of life back then), a few minutes later slipped off to be by myself and avoided him the rest of the time I was home on leave.

Gramp in 1990's
Gramp in 1990’s

I never understood the vehemence and negativity that he had when it came to me wanting to run the Boston Marathon. That is until a few years before he died, we finally sat down and talked about it.

I found out when he was a young man that he had wanted to run Boston at one time in his life and due to what he called “life getting in the way” he wasn’t able to and always regretted that he did not run, evidently a lot more than he let on or realized. I never did find out what the “life getting in the way had been”.

Gramp as a young man in 1931
Gramp as a young man in 1931

However, he had let his disappointment come through when I said that I wanted to run it. After I made my peace with my grandfather about why he acted the way he did – I did set out to run it again that year, but injuries and “life” got in my way – again.

Needless to say after that conversation I wanted to run Boston more than ever for him too, not just for me.

Failure has been the norm

The only problem is that I have failed so many times in my attempts to run a marathon since 1983, ah hell let’s be honest I have failed in every attempt to even get close to the starting line of another marathon without being injured, including my most recent failure of not getting to the starting line of the Marine Corps Marathon last month.

It has become one of those big disappointments in my life.

Unfinished Business

My wanting to run a marathon this spring is all about my unfinished business of running the Boston Marathon.

Which means for me to run Boston, I have to qualify, no I can’t run as a bandit or any other way than as an official qualifier. Another promise – only this is one that I made to myself after my 1982 fiasco, when I DNF’d MCM and was riding in the back of the meat wagon (those promises bite me square in the ass sometimes, because last year I turned down an opportunity for an official number at the 2013 Boston Marathon)

Of course I was a lot younger in 1982 and thought that it would be sometime in the next couple of years and that I would just run another marathon qualifying for Boston pretty easily.

Unfortunately, I still haven’t run a BQ marathon more than 30 years later.

Why this spring?

Truthfully, at 56 years-old, I am not getting any younger and unfortunately the older I get, the more the accumulated aches and pains get in the way of my running longer distances, at the speed I need to qualify for Boston. Of course others who are older than I am qualify for Boston, every year, however, I just feel that the sands of time are running out for me in this respect, so it is getting closer every day to the now or never point for me.

Yes, I know that for my age group my BQ qualifying time is 3:40, but I plan to train and run at a 3:30:00 pace because you just never know what will happen during a marathon and those 10 minutes are…well just in case.

I know nothing in life is guaranteed and there is no guarantee that I will ever run Boston or even finish another marathon, but I am going to give it my best effort, stay positive about being able to finish and push myself to do what I need to do to accomplish what has become almost a burden and a monkey on my back in my running life.

When I cross that finish line with my BQ time next spring, I have a sneaking suspicion, I might get just a little emotional, both from the joy of achieving a BQ time and also the relief of getting rid of this monkey on my back that has been beating on me for so long.

Then I will be able to apply to be an official Boston Marathon Runner. At that point I will not care what time I finish Boston in, but if I can get to the starting line – I. will. finish.

That will be an emotional time for me, that I do know.

Running Boston is more than a bucket list item for me, yeah it goes far beyond that.

As Paul Harvey used to say “That is the rest of the story. Good day”.

9 thoughts on “Running a Marathon – The Rest of the Story

  1. “When you really want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

    From all the marathons and injuries you’ve endured, you should have a good idea what it takes to qualify. Everything time you’ve been injured or failed to qualify, should have been a lesson learned. You’ve got the heart so there is nothing stopping you. This is your time. You got it! Do you know which marathon you’ll do? Maybe do some research of marathons with the best qualification rates.

    1. Thank you Joey – Yes I will in all likelihood be running a spring marathon here in Maine with an outstanding qualification rate, it is a fast course. I just don’t want to commit to it quite yet. I have learned a lot, especially this past year about what it will take and what I need to do. It should be a fun journey and one that I am sure will result in a BQ and my running in Boston. 🙂 Gotta believe it!

  2. I am excited to follow your journey to the spring, and definitely pulling for you!

    It is really sad when we give people such power over our lives … and honestly the power of family to absolutely wreck us in unintentional ways is staggering. It is also sad when someone has an unfulfilled dream, and rather than encourage someone else they say hurtful things – maybe it is meant as a challenge, but it seldom has that effect.

    1. Thank you Mike and I will need all the pulling I can get.

      You really don’t realize how much baggage you carry around with you from when you were growing up, until you stop and figure things out. My gramps was a nice to me most of the time, but coming through the Great Depression and having been in the Pacific (Navy) during WWII, he had some serious prejudices against the Japanese and we had just got through watching George Hale announce a Japanese runner had won Boston, so he had been spouting off about that, when I said that I was going to run Boston. So that played into it and his own demons on why he never ran Boston, even though he wanted to.

      I can go into the psycho-analysis of it all and all that, but the bottom-line is that I am still carrying around the baggage and want to put this one to rest by achieving a BQ and then running in Boston in 2015. 🙂

      I will. 🙂

      1. It is so true – we sit here as adults, many of with kids of our own, and are boxed in by walls that were put up when we were just kids. But you are also right – by identifying these ‘demons’ inside of ourselves, we can make a plan to take them out.

  3. You’ve got a great story and obviously motivation to achieve the goal you’ve long sought. From seeing your training over the past year or two, it’s clear that you need someone to guide you in your training. All these years resulting in injury is not because “you weren’t meant to run”. It’s because your training approaches don’t work for you. Thats not to say they are bad approaches but its clear if you cant get through a training cycle, either the approach is wrong or you dont know how to adjust for your unique needs. You’ve tried a number of approaches, many which work for broad groups of people, so I see it as not being able to customize it for yourself. That’s where a coach can work wonders for you. You often speak to how expensive a coach is but constantly buying shoes and paying for PT after getting injured without a doubt costs more, not to mention the benefit of achieving a long sought goal. If its a goal that is as important to you as you seem to indicate, I’d think you be able to find the funds to make it happen. Age is just a number. Like you said, plenty of people far more aged are still managing to qualify, many of which I’ve personally witnessed. And while not everyone can qualify, scored of people are still able to make it through a training cycle and race without getting injured. Some are lucky but others find a way to train properly.

    My biggest piece of advice I can give you is that you cannot train to a goal time that exceeds your current fitness. Use the benchmark of your last race as your current fitness level and train at that level. After 6-8 weeks run another race to get a new benchmark. If your time has improved, adjust training paces accordingly. Training at levels beyond your current ones, like you have been doing, means you won’t get the marathon fitness adaptations your trying to get and you’re more likely to get injured. See a trend?

    Here is some more advice:

    1. Thank you, you give great advice and made me stop think about what I am doing. I have been reading McMillan’s You (Only Faster), Hansons Marathon Training and will be reading a bunch of other books/blogs on training for a marathon as well. So your training theory recommendations are spot on.

      My last 5K Race time in September using the McMillan pace calculator puts me at about a 3:33 marathon time, so I am in the ball park. However, I believe my training 13.1 half time of 1:48 (with plenty left) would be a truer predictor of where I actually am at for longer distance training right now and that potentially would be in the 3:48/8:44 range. I am actually some where between these two as far as my actual conditioning. I plan to run comfortably for Nov/Dec with one speed session per week and averaging over 40 miles a week as my build-up. Then I will be running a time trial half marathon in late December, early January for a baseline of where I should be training after my build-up phase.

      However, my problem is and probably always will be slowing down to MP, especially during speed work/interval/tempo type workouts, just one of those things I will always have to be aware of and keep working at getting better at. That damned old sprinter in me likes to go faster than he should. The only time I don’t do that is on the trails, so maybe more trail running should be a part of my marathon training regimen. Lots to think about, learn more about and then do :-).

      The biggest thing is to get my Achilles to the point where it does not bother any more.

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