01 December 2011

Running - Remembering my first marathon 25 years ago

On Saturday, 29 November 1986, at age 30, I ran my first marathon: the Seattle Marathon.

Though I do count it as my first marathon, the race turned out to be what I have ever since called the "20 mile run and 10K walk".  Though not amusing at the time, it's a story I've enjoyed telling over the years as a cautionary tale.

1987 Seattle Marathon - along the Sammamish River Trail

I moved to Seattle from Los Angeles in June of 1985, and  soon afterward began to increase the speed and length of my runs.  Seattle was and is a great running town, and most of my friends were fellow runners I got to know through Seattle Frontrunners, the gay and lesbian running club.  (After 13 years in Chico I've logged more miles in Bidwell Park than anywhere else, but Green Lake in Seattle is surely in second place.)

By the fall of 1986 I thought correctly that a marathon was within my reach, and I began training for the Seattle Marathon held the weekend right after Thanksgiving.  I ran a half-marathon in Yakima in early October, which indicated that all systems were go.

But soon they wouldn't be.

At some point in mid-October on a long training run, I developed a serious pain in one of my legs and it was clear that continuing to train was impossible.  A wiser, more experienced runner would have decided to not to run a marathon only six weeks later, but not I.

I didn't run at all for the next five weeks, ran a little in the week prior to the race, and then on race day I put on my bib, and got in line at the race start.  Not smart.

I had healed enough to run a half marathon but soon after that I would start to hurt badly.  At the half marathon point my time was around 1:20 or so.  But the pain that had probably been there to a slight degree from the start got worse and worse.  My pace slowed dramatically, and finally by around Mile 20 I was faced with either dropping out altogether or stumble-walking the last six miles.

My pride compelled me to choose the latter course of action, and I hobbled the last six very painful miles along the Burke Gilman Trail to a finish of around 3:45.

Well, I finished it, but the result was an all but officially diagnosed stress fracture that led to a couple of months of no running whatsoever followed by a slow recovery.

Did I learn something from this first marathon?

Yes - don't run or race on an unresolved injury.  That should seem obvious to any runner, but there are times when good sense goes on vacation and one runs a race against all better judgment and then quite predictably pays the price.

I'm happy to say that after that first experience I recovered slowly but well, and in all of the next six marathons, I finished under 3 hours.  (Seattle Marathon 1987/1988/1989-p.r., Emerald City Marathon 1988/1989, Gay Games in Vancouver, BC, 1990.)

1987 Seattle Marathon - Along the Burke Gilman Trail

But I've taken the lesson from my first marathon in 1986 with me.

I didn't run another marathon for nearly 19 years until Eugene in May 2009.  That went well.  However late that same year, an injury two weeks prior to CIM (California International Marathon in Sacramento) led me to bail on that race, and unfortunately this year a hamstring injury that occurred seven weeks ago forces me again to fold my tents for CIM.

Is it disappointing to skip a race you've trained and registered for?  Yes.

But the alternative of running on a not fully healed injury will lead at best to a disappointing performance, and at worst to a much more serious injury.  Furthermore you'll spend money on hotels, meals, and incidentals for a subpar experience, when you could cut your losses by only forfeiting the cost of the registration fee.

Now 25 years later, I'm happy I ran that first marathon.  It provided me with a story I like to tell, even if I'm slightly sheepish about how the race turned out.  I ran (and walked) the race, I learned the lesson, and there's no need to ever relearn it!

Seattle Marathon - notes about the history of the course

In 1985 I went to watch a friend run the Seattle Marathon when the course was a double loop: from Seward Park up to Madison Park and back to Seward Park along Lake Washington - and repeat.

When I ran the race a year later the course had changed completely to a point-to-point route from Redmond along the Sammamish River Trail into Woodinville and Bothell and then switching to the Burke Gilman Trail to finish at an auditorium at the University of Washington campus.

1987 Seattle Marathon - along the Burke Gilman Trial

In 1987 the course was altered slightly so that it continued on the Burke Gilman around the university campus to finish at Gasworks Park at the north end of Lake Union.  The course was the same in the following two years that I ran it.

In the late 80s the bigger of Seattle's two marathons was the Emerald City Marathon which I ran in 1988 and 1989.  In 1990 it became part of Ted Turner's Goodwill Games between the U.S. and the then Soviet Union, but I don't think the race was ever held again.

In the intervening years since I ran the Seattle Marathon the course again changed altogether, and now bears some resemblance to the original Emerald City Marathon course.

Photo credit: all photos by Doug Schwab, an Amtrak colleague of mine in Seattle.

1 comment:

  1. Greg,

    I remember all of these races. Myself as well as Meredith, Caroline, Dan, and many of your other friends attended these races to root you on. I must say that these were some of the best times of my life. I particularly loved the Half Marathon in Yakima with the great white behemoth. It was truly a great weekend.

    Thanks for the memories.