By Jerry McDaniel
I think it might have been Mary Jean that planted the seed, but someone back in May or June, just when the weather was beginning to heat up, suggested that a big group was headed to Boston for 2002. Well, I hear this kind of talk every year and pretty much discount it for me since each time I have bumped my long runs to 16 miles or so in the last 10-15 years, I would get injured. Add to that a miserable last experience (NYC – 84 – conditions were so bad, my friend Bill Perry finished the race in the back of a cab), and three foot operations since that time, I was certain that this race distance was not for me.
Anyway, I was intrigued by the prospect and thought I would at least begin training with the other two Sloth (if you have to ask what this is, you don’t need to know) teammates that were acting committed – Bill Perry and Alan Johansen. I knew if I didn’t try something different this time that I would again be doomed to injury, so I mapped-out a multi-faceted approach – buy 3 new pair of shoes and rotate them, take massive amounts of glucosamine chondroitin (joint therapy) and even greater amounts of anti-inflammatories. What with vitamins and the like, my daily pill intake would pre-qualify me for an assisted living facility! Next order of business was to choose a marathon with good weather potential, and a good course. Alan initially started looked at something in northern Utah, but it was suggested by someone that the Humboldt Redwoods Marathon in northern Ca.. had a rave review by past participants. Never having seen the northern Ca. coast, I pushed for this selection and it was decided. Another benefit to this marathon selection was that it offered a half-marathon option, which my wife Jackie wanted to try. Her longest distance run previous to this was the Springtime 10K, just accomplished last spring! Billy was a bit hesitant, as cab service in the redwood forest was limited.
Training began in earnest around the first part of July. Alan being the more cerebral runner of the group immediately had a detailed training plan properly prepared. What with his heart monitor, vast book knowledge of running, and past attendance at running camps, Billy was in awe of Alan and instantly designated him his “mentor”. I have usually run more on guts and a lack of knowledge which has been evident by many poor performances. Billy was so taken with Alan as a sort of “running guru” that he began remarking on his fluid running style and would often, during a training run, come back and ask me if I thought Alan looked really good. Again realizing that a break from the old mold was necessary, I began perusing the Runner’s World web site for training tips. Additionally, Jackie and I both bought books for more insight. Maybe mid-July, I realized that Alan’s training regime was missing several critical elements that the experts indicated were essential. At this point, I used Alan’s training guide quite successfully – see what it called for and do the exact opposite! The summer dragged by ever so slowly while we continued to push the long run distances higher and higher. Due to the heat, runs on the week-end were starting in the 5:30 to 6:00 AM range. Water and gatorade were always placed the night before or the morning of. Several fellow runners assisted in getting us through these now tortuous runs, including Mary Jean, Sue Hensley, Brent Johnson and the rest of the Chicago contingent. Runs often started at Alan’s house and included a good measure of off road running at Overstreet and Phipps. The horseflies did not relent on the Phipps side all summer. Jackie discovered the benefits of off road running for the first time as well during this time.
What complicated my training during this time was a first ever serious attempt this year at competing in the Grand Prix contemporaneous with logging the necessary miles for the marathon. Unfortunately, my schedule often called for long runs on the same week-end as Grand Prix races. Seeing my dilemma, David Yon and Hobson Fulmer saw fit to get hurt just when I needed the extra help and I hereby thank them. No thanks here to Mike Sims who never seems to miss a race.
As we entered the final six weeks of training, I noticed Alan and Billy incorporating more speed -type training (I use this term very loosely) into their routines. Jackie was hitting new high-mileage runs most every week-end at this point and gaining confidence as the date approached. To compensate for the stresses we were now placing on our bodies our nightly routine involved much icing of sore legs and feet while watching TV. The approaching Special Legislative session threatened to keep Alan and I from going and in the end, indeed, kept Alan from going to California. I later found out that he pleaded with the Governor to schedule the session during the marathon dates so that he would have a built- in excuse.
After a difficult taper period (you feel like you should be doing more) we were off for a first night in Mendicino, which is about half-way up the coast between San Francisco and the marathon site in the redwoods. While we knew that Bill and his wife Jessie would also be staying in this quaint coastal town, we didn’t know where. We had exchanged phone #’s and thought we would meet for dinner as they were scheduled to arrive a couple of hours before us. Upon checking in at our B&B which overlooked the Pacific, we had a note from Billy that, coincidentally, their B&B was across the street some 30 yards away! As we head to our cabin, I spy this couple on a bench overlooking the ocean. The man is kind of old looking and drinking from a brown paper bag. I remark to Jackie that it’s odd, in a nice town like this, that an old guy like that (probably homeless) would be fraternizing with a rather nice looking well kept woman. You guessed it – it was Billy and Jessie!! He poured me a drink and we had a pleasant dinner that night in town. Next morning which was the day before the marathon, Billy and I were up early for a short 2 mile jog along a gorgeous coastal inlet. Over the course of the run the view diminished from several miles to a few hundred feet as the fog came in quickly. Jackie and I had breakfast with a couple from Connecticut. He was a firefighter and had recently spent five days at ground zero. These were extremely nice folks – he had run Humboldt five times previously but was only doing the half this time. He was also a triathlete who had competed in the Alcatraz triathalon..
Since we were scheduled to stay in Eureka which is actually, north of the marathon site, we got off the freeway to drive a portion of the course the day before. It always gives Jackie a greater sense of confidence to actually see the course prior to the race. The redwoods were domineering and unlike anything you can experience in the East. Well, after a nice dinner in Eureka with the Perry’s the night before, the wait was finally over, and we found ourselves lining up for the race Sunday, 9:00 AM, October 21. We were all nervous. Parking was very limited as the race begins on the aptly named Avenue of the Giants, so race officials direct most cars to park onto the river bed. This time of year the water is quite low. We encountered our friends from Connecticut, wished them well and the race was off at 9:00 AM sharp! The weather was cool at about 49 degrees with high humidity. A fog enshrouded the top of the redwoods.
The marathoners and halfers started at the same time and the course took us due south on The Avenue of the Giants – out for about six and half miles, and back; them the marathoners headed due west, again out six and a half miles and return. Since the over-all goal was to qualify for Boston, my planned pace was a bit faster than Billy’s as he falls into another age bracket. Given the out and back nature of the course in two directions, I was able to see my wife once and Billy twice. As expected, my first mile was well under pace and I worked diligently for the first three miles to get on my planned pace of 7:30 per mile, however I continued under pace. While I felt confident that I was fit to qualify, I also knew I was probably only good for maybe one more marathon in my life (Boston) so I wanted to post the best time I could. My qualifying need was 7:48 per mile, or a 3:25. After unsuccessfully getting to my planned pace, I reconciled myself during mile four to allow what I considered my natural pace to take over which seemed to be in the 7:15 – 7:25 range.. Naturally, all of the horror stories were ringing in my head about going out too fast and hitting the wall around 18-20 miles.
For this event I had purchased my first ever watch that provided “splits”. The bulk of my experience in this race was broken up into 26 mini races. I would watch my progress through each mile which was made up of milestones. For instance, I would look for the two minute mark, knowing that I was somewhere shy of a third of a mile, and then the four minute mark, and finally I would hit around five or six minutes, and I would start looking for the cone that marked the next mile. I repeated this over and over, every mile. After cruising out to the first turn around at six and half, my first thing to look forward after turning around was passing Billy coming out. We exchanged high fives and kept motoring. Next was seeing my wife a bit later – all seemed to be going well. I was clicking off sub 7:30’s like they were nothing – all of a sudden mile seven was like a 7:48 and I was jolted back to reality. So much for my natural rhythm. I got back on pace only to have the same thing occur at mile ten. This is quite disconcerting to someone who is constantly assessing how they feel and whether my body is preparing to crash and burn. Anyway, I got back on pace after each of those alarming miles and things again settled down. After returning to start, I headed out now for the second half of the course in a new direction. Up until now, I had been running with hundreds of people. Upon making the turn for the second half of the marathon, I could see no one ahead of me, or behind me for that matter. In this second part of the course, the road narrowed to about one lane and became quite twisty. The course description also indicated that you begin a gradual climb to the turnaround at about mile twenty. The deep forest provided great shade even as the fog began burning off at the second turnaround about mile 20.
Still apprehensive in the later stages of the race, I began mental calculations about mile 16 of how much I could slow down per mile and still qualify. This continued through about mile 22 where I finally decided I wasn’t going to die. However, this is also the point where the legs were feeling quite “hammered” and the end was constantly on my mind. The end did finally come, and having put my all into this effort was pretty well reduced to tears, after seeing my wife and Billy’s waiting and snapping pictures. Jackie was whipped from her successful effort, but pretty well recovered by the time I got in. I was totally exhausted but reached by goal with a 3:09:21. Billy came in a bit later with a credible 3:36 and not too much worse for the wear. He missed qualifying this time but has run Boston twice before. Jackie ended up being paced most of the way by a very nice woman from Nevada. I had what I consider to be one of my better races ever given that my last 10K was my fastest. Much thanks to fellow runners for the long training runs, Runners World Web sites for training tips, and David Yon for some key training advice. Jackie was ecstatic that she had completed a distance that was more than double what she ever dreamed she was capable of!
Post marathon, with the wind whipping and temperatures seemingly dropping, we parted company for the rest of our trips. The Perry’s to Lake Tahoe and Yosemite and the McDaniel’s to Napa Valley and San Francisco. The Humboldt Redwoods Marathon/Half-Marathon is a spectacular race although a bit of a commute to get to. We recommend it to anyone seeking a truly unique marathon setting and a guaranteed on good weather! While I was somewhat amazed at the way Billy took in stride the fact that he did not qualify for Boston yet a third time; I now find that he has on his Christmas list a heart monitor! Please!