I started running in the fall of 1978. I was a junior at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. Jim Fixx had just published The Complete Book of Running and it seemed like everyone was jogging. So I started jogging, too.
A complete loop around campus was 1-1/2 miles. So I jogged 1-1/2 miles. My running shoes, dark blue Pumas were heavy and not really designed for running, but that’s what I had. It’s a distant memory, but I am sure I didn’t completely run the whole loop without a few walking breaks. But it was the most running I had ever done in one stretch.
That summer I ran a few out and back courses around Ridley Park. I also stumbled upon a copy of Runner’s World at the library. It was filled with articles about how to get started, how to train, and what kind of shoes you should be running in. There were’t a whole lot to choose from, but I bought my first pair of Nike running shoes before classes started in the fall. They were feather light and so much nicer to run in.
Through that fall, I began going out for a run more regularly, branching out on other loops that once around the campus. I had enough credits after the fall semester to graduate, and got my first job in West Long Branch, NJ early in 1979.
By that time, the running boom was in full swing, especially at the Jersey Shore. Five miles was the standard distance for a road race back then, and there was a race in a different beach town every Saturday and Sunday.
My goal was to run one of those five mile races. In my mind, to finish a race like that, I needed to be able to run five miles every day for a week. When begin running consistently five, six or even seven days a week, I rapidly improved. I carefully logged all my runs and within a few months, I had a thirty-five mile week.
I entered a five mile race in Belmar, NJ early in the summer. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I had never even seen a road race before and didn’t know anyone who had run one. But I sent in my $5 registration fee and wrote the race in on my calendar. I did know from my reading that you didn’t want to go out too fast. After all, you had to keep going for five miles!
I finished that first race in about 37 minutes, about halfway back in the pack. Not too bad for a first time out. I got a t-shirt, too, the first of many. The winner of the race finished in about 25 minutes. I doubted I’d ever be up front, but I could certainly improve.
I ran a couple of races a month that summer, in towns like Ocean Grove, Asbury Park, Monmouth, Red Bank and Spring Lake. Entry fees were cheap and I got a t-shirt each and every time. I learned how to run different distances, take a day off each week, and found a nearby high school track where I could work on speed by doing 200 or 400 yard intervals.
And I got another pair of running shoes. New Balance because they were the only maker with wider widths and I had fat feet. They had much better cushioning and I could run much further much more often with them.
By the fall, I had my five mile race time down to 32:30, about a 6:30 pace. I ran a 10k in a little over 40 minutes that fall, my first attempt at a longer race.
When it got colder, I adapted my wardrobe. Remember, this is 1979, and few stores sold winter running gear. I word a long sleeve turtle neck when the temperatures got below 50, and added a hat and gloves in the 40’s. The gloves I wore were painter’s gloves from the hardware store. They were warm enough but not bulky. Temps in the 30’s? That when I added a pair of navy long underwear under my running shorts. I generated plenty of heat while running, so I had to make sure I didn’t wear too much if it was above freezing.
With an increase in training, up to fifty or sixty miles a week, I took on the Ocean City half marathon. Most of that run was on the boardwalk, and I finished in decent time, somewhere around an hour and a half. I felt pretty confident going into 1980, and decided that I should train to run a marathon.
I found a marathon in Virginia Beach, VA in March of 1980, and set my sights on training for that race. I figured I needed to run seventy to eighty miles a week to be ready. I got my mileage up pretty well, but didn’t do any really long runs. I drove down to Virginia the night before, spent the night in a hotel, and ran the next morning. My time was 3 hours 24 minutes. Not too bad for the first time out But I knew I could do better.
I ran a lot of five mile races that summer and collected a lot of t-shirts. I would ride my bike about ten miles to work, run a few miles or do some track work at lunch time, and then run again when I got home at night. When you’re in your twenties, you can really push the envelope. I began to run the 5K races at Lake Takanassee in Long Branch. Four laps around a lake that attracted a lot of really good runners. By the end of that summer, I was running my five mile races close to 31 minutes. Never a front runner, but better and better all the time.
I set my sights on the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC in November. It was a flat course, past all the major monuments. I was pretty sure I could break three hours, a sub seven minute pace for the 26.2 miles. I stayed in a hotel in Arlington, just across the Potomac River. I don’t remember too much about that race, except for the last half mile. The final stretch was uphill to the finish line at the Iwo Jima Memorial. My race certificate put me just over three hours.
I would do a lot of running before my next marathon, the Philadelphia marathon on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1981. I really upped my mileage, logging quite a few 80 and 90 mile weeks. I had my best race weekend the summer before that marathon. I ran a 30:00 five mile race on a Saturday, a 36:00 at the Asbury Park 10k on Sunday and then I broke 18 minutes at Lake Takanassee. I felt strong and ran a 1:23 half marathon in the fall at Ocean City. I really felt like I had a chance to break 2:50 for a marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon.
I was ready that race weekend. I had run a few twenty mile workouts at a six minute pace. I had raced, I had tapered and I was confident. My dad drove me outside of the city to the starting line, and would meet me at the finish in center city, Philadelphia. It was a cool clear day, and I made it to Germantown, the ten mile point in 65 minutes. From there it was mostly downhill. I reached the twenty mile point at 2:10. all I had to do was run that last 10k in 40 minutes. That’s when I hit the wall. Those last six miles were a bear. I crossed the finish line in 2:54, four minutes too slow for Boston in my age group. That would be my last real race. A lot would change after that weekend.