"Whenever a thing is done for the first time, it releases a little demon" -
My running has now spanned over five decades (Ok, it hasn't been FIFTY years, but I have run in the 70's, 80's, 90's, 00's, and now 10's) and it seems the more my running goes objectively and subjectively south, I think of those Good ol' Days when things flowed a little more smoothly. Recently, I tried to think of how many "firsts" I could think of. Time goals that were met are fun to think about, but I was wondering how many of you can remember some universal milestones that most of us have. So, do you remember...
THE RUN THAT BEGAN YOUR SERIOUS RUNNING - When I worked at Cooper Green Hospital, I used to go to the UAB Gym next door at lunchtime and knock out 3 games of Racquetball. Well, I only had an hour for lunch and 3 games took longer than that, causing me some heat in my Department about my after-lunch-back-to-work-punctuality.Then, one day, a few days after my mom passed away, I decided to see if I could run a mile around the UAB Track, figuring running would take much less time than racquetball games and it would be a better stress reliever. To my surprise, I did that mile, felt good, and ran another mile. I was late again from lunch, couldn't walk the next day, felt much better, and that day in August 1978 began it all
YOUR FIRST COMPETITIVE RACE - In February, 1979, I had some friends running the old Magic City Marathon. So, being interested in photography back then, I grabbed my Minolta SLR and took a few rolls of black & white photos. Although I marveled at their extreme endurance to be out there for 26.2 miles, I knew I could never do something like that, or WANT to do something like that. However, a racing bug was fed that day and a month later, I ran my first race ever...The Hungry Fisherman's 10k. Holy Cow...6.2 miles! A hilly, 2 loop course. There was no stopping me. I flew in at 47:01, not having any idea what I was doing and was hooked on racing. Now, back then, we had 10k's and 2-mile fun runs. No 5k's. After a few 10k's, it didn't take long for that marathon seed to be fertilized and by summertime, I was training for that impossible 26.2.
YOUR FIRST MARATHON - Vulcan Marathon, November, 1979. I used to work with a friend of mine, Max Michael, who was Chief of Medicine at Cooper Green. He had run, now get this...TWO marathons. I literally absorbed everything he said about training and we ran most lunchtimes (yes, it took more than the allotted hour) over the hills of Southside Birmingham. Doesn't matter if you're a young buck in '79 or a not-so-young-buck 30 something years later...26 miles is a long way. But, I held together to come in at 3:14. My most vivid memory is going under the finish banner on 20th Street, leaping up to try to slap it, coming down and both my thighs cramping like steel pillars. I couldn't move!! Kind of a Phiddippides moment...Rejoice! We Conquer!! I can't move!!! Great finish line photo. I still remember Max telling me before the excitement wore of "You're not a real marathoner until you've run your 2nd marathon, because then you know what to expect!". Not sure I believe that, but I keep running them.
YOUR FIRST ULTRAMARATHON - Ok, this is not necessarily a "universal" first for everyone, but seeing that it's my blog and ultras are an important part of my running, I wanted to include it. The marathon bug had bitten and wouldn't let go. I had run 2 or 3 when I heard that there was some crazy races that would go further! And to top it off, there was a couple of my friends going to this crazy-ass race and wanted to know if I wanted to take the dive. Sure, why not? So, in May, 1981, I was off to the 3rd Annual Strolling Jim 40 in Wartrace, Tenn. This race was in the country - I don't mean the suburbs - I mean the Tennessee country. 70% rolling county asphalt and 30% dirt jeep roads. Aid stations were 5 miles apart and were simply 5 gallon jugs of water placed on the ground with no cups. My wife and my friend's girlfriend would meet us with the car every couple of miles with the theme to "Chariots of Fire" blaring from the car's tape deck. 41.2 miles and 6 hours later I crossed the finish line and although I, of course, didn't realize the significance at the time, I was now an ultrarunner for the rest of my life. Strolling Jim just ran it's 34th edition this past May, but it's gotten pretty sissified...all paved roads, actual aid stations with food and drinks, chip-timing (good grief!!) and probably a fancy medal too! Oh well!
YOUR FIRST RUNNING SHOES - Nike Elites. Now, my actual 1st pair of shoes that I ran in were some Puma's that I probably picked up in the shoe department of Sears, but my 1st REAL shoes were given to me by Versal Spalding, who owned Birmingham's First Running "Store" in Crestline. I say "store", but it was just actually a garage with some metal folding chairs and boxes of shoes lining all four sides of the garage! Anyway, I had treated Versal's wife and as a thank you, he gave me a pair of these super-light Nike Elites. I couldn't believe how light and comfortable they were. Looking back, they were probably equivalent to the minimalist shoes of today. I did ALL my running in them...70+ miles/wk...training/racing...great shoes... except fpr the rip-roaring case of Plantar Fasciitis I got because of the zero support they gave. This is probably one reason I have such an inborn aversion to minimalist shoes today!
YOUR FIRST RUNNING INJURY - I mentioned the plantar fasciitis above, but the big 1st injury I remember getting was a pain in my foot about 3 weeks before one of the early Vulcan Marathons. I went to the doctor and he confirmed a metatarsal stress fracture...no running...it would take 6 weeks to heal. So, I did no running for 3 weeks, but a lot of biking. I went back to the doc and told him I had no pain - "What would happen if I went and ran the marathon?". I'm a Physical Therapist, so it was really a question that I knew the answer. He just shrugged his shoulders and said "One of two things: 1) you'll get through it fine or with some pain, or 2) it'll crack like a pencil and you'll have a full blown fracture". Hmmm....so I decided to run on it, did a 3:18, and said a real loud "Whew".
So there you have my little jaunt down another of my many memory lanes. What are some of the "firsts" that you hold near and dear? Let me know in the Comments section below. In the meantime, I've been doing this quite a long time, but I'll bet I still have a few more firsts to be had. Maybe you'll be there with me because I'll see you on the roads - AL
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