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Junque Miles:

By Mark Roberts

On Sunday I ran a marathon—;Then the adventure began.

The standard marathon story that we've all read a thousand times before covers every mile of the race in detail from the point of view of the person running it. "I ran the first mile in 4:56 and felt very relaxed…passed the 16 mile mark at an hour twenty after stopping to re-tie my shoelaces (put in a new shoelace just to be safe) and decided to pick up the pace a little…felt my hamstring tighten at 21 miles, but it was only slightly more painful than root canal work so I just eased back to a 5:10 pace for a mile…" Do you really need to read any of this again? Of course not. Did I actually have to write it? Well, yes. It's just a compulsion we writers have, but now that it's done with I can get on to the stuff that happened afterward.

The 35 degree temperature that had seemed fine during the run suddenly brought me to the brink of hypothermia as I limped around trying to get a glimpse of my friends crossing the finish line. Shivering inside the entrance to a shopping mall near the finish line, I saw Claire jog easily by for a 3:43 finish in her first marathon. (Columbus will probably retain its reputation as a good place to qualify for Boston) I must have just missed several others as they came by but I was too involved in an intimate relationship with the large hot cup of coffee that Bob Bouvy had brought me to be able to pay attention completely.

Rounding up everyone after the race was almost impossible. You'd think with the collective experience that this group has that someone would have thought of designating a common rendezvous location before the race. Nope. Let's all just wander around until we bump into each other by chance.

"Everything hurts but my eyebrows" I commented to no one in particular. "Your eyebrows don't hurt?" beamed Claire with obvious delight, "Then you didn't run hard enough!" Fortunately for her, I didn't have enough strength to retaliate.

The most amazing performance of the day may have been that of Joy Koenig who decided to run a marathon just a week beforehand on very little training and never having done anything over 15 miles in her life. Her 4:37 finish was somewhere between 1 hour and 1 year better than I expected.

Joy was indirectly responsible for showing me a part of the marathon that I otherwise would have missed. We had ridden down together and she had put her car keys in my bag since she was reasonably confident that I would finish before she did. I was wandering around the finishing area looking for her after the race since I was reasonably confident she wouldn't feel like walking 5 miles back to the hotel. (I had hardly known Joy prior to this weekend, but I have this amazing intuition.) Between 5-1/2 and 6 hours after the start the finish area was being torn down by the marathon crew and the downtown area was slowly returning to normal. There was no semblance of a finish line, nor any sign of timing clocks. Every member to the race support crew was obviously very busy tearing down, cleaning and packing up. But although only runners finishing under 5-1/2 hours are counted as official finishers, whenever a runner straggled in, no matter how late, someone would stop what they were doing and make sure that the finisher received a medal. Kinda makes me feel a bit ungrateful for complaining about my finishing time and definitely makes me appreciate the people who put on these events.

As it turned out, Joy had found a ride back to the hotel and we eventually accounted for everyone, packed up and checked out. (Big thanks to the Ramada Hotel for allowing the marathoners late checkout privileges at no extra charge.) So we began the trip back to Rochester, and if I'd thought standing around on a street corner in 35 degree weather wearing running shorts and a mylar blanket was fun, this part was a real treat.

We stopped in fabulous Medina, Ohio to see Joy's friends the Brockways who provided us with great food and also some return trip advice: Avoid Interstate 90. Although Columbus had been spared, Northern Ohio and Western New York had been hit hard by lake effect snow. Best take Rt. 17 through New York.

Well, we couldn't avoid one short stretch of I-90 in Pennsylvania and when we reached it, there was little sign of any snow. Could a snowstorm have hit Northern Ohio (14 inches in Cleveland!) and Western New York and yet missed the section of Pennsylvania in between? No way. "Home by midnight" I thought. Let's try I-90 the rest of the way. We were in complete agreement. And we were completely wrong.

Of course the bad weather didn't start until a quarter of a mile past the Rt. 17 exit that we'd been advised to take. It was if someone had drawn a curtain across the road. It was like being inside one of those glass balls filled with water and a few flakes of white stuff that you shake up to simulate a picturesque little snowstorm. Only one in which the manufacturer had inadvertently multiplied the normal amount of "snow" about 100 times, creating an almost opaque globe in which only faint traces of objects might occasionally be glimpsed but certainly not identified. Turning off the headlights improved visibility. At 20 miles an hour driving off the road was still a real danger.

Staying on the interstate was clearly crazy, but so was trying to find our way through the back roads to Rt. 17. Being reduced to choosing between two paths of complete craziness is strangely liberating. Of course, we could have stopped somewhere for the night, but what kind of challenge would that have been? Being of a whimsical nature as well as enjoying that lack of common sense so prevalent among marathoners, we decided to press on and try to find our way to Rt. 17. How about driving through a blizzard along winding, unlit, unplowed back roads in unfamiliar territory hundreds of miles from home in the middle of the night after having just run a marathon? Others may fantasize about such adventure (oh come on, you know you do), but Joy and I did it.

Actually, I did all the driving through the really bad stuff and Joy did occasionally suggest that we stop somewhere for the night, but I'm sure the fact that I haven't heard from her since has nothing to do with that. Conditions would improve greatly through one section of road only to get worse a few miles farther on. On one stretch, just as I was beginning to think we might have to give up and find a place to stay, we suddenly found ourselves directly behind a snow plow which provided us with a clear path for 8 or 9 miles. There was one hill on which we almost got stranded because it was covered with snow over a layer of ice and the car simply couldn't get traction. We crawled over the top at about half a mile an hour. The next hill was the same only steeper and the car just stopped part way up, wheels spinning, unable to move forward at all.

That was it. Done. All we could do was attempt to turn around and head for the hotel we passed a couple of miles back. Suddenly a snow plow appeared coming over the hill toward us. It passed by, stopped, turned around and came by and plowed and salted the road ahead of us. "This is good karma" I thought. "Angels" said Joy. Our various religious sensibilities satisfied, we continued the adventure.

Although Rt. 17 slowly improved the farther East we drove, it did occasionally throw in the odd surprise like an ice-covered bridge in an area of otherwise pristine pavement. Usually just as I was getting a little bit complacent. There's nothing like getting sideways at 60 miles an hour to give you a little adrenaline wake-me-up. I had no idea Joy's car had anti-lock brakes until they saved our lives on an invisible ice patch. Driving through conditions like that required the most ferocious concentration. The only thing like it that I've experienced is when I was road racing motorcycles and rode for an hour in an endurance race in the rain. It takes less physical strength than when conditions are good, but the mental effort is staggering. When we reached Interstate 390 and Joy took over the driving I just passed out in the passenger seat, despite marathon-abused muscles being contorted into the confined space of a car interior (don't the designers of these things relalize how we use them in real life?). I awakened just outside Rochester where the roads were clear and there wasn't a sign of snow to be seen. Joy dropped me off at my house around 4:30 AM, allowing me a luxurious two hours of sleep before having to get up and go to work.

All of this is intended as encouragement for those of you who haven't yet run a marathon. It's often said that doing the training is the hardest part of marathoning. Joy certainly proved that wrong. And I took pride in demonstrating that sometimes the hardest part is just getting home in one piece.

Copyright © 1996 Mark Roberts

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