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Junque Miles:

By Mark Roberts

The Race Starts Here

Silence is not necessarily golden. It's particularly un-golden when you're roadracing a motorcycle and you're on the third lap of the first race of the year and it's all your engine has to offer when you pull in the clutch to downshift for turn 5.

It was the second weekend of April in 1994 when I experienced this unwanted bit of silence at Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia. When I got home and started to take the motorcycle apart to determine what had gone wrong I was, upon removing the carburetors, treated to the sight of...powdered metal. This is not what you want to see in your intake tract (pardon the expression). I had just finished two years of school/unemployment and had put every spare penny I had -- which is to say, not many -- into rebuilding that engine. I'd done a pretty complete rebuild...except for the valve springs. Oops. I was clearly done racing motorcycles for the year.

So I became a runner.

Actually, I thought I already was a runner. After all, I did run 10 or 12 miles a week, didn't I? About three miles at a time. Close to a 7-minute pace sometimes! (But let's not get too specific in defining "close".) In those days I just ran a bit to stay in shape for racing motorcycles, which is much more physically demanding sport than most people realize. I thought I was in pretty good shape then. The previous summer I had participated in a 24-hour endurance race , an event which involves one motorcycle, five riders and a crew of 10 or 20 friends in an around-the-clock race against 35 or so other teams to see who can complete the most laps of a twisting road course. This took place at a race track in Ohio on the 4th of July weekend which saw temperatures in the mid 90s. Imagine doing aerobics in the middle of a road, dressed head-to-toe in leather, body armor, boots, gloves, helmet, etc., while perched atop a piping hot four-cylinder engine. That'll give you some idea of what it was like. At the end of my first hour-long shift, I practically had to be lifted off the bike. But somewhere beneath the exhaustion, dehydration and dread of riding another shift in a couple of hours, part me was astonished at what I had just done because I had previously had no idea of the reserves of endurance I actually possessed. I had once been in New York City on the day of the marathon and had been fascinated by the event. Now a little voice far in the back of my brain quietly wondered if I might be able to run a marathon someday. It seemed like a far fetched idea at the time.

I pondered the shattered remains of my race bike engine, I had no plans of running a marathon, but there was a 10k race coming up in about a month and I decided I could at least afford to race on foot, so I increased my running to about 15-20 miles weekly. (I couldn't just not race, could I???)

Although I didn't keep any kind of training log back in those days I still remember my time exactly-46:23, a new PR by several minutes! (I had run a 10k twice before in the past few years.) More significantly, I picked up a notice about a 5-mile race on Memorial Day. I was stunned: I had no idea that there was more than one race a year in the Rochester area! Heck, it was two weeks away and it was 1.2 miles shorter than the distance I had just run. Piece of cake!

I struggled through the five hilly miles of the aptly-named "Roadkill 5" in the heat and humidity of what non-runners consider great Memorial Day weather. It took me over 38 minutes but hey; it only cost a few bucks and I got a free t-shirt! Most runners are familiar with the feeling of satisfaction that comes after a particularly tough race, but it was a new experience for me. The feeling of satisfaction turned into amazement when I picked up a copy of a club newsletter, looked at the events calendar and discovered that there were races going on every weekend throughout the summer! Entry fees were between $10 and $15 and all included a race t-shirt. To a motorcycle roadracer accustomed to spending upwards of $200 a weekend on entry fees, travel expenses, tires, fuel, repairing crash damage, etc., etc., this was a revelation. Of course, you didn't face the possibility of a error in judgment being rewarded with instantaneous high-speed death. But apart from that, this running gig seemed pretty entertaining.

After a while I supplanted my five to nine mile runs (nine miles! Wow!) with occasional half-mile repeats and saw my times improve a bit. A couple of months later I joined a running club and discovered how much fun it was to run with a group of friends. And how you could push yourself harder when you wanted to stay ahead of some of them! Race times improved a bit more.

The race bike sat neglected as the summer of '94 passed in a blur of training and racing, injury and recovery. By fall the 10k PR had dropped to 39:39 and that little voice in the back of my brain that had wondered about the marathon started to wonder a little bit louder. In the spring of '95 I ran my first marathon in 3:22. In the fall I ran 2:59 and qualified for this Boston Marathon thing my running friends were all talking about. Somewhere in between the race bike got sold.

Many runners can single out one race as the most significant race in their life. For some it might be their first marathon. Others might cite a hard-won race victory, a memorable PR or maybe the 100th Boston. But for me it was probably a race that I didn't even finish, which I spent sitting on the sidelines in West Virginia watching friends flash by at a hundred miles an hour while I wondered if I'd reached the end of my racing season.

They say there is no finish line. To which I might add that the starting line is wherever you are right now.

Copyright © 1998 Mark Roberts

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