Posted: July 8, 2013 by smrtnsasy in Articles, Race Reports
Tags: , , , , , , ,

by: Richard Westbrook (October 2010)

Almost forty years ago, I was running in the northwest region of Tennessee while attending graduate school. My running was, as George Sheehan has said, and “experiment of one.” I was going to coach cross-country and track upon graduation if I could find that kind of job. I had spent a lot of time researching training methods and the history of the sport of distance running.

My running was an activity of finding out what worked best. I tried everything just to see how it worked. Some worked well, some were OK; and some almost killed me. But I learned.

I was also increasing my mileage to see what effects it had no my racing. The allure of the marathon was right around the corner. I ran right into it. Now, you have to understand that marathons were few and far between back then. Boston was king as it is now, but now it is serious competition for the crown. Finding a marathon to run to get ready for Boston was a serious quest. Now, it is no problem, but then, it was different.

I had subscribed to a new magazine on running, Runner’s World Magazine. It was a black and white publication on coarse paper. But, it was about running, and nothing else outside of Track and Field News came close. I took a plunge and sent my $75.00 in to answer their call for lifetime subscribers. It was for those of us who had faith in the magazine to fork over that much money to give to impetus. It was a big step for me being in graduate school to part with that much money. My financial level was such that I would buy the fish sandwich special at the local Fish Hut that would give me five sandwiches for a dollar. That would last me several days. But, my gamble on Runner’s World Magazine turned out to be a good thing…one of the few gambles that I have won.

With my mileage increasing and long runs stretching out, I was thinking about trying a marathon. There were some up north, but the south was a little sparse. Then I read in the Nashville Banner about an upcoming marathon in Percy Warner Park in Nashville. It would be the first marathon in Tennessee. I would run it.

The race had eight entries including me. The publicity focused on a Nashville runner who was a Boston Marathon veteran. So, that gave me my plan. I would run behind him and do what he did. I may not be close behind him, but I could still copy and learn.

I finished that one and learned some stuff. I was patient enough in my first marathon to give me the winning result. I was able to run past the Boston veteran in the last three miles and felt pretty good. I began thinking about my next marathon which was kind of against the grain after one’s first marathon. Usually, the first thought after finishing is, “I’ll never do this again.”

Marathons then were skeletal affairs. There were aid stations but not like now where aid stations are events all their own. Aid stations now can have a multitude of workers and even workers dressed in theme costumes for the event. There will be a variety of energy drinks, sport drinks, energy snacks, gels, medication, lubrication, fruit, candies, cookies, ice, cold compresses, and just about anything else they can think of putting out there. There may be music, scales to check your weight, clocks giving your projected finish time, porta-potties, chairs to sit and rest awhile, cheerleaders…anything but a local zoo animal.

Today’s marathons will have really big medals and the obligatory race shirt. the “tech” shirt is now very popular – not better, just popular. Chip timing is in vogue and works great. Race expos are the rage. It is rare that a race will not have their expo. It might be small, but it will be there. There may be special posters for the marathon. Cash prizes for the top overall finishers add luster to the race. And, to get runners there, the race will be listed in national publications.

Well, I stepped back in time this last September (which is time travel month) when I ventured to New Mexico to run the Turtle Marathon in Roswell. You may know Roswell as the site of the extraterrestrial crash landing near there in 1947. Flying saucers and stuff…and the town has its own UFO museum and festival. Also, a marathon that would fit in just fine in 1947. It just happens to be in 2010.

First of all, the entry fee was just $20.00 compared to $85.00 o up for today’s races. The race did have shirts for finishers, but you couldn’t find that out at the expo. There was no expo. In fact, it was hard to find anyone who knew anything about the race.

I tried to find out just where it started in the park that was named, but that didn’t work. Therefore, I couldn’t find out where the course went. I did have a starting time, so I showed up then to find out the rest of the information.

“What would be at the aid stations?” I asked. “Water,” was the answer. It would be every five miles…”or so.” It turned out to be “or so.” Actually, some aid stations or water, wasn’t there. The person assigned to place them didn’t make it for the ones near the turn around point on the out-and-back course. When they were there, they were just bottles of water sitting on the ground beside the road. Under the New Mexico sun, the water heated up pretty fast.

The course ran west from town into the New Mexico countryside. The day started a little cool and then warmed up fast under the cloudless sky. These absent water stops were on a rolling course near the halfway point. And, true to the past, there were no spectators to cheer on the runners. Heck, there weren’t even people at the water stops.

The runners charged into the finish in the park in a multi-use trail. The time was called out as we finished. The finish line was hard to find. I just ran into a crowd of people until I heard a time called out. The awards ceremony gave small ceramic turtles to the top three in the age-groups. They walked up and chose their turtle out of the box. Overall winners got real big turtles. After that, the runners just parted and left. There were no announcements or any postings so the runners could see what place their finish happened to be. A runner could very easily run the race, finish, and leave without knowing their place or time.

What they would know is that they just experienced a marathon like marathons used to be. No frills, no gloss, no extras, just running 26.2 miles and surviving. I enjoyed it. I liked the course, but I could have used a little more aid out there. And, maybe some Gatorade. One has to be self-motivated because there were no cheerleaders out there. One may be running alone for quite a spell. I had no problem with that, but some did.

So, if you want to be a time traveler and run into the past, this is the race for you. You might want to bring your own water bottle belt, or you might not make it back to the present. That guy might not make it out there to put water out again.

“A marathon is a time capsule.”                                                                                                                       Benjamin Cheever,                                                                                                                                                     Strides


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