January 21, 2003 Fueled by an odd mixture of fear and confidence I walked into the Scotts Valley Senior Center for an Informational Meeting about Team in Training. As one who does not put much stock in coincidence I am still amazed at the events that began that night. The first person I spoke with was a woman interested in competing in a triathalon. She had lost her sister to cancer last year and as we continued to talk, we discovered that my wife Laura was the social worker assigned to her family as the sister spent her last days in a hospice program. My new acquaintance was nearly overcome with emotion as she recalled the care she received as her sister was dying. Then… we watched the tear jerking video about the TNT program. Enough already!
I had not been a runner although I did spend some time running in the late 70's, early 80's when I was barely 30. At the time, a 5 mile run was long and if I ran 15 miles in a week I felt as though I had accomplished something on the scale of reaching the summit of Mount Everest. In 2001, at the age of 50, I ran my first 10K, the Wharf to Wharf. I trained for about 2 weeks prior and hurt for about two weeks afterward. I did this again in 2002 adding the very difficult Race Through the Redwoods to my accomplishments that summer and adding more discomfort to my untrained body.
As the presentations were coming to a close that evening in Scotts Valley, a TNT staff member anxiously hurried to the front of the room and announced that one free registration would be given out that night and if we would all check under our chairs, one of us would prove to be the lucky winner. You guessed it. Under my chair was a certificate for the $100 registration fee. I went home that night and told my wife 1. how highly regarded she was by one of her former clients and 2. her husband just signed up to run a marathon. The next morning I went out and ran 2.5 miles. UGH!
February 1, 2003 Attended the TNT Kick-off in Santa Clara. I recall meeting Jim and thinking how he just looked like a runner. What was I doing there? In all the activities that morning two things stuck in my mind. The ratio of support people - managers, captains, mentors and honorees - to participants seemed to be almost one-on-one. Very encouraging! Secondly a comment made by a speaker that morning: "Take a good look at each other, this is the last time you will see each other showered." That was a good indication that as we progressed in our training- this was gonna be real!
March 1, 2003 Took a trip to Florida to take care of some business and found myself running along A1A in Fort Lauderdale in hot sun and high humidity. I awoke on several mornings to begin running at 8:00 am, knowing full well that it was 5:00 at home and there was no way I would have been up and running there. It was interesting to note that none of the runners I encountered there made eye contact or smiled as we passed each other. Later in the week someone pointed out to me "Of course not. Everyone in Florida this time of year is from New York." One evening we visited my friend's daughter in Miami. Heather had recently finished her second Marathon and I pumped her for information all evening. One of her favorite forms of nourishment as she trained and ran was a fruit chew called SHARKIES!!! She sent me home with a package. Who could have known that Sharkies were to become the official training snack of the Santa Cruz run team? Looking back at that trip, two things were significant: 1. I realized by running and staying on the training schedule that I was truly committed to this marathon idea and 2. Snorkeling off Key Largo qualifies for cross training.
March 8, 2003 Ran 10 miles at Nicene Marks. First time in double digits. I think I smiled all the way down the hill.
March 30, 2003 The Inaugural Santa Cruz Half Marathon. A beautiful morning, an excited group of runners and too fast of a start. When will I ever learn? Returning from the beautiful bluffs at Wilder ranch, I simply ran out of steam. Fortunate for me, a young woman named Gina was fading too. We ran side-by-side for the last 3 miles each keeping the other going. I still refer to her as my run angel. Gina was familiar with TNT and after finding out that I was training for the Rock N Roll Marathon, she said "I'll find you at the finish and my mom will give you a check." I probably said something profound between strained breaths like, "Cool!" Sure enough, after crossing the finish line at 2:15, receiving my medal (my first), grabbing all the water and food I could find, Gina and her mom found me and handed me a check for $50.00. WOW!
April 7, 2003 A $250 check came in the mail today from Laura's best friend Sherri. This thrilled me for two reasons. First, it was the largest check I had received to date and secondly, it put me over my fundraising goal. Hey, they were right. It really isn't that hard. Started running with the team at Nicene Marks on Monday nights. What a kick! Tim, always entertaining. Nicole, always fast. Kate, always upbeat and determined. Jim and Karen keeping each other at a reasonable pace. Diane and Marielena getting stronger every week. Leslie, enduring the miles in spite of her complaining feet. And, Marty, our ever present starter, cheerleader, running partner and, thanks to her now famous trunk, snack bar.
April 12, 2003 This proved to be perhaps the most memorable of all our training runs. Sixteen miles in Pacific Grove, in and around Asilomar Beach and the 17 Mile Drive. The wet skies were welcomed by all the runners, even more so when they yielded a beautiful rainbow, visible from end to end hanging lightly over the ocean. It was not until we were on our way back from the turnaround that Jen pointed out the whales to Tim and I who were enjoying the first of our many training runs together. This along with the bright purple flowers, soon to be immortalized in lyric form in Tean in Trainingville, made a visual impression that will not be forgotten.
April 24, 2003 TNT hosted the Team Social with a very tasty and very appropriate pasta dinner. We all looked great as for once. We were in fact showered. I felt a little self-conscious and over dressed as I showed up, after teaching a seminar all day, wearing a coat and tie. Karen was kind enough to say that I "cleaned up well." At our table I had the chance to talk with an honoree named Bob. His last name escapes me but the conversation we had never will. His wife did much of the talking for him as he was obviously tired and weak. She mentioned how athletic Bob had always been, playing baseball, bike riding and being continuously active. Bob spoke of his good days now when he can walk to the mail box and back. I was both humbled and honored to speak with him. He was with us that night, not to complain of his unfortunate health but rather to celebrate the health of the many TNT participants who were working to help find a cure to the dreadful disease that afflicts him. I ran 26.2 miles with,"BOB" on my wrist band.
May 1, 2003 Began breaking in my "Marathon Shoes." Unbelievable, I've put over 300 miles on a pair of shoes and now I have to start breaking in a new pair for the upcoming marathon. Rob at Fleet Feet was great at fitting me for my first pair and when it came to procuring my race-day shoes the only change I made was to go up a half size.
May 10, 2003 Twenty miler in Woodside. Tim and I rode up together and ran the whole way within eyesight of each other. The course was beautiful but the terrain was awful. Narrow trails kept us looking down keeping us from enjoying the view. And… when I got home, my new shoes looked as dirty as my 300 plus milers. Bummer! Ran with Donna from the Silicon Valley Team who was spunky, tough and kept us in our place with quick retorts to our many off-handed comments while running. All part of the training. Tim and I agreed it was probably the most physically challenging thing we had ever done. The running that is - not hanging out with Donna. 26.2???
May 12, 2003 Tapering- who are you kidding? This proved to be one of the most challenging parts of the training program. I didn't sleep well, wanted to run and run and run, and continued to eat and sleep on command. Nervous energy, stored up, waiting for the BIG DAY!
May 28, 2003 The Send-Off party at Coach Rachel's spectacular summer home. Wow! Interesting that there were as many cars as people there. Somehow even after all these months we haven't figured out how to car-pool effectively. The food was wonderful and plentiful. The spirit of the night was anticipatory, enthused, electric. The new singlets (we still haven't figured out where that word comes from) look great. After an altered version of the Twelve Days of Christmas - my fee-eet hurt - guitars were tuned and the brave musical few introduced Team in Trainingville to much acclaim. Thank you, thank you very much! Kate's sterling voice and her thoughtful lyrics to the final verse reminded all of us why we have come so far. "We're helpin' cure cancer and makin' folks well..."
May 29, 2003 Couldn't sleep worth a darn. Woke up in the middle of the night and decided - no - my body told me, "don't run in the morning!" I rearranged my thoughts about the few miles I was going to run that morning and mentally put them "in the bank" to withdraw on Sunday as part of the 26.2. This marked the end of my training: Four months, 418 miles, two pairs of running shoes, countless packages of Sharkies, over $3300 raised, dozens of new friends, pounds and pounds of pasta consumed, two tie-died shirts, gallons of Gatorade, several bottles of Advil, three chiropractic appointments, one massage, one great cause and one supportive family. I think I'm ready now.
EXPO, Saturday May 31, 2003: I have never been one to wear labels well. I surf but I don't consider myself a surfer. I ride a Harley but would not likely be called a biker. I run, swim and enjoy sports and tend to be athletic but I'm not an athlete. UNTIL TODAY! Proudly I signed the registration form on the line asking Athlete's name: Richard C. Larson.
Sunday, June 1st, 2003 - 3:00 AM. The phone rang loudly from the table between the two beds. My roommate, Carlo had asked me if 3 o'clock was OK for a wake up call. I told him I was thinking 3:30 but I didn't see where it made much difference. "Sure, three will be fine," I responded, quietly observing how sleep, the night prior to the marathon, had been downplayed. "You'll be so excited you won't be able to sleep." Don't worry it won't make any difference when the race starts." I got up first, showered - why? - and shaved. After all, I was planning on having my picture taken later that day wasn't I?. About 3:30 Marty knocked on the door, smile on her face, and handed me a singlet to replace the one I wrecked, just hours prior, trying to iron letters on to the front. Carlo and I fiddled about the room gathering all we needed to complete the race set before us. Carlo, 78 years old, a WWII veteran and an experienced marathon walker, talked me through the course and offered advice. He carried a cell phone and a camera with him and he told me that he made a point to respectfully greet all the Marines at the water stop they staffed. We left the room a little after four to catch the bus in the hotel entry. As I left my room I noticed the hand drawn sign that had been placed on my hotel room door. "Go Rich. 26.2!!!" Had Marty really placed signs on each one of our rooms throughout the sprawling hotel while we primped and got race ready. Yes she had! Quite a lady.
4:10 AM Joined the rest of the group in front of the hotel lobby. I could not get an old Hoagy Carmichael song out of my head: "Here we are….out of cigarettes…" Jim reminded me of the title, Two Sleepy People. Actually there were scores of sleepy people but the excitement outweighed any sign of weeriness. Boarding the bus however was the first of several necessary drills we had to take but I, like my peers, simply wanted to end the waiting and get across the start line. Once again we sat passively on the bus as we headed downtown. We were dropped off several blocks from the park to await the start. We had almost two hours to kill!
5:25 AM Got in line for the port-a-john and, as suggested, got back in line for a second visit. I wandered around with Leah while our group clustered near a small stage with a sign that said Devotions 6:00. "Hey! Church!" I thought.
6:00 AM I wandered over to the group that had gathered around the stage. A short haired, attractive, Southern California looking woman was speaking into a microphone and from what I could hear she was to attempting to convince us that God is good. Well of course He is, He got us all here healthy and for a good cause didn't He? I was about ready to walk away when I spotted what I thought was a familiar face. I angled through a few rows of people, tapped a tall, young, dark haired girl on the shoulder and asked, "Gina?" Sure enough here at "church" was my run angel from the Santa Cruz Half two months earlier. After a warm greeting and appreciation of running into each other she asked if she could run with us. Of course!
6:30 AM Tim, Leah, Gina and I walked over to Corral 12 to await the start. We had spent no small amount of time debating which corral we should start in to accomplish the time we set out to meet. Looking back, I don't think it made a bit of difference as, later when we checked times, we were only seconds from the pace Jim and Karen were keeping four corrals back. This corral did allow a nearby building that Tim nervously kept running behind to release some of his nervous energy.
6:45 AM The moment we had been preparing for. We could hear the gun go off, feel a small surge in the crowd, then no movement at all. After a few minutes we slowly started toward the start line and crossed it as the clock ticked off 5 minutes and 12 seconds. 26.2 miles to go.
6:57 AM One of the first fun events of the race. A woman was standing on a median dividing the street as we passed by on two sides. With white, padded, Mickey Mouse gloves, she was smiling, reaching out to us and offering "High fours!" I didn't miss my chance to brush the outstretched, cartoonish hand.
7:03 AM As we came up to the first band on the course Tim and I could distinguish what seemed to be surf music. Sure enough as we passed that band they were banging out a credible version of the Venture's Walk Don't Run, a tune that was on a running themed CD Tim had presented to me earlier in the week.
7:15 AM We're about two miles into the race and I shed my long sleeve T-shirt. We come across the next band and unbelievably they are playing another song -Grateful Dead - that Tim had recorded. Tim tossed me his camera and yelled, "Get me with the band." Tim proceeded to dance in front of the stage as I snapped off a quick photo. This is too much fun!
7:55 AM We kept together through this much of the race and the course so far was our friend. I was looking for Marty around six miles but never spotted her. I did however hear an excited voce call out "RICH!" I turned and saw Patty's waving hands and welcomed the encouragement.
8:13 AM Began the gradual ascent up highway 163. This actually proved to be one of my favorite parts of the course. Tim started singing, "What goes up… must come down." And before long a group of us were belting out the old Blood, Sweat and Tears song.
8:35AM On the descent I felt the back of my leg tighten up for the first time. Darn, only about nine miles into the marathon and my muscles were letting me know that they would be talking to me throughout the morning. I tried doing short, 35-50 yard sprints to change my stride and free up my legs. Helped a little, I think, but it caused me to run a little faster and erratic and I ended up losing contact with Tim.
9:00 AM Saw blessed Coach Rachel on the course. As I told her of my ever tightening legs she suggested stretching and alternating my pace. She could have said anything and I would have been encouraged. Great to see her on the course. She ran with me until the next band got too loud, wished me well, told me she'd see me at mile 22 and bounced off to encourage another of our team members.
9:10 AM Crossed the Half Marathon point and was on track for the pace I was trying to keep. I was running alone now and didn't seem to mind but… I don't think I would choose to do that again this early in the race.
10:30 AM Passed the last hill and was glad to see both how short it was and that it was punctuated by a water stop. So far I have taken in water and Gatorade at every opportunity, eaten two packs of Sharkies and 3 or 4 GUs. Up ahead was the Wall I had been hearing about. I felt GREAT! Tired, sore, sweaty but totally in the game. My head was clear, my emotions level. I crossed under the Wall with a mocking smile and the satisfaction that I ran under it not into it.
10:35 AM However… I did think it would be a good idea to take advantage now, of the 8Hour Tylenol the medical staff was offering. A small, annoying pain in my right shin was bothering me and I thought it would be just dandy if I couldn't feel it. Gulped down two tabs while the staff marked my bib and recorded my number.
11:00AM Moving much, much slower now. I was heartily buoyed up by the Parrot Head water stop and ran away from there singing along with Jimmy Buffett to Coconut Telegraph. Even in a tropical frame of mind I passed on the free beer that was offered on the course. I just could not imagine beer making me feel any better. Nice gesture but no thanks. Coach Rachel found me again around 21 -22 miles. I told her that I felt like I had 2X4s for legs and no muscles whatsoever. She asked, not knowing, "Is this your first marathon?" After registering my affirmative answer she said, "Yea, that's pretty much what its like." Her next question took me by surprise. "Are you still sweating?" I had probably both consumed and excreted gallons of fluid by this time but I was glad to say yes indeed I was still sweating. She encouraged me onward then ran off to see who else she could support. Gotta love that lady.
11:10 AM Heard a voice over my left shoulder, "Rich, I can't believe I caught up to you!" Frankly I was feeling like the entire back of the pack was catching up to me. My predetermined pace was now out-the-window. I was now moving ever more slowly and wondering how much more my legs would take. It was Tim though who had come aside me now, looking strong and happy. I told him I was moving slow and to keep going. I watched him motor on down the road as I envied his relative youth.
11:35 AM I know I passed the 24 mile marker. Maybe they made a mistake on the course and failed to put up the 25 mile marker. I know I've been moving forward. I'm still traveling with runners ahead of me and runners behind me. I have no doubt that I will finish this stinking thing but I just can't figure out why this mile is so much longer than all the others have been. What's going on?
F-i-n-a-l-l-y,… I…h-a-d… t-o… w-a-l-k.
But not for long. I found that walking a few hundred yards allowed me to run a few hundred so I started alternating running and walking.
11:45 AM Passed the dreaded 25 mile mark and made a point of running whenever I thought someone was watching. What a time for vanity huh? People continued to shout encouragement and I continued to need it.
11:50 AM Turned into the Marine base and made a point of running as I did so. Saw a turn in the road and reverted back to my brisk walk; actually it might have been faster than my pathetic run by this time.
11:55 AM Having been warned, I knew there would be several turns before the finish line would be in sight. I continued my run/walk under the Yellow Arch that everyone referred to when they shouted, "Just through the Yellow Arch."
11:57 AM On the other side of the Yellow Arch the Finish Line was still not visible. Can't be far though can it. Run/walk, run/walk, run/walk.
11:59.35 AM Crossed the finish line with more relief than joy. More confusion than emotion. More weerriness than elation. I followed the others who continued to move forward and found myself in front of a lovely young lady wearing a "Miss Escondido" sash over her shoulder and welcomed the medal she placed over my head. I found my way to the UPS trucks and retrieved my gear which had been efficiently transported from the start line, then wandered around to find out what I was to do next. I consumed more water, grabbed some snacks and found a sign pointing in the direction of the TNT tent. I could not believe how far away it was. Don't they know I just ran 26.2 miles!!! Any frustration went away when I was presented with my very own TNT 26.2 pin.
12:20 PM Located Tim and found our way to the bus for the return ride to the hotel. By the time we left, Jim and Karen had boarded and we tiredly shared the adventures of our accomplishment. On the way back to the hotel I fell asleep. After all, I had been up since three.
Rich Larson 2003