INTRODUCTION TO MY FIRST MARATHON
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Excerpt, chapter five: A Long Time Coming
The last running event I witnessed in December 1971, the Western Hemisphere Marathon in Culver City, was momentous – both at the time and for what it would mean to me later. Laszlo Tabori actually lived right on the Culver City course, so he was always present for the race. My training partner Judy Graham and I joined him there that day because we had a teammate, Cheryl Bridges, who was running the marathon. She did not train with us but competed for the club.
We supported Cheryl in her marathon as she set a world record of 2:49:40, becoming the first woman to run under 2:50. I was intrigued. Watching Cheryl click off those miles over the marathon course looked like fun to me. She was strong but relaxed, a beautiful runner with great running form and a stride that just flowed.
The monument at the finish line of the Western Hemisphere Marathon lists the 1971 winner as “Patricia Bridges.” Her first name changed only once, while her last name changed with every marriage: from Pedlow to Bridges to Flanagan to the current Treworgy. Her daughter is the Olympian Shalane Flanagan.
Cheryl was an inspiration to me. I could not help but think that I could do what she did. I could run with her on the track and in cross-country, and perhaps I could do a marathon like her too. I vowed right then and there that I would try the Culver City race the next year.
However, returning to the track with Laszlo the following week, I was caught up in our routine schedule of indoor track in the winter, outdoor track in the spring and cross-country in the fall, with a little vacation time during summer before laying our base for the fall season. It was in that brief summer vacation that I was lured away from my usual loops around a park to venture out on the roads for a workout.
When I wasn’t running on the track, my easy days were for running at Balboa Park in the San Fernando Valley. Judy and I were under strict orders to run only on dirt or grass surfaces, and I mean always. One day we met at Balboa at the same time a group of male runners were meeting for a road workout. Some of them also trained with us at the track, so we chatted.
They were led by a male runner in his 60s, Monty Montgomery. I’d seen this group regularly, and noted that they seemed to have a lot of fun, as they told stories and ran off on the roads headed for the beach and other interesting loops, while Judy and I ran in circles around the park. Twice I went with them, for a 10-miler and a 14-miler.
So when cross-country season ended in November with my best performance to date, eighth place in nationals, my thoughts turned back to that Western Hemisphere Marathon I wanted to do in December. I really wasn’t prepared with any long runs in my repertoire except those two workouts I snuck in many months earlier.
I didn’t let that stop me, and I asked Laszlo if I could enter (asking permission was requisite). I half- expected to be yelled at. After all, his attitude was that the marathon was something you ran if you were too slow to compete at the middle distances. However, what I received was almost philosophical. He said that there are some things I had to find out for myself, and that there were things he didn’t try and would never know.
Besides, he added, I was the most stubborn runner he knew, and he thought I would go far. I still do not know if he meant “far” as in I had a future in marathoning, or “far” as in I’d go about 18 miles and drop out. No matter. I had his blessing, and that’s what mattered.
I credited a college teammate, Mike Maggart, with getting me through the first 15 miles at seven-minute pace, and Doug Schwab for parking his bike and running the last mile in with me. (I ought to have been disqualified, I suspect.) In reality, I don’t think my friends could ride their bikes near the end because my pace had slowed so much. As I wrote in my journal:
Those last four miles are almost unbearable, particularly the last two. Up to 22, it seemed almost a relaxed seven-minute pace. Then the race began for four miles. And worth every sore muscle – a thousand times over.
Cheryl Bridges did not run in the Culver City race that year, and I won my first marathon in a slow 3:15. I probably could have walked my final miles faster than I was running.
I recall that upon crossing that finish line I uttered the words “never again!” Later at the awards ceremony, however, I received my medal and thought how I would prepare differently for next time. I was hooked.
Interestingly enough, this race was a turning point for my family, who up to that point did not deem running to be worth my time. In fact, I fibbed about going out for a run with Judy that morning to cover up running in the marathon. I left a note on the table at home early that morning to say we went for a run, and made up some other excuse about shopping or a movie to buy more time for the day.
The only reason I had to make excuses was because it was the day for a family reunion at our house to celebrate Thanksgiving, my birthday and birthdays for several other relatives. I knew I’d be late, thus needing the excuse.
By winning the race, I was delayed by the awards ceremony and thought I would be in big trouble. However, when I snuck in the door and tried to slip into my seat at the dinner table, my family broke into applause. My aunt resided near the site of the marathon and had reported the whole thing, and then my winning photo had appeared on the local TV news.