September 24, 2015

Track run today, I was thinking about how slow I run.

Back by popular demand: Guest Blogger Maureen.

In 1990. Matt was in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield, and I put together a newsletter with news from home—all the cousins and aunts and uncles contributed and we sent it off to Matt. This was a recap I wrote of Dad’s Chicago Marathon result from that year.

Chicago Marathon, October 28, 1990. The day dawned sunny and cool. This was to be Jim’s 20th marathon in 13 years. Similar to the pace at which he had children (10 in 13 years), but that’s another story.

As he rode downtown at dawn in a van with long-time running partners McGough, Saccone, Lambert and Dahl, he reflected on past marathons. The first was 1977, the Mayor Daley Marathon; the fastest – the 1988 Chicago Marathon in 3:24:30; the hottest – Lake County, 1987, 85 degrees…. Thinking about today, he wondered about his chances. This year’s course had been changed to feature a longer stretch of Chicago’s lakefront, and the wind was blowing off the lake at a brisk clip.

Gary and Eileen were on hand this year to “help Dad out.” They would join him for roughly the last half of the marathon. Dad started out at a good pace and traversed the near north side, Greek Town, Taylor Street, and the near south side alone. He combed his hair before passing Old St. Patrick’s Church expecting a big cheering section, but alas, no one to cheer him on at the new Mile 5. It was only 8:40 a.m. and of course nobody gets down there until at least 10:00 for the 9:45 Mass.

Finally at Mile 14.5, Eileen stepped out of the crowd at Balbo and Lake Shore Drive. Dad soon realized that her cheerful chatter was enough to make him want to get the race over with, so he quickened his stride.

As he ran the 26.2 mile course, he had plenty of time to consider his chances for a good finishing time. Although he had run the marathon in under 3:30 several times, his goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon had always eluded him. In previous years, the qualifying time for his age group had slipped from 3:50 to 3:40 to 3:20 and back, finally, to 3:35. This maddening change in the standards always caught him on the wrong side of 50, or in a bad year for his time.

Today might be different. With the wind at his back for a good seven miles as he headed south on Lake Shore Drive, he felt good. Later, he said he felt good to Mile 22. Of course, in the words of Dick Saccone, “Any #$% can run 20 miles.”

Sure enough, at Mile 22 Dad hit the wall. He didn’t have anything left in the tank. Eileen and Gary knew they had to prop him up. Gary spoke fast and loud into Dad’s ear: “It’s ok, you can finish. Take it easy. You can make it. How ya doin’? Ok, here we go….” Eileen ran ahead to see if she could find any supporters in the crowd. She saw Katie and Elizabeth at the 25.5 mile mark. She alerted them that he wasn’t doing well. Sure enough, he comes around the bend, walking, head slumped down, mumbling. Katie said, “Should we cheer…or call an ambulance?” Eileen ran out into the middle of the pack and shouted “Cheer for this man!” The crowd started to clap politely. Slowly, Dad raised his head and started to jog. The crowd roared their approval. He smiled one of those weak half-smiles and stepped up the pace, staggering toward the finish.

As he entered the chute, he fixed his gaze on the digital clock above the finish line. He later recalled hearing voices but was in a complete fog and could not find his cheering section – McKenna’s, McNair’s, Dix’s, etc. were all shouting, go, go, go!

The chute seemed interminable. He weaved back and forth, trying to stay upright and on course. The clocked counted off unmercifully: 3:33:55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 3:34:01, 02. Feeling as though in a dream, he crossed the finish line at 3:34:10, qualifying for Boston with less than a minute to spare.

The running buddies posted their own successes. Unfortunately, Fred Dahl had to stop at Mile 15 because of hamstring problems, but Lambert, Saccone, and McGough all had good times. Tom McGough had lied to his family for the fifth year in a row. Since his family worried about the then 69-year-old grandfather running 26 miles, he regularly promised them he wouldn’t run the entire race. Then of course he did.

Dad’s accomplishment was written up in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin – “Federal court reporter’s feet as fast as his fingers, qualifies for Boston Marathon” – but he didn’t go to Boston in the spring. Running in Boston was not the goal; qualifying was!

Reflections of the lake. Favorite song today, Izithenbiso Zenkosi performed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

It still looks like summer.

It still looks like summer.

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