I bought my first bike as an adult (sort of) when I was 22. It was a Raleigh Grand Prix and it cost me an entire week’s wages. I rode it for a summer in Boston and then moved to Providence for grad school. My Raleigh was my only means of transport and it served me well (until its left front fork fell off during a ride, but that’s another story). After class I’d go for rides in Providence and its environs until, that is, the days grew short. Back in those days bicycle lighting was patheticly inadequate. How was I going to de-stress without my bike.
I had a pair of Jack Purcell tennis shoes so I figured why not try running. My first run lasted about a quarter of a mile before I stopped due to lack of oxygen. With each passing day I added a bit of distance. After a few weeks, my tennis shoes were nearly destroyed so I bought a pair of running shoes and kept at it.
Over the course of the next two years my mileage increased incrementally. I still rode my bike but only to run errands or go on the occasion long (usually well under 30 miles) ride. I hit the 1 mile barrier, the 3 mile barrier, and the 5 mile barrier. Getting past each barrier took major effort. 7 miles. 10 miles. Once I cleared 13 miles I was cooking with gas. I quietly entered the Ocean State Marathon in Newport.
About a month before I tried my first 20 miler. It nearly killed me. A week later I tried again and finished, to my uttter amazement, in a full out 1 mile sprint. Dang. The day of the marathon came and some grad school friends and I drove to Newport. It was November 1. About a third of the course traversed Ocean Drive, with winds off Rhode Island sound. It was cold. I wore a t-shirt and cheap gym shorts.
And I ran. And I ran. And I ran. At 20 miles I felts awesome. At 23 I felt awful. The kind of awful that simply can’t be described. I could barely bend my legs. I forged onward walking and jogging until I could run slowly. My legs were beaten to death by the crown in Ocean Drive and the incredibly hard surface of Belleview Boulevard, pretty mansions all in a row.
The last half mile involved the biggest hill of the course. I was so mad when I saw it I took off in a full out sprint. When I crossed the finish line the congestion of the runners ahead of me caused me to stop abruptly. I was given my medal (which I still have), memorized my time (3:10:18) and started to cramp up something fierce. My crew of grad school friends came to my side and help me walk away.
As the Brits say, I was chuffed and knackered. I remember that run like it was yesterday. I wrecked my left knee playing volleyball three years later and had to give up running. I miss it every day still. When I walk downstairs to my family room I pass a wall with framed certificates from four of my seven marathon finishes. Glory days.