Friday, October 16, 2009


So where am I in this epic quest to topple Spiridon and twist a dagger into the heart of Greek pride? (If I, an aging American writer-not-being-published—from the soft West Coast, no less—can best the time of that ancient land's lone marathon gold-medal winner, surely Greece will be forced to disavow its history of achievement. At least the part involving Spiridon. Maybe they can keep the really big stuff ... like the invention of columns and sororities.)

Well, it's kind of a weird place, where I am. I know what I want to do—run better than Spiridon's 2:58:50, which, I hasten to add, was accomplished on a short course, said by historians to be around 40 kilometers, not the modern 42.2. (Then again, Spiridon didn't have the aid of Powerbar Gel Carbohydrate Electrolyte Blend, so we'll not quibble.)

The question is, when? When do I slay Spiridon? The wise—perhaps not insane would be a better way to put it—approach would be to give myself several more weeks to recover from Berlin, then begin a long, careful build toward a marathon in the spring. Eugene. That's May 2, with a finish on the track at Hayward Field. Damn. Hayward Field! That's almost as cool as the white-marbled Panathinaiko, where, I hardly need point out, Spiridon took the crown in '96.

The only problem is I don't know if I can wait that long. I'm already contemplating running CIM—that's California International Marathon, in Sacramento, on December 6—which has earned the reputation as fast. I ran that race in 2005. A really hot girl that I knew then talked up the race, that's why I did it. She was deep in a relationship, actually ended up marrying the guy, but still, if a hot girl is talking up a race then of course I'm running it. That's how stupid I am.

This was my third marathon, I think, and I went into it with a three-forty-something PR. As usual I did no real marathon training. I did do a lot of half-ironman triathlon training—that was the thing I was into then—so I was fit, but being "fit" and being ready to run a fast marathon, ha! Not the same thing. It was a frigid freaking morning, clear and calm but right around freezing. The buses dumped us out at the start, in the darkness, at, like, 6 a.m., with a 7 a.m. start. I shivered for an hour. Then the gun sounded and off I went with the 3:30 pace group, which I knew was a reach but what the hell? Give it a go.

As you might expect, I fell apart in the last four or five miles and finished in 3:35 and change. It was a great race, but I feel a bit like I owe CIM another go, a better one. I know the course now; know how to deal with running downhill. I think I could pull off a good race there. But can I run faster than 2:58:50? I would say the chances are very slim. Very slim. Like, 2 percent. No, make it 5 percent. No, make it 0.4 percent; I just remembered that I've never even run under 1:30 for a half marathon. Beating 1:30 in the half twice, back-to-back, in six weeks seems highly unlikely. To put it kindly.

Still, I'd learn something by running stupidly and unsustainably toward Joan Didion's and Herb Caen's hometown, which is really how I view Sacramento. (Didion nor Herb, I'm sure, never got near a marathon, in Sacramento or anywhere else. When it came to fitness, Herb often mocked but also marveled. An item: "A moment's heartfelt silence: Walt 'Iron Man' Stack finally wore out. The great marathon runner who did 17 miles daily plus a swim in the bay as a matter of course died at 87 last Wed. at Sheffield Convalescent Home here. He was never the same after his beloved wife died four years ago ... Walt was a founding member of the Dolphin Club, where, one day in '88, Peter Rudolfi asked him, 'How do you keep your teeth from chattering out there in that icy water?' Walt: 'I leave 'em in the locker' ... ")

So, running CIM, I'd get a better idea of what I'm up against. And that could come in handy on May 2. Hmm.

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