If you don't know who Willie is, send me an email and I will tell you. Most of his friends call him Bill, but he will always be "Willie" to me. I first met Willie in 1956 after moving my family into a home in San Pedro. Willie was a member of our church, and we got to see him frequently because he was a box boy at the market a block from our home.
Now it was years later and Willie and I were riding to work together, probably late in April 1974. I would expect that a search of the police records would pinpoint it more accurately.
Willie: "I'm training to run in the Palos Verdes Marathon. You run a lot; why don't you think about running it with me?"
Probably everyone can look back in their lives and see significant events that had a major impact on the rest of their life. I certainly didn't realize it at the time, but this had to be one of the most significant for me. If nothing else, it would bring about more pain than I have ever experienced. As you might guess, we both did run the 1974 PV Marathon, and this story is mostly about that event. The pain I talk about is the many years of marathon running that this single event led too. Not only that, but the time required to train properly. But I am getting ahead of the story.
The reason we were riding to work together was that Willie's car had been stolen. People in Los Angeles do not ride to work together. Next door neighbors would leave at the same time, work together all day, and return home at the same time. But they wouldn't ride together. Something about defying Caltrans for the misery they inflict on L A motorists.
Willie's car was stolen regularly. He says today that it was only three times, but it surely seemed like more. He drove a VW bug, and the neighborhood kids figured out how to open the hood, insert a dime in the right place and drive off. The police would usually "find" the vehicle after they towed and impounded it for illegal parking. We would drive around the neighborhood looking for the car, but the police would always "find" it first. The kids always left it within a short distance of the site Willie had parked it; after all, they didn't want to walk a long way home. Willie would pay his fine for this crime he had committed and was good for a few months more. (I remember that he finally bought something a little more theft proof.)
It was after one of these thefts that I was driving Willie to work. Why would he be considering running the PV Marathon? Easy answer; his wife had left him and this seemed to him to be a way to focus his mind on something else. If only he had chosen some other means. Loosing one's wife is certainly more traumatic than the consequences of running a marathon, but . . . (Incidentally, Willie remarried and has a wonderful family these days. Also, he has had the sense to put marathon running behind him.)
I groan now, at the absurdity of the notion of running a marathon with the training we had. The race was in early June, and neither of us had any concept of what we were about to attempt. I grew up in New England, and always wanted to run in a marathon. After all, the Boston Marathon was "The Thing!" But "You run a lot" wasn't even close. I ran about a mile or so, two or three times a week. Willie was building up his distance, and was "all the way up to five miles." A marathon was 26.2 miles!
"Sounds good to me." I have always wanted to do a marathon." Little did I realize that the marathon was going to do me.
"OK. I am running after work. Why don't you join me?"
No strangers to running, Willie and I had both been on our high school track teams. I was a "distance runner" (the mile) and Willie was a sprinter. All else diverges there.
I was unaware at the time of Willie's background. Willie was a star in high school. He broke all the school sprint records. Amazingly enough, those records still stood many years later. As a runner, he was a machine. He never seemed to be exerting any effort. While running, he breathed through his nose. When we ran together, he ran lightly while I pounded along about a half yard behind. I quickly learned to stay that half-yard behind. If I pushed a little and got up with him, he assumed I wanted to push a little harder and I was in big trouble.
It usually went something like: "I think we are going to fast."
Willie was always the gentleman: "Yea, I agree. Why are you pushing so hard?"
And we would slow down.
We started out with runs along the Peninsula, usually a few miles out and then back. After the first week, we decided to go six miles.
Willie: "That wasn't too bad."
Barry: "Yea, I think we are ready for a long run. How about going for eight miles next week?"
Willie: "Sounds good to me. I'll see you about six am on Saturday."
Barry: "Couldn't we make it a little later?" Willie was a morning person, and I wasn't. So we compromised on 6:30.
Amazingly, the eight miler went OK.
"Willie, the marathon is only two weeks away. I think we better go up to ten miles next week."
"Sounds good to me. See you at 6 am next Saturday." You see, by now the police had "found" Willie's VW, he had paid his fine, and he could run in the morning before work. I opted to put in my running in the evening after work. But Saturday, we ran together, at 6:00 am.
Little did we realize, but with our lack of conditioning, running our longest run one week before the marathon wasn't the wisest thing to do. However, we did it and it didn't go too badly.
"I guess we're ready."
What a joke!
Race day, and over a thousand idiot runners gathered at the top of the Peninsula for the grand event. Willie and I were all adrenaline. The gun went off, and I didn't see Willie again. I think he had more adrenaline than I did. It didn't seem too bad. Actually, I was probably OK until about mile 12. Then I started to feel bad. I struggled along. About mile sixteen, I knew that something was drastically wrong. I came up behind a runner who was walking. I had never thought of walking, but I pulled along this fellow and walked.
"I feel terrible. I have never felt like this before in my life."
"Just walk a while. You'll recover."
"Are you sure. I think I am having an out of body experience."
"No, you'll be OK. But, I'll give you some advice: whenever you walk, walk for a while. Don't start running too quickly. Walk for at least ten minutes."
I don't know who that fellow was, but he gave me some incredibly great advice. (The only thing better could have been to tell me to stay home on the day before, or "Don't do it" on the way to work when I agreed to do such a stupid thing.)
I walked a while. I felt better. Fortunately, I had a watch with me. I walked for my ten minutes and then ran again. This was going to be easy.
Then something new: my legs began hurting so bad that I had to walk again. I didn't feel like I was going to die this time; it was just that my thighs and calves hurt terribly. I walked again.
Then something new: It hurt too bad to walk. So I ran again.
Now a new factor was on my mind. If I didn't die in the attempt to get to the finish line, I knew that I had to get there in less than four and one half-hours. That was the cut off for the runners to get a T-shirt! This became all-important. Don't ask why. Why do you suppose all these idiot runners are out there in all these 10K runs? It is to get their $3.00 T-shirt.
Good thing I had my watch. I knew how fast I was running. There was a mile marker every mile, so I knew just how far I had to go. I divided by the running speed and subtracted from four and one half-hours. That was the amount of time I could walk. I had to get there in time to get a T-shirt. I only deviated from my plan when I hurt too bad to run, in which case I walked; or I ran if I had been walking.
Now I had time to wonder about Willie. Why wasn't he hurting as bad as I was? Maybe he was hurting as bad as I was. Why did I let him talk me into this? (I got even years later: College of the Canyons.)
Now there was something new. While I was in a walk mode, three fat ladies, obviously five to ten years older than me, ran past. They were having a good time chatting and laughing. Their butts bounced up and down as they went off down the road. I was within a mile or so of the finish line. I wasn't going to let those "fat old ladies" beat me in. I started running again. I quickly passed them. Then the pain in my legs set in. I walked. They ran past me again. I let them go this time.
Then the finish line appeared. I was so thankful. I could stop running and walking, and the pain in my legs would go away. More important, I was going to get my T-shirt. I finished the race in four hours, twenty-eight minutes. I was handed a T-shirt and I lay down on the grass.
Now something new. The pain in my legs didn't go away. I writhed on the ground. Willie found me and sat down beside me. We talked about the "race" while we groaned with pain.
Willie: "I was almost at the finish line when an eight year old girl ran past me. I tried to keep up with her, but I hurt so bad that I had to let her go."
Apparently, Willie went out like a sprinter, and had an outstanding time going until he hit the wall. For both of us, the wall was at about 15 miles. It's supposed to be around twenty-two miles!
I told him about the three ladies. The pain was subsiding. It took almost an hour before we were able to limp to the car and go home.
I will never forget the next week. I was in a great deal of hurt. When I got out of my car, I had to lift my left leg and put it out of the car. Then I would lift my right leg up and put it out of the car. The muscles hurt too much to do otherwise. It took a week before my legs functioned normally. But it was over, and we had our T-shirts!
Willie went on to run other marathons (He trained properly.) He was a sub three-hour marathoner. I was never as fast, but ran another 41 marathons and got down to 3:08
When I think of the time I spent training and the pain I endured. I wonder why the Lord let those kids steal Willie's VW that time. Or maybe we should just have had more sense. I expect that everyone is aware that I would do it all over again. Only, I would have trained properly for that first PV Marathon.
Thanks Willie, for being such an important part of my life.
After publishing the "little story" about Willie and the PV Marathon, I gave the URL to Willie and offered editorial rights. I received the following email and chose to add it to the "little story" unedited.
It was great to see you and Cheryl last Saturday night. It was great fun. I had no idea you would write the PV story so quickly. It was fantastic - you were very generous in your praise. We did have some great times and I look back nostalgically wishing my body could respond now as it did then. I'm sure that now I could not even walk a marathon! I believe that whatever I accomplished, I owe in large part to you. You were understanding, fun to be with, encouraging, and, regardless of what you say, you made me work. I truly believe that in this venue we became all that we could be largely because of each other.
Besides the preceding sentence, I would add only one thing to your story.When you talked of the week following the marathon and the soreness, I recall having to walk downstairs backwards because the weight of my body was to great for my thighs.
You know I still have the records of my workouts between 1974 and 1991, and I ran about 23,000 miles. I wonder how many of those miles I ran with you (maybe 1/3 or 1/2)? If I assume it was 1/2, that would be 11,500 miles. At 8.5 minutes per mile, that would be 68 days!!
There are infinitely more important things to do now, but for old times, it would be great to put in one last mile together.
Thanks for being there - you're a great friend.