The story below is a preview from our September/October 2016 issue. For the full story Subscribe today, view our FREE interactive digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
A Roanoke native, long-time area bank executive and civic leader looks back almost 34 years to the exhilarating highlight of his athletic career.
When it began to be clear to me that my first marriage was not going to last much longer, after 25 years, I took up running for the solitude and the thinking time it provided. And, to attack a premature spare tire that one of my bank directors was chiding me about.
I started to rise at 5:30 a.m. to go to an indoor track about 12 minutes away. I could run five miles (after building up to that distance over a couple of months) and still be at my office by 8 a.m. And because it was indoors, there were no weather excuses allowed. Twelve laps made a mile so the 60 laps made me feel a bit like a corkscrew, but they provided the escape, and addressed the spare tire.
I found a training regimen for first-time marathoners in Runner’s World magazine and began following it a year before the time I wanted to try New York. It assumed you were running at least 20 miles per week when you started the training. I was doing 25 to 30 so I was right on target.
Unlike the Boston Marathon, New York does not require the runners to qualify; you only need to apply in time to make it into the quota of runners allowed to run. I had a friend who worked at Manufacturers Hanover Bank, the principal sponsor of the marathon at that time. He said he would make sure I got in and he did.
The N.Y. Road Runners Club’s marvelous job to manage the marathon was first evident to me when I checked in at the Sheraton Hotel near Times Square. Sixteen thousand runners were to check in Wednesday through Saturday for the marathon on Sunday, October 24, 1982. It was efficient and quick. I was inordinately pleased to be handed my runner’s number. It made me feel like an honest-to-God athlete.
We were instructed to catch the buses very early the next morning (I got on one at 6:30 a.m.) for the trip to Staten Island. The elite runners were, of course, up front. I was in the 3 1/2-hour finishing group, pretty far back but not at the tail end by any means.
We waited and waited, nervousness clearly visible, and then, all of a sudden, we were off across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge toward Brooklyn. Pure exhilaration. Only 26 miles, 385 yards to go through all five boroughs.
I didn’t realize it, but the first half of the marathon is entirely in Brooklyn except for the length of the Verrazano Bridge. The trip through Brooklyn was a fabulous ethnic adventure. There was never a place without people on both sides of the street yelling encouragements. There was a Dixieland band, for heaven’s sake. There was a large African American neighborhood, and there were what appeared to be Eastern Europeans. And most unexpected for a Southerner, a large Hasidic Jewish enclave with tall men in black coats and long braids yelling, “You’re looking good, you can do it, keep it up.” Amazing.
It was going up the Queens side of the 59th Street Bridge that I first saw people (both men and women) start to fade—begin to walk instead of run. The grade is unexpectedly steep and my legs began to burn a little. It was then that I was especially grateful for the hills of Smith Mountain Lake and Roanoke where I had trained. As the grade leveled and even began to descend I felt a renewed confidence. I can do this.
When we started up 1st Avenue, just above 60th Street, there was a single-screen movie house (no longer there) showing an X-rated movie with a title that seemed poetic considering the thousands of runners beginning their 16th mile: “EXHAUSTED.” I had to smile.
There were water stations strategically placed along the route which also had ERG type drinks. Volunteers stepped out and offered cups of water so your pace didn’t suffer. I took my first hydration just beyond that movie theater. It seemed to improve my condition immediately.
We were not in the Bronx long, only a couple of miles, maybe less. We came back into Manhattan at mile number 20, then around Marcus Garvey Park and onto Fifth Avenue at 120th Street. That was about when I began to feel a real strain and began to worry if I was about to hit the proverbial “wall.” My legs were feeling weak and my pace slowed. I was surprised and concerned. It had happened so quickly. But I kept going, with more like a jogging pace than running.
Whenever I had been in New York over the previous three years, I had run in Central Park for training, so it was friendly and familiar as we entered. But I also knew that unlike flat Fifth Avenue, the park is full of small hills that look much more formidable after having run 23 miles. I began to talk to myself to be able to keep going.
During the summer prior to the marathon, I had spent four days at a large public relations firm in New York in training designed to teach CEOs how to deal with the media.They taught us things like never to wear a white shirt for television. One of my instructors was a woman who was fascinated that I was going to run the marathon. She told me if I did, she’d be there to give me a cheer.