A 'short' course on the fine art of marathoning


Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

For fun, I used to run marathons.

Friends and family always questioned the first part, wondering why I wore such a pained expression throughout the marathon experience if I was having so much “fun.”

More than 40 years ago, when my legs were fresh and the will was strong, covering the 26.2-mile marathon distance in one swoop was a sub-3-hour experience worth relishing for months to come.

Then, after my academic days ended, a certain four-letter word crept into my daily lexicon, curbing my appetite for proper marathon training, a regimen that sometimes entailed 10 or more miles of pavement pounding a day.

My downward progression in the running ranks happened over a 20-year period, climaxing in 1995 at the Chicago Marathon. As any long distance runner can attest, there is “no cheating the miles” when it comes to preparing for marathon day, unless you want to follow in the footsteps of Rosie Ruiz, of course.

Ruiz, as even the most casual running fan knows, etched her name into the running “Hall of Shame” in 1980 when she purported to win the Boston Marathon, long known as “the granddaddy” of all 26.2-mile races.

The trouble was that Ruiz ran just one mile of the grueling race, sneaking onto the course within sight of the finish line in downtown Boston. Her “win” was nullified a few days later after race organizers determined that Ruiz was a running fraud and a serial fame-seeker.

Last month, in Florida, the final chapter in Ruiz’s life was written when she died of cancer at age 66. Her passing, however sad, brought to mind a somewhat similar running caper that a friend of mine concocted on the streets of Chicago during that ill-fated 1995 marathon.

My marathoning friend, who shall forever remain nameless, was entered in the Windy City race that year, along with 20,000 or so other fitness enthusiasts. As avid runners, we wished each other well at the starting line before I set off like a jackrabbit while he settled into his usual steady pace.

Some 8 miles into the race, as we wound through some of Chicago’s trendy ethnic neighborhoods, I peered ahead only to see my friend trudging along at what appeared to be a P.R. pace.

Somewhat amazed at his early surge of energy, I congratulated him on his marathon performance, while all the while wondering, “How the heck did he get in front of me?”

I knew there would be a logical answer that only the former two-pack a day cigarette smoker could provide:

“I took a taxi over to the 6-mile mark,” he said with a smile, doing his best Rosie Ruiz imitation.

“I wasn’t feeling so well, so I thought I’d save myself a lot of pain and suffering,” he deadpanned.

We smiled at each other, enjoyed some momentary marathon chit-chat, and then we were on our separate ways – again.

By the midway point of the race, my dreams of sub-3-hour glory were buried next to Chicago mobster Al Capone. Still, marathoners have a certain death wish about finishing, no matter the futility of their efforts. I was no different, plus I was starving at that point, and the post-race spread was reserved for “finishers.”

The trek out famed Lakeshore Drive into a 25 mph, 45-degree headwind was my version of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, a death march that was spiced by yet another up-front appearance by my friend.

At that point, I was done mincing words, asking my friend, “How in the world did you get here this time?”

 “I took the train,” he replied with a grin. “It shaved off a good 6 miles. This is really a good way to run a marathon.”


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