Monday, December 20, 2010

nugget #15

The following is the first article I had published, which was in the November, 2003 issue of Running Times.  There were a few things left out of my original story, which will be pointed out in a future blog.  I hope you enjoy "The Ignorance of a Long Distance Runner".  Oh yeah, the article mentions that when I finished the Skylon Marathon, "Little did Broun know I was finishing my third marathon in four weeks."  The editors eventually left out Broun's name, but it was Haywood Hale Broun, who was covering the Skylon for CBS Satureday Nightly News.  It all gets explained later, hopefully next week. 

The Ignorance of a Long Distance Runner
A Tale of Woe and Wonder from Running?s Age of Innocence

By Bill Donnelly

I ran my first road race in 1973, which was when the running boom was really
starting to take off. My first race was the ?73 New York City Marathon,
which was run completely in Central Park, (one two mile loop followed by
four six mile loops), and in fact, only 400 runners ran the race. I
qualified for Boston with a 3:01 time, and when I ran Boston the next April,
I was joined by a record crowd of 1,700 runners for the event.
Most of the runners I knew were very competitive, while at the same time, we
were not very well off financially. We ran in $17 Tiger Boston shoes and
wore cheap running gear. In the winter we wore long johns and cotton sweats.
We trained in our own ways, and hopefully, learned from our mistakes. My
training consistently was 16 miles per day with a long run on Sunday (20 to
23 miles). My racing style was to line up in front, go out like a bat out of
hell, and hang on as best I could. There was no speed work except for races.

My Tale of Woe Begins
As I said, hopefully we learned from our mistakes, and my mistakes started
in the fall of 1974. My tale of woe begins on September 29th in the city of
New York, where I decided to take on the Marathon once again. There were 500
runners this time, but the weather was extremely hot, and the humidity was
listed as 93%. I was young and invincible, and since I had never before run
a hot weather marathon, the conditions did not concern me. Mistake number
As I once again took a starting position in the very front of the pack for
the 11:00 a.m. start, a beautiful woman in a short tennis dress lined up
next to me. She was none other than Kathy Switzer, who had gained fame in
1967 for being the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon with an
official number, even though women were prohibited from the race. People
Magazine had a reporter and photographer in New York capturing her every
move for a feature article they were doing on her.
I was set to go, and I had the nylon laces of my Tiger Bostons tied in a
double knot as I always did to prevent them from coming untied. And then the
beautiful Kathy spoke to me. She told me my shoes were untied, which was not
true, they just looked untied. Being the shy young man that I was, and with
very little practice in conversing with attractive women, my mind turned to
mush. I thanked her and knelt down to pretend to tie my shoes. DUH!
I never saw the issue of People with the article on Kathy. If one of you
should ever find that particular issue, and should it have a picture of the
very start of the race, I would be the one kneeling next to Kathy, seemingly
tying my shoe as everyone else takes off.

Mistakes and Misery
I quickly recovered and was able to take off in my usual style of going out
too fast. Now, Fred Lebow had always tried to put on a mistake free race
that was runner friendly, but in ?74 his workers made a crucial mistake.
There were only a couple of water stops in those days, one on each side of
the park, and on that hot, humid day, they did not get the water stops set
up in time, and there was no water for us until the eight mile mark. By that
time it was too late.
As I was running along with no idea of what would transpire, Bill Rodgers
led the pack for the first 20 miles. This was six months before he would win
his first marathon ever in Boston, but in New York in ?74 he became
dehydrated and faded to finish fifth in 2:35:59. Dr. Norb Sander went on to
win in 2:26:30, and the lovely, but dangerous, (to me) Kathy Switzer was the
first woman in 3:07:29.
Meanwhile, the adverse conditions were starting to do me in, and as I
approached the 20 mile mark at the Tavern on the Green where the race
started, I saw my sister Maureen, who lives in New York. I stopped and told
her and her husband that I was whipped and would quit despite being only six
miles from finishing. They urged me on, saying I was in 23rd place, and my
competitive spirit took over. On I went. Mistake number two!
For two miles I felt pretty good and was glad that I went on. The next two
miles reminded me of why I wanted to quit, and everything seemed to be going
in slow motion. With two miles to go, someone above took pity on me and the
skies opened up. I mean, it started to pour down rain, lightning and
thunder, and it would continue until I finished. That could have saved my
life, for I was in very bad shape, and remember little of those miles other
than the light poles moving towards me ever so slowly.
At the Tavern on the Green my brother Mike joined me to run me in, and at
that time, I hated him, for I so wanted to quit, but he would not let me. My
last memory is turning out of the park to head to Columbus Circle and the
finish. There was a bright flash of light and a loud crack of thunder almost
immediately, and a couple of onlookers ran across the road when they saw me
turn. My last thought was that they were race officials, and that they were
stopping the race because of the storm. All that happened for the next hour
or more is totally gone from my memory, for I was running through habit, and
I was out on my feet.
My folks were there, and when my mom saw me meandering from side to side and
puddle to puddle, she thought I was just kidding around. When she saw two
runners pass me by and I did not react, she knew I was not playing. Being
one of nine children in our Irish Catholic family, my mom knew how
competitive I was, and she became worried.
I finally made it to the finish line, but before crossing it, I started to
walk towards some grass to sit down. Mind you, I remember none of this, but
am only repeating what my family has told me happened. My brother-in-law,
now wearing a yellow rain slicker, ran at me waving his arms like a giant
yellow bat and screaming at me, which turned out to be sufficient enough to
startle me to dash across the finish line, where upon I crumbled to the

Medical Measures and Moaning
I had finished in 29th place with a time of 2:56:32, but at that moment I
was in lala land with no idea of what was happening around me. I had gone
into shock from dehydration and heat prostration. Now the adventure really
Another thing Fred Lebow apparently goofed on was not having medical
assistance at the end of the race. An official used the sound system to ask
if there was a doctor in the area, and the only one to respond was the
winner of the race, Dr. Norb Sander. As he approached, my worried mother
asked him if I would be okay. He inquired as to my training, and when my mom
told him that I ran 100 plus miles a week, Dr. Norb said I would be okay. He
then proceeded to scoop up puddle water with his drinking cup and pour it
over my head and down the back of my neck. Knowing I would be okay, my mom
started to take pictures of my lying there. What would we do without our
Dr. Norb continued to watch over me until an ambulance arrived, which took
45 minutes. I figure I may be the only finisher of the New York City
Marathon who received medical assistance from the winner of that race. When
the ambulance got there, an attendant asked if I wanted ice chips. My
response was that I was not married. Huh? Now mind you, I remember nothing
of this, and 28 years later, I still have not figured out what connection I
was making. But my family swears that is what I said.
My first memory of my ordeal was waking up in the Emergency Room of the
Roosevelt Hospital. I was surrounded by a team of doctors and nurses. They
were taking blood samples from one arm and inserting an IV needle in the
other. My reaction and this I remember clearly, was to scream: ?NO NEEDLES,
NO NEEDLES, I CAN?T STAND PAIN!? This of course brought immediate silence
and puzzled looks, followed by laughter, and to my dismay, the continued
insertion of those dreaded needles into my arms.
I could only think, but not very clearly, and I had a great deal of
difficulty trying to express my thoughts in the spoken language. I had no
control of any bodily functions, and could not take any liquids orally. Mere
ice chips put in my mouth would make me throw up. Of course, I was terribly
thirsty after the race, and that was the worst part of what I was going
through. It would be hours before the thirst went away thanks to the IV.
I was in the Emergency Room for over eight hours. During that time the nurse
in charge would bring around groups of doctors and nurses and gather them
around my bed. With a smile she would say: ?Go ahead, tell these folks what
you did to yourself to get here.? When I did tell them my tale, they would
leave shaking their heads. Not many people knew about the craziness of long
distance running yet.
A few hours into my adventure, when I was starting to get my wits about me,
I heard a soft moaning coming from the fellow in the bed next to me. I
inquired of him what was wrong, and his tale of woe put mine to shame. Seems
he arrived via the marathon also. It was his first one, but he passed out
several feet before the finish. That was bad enough, but his wife had not
wanted him to ever run a marathon for fear that he might end up in a
hospital. You see where this is going! He told her in the morning he had to
go to Jersey to run several errands. Now he was in the hospital, and the
doctors had called his wife to come and get him. He went back to moaning,
more from fear than pain, and I might have moaned a bit just in sympathy
with him.

More Marathons, More Mistakes
I got out of the hospital near midnight, had another checkup that Tuesday,
and headed back to Buffalo to train for my next marathon, which was two
weeks after New York. That?s right; I was running the Kitchener, Ontario
Marathon with some of my buddies on October 12th. Mistake number three. It
was the Canadian National Championships, and we were doing it mainly as a
training run. We all finished together in 3:06:26. Not a good idea so soon
after my experience just tow weeks prior.
A training run for what you might ask. Why, for the first Buffalo to Niagara
Skylon International Marathon to be held two weeks later on October 26th. I
had been on the committee that helped put this race together, so I was
looking forward to running it no matter what. Mistake numbers four and five
and many more. By now my body was protesting a bit, and I was training
despite a sore groin. By the time of the marathon, I was running with a
noticeable limp.
Well of course I had to line up for the race in the front row, and when the
gun went off, there went the old bat out of hell. I felt my groin snap in
the first couple of steps, but that didn?t stop me from running in second
place for the first third of a mile. The groin did not bother me as all
during the race, but what I was putting my body through would catch up to
me. In all of the marathons I have run, I felt I have never hit the wall.
That is, all but the first Skylon. In that race I hit the wall hard and I
hit it at 13 miles into the race. The last 13 miles were the toughest miles
I have ever run, but I was too proud and stupid to quit.
It turns out that when the marathon aired nationally two Saturdays later, I
would get my 1.5 seconds of fame. Towards the end of the report, they showed
some good runners finishing and looking fresh, while the announcer was
saying that some runners looked as if they were just finishing a light jog
in the park. He then said that others looked like they were finishing their
second marathon of the day. Guess whose finish the report showed for those
words. Little did Broun know that I was finishing my third marathon in four
I somehow managed to finish with my best time to this point, 2:46:34, but I
also soon ended up back in an ambulance. The Skylon had sense enough to have
an ambulance at the finish, and I staggered to it. They gave me liquids,
told me I was in a mild state of shock, and sent me on my way because they
needed the room for others. I was helped to the hotel room where club
members were celebrating, and for the entire evening, I lay on a bed under
many blankets, shivering uncontrollably. I should have been in a hospital.

The Happy Ending
Needless to say, I did not run any more marathons that year. My groin was so
bad that I had to walk on crutches for three days. I was off running for six
weeks while I healed. Once I did heal, I of course had to start training for
the ?75 Boston Marathon. Since I had only four months to train, I took a
friend?s advice and joined him in some tough speed work on the track, twice
a week, for three months. It paid off.
I had my PR at that Boston. Other friends of mine from the New York Marathon
were there also. Bill Rodgers set a course record of 2:09:55, 26 minutes
faster that he had run New York six months before. Kathy Switzer finished
second among the women in 2:51:37, 16 minutes faster. I managed a 2:34:57
and finished 181st out of 2000 runners.
Oh yeah, another friend of mine from New York was there. As I entered the
finish chute, the runner in front of me was looking whipped. A young lad ran
up to him, placed a blanket around his shoulders, and said, ?Great race
Norb.? Now, I was feeling good and my mind was working well as there were no
beautiful Kathy Switzers around turning it into mush. I thought that there
could be very few men named Norb, and fewer still who ran marathons. I asked
him if he was Dr. Norb Sander, winner of the New York Marathon. He said yes,
so I told him who I was and what had happened to me at that marathon. I
wasn?t able to thank him personally back in New York for what he had done
for me, so I thanked him there and then. He looked at me with glazed eyes,
for he obviously had a tough race. He simply said: ?You just ran a great
race!?, and then he staggered away. I, on the other hand, floated through
the chute, feeling no pain, and truly enjoying the greatest runner?s high
Thus my tale of woe and mistakes ends on a happy note. I think I did learn
from all those mistakes, and now the future looks bright. Enough of that, I
must go and run 16 miles so I can be in shape for the Tow Path Marathon in
October. That reminds me, the Columbus Marathon is only two weeks after it,
followed closely by the New York City Marathon. I wonder if these old legs
still have it in them? Well, gottta run.

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