Straight Eye for the Running Guy
By Bill Donnelly
As I may have mentioned before, I started training for my first road race in April of 1973, and I ran that race at the end of September of that year. That’s about six months training for my first race, which should be plenty, unless that first race is a marathon, which mine happened to be. I was inspired to run this distance after watching Frank Shorter win the Olympic Gold in
the year before. I waited till April to train since who would be crazy enough to train in the winter. As you can already see, I was not very knowledgeable about long distance running. Munich
I had run cross country and track in high school, and just a bit in college, but I had never raced anything over three miles. But I did know running, and those high school days taught me how to prepare for a race (if it’s three miles or less.) I knew nothing about training for a marathon, or running it for that matter. I would quickly learn some valuable but painful lessons.
I remember my first pair of running shoes for my training. I went into a sporting goods store and grabbed a pair of promising looking shoes. I hadn’t run a step for about four years, and back when last I ran all shoes had leather uppers, and were always Adidas or Pumas. I do not remember which brand I bought, but I do remember they were Joe Namath Specials, so they came in that lovely light green and white of the New York Jets. Yuck.
Now the thing about leather uppers was that they were great at giving your feet blisters until the shoes were broken in. That usually finally happened about two days before the darn shoes wore out and you had to get a new pair of feet-eating shoes. Wouldn’t you know it, that is what happened to me, so after going through about 17 roles of medical tape, and the shoes, I scraped together a few dollars in order to go shoe hunting.
This time I took my time to look around, and low and behold, I found a new type of shoe on the market, with the brand names of Nike and Tiger. Wow, were they something! Nothing like the shoes of today, for they had little support, and all were a deep blue with white swooshes or stripes. But they had nylon uppers! I picked out the Tiger Bostons (Tiger is now Asics) which cost all of $17, and after running for a week blister free, I was sold on them. Tiger Bostons would carry me through many a marathon, including my first race, which was in
, so my shoes were no problem there, but everything else I did and wore became a real learning experience. New York
I picked the New York City Marathon to run because my sister Maureen lives in
, so I had a place to stay. I trained hard, always running Manhattan by myself, because I knew none of the other runners, nor did I often see many runners in those early days. I always ran hard, timing myself against the kitchen clock at home, not a real accurate method, but we didn’t wear timing devices in those days. Other then for stop watches you could carry in your hand, they didn’t exist. I built up to running ten or twelve miles a day, and I do remember my longest run was sixteen miles, which I did only once. Oh Boy! They say ignorance is bliss, and I guess that’s true if by bliss we mean: “I sure as hell did not know what I was getting myself into and if I had I never would have done it ever, never in a million years because who would put themselves through such torture just because some dude won the gold in Munich the year before why did I even watch those darned Olympics I’ll never do this again, ouch, Ouch, OUCH!” Delaware Park
So the morning of the race arrived (after a pre-race dinner the night before of STEAK because that was what we used to think we should eat the night before a race) and I had my can of Nutriment for breakfast, a dietary supplement that my high school coach had us drink as our lunch before any cross country meet. Needless to say, it wouldn’t provide a lot of what one needed for a marathon. I also stayed away from any other fluids, such as water or vodka gimlets, because we had been taught liquids might cause a runner to get a stitch, or better yet, make him completely cramp up in terrible agony. Luckily, as I ran the race, I saw other runners taking water at the two water stops provided in
Central Park, and as I was getting thirsty, I thought they might be on to something.
But I get ahead of myself. First, what to wear for my first race. I had never been told not to wear anything brand new for a marathon, but that was ok. I was dirt poor, so it didn’t cross my mind to buy anything new as I couldn’t afford it. So the first thing I put on was a piece of equipment that I had worn while running since I first tried to put one foot in front of the other in rapid succession. I’m not saying this was the same one I wore from years ago, but it was well worn I’m sure. This is the piece of sports apparel that all boys were taught to wear while engaging in any athletic endeavor, so as to keep their manhood safe and sound.
Now, I want to keep this article serious, as always, while not offending any delicate souls out there. Therefore, I will use code words for the piece of sports equipment I’m talking about. So for this article only, if I write the word dribble, I mean jock, and if I write kabibble, I mean strap. Is that clear? So anyway, the first thing I put on was my dribble kabibble. Oh yeah, if I write wibble, I mean cup, and if I write jibble, it means size. So anyway – wait- if I write zibble, it means big. So I put on my dribble kabibble whose wibble jibble was of course quite zibble.
I’m here to tell you that a dribble kabibble, while perhaps fine for most sports, was never meant for long distance running. The material it is made of is some sort of indestructible elastic stuff that, and I have this on good authority, was originally created as a covering for the heat shield for the Project Mercury Space Capsules, sort of an extra protection for our astronauts. Unfortunately, the material proved too abrasive and was destroying the heat shields, so the makers of this evil stuff had too find a new use for it. You guessed it, dribble kabibbles. And, just for good measure, they added ribs, which I’ll code name nibbles, to the wibble.
So now I’m wearing a dribble kabibble whose nibbles on the wibble will rub my inner thighs raw, especially because my wibble jibble is so zibble, there are more nibbles on my dribble kabibble than there are nibbles on the wibble of the average guy’s dribble kabibble. Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, this marathon was the last time I wore a dribble kabibble, since my thighs were rubbed raw practically down to my knees, thanks to my zibble wibble jibble. There, I hope I was able to handle this delicate topic without offending anyone, yet still being able to keep to the serious nature of the article, as I always try to do.
Next to go on were my shorts. Let me tell you, these were not the amazing light shorts of today, no; they were regular cotton gym shorts. You know, those five pound shorts we used to have to wear in gym class, the ones that slid down to your ankles so easily as the football players liked to “pants” the cross country fellows in front of the girls. And there I would be, in nothing but my dribble kabibble. How humiliating!
I could have worn the new nylon shorts of the day, but I couldn’t afford them, and they were nothing like the nylon shorts of today. They were very stiff, so much so, in fact, that when you took them off, they would stand quietly in whatever corner you threw them in. When you ran in them, they made an annoying whistling sound, similar to the sound corduroy pants made when walking, only at a higher, more constant pitch. And they weren’t very kind to your skin, only aggravating the rawness created by the nibbles on the wibble of my dribble kabibble.
Of course, the problem with cotton shorts is that they wear out quite quickly in the area where the wibble is, due to all the rubbing that goes on there. That, mixed with the sweat, and that part of cotton shorts usually lasted about two days. To save money, I learned to patch my own shorts, and I learned that the material that would last the longest without having to be repatched, was denim. I had some old blue jeans that were worn out, so I cut out pieces to use as patches. I wanted something that would last since I hated sewing so much. By the time of the marathon, that heavy, abrasive denim patch was about the size of
. Rhode Island
Next I put on my blue cotton tank top, which I always wore tucked in because it was so long it reached down below the bottom of my shorts if left hanging out. It was obviously not made for running, rather, for a very tall tank operator working for Field Marshal Rommel in
North Africa during World War II, thus the name tank top. It also had the ability to hold about twenty pounds worth of sweat, which would stretch it out so that, if left untucked, and I’m not making this up, it would reach down to my knees.
Next on went my pair of old, worn socks, hopefully washed, and my trusty Tiger Bostons. Then it was on to the West Side YMCA, located at
63rd St. and Central Park West. There we picked up our numbers, and I do mean numbers. Just recently I discovered my mom, who used the race as an excuse to visit my sister, actually filmed bits of the race with our home-movie camera. What a find! I discovered from watching it a detail I had totally forgotten. All runners had to wear their race numbers on the front AND back of their shirts. I think that was the only race I ever ran that had that requirement, other than in the next year’s NYC Marathon, and it wouldn’t have been so bad, except for the numbers we were given.
You see, and I still have one of my numbers to prove this, they were on big square pieces of thick, indestructible plastic, probably a close cousin to the material used to make dribble kabibbles. We all know how plastic close to your skin can make you sweat, while at the same time irritating your skin. Well, we had this problem on the front and the back of our shirts. By the way, the numbers were painted on using some sort of house paint, at least that’s my guess as to what they used.
But now I was ready for my first marathon, and I made my way to the starting line near the Tavern on the Green. Little did I know how poorly I was prepared for what was to follow, both training-wise and with the outfit I had on. I managed a race that day, which was good enough to qualify me for
, and that was my goal. But you can bet your dribble kabibble that I never made those mistakes again. No, new mistakes awaited me in the future, and I guess those mistakes can make running such an adventure. At least they provide a few laughs all these years later, even if I wasn’t laughing at the time. Boston