Why marathons were special to me, especially my last one By Dave Graves
My marathon career began in Brookings (1999) and ended in Brookings (May 11, 2018). During that 19-year span between ages 41 and 60 I ran 36 marathons — 943.2 miles, but that’s merely the introduction of the story.
Some years there were no marathons. One year — 2004 — there were four. Most years there were three — all in the spring to minimize the conflict with mowing season. I hadn’t been fully bitten by the marathon bug when I started Graves Lawn Mowing in 2000. Who knows how many marathons I would have run if not for lawn mowing. I know I missed a lot of great fall marathons but it did provide a very set order to my life. Mowing was from late April through October with marathon training from some time in December to early April. Most marathons were between mid-April and late May. So that gave me November for free weekends. Of course, marathon training, unlike lawn mowing didn’t require all of my free time. But it did require a 100 percent commitment.
‘In return received a soul’ My years as a marathoner certainly can be captured in the Rudyard Kipling quote — “I surrendered my body and soul to a harsh master and in return received a soul.” Running marathons is certainly physical — when you’ve polished off your marathon training you feel like you could conquer the world, even when you know you will finish at the back of the pack. But more than physical, running a marathon requires a surrendering of the soul and spirit, a willingness to pay more than you want to spend.
I loved to run and embraced the loneliness of the long-distance run, but even for me, the notion of a 20-mile run being a short outing doesn’t define my ideal Saturday.
However, if you want to be able to enjoy the Saturday (or Sunday) that matters, you better be willing to put in the long and lonely Saturdays that precede the race. Once you submit your freewill to that, the task becomes manageable — especially if you break it into small segments. Did you know there are 100-quarter mile sections in a 25-mile run?
A Nicole Kidman quote in “The Scotsman” applies: “When you relinquish the desire to control your future, you can have more happiness.”
Pancakes and a lazy Saturday morning aren’t on the menu. You’ve had to give it up to the taskmaster of marathon training. And, of course, the hardest part of any training run is getting out the door. In an interview leading up to his Olympic marathon, Rod DeHaven, the SDSU great and current coach, said, “I’ve never turned back on a run after I got out of the house.”
Giving the marathon its due respect requires sticking to the training plan when laziness has another idea, when the granddaughter has a fifth-grade basketball game or when the weather bites (figuratively or literally).
Certainly, I’m thankful for a gym membership because even the hardiest of South Dakotans doesn’t reap a benefit from trying to run into a 25 mph wind. That said, my least favorite training surface, especially for anything over two miles, is on a moving rubber belt.
So much can go wrong Running the marathon itself can be 26.2 miles of treachery. There are just so many things that go wrong. In 36 marathons, I only once managed an even split (Olathe, Kansas, 2016). Never a negative split. Many were overwhelmingly slower on the second half.
I frequently preach the banker’s principle: “What you save on the first half, you can spend on the second half. What you overspend on the first half, you pay interest on in the second half.” Like any overspending, you don’t realize how much that little extra beyond your goal pace is going to hurt you later on.
Three times I finished marathons and thought I could go farther. Once was my marathon PR, (Brookings 2006, 3:39:05 at age 48). I also felt that way at the 2014 Brookings Marathon (4:16:48). Though my time was much slower, I felt the satisfaction of having given it my best and had the confidence I could have run further.
The other time I wasn’t tanked after 26.2 miles was the 2011 Lincoln Marathon. In that case, I had saved too much. When I finished, I was disgusted at myself for leaving too much in the tank. That was a worse feeling than any exhaustion I’ve ever felt, but it did provide motivation to run that great marathon again.
A marathon like no other, thankfully Most marathons I ran were great. Not that I ran great, but they were a quality event put on by great people. Really, I can only think of two that weren’t. One stands out in particular.
The River Rat Marathon in Yankton in 2010 was an unforgettable experience. I knew it would be a small marathon and I was using it as a warm-up marathon before Brookings in a couple weeks. The organizers had conducted a half marathon for a number of years, but this year added the marathon, which started before the half marathon.
There were eight of us at the start, which was by the river. A couple guys broke out right away. I ran with four or five other guys. We worked through town and looked ahead to see the leaders stopped at a traffic light. I thought, “That’s odd,” but then reasoned, “It’s a small marathon. Maybe they don’t have crossing guards,” which they didn’t.
However, the problem was everyone had missed a turn, which was only marked by an arrow on the pavement. Someone had a phone and called his wife, who was at t the start line. She talked to a race official and found we had missed a turn, but were told to turn left at the corner where we had stopped. We did make a long L and get back on course after getting confused once more about where to turn.
It may have added a mile to the marathon, but at that point a quality time was already out the window. We made it out to Gavins Lake State Park, which is a beautiful area.
To top it off, medals were not presented at the finish, rather at a luncheon afterwards. I really wanted to get back home and get my mowers ready, but I did stick around to get the medal.
I will say I tackled the River Rat Marathon again in 2013 and the organization had improved tremendously while holding onto a very nice course.
All of my marathons have been in the midsection of the country — entry fees are cheap compared to the cost of travel, meals and lodging. Furthest west — Denver (twice); southern and easternmost— St. Louis (the only marathon I ever flew to), northernmost — Fargo, N.D.
My final marathon goal Many years ago, I set a goal of running a marathon at age 60, simply because way back then 60 seemed really old. In my early 50s, that seemed like a simple goal. But age is a snowball, and not a friendly one.
In summer 2016, after completing my marathons, I paid visits to orthopedic doctors for knee and then hip pain. Turned out in both cases the diagnosis was arthritis. I was told running didn’t cause the arthritis and, in fact, the activity was good. I just probably won’t run three marathons per spring any more.
A prescription for Meloxicam really took care of almost all my arthritis. But in 2017 other injuries cut short my training time and I considered myself fortunate to complete two half-marathons. At that point, I felt if I had more training time, I could certainly complete a marathon.
Hard or I can’t? By 2018, running (slogging) had become much more laborious. But I made a vow to myself that I would not interchange “this is hard” for “I can’t do this.”
Nonetheless, I held off registering for a marathon before I was certain I could master the training. At some point that winter, I had confidence that I was slow but unstoppable. At that point I could allow my mind to get a bit sentimental about my final season of marathon training. The country roads north and south of Volga that had hosted my Saturday ritual, I would visit no more. I knew every farm house and shelterbelt on the route.
As the weeks wound down, it really had become a spiritual experience. A lot of emotion went into saying goodbye to a sport I loved and so firmly shaped my character. But I also knew it was my time.
I also was motivated by a quote I read in Runner’s World from Amby Burfoot, retired editor of the magazine and winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon. “Every run is a new adventure and every mile is a gift.”
His words really made an impact on me. I was out there because I wanted to be; nobody forced me to do this. Many people I know couldn’t be out there. Either God hadn’t blessed them with a love for running or physical ailments left them no longer able to run.
In an interesting twist, Burfoot was in Brookings Sept. 21-22 for the South Dakota Festival of Books, which coincided with the Jack 15 road race, for which I am co-director. Burfoot joined in the run and spoke after packet pickup. I’m not an autograph seeker, but I did ask him to pen that quote on a Jack 15 flyer.
Back to marathon training The heavy miles were causing knee problems and required visits to the physical therapist. However, I had never gone into a marathon undertrained and wasn’t going to let 2018 be the first, even though I had to scale back training because of knee pain.
After some good physical therapy by Jordan Jacobson (Hungerford Chiropractic, Brookings), I was able to push long-distance mileage again. After 22 miles on April 21, I was confident. No pain beyond the usual soreness.
The next week (April 28) I reached my goal of being a 60-year-old marathoner by completing the Run for the Lakes Marathon in Nisswa, Minn., near Brainerd, in six hours and 15 minutes. Yes, that’s a 14:19 pace.
I know. You’re saying, “I walk faster than that.”
No arguments here. What’s even more amazing, there were three people behind me.
It’s a beautiful course in a vacation lakes community with towering pine trees and rolling hills, which weren’t my friend. As the miles add up, the arthritis in my knees saps their function. By 10 miles, my knees were hurting and the rolling hills compounded the discomfort.
Several times along the course I said to myself, “I never want to do this again.” Of course, I knew I did want to do it once again because I wanted Brookings to be my retirement marathon.
When I completed the Nisswa marathon a worker asked if I had ever run a marathon before. “Yeah, 35,” I responded.
Marathon #36 The Brookings Marathon was two weeks later and it was a much better day for me. I finished 117th out of 125 runners with a time of 5:46:22, a 13:13 pace. A minute-plus-per-mile improvement tells how much better I felt. Never felt the knee pain that I had two weeks earlier.
A fun experience at Brookings was getting a one-hour early start. I lead the race for the first nine miles! It was fun to watch the fast people dart past me. Even in my good days, I never witnessed the lead pack.
The day was definitely an emotional time for me, though not quite as emotional as I expected because I was also pretty darn tired.
It was special to have my son, Josh, and daughter, Traci, and their families out on the latter part of the course as well as the finish line. Several of my grandchildren ran to the finish line with me. Marathon director Matt Bien, whom I respect so much for the effort he has poured into a great event, placed my marathon medal on my neck.
While I respect the fact that my body is no longer suitable for challenging the marathon distance, I’m thankful for how years of running marathons has shaped my character.
Discipline, perseverance and commitment are qualities that make one better in all facets of life.
Post-Marathon Life P.S. — In the summer and fall that followed, I found great pleasure in running a five-mile country mile with Traci’s dog, Cade, who would get in at least 10 miles. It was the highlight of my week. Running in 2018 ended when I ruptured my quadriceps tendons Oct. 22 in a fall in Nicaragua. Surgery was Oct. 31. The doctor said I would be able to run again in a year, but he advised against it because of the risk for re-injury. So will I run again? Time will answer that. I would love to run again. Right now (mid December) I would love to walk without a walker and a brace. But this I know for sure. I will always be a runner.
Dave Graves, of Volga, S.D., began running at about age 35. He has served as president of Prairie Striders Running Club, Brookings, since 2013 and is co-director of the Jack 15 road race. He doesn’t Twitter or regularly blog. This is a one-time contribution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org