61. Marathon Mom

61. Marathon Mom

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Marathon Mom

We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.
~Emil Zatopek

In 1980, when my children were old enough to stay alone for a few minutes, but young enough that it had to be only a few, I decided to make a dash to the store. I was thirty-four and breathlessly shocked that I couldn’t run two blocks without stopping. It was at that moment I was humiliated enough to take up jogging. We lived near a park and the trek from my house around the park and back was a mile and a half. Day after day I ran the course until I could do it without stopping. I was a runner! Unfortunately I was soon an injured runner with no idea how to stop the pains in my shins, but I did know who to ask. Twice a day I would see a fellow run past my house. I knew he lived in the white house right across from the park. He seemed to run a little more than I did, so I figured he’d know what to do. I knocked on the door and the guy I’d seen running so often answered. He introduced himself as Garry and listened while I told him I was a runner (I actually said that) and asked if he knew anything about running injuries. He gave me lots of advice and suggested I go to a running store and replace my little tennis shoes with something better.

At the store I mentioned my neighbor and was treated like royalty. The clerk explained that the guy I’d been talking to was Garry Bjorklund, the Olympic runner, and didn’t I know who he was? I knew enough to be totally embarrassed that I’d called myself a runner in his presence and resolved then and there to actually become one.

So I trained. Every day I ran a 5-mile loop, usually around 5:00 AM before my husband and kids woke up, and every day I would meet Bjorklund and a friend heading out as I was coming home. They always encouraged me, and I always picked up the pace.

In the fall of 1981, after a summer of intense training, I ran the City of Lakes Marathon. In order to get a T-shirt, you had to finish in less than four hours. I know it’s shocking, but in those days, there were no bags of treats, medals, prizes, and news coverage. There were just some time officials, awards for the top finishers, and a T-shirt for finishing in under four hours. I finished the grueling 26.2 miles in about 4 hours and 20 minutes, which might very well have been last place. Most everyone had gone home except a wonderful volunteer who vowed to stay until the last person finished. But I was too late for the shirt.

I went home that day, thrilled to have run my first marathon but devastated that I had nothing to show for it. My kids made me tinfoil medals and when they hung them around my neck, I started to cry. I think I was still crying when the doorbell rang and there stood Bjorklund. “You’re the one who deserves this,” he said, and handed me a marathon shirt.

The Twin Cities Marathon replaced the City of Lakes Marathon in 1982 and instead of circling two lakes four times, it now winds around those lakes and continues on the scenic parkways and river roads of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Thousands of supportive volunteers and hundreds of thousands of spectators with boom boxes blaring the theme from Rocky line the route to cheer on the more than eight thousand runners. It all ends up in front of the Capitol with great fanfare, copious amounts of food, medals for finishers, and, of course, the coveted T-shirt.

Marathons have come a long way since 1981, but they are still 26.2 miles. It has been twenty-five years since I ran that first marathon, twenty-five years since Bjorklund, a young man who’d won marathons, been an Olympian, and still holds the State high school boys’ cross country 1600-meter record came to my house and handed me a shirt.

My own son, the tinfoil medal maker, and his sister are adults now, running their own marathons. In fact my son just qualified for Boston and last week called and said, “How about lacing up your running shoes again Mom, for me. Because you’re a sixty-year-old woman, if you run a 4:30 marathon you’ll qualify for Boston too! What do you say we go together?” Who can resist an offer like that? Time to get out that threadbare T-shirt and hit the road again!

~Bonnie West

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