Going the Distance

Sow and Reap

It was October 2006 when I found myself blabbing at the Blue Hour about how muc to run.  “I broke a record in my first 800 meter race,” I must have said.  (Even though I was no more than fourteen for that event – yes, sometimes I blab it drunkenly.)  Surrounded by traveling race directors and other members of the marathon circuit, I was digging it.  Who wouldn’t?!  A whole gaggle of visitors, new to town (mostly men) and all of them affiliated with running!  Delight!

One of them, Silinski, took a particular liking to me.  He’s much older and shorter, so romance was never an option.  He was more like a father figure.  “Talented runner, are you?”  He said, “I’ll show you running.”

That weekend was full of organized events for the marathon gang.  There was a dinner party at the Pittock Mansion, another dinner party at the MAC Club and of course lots of drinking.  I met some of the best distance runners in the world.  On Sunday morning, I got dropped off at the VIP tent in time to see the first place female finish the Portland Marathon.  That’s when it dawned.  She’s just like me!

Capital Discovery

army 10 milerTwo weeks later, I was in DC for the Army 10-Miler.  My new friend had flown me out to run!  I was tired and grumpy the night I landed, and it was late, but Silinski insisted on taking me to see the sights…with the top down.  (It was freezing!)  Abe Lincoln stared from his enormous perch and life-sized, armed soldiers stood eerily, almost glowing in the dark, as if frozen into stone mid-fight.

The next day we went shopping.  My friend wanted me to have a black dress for the evening’s affair.  We’d be schmoozing with some of the top in command of our US Armed Forces.  No one could figure out why I was there.  Neither could I!  But I was absolutely along for the ride.

Finally, the last morning came and it was time to run.  I was brought to the VIP area where we watched the opening ceremonies.  Lining up with the runners behind the starting line, I peeled off my top layer and scanned the scene for my friend.  He was nowhere in sight.  There was someone I recognized though!  So I threw it.  Silinski yelled at me about that later.  That guy was a Colonel of the US Army.  Apparently no one throws anything at him.

It was a great race.  Naturally, my favorite part was flirting with the men in uniform.  Seeing the monuments wasn’t bad either.  Soon the trip came to an end and I found myself back in Portland.  But Silinski already had another adventure in mind: a few days later we were in Canada.

Getting Touchy

The Toronto trip didn’t go so smoothly.  There was a man who lived there that I’d met online, back when the internet was new and exciting.  We used to chat for hours!  In my mind, he was Godlike.  His accent was delectable, his story, profound.  From his pictures it was clear he was one of the better-looking men I’d seen.  No one believed he was real – I was determined to find out.

So, we met.  And he was absolutely handsome.  But even after all those years of chatting online, there was awkwardness.  What now?  We had a few drinks and went back to his place, where we made out.  We stopped short of having sex.  Turned out, he not only smoked cigarettes but he was a professional con – not exactly turn-ons.  The flawless image was broken.  The next morning, he sent me off in a cab and I never saw him again.

Silinski wasn’t thrilled about me going off on my own, but stifled it.  There were events to attend and elbows to rub.  He introduced me to Katherine Switzer, the first woman to ever run the Boston Marathon.  I met Bart Yasso, editor of Runners World, one of the most famous distance runners.  Bart’s wife, Laura, wasn’t there – so my friend warned me to stay away from him.

Then Bart asked me to dinner.  I was hungry!  So I went.  I had the most delicious steak and greens.  We talked about running.  It was completely proper…but Silinski was livid.  Later, getting ready for the evenings festivities, I screwed up again.

In figuring out what to wear, I quipped, “I’m cold!”

“Here,” said Silinski, “Take my sweater.”  He handed it to me and immediately, the scent of someones grandpa filled my nose.  Oh no.  That would never do.

“No thanks,” I replied, scanning the room for a sweater of my own.  He was confused, “Why not?”

Without hesitation I said, “Because it smells like you.”

If I could’ve pulled the words out of the air, I would have.  But they hung there for an instant, while his heart broke a little.  I felt terrible.  “Everyone has their own smell,” I said, trying to make it better.  “I smell like me, you smell like you…”  It was hopeless.  The damage was done.

Somehow we made it through the rest of the trip.  The night before my big run, Katherine Switzer gave a speech about women who run marathons.  She told her story about the race where she made history.

Switzer Inspires

Back in 1967, there was no place on the Boston Marathon registration forms to indicate the runners’ sex.  It had only been men.  So she signed up as one of them, K. Switzer.  Her boyfriend at the time was a football player.  He planned to start with her, run for a while then meet her at the end.  Turned out, it was a good thing he was there.

The race director flipped when he heard there was a woman in the race.  He jumped in and physically tried to remove her, at which point Katherine’s beefy boyfriend acted in her defense like any good linebacker would, blocking.  He yelled, “Run!”  And run she did.  By the time she crossed the finish line, Katherine’s feat was already front page news.  She was a hero!  But the race director wasn’t having it.  He expelled her from the race and banned her from running any marathon ever again.  (Obviously, that didn’t hold.)

Katherine went on to describe her foundation, one that supports women who run worldwide.  She spoke of women in Africa who have won marathons, bringing electricity to entire villages with the prize.  Heavy stuff!  By the end of her speech, tears were streaming down my face.  Now I HAD to run marathons!  I’d do it for every woman in the entire human race!

The next morning, we got up early, boarded the shuttles and headed to the start of the Toronto Half Marathon.  The air was crisp and bright.  Runners paced with pre-race jitters.  I was nervous, excited, and inspired.  When it was time to go, we got running.  My face hurt from smiling at the crowds along the way.  Katherine was among them.  When I spotted her, she cheered, “Go Audrey!”

But it was nothing.  Indeed, running 13.1 miles in under two hours is a helluva workout, but it’s no marathon.  I flew home elated, vowing to run a full marathon at the first chance I got…  It would be a while.

Killing Time like it’s the Enemy

Silinski became distant.  As quickly as our friendship began, it seemed to end.  I went on with my life in Portland and he his.  After all, there was plenty going on around here and he lived half a continent away.  2006 came to a close with fashion shows, making movies and (of course) lots of partying.

Much the same, ’07 rolled on through.  There was no shortage of drama that year (stories for another day) and going to college full time gave me a perfect excuse not to work.  I loved it.  I studied whatever psychology, sociology and political science courses sounded interesting at the time: Evolutionary Psychology, Globalization, Youth Subcultures, Crime & Delinquency, the Presidency and more.

Moving Right Along

Hood 2 Coast happened in August like always, always an adventure.  My strategy, born the previous year, was (and still is) to find a team at the last minute that’s looking for subs on Craigslist.  The closer it gets to race day, the more desperate they get.  Desperate is good, because they don’t ask for money.

That year, it was a bunch of Hopkins alums who had been on the x-country team.  Perk-wise, it was a mixed bag: they were fast, but they were total squares.  Officially a men’s team (since there was only one female besides myself), we got 9th place in our division.  It seemed only logical to celebrate at the end.  But they had flights to catch.  Much to my dismay, they wanted to head back to Portland immediately after hitting the beach.  I grabbed my backpack and sleeping bag and said goodbye to the team, making my way to the beer garden to get my flirt on.

As the night progressed, people migrated to the bars.  I found an especially hot guy and recruited him to drive me back home the next day, but he was already with a girl, so I’d have to call him in the morning to meet up.  Starting to get sleepy, I found myself thinking the booth at the bar might just be my home for the night.  Fortunately, some random runner spotted me and brought me back to his room, where, exhausted, I went right to bed.  In the morning I got up, showered quickly, gathered my stuff, thanked the guy and stepped out.

I looked around.  Where was I?  None of it was familiar.  I couldn’t see the ocean, so I didn’t know what direction to go.  Some people saw me looking confused.

“Are you ok?”

“I think so,” I said. “I’m trying to get downtown.  Do you know how close it is?”  The answer was: not very.  But they were more than willing to give me a ride.  They dropped me off exactly where I wanted to be, at the Pig’n’Blanket.

I had some more time to kill before my ride said he’d pick me up, so I walked to the beach, where a lone swing hung motionless.  I did what any logical person would do and got swinging.  Pretty soon, the ride picked me up and I was homeward bound.  I admired his hotness the entire way.

Full Circle

Then October came.  That meant it was marathon season and Silinski would be back, so I re-initiated communication.  Time had gone a long way towards healing his wounds and he was happy to hear from me.  I spent the weekend leading up to the marathon with him and his buddies in the race circuit.  We were a hit at the events.  Everyone loves Silinski.

Two nights before the Portland Marathon, I decided to run.  Silinski had the race director give me a hand-written permission slip that instructed the administrators to let me into the race for free.  Everyone thought I was insane to attempt it without serious training.  Jeff Galloway gave me his famous run/walk advice: run for five minutes and walk for one during the entire first half.  Bart and Laura Yasso were there.  She was going to run too.

Laura has done over 100 marathons.  Most notably, she ran one marathon in one city and then ran to the start of another marathon (which she also ran) in another city.  The woman is amazing.  She said she’d be taking it easy this time around and welcomed me to try running with her.

Was that even possible?

No one thought it could be done.  I remember blisters setting in around mile nine and feeling like the hill at sixteen might never end.  I had my phone with me and called my mom with a progress update from the St. Johns Bridge.  It was a gorgeous view.  We plodded along for the next five miles or so, steadily passing people as they hit the wall.  That was encouraging!  Coming over the Steel Bridge into downtown, Laura started feeling taxed.

marathon 07

“You go on ahead,” she said, seeing that I was still strong.  I made a quick call to the VIP tent to let them know I was getting close.  Then I picked it up a few notches, with a big kick at the finish.  I ran that marathon in just over four hours.  Laura came in a few minutes later and we headed up to her room at the Hilton for showers.  I rolled a huge joint and burnt it, end to end.  It was glorious.

I immediately began eying the next logical goal.  Every marathoner wants to run Boston.  I just had to qualify.  For women in my age bracket, the time required is three hours, forty minutes.  That’s a fairly swift 8.3 minute per mile pace.  No sweat!

In the months that followed, I started running more regularly, but not so much that it cut into partying.  My lifestyle consistently included no less than five drinking days per week.  Yeah, I was popular – still not optimally fit.

Palm Springs Flingpalm half feb 08

One night at a bar, I met a dude named Chris, who was lamenting that he didn’t have anyone to run the Palm Springs Half Marathon with.  He already had his ticket and everything, but his friends had bailed and it was only a few days till the event.

“I’ll go,” I said.  “Take me!”

Much to my surprise, he did.  We slept in the same bed, but he was a total gentleman.  He realized I wasn’t going to put out early on.  My weed-smoking didn’t exactly impress him either.  Needless to say, he kept his hands to himself, something I appreciated greatly.

Once back in Portland, life continued as usual.  My girlfriends and I were total boat-whores during the summer.  (We’d go on almost anyone’s boat if they had one.)  We frequented the local fashion shows and art hops.  I was building a major entourage.  It was a traveling circus, a roving party, a parade.

It started taking a toll.  Hangovers are no fun for a run!  Plus, they make you clumsy.  Sometime after Hood 2 Coast that year, I sprained my ankle.  I wrestled with the thought of getting my Boston qualifier, right up until the night before the big race.  Silinski was back in town, so was the rest of the marathon gang, just like old times.  Everyone agreed that running on such an injury is deemed unwise.

Getting Present

This year, things have changed.  My desire to party has slowly begun to evaporate, dissolving into time’s passing breeze.  I quit dabbling with chemicals that make even the doldrums seem fun.  Enjoying quiet time, I’ve learned to love being alone, something I’ve classically avoided.  I’ve learned to turn off the phone.  I’ve learned that being healthy means being complete on my own.  I don’t want secrets – I’ve nothing to hide.  My errors are an open book.  I release them!  I’ve made strides.

That’s not to say I’ve quit having fun.  Au contraire, it’s like this year the real fun’s just begun!  I was taken to Vegas, by a wonderful new friend.  I tagged along to Hawaii with some other buddies.  I participated in Portland’s Urban Iditarod with a team of Angry Chefs, where we terrorized participants and onlookers alike with flour-bombs!  I took my daughter camping at the coast and started a kick-ass kickball team, the Mud Muckers (of whom I often love to boast).  Looking back, it’s been the best year yet.

All this time, I’ve had Boston tugging at my mind.  I’ve been working out, doing power yoga and lots of fitness conditioning – thanks to an amazing female mentor in the fitness field.  It’s been a wild success.  I felt ready.  When marathon season came around again, I sent a message to Silinski with my intentions to qualify.  He said he wouldn’t make it to Portland this year…  He wasn’t coming?

How was I going to get in?!

Armed with a few words of encouragement, I hatched out my plan.  I was going to have to approach the race director, solo.  With a little detective work, I figured out where I’d find him: the annual race director’s conference awards ceremony.  It took place every year at the MAC Club, the Friday before the big race.

I wore black pants, a dark purple tank-top with a black sweater and my new running shoes.  I pulled my hair back into a high pony tail.  I borrowed Mom’s car, informing her of the mission at hand and was on my way.

Making my entrance, I was greeted by lots of familiar faces.  I had Silinski in my pocket, texting me instructions of who to give his hellos to.  For anyone who asked why I was there, I told them, “I’m here to get into the marathon.”  When I felt like I had a chance to hit up the race director Les, I made my approach.  At which point, he basically laughed in my face.

“No, I don’t give anyone free entries,” he scoffed.

“Please,” I begged, “I’ll work for it.”

“I have no job for you.”

“Pleeeeeeeeease?!”

“I’ll think about it,” he said after a long pause, me making my best pouty face.  He moved on to talk to more important people.  Meantime, I worked the angles.

Within a few hours, I had a handful of his most respected cohorts on my side.  I’d caught up with Jeff Galloway, who actually remembered me, and gave me a regurgitated version of his same run/walk advice.  I met Guy, current race director of the Boston Marathon and told him Silinski said hi.  I told him assuredly that I’d be getting my qualifier that Sunday; that Silinski promised to meet me in Boston, if I did.  I caught up with another good friend of Silinski, named Julian, a South Carolina Casanova who despite his age is remarkably handsome.  In the end, it was Les’ wife who sealed the deal.  We hit it off, so she told Les right then to let me in.

I locked down a time to pick up my permission slip the following afternoon.  In somewhat of a daze, I returned to the MAC, where one of Les’ support staff greeted me and retrieved the note.  There it was, in chicken-scratched ink:  “Give Audrey Rose Goldfarb one entry for the marathon.”

With slip of paper in hand, I proceeded to the registration table at the marathon expo, where I exchanged it for another piece of paper that I had to fill in.  I looked at the boxes indicating check or money order, eyes boggling at the $150 fee.  (Thankfully, that part didn’t apply to me.)  I collected my race packet and bought an adorable new sweat-proof purple tank top for the run.  All that was left to do was carb-load and sleep.

I did just that.  Later that afternoon, my buddy Eric brought my daughter and I to Greek Fest, where we ate a little (or a lot) of almost everything.  Most notable were the glazed cake balls, which were basically doughnut holes.  I consumed at least 15, guilt free.  Afterward Eric dropped us off, promising to be there to cheer for me at the race.  I got my stuff ready, set my alarm, did some Sudoku puzzles.  My ex, Gunnar, came by to give me a good luck hug (and screw with my head).  Then I went to bed.

It was before dawn when I got up again.  I made a quick pot of coffee and ate granola and yogurt with a banana.  It was a perfect recipe to make a number two (crucial before a big race).  Mom got up to drive me downtown.  Peaches came for the ride.

Jumping out of the car at the foot of the Hawthorne Bridge, I made a mad dash to the VIP tent were I stashed my stuff under a table.  Then a quick photo op, before I found my place in the crowd.  It seemed logical to position myself between the 8:30 and 8:40 pacers.  The marathon started at 7am.

I was pumped.  Early on, I passed the 8:30 pace-keeper, maintaining a slightly quicker clip for most of the first thirteen miles.  At about one hour and 45 minutes in I passed the halfway mark.  I hadn’t stopped to walk yet, figuring I’d buy myself some time to slack a bit at the end.  I needed it.

The big hill came after mile 16.  By my calculations, I had several minutes to burn, so that’s when I started utilizing Galloway’s run/walk strategy.  There’s no shame in it!  I ran for several minutes, usually at least a mile then walked for about 30 seconds.  That, plus seriously striding out (picking up lots of speed) during the downhill portions, got me through the last few miles.  Somewhere after mile 25, an angel came up from behind.

Walking, I knew it was getting close to that time.  We were about three and a half hours into the run, so I had only a few minutes left to qualify for Boston.  It occurred to me that it might not be such a big deal if I didn’t make it.  That pissed me off.  Tormented by conflicting emotions, I grew weak.

“You can do it,” he said.  “Come on.”  I looked back and saw this wonderful handsome man running towards me, surrounded by a small crowd.  He was supporting everyone around.  “My goodness,” I thought, “he’s hot!”  That got me going again.marathon 09

I didn’t let him catch up.  Pushing through, I came down Front Avenue and around the final bends.  It was a solid finish, with a time of 3:38:57.  I qualified for Boston!  Exhausted but thrilled, I went to the VIP tent to thank Les and retrieve my stuff.  Eric tracked me down, took me to lunch then dropped me off at home.  There was just enough time for a shower and a brief nap, before heading to the 3pm kickball game.  Yes, I played kickball after the marathon.  And we won.

Here’s to optimum fitness!

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