We’ve all seen the cartoons with someone holding a sign that reads, “The End Is Near.”
Runners don’t look at it that way. We prefer to think, “The road goes on forever . . . so far that we’ll never reach the end.”
Sadly, it does.
And the “end of the road” — meaning the end of our running days — never arrives quite the way we imagined it.
For me, it was looking into the eyes of Amesbury chiropractor and sports medicine guru Peter Antonsen and hearing him say, “What part of ‘your running days are over’ don’t you understand?”
Just like that, 40 years of pounding the pavement (and that term is apt here) ended.
It started in 1977, on vacation in New Hampshire, trying to run one mile on an unpaved back road. My goal, just as for many others, was to deal with stress and weight control.
A year later, in planning 1978 Boston Marathon coverage, then-Globe sports editor Dave Smith, said, “The field is exploding. They’ve got 7,800 runners [up from 400 just a few years earlier]. I want you to go out to Hopkinton. At noon, you’re to get at the back of the pack and run a few miles, then grab a cab and come back and write about how crowded it was.”
My response: “Gee, can I try to run the whole way?”
He looked at me in disbelief, then shouted me out of his office, “I don’t give a good bleep-bleep what you do. Just get back here [to the Globe’s Morrissey Boulevard offices] in shape to write.”
So, I did what he said.
I got at the back of the pack for the noon start. About 12:10, we shuffled to the starting line. I turned and looked behind me. There were as many “bandits” behind me as real runners before me, meaning some 15,000 runners were on the route this day.
We got to Mile 1 in another 10 minutes (It was now 12:20).
Mile 2 wasn’t any faster. We hit the 2-mile marker at 12:30.
Eventually the shuffle turned into a jog and then a run. Then I began doing what I wanted.
I was having fun chatting with folks around me. When we went through the Wall of Sound at Wellesley College (the halfway point), I realized I was the only one talking. “Gee, I feel OK. Maybe I really can make it,” I thought.
My family (wife, three kids, friends) was waiting by Brae Burn, where the Newton Hills get serious.
I opted for a dry T-shirt and continued, finishing — with legs that felt like stilts — at 3 hours, 40 minutes, and figuring it was equal to something in the 3:15-3:20 range in actual running time.
When I got back to the office, my colleagues had fashioned a laurel wreath out of some aging flowers on the department secretary’s desk.
And, yes, the story was in the next morning’s Globe. In future years, I would be organizing the coverage, so in many ways this was my “easiest” Boston Marathon.
I’d go on to run a 3:00:05 marathon (East Lyme, Conn., in 1980), a 36:11 for 10 kilometers (the short-lived JFK 10K at the JFK Library), and lots of decent times for someone without a “runner’s body.” Some people’s calendars had Opening Day circled. Mine had the Falmouth Road Race and the Around Cape Ann 25K on Labor Day.
Somehow, I thought those running days would go on forever.
Along the way, knee surgery, a hernia, and various other ailments turned my seven-minute mile pace into the “Senior Shuffle.”
Because we’re all “experiments of one,” I figured I could go on that way indefinitely . . . until a true pain in the butt arrived.
Thinking it was sciatica, I consulted Mr. Chiropractor.
“What have you done to yourself?” he said as I walked into his office. “You’re walking sideways.”
So, after getting me realigned and my spine decompressed (“You know we’re undoing 40 years of mistreatment to your back”), I got the bad news.
When we moved to Newburyport 15 years ago, a planned “Rail Trail” was a super come-on for a runner.
It was a given that I’d be among the first wave to run the loop when it was finished in a few years.
As time went on, that dream never wavered, even though the construction dragged on . . . and on.
Then Dr. Antonsen said running was a thing of the past.
So, I’ll be walking the sections of the trail that are open.
When, and if, our “Rail Trail” is finished, I plan to be among the first official participants to cover the loop — even if it’s with a walker.
The End (literally).Bill Griffith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.