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Columns : In My Sights

The Marathon

Train realistically and know your limits.

May 01, 2009  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

Once upon a time, I fancied myself quite the runner. I would read my Runner's World, set new sights on running mileage, and think of the next race I would run. I was living in Teec Nos Pos on the Res and had a really cool six-mile course that meandered up through the oil rigs and ended in an exhilarating downhill dash down Teec Mountain in northern Arizona.

Even though I weighed around 190, I had the odd illusion that I was a potential greyhound instead of the plodding Clydesdale I really was. One afternoon I was sitting in the Port of Entry talking to my childhood friend and fellow DPS officer Gonzo when he said we should run the Fiesta Bowl Marathon in December. "Absolutely!" was my affirmation. And so my training began in earnest with daily six-mile runs on nice soft dirt road that led from my house trailer to the mountain that lay behind.

Teec Nos Pos was the perfect location to establish a training lifestyle back in 1979. We had no television reception and only one FM radio channel, so the normal modern distractions were not present. I read, trained, tried being a vegetarian, and patrolled the remote roadways of the Navajo Reservation still under the odd illusion I was meant to be a runner. It was an interesting time in my life and I wouldn't have missed it for the world, although I think I could have done without the marathon…

December 1st found Gonzo and I pounding on the hard pavement of the roadway between Cave Creek and Scottsdale amid several thousand other folks desperately trying to reach the finish line at the Scottsdale Community College. Soon I began to fully realize how important it was to train on the same surface you were going to race on. My calves screamed, my feet ached, my shoulders hurt, and my damn nipples were burning! You didn't see that coming did you?

As we struggled around the 15-mile mark an elderly woman passed us rather crisply and we were aghast to read the back of her shirt: "I'm 65 and a grandmother, but I'm ahead of YOU!" We were outraged, and if only we could have caught up to her we would have given her a piece of our minds.

At the 21-mile mark Gonzo was cramping so badly he stopped to stretch out and I knew if I stopped I would surely stay stopped. At the 23-mile rest stop I sat for a minute to drink and rub my burning left knee, which was swollen like a melon. "The first-aid vehicle will be here in a minute!" a concerned voice behind me shouted, and I saw one of the race attendants staring at my knee. Mumbling something about having come this far I arose and stumbled on.

Four hours and 20 minutes after starting I stumbled across the finish line; Gonzo a moment later, still fighting horrible cramps, collapsed on the grass beside me. We both looked as if we had been in an extended interrogation with Jack Bauer. We compared training notes and realized we hadn't trained the way we should have for this re-enactment of Pheidippides' run from the Plains of Marathon to announce the Greek victory over the Persians; and then we remembered…that's what killed him!

I write this today as I get ready to head to the gym where I will ride a stationary bicycle and lift weights—training that matches my body type. Gonzo is a U.S. Marshal now and I am not sure if he runs anymore or not. Still, whenever we get together we laugh about that day so long ago when we learned once again the importance of training the way you are going to play, and it's a darn good idea to know your


Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' "Street Survival" seminar.

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