My favorite sport is running. It can be done anywhere, doesn’t depend on expensive equipment (other than shoes) and is a return to the primal – putting a cerebral writer in daily touch with his animal self. It is therapy, it’s “moving meditation;” it’s a spiritual practice in physical form. I could write a book about how running changed my life – and did (Angeles Crest: A Memoir in the Books section). Running marathons (26.2 miles) and ultramarathons (50-100 miles) appeals to me, for the more I push the limits, the more I lift my spirits. I try to finish each standard marathon under 4 hours. A sub-4 hour marathon is an indicator of high fitness levels. As my Polish grandfather said: “I have two doctors – my right leg and my left!” It’s not about racing each marathon flat-out (that way you inevitably get injured). What’s important is not how quickly you get to the destination — but what you learn during the journey, about yourself and the world, each step of the way. Here’s a rundown of races and places. My ultimate goal is to try to run 100 marathons!
Marathons completed to date: 76 down; 24 to go!
(1) SAN FRANCISCO
Like your first girl – you never forget her. And the first one usually ends up breaking your heart! I hit “The Wall” (Mile 20) big-time after getting carried away on those enchanting curves (hills)! My fastest finish, the first time – (typical of the over-eager male!)
(2) GRAND CANYON
A solo, 21-mile “journey run.” At sunrise, flew in a small plane from the south rim over to the higher north rim; then raced the descending light down the rock walls to the Colorado River… then up the brutally steep Bright Angel Trail. Awe- inspiring to be moving among the towering, timeless vermilion cliffs and minarets. Very much an in, yet, out-of-body-experience!
50-K on rolling hills through East Bay Regional Parks above Oakland, California.
(4) PIKES PEAK
28 miles – all the way up from town of Manitou Springs, Colorado to the 14,110 foot summit; then switchback swoops back down. Pikes Peak’s purple mountain majesty inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write the song “America the Beautiful” in 1893.
(5) JEDEDIAH SMITH
50 miler – over wild trails outside Sacramento, California. Named in honor of mountain man Jedediah Smith who, in the Rocky Mountains, found a pass that was the key to the settlement of Oregon and California. Jed Smith wrote: “I wanted to be the first to view a country on which the eyes of a white man had never gazed and to follow the course of rivers that run through a new land.” You see some of that wild country during this run! (In his lifetime, Jed Smith traveled more extensively in unknown territory than any other mountain man.)
(6) WESTERN STATES
100 miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California! Not just extreme distance to endure, but 18,000 feet of cumulative uphill, 22,000 feet down; and do battle with snow, stifling-hot canons, rattlesnakes, a raging river, and some of the most rugged, rocky, ankle-twisting terrain in the west!! Finish in less than a day and you earn a silver belt buckle money can’t buy. Due to a tendon injury in my foot, had to summon the courage to stop: 12 miles from the finish …
(7) LAKE TAHOE
One lap – 72 miles! High in the sweet pine air as you circle a liquid topaz jewel!!
(8) BIG SUR
The place (mid-California coast) that Ansel Adams called “the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world.” And you get to run above it all on closed-to-cars Highway 1. Point-to-point; hilly course. Mountain/Ocean Scenery knocks your eyes out. Forget a fast finishing time. Take a camera; stop often for pictures.
(9) AVENUE OF THE GIANTS
Where else but California can you run these two (Big Sur & Avenue of The Giants) on consecutive weekends! Magical, inspiring experience striding under the giant Redwoods!! Rained this day, but the ancient tree canopy was so high and thick that it wafted cool mists down upon the runners all morning!
(10) WESTERN STATES
Back for unfinished business. Earned the buckle! 100 miles in 23 hours and 31 minutes. As Anais Nin wrote: “We’ve been to the moon, but we have so much farther to go within ourselves.” Try to expand myself, explore that distance every day.
(11) CALIFORNIA INTERNATIONAL
26.2 miles over the streets of Sacramento, California. Felt flat and tame after the wild rigors of Western States.
(12) NAPA VALLEY
Fantastic marathon alongside the vineyards in one of the most heavenly valleys on Earth!
(13) AMERICAN RIVER
50 miles from Sacramento to Auburn, CA. Save some fuel in the tank for a killer hill at the very end!
(14) SUMMIT MARATHON
“The wolf is kept fed by his feet.” – Russian proverb. Running trails in beautiful California nature – nourishes the soul!
(15) PT. REYES
Twenty miles from downtown San Francisco, Pt. Reyes National Seashore is a wild paradise of thunderous ocean breakers, forested ridges and open grasslands. Native land mammals number 37 species and over 45% of the bird species in North America have been sighted. Saw none of it – in a pounding rainstorm! Fun, 26 mile slog; slipped and fell a dozen times; finally crossed the finish line covered hair-to-toe in mud.
(16) MT. HAMILTON
Tough, beautiful trail run in wilderness preserve, southeastern part of San Francisco Bay Area. Learned these lessons today: “Running is the classical road to self-consciousness, self-awareness and self-reliance. Independence is the outstanding characteristic of the runner. He learns the harsh reality of his physical and mental limitations when he runs. He learns that personal commitment; sacrifice and determination are his only means to betterment. Runners only get promoted through self-conquest.” -Noel Carroll
(17) MT. DIABLO
Unrelenting climb straight up, around and down a peak that overlooks the East Bay area, north of Oakland, California. Keep an eye peeled for red-tailed hawks soaring in the thermals up near the summit!
(18) AMERICAN RIVER
Wanted to blast up the hill that nearly blew me apart at end of this 50 miler, first time here. YESSSS! Managed to power on up without a hitch. (Running uphill uses the hamstring muscles at back of upper thighs – strongest muscle in the human body. Downhills tax the quadriceps – front of thighs.) Uphill is now “my country!”
(19) WHISKEY ROW
Prescott, Arizona – from the town square: out-and-back over rolling fire roads. Occasional vista views and fun marathon to run, especially with friends.
“Civilization no longer needs to open up wilderness; it needs wilderness to help open up the still largely unexplored human mind.” -David Rains Wallace
(21) OHLONE WILDERNESS
Demanding point-to-point 50-K race through four regional parks, traversing historic Ohlone Wilderness Trail above Oakland, CA. Many of these California trails were originally Native American footpaths, used for travel and trading with inland tribes.
(22) PACIFIC CREST
The Pacific Crest Trail extends for 2,500 miles from Mexico to Canada. 50 glorious K of it. A tune-up for:
(23) ANGELES CREST
From Wrightwood to Pasadena, CA through the Angeles National Forest in the San Gabriel Mountains. 21,610 feet of climb; 26,700 feet of descent. (Like doing Everest in a day!) The high point of my running career. Covered the 100 miles in 23hours and 47 minutes with my brother Scott, together every step of the way!!
(24) PT. REYES
The sequel. Wanted to see it all on a sunny day (unlike the previous rained-out mud bath)! 3,000 vertical feet of climbing and descent through a scenic wonderland. Spectacular ocean views from high hill summits. Spiraling hawks, barking sea lions, a herd of Tule Elk. My heart was singing all day!
(25) REDWOOD EMPIRE
Great thing about living in northern California, a trail race nearly every weekend! This day was “all red”: big red trees; then a post-race dinner of sockeye salmon; red wine and watermelon! “The strenuous life tastes better.” – William James.
Extremely challenging 50 miler. Will tax you to the max! Course profile, alone, looks like a killer heart attack! You take on wild northern Cali mountains, deep canyons and the breathtakingly beautiful Yuba River – gleaming at the bottom of a gorge like an emerald green serpent.
(27-36) SOVIET SUPERMARATHON
TEN marathons in TEN consecutive days – running the “Golden Ring’ route in Russia, from town-to-town built around gilded domed cathedrals, near Moscow. Stark, raving mad to do this? Well, as Zorba the Greek said: “If it were not for my madness – I would have gone crazy long ago!”
(37) VERMONT ULTRAMARTHON
DNF (Did Not Finish) – only managed 30 of the 100 miles. Still wasted from the Soviet Supermarathon. Rolling course through the Vermont countryside — those landmark white-steeple churches linger long in the mind.
(38) YOSEMITE “CLOUD’S REST”
Dreaming with your eyes open as you stride atop the spine of the Sierras from Tuolumne Meadows down to Yosemite Valley floor. You’re merely a moving ‘mote’ in The Range of Light! “The outward equivalent of the human subconscious is the wilderness.” -Gary Snyder.
(39) MUIR WOODS
Joshu Sasaki Roshi asked: “Where do you dwell when running?” This day — in the glorious redwood forest in Muir Woods, just north of San Francisco!
(40) LOS ANGELES
Only 1/10th of 1% of Americans have ever finished a marathon. 30,000 runners strong here! And this being Hollywood – cell phone runners on the course allowing you to call anyone for support! And more entertainment per mile than any other race – 85 performing (musical and theatrical) groups along the way!!
Flat, fast and fantastic fan support. Close to one million spectators line the 26.2-mile course! And love that international architecture along Michigan Avenue. Carbo-load the night before at any one of 100 great restaurants. If you are looking for a first marathon – this is the one to run!
(42) HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT
Combines vibrant downtown Hartford with brilliant autumn foliage on country roads along Connecticut River. 19th century homes and pumpkin farms. Beyond normal aid stations – look for brie cheese, lox & bagels on tables set out by friendly residents!
(43) DUBLIN, IRELAND
Fantastic tour of a great city, complete with white swans taking-off from the canals like feathered-747s! Factoid: 39% of the entries come from the fairer sex. No other marathon outside the U.S. has such a high % of female entry. So after you finish, invite a red-haired “Colleen” to join you in an incomparable Dublin pub for a shamrock-topped Guinness! Travel Tip: Fly to Shannon – rent a car and drive the wild, west coast of the Emerald Isle – visit the Burren, the fabled Cliffs of Moher, castles galore and the Dingle Peninsula where there are 42 shades of green, ever-present rainbows and maybe a leprechaun or two extracting tolls on ancient bridges!
Most entertaining and best-organized marathon so far at Disney World — Orlando, Florida. They sure know how to put on a party! You run right through the Magic Kingdom and all the movie and cartoon characters are out in costume to cheer you on (Pocahontas was a Babe!) Inspirational movie-theme music every couple miles keeps you pumped; and the aid-stations are loaded with goodies. Best whimsical finishing Medal: gold Mousketeer head-and-ears, complete with dashing Mickey M. in the middle!
(45) PARIS, FRANCE
32,685 runners packed together under and in front of the historic Arc de Triomphe. “Designated Pacers” at the start wearing different colored balloons that rise above the sea of runners. Pick a buoyant color/finishing time and then relax – simply stay within sight of your balloons. Knowing you’re on pace, you’re free to sightsee and let the mind wander — past all the architectural marvels and historic sights of Paree. Tres Bon!!
(46) NEW YORK CITY
Doesn’t get any better than this! From the spine-tingling start (with 30,000 other runners) on the Verrazano suspension bridge (with the entire city skyline looming like OZ in the distance); through the crazy, patchwork neighborhoods of Brooklyn; up the long, raucous stretch of First Avenue in Manhattan; then into leafy Central Park to the finish. A must for every marathoner!!
(47) TAMPA BAY
Flat, fast and mostly waterfront course. Great tour of Tampa’s historic neighborhoods. Florida in January – average temperature at race time: a cool 62 degrees.
(48) AMSTERDAM, HOLLAND
Starts and finishes in the l928 Olympic Stadium. Scenic course out along the Amstel Canal past windmills and farmers in wooden shoes; through lush Vondelpark; then start your kick while crossing historic Dam Square. Dutch efficiency demonstrated in smooth organization all around. Don’t miss the nightlife after in the Red Light District!
(49) SPACE COAST, FLORIDA
Smallest field in oldest marathon in Florida – only 27 runners! Be prepared for solitude and humidity.
(50) TWIN CITIES, MINNESOTA
From St. Paul to Minneapolis through cool, crisp air and under autumnal bowers of blazing colors!
(51) VENICE, ITALY
A dream run from the Tuscan countryside into my favorite small city. Set-aside a few days to sightsee and get purposely lost in the labyrinthic, medieval streets and romantic waterways, for as Henry James wrote about Venezia: “The mere use of one’s eyes is enough.” Travel Tip: Fly into Zurich, Switzerland and take the train over the spectacular Swiss Alps to Milan, Italy; then down into Venice. Go with someone you love!
(52) BARBADOS, CARIBBEAN
Yah Mon! Evree Ting feelin’ IRIE!! A marathon to break-up a northern winter. Run past sugar-cane fields to the coastline to see the sun rise over the Caribbean tri-colored sea. Rastafarian runners in sandals and big-dread hats will depart the wisdom of the land if you keep pace. Award ceremony after turns into jammin’ reggae and ska party on the beach all night long (with indigenous “whistling frogs” singing along)!
(53) AKRON, OHIO
Where the rubber meets the road.There are 300 marathons run annually in U.S. cities from Maine to California. Add Akron to the list. First inaugural and it was a hilly beauty. Race began at the Lockheed Martin Airdock, construction site for blimps and the Goodyear airship flew low overhead at the start. Route included the Firestone Country Club, National Inventors Hall of Fame, University of Akron, historic Erie Canal Towpath, with the finish in downtown Akron at Canal Park Stadium where the Cleveland Indians’ Class AA Akron Aeros play baseball. Bravo Akron! Your first marathon — very well done.
Sunrise over South Beach and then it pounded rain all morning — super-soaker storms. So wet, at some points couldn’t even see and police out for flood-control. Sloshing through deep puddles on the turns, decided to make it a fun run. 15,000 runners from all 50 states and 40 foreign countries. Came up on a beautiful Brazilian girl crying at Mile 16. Fabiana said it was her very first marathon and didn’t know it would be so hard. Never one to leave a “damsel in distress” — paced her to Mile 24, then kicked it in. Had a blast getting soaked to the skin, puddle-sloshing, and getting fabulous Fabiana to finish her first one. A quote on the back of a runner’s shirt: “Obsessed is the word the lazy use for the Dedicated.” Always a thrill being out there with such healthy, can-do people with everyone working hard together toward a common goal.
“You go to Heaven if you want,” wrote Mark Twain. “I’ll stay in Bermuda.” The mid-Atlantic island chain (bunched together), 600 miles east of North Carolina is shaped like a fishhook and crowns an extinct underwater volcano. The sea is turquoise, the beaches pink (colored from the eroded skeletons of the red foraminifer, a tiny protozoan) and there’s a mix of manicured English gardens, rhythmic Gombey dancers, primary-colored houses, sailboats in the harbors, and tourists on mopeds. The shipwreck capital of the Atlantic, there are more than 400 wrecks among 200 square miles of coral reefs ringing the islands. The marathon is two laps around. Hilly and scenic and high-fives from smiling, soulful natives. Finished 84th out of 379 entrants — top 25%. Afterwards, enjoyed a fresh seafood dinner and slow-sipped a shot of Dark & Stormy rum while watching the sun sink into the sea. Real men may not eat quiche, but for the Bermuda Marathon they proudly wear a little pink number!
(56) VALLEY OF FIRE
Incredibly beautiful and challenging course. Flew into Las Vegas, Nevada; then drove hour north to Overton, a cow town near Lake Mead. Race route out into high desert, through Valley of Fire State Park. Ran among massive rock formations, pumpkin-orange to fire-red and 150 million years old. Out & back with rolling hills, including a long, steep climb from Mile 9 up to turnaround @ Mile 13, elevation 3,000 feet. Then mostly downhill swoops on way back. Great being out in the vast silence with the rock flamin’ your soul! So quiet, only sounds your lungs whooshin’ the sage-scented air. Just past the “Seven Sisters” — pink, curvy boulder formations, grouped-together-yet-separate-unto-themselves, a coyote yelped; playfully dipped his head; and trotted along — as if imitating the once-a-year invaders to his domain. Killer hill up to Mile 26 marker; then quick drop-kick down to the Finish. Ran my favorite race: negative splits — second half faster than first. One runner doing a marathon in each of the 50 states. . . First Woman recently beat breast cancer. . . The real Winner lost 200 pounds in past two years by running and watching his diet. Whipped out a picture of former obese self from his pocket and we all shook his hand and congratulated him at the Start.
(57) THE LOST DUTCHMAN
In the late-1800’s, Jacob Waltz, an immigrant Dutch prospector discovered gold in the Superstition Mountains (just east of Phoenix, Arizona). He died without revealing the location of his strike, and treasure seekers have been searching the desert ever since. I went in quest of other profits. The marathon started near the town of Gold Canyon and finished in Apache Junction. There were roaring camp fires and hot cocoa in the chill desert air as 300 runners watched the sun rise in orange and pink bands above the Superstitions. Tough course on trails, paved, and unpaved roads. A hundred rolling hills (including the “Dutchman’s Revenge”: a gut-check, steep pitch at Mile 23) that really drain the legs, but spectacular desert scenery worth the work. Running the Lost Dutchman, you find GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS (and fresh burritos at the finish line)!
(58) BIG ISLAND HAWAII
26.2 wearing a plumeria lei wafting beguiling fragrance through bamboo forests; under sparkling waterfalls; over black sand and rarest-of-rare green (!) beaches; past present-day gush of island-building lava meeting steam-hissing ocean. . . Hiked day before up over Kilauea caldera moody as a molten moon. . . Post-race, surfed Waikiki at sunset — gliding upright over opal blue waves with sky turning pink and hula music and tiki torches flickering on the beach and Diamond Head deep purple in the distance. All-One-Flow as air, water, body temperature the very same. Such a soulful, lush vibe where Nature bestows all her gifts. MAHALO NUI LOA HAWAI’I!
(59) MOUNT RUSHMORE
Billed as a “Monumental Challenge” and that it was! Started in a cold, overcast, South Dakota autumn morning under the Four Presidents (my all-time favorite, Teddy Roosevelt) and finished at the Crazy Horse Memorial. Mile-high most of the way — from 5,208 feet at the start to 5,885 at finish and packed with hills. Either running up or down, with very few flats. Finish was brutal — long, steep climb right up under the finish banner! Normally rewarded at that point with a downhill “swoop,” but not Mt. R. It tests you to the max until the very last step. Winner in 3:10 (Jim Eischen from Sioux Falls) said in the newspaper: “This is the toughest course I’ve ever run at altitude. The course is unbelievably hard.” I finished 67th out of 214 in 4:27. Very happy to be in top 1/3rd! Held a strong, even pace on all the hills. And lots of fun reeling in the ‘rabbits’ Mile 20 on. Wonderful sightseeing before and after at the Monuments. Don’t miss the safari from your car in Custer State Park — great photo ops of the buffalo herd (1,000 strong), mountain sheep, pronghorn antelope amidst the fabled Black Hills. The needle rock formations and ponderosa pine forests with wide, open grasslands interspersed throughout are enough to make the film “Dances With Wolves” come alive around you. The Badlands are amazing — austere, surreal remnants of eroded, ancient lake bed layered with dino bones and blazing with bands of vermilion and ochre at sunset! Back in Rapid City, caught the 19th Annual Black Hills Pow Wow. The Lakota Sioux Nation dancing in their finest regalia stirs the soul and furthers the memory and meaning of the true “Founding Fathers.” **How could Columbus have ‘discovered’ America when there were already people living here? In fact, when Columbus landed on our shores in 1492, there were more people living in the Americas than in all of Europe! Was there ever an explorer more lost than Columbus? He was searching for a passage to India and mistakenly thought he made it, hence naming the natives here “Indians.” Talk about misnomers. As my Native American teacher once said to me: “Glad Columbus wasn’t looking for the country of Turkey — or he would have named us all “Turkeys.”
“What you would destroy,
you first portray as savage.”
“They made us many promises, more than I can
remember — They never kept but one;
they promised to take our land, and they took it!”
Red Cloud, Lakota, 1891
“Memory says, ‘I did that.’
Pride replies, ‘I could not have done that.’
Eventually, memory yields.”
(60) PALM BEACHES, FLORIDA
Dedicated to my Step-Mom with breast cancer. One in every nine women now living in the United States will develop breast cancer. T-shirt on a Team-in-Training runner said it all: THINK RUNNING A MARATHON IS TOUGH? TRY CHEMOTHERAPY. Finished in 3:55:49; 207 out of 735. Joanne, this one for you — and all of our moms, sisters, wives, and girlfriends.
(61) CARLSBAD (CA)
Along the spectacular coast of northern San Diego. Running Highway-1 hills above the slamming ocean, thought how easy it is to take “the path of least resistance” in life, and how hard to go upstream. It’s the difference between the carp and the salmon. The carp, content to stay in still waters, grows fat and lazy — but the salmon, going against the current and overcoming challenges becomes muscled from head-to-tail. Rather be a sleek salmon than a corpulent carp. Live hard!
(62) A1A (FL)
Coast-to-Coast-to Coast — last three marathons: Atlantic Ocean to Pacific to Atlantic again. Ran another road on the continent’s edge — Highway A1A along Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Tincture blue water, platinum sand, sunrise a pink blush. I love having a body! So animal, returning to the limbic brain and just moving, romping with all systems GO! Feels so free and primal, and the instinctual enriches other areas of life, as well. Running makes me a better writer. I find the unconscious more easily sitting stationary at a desk because I unleash the grrr and purrr levels out on the roads, trails or at the gym. When a workout partner says: “You’re an animal!” — I know I’m living right; maxing-out at full potential. I want to take being human to the extreme, and live life so that a glass of water tastes like a great reward.
(63) DURANGO (Colorado)
Autumn road trip out west. Drove from El Paso, Texas, listening to home boy Marty Robbins’ Greatest Hits in the rental car. While driving the high plains, sang along with M.R.’s great story songs: “Down in the west Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl…” Stopped for lunch in a place I’ve long wanted to visit: Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (so named, I learned, after a radio show, not wild west justice). Devoured a bison burger so good I nearly grew horns! Pulled over up the road in Albuquerque to watch the famed International Hot Air Balloon Festival — hundreds of brightly colored ornaments drifting in the wind — everything from a pair of 3-story Levi blue jeans to Carmen Miranda’s smiling face, complete with inflated fruit headdress. The drive from Albuquerque up to Durango in southwest Colorado was spectacular. Lavender and ochre-banded buttes were dotted with pinon pines. Georgia O’Keefe country. In Durango, with day free before the race, drove out to Mesa Verde National Park, the largest archaeological preserve in North America. For 14,000 years, Ancestral Pueblo people lived in massive cliff dwellings hewn into the steep canyon walls. They farmed the land and stored their crops in beautiful black-on-white pottery. Then thousands of inhabitants suddenly left everything they couldn’t carry, and moved on. Standing near the ceremonial Sun Temple, a rainstorm blew in, then a double rainbow blazed across the canyon, with lightning forking over the distant plains below. Beauty, power and sacred mystery infused the land. Thought of the Native American saying: “All creation, my relation.” Race went great. Finished 30th out of 200 and ran 3:48:29. Very happy with time and place, for the altitude was 6,500–7,000 feet. Every time you topped a hill, entire body momentarily gasped for air. Followed the raging Animus River and ran under Aspen trees. Finished in a long tunnel of gold; Aspens shimmering with their fall color. Just as I crossed the finish line — reached out and plucked a gilded leaf out of the air. More valuable than the finisher’s medal!
(64) KIAWAH ISLAND (SOUTH CAROLINA)
Knew it would be challenging when walked out of hotel to drive to the start and had to scrape ice off the car windshield! December Arctic cold front poured down the East coast and locked-in ice box conditions. 26 degrees at the start. Five minutes before the start and most of the southern, thin-blooded runners not wanting to come out of the heated clubhouse! Ice crystals in the water and Gatorade cups at the Aid-Stations. AlaskaMan smiling, gleefully clicking off 8 minute miles like Boston-Marathon-qualifying clockwork, when just past Mile 8 marker, left foot jerked back on unseen patch of black ice on the road. Sharp, knife-stab pain in center of hamstring. Stopped running; furiously massaging warmth and comfort into leg, imploring fingers questioning if hamstring gone? Limped a mile, then dared to trot, then gritted teeth and tried to open it back up — but the pain complained. Learned on this beautiful resort and nature sanctuary outer island that nothing is a ‘given.’ Amazing how within the same framework of 26.2 miles, each race is totally different. No matter how many marathons run, each time starting all over. Instead of cursing the ice or my leg — relaxed (not easy when tides of runners came flowing past). Listened to the pain; didn’t force the (t)issue and managed to carry on through to the finish. Not a fast time (4:04:31), but from “its-the-journey-not-the-destination” perspective — an effort I’m very proud of. After the race, visited with the great author Pat Conroy in his hometown of Beaufort, South Carolina. Met Pat when we both were Guest Speakers aboard a Crystal cruise ship off Africa. Beaufort, so picturesque with the centuries-old oak trees dripping with Spanish moss and the southern mansions haunted with Pat’s personal history and incredible cast of characters from his novels. He pointed out where Barbara Streisand stayed while filming “The Prince of Tides”; Robert Duval during “The Great Santini.” Wonderful evening with Pat and his wife, Cassandra King, great novelist in her own right, in their cozy home on an island in the salt-marsh, low country. We sipped wine and talked about books, creativity, travels in front of a crackling fire. “My soul grazes like a lamb on the beauty of indrawn tides.” –Pat Conroy.
(65) PHOENIX (ARIZONA)
Next marathon, to warm up, I’m doing Anchorage, Alaska! South Carolina 26 degrees; now 30 in Phoenix. Stripped down, singlet-clad runners shivering at the starting line in “The Valley of The Sun.” And the temperature didn’t budge. Mile 9, a bank digital screen read 30 degrees and a chill wind blew right through us. Finished 3:43:53. 1275 out of 6956. Top 17 percent. Ran through Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe. Rock bands every couple miles lifting the spirits. Having raced 3rd marathon in 4 months (with only one marathon a year recommended), felt a bit weary last few miles. Great t-shirt slogan: GO THE EXTRA MILE AND THERE’S NEVER A TRAFFIC JAM!
(66) MARINE CORP MARATHON
Cool, crisp autumn Sunday in Washington, D.C. Called “The Marathon of The Monuments” and that it was, as route took us all around Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln monuments, Arlington Cemetery, past Watergate Apartments, through quaint Georgetown, with red and gold leaves raining down. Put on by the Marines, with military precision. 32nd year. The Marines manned all the Aid Stations dressed in combat fatigues and many ran the marathon in same garb, high-and-tight haircut, and combat boots, no less + names and pictures of fallen comrades in Iraq pinned on their backs for inspiration. So many runners, difficult to really open it up as you were boxed in most of the course and slowed down at bottleneck turns. Crossed the finish line with a group of Marines. Leader barks to his exhausted charges: “Anybody can run a marathon. No give me 50!” I jumped in with them; we dropped and cranked out 50 pushups. Then back on our feet, we lifted hands together and shouted the Corp call: “HOO-RAH!” Finished in 3:53:36 — 3,648 out of 22,000 — top 16 %. Marathon medal is some serious Bling. Marine Corp symbol of Eagle atop the World with Anchor through it. Stainless steel; five inches long. Didn’t go back to hotel (too far away on metro line), so after race toured the great Museums — Smithsonian, American Indian, African Art for another five hours. Where does Energy come from? The Inuit people have a word: “nuannaarpoq” meaning “the extravagant pleasure in being alive.”
(67) JAMAICA REGGAE
Most laid-back and enjoyable of the marathons so far. 200 runners gathered early in the pre-dawn darkness in Negril, the remote and nature-dominated west side of the island. Natives raised flaming bamboo torches and Rastafarian drummers called down the spirits of fair competition and mutual respect. A horn sounded and off we went on an out and back course with spectacular views of the tri-colored, tropical ocean and we ran through an Eden jungle edging the road that emitted a lush vital vibe, with 3,000 varieties of flowering plants on the island, including 800 species found nowhere else in the world. The Jamaican birds are flying jewels. (In fact, when Ian Fleming was writing a series of spy novels on the island — needing a name for his main character, he happened to glance at a nearby book: The Birds of Jamaica by. . . James Bond. Tweedy ornithologist immortalized as studly 007. We passed through sleepy villages full of smiling faces. With the tropical sun blazing during the latter miles, the heat and humidity were eased by gentle breezes off the ocean and the Aid stations were well-stocked with water and Gatorade in plastic pint squeeze pouches, enabling you to sip without spilling, maintaining full hydration. However, the real fuel for going the distance was the ever-present Reggae music from live bands and boom boxes. Of all the styles of music, the reggae rhythm is said to most resemble the human heartbeat. Perfect for running. I’d catch a smooth groove and ride it like sonic surf. At the finish line we were rewarded with coconuts and Red Stripe beer, and I topped off the morning with a dive into the ocean from 7 Mile Beach, one of the most beautiful stretches of sand in the world. Ja’ Mon. Every little ‘ting was covered in a relaxed and friendly manner. “One Love,” all the way.
(68) SEDONA, ARIZONA
Brutal, but beautiful. Brutal — in that the 26.2 miles were all hills at 4,500 foot altitude. Beautiful — running amidst the red rock buttes and towering spires that make Sedona one of the most stunning places in the world. “Home Cookin’ ” for this one, as my Dad and Step-mom live in the scenic splendor (where many classic Western movies were filmed). My father, Ed “Big Mo” Modzelewski is nearing his sunset years, and I dedicated the race to him. Dad was a college football All-American at the University of Maryland in the early 1950’s. He led his team to a Number One ranking in the nation after defeating heavily-favored Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl, with “Big Mo,” a fullback, rushing for more yards than Tennessee’s entire offensive output combined. The son of Polish immigrants, he was invited to the White House to meet President Eisenhower. He was an NFL first-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers, then traded to the Cleveland Browns where he played for seven years. After pro football, he became a very successful businessman, so much so that he was able to retire at the age of 50 to live in Sedona, where he kept busy hiking all the trails there and in the nearby Grand Canyon. Old-school tough, I only saw Dad cry once. The first story I ever published (launching my career as a writer) was in Sports Illustrated magazine, written from a child’s point of view about my NFL father being my hero and how he eventually lost his job to a rookie from Syracuse named Jim Brown. (“I’ll feel like the guy who played behind Babe Ruth,” Dad said to Mom, when first seeing Jim Brown’s greatness on the gridiron.) I kept the story a secret, until Christmas, when I rolled-up the magazine and placed it in his stocking over the fireplace. When he read it, tears filled his eyes. The story ends: “. . .One night I overheard a bald old quarterback mumble, ‘The mark of a real pro is that on the way out he leaves some of himself, some of his experience behind with a rookie.’ Those words disturbed me. They lingered in my mind for a long time because I didn’t understand what they really meant. I thought that if someone deliberately took your job away, you should resent him and never speak to him. I was wrong and years later Jim Brown himself explained it all to me in his book, Off My Chest. ‘In a way Ed Modzelewski was much bigger than I or, for that matter, Babe Ruth. The son of Polish immigrants, he had come out of the Pennsylvania coal fields and made a good life for himself in football. Yet even while his friends were trying to prevent me from eating his lunch, as the saying goes, Big Mo was going out of his way to help me. In practice whenever I couldn’t remember my assignment, Mo would whisper it to me with no coach the wiser.’ A couple years ago, while I was packing to go away to college, I found Dad’s Browns’ jersey at the bottom of a drawer. As I unfolded it and saw the big brown square 36 stitched on the white cloth, I felt proud, very proud, of the way he wore it. And the way he took it off.”
(69) GUAYAQUIL, ECUADOR
Ecuador comes from “Equator” — the Earth’s middle meridian line that passes through this diverse South American country. The ocean is warm along the coast, the low lands are tropical rainforest on both sides of the Andes Mountains, with Amazon jungle on the expansive east side. Ran 26.2 in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city along the coastal south. Deep into a race — try to increase my pace by picking out and passing runners ahead. Past Mile 23, it was tough gaining ground on a short man with Incan features who ran like a machine. As I drew closer, there was a small sign pinned to the back of his shirt stating: “75 Anos.” 75 years old! This septuagenarian had the legs of a teenager and glowed with health and vitality. I thought of Americans I knew who had let themselves go, hiding behind the excuse of “I’m getting old,” to explain their weight gains, knee and hip replacements, and overall lack of life force and passion. Wish they could see Senor 75 Anos, I thought as I patted him on the back, then flicked both thumbs up. After crossing the finish line, laid-out on long tables were varied heaps of a runner’s favorite fuel — bananas, loaded with vitamins B & C and the mineral potassium. Ecuador is the world’s leading exporter of the nutritional tubes. My favorite was the smaller, finger-length red bananas, vine-ripened and at their peak with the skins a deep purple. The fruit hit the palate as sweet and flavorful as custard. Next day, explored coastal jungle festooned with a stunning array of rainbow-hued bromeliads and orchids. Ecuador has the greatest orchid diversity in the world, with over 3,700 species. Along a remote, purling stream, found a creature I had long been looking for — the Glass Frog. Its transparent underside revealed white bones, blue blood vessels, and a hypnotic beating heart.
(70) FLORENCE, ITALY
My favorite film director, Federico Fellini said that all you need to make a movie is snow and a train. Had both, riding the rails in late November from Milano south to Firenze. Being half-Italian (on my mother’s side), I felt totally at home with 9,000 runners from 60 countries as we poured through this bellisimo medieval town, striding over 800 year old narrow cobblestone streets with the Florentines leaning out their apartment windows shouting encouraging ripostes and tossing flowers down upon us. . . Sunday morning ancient church bells chiming. . . traversing in awe open piazzas loaded with Michelangelo’s statue of David and Ammannati’s Neptune fountain and moving past the dream-like Duomo cathedral constructed of exquisite pink and green marble 150 years in the making. Finished in the Piazza Santa Croce, kicking it in over a red carpet. Two full days after the race to play. Wandered the town and Uffizi Gallery to pay homage to Botticelli’s stunning “Birth of Venus” (on the half-shell) and “Primavera” paintings. I cried seeing that divine female beauty in the originals. And (carbo-loaded) 🙂 constantly on food to die for. The Italians give such tireless attention to detail and creating perfection, be it food, clothing, leather goods, hand-made books, cathedrals or Ferraris. I often say that Nature makes the best beauty, but the Italians come close, very close indeed.
(71) INVERNESS, SCOTLAND
“Wherever I wander
Wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands
For ever I love. . .”
–Robbie Burns, 1789
In a past life, brought forward in reoccurring nocturnal dreams, I was a Scottish Highlander. With long red hair and thistle-filled beard, and clad in nothing but a kilt — I roamed the mountain ridges, above mysterious lochs and craggy moors — chasing down massive stags and wrestling them to the ground by their giant racks. (I know, Sigmund Freud would have a field-day with this one!) And during this present life, whenever I hear the piercing lilts and drones of bagpipes or I’m immersed in the rolling thicket of a Scottish brogue, my soul leaps to attention and nods in recognition. Long overdue then, was a visit to the native land, with The Inverness Loch Ness Marathon the catalyst for going. Flew to Edinburgh, a beautiful city of art and culture, universities and museums. Edinburgh Castle, former home to a long line of Scottish Kings, sits majestically in the center of the city, upon a rise of dormant volcanic rock. The Grass Market, in the shadow of the castle, was wonderful. Once a medieval market place and site for public executions by hanging, the area is chock-full of pubs, restaurants, and independent vendors. What great bookshops! No bland, mass-market chain stores here. Each bookshop a treasure trove loaded with history, walls of leather-bound tomes, stuffed birds, sheet music, and arcane Scottish artifacts. Visited The Writer’s Museum, paying homage to Scotland’s triumvirate of literary geniuses — Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Then took the train north to Inverness, capital of the Highlands. Ran a sub-4 hour marathon (3:58) around the fabled Loch Ness on a very challenging course. Rolling hills all the way and a mile long ascent at Mile 17. You see the Loch Ness Monster at Mile 20, whether there or not! A dozen bagpipers marched through the 3,500 runners gathered at the start — those heartfelt, high-pitched toots-and-bleats bringing tears to the eyes. 80 clans of Scottish striders wore their varied tartan kilts. It was like running amidst woolen rainbows. At a post-race, celebratory meal inside a 300 year-old pub, I tucked into a heaping plate of Haggis, the Scottish national food — sheep offal, consisting of a sheep’s liver, heart and lungs in a whiskey sauce. Disgusting to describe, but delicious to eat. Re: “Nessie,” the Loch Ness Monster, this I read from a local brochure: “Sonar techniques continue to yield enigmatic results: plesiosaurs, giant eels and too much whiskey are the most popular explanations.” We then took a series of trains and buses all around the country, reaching another quaint town and hotel (converted old house) every night — letting it happen; making it up as we went along. The Highlands and especially the Isle of Skye were stunning — loaded with rugged mountains, tall waterfalls, mirror-in-the-water lochs, fleecy sheep, castles in magnificent ruin, wild salmon-filled rivers, shaggy Highland cattle, and sudden pillars of light: brilliant god beams cutting through the mists — illuminating the ancient land of legends and magical tales. A pilgrimage was in order out to the Talisker Distillery on the west coast of the Isle of Skye. Talisker is my favorite single malt scotch — full-bodied and smooth, with a deep intensity, and long warming finish with tones of smoky peat and the tang of the sea lingering on the palate. With a golden amber hue imbued from oaken casks, each bottle is aged from 10 to 30 years. Whiskey was invented in Scotland and the word means “water of life.” Worldwide, an average of 30 bottles of Scotch whiskey are sold every second. One of the most charming steps in whiskey-making is the “Angels’ Share.” While the whiskey matures, some water and alcohol pass as vapors through the casks. About 2% is lost each year — almost 17% in the 10 year wait at Talisker. “We don’t resent it and I’m sure it’s appreciated,” the female tour guide said, through a grin and pixie twinkle. We sipped deep from the cup of a favorite, magical country. HASTE YE BACK (Hurry Back) the last road sign read, and we will.
Q: “What is worn under a kilt?”
A: “Nothing is worn lass.
It’s all in perfect working order!”
The catalyst for visiting the Catalonian city of Barcelona was to see Antoni Gaudi’s architecture. Gaudi and Barcelona surpassed expectations. Barcelona, in the northeast corner of Spain, is the largest city on the Mediterranean Sea. Called “The Spanish Paris,” “The Capital of the Future,” and “The Territory of Illusions” it takes ancient history, urban energy, and bold style to new heights. Wondering if Gaudi was gaudy (responsible for introducing a new word to the English language) — took in his soaring church, organic-style apartment buildings, and colorful park — now convinced of his genius, especially his revolutionary use of trencadis tiling, a decorative art form which consists of smashing up ceramics and piecing them back together in mosaic patterns that sing to the soul. Gaudi’s works have hallucinatory power, stemming from natural-based forms. One of the greatest strolling streets in the world is La Rambla in old town Barcelona. What used to be an ancient river bed is now a tree-lined promenade nearly a mile long filled with an endless parade of people streaming past newspaper kiosks, flower and bird stalls, human statues, mirthful mimes, elegant cafes, a grand opera house, a splendid farmer’s and confectionary market, attractive prostitutes, invisible pickpockets, and people looking to charge more for a shoeshine than what you paid for the shoes. In short, a mish-mash moving pageant of life, itself. Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca once said that La Rambla was “the only street in the world which I wish would never end.” After three days and nights of taking in all of Barcelona’s endless fascinations, my legs were somewhat spent heading into the marathon, but immediately rebooted after the strongest triple espresso ever in the hotel bar, pre-race. Midway through the marathon, on pace to finish under 4 hours, I came up on a runner who was stiffening and grabbing the backs of his legs. Struck up a conversation with an editor from the French newspaper, Le Monde (The World). Exchanging names, he said: “We printed a story from a Modzelewski about how he nearly died after getting malaria in Africa.” “That be me.” Small Monde! The editor’s first marathon, and I diagnosed his leg cramps as most likely triggered by a lack of electrolytes. Advised that he gulp down the sports drink (or a Spanish espresso!), not water at the aid stations, and then he was fine as the race progressed. Helped him to the finish — talking travels, French cuisine, and the writing biz as we ran past historical and artful monuments and over cobblestone lanes in the Gothic Quarter, coming in at 4:15. Afterwards, a wonderful celebratory meal of fresh seafood Tapas, washed down with a crisp Albarino white wine. Viva La Espana. Now and forever-more, I’m a rambling La Rambla man!
(73) BOISE, IDAHO
Combo of a marathon in the capital city of Idaho and a pilgrimage to pay homage to the author who inspired me to be a writer. Boise is a tree-filled valley in the high desert of western Idaho, with an untamed river running through town, feeding the trees and invigorating the populace. (Boise derives from Boisee, “wooded” — so named by French Canadian fur trappers in the 1820’s). Small, relaxed race with 200 runners on a beautiful October day. Finished in 4:04 on a hilly course along the river and into the trees festooned with Fall colors. Then drove up to Sun Valley/Ketchum where Ernest Hemingway lived out his final years. As a boy, the first book I read when the writing jumped off the page, making vivid pictures in my mind was a collection of short stories about a young man named Nick Adams, set in the Upper Peninsula of northern Michigan. I then went on to devour everything Hemingway wrote — deciding to not only be a writer but a man of action in the great outdoors. (EH’s “Big Two-Hearted River” my favorite short story, and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” my impetus for climbing said-named peak). Also, in my writing I’ve tried to imitate Hemingway’s economy of style — stripping away the fat (adjectives and adverbs) until only the bones (nouns) and muscles (verbs) remain. Murmured a silent thanks to Hemingway at his tomb in the Ketchum graveyard. Glad to see that someone had placed an open book and a pencil sharpener on the burial slab. Hemingway wrote his first drafts with a pencil and sharpening it, did the same for his mind. From his book, A Moveable Feast: “I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write. . . A girl came in the cafe and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin. . . I watched the girl whenever she looked up, or when I sharpened the pencil with a pencil sharpener with the shavings curling into the saucer under my drink. I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all of Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil. . .”
(74) HONOLULU, HAWAII
by Paula Grecco.
My husband was running his 74th marathon in Honolulu, Hawaii, and I was anxiously jostling for space with the other spectators, waiting for him to cross the finish line at Waikiki Beach. I kept glancing at my watch, at first not letting it bother me that he seemed to be later than his usual finishing time of under 4 hours. The minutes ticked by endlessly. . . Michael was middle-aged, but in great shape, with a history of two 100 milers in the mountains of California under his belt, as well as winning a race on The Great Wall of China. He is an adventure travel writer of documentaries and author of several books, including Angeles Crest, about ultramarathon running and the rewards of maintaining peak physical fitness. He’d climbed several major mountains, including Kilimanjaro, up the most challenging route. The hairs stood up on my arms now as he was more than an hour past his normal finishing time. Something was definitely wrong!
As a coincidence, I’d just had my husband’s hero, Jack LaLanne, on my plane the week before (I am a flight attendant). Jack LaLanne was with his lovely wife, Elaine, going from New York to Los Angeles after filming a commercial to advertise his new book, Live Young Forever. He said he was 96, and his beautiful wife admitted to being 85. They were a dynamic, vibrant couple, a shining example of physical and mental fitness, that would put people to shame decades younger. Jack wanted to get down on the floor of First Class to do pushups! I excitedly told them he was my husband’s absolute hero for being the first person to start the physical fitness movement and how he changed the world for it. I joked that my Michael repeated a couple of Jack’s famous “LaLanne-isms” right after finishing every marathon — pointing to his legs and crowing: “You bastards work for me!” and “Jack, you did it again!” (What Jack LaLanne said after his daily workouts). On the airplane, Jack beamed when I told him how Michael emulated his daily workout discipline and worshipped his tenacity. They let me have my photo taken with them, and Elaine had Jack sign a publicity picture and promised to send their new book to Michael as a surprise.
I had always laughed at Michael repeating those two hilarious, hokey LaLanne-isms — but now waiting and waiting at the Honolulu finish line, how I wished I could hear them again. WHERE WAS HE?
Michael’s father, his other hero, played professional football for the Cleveland Browns in the late 1950’s and 60’s, and his uncle played for the New York Giants during all their championship years. The Modzelewski brothers used football as their way out of the coal mines of western Pennsylvania to the NFL. Michael played football as a wide received for the University of Maryland until accidentally breaking an opponent’s knee, which resulted in him feeling so bad that he lost his thirst for the game. He dropped out of the sport, replacing football with long-distance running. He was so proud to be his father’s son, but always feared that he had let him down. He was determined to excel in his new physical passion and make his Dad proud.
My cell phone rang, startling me. Michael never ran with his phone. I saw a strange number and answered. It was Michael on the other end. He sighed deeply, so chagrined to tell me that they started the 22,000 Honolulu marathon runners at 5 a.m., in the darkness, to stay ahead of the tropical heat, and that two miles into the race, with the field all bunched together — crossing a median — he didn’t see the step-down curb, and severely sprained his left ankle. He stopped at the next Aid Station and in the medical tent had his throbbing ankle wrapped in an elastic bandage, and then pressed on — walking all the way now to Mile 20 where he borrowed a spectator’s cell phone to call me. He sheepishly asked: “Will you run towards the runners, find me, and walk the last couple miles with me for mental support?” In all the years we had been together, he had never been sick once or the slightest bit injured, and always took care of me when I had a couple bouts with cancer. The least I could do was help him now. He said there was no way he would “DNF” (Did-Not-Finish) — as quitting was not in his nature.
I ran towards him on the sidelines past the flowing tide of runners until I breathlessly spotted him doggedly hobbling towards the finish line. Walking alongside him, I kept up a babble, my usual talkative self, to divert his pain. He probably wasn’t even listening to the chatter, but appreciated the comfort of my presence.
Michael crossed the finish line in 8 hours and 30 minutes, more than twice as long as it normally took him to run. After he received his beautiful medal, he continued his usual post-race traditions — placing the medal around MY neck, giving me a long kiss, then spouting: “JACK, YOU DID IT AGAIN!” We both burst into tears from the extreme effort and courage Michael demonstrated to once again be able to earn and spout that ‘routine’ LaLanne-ism .
Now that his adrenalin and steel-resolve was wearing-off, he began to limp with severe pain. We waved down a taxi and went to Queen Mary Hospital where his ankle was X-rayed. The good news was that nothing was broken; the bad news was that his ankle and foot were hideously swollen and discolored. The Honolulu ER doctor and nurses, used to dealing with many exotic injuries such as shark bites, errant missile-like surf board concussions, nasty coral cuts, said they had never seen a foot and ankle like that! They probably thought him a bit foolish, but in their eyes I could see their admiration towards Michael for walking 24 miles on such a severe sprain to finish their hometown marathon.
A month later, with the best care from great doctors and physical therapists back home, and learning “Whoa” for awhile after constant “Go,” Michael was miraculously, almost completely healed. He was once again reminded of his hero. We lay in bed with our morning coffee and opened the newspaper to see the headline: “JACK LALANNE, DEAD AT 96, A LEGEND LOST.” Michael tossed the paper aside, dropped to the floor and pumped off 50 pushups, then jumped up and took his first run around the room — pointing to the sky and saying quietly: “Jack, you did it again.”
75) MALIBU, CALIFORNIA
Hilly course along the PCH, Pacific Coast Highway, with awesome views of the ocean. Mile markers on upright surfboards. Finish at famous Zuma Beach, where you can dive into the Pacific O. after kicking it in!
76) MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA
A scenic tour through a most beautiful Atlantic Ocean resort town. Breezes blowing in from the ocean keep you cool. Locals turn out full force to cheer you on. Instead of a gun-bang at the start, “Bubbles,” an African Elephant, from a nearby game preserve is the Master of Ceremonies. He lifts his trunk and trumpets you off and away!