Boston Or Bust

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            Boston or Bust

By Ed Heckard

“What are you going to do in retirement, Ed?” The question was posed by a fellow newspaper employee.

I responded, “Well, one thing I plan on doing is running. In fact, entering the Boston Marathon is at the top of my ‘bucket list’.”

Surprised, my colleague replied, “I didn’t know you were a runner. The only time I see you move quickly is at quitting time.”

Smiling, I replied, “Real funny rookie. I have done a little running in a previous life. I intend taking the sport up again once I’m out of here.”

My friend had enough short-timer drivel. His eyes were beginning to glaze over as he turned back to his paper laden desk. “Good luck with that,” He murmured.

A few days later I retired, appropriately on Halloween. The following morning, I hit one of many Mill Creek walking paths for my first ‘Boston or Bust’ training run. I had a little running history. Thirty-three years earlier I had been doing some distance running for about 1.5 years. I completed (2) marathons (Seattle and Seaside) during that period.

Ed Heckard Finishing the Seattle Marathon in 1980

Then again, in my early 50’s, I got back into running for a couple seasons. I enjoyed some age group success in a few 10K events. Since then however, I was a weekend warrior, jogging maybe 3 or 4 miles most Saturdays and Sundays.

Retiring at 68.5, my intention was to qualify for Boston when I turned 70. I also planned to enter shorter races when 70, however my primary focus was Boston. Training went well. 18 Months passed quickly. The three or four 18 to 21-mile training sessions were satisfactory. I was ready to run a certified marathon. For the Boston qualifier I chose the 2015 Tacoma City Marathon. It was scheduled for Sunday, May 3rd, 2 weeks after my 70th birthday.

At 5:30 AM on race day, my wife dropped me off across from the Tacoma Art Museum. From there, I caught a shuttle bus that transported runners to the marathon’s start at the Tacoma Narrows Airport. The small Pierce County airport is located a mile SW of Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I left my warm-up clothes in the car. The race information had said the Hub Restaurant at the airport would be open early to accommodate runners. I envisioned having a cup of coffee and keeping warm prior to the 7:00 (as I remember) start.

It was a clear morning, but in my opinion chilly. Race time temperature was 48 degrees. When the bus arrived at the airport, since I was wearing only shorts and a t-shirt, I made a beeline for the restaurant. To my dismay it was closed. There was no other shelter in the vicinity. For over an hour I paid for the mistake of not wearing my warmups. I was cold.

Eventually, 467 of us were called to the starting line. Race information said there would be pacers available. This was a new experience for me, as was the fact I had to break a time of 4:25 to qualify for Boston. In the days leading up to the race I decided to run with the 3:45 pacer. After a few miles, if I felt this pace to be too ambitious, I could drop back with the 4:00 or even 4:15 pacer.

Bang, we were finally off. With over 350 training runs logged, I felt prepared to conquer this qualifying race.

At the 3-mile mark we began traversing the Narrows Bridge. It was here one of my many faults as a human being came into play. I can be easily annoyed! The source of my agitation was a fellow runner who was easily jogging along while cheerfully chatting incessantly with our young, attractive, female pacer. He was maybe half my age and possessed an admirable physique. To me, it appeared he should have been with a 2:45 pacer, not 3:45.

We were soon 5 miles into the race and I began to feel challenged keeping pace with my small group of runners. No big deal as I decided to cut them loose. The course took us through North Tacoma’s Proctor District, then descended through Ruston to the 6 miles of rolling hills through beautiful Pt. Defiance Park. The halfway point of the run was a mile prior to the Park.

At that juncture I was tracking under a 4-hour finish. Pleased with this development, I gave myself a high five. Within the Park I was running pretty much alone. I was feeling good while cruising past mile markers 14 and 15.

A quarter mile straight stretch preceded my next hurdle, a small white sign with the two black letters 16. Approaching closer, I sensed the sign warning me of dire consequences ahead. I found this disturbing as I was not in the habit of receiving a message of impending doom from a mileage marker. A little shaken, I continued, albeit at a slower pace.

Before I reached Mile 17, a state of uneasiness began to filter into my mind. Nearly 10 miles lay ahead. I began having doubts as to whether I could finish the marathon under 4:25.

At 17½ miles, what appeared to be a giant shadow lay perpendicular to the Park’s road. As I approached closer, the mysterious object came into focus. It was not a shadow laying before me. It was an impenetrable wall. The massive structure was more imposing than I could have imagined. I was toast, reduced to jogging so slowly, a brisk walker could have overtaken me. I was able to shuffle along for 3-4 miles.

Out of the Park at Mile 20, I crept along Ruston Way. By the time I reached Schuster Parkway I was reduced to mixing walking with a slow limping jog. Meanwhile pacers were running by at an alarming rate. Seemed like every 5 minutes they would parade by. Initially it was the 4:00. Then came 4:15. The dreaded 4:30 and 4:45 followed. Suffice it to say the final 6 miles of the race saw me in considerable physical distress. The end would eventually come. 100 Yards from the Art Museum finish I turned to see the 5:00 pacer about 150 yards behind me. I mustered up enough energy to reach the finish line a couple steps ahead of that group. The clock read 4:59:33.

Physically I was prepared for the rigors of a marathon. Mentally I was not. As Silver Striders know, I blundered by going out with the 3:45 pacing group. Had I joined the 4:15 hopefuls, I most certainly would have been successful in receiving a Boston invite.

A year later I attempted another qualifier. This time it was Olympia’s Capital City Marathon. A time of 4:15 punched my ticket to Boston the following year.

Ed Heckard finishes the Boston Marathon

Believe it or not I won my age division (1st of 4) at Tacoma. At the time I was not aware of Silver Striders. I now recognize names of a few runners who ran that 2015 Marathon admirably.
Sandy Madden (4:22) 4th place in her age group.
Judy Fisher (4:07) first place
Dennis Zaborac (3:44) first place
Dave Sherman (3:38) first place

Ed at the Flight For Sight 5k