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Columbia Business Monthly

The Running Man

Aug 02, 2018 02:31PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By John Temple Ligon

I recently put together a response to a request to speak to a Rotary luncheon group. My hosts needed a short bio from me.

I listed what I thought was relevant: education, military, civic, business, and diversions, which included distance running and tennis. The distance running listing mentioned 11 marathons.

I haven’t run a marathon lately. The 1997 London marathon was my last and slowest.

What have I run lately? Nothing in that class, or in any class for that matter.

Marathons, tough grinds they may be, can be a lot of fun, particularly one of the world’s largest. New York City’s marathon, for example, last year had more than 50,000 finishers. When New York staged its first marathon as multiple laps around Central Park in the summer of 1970, they had only 55 finishers.
For the 1976 July 4 weekend, I had my number to run New York. The marathoners were set to run through all five boroughs for the first time in the history of the city. That same weekend, the Tall Ships were on display in New York Harbor. I was tending bar in Houston at the time, but I was depending on a fellow bartender to cover for me that weekend. At the last minute he fell through, and I had to stay to keep my job for the rest of the summer.
The next fall, I was working for Alan Taniguchi FAIA [Fellow of the American Institute of Architects], the former dean at the University of Texas School of Architecture. He’s a great architect, but more importantly in this instance, a great guy. He encouraged me to try for the NYC Marathon again.  I can say with full authority I had a grand time.

When you go to a big-city marathon, you not only get the race, you get the big city and its opera and world-class dining and all that.
With that kind of fun, I came back to run it again in 1979, and then I maintained the distance-running habit, but I didn’t run a marathon again until the summer of 1988 and the Grandfather Mountain Marathon. Taking almost 10 years between marathons, I got through Grandfather all right, but the continuous climb makes it the “toughest marathon in America,” as the T-shirt says.
Toughened up by Grandfather, I ran the Charlotte Marathon in 1989. The problem with Charlotte was my own misunderstanding of the start times, one for the fun run and another for the marathon. My lady friend, my driver, agreed with me we needed to be at the start line at 9:45, which meant we should pull into downtown Charlotte no later than 9:15, leaving me time enough to tighten my shoe laces and stretch a little. We both were misled, and we didn’t get good information until we finally opened the information packet as we approached Charlotte around 9 a.m. The good information included the marathon start time at 9 a.m.
We approached a race official at his table to explain our plight. I said I shouldn’t take off a few minutes late. I should wait to leave with the fun run crowd at their start time of 9:45, 45 minutes after the beginning of the marathon but also at an official and witnessed time. In other words, I would take off at 9:45, but I would run the full 26.2 miles to return to my race official’s table to confirm my time.
It turned out to be at my advantage. In maybe 12 miles, I was passing people, the overweight and underprepared types struggling to keep up. I ran with the attitude I should pass everyone ahead of me because they had been on the route 45 minutes longer than I. How could I not be faster?
I finished, for me, in record time: 3:31.
Not looking for another record, I showed up for the Washington Marathon, a.k.a. the Marine Corps Marathon, in the fall of 1994, when Oprah told her millions of viewers she was running. For someone pleasantly plump, she looked in pretty good shape, like she had followed a running regimen for at least the previous six months. I ran a few feet behind Oprah the whole way, all of four hours and 30 minutes. We shook hands at the finish under the Marine Corps Monument. Her time wasn’t bad, but it was fine with me because it gave me a slow pace to enjoy the jog.
In marathon finishes, you want to target 3:30 because that’s still running. Slower than 3:30 is jogging. Slower than 5:00 is walking, practically.
My last marathon, London in 1997, I’ll talk about in a later article. Just remember: I had a 20-pound bill in my pocket for an emergency cab ride back if I should fall or twist something. And at the 15-mile mark I stepped into a port-a-john.

All marathons have these things every couple miles or so, and since I tended to run in the middle of the pack, in a marathon of 30,000 runners I should imagine maybe 15,000 had passed the same point. Walk into a port-a-john after 15,000 runners have already come by and you’ll find plenty of evidence of the passing parade, including a complete exhaustion of sanitary paper. Fortunately, I still had my 20-pound bill.

Expensive hygiene, I’m afraid.