Author's note: This was originally started on 26 August, which is why that date is the posting/publication date. The draft was saved on that date. But it was revised and actually posted on 9 September. "Yesterday" refers to 8 September and not 25 August.
My former running partner Bill died 4 years ago yesterday from complications of leukemia. Bill taught me just about everything that I know about long distance running. Even though some of the things he taught me may be considered "old school" today, I still follow them because they have always worked for me. As I became an experienced runner, I passed on Bill's teachings to new runners who came to me for advice on how to run a half-marathon or marathon. Here are some of my favorite "Bill quotes" and pieces of advice:
"If there was no last place finisher, the race would never end." This is my very favorite quote from Bill and is true when you think about it. Bill said that to me when I told him that my biggest fear for my first half-marathon was finishing last. He also (correctly) assured me that I wouldn't be the last finisher.
"Running is 90% mental and only 10% physical." I've lost count of the number of times that a positive or negative frame of mind affected my running.
"You think too much." This one also ties in with, "Stop looking at your watch." Bill noticed right away that I was obsessed with my times. This was his way to get me to simply enjoy running without worrying about my pace. One time he even took my watch from me. After some initial anxiety about how I was doing, I settled in and enjoyed the run and conversation.
"In my years on the cross-country team, I can proudly say that I was never beaten by a runner from Taft." I went to Taft High School, and Bill went to rival school Reseda High. He was on Reseda's cross-country team. Taft always had good athletic teams, while Reseda was usually the last place team in any sport. During one run, I was making fun of Reseda's teams and he came up with that quote. Even after his death, Bill kept his unbeaten streak intact. I had his photo pinned above my number in the 2007 Munich Marathon. We crossed the finish line in a tie.
"Are you going to let an old man beat you?" Bill was 12 years older than me. When we'd run together, we'd do a full sprint for the last 100-200 meters of our training runs. This was great training for the last part of a long race. Even with tired legs at the end of a race, it's a real boost to pick up the pace at the very end. Bill would get a step or two ahead of me and then ask if I was going to let myself get beaten by an old man. I was able to keep up with him, but he made it tough. Believe it or not, I say this to myself during almost every training run final sprint.
"A marathon isn't like running two half-marathons in a row. It's more like running six." Very true. The first half of a marathon is relatively easy. But the second half of a marathon is like running five half-marathons in a row.
"I thought you said you couldn't run 10 miles." Before I did my first 10-mile training run, I told Bill that I couldn't possibly do it. We ran together and next thing I knew, I had run 10 miles (16 km) and was getting one of his post-run hugs with that quote.
As I said before, I ran the 2007 Munich Marathon with Bill's photo pinned above my race number. During the race I had many ongoing conversations with him. Talking with a dead person sounds a bit loopy, but it got me through the race. At the 39 km mark (a metric marathon is 42.2 km) there was a water point with drinks and bananas. I was hungry and stopped for a drink and piece of banana. Big mistake. My legs decided that they had enough running. Just beyond the water point was a corral where people who dropped out of the race were awaiting a ride to the finish area. It was so tempting to stop. But then I heard Bill's voice saying, "You've come too far to quit now. You can do this." As usual, he was right. I started off at cool-down jog pace and my legs eventually loosened up enough to make it those last 3.2 km. I even set a personal marathon record at age 48. The record was even sweeter sharing it with Bill.
As long as there are new runners who come to me for advice on how to run a long-distance race, Bill will live on.