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Running: Run for Your Life

Running is a way of life, for those of us fortunate enough to be able to do it. These days I hear more and more of my friends and colleagues who say, “Oh, I gave up running years ago.  It was too hard on my knees,” or “My doctor recommends I take up something less painful,” or words to that effect.  For all of the broken bones and torn ligaments and bumps, bruises and stitches I have had in my life, I feel extraordinarily blessed to still be able to run.  I am not setting any records or winning any races these day, but I am competing, finishing near the top in my age group.  I remain in the 99% category that Alberto Salazar repugnantly calls “the ascetic citizen-runner.”  So be it.  At least I am getting out there!

This Witness Post is about my on-again off-again running career.  It took me until I was 50 years old to admit that I was more than an ex-football player, ex-wrestler and ex-lacrosse player.  I finally was able to admit with pride that I AM A RUNNER.  I told myself and my close friends that I planned on running a marathon for every decade in my life.  By my late 40’s, I recalled that plan and that personal promise.  I had completed one marathon, and the years were slipping by.  I needed a more timely and aggressive strategy to accomplish my goal.

My plans have had a few detours over the years for sure.  Just last October (2012), I badly tore my hamstring (level 3 tear of my middle hamstring muscle) and I disappointingly had to withdraw from the ING-NYC Marathon, which was to be in November.  Just as well, because the marathon was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy.  I had felt very fortunate to have qualified for the race in the summer of 2011, by running 7:35 minute miles in a half marathon on Sauvie Island, Oregon. My running partner, Bruce Bolton, said to me that I should fell pretty pumped up, because I had finished at the top of the 70 runners in my age group.  The hamstring tear was a blow to my ego.  I was determined to overcome it.

Around Thanksgiving, when my doctor told me “it will be 6 months before you recover … and you will not be able to sprint anymore,” people started asking me if I intended to run again. I told them I will run again, of that I was sure.  And I will run that NYC race, God willing, in 2014.  That year I turn 60 and the marathon would be my sixth.  In the mean time I am resting and reflecting on my running career.  It has been full of pleasure, meditation and punishment.  I will start with the last noun first.

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Punishment

Long before I lost any toenails or lanced any blisters or iced any bruises or massaged any pulled muscles or collapsed from exhaustion, I knew that running was a form of punishment.  The punishment in my running story is the longest part to tell, because it began in elementary school, when I was first getting started.  Since our family has eight children, spread out over 17 years, it really felt as if I were growing up in several families in series.  I was the fourth of the eight and I think of myself as in the TOP half, which I am.  I am also in the second of three boys in a row, so I am smack in the MIDDLE, which is also true.  But my running life is mostly attached to my youngest sister, who is the caboose and the best athlete in the family.  So I am also close to the BOTTOM, which feels just about right.  Not too hot, not too cold, it was just right.

T7 Hooper

Hooper’s in Yosemite (1963); Charlie & Mary not yet arrived

In the early 1960’s our Dad read a story in the Living section of the Baltimore Sun about a cardiologist named Dr. Gabe Mirkin, who had made a remarkable recovery from heart surgery by running. Dr. Mirkin did some research on the topic, using his own body as the guinea pig.  Before long he felt like a new man and he started to write and to get the word out about his success matching wits with heart disease.  He started an organization he called Run for Your Life. I can only explain it as a community movement in the Baltimore metropolitan area.  This was in the early 1960’s.  Jack Lalanne was that fitness nut on TV who could exercise for hours and perform unbelievable human feats. It was just at the cusp of the health kick which led to community jogs and physical fitness.  Plus some other organized fitness was starting in small rainy places like Eugene, Oregon, and Auckland, New Zealand.

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                Gabe & Diane Mirkin      Dr. Mirkin on his radio broadcast

Little did we know that this running craze was more than a fad; it was part of a worldwide focus on health, fitness and happiness that was taking over small towns far away from the mainstream.  Take New Zealand, for example, a place with 4 million people and 10 million sheep. A man named Arthur Lydiard, who became the New Zealand Olympic coach, started to encourage community-wide fitness runs in his country.  Whole towns would turn out for the weekly runs. Lydiard also started to work with gifted athletes who wanted to perform on the international stage.  He practiced what he called interval training, which he believed would vastly improve an athlete’s endurance. During one community track meet, Lydiard discovered Peter Snell winning his races with ease.  Lydiard approached Snell and said, “Peter, with the sort of speed you’ve got, if you do the endurance training, you could be one of our best middle-distance runners.”  Thus began the idea of endurance training, which Lydiard passed to his athletes.

The coach of the US Olympic team at the time was Bill Bowerman. Lydiard invited Bill Bowerman to New Zealand to see for himself what was happening among the Kiwi communities. Bowerman became a believer in community fitness, just as he had in endurance training, so he brought both of those concepts back with him to Eugene, Oregon.  Soon enough he took those concepts to the training of US Olympic athletes for the future.

bb01Bill Bowerman and Steve PreFontaine

Back in Towson, Maryland, we would meet at the local YMCA on Saturday mornings and run a 2 mile circuit through the streets of Towson.  The reward came in the form of local FAME!  Our names were posted in the Baltimore Sunpapers the next day, all finishers, with our times attached.  The whole Hooper family participated, except our Mom, and it was pretty much the last thing any of us kids felt was a good use of our time as pre-teens.  Our older sisters were encouraged to participate, which they did, but they soon found other excuses.  They were busy with high school and did not feel that running for their teenaged lives was a good use of their time. Dad, on the other hand, became addicted.

Our Dad started running nearly every day at lunch and he became a surprisingly good runner for an out-of-shape 40 something at the time.  He would drive from his company to the Towson Y Athletic Club (TYAC), dress in his Jack Pursells and sweats and go for a run with Vern Seviere, Walter Korpmann, or one of the other TYAC runners. His “lunch break” consisted of a work-out, some fruit and the diet drink TAB, which tasted terrible, but he grew to like it.  Dad lost about 25 pounds, regained his 34 inch waistline and looked like a million bucks! It is amazing how getting in shape can improve your outlook, your stamina and your family relations.  Dad became the poster papa for the program and he kept the boys, and our sister, Nancy, involved for several more years.

I kept the running tradition alive with my own girls, starting when they were about 2 years old.  One year after they could walk, they were invited to weekend runs with Dad.  They will claim to have hated those Saturday trips around Circle Road, but it toughened them up physically and to this day, each of them knows what it is like to “dig deep” and “push pain into the pavement” and “let the slope do the work on the downhill.”  The part that I missed for our girls was the community participation.

In the 1960’s sports were a big deal.  With the advent of television shows like Wide World of Sports, lots of the skill sports got the airtime: golf, tennis, baseball, football, skiing and basketball entered our living rooms.  But the moment that the average American went out and tried to compete in golf, for example, they learned how hard it is to score a birdie, many of those arm chair experts returned to the couch.  Perfecting your stroke can take years, and sometimes it never comes at all.

For those of us in the Run for Your Life community, it was a lot easier.  We quickly became part of a larger social network.  As a group we did not run all that fast, and we spent time before and after the runs socializing.  After not too many weeks, we could say that we enjoyed the camaraderie.  We cared for each other, we shared stories on the road, and we got to know personal things about our fellow runners.  Similar to the experiences of those small towns in New Zealand and Oregon, the running community grew smartly.  The participation piece (long before the Nike – Just Do It – theme), the recognition (we were all winners), and the fun were vital ingredients.  Even the walkers, as long as they completed the two mile circuit were named in the paper.  The other key was repetition.  Before we knew it, running was being transformed from a dreaded exercise to a habit, and from a habit to pleasure.  We came to realize that once we got over the embarrassment of performing poorly in public, we could meet in private, make small corrective actions and become a more successful runner the next time.  We found it surprisingly easy to get hooked on the success we experienced while running.  And we were pleased with the speed with which it arrived. Nothing like the taste of success!

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Peter Snell, 1960 Olympics

I was never a particularly graceful runner, but I was efficient.  I had good lung capacity and I could get mad.  I had this one kid who beat me nearly every week, which kept my ego in check and the anger button pushed.  His name was Mike Hill.  The first time we saw Hill run, he was a wiry Black boy with basketball shoes on.  When the starting gun fired, he dashed out ahead of the pack.  All of the wizened men around me sighed, “He will run out of steam in the first quarter mile!”  The thing is Mike Hill didn’t.  He kept up a fierce pace and finished ahead of most of the men.

I was running about seven minute miles at the time, giving it all I had, and Mike would clock in just under six minutes per mile.  As much as anything, I wanted to catch Mike Hill and prove that I was a worthy runner.  I practiced harder and harder, even doing mid-week runs, like my Dad.  Not until the end of that first season did I come close to Mike, which I felt pretty good about, until a girl named Sherry Korpmann came along.

Sherry Korpmann was about the most natural and graceful athlete I had ever seen.  She had a lean runner’s body and a chestnut brown pony tail that flew up in the air like the thoroughbred in the movie, “The Horse with the Flying Tail.”  I can remember running my heart out for two miles on a track in Baltimore and then walking up in the stands to see my Dad and Walter Korpmann talking with Gabe Mirkin.  “Look at her run,” said Gabe.  “She is so smooth, she makes it look effortless.”  The rest of us just stood there and admired her grace and her stride.

Pleasure

So what took me so long to claim being a runner and why am I running all of those years AFTER meeting Gabe Mirkin?  My friend Grant Long answered that question by stressing, “Because we can!”  “We run for the sheer joy of it.”

I will admit it here: I do not love running.  It often starts out as a means to an end.  I want to lose some weight? I run.  I want to firm up my physique?  I hit the trails.  I want to clear out the cobwebs?  Time for a jog.  I do not run for an endorphin high, because even after all the miles, I am not exactly sure what that feels like.  What I mostly enjoy is the feeling in the shower after the run is over.  I have also enjoyed running, because I like being outside in all kinds of weather, picking up the pace, and sweating.  I reluctantly admit having some pleasure running.  I even have found some good mischief.

My younger brother, Ned, and I went on a jog with our Dad once.  It was an early Saturday morning and we ran from Ruxton Road to Falls Road and north to Seminary Avenue.  We got it in our minds that we would run up to our Dad, one on each side, and yank down his running shorts.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  So we legged it up to our Dad, who was in the lead, got really close to each side and on the count of 2, we grabbed a-hold of his shorts and pulled them down to his ankles.  Before he could react, we both shot off like rubber bands and barely looked back.  He was standing there red-faced, hoping that no one had seen the embarrassing butt-cheek episode.  We ran home and did not say another thing about it.  What we had not considered was what “pay backs” would look like.  We knew it would arrive, but we didn’t know when.

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Henry & Laurie Hooper

Meditation

When I was a teen, I thought I was a pretty good runner.  We did not have a track team or cross-country team at Loyola High School at the time (1968), but I used running to get in shape for football, wrestling and lacrosse. Every student was required to pass some preliminary health requirements in gym class.  Our gym teacher, Mr. Jack Hubbard, was a die-hard baseball coach.  He always wore his baseball cleats and his socks pulled up, just so.  Then he folded the bottoms of his sweat pants to appear like baseball pants.

As a freshman we were required to run a timed mile. I was about 5’6″ in the ninth grade and weighed about 130#.  When it came time for the mile, I ran faster than the others in my time trial, and was surprised when Mr. Hubbard called out to me and said, “You can take the rest of the day off, Mr. Hooper.  You just set a freshman record in the mile: 4:58.”

At the time the outdoor record in the mile was 3:55 set by Jim Ryun, a high school runner from Wichita, Kansas.  The indoor record had just been set by Jim Beatty, who broke the 4:00 mark in 1962.  I had improved my minutes per mile considerable since the Run for Your Life days,  but I was still a full minute per mile behind any “real runners.”  I took it as a victory anyway, and despite the free pass from Mr. Hubbard, I ran with the rest of the freshmen in that gym class.

I continued my road running, particularly around wrestling season, as we had learned from Coach Bob Keller that the best high school and college wrestlers were daily running three to five miles before practice. If the best were doing it, so would we.  Des McNellis, Mike Gloth, Scott Dunbar, John Urbanski, Richard Gray, John Nagle, Bill Birmingham and I would make the daily trek down Chestnut Avenue to Charles Street, turning right on Greenway to Joppa Road, then back to Chestnut and into the Loyola locker room.  Some days, we would arrive at school early, so that we could get the run in and shower before class.  Those winter days, dark and cold, were pretty dreary, but I found it also comforting.

In high school I dated a few girls and I would think about them on my runs.  While on the road, I would enter a sort of meditative trance, mulling over in my mind what I should say, what I should feel, what I should do on the next call.  On some of the runs, I was so tired at the end, I didn’t even care about the girl anymore.  It was during this adolescent phase that I developed what I called The Five Mile Test.  If, after five miles of pounding my feet on the pavement, I was still thinking deeply about a girl I was “dating”, then I would call her up and talk through whatever was on my mind.  On the other hand, if I were too tired to even think about her at the end of the run, I knew it was time to dump her.  I was the dumpee many more times than the dumper, but in those hormone wracked years, I felt that I was a justified participant.

Years later I told my wife, Tracy, about The Five Mile Test and she was horrified.  All I could say is that it helped me through a lot of boyhood heartache.  I spent a lot of time “in training,” during those years, especially for wrestling.  When I could combine thinking about girlfriends and staying in shape, it seemed a good combination.  It also gave me more time for studying.  I wanted to get good grades for college, guilt-free.

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Frank Shorter at Yale

As a young boy of about five, my Godfather, Alec Barton, gave me a Yale sweatshirt with a Bulldog on it.  He said that if I worked hard, I might go to Yale.  The formula sounded easy enough, and the one syllable college name was simple enough to remember, so I made my mind up as a five year old, I was going to Yale.  The thought of college got lost along the way, as elementary school and high school were pretty challenging.  Still, it must have been in the back of my mind.  In 1960, 1964 and 1968, I recall witnessing that Yale athletes were prominently featured in the summer Olympics, winning medals in swimming (Don Schollander and Steve Clark), crew, sailing, and long distance running.

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Frank Shorter winning the Gold

In my senior year at Loyola High School my ears perked up when the summer Olympics came along and the US long distance runners were paced by a Yale graduate, named Frank Shorter.  Shorter had set lots of collegiate cross country and distance records while at Yale; and he became a good friend and training partner with Steve Prefontaine from the University of Oregon.

At Yale, I played two sports: wrestling and lacrosse.  The pre-season runs to Albertus Magnus College or East Rock and back were epic and exhausting.  The daily wrestling workouts were on the 6th floor of Payne Whitney Gym, which was at the time one of the largest indoor sports complexes around.  Our home wrestling matches were held on the ground floor in the basketball arena of Payne Whitney.  Inscribed on the walls of the arena, above the basketball court, were the names and times of various Yale track and field records.  Prominently among them, of course, was Frank Shorter.  In my memory, it was because of Frank Shorter that I decided that I should run a marathon some day.  So, I blame it on Frank.

Mean Maryland Marathon

My Mom died in 1986, just a few weeks after I graduated from business school at Yale School of Management. My wife and I moved back to Baltimore.  We rented our grandparents house from my parents and really appreciated being close to home.  I had the shock and blessing of watching my Mom wither and die of cancer.  That experience was one of those indelible marks on my psyche.  Even watching the pain, I felt fortunate to be home.  Somehow seeing the cycle of life was far better than the stories and thoughts that circled around my head when I was in graduate school.  At least I was there to help with meals, to assist giving Mom medications, and to see all of the wonderful visitors and hospice caregivers who came by in the final weeks.

I took to going on morning runs around Lake Roland as my personal stress reliever.  I saw a few people whom I would race in my mind and it is great when I could proclaim myself the winner. I returned home to the grim reality of my mother’s life slipping away, as she shrank in size and went through the changes in skin tone from alabaster to gray to yellow.  The funeral and burial were a blur, as I contributed the pew leaflets for the people who came to the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Charles Street in Baltimore.  Over a thousand mourners came in memory of and tribute to a remarkable woman.

Later that July, Tracy and I went on a trip to Alaska and I remember finally mourning the loss of my Mother.  When we were in Denali National Park, it rained for three days in a row.  I finally slept soundly, for nearly those three days!  When I awoke, I went for a jog, saw a magnificent view of Mt. McKinley, and decided that I needed to do something for myself and for my Mom.  I decided that to run a marathon was just the ticket.

U denali DenaliNationalParkAKHP

I began to see notices in the Baltimore Sun for the inaugural Maryland Mean Marathon.  I do not recall why they used the word “mean” in the title, but I think it had something to do with the official distance and course.  The race started at Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street in Baltimore, wound through neighborhoods to Lock Raven Reservoir.  It circumnavigated the reservoir, climbed up Satyr’s Hill (nicknamed “Sadist’s Hill” by the runners) and finished back at Memorial Stadium for the medal ceremony.  Except for the 1,500 foot climb up Satyr’s Hill in a quarter mile, it sounded easy enough.  The real catch was that I had never run more than 10 miles in my life.

The race was in the first week in October and I had to get cracking. For work in Maryland, I had joined my Dad and Uncle Jim Hooper at William E. Hooper & Sons Company that summer.  I decided that I needed to ramp up my miles to get in “marathon shape,” whatever that ideal was supposed to be.  I also took to heart the unsolicited advice on my Uncle Henry Evans, who said, “I have run the Marine Corp Marathon many times, and it really can be done by extending your longest run to 18 miles. You don’t have to run a full marathon in training. After 18, the rest of it will be pretty easy.”  My uncle may never have said such a thing, but that is the advice I heard.  I came to regret those recollections, as they proved ill-advised.

My morning runs extended to 8 miles and my weekend runs went from 12 to 15 to 18.  I had some trips with my Dad to visit the mills which supplied our factory with cotton.  I always took out time to run at least 8 miles, even on some of the dangerous, no-sidewalk roads in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia.  I also took a trip to Houston and ran around the Astrodome, when that was still a popular sporting venue.  From the reading I had done on the matter, I extended my weekly mileage to about 60 miles.  The operative word is ABOUT, because in varying my runs, I did not keep very good tabs of my miles. Although I considered myself disciplined on calories and fluids, I was not nearly as disciplined on distances as I should have been.

Into my head was the notion that by taking my age, 32 years old at the time, I would run a marathon equally every decade until I was 64.  The Beatles song, “When I am 64”  must have been stuck in my psyche. After all, there was some symmetry to it:  I would be double my current age without going nuts training.  To my common sense way of thinking, running a marathon “once for every decade”  would allow my body to fully recover.  It would also be a great goal to have for my family, who were all pretty competitive. I could already tell that a marathon would take it’s toll on my body and I wanted to be running and athletic for years to come.  So I felt it was good to pace myself.

alberto  alberto 1

Meeting Alberto Salazar

The week before the Maryland Marathon there was a special meeting at the Calvert Hall College for all runners.  The special guest speaker was Alberto Salazar, who was the premier long distance runner in the US at the time.  I sat in awe of him and listened to his recounting his winning performance a few years before in New York for the NYC Marathon and in Boston for the epic race against Dick Beardsley in what was called “The Duel in the Sun.”  He talked about miles he logged, the injuries he overcame, the unusual diets he concocted, the light shoes he designed and more. I knew right then and there I was doomed.  Holy Shit!  How was I going to make it?  I remember Alberto saying, “Well, if you haven’t done the things that I have just outlined, it is too late to start now.  The race is next week!”  Thanks for the words of encouragement, Alberto!  Where were you six months ago, when I really needed you?

MD marathonHoop struggling to the top of “Sadist’s Hill”

I would go on to tell you how I was flying down Satyr’s Hill and around Lock Raven in top form, which would be true.  Somehow, I was in the top 20 runners in the first half marathon.  With only half to go the rest was just a breeze, right?  That would be false.  I severely struggled back up Satyr’s Hill and totally ran out of gas about mile 19. One mile past the longest run I had done in my life, I was completely spent.  Young girls and white haired old geezers were zooming passing me.  There was a steady stream of fit bodies gliding by.  I had “hit the dreaded wall.”  I ate some handfuls of gum drops and sour balls at a water stop on Hillen Road, and I walked as fast I could muster for a few miles.  When I got to Morgan State College, I felt I had regained enough energy to run the last three miles into Memorial Stadium. I made it back to the finish line in 3:29:00 flat.  And man was I flat.  Tracy and my sister, Nancy, and brother, Charlie, were there to cheer for me, but I was too pooped to respond.

MD marathon2

Tracy drove me back to our house.  I slowly pulled my legs out of the car, and ached into the front hallway. I shuffled to our guest bathroom, untied my shoes, took off my clothes, and drew a hot bath.  I lay down in a bathtub and fell asleep.  Those shoes sat in the exact same spot for the next 3 months.  I was not going to put them on again for a long, long time.  And I swore to myself, NO MORE MARATHONS!  This MEAN one had knocked me out.

Circle Road

V7 school

My post-Maryland Marathon days were decidedly less exercise and more stress.  I was working at TESSCO Technologies at the time and I was responsible for Wireless Dealer and West Coast Sales.  My traveling ramped up dramatically and Tracy and I had started a family.  I got to know what it was like to have a very full plate.  Tracy and I were blessed with girls.  Three precious daughters!

I knew what it was like to be a boy, to be midst lots of siblings, but I had no clue how to be the best father to daughters.  My gut told me to be “gender neutral” and to be as demanding of them as I would of a boy.  While I was running my five mile circuit around the neighborhood, I started to take the girls part of the way.  As soon as they could run, I took them on a 1.9 mile route from our house to Circle Road and back.  They started when they were about three years old.  Margaret didn’t like it much, but was compliant; Eleanor took it as a challenge, wanting to win; and Kathleen, the one who ran the most like Sherry Korpmann, did not like it at all.  The girls would try to find ways to avoid the run, but I was pretty persistent and for the most part they ran with me.  Saturday mornings, when it wasn’t raining or snowing, we would run around Circle Road and back home.  Our neighbors said we looked like Papa duck and his three little ducklings waddling down the road.

As a matter of fact, if the girls had someone sleep-over on Friday night with us, I would invite (insist) that they joined us to run Circle Road as well.  The girls said I gathered quite a “reputation” among those families. I did not care, because I would rather be known as the father who made everyone exercise than some of the other things I was hearing through the grape vine.

Hood to Coast

As the years progressed, I ran from time to time, but I had no particular goal in mind, other than to stay in shape. When we moved to the west coast, we landed in Vancouver, Washington, which is a short drive from Eugene, Oregon, nicknamed “Track Town USA.” Living in the Northwest, I started to go native and ran in all weather conditions, especially in the rain.

A neighbor of ours in Vancouver, Dan Dickens, was the captain of a Hood to Coast (H2C) team named Kickin’ Asphalt.  The team had had a variable collection of runners over the years, but it had competed for 17 years in a row.  That particular year, 2002, Dan was looking for some new members of the team. I told him I was interested and offered myself and my sister, Mary Klaff, as worthy of consideration.  “So, what is your 10K time?” I told him it was sub 45 minutes and Mary was even faster.  Dan gladly agreed to have us as members.  I called Mary on the phone and after doing some of her own research and listening to my cajoling, she agreed to run with us.  And thus began a decade long affiliation with the craziest of road relays I have ever seen.  Running from Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood to the sandy beaches of Seaside, Oregon, sounds romantic, and in many ways it is “The Mother of All Relays.”

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That being said, it is also a cult-like group of fiendish runners who congregate, play loud music, dress up their vans and themselves and celebrate the beauty of running. Mary Klaff says, “H2C is where the Boston Marathon meets Woodstock!” which is a pretty apt description. There are a whole slew of great H2C stories, which I will have so save for another Witness PostKickin’ Asphalt has some doozies that are all getting better as the years go by.

HTC4Dan Dickens, Mary Klaff & Hoop enjoy a beer in Seaside

Hood to Coast receives special recognition here, as it was the inspiration of one of those early team members, Grant Long, that I decided it was time to dust off the idea of NO MORE MARATHONS and see what I may have been missing all of these years. Several members of my first Hood to Coast had actually run the Boston Marathon, including Grant Long and Mary Klaff, so they knew what they were talking about.  Since, in fact, I had still never run 26.2 miles without walking, I knew that I had some serious thinking and planning to do.  Was I up to take on the challenge to qualify for a premier race like the Boston Marathon?  At my age (48 at the time), I read that I had to finish a race at a certified qualifying marathon in 3:20:59.  The Portland Marathon is a Boston qualifier, so I did not have far to travel.  Plus, that required time was only about ten minutes faster than I had run/walked the Maryland marathon 16 years before.  By my warped logic, if I were actually running the whole time, it was possible for me to run and qualify for Boston!

Portland Marathon

I ran the Portland Marathon twice (2002, 2004) and jogged it backwards once more.  [I don’t really count the “backwards” time, as I was moral support for Gerry Alkema, my H2C buddy, as he ran from the St. John’s Bridge to the finish.  I ran the race backwards to my car, which was parked near the half-way point.] In 2003, I was in pretty good shape after H2C that year and Grant suggested that I keep it going until the first week in November, when the Portland Marathon was scheduled.  “You can ramp up the miles from here, Henry.  You have a pretty good base and may as well use it.”  Made sense to me.

This time, however, I was going to train right.  I called Mary Klaff many times to review the best practices for training. I read Jeff Galloway’s book on training.  I ramped up the miles to 80 per week and peaked out at about 85 two weeks before the Marathon.  I ran several long runs (25 and 26 miles) on consecutive weekends and I only bonked once in my training that fall, which I felt was pretty good.  When it came time for the Marathon, however, I had a concern.  Having never used a watch to pace myself, I was not exactly sure what I would shoot for in terms of minutes per mile. I decided that I was probably OK to do 8 minute miles, so I ducked in behind runners keeping that min/mile pace, feeling the body heat, and prepared for the race.

I felt pretty good all the way until we hit Interstate, which seemed excruciatingly long to me.  I fixated on the pony tail of lovely young female runner, who was my Siren.  Her bobbing pony tail reminded me ever so faintly of Sherri Korpmann and her pace was my inspiration for the final 10K.  I finished the run in 3:39:15 which seemed pretty good, except that in Maryland I had walked for about 5 miles and had finished ten minutes earlier.  I was getting slower over the years and needed a different strategy.

Hooper-R1-20Salisbury, Denver, Ribbens, Klaff, Johnson & Hooper

My time had been too slow to qualify for Boston, but I did not care as much as I thought I would.  Taking a personal inventory, I was self-congratulatory: “I ran the whole way and finished without bonking.”  Good points.  I counted the race as a mental victory and an important one at that.  Our girls had all watched the marathon, so I was hoping to be an inspiration to them as well.  They too can set large goals for their lives.  This was my second completed marathon.  I could see that if I stayed healthy, I could catch my once a decade commitment.  Two down, four to go in the next 12 years.

It is funny when a competitive athlete thinks about things like “times.”  He or she believes, “I can beat that time!” And he or she goes out to prove he or she is right.  In this instance I decided at the finish line that I would repeat the marathon next year.  I would run it fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  I am not sure where that notion came from, but it was a motivator for me to have Boston Athletic Association (BAA) veterans on our H2C team.

The next year, I badly tore my left calf muscle, and was advised by my doctor not to stress the recovery too quickly.  I ignored his advice and was lame for more weeks than optimal.  Meanwhile, Tracy was walking a mean streak and wanted to compete with some walking buddies in the marathon.  I was time to take the year off. I was the spectator with our three daughters, for a change.  I was on the sidelines with our girls cheering on Tracy as she finished her first marathon in 5:45:10, which is pretty remarkable.  She whispered to me, “I cheated and ran most of the last few miles, so I wasn’t really a walker.”  I could care less what category she was in, I was proud as punch to be married to such a stud.  She beat over 1,000 people who were listed as runners.  Mighty fine for a beginner!

 boston

Boston of Bust

In 2004 my training was much better balanced and I was in the best shape of my life.  I decided to run the Portland Marathon again and to try to qualify for Boston.  My H2C friends, Gerry Alkema and Dave Ribbens, were both running in Portland, but since they are younger, they had a tougher bar to beat to qualify for Boston.  I was in the 50 – 54 age bracket, which meant that I had to run in 3:35:59 to qualify.

Six days before the race, I was in a car accident and nearly totaled our Ford Explorer!  I was bruised on my face by the air bag deploying, and I had some lacerations on my arms, but was otherwise fine.  I was just disappointed that I would have to miss this Boston qualifier.  I called Mary Klaff the next day to review what she thought I should do and her reply surprised me.  “You are in shape for it, right?  And you are not badly injured? Why don’t you rest the next few days, wait until Sunday and see how you feel?  If you aren’t up to it, you can always treat it as a good 26.2 mile workout …There will be other Boston qualifying runs if you miss the time you need.” 

I listened carefully, talked with Tracy and took stock of my feelings.  In the end I took Mary’s advice.  Again this year, I sneaked in alongside the 8 minute per milers, and got going.  It was a cool, misty morning, and the mist burned off a few miles after we crossed the St. John’s Bridge. The Bridge had some construction and road resurfacing underway, which made it so we had to dodge traffic cones, hop on the sidewalk, and back into the roadway about half way across the span.  As I got to the top of the on-ramp I saw a man on a skakeboard.  He looked as if he were pulling himself up the hill by his knuckles, and that he had no legs.  As we came to the road resurfacing patch, he jumped off the skateboard, balanced it on his head, and hobbled on his stump legs to the sidewalk.  He proceeded to hop back on the skakeboard and to knuckled his way to along the bridge path.

I started to cry to myself, “”How can I ever complain again?”  I decided to dedicate that race to my nephew, John Nagle, who would give his eye teeth to be in my position.

John Nagle IV who was born with Cerebral Palsy.  He will never be able to walk or run the way the rest of us can.  I once heard a fool say to John, “Wow, it must be cool to be able to zip around in a wheel chair like that!”  John replied, “It is not cool. I would rather be able to walk on two feet like you.”  John Nagle’s daily reality consists of dependence on others.  He is at the mercy of others as caregivers, especially his Mom, Libby.  John will never have the privacy or intimacy that many of us take for granted.  Every handicapped inaccessible place is a barrier to his participation, unless he is carried to the next place and has his wheel chair hoisted to that level.

We take for granted that there is nothing that prevents us from walking up a flight of stairs, or from jumping over a fallen log, or jogging along a rocky ravine.  All things considered, what a cool thing it is to be able to walk and skip and run and click heels.  How blessed are most of us in this world.

I felt pretty good as we ran by the University of Portland, and who should jump out and accompany me, but Cara Denver.  Cara worked with me at Nierenberg Investment Management, and she was on our H2C team that year.  She wanted to give me some company and to be a pace-setter for the last few miles.  She set a good pace and took over the task of talking, which was huge.  Listening to the conversation allowed me to take my mind off of my aching legs and lungs and to get in rhythm.  Cara provided just the inspiration I needed.  I did not have a watch, so I was not sure of my official time.  When Dave Ribbens finished, he walked up to the time sheets and watched while my finger when down the list of names and time.  Then we saw it. Hooper, Henry, Male, Portland, OR, 3:35:27.

I had qualified for the Boston Marathon by 32 seconds!  Neither Dave Ribbens nor Gerry Alkema met the standard for Boston, so although I was disappointed for them. I was pleased to be headed to Massachusetts the next April.  Mary Klaff was psyched to have a running companion in the family!

Micah True

In 1982 I took a trip with some friends from New Mexico, including John Mayer and Jim Bazemore, to Mexico to see the Barranca del Cobre, or Copper Canyon.  Stories I had heard said it was Mexico’s Grand Canyon, but that it was much more rugged and remote. John and Jim planned the trip, which took us to El Paso, Chihuahua, and Creel, before we arrived in the small town of Batopilas at the bottom of the Barranca.

barrancaBarranca del Cobre

When we arrived (by train) in Creel, we started to see the dark skinned native Indians who lived a mysterious nomadic life in these remote canyons.  We caught a lift in a truck, which carried us down the steep switch backs to the Batopilas River and we had a flat tire.  A local tribe of Indians were running by and they stopped to vulcanize the tire, secure the hole, and inflate the tire again.  Pretty ingenious.

C with guys

John told us a story about the Indians, known as the Tarahumara, which seemed part myth and part exaggeration.  The story went that the Tarahumara were a tribe of running nomads.  They planted corn and squash and other grains for vegetables, and they hunted deer for protein.  They hunted, however, without rifles, bows or arrows.  Instead of shooting the animals they ran them to death.  I did not believe the stories, but I did find them to be small people with amazingly strong legs and unusual rubber sandals with leather straps.

barranca 3

About three decades later I read the prize winning book, Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, and the author confirmed that indeed, the Tarahumara were some of the most outstanding tribe of runners in the world.  He also said that the human body was designed, with our bi-pedal locomotion and our sweat glands, to run in packs to chase down our prey on foot.  His theory that homo-sapiens were born to run was both a thrilling and a mind blowing concept to me.  It all made some much sense.

The main character in Born to Run is a white man, Caballo Blanco.  Caballo Blanco was in real life a man named Micah True, who had lived for about 10 years as a tenant in my step-brother’s house in Nederland, Colorado.  As strange as this coincidence seemed to me at the time, it all seemed possible and probable.  I confirmed with my sister, Mary Klaff, our step-brother, Malcolm Oliver, and they each knew the stories.  Micah True was Caballo Blanco, and he was the white guy who set up the famous foot race in Leadville, Colorado to determine if the Tarahumara were indeed the fastest long distance runners in the known world. If you don’t know the story, it is a hilariously funny book and a good read.  Take a look!

barranca 2Tarahumara Runners in the Barranca

The unfortunate news is that Micah True died in 2012 while on a trail in the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico.  The autopsy revealed no foul play.  Micah had been running alone and he had a heart attack.

With the stories of Jim Fixx, the born again runner, and other famous runners dying while running, it occurred to me that there may be a soda-masochistic angle to running marathons too.  According to Johns Hopkins Hospital researcher, Julius Pham, the risks of death are low, but they still exist.  Pham and his colleagues examined the records from over 300 marathons per year from 2000-2009 and found that the percentage of finishers increased by 58% over that period and the death rate dropped to 0.75% per 100,000 finishers  from the previous decade.  Interestingly, men were twice as likely to die as women (as reported in  http://www.Futurity.org).

fixx

The 2009 death rate of about 0.75 per 100,000 race finishers is comparable to the rate a decade earlier, researchers say. Men, however, were twice as likely to die as women.

Bean Town

With five months more to maintain my running before the Boston Marathon, I realized how hard it is to train outdoors year-around.  The mornings are cold and wet in the Northwest.  And the altitude is non-existent.  As a result, it can be pretty boring and lonely.  I was not part of a group of runners for this training.  Yes, I had my H2C buddies, but I did my training alone.  And the story of the loneliness of the long-distance runner is true.  All you have is yourself, and you better like yourself, because there is no one else around for companionship.

boston 1

The journey to Boston for the Marathon was a total trip!  We flew to Logan and took a cab to a local hotel, where we had a 15th anniversary gathering for the Bain crowd, who were investors in the D3 Family Funds and long-time friends of David Nierenberg.  We did not see Mitt Romney (MA Governor) or Orit Gadish (CEO Bain) on that particular trip, but we saw Tom Tierney, Ralph Judah, Bill Bain, Tony Brooke, Bob White, Josh Bekenstein, Geoff Rehnert, Marc Wolpow, their spouses and a lot of the usual suspects.  Cara Denver and I were there meeting most of these consultants and private equity investor -types for the first time.

I was able to get a ride out to Wayland, Massachusetts (ironically Wayland is Alberto Salazar’s home town) with Ralph Judah and his wife, Dena.  They dropped me off at the house of Forrest and Marcy Berkley, where I was staying for the night.  Forrest is one of my good friends and classmates from Yale.  Although he graduated early, we had kept in touch through school and marriages, and had even gone on hikes together in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina and California.  Forrest went on to become an international climber in remote places like Bhutan and Tibet and India.  He is in search of his own GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) and I have always admired his smarts, his guts and his generous spirit.

I was too wound up to sleep much that night, but enjoyed the crickets and the smell of summer in the air.  I awoke with a jolt, as my sisters, Millie LaFontaine and Mary Klaff, were supposed to pick me up on their way to Hopkinton, for the start of the marathon.  They were lost in the wilds of central Mass, and finally got to the house with no time to spare.  Off we went to the starting line and getting into the specific corrals.  Others have written more eloquently about the singing of the National Anthem with a Boston accent and the Air Force fly-over, but what struck me was the slow trudge to the starting line, and then the feeling of running, in unison, with athletes from all over the world, who had qualified for this great race with the same qualifying time.  I looked around and just marveled at seeing runners at their best.  No matter how fast we were, we had still earned the right to be there with these elite hoard of athletes.

I ran a satisfying race in Boston and was amazed at the size of the enthusiastic crowds, the deafening noise of the Wellesley women, and the speed of the winners.  There was a 15 mile an hour head wind that year and I really felt it.  The thin runners seemed to find the perfect slip screen, but it hit me like a door and caused me some considerable agony.  I will admit to walking along with some Jeff Galloway types along Mass Avenue, before we turned the corner to the finish, but I was as proud of crossing the finish line on Boylston Street as I had been in any other athletic endeavor.  I put my fingers up in a victory sign, just as those fleet African runners always do, which was pretty cool.

boston 3

Six years later (2011), I had the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon again.  The circumstances were quite different, but the outcome was again great.  My sister, Mary Klaff, had missed the sign up as there were some glitches in the on-line application and the marathon was filled, even for qualified runners, within 8 hours of the sign up.  I petitioned a friend of mine, Tom Grilk , who was chief legal counsel at Brooks Automation, one of our portfolio companies at Nierenberg Investment Management.  Tom was also the volunteer President of the Boston Athletic Association, the organization that sponsors the marathon and the local running clubs.

I wrote an e-mail to Tom telling him about my sister’s plight, and he said that he would offer me a pass to Boston on the condition that I ran with my sister.  I quickly agreed and said that we would make him proud.  I gave the pass to Mary Klaff as a Christmas present that year and she was flabbergasted!  I was so pleased that my connections had come through for her.  I also realized that since it had been 6 years since my last marathon, I had to get my sorry ass in shape, and quickly.  I did the best I could on the months before the marathon.  I was soon to be winding down my time at Nierenberg Investment Management, we were putting three girls through college, we were helping our aging parents, and I was trying to stay positive about my next prospects.

Mary and I flew to Manchester, New Hampshire and stayed with our sister, Millie LaFontaine and her husband, Mike.  Millie threw a fabulous “Lewis & Clark Expedition Dinner” for us and some guests, which was such fun!  Then Millie drove us down to Boston for the Expo and the sign-up for the Monday marathon.  The weather was perfect that Monday, with a slight tail wind all the way along the route.

Mary and I did a jig in the street at about mile 4, but lost track of each other after that and I finished about 5 minutes behind her.  I hoped to see Tom Grilk at the finish line, as his “usual position” is right in the grand stand on Boylston Street.  Tom has served as the announcer for the Marathon for many years.  This particular year he was called away, when my body finally crossed the line.  A Kenyan runner, Geoffrey Mutai, had set the record as the fastest marathon in history: 2:03:02, but it was not allowed as the world record, due to a technicality.  Tom was fielding some calls from television and radio programs around the world, which were asking him if he felt it were fair to hold fast to the rules, which allow the world record only to occur on courses that have circular courses.  The theory is that one way courses, like the Boston Marathon, can be “wind aided” and should be barred from world records.  Regardless, it was the fastest 26.2 miles in history.  And I was only a couple of hours behind him!

Kidding aside, I was glad that I had only lost about 3 minutes in time over the past 6 years.  I was not as slow as I had feared.  There was a glimmer of possibility that I would get those other marathons in, just in time, to hit my 64th birthday.

Torn Hamstring

I tore my hamstring in a freak accident in September.  I had flown to Virginia to attend a party called, NedFEST, outside of Roanoke, Virginia.  It was a festival of fishing and beer and boys misbehaving, that my brother Ned had invited me to again this year.  I decided that if I could get a few runs in during the trip, it would be OK to go.  I did run about 8 miles on two of the mornings, but I also fished poorly and decided to go along with the concoction of Dickel and Pickle.  Since you asked, it consists of a shot of George Dickel bourbon, followed by a chaser of dill pickle juice.  The pickle juice cuts the “burn” of the bourbon, and you can imbibe much more than you should due to the throat coating.  That night, I jumped over the fire, which was the challenge made to the “brothers” in attendance and I foolishly hurdled the fire, only to sprain my ankle on some hidden rocks on the other side of the fire.  Note to self: don’t drink at NedFEST and do anything foolish.

I flew back to Portland and did some extensive biking to cross train and not lose my muscle tone before the New York Marathon.  I was seeking the advice of Dave McHenry, who told me not to run, while the leg had time to mend.  There was a chance that I could still run the New York Marathon, but only if I was very diligent. I was attending a course at University of Portland one night, when I had a severe leg spasm.  I drove home in pain and things went from bad to worse.

I asked Tracy to drive me to the hospital and feared that I might have a DVT, or deep vein thrombosis, which was exacerbated by the long flight from Virginia and my exercise.  I was in the hospital for a few hours while the doctors and nurses performed a sonogram and physical check.  My good friend, and fellow NYC Marathon runner, Bruce Bolton, is an anesthesiologist at the hospital near our house.  Bruce happened to be on call at the hospital when I arrived.  He came to see my and when I saw him, I knew I would be in good hands.

I returned to Dave McHenry, who said that the New York Marathon was out for this year.  He said that he would help me through the recovery cycle as well as he could, but that he felt it would be about 6 months before I could run again.

Alberto 2

Meeting Alberto Salazar “14 Minutes”

Tracy was one of the volunteers for the Jesuit High School Financial Aid Luncheon, and we were invited to a reception for the 2012 speaker, Alberto Salazar, who had just published his autobiographical book, 14 Minutes.  The book chronicles his life and running trials since he was a youth.  Since he ran in the Boston area for much of his youth and in Oregon for much of his adult life, I have always been interested in his career.  Plus having had a daughter at Central Catholic High School, when Alberto was there discovering Galen Rupp, there seems an added affinity.  When Tracy mentioned the guest “book signing” we bought four copies of the book from Powell’s Books in Portland and brought them along for the evening.

As a special treat, I had some one-on-one time with Alberto.  I told him about my first meeting him in 1986.  I then said that I had torn by hamstring and could not compete in the NYC Marathon.  “Where did you tear it?”  He asked.  When I told him it was in the middle and that it was a class three tear, he said, “Oh, that is good. You will be back in no time.”  He went on to suggest that I find a good Physical Therapist to aid in my recovery.

I told Alberto that I was working with Dave McHenry at PACE in Portland.  He pulled me quickly aside and whispered, “Dave McHenry is my secret weapon!  I flew him to London to be with the US athletes during the Olympics last summer and he works wonders!”  When I mentioned the conversation with Alberto Salazar to Dave McHenry the next week in PT, he said, “I wish he would take the word SECRET out of his vocabulary.  I would like him to shout about me a bit more, which would help my advertising a lot!”

Needless to say it feels good to be in “good hands,” particularly as an aging runner, who needs the help.

nycmarathon nyc

New York Marathon

I switched from running in 2012 to 2014 NYC Marathon and I am looking forward to that run very much.  I can’t wait to be crossing the Verrizano Bridge with those other great athletes.

Assuming I finish it in respectable time, the ING-NYC Marathon will put me right on target with where I wanted to be.  It has been in the works for a long time.  I am enjoying it as it unfolds more than I thought I would.

Now what?

Back to the punishment part of running, I have lost nearly all of my toe nails, and blistered my heels, my bunions, and the bottoms of my feet.  I have chaffed my nipples and underarms to bleeding.  I have run through cramps, vomit and stomach aches more often than I care to admit:.  And I have hit the wall.  Yes, I have slammed into that mythical barrier between sanity and insanity, where there is nothing left of my body sugar, only lactic acid.  So, why do I do it again?  The reason may lie in the fact that I consider myself an athlete.  If I can’t play football, wrestle or play lacrosse competitively, how can I prove to myself that I am still worthy of that moniker?  My reply has been, that I am an athlete who runs.

After 10 Hood to Coasts, many 10K’s, 5 marathons, a dozen half-marathons, I can finally say out loud with satisfaction: I am a runner.  I will keep doing it as long as my knees, heart and mind cooperate.  At least that is my prayer.

Post Script

T10 50th

I got in touch with Dr. Gabe Mirkin a few months ago and he is still going strong.  He lives now in Florida, produces lots of articles on health and nutrition and he has moved to biking.  “It is easier on my joints,” he admits.  “Get your Dad out on a bike, it’ll do him some good.”  I know you are right Dr. Gabe, but my Dad’s exercise days seem to be over.  Keep on truckin’, Gabe.  We are still following you to recapture our life!

mirkin bike

10 thoughts on “Running: Run for Your Life

  1. I just read every word. You are the greatest and an inspiration to everyone who reads what you have written.

    This is the first time I have seen your writings.

    If you ever come to Florida, you are welcome to stay with us. We live in a retirement community of 110,000 people who do not have jobs. They just play all the time. We have an incredible biking community.

    Best,

    Gabe Mirkin

    • Dear Tom,

      Great to hear from you. I recently returned to get another masters at Univ of Portland and am well, teaching high school business and coaching wrestling at Lincoln High School in Portland.

      Hope all is well with you. David is still chugging away at D3. Working with Ed Grady at ESIO.

      All the best to you,

      — Henry

      • Henry,
        I am delighted to receive your letter.
        Just about every name is familiar to both of us.
        You are the very best.
        You should come to visit us in the largest retirement center in het world with more than 120,000 people who do not have jobs.
        300 people show up for week-day bicycle rides.
        We have free dancing to name bands in three town centers 365 nights a year.
        And so forth.
        http://www.thevillages.com

        I no longer can run, but we cycle more than 150 miles a week and it is all fast. We race three days a week for more than 30 miles and I do short intervals the other four days.

        It sounds like you are very busy and your climate is excellent.

        Best,

        Gabe

      • Gabe, so glad you are keeping up the exercise in such a grand style. I am still running, with hopes to run the Boston Marathon one more time before turning to your preferred mode: biking. Portland is a very bike friendly city. It would be an honor for us to host you, should your travels bring you this way.
        Warm regards,
        — Henry Hooper

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