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Providence '93

I was asked to write about my first marathon and its impact on my life for the current issue of Runners, Japan's largest running magazine. This is a translation of the article.

As a teenager I watched Koichi Morishita and Young-cho Hwang battle in the men’s marathon at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and said, “THAT’s what I want to do!” A year and a half later at a university cross-country team party my teammate Jake said, “I’m doing a marathon in two weeks. Which one of you is going to pace me?” I didn’t even hesitate to say, “I’ll do it!”

Jake had an ambitious time goal, but even though I’d never run farther than 15 km I thought, “Yeah, that seems doable.” An older teammate, Sean, had done a year abroad in Greece and run the Athens Classic Marathon, and when he heard what we were planning he laughed and said, “You guys are stupid. You can’t run a marathon unless you’ve done this and this and this in training.”

And he was right. We were stupid. The next weekend, a week before the Blue Cross of Rhode Island Marathon, Jake and I did a 20 km trail run, the farthest I’d ever run. “OK, we're ready!” we said confidently.

We went out feeling easy and comfortable, me trying to figure out our pace whenever there were clocks along the course because we’d both forgotten our watches. Around 20 km there was a short downhill. Sometimes in XC practice Jake and I would hold our arms straight out to the sides and make airplane sounds as we zigzagged between the trees. We looked at each other and without a word started zooming madly around as we went down the hill with our arms out going, “NNNRRRAAAAWWWW!!!!!”

At 25 km I got our pace wrong and thought we had slowed down, so we started to go faster. At 30 km I suddenly got tired of running together and, with no warning, surged going into the drink station. Jake couldn’t keep up, and when I looked back he was walking, eventually finishing half an hour off his goal. It wasn’t a very nice thing to do, but hey, we were kids. It started getting harder after that and my vision started to blur, but all I could think of was Sean saying, “You guys are stupid.”

I almost missed the last corner because my eyes were so blurry, but somehow, thanks to youth, ego, stupidity, I finished a little more than three minutes under Jake’s time goal, my face completely white. A volunteer asked me if I was OK and I answered, “Yeah, I’m fine,” but I guess what came out didn’t sound like that because they immediately took me off to the medical area. I was totally hooked. I’d qualified for Boston, and as I lay there getting fluids I knew that would be my next marathon.

What I felt in Providence sparked a lifelong love of the marathon that still continues now, and from that love I’ve been lucky to make a career working in the running industry. Earlier this year the Barcelona Marathon asked me to escort Morishita, Hwang and Yuko Arimori to the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Barcelona Olympics.

When I think back to teenaged me watching them on TV and to the stupid 20-year-old who ran his first marathon the next year totally unprepared, and then to the me of today who was there with them 25 years later, running a marathon, it seems inexplicable and incredibly lucky. Like fate. Thanks to Morishita, to Hwang, to Jake, and even to Sean, when I crossed that first finish line the course of my life was permanently changed.

© 2017 Brett Larner, all rights reserved


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