Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Marathoners: Whoops, Too Late

I’m a child of marathon runners, and a distance runner myself. But I have managed to keep the marathon bug at bay my whole life–even the half-marathon! Without going into detail, let’s just say I watched my parents train and race enough to decide, at a young age, that this marathon thing did NOT look like fun.

My folks, in the 1970s, finishing a Ride and Tie—a kind of cross-country marathon with horses, and mountains. (Only the finish looked fun to me!)

The Mate’s and my sons are the children of non-marathoning distance runners. And we thought that they had inherited that particular set of genes. But we thought wrong. This coming weekend, Son Two will run his first marathon, at age 26. Apparently marathoning can skip generations. (Thanks, Mom & Dad.)

Son Two finishing a 5k a few years ago

Actually, I’m fine with the whole thing. Son Two is, admittedly, a tad under-trained, but he’s smart enough to take it easy and even quit at the threat of injury. I also admire the way he got into the race: not the usual “I must test myself” stuff, but “yeah, a friend asked me to keep him company, so I said yes.” And honestly? I’m a little bit proud of the family tradition asserting itself after all.

Not only were my parents marathoners, my mom in particular was a very GOOD one. In the 1970s, when the running craze first peaked, she set a national age-group record at 39. And therein lies a tale.

See, Mom chose the Buffalo to Niagara Marathon as her first–can’t remember why; maybe its lack of giant hills. Because Niagara Falls used to be considered the classic honeymoon spot, and because honeymoons USED to be when nice young women lost their virginity, she was struck with the parallel between running one’s first marathon and…you know. So she wrote a little story about it and sent it to Runner’s World.

Would you believe they thought it was too risqué? (Can’t believe those editors missed the chance to call it “too racy.”) So it never got published (except by my folk’s local track club)…

…until now. Without further ado, in honor of marathoners and women everywhere, I present “Honeymoon At Niagara,” by Martha Klopfer:

They stood together by the railing and gazed at the falls. Entranced at the swirling ropes of falling water, she wondered how such continual motion could resolve itself into something so constant, so beautiful. She raised her eyes to his and he smiled and squeezed her hand. Softly her mind shifted from the mystery of Niagara Falls to that other mystery she was soon to encounter. She was aware of prickles of nervousness and wished she could shrug them off. It wasn’t that she was afraid or thought that she wasn’t ready. In fact, she had gone pretty far already, even if she hadn’t yet gone all the way. It was just that you couldn’t really know what it was like until you had done it.

She leaned closer against him and took comfort from his strength. It was easier for him because he had done it before, and besides, he was a man. What was she worrying about, anyway? Certainly, she had read enough about it. She knew all about the importance of timing, and things like that. He had told her that he had trouble holding himself back long enough, but she didn’t think she’d have that problem. She was more worried about just finishing. No! She didn’t want to start thinking about the mechanics now. The most important thing was to relax. After all, one was supposed to enjoy it.

She shivered in spite of herself, and he put his arm around her and suggested that they go back to the motel. This would not be the time to catch a cold, would it? She heard the nervousness in his laugh and felt a rush of love tinged with amusement. His prior experience didn’t make him immune to the jitters either!

At dinner it was even more obvious to her that he was as nervous as she was. They talked about all sorts of unrelated things, but he was playing with his spaghetti more than eating it. Their half-filled plates were carried away. No doubt the waiter was used to that in Niagara Falls, she thought. It amused her, knowing what hearty appetites they usually had.

Back in their own motel room, they quickly got ready for bed. She suggested watching TV for awhile, because it really was so early. She was glad enough to snuggle against him in bed, but she still sought the distraction of their electronic companion. Was she really ready, she wondered?

Then, firmly decisive, he reached over and turned out the TV and the light. Tenderly he kissed her, then said goodnight, and rolled over. They should both try to get a good night’s sleep before the Marathon tomorrow.

Note: She was 4th of 17 women, 125th of 420 starters overall, in a time of 3 hours, 22 minutes, 12 seconds; age 39. First marathon, and a North American age record.

Notice that last bit? Told you she was good, didn’t I?

Mom still runs. Here she is in 2015, celebrating her 80th birthday with a mile on the track.

Why couldn’t I have inherited those legs???

So here’s to you, son. And you, Mom & Dad. And to all of y’all with more grit than me, doing what’s hard for whatever reason, because you want to test yourself, because it’s there, or just because a friend asked you to. Thanks for your example. Now, GO!!!

“I’ll Put a Girdle ‘Round the Earth in 20 Minutes”–ok, Maybe Years…

24,901 miles. 40-some-thousand kilometers. That’s one big girdle!

Puck (in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream) got the job done in 20 minutes, seeking out that famous love-potion flower.

(Original image from NYC ballet, courtesy

(Original image from NYC ballet, courtesy

But I get bragging rights. I’ve run around the world THREE TIMES. I’m willing to bet all distance runners do this sooner or later:

  • calculate our weekly mileage, allowing for known variation over the years
  • multiply that number times the number of weeks in a year
  • subtract a small percentage for illness and injury
  • multiply the total times the number of years we have been running

...Voilá! Le grand total: 75,000 miles and counting.

My secret? Not marathons. NO WAY. Never ran one of those, never plan to. Watched both my parents training for ’em as I grew up, and that cured me of any desire to suffer ridiculously for three-plus hours run one.

No super-long runs either. The longest races I’ve ever run were good ol’ 10ks (6.2 miles); the longest training run, 15 miles, and that only once.

Nope. All I’ve done is run, mostly 3-6 miles, usually 5-6 times a week…for a long, LONG time. I’ll be 52 next month. I started running when I was 7 1/2. (You do the math; my brain is tired from all that mileage calculation.)

It sure wasn’t my idea to start running as a 3rd grader. My dad, a scientist, was one of the original Health Nuts of the late 1960s, and when he learned that running improved your cardiovascular system, it therefore followed that NOT running would lead to an early grave, right up there with eating hot dogs. So we became a family of runners, by paternal decree.

I hated it.

My sister and I used to run down our country road in North Carolina for our little 2-milers, sneak into the woods, check our watches till enough time had elapsed, then run home, panting heavily. Let’s just say I was no Zola Budd, bounding around like an eager gazelle.

But…I was fast. Put me in a couple of races…I beat people. I beat GROWNUPS. I loved that. I loved medals and ribbons and later, trophies. I kept running, and training, but for the wrong reason: ego.

Except that ego kept me in the sport. And, like early religious training, that depth of immersion causes a certain amount of internalization–swallowing the river water in which you’re baptized, so to speak. My river was FITNESS. And 45 years later, I am truly grateful to my dad for doing that to me.

Sure, I had my years of rebellion. In college I walked off the track team…in the middle of a race (not proud of that). In my 20s I quit again, gained weight, decided I liked myself better as a runner, came back to it more seriously than ever. I also gave up racing in my late 30s, tired of fighting a painfully persistent hamstring injury. But now, in my 50s, I still run.

Not every day. These days, in fact, my mantra is “A mile’s a mile.” That means I can walk or hike or jog at any pace and it still counts as mileage. It just might take longer. (OK, strolling through a museum doesn’t count. Note to self: look up WHY STROLLING THROUGH A MUSEUM IS SO FRIGGIN’ EXHAUSTING EVEN WHEN IT ISN’T BURNING ANY CALORIES.) I’ve even worked out my own cool little equation to compare miles on a bike to running miles.


Because, yup–I’m still counting. Workin’ on that fourth girdle.

How about your own sports history? Were you raised with a sport that saw you through? Have you had to invent yourself as an athlete? Do you have a sport or fitness activity that you rely on every day? What does that sport do for you? Let us hear!