Friday, October 23, 2009

In The Lead

I’ve thought of this many times since it happened, but have not written about it.  It’s about a moment or two of feeling an almost blissful pride combined with being in incredible shape.

It was two weeks after the September 11th attacks had occurred.  I had been running with a marathon-training group called the L.A. Roadrunners, which met on Saturday mornings in Venice.  The long training runs would either go south from the grassy knoll area near the outdoor weight platform on the boardwalk, or they would go north.

The weekend after September 11th, there was no run.  Los Angeles, as the rest of the known world, was in such a frenzy that pretty much everything was canceled.  So I was out with the running group the first session that picked up after the attack, as I said, two weeks after the tragedy.

On this training run, which was still early in the training cycle, we were probably running something like 14 miles that morning.  The way a lot of these running groups such as ours and L.A. Leggers work is that since they have so many people of varying abilities, they split everyone into pace groups. For instance, there will be a 8:30 minute per mile group with a pace leader who keeps everyone on pace.  And there will be a 9:00 min/mile group with it’s own pace leader, and so on.

During this run, I happened to be in the middle of my most successful and prolific running block to date; an 18 month training period where I was running between 50-70 miles per week, doing a lot of races of differing lengths, and running marathons every four months.  The result, in addition to achieving an 18:21 5K, a 40:08 10K, a 1:28:53 Half Marathon and a 3:15:42 Marathon, which by the way was run in Vancouver and which qualified me for the 2002 Boston Marathon, was that I was in spectacular shape.

So, before the training run, Coach Pat Connelly, a retired LAPD officer who for years organized this training club, told the rather large group that the lead group, the group that I trained with which was a 7:00 min/mile pace group, would carry the American Flag.  We, in this group, got out to the boardwalk where we started running and it was decided that we would trade off carrying it.

Now, this wasn’t a little flag, or just the flag itself, this standard sized American Flag was attached to a heavy metal pole, which was about four feet tall.  The plan was that everyone would see this flag as we ran by them, I supposed.  We would each take it for a mile and trade off, and there were five of us in this group.

So we started running north towards the Santa Monica Pier.  That’s 2.5 miles from where we started, and from there, we started running up the pier bridge that takes you up to the Ocean Park Bluffs where we turned onto Ocean Park Avenue and headed towards the North part of Santa Monica, and then on into Brentwood via San Vicente.  So about a half-mile after this turn from the pier bridge onto Ocean Park Avenue, after three of the guys had carried the flag already, it was apparently my turn, because it was handed to me.  And keep in mind that we are running 7:00 minute miles, which is not slow to say the least.

I took the American Flag on its pole and discovered that it was a heavy pole.  And I mean, heavy.  I ran in the lead with it as my four other lead runners followed me.  There were a lot of police cars patrolling given what had just happened two weeks before, and every time a police car passed us, they would flip on their spinning blue lights out of respect for the flag passing them.  It was an amazing feeling, both to be in the kind of shape I was in to be in the lead of the lead-pack carrying something that cumbersome, and also to be carrying our nation’s flag and be saluted by the many officers driving by.

My mile with the flag turned into two miles and the next guy who was supposed to take it wanted to wait and told me, “Just hang onto it for a little while longer,” but eventually he took it.  We cycled with the flag several more times during our long run, and all of the fatigue of having carried it for all of those miles was worth it.  It’s a proud memory for me.