I don’t remember the first time I heard Brent Manley talk about one of the many marathons he had either just finished or was getting ready to run. I do know that it probably took more than 25 years for the seed to begin to grow enough in my own mind.
I had the idea last year that I wanted to do something “momentous” and life-changing before my 70th birthday (next month), and the idea of running in a marathon took seed. I read about what the training consisted of, specifically for someone who had never run before, and I focused on programs that are also suited to the no-longer-a-teenager.
My intention was to honor my daughter, Samantha Eisenstein Watson, who runs the non-profit called The Samfund, which has given out close to $2 million in the past 15 years. She battled cancer twice from 1999 to 2001, at which time she received a life-saving bone marrow transplant. There isn’t much she can’t do, but she can’t run. So I decided I would run for her. With Brent’s guidance, I entered the lottery for the Chicago Marathon (no hills, he promised me) and in December of last year I received notice that I was “in.” And then it began….
To put the past year or so into “bridge” perspective, it was during last summer’s Senior Trials in Schaumburg that I first took to the streets in the early morning hours to run. It was also when I received some tidbits of training wisdom from Fred Stewart, a seasoned marathon runner. I entered my first race, a 5K, the day before the 2016 New York City Marathon, and had no idea what to expect. When I showed up at UN Plaza at 7 a.m. on Saturday, I was one of more than 11,000 runners who entered. I sure didn’t set any records that day, but I was hooked.
During the Fall NABC in Orlando last year, early mornings found me on the running trails around the Swan and Dolphin. By the time the Summer NABC rolled around this year, I was spending my mornings running along the beautiful Toronto waterfront, where I did my first long run (10 miles), accompanied by Val Kovachev. By then, the Chicago Marathon, once a distant goal, was 10 weeks away.
The rest of the summer and fall was spent running along the hills and trails of New York’s Central Park, and along the East River. As my three-mile morning runs became five-, six- and seven-mile runs, I started to think it was actually going to happen. I started a 16-week program run by New York Road Runners to prepare me, and with about a month to go I even started checking the weather forecast for Chicago.
On the Saturday night before the big day, Abbie, my wife, Brent and I had dinner with Chicago’s M&M man, George Jacobs, who wears a bright yellow M&M’s jacket to White Sox home games. Also there was his beautiful wife Stacey. Since it was George’s treat, he cleverly suggested a steak restaurant, knowing that Brent and I were looking to carbo load with pasta. My race preparation was now complete, having just been given an excuse for whatever went wrong the next day.
The Chicago Marathon is, I believe, the second largest marathon in the country. There were 45,000 runners, and as we waited our time in Corral L (for last) for over two hours until we started, I spotted one or two competitors I had a chance to beat. It was looking good.
Chatting with two young female runners (young as in young, not young by bridge standards), I casually mentioned that my friend Brent and I had participated in 57 marathons between us. One of them asked Brent how many he had run in. Obviously not a wingman, he answered, “Fifty-seven.”
I won’t bore you with the details of the next 26.2 miles. (My Garmin watch actually told me I covered nearly 28 miles, and I’m sticking with that.) We had a plan, and it worked to perfection – for the first dozen miles, at least.
The temperature reached 81 degrees. I had hoped for snow flurries. There was little if any shade the last 10 miles, and my ankle hurt. And then there was the minor issue that Brent and I separated somewhere around mile 11 or 12. I was alone, or at least as alone as I could be with 45,000 runners.
At mile 13, I embraced the smiling faces of Abbie, my daughter and her husband with their two children. There was no better feeling. At mile 20, when my five-year-old granddaughter Emmy ran after me in the street yelling “Run, Papa, run,” I knew that no matter what happened, or how long it took, I was going to finish the race. And at mile 25, when I saw Sam with my grandson Alex, I picked up the pace a little and found the strength to finish the final 1.2 miles.
I wore a custom-made shirt emblazoned with some special names on it. Samantha’s name was there, and below that Jeff, Jason, Jack, Stacey, Kim and Mandy. These six courageous young men and women – boys and girls, really – fought their own battles during the same years that Samantha did. They didn’t fare as well, but their courage made a lasting impression on me, and whenever I needed a little inspiration I looked at the names on my chest and found it. Their moms and dads were big supporters of mine during the time leading up to the race, and throughout that whole day. I also wore the name Becky … for Becky Miller. Karl Miller, a dear friend and a wonderful man, inspired me so much by the way he cared for her while she battled these last few years, I asked him for permission to honor her also.
Along the way, I also managed to raise $100,000 for The Samfund. The money will go a long way this year towards making a big difference in the lives of some of our grant recipients. I’m grateful to so many in the bridge world for their support as I trained this year. Many of them have been supporters of The Samfund for years now. I wish I could list them all here, but they know how much we all appreciate what they do.
It was a long day. I got to Corral L with Brent around 6:30 a.m. I crossed the starting line around
9 a.m., and the finish line seven hours and 11 minutes later. It wasn’t the result I was hoping for, but as Brent and my NY coach Phil told me, “You will finish.”
I never would have gotten to the starting line without the friendship and guidance provided by Brent, and I’m so grateful for that. And I never would have made it to the finish line without the support and sacrifices made by Abbie Cole, my better half, and the inspiration provided by my amazing daughter, Samantha, along with her husband, Adam, and our grandchildren Alex and Emmy.
Anybody want to join me for a run along the streets of San Diego? It’s only 11 months until the 2018 New York City Marathon.