Friday, July 06, 2001


I really don't remember when I first thought about running the Honolulu Marathon. I think it was about two years ago when I just happened to be cruising Queen's Surf in Waikiki. It was December, 1995, and I had bailed from Guerneville to avoid the floods that I knew were coming. And all of a sudden I saw all these people and tents and loud speakers and LOTS and LOTS of really handsome Japanese men with these fabulous LEGS! And running shorts!!! Skimpy running shorts!!!
I had been diagnosed with AIDS only about 15 months prior to this time and had been living with HIV since 1986. I had a bout with pneumocystis pneumonia in September 1994 and had just "retired" from my job at the Post Office in Monte Rio/Guerneville, California in June 1995. But my official "retirement" date was December 1995. And here I was in Hawaii and the seeds of Honolulu Marathon were planted in my brain (do I have to pay royalties to Simon and Garfunkel?).
Protease inhibitors were just coming on the scene and Dr. Kubota and I talked about starting on one of them along with a couple of new nucleoside analog drugs (new to me anyway). So I began a daily regimen of Saquinavir with d4t and ddi. They seemed to work but not as well as we had anticipated due to Saquinavir's low bioavailability. In August, 1996, we added Ritonavir to the mix and within a couple of weeks my viral load was down from a high of 300,000 to only about 1,000. And it got even better--down to below detectable levels since November, 1996.
So with a renewed sense of hope and further improvements in my overall health, sometime in early 1996 I contemplated training for the marathon. I say "contemplated" because after just a few stints of hitting the pavement, my left knee started bothering me. Some of my friends at the Airport Club said that the injury sounded like a "medial meniscus" problem. Needless to say, I had always felt that "if you put off until tomorrow what you can do today, you might die during the night and get out of it." So I didn't make an appointment with a doctor and stopped training for the marathon and blew the whole thing off. But I didn't give up going to Honolulu for the winter!! No way! I headed back in November, 1996, and went to the marathon anyway just to watch.
Well, to say it was emotional is putting it mildly. I stood at the finish line and watched those ragged and tired bodies drag themselves across the finish line after 26.2 grueling miles of pavement pounding and I cried. There were 12 year old children and 86 year old grandmothers and even a Japanese man dressed in Samurai clothing and wearing those strange wooden clogs. Yes, he ran the entire race in those wooden clogs!!! I even saw a young man, probably around 14 or 15 who ran the entire race barefoot!! And there were many many people who were in much worse physical condition than I was at the time. And my resolve was renewed right then and there. If they could do it so could I.
That month, December 1996, I went to the Running Room (a sporting goods store in Honolulu) and found an inexpensive pair of New Balance running shoes and started hitting the pavement. Of course, I had met this handsome guy from Malaysia who was a runner and what did you expect? We went running together--about 2 times. And my running shoes gathered dust for a couple of months. And my old medial meniscus problem flared up. And not wanting to armchair quarterback my own injuries, I made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon in Honolulu. The remedy suggested at that time was to give me a cortisone shot to combat the swelling from probable arthritis and after researching it I decided that was the best option for me at the time. My knee got better and I continued with my aerobics classes but not running.
Some time around March, 1997, I made a coffee date with a nurse friend of mine. Someone I had met while hospitalized with my first bout of pneumocystis. We had maintained an ongoing coffee or lunch relationship since September, 1994. At one of our coffee dates, she reminded me that she was a runner. So I asked her if we could run together and we made a date for the following Tuesday. And we kept a running running date (!) for nearly five months. It didn't take me long to build up the miles. We usually only ran four or five miles but it was enough. My stamina had already improved from the regular aerobics classes that I took. But running was different. My lungs were screaming for more oxygen and after only about three miles my ilia tibia band started hurting like crazy. So when that happened, I would walk for a little and then power walk for a while and then jog some. But I was able to get my time down to about 10 to 11 minutes per mile. Not bad for an old fart with AIDS!
I also had another ulterior motive for running the marathon in 1997. That was the year that I was to reach that milestone age where grown men act like anything but in order to convince everyone else that they are not really as old as the birth certificate certifies. Yes folks, this hunky and young looking dude has finally reached the half century mark. And I had to do something extreme to mark the date. So why not run a marathon? And the miles continued to climb.
In August, I caught a nasty cold/flu and quit training--little did I know I wouldn't start training again until the middle of November, just five weeks before the marathon. Plus I went to Tarzana for a family wedding and dog sitting job in early September. And caught another cold that lasted about three weeks. By then it was almost October and I hadn't trained for two months. It is really difficult getting back in the swing of things once you have been away for a while. Especially when it is something that is "good" for you. Old slug habits die hard.
I was also busy at this time preparing for a big 50th birthday party that I planned as a kickoff for not only my second half century but also the commencement of the "Dead Man Running" tour. I had been given a 24 month life expectancy after my first bout with pneumocystis in 1994 and I figured that I was about 12 months into overtime. So what do you do with this time? You find a way to say "thank you" to the many people who had helped keep me alive. And not just Food For Thought, the AIDS food bank, but also the many friends and lovers who had gone before. They all had a part in teaching me how to keep myself going.
So with this in mind, I set out to get sponsors and pledges from all my friends and relatives for me to run the marathon with the proceeds going to Food For Thought (in lieu of birthday presents). And we had a wonderful 50th Birthday Celebration and Dead Man Running Kickoff on November 9, 1997, at the Oddfellows Hall in Guerneville. Approximately 100 people joined me (and many others who couldn't be there) in the celebration. Not only was a great time had by all but over $2800 was raised for Food For Thought!
And even when I got to Hawaii around November 16, 1997, and I knew the marathon was only about a month away, I still got only about five days of running in. And those days were only about five miles each time. So it begs the question, "What the hell was I doing dragging my ass out at 5:00 a.m. on a perfectly beautiful Hawaiian Sunday, December 14, 1997 to pound the pavement for 26.2 miles? And just who the hell did I think I was kidding?"
The night before the marathon I had gone to bed at around 8:30 p.m. and had set my alarm for 3:00 a.m. I woke up at around 1:00 a.m. and was so keyed up that sleep was not in the running for me. I lay there for over an hour before I finally gave up and started getting ready for the marathon. Too many decisions to be made while still foggy from lack of sleep, like which shorts to wear (you know, to make me stand out!) and which of my three pairs of shoes and many pairs of socks would be less likely to cause blisters, and how much of the "Skin Lube" to spread on my feet and between my toes also to avoid blisters. Since I had been dealing with peripheral neuropathy for the last year or so, I was especially concerned about blisters because trying to determine whether the shoes fit properly was relegated to mostly a guessing game. Obviously I must have guessed correctly because after 26.2 miles of pavement pounding I did not have one blister!!! Oh joy of joys!! The only decision I didn't have to worry about was which shirt to wear.
The shirt I wore had a logo on it that was a "custom" job designed by John DeSalvio that included a graphic of a running skeleton overlaid on a circular purple background with "Dead Man Running" in yellow around the edges of the circle with a banner across the middle in yellow with purple letters spelling out "Honolulu 1997." It was beautiful--and my favorite colors also!! And on the back of the shirt I had written the names of many of my friends and lovers who had died from AIDS as a memorial to them and as a source of inspiration for me.
There is a gay runner's club here in Honolulu called the Frontrunner's. I had gone with them a few times and on one occasion I met a man from San Francisco named Jon. He was here for the marathon also and since he was staying at a hotel near my apartment, we made plans to meet up the morning of the marathon and walk together to the start line about one mile away. During the walk to Ala Moana Park, the starting line, I discovered that Jon used to work for Emporium Capwell in San Francisco. When I asked him in what area of Emporium he had worked , he replied "display." I excitedly turned around and asked him if he recognized one of the names on the back of my shirt. And when Jon saw "Marv Smith" on my shirt, he exclaimed, "Marvelous Marv!! We had such fun times together at work. We all loved him. Too bad he is gone." It truly is a small world. Needless to say, my spirits were lifted and I knew I would have no problems in finishing the 26.2 miles that lay in front of me.
When the starting gun exploded, over 26,000 people stepped off on a journey that I at least will never forget. One of the people I had met at the beginning of the race had already completed four marathons in the past two months. And here I was a virgin wondering if I would poop out somewhere in the middle of the race--literally! My younger brother had instilled the fear of diarrhea in me. He had been a marathoner in years past and would more than once tell me the story of having to squat behind a parked car somewhere in the middle of the Chicago Marathon. And we all know the medicines that most of us with AIDS take don't usually keep us concerned with constipation. Not to bore you with the gory details, suffice to say I didn't once have to show my derrier to the admiring crowd!
I was pleasantly surprised that the first 13 miles seemed to melt away as I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. And sidestepping and jostling and saying "on the left!" and "on the right!" so many times I almost forgot which was left and which was right. But after about 13 miles, my ilia tibia band and my left knee and my calves and my gluteals and my hamstrings and my feet and my ankles and just about every other muscle and ligament and tendon and bone and and and and...in my lower body were screaming in pain. I found that if I walked for a while and then race walked and maybe jogged a little, I could keep the pain at a minimum. And I kept wondering if I could really do it.
I found myself lost in my own world after a while. Even though I was surrounded by all these people, I was thinking about all those names on the back of my shirt. And I smiled. And I cried. And I laughed. It wasn't me running a marathon--it was us. And there was no way that all of us were going to stop before the finish line. The force from behind me was unstoppable. Of course, if you look at pictures of the marathon, you know that you don't want to stop. If you do, you get run over.
At one point I saw a Japanese couple doing the traditional Japanese photo taking. He took her photo in front of a Honolulu Marathon banner and then they traded places. So I pantomimed to them that I would take their picture? So they smiled and gave me the camera and I took their picture for them. After many giggles and arigato's, I went on my way. I had stopped to stretch my muscles and the woman of the Japanese couple came up to me and offered me one of her bananas, which I gratefully accepted and did my best at saying arigato!
Several times during the race people would ask me what the "Dead Man Running" logo on my shirt meant and after I told them, I got nothing but support and many hugs and much love . And one woman told me that a friend from work had died from AIDS in November, 1997. I asked her if she wanted to write his name on my shirt--I could sure use the assistance! Somewhere near the end of the race, I came up behind this old woman and wondered how the hell she had stayed in front of me for so long. She
must have been trucking along with the best of them. As I passed her and gave her the thumbs up, I said "lookin' good!!" She looked at me and said "and so are you!! Go for it!!" I can still see the twinkle in
her eyes. Her skin was the skin of a lizard but her eyes were so clear and young. Is it true that our eyes are
the windows to our soul? Hmmmmm....
As we headed up the back side of Diamond Head on the last two miles of the race, many of the people weren't running anymore, including me. Oh, I would try to run for several hundred feet but everything hurt so badly when I did that I would stop running and go back to walking rather quickly. I crested the hill at Diamond Head and was slowly moving downhill towards Kapiolani Park and the finish line. About a half mile or more before the finish line I heard a man's voice on a PA system saying that for those of us who wanted to finish the race in under six hours (the unofficial dividing line between the wimps and the winners) we had better get moving. We had only three minutes to get there. To me, it felt like someone had thrown down the gauntlet. I told my legs to get moving and they screamed "no way, Jose!" So I reminded them that there was a massage scheduled for right after the race and that I would not torture them anymore for the rest of the year and I would not wear shoes for two weeks and all of a sudden, the pavement was flying by me and I could feel the wind in my face. I was moving again--fast by my standards. And nothing was going to stop me.
And there was Hitoshi, my boyfriend, in the crowd alongside the race course near the finish line waving my bright yellow t-shirt (our signal so I would be able to see him and other friends who had come to see the Dead Man crawling). And he told me to stop so he could take my picture. Ha ha ha ha--yeah, right! And maybe while I am at it, I could take the time to manicure my nails and maybe even make a Christmas wreath out of the discarded water cups and sponges from the aid stations along the way. And did he think I had time to do my karaoke version of "Unchained Melody"? After all, we must have had all of two minutes to waste. So the only photo Hitoshi has of me in the race is of my handsome backside disappearing into the finish line chute--after five hours 58 minutes and 52 seconds. I had made it in under six hours! Six hours that seemed more like six years.
Hitoshi had prepared a picnic lunch and brought it to the Finish Line so he, Mike, Vern, and I sat and ate on the lawn near the tent where the finisher's t-shirts were. People milling about all around us but I didn't care. I was hungry and I needed to get horizontal. And after lunch Hitoshi and I took a cab over to my masseur's house for the much needed and appreciated body work. The cab ride was all of about three blocks. Seemed a little incongruous after just completing 26.2 miles of foot work putting myself into a cab for a three block ride. I don't think I have ever enjoyed a massage as much as that one. Even though it hurt I knew (and my legs knew!) that it was the best thing I could do for them.
I was fully prepared to be out of commission for a while but miraculously I was back to my normal self within about a week. And the marathon was just a memory. But what a memory. Even now when I am writing about it a month later, tears well up in my eyes. And a smile creeps across my face. I was verging on crying so many times during the race. I just kept thinking about the names on the back of my shirt that were pushing me ever onward. And Hitoshi gave me a card after the race that said that I should be treated like royalty for the day! (Uh-uh--don't go there!) And in his words, he said "You maid (sic) it!" I didn't have the heart to tell him that the maid didn't do it--WE did! Thanks guys!!