The first race I ever watched was the Hyannis to Marstons Mills 25k race, which is about 15 miles long. This was in the early 1950s—road races didn’t attract everyone and his brother like they do today. You’d get 20 or 25 competitors and they were all serious distance runners . . . I was probably 10 years old and I lived on Pond Street in Osterville, and there were three or four of us boys that went up and saw these guys flashing through Main Street.
We all went home with crayons and put numbers on our white T-shirts and had a little mock race, and I didn’t even come close to winning (laughs). I remember these two skinny-minnies were way up in front of me and I thought, I guess you’ve got to be really skinny to do distance running.
There were about 20 years roughly that I went off and pursued a few different careers—working as a newspaperman, working in public relations, then there were the years spent in horse racing. I had turned into a severe alcoholic toward the later years of being in the horse business . . . People loved me all throughout my life. They were just rooting for me to not drink so much. There were many detoxes, halfway houses. It’s a part of who I am.
I knew that the best cure for a hangover would be a couple of quick drinks. But I’d start to motivate myself to go running, because I knew that running would start the endorphins racing around. It would somehow change my mental attitude. I’d always think that going out and running those four or five miles didn’t change my situation, but it made me feel like I’d be better able to cope with it.
When I came back to Cape Cod in 1980, I supported myself every which way—from mowing lawns to working in kitchens, everything. In this running class I teach at the high school, within the second or third week, I’m right up front about everything that’s happened in my life. Running is no cure for alcoholism, but it’s a help.
In 1991, I ran my first ultramarathon. That was a 50-miler in Coventry, Rhode Island. I ended up getting the course record for my age group . . . I’ve run a solo 50-miler from Centerville to Provincetown every year. And just to make it fun, I change the direction each year.
As you get older, you really lose your speed, almost cruelly—my best 100-yard dash time would be ridiculous. But the endurance, the stamina part of it, isn’t quite as affected. Your marathon times get slower, but they don’t seem as impacted by age as short races. And I love these multi-day races that I’ve gotten into simply because if you’re tired, you can take a quick rest and sit down for 15 minutes. Then lo and behold, there’s life in the old boy yet.
The first time I ran the Self-Transcendence Six-Day Race, I’ll admit it, after the second day I was ready to quit. But you find ways to get around this or that. You take two or three aspirin and find, “Well, I can continue.” Or you can take a nap and get some energy back. When I ran 332 miles this year, at 71, that was outstanding for my age group.
It’s not like a masochistic thing. Believe me, if it was, I wouldn’t do it—I’d rather go fishing. It’s very difficult to talk to somebody who isn’t into it, because you forever have the feeling that they’re rolling their eyes. I want to emphasize this: I love to watch football, I like to read, I love people. But this is something that I’m very good at.
Growing up here was ideal—the natural waterways, the woods, and the freedom of that era. It wasn’t unusual for us to make a skiff, go quahoging, go fishing—every kid knew how to fish. You could just walk on the course and play a few holes of golf. And for all the changes that have happened on the Cape, Osterville’s been very fortunate. I’ve got three ponds practically in my backyard, and that hasn’t changed because they haven’t allowed any building. My grandkids come and I can take them on the same little paths I went on as a kid.
Lately, because I’m a member of a gym on North Street in Hyannis, I’ll run through town to go there. There’s so much in Hyannis, it’s such an interesting and diverse area. A lot of times I’ll run from the gym up to Sunset Hill in Hyannisport to do my hill repeats, and the whole time you’re running by these mansions owned by Kennedys and all these really wealthy people.
If anyone wants to see the diversity of these different areas, with a kayak, you can go right up to the back door of some of these mansions that you can’t drive to. Even today, I’m astounded when I kayak to Cotuit or Popponesset—some of these houses are bigger than the conference center in Hyannis. I can’t get over that. What kind of a budget would you need just for the landscaping?
I always tell people about the ’96 Boston Marathon. That was the 100th anniversary and what was my 20th Boston Marathon. As a special feature of that race, instead of getting your medal when you crossed the line, they had everyone go up three or four blocks to Boston Common, where they gave you the medal on what looked like an Olympic-style podium, and you had your picture taken. My God, it was no more than 15 yards from the base of the statue I used to sleep against. I was crying like a baby at that point, but all I could think was how many miles I had come. As they say, there’s another life out there.