Lowering the Bar at Albany, then Celebrating

05/05/2017 - 12:56

By Scott Ludwig, Running Journal

I’ve been running marathons since 1979. In every last one of them I’ve always had a goal; one that continued raising the bar higher and higher. Finish. Break three-and-a-half hours. Run through the wall. Break three hours. Qualify for Boston. Set a personal best. Set another personal best … and another.

Later, as age caught up with me and took its toll on my endurance and to an even greater degree my speed, the focus was no longer on raising the bar but rather on making each marathon a memorable one. I’m happy to say that I was never disappointed. It may have been because I was able to run in a new and exciting locale, help another runner achieve a personal goal or simply meet new people along the way who would all become friends for life.

The past few years the goal has simply been to turn each marathon into an adventure. It’s not that any of my marathons haven’t been, but rather to say that if that adventure no longer existed the thrill of running a marathon would be lost.

This morning, as I lace up my shoes for a marathon my goal is simply this: Don’t die. After suffering a heart attack a little over seven months ago, I think the goal is realistic. My heart doctor — who has given me a green light to continue running with one caveat, ‘Don’t push it’— is in my corner. Friends I’ll be running with today are both in my corner: Val, with whom I’ve run marathons for the past two dozen years, and Antonio, who is running his very first marathon and in all probability will be the last person I’ll ever personally have any influence on in becoming a long distance runner. They, as well as I, know there is a very real possibility that the thrill of pounding the pavement for most of the morning is also an open invitation for the Grim Reaper to rain on my 26.2-mile parade.

However, at 7 a.m. the three of us stand shoulder-to-shoulder with 1,000+ like-minded souls who understand that a healthy lifestyle is the best method of keeping death at arm’s length.

Val, Antonio and I enjoyed the cool, crisp morning running along the streets of Albany, Georgia to the constant cheers from the local citizens who more than once thanked us for coming to their fair city to run. No, Albany; thank you for having us. By noon Val completed another marathon, bringing her lifetime total to somewhere near 100. Antonio successfully finished his first, and by all indications there will be many more to come. As for me, I’m just happy to report I followed my doctor’s orders and it worked: I crossed the finish line, and I didn’t die.

I spent a cool, crisp morning running for a very long time with two of my closest running companions in one of the most runner-friendly cities I know. We all finished, and we got together afterwards to celebrate.

I would never have guessed that by setting the bar so low I was actually raising it higher than it’s ever been.

Epilogue: It was 38 years ago this month that I ran my very first marathon in Gainesville, Florida. Moments before the start I asked (then) University of Florida running coach Roy Benson for any advice he could offer. His response -- I can still hear it to this day -- was terse and to the point: ‘Don’t run marathons.’ He was dead serious.

Well, Coach, after 200+ marathons I’ve decided to take your advice. I can walk away with the knowledge that the bar is resting comfortably on the top rungs.

(Scott Ludwig is president and founder of Darkside Running Club (.com). He lives in the Atlanta area and is the author of 11 books – 7 about running – and is working on others. Scott’s book “Running to Extremes: The Legendary Athletes of Ultra Running” is now available. It features stories on Ray Zahab, Dean Karnazes, Larry Macon, Mark Covert, Ed Ettinghausen, Mike Morton, Tim Twietmeyer, Ann Trason and seven other amazing athletes of long distance running. You can find it on Amazon and most major booksellers. The book is inspired by and dedicated to the enduring memory and legacy of Ted Corbitt. Scott can be reached at He also has a blog at where his books are available – or at any major online bookstore.)

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