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People forget years and remember moments. -Ann Beattie

Day had turned to night some time ago. We were walking now, the quiet of a cool night enveloping us. We had just completed a stretch of the course that ran in front of bars, restaurants and college town stores. The crowd had been enthusiastic but the spectators were starting to get tired, too. The course turned onto a silent street. For a brief while, it was just the two of us, Katie and me, walking. The last glow of day had turned to a deep, deep blue in the western sky outlining the majestic old red brick Science Building. Katie moved faster. I walked a step behind. I said something to her. She said something to me. Seven words, total. We fought back tears. A minute of silence passed.

“OK, let’s start to run when we get to that street and turn right.”

Katie nodded.

September 2002

Fifteen years, almost to the day, had passed since Katie put her hand in mine. Our ten-year old daughter and I ran the last 100 yards of the first Ironman Wisconsin. If you ask her, she would say that’s when a dream began. I wasn’t that bold. I couldn’t picture having Katie by my side for practically an entire Ironman.

Body Glide

Like most hobbies, Ironman has insider tips and tricks. Several pre-race briefings for each Ironman race let participants know what to expect and share a few of those tips and tricks. Having done 18 prior Ironman races, I had ceased to learn much at athlete briefings but since this was Katie’s first Ironman, I recommended that we go.

In a conference center ballroom with about 200 participants, an Ironman staffer gave the briefing. The staffer advised those new to Ironman about the best use of special needs bags, large plastic bags into which each participant places items to access at the midpoint of each of the bike and run legs of the race. He suggested that salty snacks always taste good. Then he made one more suggestion.

“For those of you who don’t know about the product Body Glide, I suggest that you go buy some. Throw it in your run special needs bag. By the time you’ve run 13 miles, I guarantee you will know exactly where to apply it.”

That got a laugh from true believers like me. Body Glide had done wonders for me through the years. It helped my wetsuit slide on over my legs and prevented chafing under my arms on the run. Those who have ever applied deodorant to chafed underarms following a marathon understand why this is a very big deal. (Hint: Applying my Old Spice after a marathon has occasionally made it feel as though the flames of hell were licking my underarms, if that gives you the picture.)

Practice Ride

For years, I had touted my traditional Friday afternoon bike ride but I had last enjoyed company on that ride 15 years ago. Friday afternoon got away from us; we meant to take both a bike ride and swim but no longer had time. Katie knew how much I liked the bike ride and insisted that we go.

We rode around Capitol Square and down State Street. I narrated the final mile of the run course. Then I told Katie that I really couldn’t tell her how she would feel when rounding the last corner and heading into the finish chute. She would need to feel that for herself.

We rode up Bascom Hill, the terror of the run course, then west to the marching band practice field. From a couple of blocks away, we could hear the University of Wisconsin Marching Band play “Rhapsody in Blue.” We parked our bikes against the chain link fence and watched the kids hop-step to the music while belting out Gershwin. The band director stopped the band several times, in each case wanting bigger, bolder.

“Sell it! Sell it!”

I silently hoped that he would not hop in the van with our family on Sunday. Clearly, he was not easily pleased and would find our Sunday afternoon marathon shuffle on the running path nearby lackluster.

Our next stop was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unitarian Temple. Confession: I am a big Frank Lloyd Wright fan but we had no time for me to bore Katie with noting the horizontal aspect of the stone work and its contrast to the steep roof of the cathedral. Even so, it meant a lot to me for Katie to experience something that I so enjoy.


Practice Swim

Katie felt nervous about the swim. I didn’t wonder why. For 15 years, Katie had watched me begin Ironman races with roughly 2,500 other swimmers thrashing and bobbing in a frothy sea of chaos. It’s scary. Fortunately, Ironman recently consulted the U.S. Constitution’s Eight Amendment and learned that mass swim starts crossed into “cruel and unusual” territory. Ours would be a six wave start beginning with the professionals at 6:40 a.m., Katie’s wave of younger triathletes at 6:45, and ending with my geezer wave (more like a ripple) of women over 50 and men over 55. This would segregate us into more manageably-sized groups of roughly 400 swimmers each and avoid the dreadful thrash. Unfortunately, the swimmers bearing the heaviest testosterone load would start five minutes behind Katie. So Katie faced the unenviable prospect of being an aquatic doormat for two or three waves of mercilessly competitive swimmers coming up behind, through and over her.

We decided to swim on Saturday morning at just about the same time we would race the following day so that Katie could get used to the natural conditions – the sun rising, the chilly water, the bright blue sky.

We pulled on our wetsuits. (Thanks, Body Glide!) Katie repeated her emergency procedures. If dunked by an overly vigorous swimmer proceeding directly over her, she would make it to the surface, tread water, sight down the orange and red buoys marking the course, take a few breast strokes, then lower her head and keep swimming.

Once zipped into our wetsuits, we entered the water exactly where we would leave shore 24 hours later. Katie lowered her face into the water and took some pretty strong breaths but she didn’t hyperventilate as she had feared. We took a few strokes onto the course and began to swim more smoothly. The sun cast the Monona Terrace convention center in orange against the bright blue sky. Rhythm took over. Gulls flew overhead. Sounds from land receded, replaced by the swishing of each stroke. It would have been unkind for me to let that last.

I began to harass Katie. I started by swimming up directly behind her and knocking into her feet with each stroke, much as happens when a swimmer drafts behind another to let the front swimmer do the hard work. Not satisfied that I had upset her, I swam close beside her, my left arm interfering with the stroke of her right. Her rhythm remained steady. Finally, I put my left hand on her right shoulder and pushed her down. Katie popped up and looked at me.

“Dad, I know what you’re doing.”

I smiled and said, “Excellent! Let’s swim back.”


Des Moines restauranteurs and merchants grieve every year during Ironman Wisconsin weekend. Many think that the Iowa-Iowa State football game draws people from Des Moines to Ames or Iowa City but its really just our family leaving for Madison. Here we are going to dinner the night before the race.


L-R, front: Katie, Harper Cope, Davis Cope (a broken finger, not THE finger), Ann Long, Margy. L-R, rear: Rick Long, Matt Wiegand, Tom Cope, Lynn Cope, the Paterfamilias.

I climbed into bed at about 9:30, lapsed into a lasagna-induced coma and slept soundly until 1:30. I wouldn’t sleep again for 23 hours.

4:58 a.m., Sunday, September 10th, Race Day



5:00 a.m.



5:47 a.m.


The Hilton Monona Terrace Hotel provides coffee makers in each guest room.

5:52 a.m.


Katie makes waiting look easy. Don’t be fooled.

6:05 a.m.


Time to go.

6:31 a.m.


Chase vehicle featuring war paint.

6:38 a.m.


Seven minutes before casting our daughter to fate.

If I told you that I felt comfortable watching Katie walk off into the sea of wetsuits and neon swim caps, it would be a lie. Margy and I watched, feeling anxiety bordering on panic. The announcer, Mike Reilly, simply said, “go, go, go,” and Katie’s wave thrashed off.

“Where is she? Do you think that we can see her” Margy asked.

I looked, too, then pointed to where I thought she might be, then shrugged. We saw only splashing and identical green and pink swim caps bobbing into the distance.

I started 20 minutes later with a firm purpose: Catch her.

While I had felt almost unbearably nervous for the two days preceding the race, I needed only 100 yards or so in the water before I realized how I had wasted so much anxiety. The rhythm of my stroke comforted me. The huge orange sun entirely cleared the eastern horizon and the sky hung dark blue straight over my head. I felt relaxed and reminded that this place, this lake, this race, this was where I belonged. Halfway through the swim, I looked to see the capitol dome extend straight up over the middle of Monona Terrace, a sight I had described to Katie many times. I hoped that she had seen it, too.

The Ironman VIP services director, Nicole Geller, lent me an arm as I exited the water. She had been enormously kind to Katie and me. She heard our story and wanted us to finish what we had started 15 years before. I asked if she had seen Katie but she couldn’t hear me over the music. Volunteers yanked off my wetsuit and I ran up the Monona Terrace parking ramp helix.

“Katie’s a minute-and-a-half ahead of you,” Margy shouted.

The fates had tossed our daughter out of Lake Monona unscathed.

Having numbered myself among Body Glide’s true believers, I used my enthusiasm for the product and years of experience as a triathlete to try something new on race day. (Those of you who know triathlon can see this one coming from a mile away.) I had put Body Glide on my arms. It made getting into my wetsuit a snap. Ordinarily, the sleeves of my wetsuit were tough to negotiate but on that particular day, no sweat. Body Glide is not water soluble and remained very much on my arms as I attempted to put on a light, white, long sleeve shirt to protect me from the sun during the bike ride. The Body Glide that made getting into and out of my wetsuit so easy made getting into my shirt practically impossible. The polyester stuck to my arms as if the shirt was made of Gorilla Tape. It didn’t do the shirt much good but I finally got it over my head and arms, but not before driving my heart rate into the red zone.

8:28 a.m. 


Katie prematurely enthuses about the 112 mile bike leg.

8:45 a.m. 


The smile that melts my heart: late summer, cool morning in Madison – and 110 miles to go. 

I taught Katie how to ride a bike when she was 4 1/2 so I prefer not to criticize our daughter’s bike handling skills. This is the last I will mention them. After having ridden her triathlon bike around 200 miles, total, to prepare for a 112-mile race, her riding skills reflected her time in the saddle. Her proof of concept triathlon, the Ironman Wisconsin Half Ironman, featured a couple of falls at aid stations, the most dangerous place on Ironman race courses. Some riders hammer through at dizzying speed. Others pull over and stop. Some foolhardy volunteers wade out too far into bike traffic offering water, Gatorade and food, making riders brake hard or swerve. Other volunteers prudently remain affixed to the curb, requiring the riders to hit one another to get the food or drink offered. Suffice it to say that we believed it best for me to be the dad and to go hunt for food and drink, leaving Katie to stay well clear of each aid station melee. I’d cater her ride.



Katie gloating on the virtues of youth while leading me up yet another hill. 

12:31 p.m.


Davis and Harper Cope with Matt Wiegand. More cowbell! Harper succumbs momentarily to Ironman’s challenge.

2:03 p.m.


When is that Tour de France thing anyway?

After about 7 1/2 hours on a narrow leather saddle, it felt good to stand up. Really, really, really good. Good like you can’t believe good. Katie and I felt confident that once the run began, we had this one. During the latter stages of the bike, though, it had become difficult for me to take nutrition.

4:47 p.m.


Bascom Hill. Running, for now. 

As we approached Bascom Hill, I told Katie that there was something seriously wrong with her – and with anyone else running Ironman Wisconsin – if this thought was not front of mind at this point on the course: What’s really wrong with golf, anyway?

6:00 p.m. at the Run Turn Around


At this precise point on the course, we looked 100 yards ahead and saw the finish, then needed to turn around to run another 13 miles. Katie smiled. I wasn’t so sure. 

Name Calling

So it had gotten dark. I didn’t feel cold – yet. We needed to keep walking.

“Once we hit the 25 mile marker, no more walking. Let’s run it in,” I said.

“Agreed,” she said.

We had ceased to be talkative.

As planned, we broke into a slow run at the sign along a darkened street. We passed a house where some college boys had watched pro football on their front step a few hours before. The course took a sharp left. We saw State Street with its shops, restaurants and bars a block ahead. The course made a very sharp turn right and, suddenly, there it was. The state capitol building towered above us, high on a hill, lit brilliant white against the black sky. Katie started to cry. We picked up speed.

We passed the last water stop without grabbing anything to eat or drink. We were inside a half mile. No time to stop. Once by the water stop, we began to hear the music and the crowd in the finish area. We turned right. The hill steepened. We sped up. The street along Capitol Square was dark and quiet. Spectators had concentrated near the finish.

We took a right hand turn and I surveyed runners so that we could position ourselves for the best finish photo. I saw that we would quickly overtake two runners ahead of us but a guy running by himself ahead of us had begun to pick up speed, too. The animal spirits had gotten hold of me. I said one last thing to Katie.

“Pass him.”


Executing our pass at the entry to the finish chute.

It wasn’t a sprint but it wasn’t far from a sprint, either. Mike Reilly, the iconic Ironman announcer, called our names and let the crowd know that we were father and daughter. Then he said it to us both, but mostly to Katie. At least that’s the way I heard it.

“You are an Ironman.”

Once Mike Reilly calls you by name and then calls you a name, it’s permanent. It never goes away. You never forget it and it never gets old.










Rejoined by our team captain. 

Tell Then Show

Katie is fully grown. She is capably creating her life as an adult. As each day passes, I can teach her less and less that she doesn’t already know. Soon, maybe even now, Katie has more to teach me than I have to teach her. Maybe IMW 2017 was part of this transition. With less to teach, I increasingly need to show. Katie had run the last few hundred yards of Ironmans with me so she knew what that felt like but she couldn’t possibly know what it felt like to put her face in the cold water under a giant orange sun in the early morning only to finish in the dark of a cool evening. Katie couldn’t have known what it would feel like to ride her bike and look out over farm fields just beginning to turn golden brown under the crystal blue sky of a very late summer day. Katie had cheered for me for years but knowing the profound gratitude of having family cheer for you from sun up to well beyond sundown was beyond her grasp.

Now she knows.



The packing list I used to ensure that Katie and I had everything we needed to cover 140.6 miles. 


Here are turn-by-turn directions for the bike course. Since Ironman modified the bike course this year, Margy spent between four and five hours modifying her spreadsheet to see us on both the bike and the run. The result? Team Ross-Ross saw us 45 times during the day. So far as Katie and I know, no other spectators saw their athletes anywhere near so many times, nor cheered so enthusiastically. We are tremendously grateful to Margy/Mom, the most competent person we know.

6:13 a.m., Monday, September 11th at the finish line of Ironman Wisconsin


Sleeping after an Ironman is surprisingly hard. Katie and I went to bed well after midnight and woke before 6:00 a.m. We decided to take a walk to Starbucks, then around Capitol Square. The grandstands had been disassembled and hauled away. The finish arch was gone. Only some stray paper cups and some folded tents gave any hint of what had happened on that very spot only nine or so hours before. But we will always remember.

Eden Prairie, Minnesota, 5:39 p.m., Monday, September 11


Reality revisited: Our wetsuits, singlets and other assorted wet, sweaty and otherwise dirty gear had spent more than 24 hours getting very, very angry in these plastic bags.

7:41 a.m., Tuesday, September 12th, Frisco, Texas


Katie cut off her Ironman weekend wristbands and rejoined the real world before walking into the office.

Thank you.

Thank you to Margy Ross aka Mom, aka team captain, Ironman’s reigning navigating, driving and cheering champion. Thanks to my sister and her family, Lynn Ross-Cope, Tom, Davis and Harper Cope. Thanks so much to my other sister and brother-in-law, Ann and Rick Long. Special thanks to our niece’s boyfriend, Matt Wiegand, who came to Madison even without Sarah just because Matt is (a) so into it and (b) preparing for Mike Reilly to call him a name.  Thanks to Marcus Schneider without whose help, love, and running support Katie couldn’t run, run, run like she runs, runs, runs. And of course, thanks to Nancy/Mom/Nanna who is always there for Katie and me. Calling this crew “the best” is always accurate but always inadequate. Katie and I can’t thank you enough – ever.

In honor of Lisa Lander Holmberg whose birthday comes around at about the time of IMW every year. Katie now knows the place on the course where we will always remember you. For Warren Thornthwaite and his patch of wildflowers that grow along the road near Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Most of all, for Bob Ross, captain of the 1952-1953 Grinnell College swim team. Without you, neither Katie nor I would have put our faces into the cold water and set off.


Scott and Katie at Finish IMW 2002

Inaugural Ironman Wisconsin, September 2002. Katie’s tee shirt commemorated her finish in that year’s Iron Kids triathlon, the only triathlon that she had run before June 11, 2017.

Some Guy

A light breeze blew off the lake. It rustled a few of the deep green spring leaves. The sun lit the sky, orange at the eastern horizon, deep blue to the west. A compact guy came toward me on the running path. Lean but not skinny, closely-trimmed gray hair showed beneath his baseball hat. His skin was tan and wrinkled. He ran steadily and smoothly, but not fast. His form was strong, efficient. I thought of this guy later in my story of the 2017 Ironman Wisconsin 70.3.


“Hold your hands out like this,” the doctor said.

She illustrated, holding her hands straight out in front of her, palms facing down.

I imitated.

“Yeah, I see,” she said. “Now touch your nose with your left index finger like this.”

She took her left index finger and placed it on the tip of her nose.

I followed, having no trouble, though I wondered whether this proved more about my neurological function or the size of my nose, a hard target to miss.

This was my first physical since 2005. While I felt fit to finish the week’s upcoming half Ironman, I also knew that fitness did not necessitate health.  “Fitness” described the ability to do something in particular, like competing in a triathlon. “Health” described presence of overall normal physical function and absence of significant disease or risk factors.

My 2005 physical had been an ego boost. On a family vacation to Canyon Ranch, a spa near Tucson, I visited a clinic attached to the spa. My family – on both sides – had a rich tradition of killing its eldest males by heart attack. I had no reason other than family history to get checked out; it seemed like a good idea.

The clinic drew blood, then set me up with a doctor a day or two later. At my appointment, the doctor glowed. He usually didn’t get to provide this much good news. All of my blood tests were well within acceptable ranges, some falling desirably outside those ranges.

I explained my workout habits. The doctor nodded approvingly. I asked if there was anything else that I should do to break with family tradition.

“You could have a heart scan to check for calcification occluding your arteries,” the doctor said.

“And if that turns out OK, what else should I do?” I asked.

“Wear a seat belt.”

I got a heart scan and scored a zero: No calcification, no occlusion – at least so far as the test could show. A clean bill of health. So I wore a seatbelt, worked out and ate as usual and felt pretty smug about the whole thing.

My 2017 physical differed. I wanted the doctor to check something: My left hand trembled. Sometimes it trembled more than others but it pretty much always trembled.

“Don’t let me push your hands down.”

“Bend your wrists like this and don’t let me push them toward you.”

After the doctor finished, I asked, “Essential tremor?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Interesting that it’s localized on your left side. Expect it to eventually move to your right hand, too.”

The doctor reviewed two drugs that I could use. One would compromise my athletic performance. The other drug seemed to have fewer side effects.

“No,” I said. “I’m not dropping things, I can type and write and function normally. If it gets bad enough that I can’t get along normally, we’ll have another discussion. Otherwise, this is just annoying, not really problematic.”

The doctor agreed but she didn’t exactly glow as the doctor had 12 years ago.

“See you in a year,” she said.

Healthy? Yeah. Smug? Nope.


Wikipedia says that Gypsy Rose Lee was an American burlesque entertainer and star of stage, screen and television, famous for her striptease act. She said that “everyone’s gotta have a gimmick.” I found mine when I ran my first marathon (without the striptease part, thank you very much). Then I ran a half Ironman. Years passed. Totals mounted. 81 marathons, 18 Ironmans, lots of half Ironmans, and too many 10K’s and 5K’s to count. I identified myself by what I did: I ran long, hard races. I conceived myself inseparably from training and racing.

The tremor in my left hand reminded me that while I may have swum, biked and run away from the family plot populated with heart attack victims, the clock was running. I might escape a heart attack but not mortality.

Just Do It

“So do you guys think that I should do it?” Katie asked.

Margy said, “Maybe you should. We’d be there to support you.”


I stayed quiet.


“I’m thinking for a minute,” I said.

After a pause, I said, “I think that you should definitely do it.”

One week before the 2017 Ironman Wisconsin 70.3, I told our 25 year-old daughter to enter a race for which she had very minimally prepared. (A “70.3” is a half Ironman with a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run.) Katie had ridden her new bike for only a few miles outside, less than the bike leg distance in the race just one week away. She had owned a wetsuit for three days but had never swum in it. She had never trained in open water. And I told her to enter the race. My advice bordered on criminal.

Never mind that Katie had won the Dad Vail Regatta in 2014 in a torrential downpour with 40 mph winds. Never mind that Katie and her boat won the Head of the Charles Regatta and the New England Rowing Championship. Never mind that Katie had cruised to three marathons that each easily qualified, or re-qualified, her to run Boston. Swimming in a lake with minimal preparation while hundreds of people splashed, kicked and hit her would be nuts under these circumstances. Ironman Wisconsin bike courses were notoriously hilly. Katie had her hands full simply trying to stop her bike, extract her foot from the pedal and step down without falling over. And after that, a half marathon would ensue.

You’d think I didn’t love her.


Once Katie had paid the entry fee, she looked at the weather forecast: 91 degrees Fahrenheit, humid and windy.


On the Friday before the race, Katie’s unreasonably indulgent boyfriend, Marcus Schneider, flew from Portland, OR to Chicago. Nike works summer hours on Fridays and Marcus just happened to be at his computer when Katie found a cheap flight for him to O’Hare. We picked him up late that night and headed back to Madison. Our niece, Sarah Long, accompanied her boyfriend, Matt Wiegand, to Madison for his first half Ironman. Matt’s mom, Lori, came along, too. Given the forecast, this seemed like a heartless way to sacrifice our young.


On Saturday night, several members of our Wildflower gang, Emmerson Ward, Todd Phelps, Steve Mayeron and I, assembled for dinner. Todd, a former US Army rifleman, told a story about spending weeks stalking a squirrel that had chewed a hole in his home’s roof, then took up residence in his attic. The squirrel like to run laps in the attic after Todd and his wife went to bed.

Todd used a 0.22 cal. pellet gun in urban Highland Park, MN to shoot the squirrel while an eight year-old girl had an outdoor birthday party in the yard next door. The girls would have taken a dim view of Todd shooting a cute squirrel during the party. The police might have taken an even dimmer view of a guy in hunting clothes with a rifle right next to a little girl’s birthday party. In the end, only the squirrel departed with regrets.

Todd, Emmerson, Steve and I each talked about how we felt before the upcoming race. I said that two of my last three races had been poor performances. I felt apprehensive. I said that my family all gave me such terrific support that I hoped the race the next day would be different, that I would perform well.

“My family doesn’t come to see me have a bad day. It just kills me when I go out and perform poorly for them,” I said.

Todd looked at me strangely. He said, “Maybe they just come for you.”

It was a bolt from the blue. My family wanted me to do well but they weren’t there just to see a good performance. They were there for me. Period. I had never thought of it quite that way. Rather, I had always felt responsible for running a fast time so that they could have a good time.

I can’t explain why, but I thought of the old guy running around Staring Lake. That’s who I wanted to be, I thought, that guy. Maybe not fast. Maybe not on the podium. Just a guy out there keeping after it.


Margy and I agreed. She and Marcus would follow Katie on race day. Katie needed the support more than I did.

The sun rose hot over Lake Monona. Sweat dripped from under my swim cap and seeped out the cuffs of my wetsuit sleeves and legs. After I said my good byes, I lined up with the swimmers intending to finish at about the time I planned to finish, too. Once I got going, the cool water calmed me. I caught occasional glimpses of the Wisconsin state capitol on that familiar horizon. I built a rhythm.

Once back on land, I was on my own. It scared me to think of Katie in the water. I mounted my bike and tried to think good thoughts. I remembered a song I used to sing to Katie before she went to sleep:

“I love you Katie,

Oh yes I do.

I love you Katie,

and I’ll be true.

When you’re not near me,

I’m blue (so blue).

Oh Katie,

I love you.”

That was all I could do while I rode my bike by the foot-tall corn stalks quivering in the hot wind. The temperature climbed. The long, winding bike ride ended and a single loop run around Lake Monona began.

The sun beat down. I silently sang the song. I tried not to worry about Katie. I thought about who I wanted to be. I put one foot in front of the other.


Katie safely in motion on the bike.


Katie either overcoming her shyness in front of a camera at age 25 or asking exactly how she could stop this thing without killing herself. 

Unbeknown to me, Katie had survived the swim and bike only a little worse for wear. Both of her knees bled from tipping over on her bike, twice, as she tried to stop at aid stations to get Gatorade. Her calf bled from embedding the teeth of her bike’s chainring into the back of her leg.

Margy watched Katie transition from bike to run. Suddenly, Katie looked up.

“Where are my shoes?” she yelled at Margy.

Note: This is not the first time that Katie shouted accusingly at one or more of her parents when Katie herself had misplaced something.

“I don’t know,” Margy shouted back.

Katie frantically dug through her gear inside the transition area. Finally, Katie looked up.

“Throw me your shoes.”


“I said, throw me your shoes.”

Margy and I believe that parental indulgence should end when your child has graduated from college and works as a consultant with an unconscionably high billing rate. Sometimes, Margy and I do not act entirely in accordance with our beliefs.

Margy pitched herself onto the ground, unlaced her shoes and threw them into the transition area. A mad scramble ensued. Katie ran onto the course in her mother’s shoes. Margy called Marcus, whose backpack contained Katie’s shoes. Margy chased Katie barefoot for about a half mile. Eventually, Marcus, Margy, Katie, Margy’s shoes and Katie’s shoes all intersected. Moments later, Katie ran on.


They promised that the run course would go around a lake. They didn’t promise that it would be flat. Bloody knees but wearing her own shoes.


Katie’s face shows the strain of the preceding 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and stifling temperatures. And maybe just a bit of youth, too. 


Though I walked through aid stations to ensure that I drank enough, I ran the rest of the course. The heat washed over me in waves, relieved infinitesimally by the strong south wind that blew in our faces for the last two shade-free miles.

I finished. Sarah, Lori and Matt were there to greet me. Matt had beaten me by 18 minutes. I laid down in the grass. Sarah brought me water, chips, pretzels and a sandwich. After a Diet Coke, I revived.

Sarah tracked Katie’s progress on her phone.

“She’s at about 6 1/2.”

A few minutes passed while we lounged in the shade.

“Eight now.”

A few minutes later, Sarah checked her phone again.

“She’s at ten. Margy and Marcus are coming to the finish area. Katie’s running about nine-minute miles.”

Margy, Marcus, Sarah, Matt, Lori and I took spots along the fence by the finish line.

Katie ran up the last hill, rounded a corner and her cheering section erupted.


My grandfathers were fine men. My grandmothers gracious. My dad, an exceedingly fine man; my mother remains incomparable. But in some ways, I have tried to follow my own path. In some respects, I have fallen short. In other respects, I have avoided their mistakes while substituting my own. The extent to which I have succeeded has yet to be judged, something I hope to put off for a while. I don’t know that old guy’s name, the guy I saw running, but in some way, I’m following him, too.

Looking over my shoulder, I see some of the inheritance I will leave. It follows a path up a hill and into the shade covering a finish line.

My family is far from finished producing fine people.

For Sarah, Adam, Matt, Hannah, Harper, Davis and Marcus but, especially and forever, for Katie.

And, as always, thank you so much, Margy.

Some photos from the day:


I struggled with Katie’s wetsuit. Katie smiled for the camera.


The Ancient Mariner, Katie and Matt Wiegand, who had a spectacular Ironman 70.3 debut in Madison.


Nothing like a tight, black wetsuit on a sunny, hot summer’s day.


Spreading joy to all who surrounded her, momentarily overcoming her camera-shyness, Katie approaches the swim start.


At the finish: Katie and Scott



Postscript: I entered the water well before Katie, then swam and biked a bit faster than she did. Though we did not run together, times from each of our runs closely matched. I placed 318th overall in the run. Katie, despite her shoe snafu, ran only four seconds slower, placing 319th. “If you’re not near me, I’m blue….”

Wishing my brother-in-law Rick Long a speedy recovery from his hip replacement yesterday and his upcoming knee replacement tomorrow. 



“Sit on the right side,” I suggested. “Maybe next to the window.”

Katie and I boarded one of the 100 or so school buses lined up between Boston Garden and Boston Common. It was about 7:15 a.m. on Patriot’s Day. We wore sweatshirts we intended to throw away. Katie wore some hideous orange and green pajama bottoms with “Irish” and “Get Lucky” printed on them. No guessing why we found them on the Target sale rack.

Already bright in the eastern sky, the sun filtered through gray, bare trees. The air felt warm. Katie opened the bus window.

The first bus in the line moved. Ours followed. Katie clapped. We were on our way.

We drove through Back Bay and merged onto Interstate 90. People around us got to know their seat mates. Nervousness makes runners chatty. We had an hour or so to ride. Then we had two more hours to sit on the grass beside Hopkinton High School. Buses stretched into the distance ahead and back as far as we could see.

“Is this why you wanted me to sit here?” Katie asked.

She pointed to the Charles River. Rowers paused in a boat near shore to receive instruction from a coach. A single skull rowed northwest. A four pulled steadily in the opposite direction leaving four perfectly round swirls in the water behind.

I nodded “yes.” I had thought about this moment.

“This is where I trained for this race almost every morning,” Katie said. “So this is where I rowed Head of the Charles and where I trained for the Boston Marathon. Pretty cool.”

The river disappeared behind a building. We headed west.

The moment had been a long time coming.

The Start

Parenting is a long build up. You dream big dreams for your kids but you have to take it a step at a time. There is no single moment, not one life’s lesson that makes your kid all you dream he or she can be. It’s a long, slow road when they are little and over in a flash when they leave for college.

Standing on an embankment facing the Hopkinton High School, I realized that I had suffered a lack of vision. Katie and I were about to walk toward the start area a half mile down a gently sloping hill. I held out my hands and made a shape just about the size of an eight pound baby.

“This big,” I said.

“What are you talking about?” Katie said.

“This is how big you were when you were born. I didn’t imagine this day coming.”


Precocious child: She read the tee shirt.

Katie won her heat in the toddler trot during Twin Cities Marathon weekend when she was four. She ran track and cross country in high school but was most noted for being a good sport rather than for being fleet. She was a better high school Nordic skier, the fastest girl on her team.

In college she found her sport. Katie was an accomplished and decorated rower winning some of the most prestigious college races. But the transition from rower to runner wasn’t obvious. Not all rowers are fast runners or vice versa.

Rowers and Nordic skiers race harder and suffer mightily, more severely than any other athletes I know. Katie demonstrated something more important than aerobic endurance or foot speed. Katie had grit.


After talking smack to the four year-olds she clobbered in the toddler trot. With Nancy “Nanna” Ross, Twin Cities Marathon weekend 1996. 

Some Lady in A Purple Nike Shirt

While Katie and I bounced around in a bus for more than an hour, Margy and Marcus had a chance encounter. Marcus wore his Bowdoin tee shirt. A small woman with gray hair walked toward Marcus and Margy and asked if Marcus had gone to Bowdoin. Marcus said he had. She extended her hand.

“Bowdoin class of ’79,” the woman said.


Take a look. There’s a building named after her on the Nike campus. Yeah, a building.

It took Margy a few seconds, then she was thunderstruck, starstruck.

The three of them chatted. Marcus had run with Joan Benoit Samuelson’s son Anders at Bowdoin. Joanie had just left her daughter at the buses like Margy had. Like Marcus, Joanie’s daughter Abby also worked at Nike. The three discussed the weather and the prospects for Katie and Abby to go out and race on what threatened to be a hot day. They exchanged email addresses so that Marcus and Abby could make contact once back in Portland at Nike. Margy and Joanie agreed to get in touch.

Back in Hopkinton

Katie and I ditched our sweats in big bags for donation to the poor. Then, under a bright blue sky, we strolled down a small town street with thousands of other runners. Neighbors stood in their yards and cheered as we walked by.

On the main street, Katie and I stood in Corral 5 of Wave 2 waiting for the Boston Marathon to start. It was 10:25 a.m. The sun felt hot. We were on the opposite side of a small hill that hid the start line. We heard someone say, “You’re underway.” Neither Katie nor I heard a start gun or the National Anthem or anything. We could just see people at the crest of the hill begin to walk. In another minute, we began to walk, too.

“Careful, Peanut. You’ll start to run and then suddenly stop dead, then start running again.”

We began a slow jog. Within ten seconds, we were stopped. Katie gave me a big smile. We began to move again and crossed the start line almost exactly three minutes after our wave officially started.

At Boston, runners sort into waves and corrals that very, very tightly group runners according to qualifying times. This is good and bad. The good: Few in front have placed themselves ahead of faster runners. Not many posers get in the way, though there are always a few cheaters. The bad: With a group so tightly clustered, runners stay clustered. For the first few miles, it was hard to place one foot in front of the other without clipping someone ahead or getting into the way of someone behind.

Katie and I ran as close together as possible, separating only as necessary to pass someone or to let someone pass us. Some people were determined to work their way up through the crowd. Others relaxed. Most stayed steady. The animal spirit in Katie rose. She was one of the passers.

The west-northwest tailwind did little to cool us. The air felt still, the sun hot. Savings and loan signs showed temperatures in the low 70’s early, mid 70’s later. Shade from trees on the south side of the road felt good but without leaves, even the shady spots weren’t all that cool.

The crowd thinned. Katie and I ran closer together. Where possible, we ran tangents, the inside of the curves, to keep the race distance as short as possible.

In Wellesley, we ran through the “Wellesley College Scream Tunnel.” The girls held naughty, suggestive signs and offered kisses. Some runners took them up on the offer, though most kisses were planted on cheeks.

After the mile 15 marker, the long Wellesley downhill started. My thighs, left hamstring and Achilles tendon hurt. Katie and I stuck together for the long uphill. At mile 18, Katie got through the water stop about 30 yards ahead of me. I struggled to catch up. I ran aggressive tangents to regain Katie’s side at mile 19 or so.

At mile 21, Katie turned to me.

“How are you, Dad?”

“Bad. You go ahead.”

Katie shook her head “no.”

My thighs hurt with every step. One of my calves threatened to cramp. I altered my gait to keep running. I had seen Katie turn to look for me several times. I lost sight of her between Newton’s first big hill and Heartbreak Hill.

Katie slowed her pace hoping I would catch her. I kept at it as best I could, trying to catch up. I couldn’t. I walked through the water stop at mile 23. I walked another 200 to 400 yards trying to regroup. The thought that Katie might wait kept me running. I wanted her to get her best possible time. But I was hanging on, hoping to finish.

Katie crossed in 3:25:46, more than nine minutes faster than required to qualify for Boston again in 2018, though both she and I will use our faster 2016 Twin Cities Marathon time of 3:18 to enter. I finished just a little over ten minutes after Katie and felt lucky to have stayed right side up. I had passed at least two runners who had gone down hard within sight of the finish line.


If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” – Woody Allen

So here was the plan. Katie and I would run this marathon like we had run our two recent Twin Cities Marathons: Side-by-side, step-for-step, stride-for-stride. Like most parents, I wanted to be right there to help Katie along. But, like most parents, it didn’t work out that I was able to stay with my kid as long or as far as I wanted. She needed to push ahead and that was OK. It wasn’t the plan for that day but it was the ultimate plan.

Maybe this was my parenting metaphor. I did absolutely everything I knew how to do, everything I could, to set Katie up for success. We ran together side-by-side, step-for-step, stride-for-stride for 18 miles. Then my help became inconsistent. I showed up again, helped for a little bit, then faded. She was on her own. We hadn’t talked about it, didn’t plan it or acknowledge it at the time, but I had passed the torch.

I feel fiercely proud of Katie and hope that I taught her well. It’s her torch to carry.


I sat down extremely stiffly into the middle seat on our Tuesday morning flight to Minneapolis. The guy by the window asked if I had run the marathon. I said that I had.

“So how many marathons have you run?”


“I meant how many total marathons have you done,” he said, looking a little puzzled.

“Well, I have run four Boston Marathons. Yesterday’s was my fourth Boston but it was my 81st marathon over all,” I said, hoping to clarify.

He looked surprised. Margy leaned forward and nodded to confirm the count.

“That’s a lot,” he said.

“Feels like a lot right now,” I said. My legs felt like I had run all 81 the day before.


Thanks to Margy Ross, who engineered all of our travel, spotting and cheering us four times on this year’s Boston Marathon course. Thanks to Marcus Schneider for flying across an entire continent to support us. Thanks to Holly and Jeff Schneider for good dinner conversation and great support on the course and beyond. It was nice to meet Andrew, too. Thanks to Dale and Barbara Edmunds for offering their driveway in Wellesley for parking. Thanks to both Emilys, Luisa and Doug. You were right where we needed you. Thanks to all of our friends and family for cheering us on, whether in Boston, Des Moines, Minneapolis, Maine, North Carolina or elsewhere. We have the most wonderful support we could imagine – and maybe not even imagine.

For Bob Ross. The aerobic capacity came from somewhere. I blame him. Mostly, though, he modeled grit. 

Pictures from the Weekend


At the Expo: Shilling for Adidas.


All swoosh: Katie with Marcus Schneider near Boston Common before boarding the bus for Hopkinton.


25 years after the hospital picture: Katie grown up, parents unchanged. 


After the race: Margy and Marcus wisely kept their distance.


Katie’s oil painting of  Bob Ross, Grinnell College, Class of ’53, pictured circa 1980 engaged in a thoroughly non-aerobic sport. 



If a line is drawn from the lower left corner of a graph toward the upper right corner and another line is drawn from the upper left to the lower right corner, those two lines will converge.


I am good at dealing with the inevitable so long as I can do it later.


Those of you brave enough to have read my most recent blog post know that I was not pleased with my performance at Ironman Wisconsin 2016. My one-time Ironman swami, Dave Mason, used to set goals for his race performances. He would establish a best conceivable time, a great time, an expected time and a mom still loves me time. I considered my results at Ironman Wisconsin to fall in the mom still loves me category. I didn’t ask Mom directly but she remained civil following the race.

“That’s really good!”

If you are a parent, I dare you to tell me that you haven’t done this: Your child puts effort into something like a crayon drawing or swimming across the width of a pool. You say, “That’s really good!” But you are thinking, “That’s so cute.” You praise the effort. You try to make your kid feel good. You don’t offer your honest assessment which is: Keep at it.

As happens among athletes- drones all- Katie and I discussed our training during the summer leading up to the 2016 Twin Cities Marathon. Occasionally, Katie snapped a photo of the computer screen containing her mile splits from a recent run. Whether we discussed her training during a phone conversation or I examined a photo of her run splits, I said, “That’s really good.” But here is what I was thinking: She’s going to kill me at Twin Cities if I try to keep up with her.

In the Garden

So there I was in Australia’s Royal Botanic Garden a few days after Ironman Wisconsin. I had realized that I took great pride in two things: the results of my parenting and my athletic accomplishments. And that was pretty much it. Of course, my season’s “A” race, Ironman Wisconsin, had been a disappointment and undermined, somewhat, the pride I took in recent athletic accomplishment. So, one of the two things in which I took pride wobbled. Maybe I had lost it. Maybe for good.

My goal for the Twin Cities Marathon was to run every step with Katie and to help her do her best. (Isn’t that what I had been trying to do for Katie with everything, not just running a marathon?)

I realized that Katie’s loyalty would not easily permit her to run up the road ahead of me if I could not maintain a pace that pushed her along. And I hated the idea of her holding back to run with me.


Katie arrived on Wednesday before the race. We discussed our optimal plan: Run every step together. There was a back up plan but we discussed it reluctantly. Her boyfriend, Marcus, would come to watch the race. If needed, he could run ahead from point to point beside the course to offer Katie encouragement even if I had not been able to keep up. Marcus ran track and cross country at Bowdoin and Dartmouth. He was fast. He could offer support if I couldn’t. I insisted that Marcus remain off the course if this happened. No “banditing” and no cheating by pacing Katie.


Metropolitan Des Moines emptied and four hours later, our house filled. My mom, sisters, brothers in law, nephew, nieces, my niece’s boyfriend, Marcus and Katie. It became a swirl, a practice run for Thanksgiving, a simulation of an Ironman mass swim start. I plunged my hands into my green rubber gloves and my green rubber gloves into the dish water. Margy cooked like mad and kept a steady stream of pots, pans, dishes, bowls, knives, forks, spoons, cutting boards and odd utensils coming my way. We laughed, ate, washed dishes, watched football, ate, laughed, washed dishes and repeated.

Here is how we celebrated my 58th, my brother in law Rick’s 57th and Marcus’s 25th birthdays on the day before my 29th Twin Cities Marathon.


My niece’s boyfriend, Matt Wiegand, would race Twin Cities, too. He had trained very hard all summer. He wanted to qualify to run the Boston Marathon in April 2018. He would need to run fast. For men his age, 24, he needed to run at least a 3:05:00, something that I could scarcely remember being young enough to do.

Our family feared that maybe Katie, Matt and I lacked proper motivation. They figured that signs could change that.



My niece, Harper, is eight. My nephew, Davis, is 11. Kids get snide earlier than in my day. 



Obvious but to the point.



Requires explanation?


My favorite.


I slept poorly the night before the race. I envisioned Katie about three strides ahead looking over her shoulder. I felt unable to close the gap. I heard myself telling Katie to go ahead. I could see her look back, turn to face ahead, then press on without me.


For reasons unexplained, save for two races, one very hot and the other very rainy, the Twin Cities Marathon weekend has attracted perfect weather. Sunday, October 9, 2016, offered no exception. The sun rose and colored the downtown buildings pink and orange. The sky directly overhead shone bright blue and the air sat still in the upper 30’s. Katie and I walked up to Matt in the start corral. He’s tall. He wasn’t hard to find. We wished him good luck, then walked back to join runners of our expected pace. The announcer said “four minutes.” Katie and I took our jackets and threw them to the side of the street to be collected for charity. We wore singlets, shorts, baseball hats and cheap cotton gloves. I wasn’t sure if I shivered from the cold or the excitement.

The horn sounded. We crossed the start line a few seconds later, then began to run.

After a few blocks, the field spread enough that Katie could run beside me.

“How do you feel, Dad?” she asked.

I paused for just a second and said, “I feel really, really good.” And I did.

State of mind

I knew the state of mind I wanted to cultivate. Many people believe that athletic performance depends upon a fierce mind, a mind that makes your jaw jut out, your teeth clench, your fists harden and your muscles contract. I am sure that works for some people in some sports. For most people in most sports, one optimally cultivates a relaxed, focused mind. I knew that I needed to concentrate on what I was doing but not so hard that it increased stress. I wanted to pay careful attention to my breath – and to Katie’s – so that neither of us developed a deficit. What we needed to do was to find a sustainable state of mind and exertion. We needed to cast everything else aside and slide along the razor’s edge of running as fast as we could, no faster.

Naturally, the world we passed intruded. Both Katie and I were moved, almost to tears, by the pealing bells of the Basilica of St. Mary on Hennepin Avenue. The pack of runners at that early point bobbed along in close quarters and the soft sound of their shoes striking the pavement, the runners’ deep breaths, were sounds I could hear along with the bells. Steaming breath pulsed from the runners in front of us, passing over their shoulders, illuminated white by the bright sun at our backs.

As Katie and I pulled to the right at the five mile water stop to collect paper cups to drink, a woman ran in and clipped my heels, speeding by between me and the volunteers handing out the cups.

“Stay off my feet,” I said.

“Don’t slow down,” she replied.

“It’s a water stop,” I said, emphasizing the word “stop.”

I offered a sincere assessment of her intelligence but that did not appear to inspire contrition.

“Look at her run and how she is dressed, Dad,” Katie said. “I think that we’ll see her later.” (Assuming that my prior 79 marathons had water stops every two miles, she stomped on my feet while I ran through my 1,028th marathon water stop.)

Team Ross, Ross, Ross, etc. met us near the six mile mark, our family’s 29th rendezvous at that very place.

After picturing running away from a singing Justin Bieber, I don’t remember too many details. I told Katie about upcoming turns and instructed her to work to the right or left sides of the course so that we would follow the shortest route.  As the race progressed, I stopped saying what to do and just gestured left or right. Katie configured her running watch to provide current pace. In 2015, we had averaged 7:44 miles, so this year Katie consulted her watch and, if our pace exceeded 7:45 per mile, Katie would say, “A little hot, Dad.” I’d slow down but within a minute or two, Katie would repeat, “A little hot, Dad.” During the entire run, Katie never once said that we should speed up.

At 13 miles, I took my first and only look at a wristband marked with race splits we needed to run so that Katie could qualify for the Boston Marathon. We were about 10 minutes ahead after 13 miles – about half way. For comparison, we were nine minutes ahead in 2015 after 19 miles. At just about this time, the 3:15 marathon pace group passed us very slowly. If we stuck with them, which we did not intend to do, we would beat our goal time by 20 minutes. The pace team leader for the 3:15 group held a stick with four balloons. For several miles thereafter, I watched those balloons creep ahead of us ever so very slowly, meaning that we were holding a pace only a tiny bit slower than 20 minutes ahead of our goal.

“A little hot, Dad,” Katie said again. I couldn’t help chasing the balloons.

Near mile 17, West River Road rimmed the Mississippi River. The trees cast deep shade. The temperature had risen into the 50’s but the shade felt good. We were working hard. An older woman stood alone beside the road. She “cheered.”

“Go,” she said monotonously. “You look amazing.” She sounded like a somnambulistic robot.

“Severe caffeine deficiency,” I offered.

Katie giggled.

“Tragic. Don’t let it happen to you.”

Katie said that she had seen the effects for herself and would be careful.

A couple of miles later, we crossed the Franklin Avenue Bridge and looked south along the chasm formed by the Mississippi River. The river banks stood completely enmeshed in hardwoods just beginning to turn from green to yellow, red and orange.

Soon enough, we passed the woman who clipped my feet at the five mile water stop. She had tied her heavy clothing to her waist and plodded along. I didn’t see her. Katie neglected to mention it to me. Katie said that we were going fast enough that the woman was easy to miss.

Marcus met us at the bottom of the marathon’s steepest hill. Katie and I pushed. Once we crested the hill, we felt gassed. There was Marcus again, looking rested, tanned and ready. Once I caught my breath, I asked Katie if she would mind if I punched Marcus in the nose for being so much faster than we were. She didn’t hesitate to agree: it was an excellent idea. (Did I mention that fatigue in a marathon makes some people irritable?)

Once on Summit Avenue, it was easy to get caught up in either the grandeur of St. Paul’s most prestigious, mansion lined street or the fact that we were climbing up a steady grade for nearly two miles. What mansions?

Shortly after passing the intersection with Snelling Avenue, Katie and I heard surf music. It was the Zingrays, a band that has played at the same spot on the course for decades. As we passed the guitar player, I waved. He nodded. We reached the top of the hill. It was almost all downhill from there. But it wasn’t easy.

The temperature hadn’t reached 60 but Katie and I sought the little shade offered on the south side of the street. I was not sure if we had slowed down or if Katie had grown weary of scolding. She said “A little hot” occasionally but began to omit “Dad” from the sentence, the economy reflecting our fatigue. We became very quiet and stopped looking at one another, choosing to look straight ahead. We managed a weak nod or wave when Marcus swooped in to encourage us.


Late in the race on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. I am inviting Marcus closer so that I can punch him in the nose for running so much faster than we could. He declined.

We turned slightly left. The road dipped. The James J. Hill Mansion appeared on our right. I pointed to the top of the St. Paul Cathedral. Less than half a mile to go. The downhill steepened sharply. My thighs hurt. “A little hot, Dad.”

The street bottomed out on a bridge over Interstate 94 and turned slightly uphill. We felt that. The capitol building looked very white and very close. Less than 200 yards to go. We pressed hard.

At 50 yards from the finish line, Katie and I held out our hands. We clasped hands, crossed the line together, stopped, looked at our watches, then hugged.

My watch said “3:18:35.”

“That’s really good,” I said. I meant it.

Katie had qualified for the Boston Marathon by more than 16 minutes. (We learned later that she had finished in the top three percent of women age 22-29.)


Whatever I had lost in Madison four weeks earlier, I felt that I had found again somewhere near the Basilica of St. Mary. Maybe it was the bells that helped me get it back.

The graph that I described to begin this post features two lines. The line moving from upper left to lower right represents Katie. As she grows older, her marathon times will decrease – four minutes from 2015 to 2016. The other line, the one that runs from lower left to upper right represents me. As I grow older, my marathon times will rise. This is inevitable, inescapable. But in 2015 and 2016, those two lines, Katie’s and mine, converged. During two races run one year apart, we ran every stride together. My line intersected hers and we both ran just a little bit faster, probably because we are better together than we are separately. Eventually, Katie will need to go up the road without me. It’s inevitable but an eventuality that I will deal with well. Tomorrow. Or maybe next year. Almost certainly by the year after…

So for one October day in each of 2015 and 2016, my sources of pride converged. We ran well. We were together. It was a sunny day.

Another Marcus gets the last word:

Of all nature’s gifts to the human race, what is sweeter to a man than his children? -Marcus Tullius Cicero, statesman, orator, writer (106-43 BCE)


Katie and Scott after showers and therapeutic application of pizza.


Team Ross, Ross, Ross, etc. showing inspirational artwork. Front: Harper Cope, Davis Cope. Rear: Katie, Scott and Matt Wiegand, whose 2:58 marathon was way more than good enough for an April 2018 rendezvous in Hopkinton. 


Obligatory photo of Katie with Marcus to demonstrate that I did not punch him in the nose after all. I couldn’t catch him. 

Thanks to Lynn, Tom, Davis and Harper Cope; the increasingly civil Nancy aka “Nanna” or “Mom” Ross; Ann, Rick and Sarah Long; Matt Wiegand and Marcus Schneider. Extra special thanks to Margy Ross for her superhuman hosting, navigation and driving with scant regard for traffic laws aka “guidelines” on race day. Our family’s support on race day is just the tip of the iceberg. Katie and I are so very, very grateful for the love and support of our family and friends every day – usually without handmade posters.

Postscript: The official Twin Cities Marathon race results for 2016 list Katie’s finish time as 3:18:36 and my time as 3:18:35. Keep trying, Katie. Maybe someday…


Dustin Hoffman starred in the movie “Little Big Man.” His character, Jack, looked back on his life as a 121 year-old. Jack came west as a settler, was raised as a Cheyenne, tried his hand at gunfighting and medicine shows, scouted for the cavalry, experimented with the hermit life, was married twice, survived Custer’s Last Stand, and sat at the foot of an old Indian man, Old Lodge Skins, who instructed him in the Cheyenne view of creation. The movie bounced around in time as Jack told his own story.

In the movie’s last scene, Jack was still a young man accompanying. One day, Old Lodge Skins dressed in full chief’s regalia and declared that, “It is a good day to die.” The two walked to a serene Indian burial ground on the spectacular plains. Old Lodge Skins laid down on his back facing the darkening skies, determined to die a solemn, noble death. In only a short time, his face relaxed. He laid completely still, quiet, peaceful. His spirit appeared to have departed.

Then, almost as if the heavens grew heavy and sad, it began to rain. First, a few drops, then steadily. As the rain picked up, Old Lodge Skins’ eyelids twitched when struck by rain drops. Finally, he sighed heavily and opened his eyes.

He looked up and said, “Some days the magic works; some days it doesn’t.”

The two decided to go get something to eat.

Saturday, August 27th, two weeks and one day before

For my last long workout before Ironman Wisconsin, I needed to ride my bike five hours, fifteen minutes, then run an hour. I began indoors on my trainer for an hour or so, waiting until the sun rose. I checked my iPhone weather app before riding outside. There was a chance of rain at 8:00 or so but otherwise it looked cloudy and cool. The pavement was dry so I headed for Watertown, Minnesota, about 30 miles away. With about ten miles to go, it began to rain – softly, at first. Then the rain intensified. By the time I reached my favorite Watertown convenience store, it was a downpour and about 63 degrees. I hurried through my stop to get back on my bike. I needed to ride hard to stay warm. It didn’t work. As furiously as I pedaled, I couldn’t stay warm. Rain pelted my helmet and sunglasses with a plastic thudding sound.

Somewhere between Watertown and home, I was in trouble. I was losing heat, shivering and saw no place to take shelter. I tried to figure out whether to call Margy or divert to a friend’s house nearby. The rain let up a little and I pedaled harder. By the time I neared the Twin Cities, I was still shivering but getting warmer. In the end, the rain stopped, I pedaled home, dried off and headed out for a run.

Friday, September 9th, two days before

The Friday before the 15th annual Ironman Wisconsin was chilly and rainy. Katie, Margy and I drove across western Wisconsin under a pewter sky, spray blowing onto our windshield from tractor trailers we passed on the hills overlooking long, green valleys.

Once safely checked in to our hotel, I went to the Monona Terrace conference center to stand in line for an hour and honored a long tradition. At Ironman races, athletes need to weigh in. The medical staff needs to know athletes’ state of dehydration if they require medical attention during the race or shortly after finishing. (One year, I lost 13 pounds before entering the medical tent. I received medical attention.) In the basement of Monona Terrace, volunteers weighed each competitor and wrote the weight on an emergency information card. Each year, however, I asked not to be told my weight. Despite being pretty scrawny, I just didn’t want to know if I had excess weight to haul around 140.6 miles.

The volunteer who weighed me complied with my request and passed me to another volunteer who verified my information. The second volunteer showed me my weight, almost exactly what I weighed as a sophomore in high school.

I returned to our hotel room and began to lay out my gear. I sorted gear into bags for each of the swim to bike and bike to run transitions. I removed my wetsuit to hang it up. When turning the wetsuit right side out, I noticed a big tear at the bottom of the zipper on the back. It was a very bad spot, the place that the wetsuit most needed to be strong. Margy encouraged me to return to the expo to see if I needed a new wetsuit and, if so, to buy one from a friend there.

My friend had ceased to work for the wetsuit company but a nice young man helped me. We looked at several wetsuits, including my torn 14 year-old wetsuit. Not surprisingly, he thought I had gotten my money’s worth from the old suit and encouraged me to try on several of his wetsuits, each of which was on sale for 40% off as it was near the end of the season. The young man sized me up as a “small tall.”

I tried on one suit, then another, then back to the first suit again, each time enlisting the young man’s help to ensure proper fit. After a half hour of wrestling myself into and out of skin tight wetsuits, I was a sweaty mess but I had a wetsuit that felt right.

I turned to the young man and asked, “How’s it look?”

“It looks like you could use another meal,” he opined.

He got the sale anyway.



When I was in grade school, our family doctor once called me “Groceries.”

For our 14th Ironman Wisconsin weekend, Margy, Katie and I wanted to try someplace new for Friday night dinner. Margy hailed an Uber. The driver pulled up almost instantly. He spoke exuberantly with an accent I couldn’t quite identify. When he learned that I intended to compete in the Ironman that Sunday, he gushed.

“I adore you!”

Margy, Katie and I later agreed that he probably meant that he “admired” me but I was not eager to correct adoration.

Saturday, September 10, one day before

I woke up early, really early, but the girls slept. I sat in a chair quietly trying to calm myself. Though it was to be my 18th Ironman, I felt almost crippled by nervousness. It happened every year and anticipating my 18th Ironman felt no more comfortable or familiar than anticipating my first. Maybe I was worried about performing well. Maybe I was worried about disappointing my family. Maybe I was worried that this would finally be the year that the challenge would be just a little bigger than my ability and that I would not finish.

It grew light enough to ride so I grabbed my bike and sneaked out. I rode up Martin Luther King Drive and onto Capitol Square where people were setting up stands for the Farmers’ Market. Spring rolls, squash, cheese, flowers – people quietly unloaded the contents of their trucks and arranged displays in the gray early morning light.

I rode down State Street beside darkened windows. Only a handful of people passed. It felt quiet and still like only a college town can early on a weekend morning. It began to mist, then the mist built to rain. I looked down at a bead of water that encircled my front tire. With a sizzling sound, the tire drew water from the pavement and flung it 360 degrees. I turned back toward the hotel. The Farmers’ Market people had put on their raincoats and scrunched up their shoulders. They kept working.


On Saturday afternoon, I dropped off my bike and transition bags. I ran into this guy, Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman. When he says, “You’re an Ironman,” you are.

I nursed my nerves through the rest of the morning and by the afternoon, the sky had cleared. I rode a bike beside Katie as she ran ten miles in preparation for the Twin Cities Marathon coming up four weeks later. We planned to run together and hoped that we could qualify once again for the Boston Marathon. Katie’s stride looked smooth and strong. I had no doubts that she was ready.

At the south end of Lake Monona, Katie and I stood at the top of a hill overlooking the swim course, buoys stretching toward the brilliant white Capitol dome in the distance. The sky was royal blue with a few puffy white clouds. The wind whipped the water into a chop. A few people swimming looked like pulsing specks of white bobbing on the waves.

My sister Ann and brother-in-law Rick showed up about the time Katie completed her run. Margy and Rick marshaled a computer and several maps to figure out places to see me on the new bike course, not an insignificant task. Margy was reluctant to see me fewer times than the previous year’s all time record, 44 times during the 140.6 mile, 12 hour day. The planning session lasted nearly two hours. I hoped not to slow down so much that I made their job easier.

Our niece Sarah and her boyfriend Matt showed up in time for dinner. It was subdued and I headed for bed even earlier than my very early usual. As customary for the night before an Ironman, I slept poorly.

Sunday, September 11, the day of


5:15 a.m. after dropping off my “special needs” bag for the halfway point on the bike.

Katie accompanied me to the parking lot atop Monona Terrace, something she did first when she was ten years old. It was quiet except for the gas motor generators powering portable lights. Volunteers marked race numbers on our upper arms, ages on our calves. In the background, Mike Reilly spoke calmly, reassuringly over the PA system.


The racers think that Ironman is about them and, it is, partially. It is also about the two thousand or so volunteers who absolutely rock the day, year after year. I do adore her.  


Year after year, there is no peer: Team Rossman. Rick Long, Ann Long, Scott “Groceries” Ross, Margy, Katie, Sarah Long and Matt Wiegand. 


Strangest thing: The University of Minnesota, The University of Chicago and Grinnell College all called practically simultaneously. They want their degrees back. 

My family rendezvoused near the swim start. We took a few pictures, then I gathered Katie and Margy to walk me toward the swim start. Once the crowd became impassably dense, we hugged, said that we loved one another. Goodbye. Katie and I did our customary hand slap routine from the movie “The Parent Trap” and I inched toward the arch over the entry to the water. The music blared. No one talked. I looked down and saw only wetsuit legs and bare feet until I stepped into the lake. My heart pounded so hard I thought that it showed through my new wetsuit. Then I pushed off the squishy lake bottom. I took my first swim stroke, then another. I felt calmer. I put my head down and looked at the green lake bottom as I developed a rhythm. Soon, I found myself bobbing with approximately 2,700 other wetsuit clad triathletes waiting to start, all intending to go the very same place at the very same time in just a few minutes.

Mike Reilly encouraged everyone to remember September 11, 2001. A firefighter sang the National Anthem. Someone fired a cannon and 2,700 people began to thrash. Despite having survived 17 prior Ironman starts, I can’t adequately explain the chaos of a mass swim start. Everyone should have gone the same direction but people veered a little one way or the other and collided.  An arm landed on top of my  back. Two swimmers on either side converged and I was stuck with nowhere to put my arms into the water. People kicked me all over, but fortunately this year, not in the face. It was hard not to swallow a little water and, for brief moments, I felt as though I might drown. That got my complete attention. It was terrifying but only for a second or two before I recovered my composure.


The boiling throng heads toward the first turn.

Several hundred yards into the race, I was getting along pretty well. The worst of the crowd scene had sorted itself out. Then a swimmer lodged himself firmly on my back, his chest resting slightly below my behind. I took a couple of strokes but he seemed satisfied to stay where he was. So I bent my right knee and felt back with my foot. I placed the ball of my foot firmly but gently on his sternum. Once so placed, I pushed off hard. I felt his chest lift out of the water and ceased to feel him on my legs or feet. I wasn’t unhappy.

Upon exiting the water, my time was more than three minutes slower than my swim the year before. So much for the new wetsuit.

On the bike, Katie told me that I had exited the water in 17th position in my age group. Usually, I had finished the swim somewhere between sixth and eighth. I felt pretty  discouraged and that mood lingered through the first lap of the 112 mile bike course. How could I have been so slow?

On the second lap of the bike, I recovered my equanimity and rode as fast as my pencil thighs allow. (Translation: Not fast.) I enjoyed the strong tailwind and brilliant sunshine for the last 16 or so miles of the ride. I felt like I had set up a good run.




I made good time on the first lap of the run and my family let me know that I was gaining ground on my age group competitors. Still, I was placed somewhere in the teens within the 55-59 age group and I was not passing many of my peers. At the turnaround heading out onto the second lap, I felt like I could picture the rest of the run, all of it. I needed only to be patient, not to want to be anywhere else or to want to go faster than I could steadily run. The turnaround point at the top of Capitol Hill marked a place I usually had felt tired during prior races. But it was different this time. I felt good.

At about mile 16, on a long downhill slope with shade and a nice breeze, I suddenly ran out of gas. I just didn’t have what I needed to keep running. I mentally ticked off a list of possible explanations: Maybe I had not drunk enough water and had become dehydrated. Maybe my weight had been a little low and my long endurance fat burning capacity may have been compromised. Maybe I had not taken in enough calories from the concentrate bottles strapped to my waist. (Later that evening, when Margy took those bottles from my belt, she noted that I had left about an hour’s worth of concentrate there despite having carefully planned for four hours of nutrition. Little wonder I might have not had enough energy.)

It might also have been mental. Maybe I just ceased to see the point. Why was I beating myself to death if I wasn’t even going to crack the top ten? I began to walk.

I felt bad when my family saw me walking. Katie tried to rally me, to give me permission to walk a while, then to regroup but I kind of felt finished. She walked with me for a while and I ran some but did not sustain the effort. I was not a very communicative dad and spent most of my time looking down at the pavement.

From that place, I ran and walked about eight miles, breaking into a full run at the 25 mile mark. I could not face walking during the last 1.2 miles.




I like to finish with the sun a bit higher in the sky.


I ran down the finish chute, saw my family and leaned heavily onto the volunteer “catchers,” the guys who propped up finishers to make sure that we were OK and get us through the finish area without falling. I needed their help for just a minute, then felt strong enough to keep walking. I refused to have my picture taken and walked toward the hotel. It struck me that I had not even looked at the clock when I finished. It could have taken me 12:30 to finish, I thought. Then I heard Mike Reilly announce that the 12 hour mark had just passed. So it had been a bit better than I had feared but I still felt ashamed for walking so much.


There for me at the start; there for me at the end. Ironman 18. Rick, Ann, Katie, Groceries, Margy, Sarah and Matt. This was the 42nd time that they saw me on race day!


Tuesday, September 13th, two days later

I was only interested in eating a mix of caramel and cheese popcorn. We got it at Costco. It was a big bag. It was a lot to eat but I was not discouraged.

Monday, September 19, eight days later in Sydney, Australia

“Is that the first time you have looked at your results?” Margy asked.


“I’m surprised, Margy said.

Often, after finishing an Ironman, I wanted to see the results even before they were in. In 2016, it had taken me eight days to get the nerve to even look.

In blog posts from years past, I have not recited the numbers for fear that I would sound as if I was bragging. Since the numbers this year helped me make excuses, I felt differently. 2016 was my fourth year in a five year age group. Of the 13 guys who finished ahead of me in our age group, 10 were in their first year (55 year-olds in the 55-59 age group). One was in his second year. Three of us in the top 14 were in our fourth year. I was the last of those three. Younger competitors appeared to enjoy an advantage.

The finishers ahead of me in my age group weren’t just young, they were very fast. Even on my best day, I could not have positioned myself for Kona and had little chance to place top five.

There were 154 in our age group and, as the 14th finisher, I was inside the top ten percent, not a disaster but far short of my hopes and expectations. In my age group, I had placed 3rd in 2011, 3rd in 2014 and 4th in 2015 at Ironman Wisconsin.

All this said, it troubled me that I dedicated so much time to training and yet so poorly managed my nutrition and my emotions. A better mental game would have dramatically improved my result. Why wasn’t I smarter after 17 prior Ironman finishes?

I could go on but I won’t. It was a disappointment, not a disaster, and there will be a next year and, I hope, a year after that. That disappointment whet my appetite to improve.

Thursday, September 22, 11 days later, somewhere in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia

The sky had darkened to steel gray over the Sydney harbor. The wind picked up and it began to drizzle onto the palm trees. Several birds picked at the grass.

I had read something recently that said we understand our lives in retrospect but need to live our lives looking forward. I was still thinking about Ironman Wisconsin, trying to understand it and to frame it within my life. I realized that I am most proud of two things: the results I have helped to achieve as a parent and my endurance athletic accomplishments.

Of course, I was very proud of all of my family, not just Katie. But I didn’t think that I had much to do with the rest of my family’s educations, careers, spouses or raising their children. I counted myself part of a good lot but couldn’t take credit for all that my family had accomplished.

Academic degrees and distinctions, jobs and other stuff that should have made me prouder than qualifying for Kona or running a 2:37 marathon didn’t. Maybe my retrospective understanding was not so sound but there it was.

For the past 11 days, I had been working the numbers pretty hard to make myself feel good about Ironman Wisconsin. That I had walked so much of the marathon spoiled satisfaction I might have taken from finishing in the top ten percent of my age group. Was it dehydration, lack of nutrition or just missing the spirit to keep running? I didn’t know.

At almost 58 years old, I realized that I needn’t state excuses. No one expected me to be who I once was in the water, on the bike or in my sneakers. But I also realized that I wanted to keep going and did not really know how to frame it.

When I rode beside Katie in Madison, I told her that I kept doing Ironman for one reason: I didn’t know how to quit. Walking in the Royal Botanic Gardens halfway across the world, I still didn’t know how and had no intention of doing so. As I stick with it, I hoped to do so gracefully, accepting the inevitable diminution of my abilities. It was graceless to complain if I could still finish an Ironman. Best to enjoy memories of past accomplishments and occasional modest triumphs to come. Most importantly, I needed to appreciate what I had, not to dwell upon what I had lost. Let the disappointments go. I hoped to keep firmly in mind how lucky I had been.

Up next: Twin Cities Marathon 2016 with Katie. It will be my 29th TCM and 80th marathon.




On Saturday, July 2nd, I ran my fifth Afton Trail Run 50K. It was hard.


In 2001, I had run with my friend, Dave Mason, for a year or so preceding his first Ironman. I had always wondered whether I could run an Ironman but now Dave would be my guinea pig. If he couldn’t complete an Ironman, I gave myself little chance. But if he could….

Dave flew off to Germany and I waited. Following races online was not a thing back then. Dave finished. When he returned, I asked.

“Do you think that I could finish an Ironman?”

Dave looked me squarely in the eye and did not skip a beat.

“Absolutely,” he said.

My heart soared.

“But I’m not going to tell you that the marathon doesn’t suck because it does.”

I had stopped listening after “absolutely.” Though maybe I should have listened more to the part about the marathon, Dave had just changed my life. Without Dave expressing the confidence that I could finish an Ironman, I would not have been brave enough to try. But Dave had done an Ironman and he knew what it took. So when he said that I could run an Ironman, too, I listened.

I have thought back on that conversation hundreds, maybe thousands, of times. While I am very, very grateful for Dave’s confidence, that exchange has stood as an example of how we never really know when we might say or do something that changes someone else’s life. I don’t think that Dave meant to affect me so profoundly, only to offer an honest assessment and friendly encouragement. But the fact remains that his quick expression of confidence transformed me.

And Margy may never forgive him.

Before the 2016 Afton Trail Run.

I got into the car at about 4:50 a.m. and drove east. Only after I had driven 15 miles or so did the sun begin to draw a thin yellow line across the deep blue horizon, separating land from sky. As I approached Afton State Park, a couple of cars ahead of me, and one behind, turned right to trace the hilly ribbon of road in the dim orange glow of early morning. Dew on the grass glimmered silver and green.

In the parking lot, I ran into Kevin Bass, a friend from when Jared Berg coached us. Kevin had taken up adventure racing – Chile, China, etc. He described these multi-day races as he put on a backpack with a huge water bladder in back and two conventional water bottles attached to shoulder straps. An enormous pocket between the straps covered his chest and carried his iPod, energy gels, Clif Bars and who knew what else. Officials at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth recently said that he couldn’t use that pack in their race. It looked too much like a suicide vest. I feigned agreement with Kevin: the race officials were being unreasonable. I also thought about applying the term “suicide vest” when gearing up for a 50K trail run.

About 200 of us milled around in front of John Storkamp, the Afton Trail Run race director, as he gave instructions. I looked around at the other runners and picked out the guy who had been favored to win last year. In fact, he had been picked to win by a lot – and to break the course record for “Grand Masters,” those runners age 50 and older. Turned out my friend John Maas beat the guy and so did I, even though the favorite last year was only 50 and in his first year of eligibility in our age group. This year, at age 57, I didn’t think I had much of a chance against him. He would run smarter; I was sure of it.

I confided in Kevin that I was nervous. I wanted to do well but eight years into our age group and, well … that guy was going to clean my clock. It was Kevin’s turn to be disingenuous. He assured me that I could do well, even win, especially since my friend and defending Grand Masters champion, John Maas, had chosen not to run.

John Storkamp continued his briefing. He showed us some small orange flags like those used in lawns to mark where the TV cable is buried when workers have to dig nearby. Those flags were to appear on our left at points on the course where we could turn one way or the other.

“Just keep the flags on your left,” he said. “If they are on your right, turn around and run the other way. And if you don’t see flags for too long a time, you might be lost. If that happens, just find another runner and buddy up. Most of the people racing today train on this course. Somebody will help you.”

And with that guidance, John admitted having nothing more to say so he told us to start.

The first hill descended rapidly on loose gravel with a very sharp turn at about 500 yards. Nervous runners going too fast often slip, and some fall, at the first turn. I stayed upright.

I ran with my age group’s favorite. I stayed close behind but soon determined that he was going out fast, far too fast, for me to keep up.

At the first aid station, my friend John Maas stood watching. He called out when he saw me.

“Run your race. Be smart, man.”

“I’m trying,” was all I could think to say but I wondered what could possibly be smart about running a 31 mile race with 4,600 vertical feet of climbing.


Early in the race, with company.


Except when I swim, I train alone. I don’t consider this an appealing characteristic.

Years ago, when Dave Mason and I trained together, our bike and run paces matched. It worked well, though Dave was clearly the more clever. At the base of a long or steep hill, Dave would ask, “So how is Katie doing?” He knew that I couldn’t help but answer  in extensive – and breathless – detail. It was his chance to make me work harder climbing a hill while he conserved. It took me far too long to figure out the trick. I felt like a moron. But Dave moved back to his hometown years ago and I haven’t found a compatible training partner to replace him.

So I enjoy the solitude of an early morning ride or run. I love having the rising sun all to myself as I move under my own power, my breath the only sound interrupting the chirping birds or rustling leaves.

Training alone gives me time to think, some of which is wasted on repeating thoughts over and over again. Other times, I think about the same thing but in a slightly different way and what once stymied me becomes clear. Unfortunately, I spend far more time on useless repetition than insight.

When I race, I don’t think about things that differ much from when I train. After all, shouldn’t racing simply be a more intense version of training? You train over and over so that you can go out and do the same thing wearing a number.

The most difficult aspect of racing is managing feelings. If my effort lags, I feel bad physically or someone passes me, it is hard not to get discouraged, not to scold myself. During most marathons, ultra-marathons and Ironmans, I swear off endurance athletics entirely. It’s just too hard, I tell myself. Not worth it. Negative thoughts slow me down but they can be incredibly hard to avoid when pushing myself. The link between exertion and emotion is strong. But this year’s Afton felt different. I remained remarkably buoyant both physically and emotionally. In fact, I resolved an issue that troubled me for a very long time, even before the end of the first lap.

Unlike any other race I run, at Afton, I spent most of the time completely alone – no spectators, no fellow runners. The trails were narrow and even if there were spectators, they wouldn’t find many places to stand. Every once in a while, I passed a runner or another runner passed me. Aid stations came along, but they were few and far between. That left me mostly with my thoughts and the trees, something I had practiced.

At the halfway point (15.5 miles) I ran to the aid station at the start/finish line. I felt pretty chipper and looked forward to the second lap. A very nice woman volunteer began to refill my water bottle.

“Is there anything else, anything at all, I can help with?” she asked.

“Quick, make me ten years younger,” I replied.

She laughed and while I didn’t know it at the time, the day’s fun was pretty much over.


The flags are supposed to stay on my left. Ahem.

Beginning of the End.

Exactly 3:41:00 into my race, I checked the flasks of nutrition concentrate on my belt. I had made it into the 23rd mile and had less than eight to go. I was out of nutrition. Ordinarily, I would have consumed one flask per hour but I had prematurely emptied all of my flasks so I needed to run at least an hour to the finish without additional calories. I had also grown dehydrated despite sipping from my water bottle throughout the race. Did I say something about how scolding myself doesn’t make me run faster?

My Garmin watch beeped as I passed the 26 mile mark. I had practically run a marathon and felt OK, all things considered. At just about that same time, I noticed that my pace began to slow, my left foot ached from stepping on sharp rocks. Only five miles to go, just a bit more than the distance from our house around a nearby lake. How hard could that be?


A disingenuous smile for the camera.


Despite thinking that only two substantial hills remained, I learned the hard way that there were actually four. One of the hills featured an extremely narrow, rocky snowshoe path (without the snow) and I needed to stop running and walk, if briskly. I grabbed small trees that lined the path to hoist myself up the steep hill.

During the last three miles, three or four runners passed me. My attitude remained positive but I wanted that lady at the halfway mark to have done what I asked. No way would these runners have passed me if she had lopped ten years off my age.

I walked up the final hill, “Meatgrinder.” (No explanation required.) Last year on Meatgrinder, I had passed the guy favored to win my age group. This year, he was nowhere to be seen. I believed that he had finished well ahead of me. In fact, I imagined that he had showered, shaved, eaten and was trying to figure out what to grab for dessert.

The Winner!

I ran up onto a sunny, flat plain. The course followed a dusty path through waist-high grass now dry in the warm sun.  Though the finish line remained out of sight, I heard music playing over loudspeakers. Finally, flags saying “Finish” appeared. As I crossed the line, I tried to make it look like I was a whole lot fresher than I actually was. I walked ten yards or so to the timer’s table. A volunteer asked my age.

“57,” I said, realizing that my voice sounded thin and reedy. I continued to breathe hard.

“We’ve been waiting for you!” she said. She handed me the framed picture given to the winner of the Grand Masters Men.

“I won?” I said.

She smiled and nodded yes.

Then I made this mistake: “I don’t believe it!”

I felt sure that last year’s favorite had finished well ahead of me but I couldn’t be sure; maybe he resigned before the finish. After all, he had blown it last year.

“Who do you think might be ahead of you?”

I told her.

She and another volunteer checked the results. They conferred with one another, whispering. She walked back to me.

“Yes, he’s in,” she said. “Do you see him around here?”

She held out her hand, silently suggesting that I give back the Grand Masters winner’s prize. I complied. Then we walked through the crowd of runners eating picnic food. Most of the runners had finished the 25K (sissies!) and were eating their second hamburger or hot dog.

I scouted around and called the the Grand Masters winner’s name but couldn’t find him.

The woman volunteer said, “You have been so nice, I wish that I could give this to you.” She motioned to the winner’s picture that she held in her hand.


The Ride.

On the way back to my car, I walked by a family. The husband/dad carried an infant in a “high tech meets high touch” 21st century backpack that featured a canopy protecting the baby from the sun. The mom/wife tried to keep a toddler from darting into the roadway even though there were no cars coming. The toddler was skilled in dipping his shoulder and accelerating just as the mom was about to grab him.

“So what kind of race are they having today?” the dad asked.

“A trail run.”

“Oh, how long?”

“Well, either 50K or 25K.”

“How many miles is that?”

“Either 31 miles or 15.5 miles,” I replied.

The mom took a good look at me and spotted the “50K” on my race bib. She looked a like she didn’t quite know what to think.

“May I ask a favor?” I said, looking down at my left shoe.

“Sure,” said the mom.

“See that key right there? Can you untie that shoe and hand me the key? For me to bend down right now might not work so well.”

The mom seemed to understand. To see me literally fall on my face trying to reach the key probably did not appeal. She tugged on my shoelace for a while, struggling, then handed me the key.

“Thanks,” I said. “Have a great day”

They watched me wobble off on muddy legs, sweaty clothes clinging.

I called Margy from the car to let her know that I was safely off the course. I heard how weak my voice sounded as I left a voicemail. No wonder that family had looked me over so cautiously. I left another voicemail, this one for Katie. As I reached the park exit, I got my mom on the phone and we chatted until I had almost reached home.


I once read that we are who we are only in relation to other people. As I drove toward home, I recalled the story about Dave Mason encouraging me to try an Ironman. I thought about the people I had spent time with that day and the time I spent alone. How had all of these people influenced me: Kevin Bass, Dave Mason, Margy, Katie, my mom, the mom who untied my shoe, the lady at the aid station who failed to make me younger, even the volunteer at the finish line? I considered the influence each had, some for only a moment, some for a lifetime. But I also wondered what effect I might have had on each of them. I have almost always been grateful for the effect others have had on me but have thought less – and usually more dubiously – about the effect I might have had on others. I hoped that I had been kind and reassuring and that, maybe, I had helped or encouraged them. At the very least, I hoped that I hadn’t smelled too bad. (Fat chance.) The thought that my words or actions could be as powerful as Dave Mason’s scared me a little, though I couldn’t possibly imagine having said anything so important or influential. Then again, you never know.

As I turned onto Boulder Pointe Road and neared home, I thought back to the race. I recalled the feeling of running where the pack had strung out along the course, the dirt path dished smooth and grass brushed my calves. I recalled how it felt to run completely on my own with only the sound of my breath and the sun warming my shoulders.





My Boston Marathon story from 2016 requires a bit more patience than my usual blog posts. Paul Revere, my dad, Walter Payton, two high school boys from Harlan, Iowa, and Katie make appearances here that I hope will make sense by the end. Here goes.

Our New Car. Nelson Pontiac called. Our new car would be ready Monday. Dad had ordered a white 1967 Pontiac Catalina station wagon with blue vinyl seats, AM radio and air conditioning similar to the one pictured above. Dad always liked a fresh new car. We looked forward to picking it up.

Monday was cool, clear and sunny in Harlan, Iowa, population 5,000. I don’t remember the day in Mrs. Howe’s second grade class or hearing the fire whistle blow 15 minutes after I got home. Harlan had a volunteer fire department and in 1967, a siren downtown on top of the fire station summoned firemen. Pretty much everyone in town knew when there was a fire.

My dad, Bob, worked at a small bank owned by another family in town. The bank backed onto an alley adjacent to the fire station. When he heard the siren, Dad would have stood up from his desk, walked quickly toward the back door, unlocked the two deadbolts, and hustled down the stairs into the alley, then run with his distinctive gait less than 40 yards before rounding the corner and stepping into the 1930s-era brick fire station next to city hall.

Missing a right leg, Dad used a prosthetic. His license barred him from driving a car without automatic transmission but if he was the first one onto a truck, Dad got into the driver’s seat, started the engine, turned on the lights, cued the siren, depressed the clutch, shifted into gear and made sure that everyone held on.

As Dad’s truck left the station, I am not sure he knew what awaited at the small white house a few blocks south of “The Square,” Harlan’s one square block downtown area. A woman had been ironing clothes. She took a break for just a few minutes to go out to her garden to water a rose. She could keep an eye on the house from there. But by the time she noticed the smoke, flames engulfed her house. Her three year-old, two year-old and twin infants were taking a nap in the bedroom.

It was just about 3:40 p.m. and two boys walking home from the World War I-era brick high school came to the burning house. One of the boys’ mothers stood outside and said, “Clinton, there’s babies in there!”

A neighbor supplied a fire extinguisher. The trapped children’s mother pointed to the room where they had been sleeping. The boys, Clinton and Brent Petersen, made one trip in and brought out the three year-old girl and laid her in the grass. They returned once again and brought out the two year-old boy, laying him in the grass. By the time the boys returned to find the infant twin boys, the heat was too intense, the smoke too thick. Clinton and Brent crawled out of the house, lucky to have made it out alive.

The two and three-year old kids laid in the grass, unconscious as the fire trucks and ambulance arrived.

One of the firemen put on a respirator, fireproof coat, pants, boots and helmet and tried to crawl across the floor to get to the infants’ room. He didn’t make it. The heat was too intense. He crawled back out. Another tried and achieved the same result.

My dad volunteered. He took off his leg and put on the fireproof gear, the respirator. The other firemen tied a rope around his waist. If Dad had gotten into trouble, the other firemen would have used the rope to pull him out. Dad could also have followed the rope to return the same way he had come through the smoke and flames. Dad crawled into the house and hugged the floor.

The 120th Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon stands for a lot of things. Runners think that it is about them and it is, partially.

Paul Revere. The Boston Marathon runs on Patriots’ Day, a holiday celebrating the battles of Lexington and Concord. For those of you Longfellow fans, his poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride”immortalized Revere’s midnight ride through the streets of Boston to alert the city to the British troops’ approach preceding those battles.

Spring. The Boston Marathon marks the arrival of spring in one of America’s most historic cities – and a day off of school for kids. Without a school holiday, it might not be possible to haul so many runners from Boston Common to Hopkinton and the starting line. Hundreds of school buses, buses as far as you can see, line up to take runners the 26 or so miles west to the runners’ village near Hopkinton High School, which certainly can’t operate with 28,000 runners on its grounds, helicopters flying overhead and snipers on the roof.

Qualify. Qualifying for Boston represents many runners’ highest personal athletic aspiration, a chance to number among the relative few who can run the qualifying times for respective ages and genders.

2013. In 2013, Boston’s finish line was also the site of one of our country’s worst incidents of domestic terrorism. The chaos that ensued immediately following the explosions and in the several days following riveted the world’s attention. As we walked toward the expo to pick up my race number on the Friday preceding the race, we passed an empty storefront. Daffodils in pots lined the storefront and a handwritten sign on the darkened window said simply, “No More Hurting People.” A few people paused to look at the flowers just beginning to bloom and small memorials to people who were injured or died on that very spot. People remember.

The story of the Boston Marathon weaves these themes together – achievement, history, community, tragedy, healing. If sport can provide a venue for heroism, Boston seems like the place.

Heroes According to an App. The Boston Marathon, predictably, has an app for cell phones. It offers a paperless way to keep track of marathon weekend activities and to follow individual runners’ progress along the course on race day. To follow a runner, app users enter information on their participant in a section of the app entitled “My Heroes.”

A New Midnight Ride. A couple of Katie’s friends participated in a hybrid marathon-midnight ride event the night before the marathon. At midnight, a group of bike riders took off from the start line in Hopkinton and followed the course all the way to the finish line. I am not certain if they shouted that the “British are coming” or  just shut up and rode. The extremely early morning pancake breakfast near the marathon finish line has no known historical antecedent.

Race Morning. Margy, Katie and I returned to Boston Common early on race morning. It was the same place we had seen Katie and her friends run the BAA 5K the preceding Saturday. We snapped a few photos and I boarded a school bus. Our bus driver, Sandy, gave us an extremely thorough safety briefing. She pointed out the first, second, third and fourth choice means to get out of the bus if something bad happened. I couldn’t tell if the briefing derived from heightened vigilance since 2013.

Heather from Gettysburg sat by me. Heather was 4’10”, a PE teacher with two kids. We talked for the entire hour as the bus rolled toward Hopkinton, mostly about our kids. The conversation paused for a few moments as I looked out the bus window onto the Charles River and all of the local college rowing teams gliding along the course of the Head of the Charles Regatta that Katie had rowed for four years at Bowdoin. I bragged on Katie and hoped again that parental pride is only a venal sin, not a mortal one.

Once delivered to the runners’ village, Heather and I found a spot on a grassy lawn about the size of a football field ringed entirely by porta-potties. We continued our conversation as the sun rose warm and bright in a clear blue sky. I shed the garbage bag that had kept me warm on the walk to the buses, then my hooded sweatshirt, then my long-sleeve tee shirt. Sitting in my singlet and shorts, I began to perspire.

When called on the PA system, I said goodbye to Heather and dutifully made my way across a parking lot and down a quarter mile hill toward the start area along with a sea of synthetic-clad people. (I was in the second of four waves of approximately 7,000 each.) We sauntered down the hill toward yet another galactic complex of porta-potties. Last chance. I jogged to the far corner of the parking lot to take advantage of the shortest lines. All of my experience at running marathons had been good for something.

Corralled. I stepped into my corral, about 1,000 runners grouped according to qualifying time. I heard the starting gun sound a thud over the crest of the hill about 300 yards ahead. Then we just stood there. It took more than a minute before we even began to walk while 5,000 runners ahead crept toward, then across, the start line.

Finally Running. Of the run, I remember relatively little of note. Only about four miles into the race, I noticed a very fit looking woman on the side of the road sobbing inconsolably. Another fit looking woman hugged the crying woman. It appeared that the crying woman’s day was over almost before it had started. I wasn’t sure why.

Hello? Shortly after passing the crying woman, I experienced a personal marathon first. A woman said in a very snippy voice, “No, I am not talking to myself. I am talking on the phone.” Apparently, a runner near her thought that she was the marathon equivalent of a crazy bag lady conducting a monologue with herself. The lady held the microphone attached to her headphones up to her mouth and resumed her conversation. “Meet me at the 20 mile mark,” she said. I sighed and felt glad that she wasn’t texting.

Sweet Caroline. The sun felt hot as we traced the course through the modest cities of Ashland and Natick. We heard the Fenway Park Red Sox game favorite, “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, several times.

The Path in Front of Me. While running, I couldn’t help thinking about the runners who had come before me. Years ago, runners wore leather-soled shoes and ran over unpaved roads. Of course, there was Johnny Kelley, a man who ran in the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Berlin, finished 58 Boston Marathons, won two, finished second seven times, finished in the top five 15 times and ran his last full Boston Marathon at age 84. Bobbi Gibb was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon (without wearing a race number) in the mid-60’s and Katherine Switzer was famous for trying to run the race with a number, then getting physically attacked by a marathon official trying to remove her from the course. Bill Rodgers won three straight, 1978, 1979 and 1980. Bowdoin College’s own Joan Benoit Samuelson won in 1979 and 1983, then went on to win the first women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984 in Los Angeles. If anyone deserved to wear laurels for running 26.2 miles, these people did.

Matter? So the Boston Marathon is, at least in part, about heroes, people whose ordinary lives ascend to higher planes, people whose names we know, whose accomplishments we admire. I admit that I felt just a bit ennobled by running the same streets as Boston Marathon immortals who had run before me. Just one problem: Does running marathons, no matter how fast, no matter how many, matter? Or at least does running fast or multiple marathons matter? If it doesn’t matter, why do people consider these – and other – athletes heroes? Put otherwise, who is a hero?

Wellesley. Running in the cool shade of the tall pine trees on the north side of the Wellesley College campus is one of my favorite places on the course. The Wellesley girls line the road and cheer loudly but sweetly. For some reason it reminded me of Guster’s version of “All the Way Up to Heaven” on “Lost and Gone Forever: Live.”

Back on the Marathon Course, Literally. Ironically, my entry into the city of Newton marked another personal marathon first. I found myself on my back looking straight up into the clear blue sky all the way up to heaven. It happened like this: While concentrating on running the inside line of a turn marked with tall traffic cones holding a plastic ribbon dividing spectators and runners, I neglected the heavy rubber feet on the bottoms of the cones. Those feet extended about eight or nine inches out from the bottoms of the orange cones. I must have clipped one of the bases with my left foot, then sprawled under the ribbon and onto the pavement. As I fell, I rolled onto my back. A few runners beside me gasped but kept running. A man, who I didn’t really see, came to my aid. He asked if I was OK. At first, I didn’t respond but finally said “yeah” when he asked again. Still kind of stunned, I just started running again. A woman held up the ribbon so that I could pass beneath and reenter the course. It happened that fast and I am very sorry that I didn’t thank the man for his help.

Brave. I thought a little more about heroes. To be a hero, I thought that you needed to do something brave. But that didn’t seem quite enough. (As you can tell, my running pace must not have been so fast; I had a lot of time to think.) Then I thought that to be a hero, someone needs both to do something brave and something that matters. Running a marathon is brave because you just know that it’s going to hurt but nothing much other than your comfort changes as a result of finishing a marathon. For instance, bungee jumping is brave but doing it really doesn’t produce any result that matters.

Persistence and Determination and Then What? Maybe people believe that the persistence and determination to run a marathon or an Ironman – or many marathons and Ironmans – would also make a person brave in a bad situation when action really matters. We’d look to them when the chips were down – raging rivers, burning buildings, the fog of intense battle, the works. Those with the fortitude to shine in intense, exhausting athletic pursuits should have the right stuff to do something heroic, something both brave and something that matters when the chance arises. For my part, I hope never to prove the assumption one way or the other. I hope never to encounter the burning house, freezing river, or world war, thank you.

No War for Dad. The military never wanted my dad’s help. The lack of a right leg made him “4F” and that always made him feel bad, maybe that much more so because his dad served in France during World War I. It was important to my dad’s generation to serve in the military whether in World War I, World War II or the Korean War. I have wondered whether Dad felt like he was robbed of the chance to be brave, maybe even a hero, while wearing a U.S. military uniform.

1967: Our Trip to Nelson Pontiac. It was starting to get late so I asked my mom if we were going to pick up the car that night. Mom said that we were. I said that I was excited and that Dad must have been excited, too. Mom said that Dad had had a very sad day. She said that the fire had been very bad, that two babies had died. She said that Dad had tried to save them but that he couldn’t. As an eight year-old, I couldn’t quite understand. I couldn’t imagine anything my dad couldn’t do.

We went to Dairy Queen that night. Dad was especially quiet. I asked Dad about the fire. He told me about putting on all of his gear. He told me about the rope. Then he told me about crawling along the floor. It was a small house. He knew exactly where he needed to go. He knew exactly what he needed to do. But he said that he couldn’t make it through the heat. He couldn’t see anything through the smoke. The fire was burning all around him. He said that by the time he was trying to reach them, the babies may already have died.

Once the fire had been extinguished, my dad volunteered again, this time to recover the  two infants’ bodies. He and his friend carried the tiny bodies out of the blackened house.

I am not entirely sure how my dad felt when he gave Bill Nelson the keys to our old car and put his three kids, ages eight, almost five and almost two, into the back seat of his brand new station wagon. It was a pretty quiet drive as we returned to our house on the western edge of town, the sun slipping low into a clear Iowa sky.

Harlan to Boston. You may wonder how running the Boston Marathon made me think of my dad and a fire in Harlan, Iowa, 49 years ago. It’s a fair question.

Heroes create a path for the rest of us to follow. Maybe if we do something brave, something that matters, we will have followed our heroes’ examples. So here I was following the path run by Johnny Kelley, Bill Rodgers, Bobbi Gibb, Katherine Switzer, Joan Benoit Samuelson and thousands of others. Why this path? Did it matter?

Harlan Tribune, April 13, 1967. In 1967, nobody used a cell phone to video volunteer firefighters crawling into a burning house. Nothing there to “go viral,” though the local newspaper covered the fire including pictures of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of the three year-old girl on the lawn and of the charred crib where the infants died. The story did not belabor the failed attempts to rescue the babies, though it did name the three firemen who entered the burning house with “breathing apparatus and lines even before the hoses.” To say more might have made my dad and the other firemen who unsuccessfully crawled into the flaming house feel even worse.

Our family didn’t subsequently discuss the fire. I think that the subject just made Dad feel sad. It’s hard to know how often he thought of that fire in the years following. I doubt he felt like much of a hero given the lack of discussion and the failure to save the twin babies. I can disagree with his conclusion now but it doesn’t do much good.

Walter Payton and Our Driveway. So 49 years have passed since that clear, spring day in Southwest Iowa. And it’s been more than 20 years since my dad died. Without a doubt, he was my hero. I also idolized Walter Payton. Inexplicably, the Chicago Bears neglected to draft me despite the fact that I lettered in football all four years at Grinnell College. I didn’t join Walter in the Bears’ offensive backfield. Their loss.

The long run from Hopkinton gave me time to ask how my heroes inspire me to live differently than I would have except for their example. Have I really followed their path? Maybe more importantly, what path have I left? What happens to someone who follows the rope that I trail behind? I don’t have good answers but one small remembrance has become habit.

34. Every time I do strength work – sit ups, lunges, squats – I count. Walter Payton wore “34” on his jersey so whenever I reached 34, I paused to remember him. I remembered how joyfully he played football, how when tackled especially hard, he bounced up, smiled, helped the tackler to his feet, patted him on the back, tossed the ball to the referee and trotted back to the huddle. I remembered Payton’s distinctive high-stepping gait as he neared the goal line. When he reached the end zone, he waited patiently for a teammate to arrive, then handed him the football, allowing his teammate to spike it. Football, even NFL football, for Walter Payton was joyful and generous.

After a time, I recognized that my ties to Walter Payton were not so strong as those to my dad. Maybe it would mean more to think of my dad when I reached the count of 34.  I remembered my dad saying over and over again how lucky he felt, how contented he would feel when he drove into the driveway of our white house with the big tree in the front yard and a healthy family in the car with him. Not many people would draw equivalence between my dad driving up our driveway and Walter Payton high-stepping into the end zone but I saw a similar joy, generosity and dignity, a strangely equivalent triumph.

Sometimes heroes don’t manage to pluck the drowning person from the rushing river or pull the person off the tracks before the train rolls through. To matter, do heroes need to succeed in what they set out to do? How many people do something really brave but don’t quite do what they set out to accomplish? I guess that heroes jump in, never quite knowing what will happen. I doubt Dad thought about the floor falling out from under him in the burning house and how it would have been if the three of us kids and Mom had to go pick up the new car without him.

So any time I do strength work now and count 34, I take a figurative tug on the rope and say to myself, “Bob’s boy.”

Finish. Margy and Katie saw me at the appointed spot on the course near the finish and I slogged in. My race had been neither immortal nor a disaster. I had just made it from start to finish, a privilege that I probably did not fully appreciate. After crossing the line, I looked back at the course and wondered what it would be like in a year to finish the race with Katie.

Postscript: The two and three year-old children rescued from the fire recovered. Clinton and Brent Petersen, the high school boys who rescued two of the four kids, became local heroes. The fire burned hot enough to melt light fixtures in the bedroom and kitchen. The house and all of its contents were a complete loss estimated to total $3,500. No home has been rebuilt on the site.

Photos from the weekend:

Upper left: Katie and Margy before Saturday morning’s BAA 5K.

Lower left: Marcus Schneider, Katie, Pete Edmunds and Taylor Stockton after the BAA 5K. Pete and Taylor did the midnight bike ride on the Marathon course.

Right: Me waving with a little less than a mile to go.



Bob Ross in a painting by Katie Ross. From a photo taken circa 1979.

Thanks to Margy and Katie for making the weekend in Boston great, as always. Thanks, too, to Marcus Schneider, Pete Edmunds, Taylor Stockton, Luisa Lasalle and Emily Carr.


We get up in the morning, feelin’ tired.
Sometimes we feel good, sometimes we feel bad,
But we gonna do it with feelin’.
From the root to the fruit, that’s where everything starts.
What you say to you. Don’t stop.

Angelo Dundee, Muhammad Ali’s trainer.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015 at 3:08 pm text exchange:

Scott: Wrist bands for each of us if you want. I put clear tape on each to laminate.


Katie: Awesome!!! Thank you!

Scott: Do you want me to pick up some shot blocks for you? What is your favorite flavor?

Katie: Yes please!! Raspberry. Ah I’m so pumped!!!

(The wrist bands pictured above show the exact 8:12 per mile pace required to run a marathon in 3:35:00, the qualifying time Katie would need to run for the Boston Marathon.)

Friday, October 2, 2015.

Katie had come to Minneapolis and worked from home all day while Margy and I were away. When we returned, I noticed that Katie had been eating her Shot Blocks, glorified – and expensive – gum drops laced with electrolytes for endurance athletes.

“I see that you have been eating your Shot Blocks,” I noted. “You realize that I bought you the exact number you would need to meet your calorie requirements for the marathon?”

Katie looked surprised.

“How were we supposed to carry all of those anyway?” she responded. She was right. So we worked on a plan that would provide her a mix of nutrition from Powerade at water stations and Shot Blocks pulled from a pouch I would carry on race day. We had it down to a science.

Bowdoin College Spring Break, March 2014.

Katie never took a beach vacation for spring break in college. Instead, she spent her spring breaks with her rowing team in cinder block “cottages” at Camp Robert Cooper (“Camp Bob”) in South Carolina. The accommodations were gray but at least the ice was out; back at Bowdoin, ice still covered the river on which they rowed. Bowdoin used Camp Bob to sort the team using “seat races.” Seat races attempt science by using control and experiment groups. A boat composed of a team rows a set course against another boat. Then one rower is switched out of the boat for another and they race again. The races continue until the team has determined the fastest combination of rowers in each seat.

As a senior and team captain, Katie stayed in the stroke (rearmost) seat of a boat, a spot of which she was assured while others swapped in and out of her boat. Seat races had proceeded for quite a while when a younger rower spoke up.

“Has anyone else noticed that no matter who is in her boat, Katie always wins?”

When thinking about running the Twin Cities Marathon in 2015, I thought it seemed like a good idea to jump into Katie’s boat. After all, I had cast my entire genetic lot with her anyway. Might as well run together.

Saturday, October 3, 2015.

The incomparable Courtney Payne sent Katie a link to a Radio Lab show about human limits. Courtney and Katie had rowed together for three years at Bowdoin. Katie and I listened. The show featured Julie Moss, the woman who crawled to the finish line of the 1982 Hawaii Ironman. After having led the race most of the day, Julie collapsed within just a few yards of the finish. While Julie laid on her back ten yards from the finish line, she watched the winner run by. Julie had pooped her pants on national TV and commented that it couldn’t get any lower than that. Then Julie said that she heard a voice somewhere deep down inside her.

Julie Moss in 1982

Julie Moss in 1982

“Get up,” the voice said.

She did.

Sunday, October 4, 2015. Race day.

We drove along the empty downtown streets of a predawn Sunday morning. I hadn’t expected this to be the most emotional part but it was. Katie and I have had a long-running dispute. What is the best-ever John Mayer song? I have always favored “No Such Thing.” Katie has always liked “Daughters.” But on this morning, Katie ran the iPhone and got to choose the music. It was only fair. This was to be her second marathon but the first during which she got to “let the dogs off the leash” and go for it. (At 15, she ran the Des Moines Marathon with Margy and me mostly at our pace, not hers.) This marathon was all about Katie.

Katie had trained really hard, not something with which she was unfamiliar. As a college rower, she knew the predawn chill of a fall morning in a northern state. I felt the stillness of the morning outside, the sky lighting wispy clouds pink over gray pavement. Meanwhile, we were getting pretty charged up. Katie seemed more excited than nervous. I felt nervous and responsible. It would fall to me to try to help Katie if the morning’s Twin Cities Marathon got tough. And marathons all have a funny way of getting tough. Go figure.

As we neared the parking ramp, Katie cued “No Such Thing,” and I was touched that she would pick my favorite. Then John Mayer sang these words:

And all of our parents
They’re getting older
I wonder if they’ve wished for anything better

I glanced at Katie, then looked straight ahead. I blinked a couple of times and sniffled.

We drove to a parking spot and jumped out to put on our sweatshirts and pull on our trash bags. I am resolutely old school when it comes to marathon apparel. When I began running marathons in the mid-80’s, most marathoners took big black trash bags and tore a hole in the bottom, then slipped the bag on to stay warm in the morning before a race. Bags with draw strings are the best; you can cinch the drawstring around your waist. I have become a lifelong fan of trash bags for this purpose and still love the terrarium feel of a trash bag drawn tight around my waist on a chilly, breezy morning.

2015 - Boston Marathon Before Start

So you don’t get the incorrect idea, here I model properly fitted pre-marathon attire; at the 2015 Boston Marathon with Margy and Katie.

The day before, I had enlisted my mom’s help to fold two trash bags so that we could cut out a head hole in the bottom of each. On Sunday morning, when I began to pull my bag over my head, I noted that mine had two holes. I showed Katie and the tension broke as we laughed. I chivalrously took the bag with two holes and handed Katie hers. She unfolded her bag and began to put it on – but had to choose which of the two head holes to use. For the moment, our pre-race jitters disappeared and our laughter echoed off the concrete walls, floor and ceiling in the empty parking ramp right above the bail bond office.

We managed to show up in the start area with time to attend to last minute details. We worked our way into an appropriate spot among the other runners. The sun hung low in the sky behind us and lit the buildings west of us with a warm orange glow. We looked down the course. A helicopter circled. As she has always done when excited, Katie grinned with her teeth clenched tight and we exchanged a hand slap routine adopted from “The Parent Trap” when Katie was in grade school.

The air horn sounded and we heard a cheer. For ten or 15 seconds, no one around us moved. Then we saw people ten yards in front of us begin to walk, then five yards in front of us. We began to walk, then jog. It took us more than 30 seconds to cross the start line after the air horn sounded. I instructed Katie to go first. I would follow tightly behind; we couldn’t run side-by-side during the first few hundred yards because of all of the jostling. Katie moved swiftly into a small gap where I joined her. We came out of the worst of the crowd and began to run beside one another. I listened carefully to her even breathing and watched her smooth gait.

We looked up the long ribbon of bobbing humanity stretching along Hennepin Avenue. At the top of a rise nearing the western edge of downtown, we looked toward the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden and heard the sound of the Minneapolis Cathedral’s bells chiming full bore. For whatever reason, those sights and sounds always affect me.

“This is so cool,” Katie said.

I smiled as we headed down the hill toward a sharp left turn, the bells still ringing pure and sweet into a perfectly blue sky.

The first miles of the race passed remarkably well as we threaded through southwest Minneapolis, first passing the stately old homes in Kenwood, then by Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun, the still water shimmering smooth, bright and cold. When we passed our family beside Lake Calhoun, I forgot to toss my sweatshirt and needed to make a “U” turn. Katie went ahead but made me pay; it was hard work to catch up.

By Lake Harriet, we felt cool shade and a slight breeze.  To the west, the sun illuminated the far shore. Immediately to our east, a wooded embankment sheltered the course and discouraged spectators from standing nearby. For a few minutes, we could only hear the breathing of the runners around us, their feet striking the ground with light thumps and scratching sounds.

“It hasn’t sorted out yet, Katie,” I offered. “People are still passing and getting passed but we will soon be surrounded by the people we will run with all the way to the finish.”

I began to point out runners to whom we should pay attention. An even pace developed through years of marathon experience will win out over “surge and sag” speeds run by fast but impatient young men. (This, sadly, I know from experience.) An older guy just in front of us ran a smooth, steady pace. The sinewy muscles in his calves snapped taut with each foot strike, then loosened as his leg extended behind him. In mid-stride, the skin of his legs was a little loose and wrinkled behind his knees as it covered knotty veins. But when his feet touched down, that leg stood in sharp relief featuring long, lean muscles. This was one of the guys who would be steady, steady, steady.

“Pay attention to this guy, Kate.”

She nodded.

Then I felt self conscious and glanced behind me just to see if anyone was studying my legs.


Katie making fun of my circa 2003 tri outfit. Plenty of miles left.

Katie and I both wanted to encourage one another during the race but, oddly, not one single time did either of us urge the other to go faster. I habitually “one-stepped” Katie, meaning that I ran just one step ahead of her no matter how fast she went. She had become (mostly) tolerant of this but, on race day, Katie wanted to exercise discipline necessary to run 8:12 miles. So, as my one step became two or three, Katie would say, “Dad, easy.” And I would dial my pace back. Meanwhile, if Katie went too fast, particularly after a water stop or an inspiring band played along the course, I would say, “A little hot there.”

At the ten mile mark, I consulted one of the wrist bands that I had made for the two of us. We were four minutes ahead of pace.

Katie said, “OK, Dad, we have plenty of time in the bank. From here until 19, let’s just concentrate on running 8:00’s.”

Katie was afraid of “blowing up,” finding herself in the last few miles of the race without energy to run. It wasn’t an unreasonable fear. But I could see that Katie’s gait had not deteriorated, her breathing was smooth and even. I pressed.

“Dad, easy.”

At mile 16, I looked carefully at Katie. Her training plan included no runs longer than 16. I couldn’t see anything wrong with her, though I had begun to feel like I had been on my feet a good long while. I hoped that she would not become apprehensive because she had entered terra incognito in the distance beyond her longest training run.


Nine fingers for nine minutes to the good.

At the east end of the Franklin Avenue Bridge, our family stood to cheer. I held up nine fingers to let them know that we were nine minutes ahead of pace. “Nine minutes to the good,” I thought, but I knew that the hardest miles of the course were all in front of us.

In St. Paul, near mile 21, we approached the course’s hardest hill. I had prepared Katie for this several times including a training run along the last 11 miles of the course. A woman pulled up alongside us.

“You guys are a metronome!” she said. “I’ve been pacing off you.”

“We’re a team,” I responded. “You can be on our team, too.”

The woman smiled and accepted our invitation as we rounded a sweeping left hand turn and faced a steep hill extending about a quarter mile. Katie temporarily ditched caution. She dug in and pushed up five or six yards in front of me. For a moment, I thought that she might have gapped me and this would be the last I would run with her. Then I remembered how determined I felt about crossing the line together. I pressed.

Another song lyric popped into my head. It was a song by The Alan Parsons Project that I used to listen to in college.

“Who can say why you and I are Gemini?”

I enjoyed the celestial image of the two of us composed of stars in a clear, dark sky suspended above that cursed hill. The celestial quickly gave way to the terrestrial: Katie was kicking my butt as she raced ahead up the hill. Still, this was a closeness that I suspect that few fathers and daughters ever experience. I felt enormously close to Katie. “Chip off the old block,” I would have said – if I could have caught my breath.

We reached the top of the hill together and entered a short flat portion of the course before continuing the climb toward mile 23.

“Regroup here,” I fairly whispered. “It goes up just after the left hander.”

My friend Drew ran up and offered us orange slices. We declined but thanked him. I introduced Katie. He said that we looked awesome. I could tell that he meant it. We turned the corner and headed up Summit.

“Stay right. Let’s get the shade,” I said.

The temperature had not yet reached 60 but it still felt good to be in the shadows of the full trees just beginning to show fall colors.

After we passed the cheerleaders and students from the University of St. Thomas, it became quieter – or maybe I just tuned everything out except for Katie’s breath. On only one or two occasions did Katie say, “Dad, easy.” Mostly we just put our heads down and climbed the gentle but persistent slope until we approached Snelling Avenue. The hill got steeper. We passed only a few spectators. They offered tepid encouragement.

“Surf band at the top,” I said to Katie.

No response. I checked her gait. Her breathing sounded steady but deep. I could tell that she was suffering. We were all suffering. We passed the surf band and reached the crest of the hill, the highest point on the course. It would be almost all downhill from there. I turned toward Katie and shouted, “Katie, you did it!” Katie said later that this startled her. I hadn’t yelled at her during the entirety of the race, only offered quiet warning when she had gone too fast or guidance regarding the side of the street on which to line up for the  next curve.

Summit Avenue passed from the shady, older, uphill part to a sunny, slightly downhill portion. A puff of breeze blew in our faces. Katie had fallen in behind me, maybe to let me shield her from the wind. I hoped that she had not spent too much energy on the hill. Then she pulled up alongside. I didn’t look except to see out of the corner of my eye that she was OK – OK that is for just having run 23 miles – and needing to run three more. I looked at my watch, then at my pace wristband: more than ten minutes to the good.

Ordinarily, at this time of a race I would have let my mind go as blank as I could make it. I would have let the miles go by without thinking of anything and without noticing how uncomfortable I had become. I would have sunk into the rhythm of my steps. But every time I caught myself drifting, I looked over at Katie and remembered that we needed to stick together and bring it into the finish. At that stage, there were very few times that either Katie or I corrected one another’s pace. Increasingly, I had ceased to focus on Katie’s condition and had begun to focus on my own. Yeah, I still had gas in the tank, but not a lot. Best to just keep going and hope that she would stay at my right shoulder – and that I could stay at her left.

We hit the 25 mile mark and I shouted one last time, “OK!” I don’t think that Katie heard. We both knew that “the hay was in the barn” unless something dramatic happened. I ran through the list of horribles in my mind, the things that could go wrong: I could have had a heart attack (highly unlikely), we could have gotten hit by a car straying onto the course (equally unlikely, though we had seen a car on the course near mile 24), or Katie and I could have had a mutual “Forrest Gump Moment” and just decided it wasn’t worth it (not happening).

Katie shouted when she spotted the St. Paul Cathedral dome as we passed the James J. Hill House. From there, we ran about 60 yards up a very shallow climb, then spotted the finish about 500 yards ahead. The course followed a steep downhill lined by police officers posted every 25 yards or so just in case a threatened Black Lives Matter protest tried to block the course (it didn’t). I thanked each cop as we passed.

Nearing the bottom of the hill, I greeted Jim and Denise D’Aurora, friends from my time on the TCM board. Then we began a slight 250 yard uphill into the finish. I started to execute a pass so that Katie and I could run side-by-side for our finish photo. Katie issued one last speed warning.


In the finish chute. Note how we each wear our hats and hold our left hands.

We clasped hands as we crossed the line.

We stopped for a moment after finishing to give one another a big hug. I looked at my running watch. We had crossed about ten seconds before. My watch said 3:22:43. More than twelve minutes to the good. Katie had easily qualified for Boston.

We made it through the finish area and reunited with our family. My mom said that it must have been an awfully proud moment for me. She’s known me a while.

I recalled the John Mayer song we had heard on the way to the parking ramp. Years ago, when I had first heard the song talking about all of our parents getting older, I had assumed that the aging parents were other people but here I was, one of the aging parents. I felt awfully grateful to be part of Katie’s race. Grateful for my family. As for wishing for anything better, I couldn’t think of a thing.


Katie and I had the Twin Cities Marathon down to a science. Katie had trained with discipline and intensity following a well-regarded plan. Each of us formulated exact nutrition and hydration strategies. We used GPS-enabled watches to monitor our pace and time. We wore wristbands showing us precise times at which we needed to pass each mile marker. In the end, though, we pretty much tossed all of this out the window. Instead, we ran with feeling. We felt deep down inside. We looked to one another. And we ended up running so much faster than we ever would have dared to plan.


Katie needed to run an average of 8:12 miles to finish in 3:35:00 to qualify for Boston. We ran 3:22:32 for an average pace of 7:44 per mile. Katie placed 67th of 1,130 women in the 22-29 age group, roughly the top 5.9%.

Version 2

Does age win over beauty? The official results show Katie and I finishing with the same time but I finished one place in front of her. Case closed.


Left to right: Scott, my mom, Nancy, Katie, my sister, Ann, my brother-in-law, Rick, Margy and my niece, Sarah. Thank you so much.

From the root to the fruit, that’s where everything starts.


Katie contemplating the Boston Marathon as a youngster, “8:12’s, are you serious? No sweat.”

For Dad, the unlikeliest person I have ever known to use a sentence including the word “I” with “can’t.”


Lake Monona, September 13, 2015, at 6:25 a.m.

The sun had just risen fiery orange to illuminate a few wispy clouds on the eastern horizon beyond Lake Monona. The winds were calm, the lake placidly flat to reflect a perfect early fall sky. I bobbed in the water and looked overhead from east to west. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace appeared almost red, painted by the first rays of sun. Other people – more than 2,500 of them – joined me in the water, each wearing a black wetsuit and neon green or fluorescent pink swim cap. Maybe there had been a more perfect morning but I couldn’t remember it.

While I bobbed, I thought a lot about a line from the Book of Esther.

“But you were born for a day such as this.” – Esther 4:14

Esther’s story is a little complicated. A Jew by birth, then orphaned, Esther became a queen who had not disclosed her origins to the king before she learned of a plot to rob and kill the kingdom’s Jews. Esther summoned strength by believing that she was born for that exact time and place. The fate of many thousands of people was up to her. In the end, she used bravery, charm and intelligence to get the king to prevent harm from coming to the kingdom’s Jews and saw to it that the man who perpetrated the plot was caught and punished.


In my case, I had not come out for an early morning swim to save anyone from pillage or murder. I was doing something frivolous and non-sectarian: Ironman is equally perilous to Jews and gentiles alike. But, like Esther, I felt like I was where I belonged at just the right time doing something really big. I tried to summon strength by believing that I was somehow born for this moment.

Strange as it may sound, I simultaneously felt profoundly grateful and scared out of my mind: grateful for my family watching from the shore and scared to death. I was not so scared of death as concerned that I would look foolish. I worried that if I did not do well, I would look like an idiot for having so fruitlessly expended so much time and effort training and racing. And my failure would be public; anyone can look up race results online. Then somebody shot off a cannon and the water around me boiled with more than 5,000 arms and 5,000 legs all heading for a red triangular buoy almost a mile away. For a few moments, I reconsidered; I was scared of death after all.

The first few hundred yards of an Ironman swim are far more chaotic than they look from shore. In the water, I couldn’t see much. I collided with swimmers on both sides as we all struggled to navigate. When we tried to untangle, a swimmer came up from behind and swam over us. Someone kicked me in the arm, another in the side and another on the shoulder. Sometimes my stroke ended up on someone’s back and I tried not to dunk him or her but that only slowed me down, thus risking being swum over again. After a few minutes of this sort of aquatic wrestling match, I ran out of breath. I needed to regroup. Eventually, my breath returned but it wasn’t easy. And I wasn’t out of the woods. Just before the first turn, someone’s heel registered firmly in my left eye socket. The left goggle rested askew, tilting slightly down my left cheek. It stayed watertight so while I couldn’t see much, I kept going.

Into the Fields

Riding out of Madison and into the surrounding fields felt very much like moving from the last of summer into the first of fall. Soybean fields shone yellow, grasses in the ditches stretched out parched and tan. Orange and yellow leaves of just a few trees here and there stood out from their neighbors showing off the first colors of the coming season. We rode along, mostly silently. I looked around to take it all in.

At the 80 mile mark, I felt a little tired but offered myself consolation: only 32 more miles of biking before the marathon.


My sister Lynn letting me know that this was a race and that I might want to think about going faster.

An Afternoon Run

The temperature had only risen into the low 70’s by the time I shed the bike and began to run. Even that practically perfect day still felt hot. I put ice into my running hat every chance I got. Then I tried to forget everything except placing one foot in front of the other. I tried not to want anything. I focused on being where I was and doing what I was doing. I told myself that was what was meant for me.

Team Rossman

Margy, Katie, my sister Lynn, my mom and Katie’s childhood friend now living in Madison, Haley Lillehei, formed Team Rossman and they had a date with destiny. 2015 marked Team Rossman’s all time record: They saw me a total of 44 times during the race. Biblical. Over an 11.5 hour day, they saw me approximately every 15 minutes. Put differently, on a 140.6 mile course, they saw me, on average, every 3.2 miles. This was not just a feat of mathematical and navigational excellence. It required diplomacy to sweet-talk skeptical cops into parking illegally “just for minute,” athleticism to run up and down steep hills to intercept me along tree-shrouded running paths and dedication to the proposition that traffic laws don’t apply on Ironman Wisconsin day.

Team Rossman didn’t just settle for seeing me as many times as possible. They kept me up to date with my pace and place. Everyone had an assigned role, including family members not in Madison. My sister Ann monitored the Ironman website from Des Moines, as did my niece Sarah in Minneapolis. They relayed analysis to my sister Lynn who took all incoming calls. Lynn briefed Katie, the group’s fittest runner. Katie stayed off the course but ran near me briefly as I biked and ran to let me know whether I had gained or lost ground. Back in the car, Katie navigated. Margy oversaw the entire operation according to her master spreadsheet, which made Eisenhower’s plan for Normandy look lightweight. When it was too far to jump from the car and run to an observation point on the course, my mom’s job was to sit tight and appear vulnerable – but not abducted – should police approach the car while parked illegally.

As the afternoon wore on and I neared the 18 mile mark of the run, Katie said that the first three guys in my age group were probably too far up the road to catch but it was certainly possible that one of them would blow up. I held steady and protected fourth rather than risking overextending and needing to walk.

With about four miles to go, Katie said that they would see me at the finish. By the time I reached the 25 mile mark, trees formed an arch that shrouded the entire street. A cool, light breeze made it feel like fall again. From there, I pushed uphill toward the capitol as it gleamed white in the late afternoon sun. I felt happy and relieved but worried that someone in my age group might be gaining on me. At the top of the hill, I picked up speed as I headed down the finish chute. I let the slight downhill carry me.

The Catch

The catchers who met me just beyond the finish line hoisted my arms over their shoulders and tried to assure themselves that I was OK before they let me go rejoin my family. It was an on again, off again deliberation. I would let go and begin to walk, then I would list and they would grab me.

“Are you sure you’re OK?”

I didn’t answer but insisted on taking my arms off  their shoulders. I walked unsteadily and they grabbed me again. Finally, I met my family at the end of the chute and we returned to our hotel only a hundred or so yards away.

Once back in the room, Margy helped remove my race gear and I sat down in the tub making heavy use of the grab bars. We had a handicap room and that seemed entirely appropriate for the way I felt. She used a hand held shower to wash me off. I had a hard time catching my breath and coughed empty, dry, and raspy. It became clear that I had not left any race out on the course.

Eventually, Margy lugged me out of the bathtub and I put on clothes. We went to the hotel restaurant where I stared at a sandwich without wanting to eat despite having expended nearly 7,000 calories during the race.

The Morning After

Though I may have gotten even less sleep the night after the race than I did the night before the race, Monday morning dawned bright and beautiful. Then I stepped out of bed and felt as though I had been in a car accident, maybe two.

Margy and Katie left early to catch flights. Margy departed for Los Angeles, Katie for Detroit. I hated to see them go but I felt awfully proud of them and grateful for all that they had done for me. My sister Lynn and mom agreed to stay and accompany me to the awards ceremony. Having placed fourth in my age group, I would receive an award. Without friends or family there, it would have seemed almost as if it had not happened. I felt like a kid at a hotel swimming pool ordering my mom to watch – at 57, no less.

One Slot

My age group included 107 athletes, men 55-59. Given the way slots for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii were allocated, I knew that there would be two slots. If for some reason two of those who finished in front of me did not claim their slots, I would go to Hawaii. But few competitors in Madison traditionally give up their slots.

When it came time for our age group to go up on stage, the guy in second failed to show. I began to think that there was a chance.

The awards ceremony ended about 20 minutes before the Kona slot allocation. As we waited, I was not really concerned about getting a slot. I felt confident that at least two of the guys who finished ahead of me would accept.

The Kona slot ceremony was wonderful. People were overjoyed as the announcer called them to the podium. Each wobbled on stiff legs to receive a lei made of plastic flowers and wandered over to the registration table. Occasionally, someone turned down a slot and the person who received that slot erupted, families and friends cheering and jumping up and down. It was almost certainly more fun to watch the slot allocation than to watch the race.

Finally, the announcer called my age group. He read the name of the winner. Silence. He called the winner’s name again. Silence again. “Going once, going twice, gone.” I reflexively bent forward and looked at the floor. First place had passed and second place had no-showed the awards ceremony. What seemed impossible suddenly seemed possible.

The announcer called the second place finisher’s name. I saw his eyes track to the back of the room and acknowledge the second place finisher coming toward the podium. Then the announcer called the third place finisher’s name. I saw the guy in third stand and walk toward the podium.

“Moving on to men 60-64….”

I stood to leave but a woman in front of us reminded me that if a slot in the older age groups went unclaimed, maybe it would roll back into my age group. I sat down.

The man in 70-74 declined his slot. An official from Ironman spread out her papers to determine the age group to which the slot would allocate. She whispered to the announcer and handed him a sheet of paper.

“The last allocated slot from Ironman Wisconsin goes to the men’s 50-54 age group…”

And it was over. For the second year in a row I had finished one spot away from going to Kona.

Esther Again

Esther had the satisfaction of being the exact right person in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. She was clever and brave. She saved a lot of people. In short, she was really, really good at what she did. I envy Esther though I have no particular designs on having a Book of Scott in the Bible.

For my part, I regretted being good at something but not quite as good as I wanted to be. Perhaps I was the Ironman equivalent of the Philistines, the guys in the Bible who were always a day late and a dollar short. (Maybe a gold piece short; let’s not quibble.) Maybe my sense of destiny on that perfect morning, of being meant to do something special on a sunny fall day was just me flattering myself. Was I OK at Ironman? Sure, but back in biblical terms, I couldn’t even picture my name making a run at a book in the Gnostic Gospel. Even so, after saying good bye to my mom and Lynn, I had plenty of time to think as I-90 stretched west across Wisconsin in front of me. Who is ever as good at anything as they want to be? Even presidents, the leaders of the Western World, are humbled by the difficulties of their jobs. David Letterman never got Johnny Carson’s chair. How many jockeys have won 2/3 of the Triple Crown? I guess that not quite being exactly who you want to be is part of the human condition.

But the drive from Madison to Minneapolis took a very long time. Maybe that sense of destiny had less to do with what I was doing than who I was with. Maybe that perfect fall day was perfect because of who I was with: my mom, Lynn, Margy and Katie. Who else had the chance to enjoy the support and love of their family like I experienced on Sunday? I have raced 2,390.2 miles of Ironman and never seen their like. Whether I won or not seemed not to dim their enthusiasm.

I read once that we all are who we are only in relation to other people. If that’s true and I am even a faint reflection of my family, that’s a grand enough destiny for me.

By the Numbers

Margy did a bit of post-race analysis. Oh to be young again… Here is what she said in an email to Team Rossman:

“Scott was playing with younger kids on the playground yesterday. #1, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8 in his age group were 55 years old. #5 was 56. After Scott, the next 57-year old finished in #9 at 12:23 (about 50 minutes later than Scott).”

I finished in 11:32:26, 4th of 107 in my age group.

Upon finishing Ironman Wisconsin in 2015, I had completed 75 marathon or ultra marathon-distance running races. Ironman Wisconsin marked my 17th Ironman.

I entered Ironman Wisconsin 2016 on the Friday before Ironman Wisconsin 2015. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.

A Few Photos from the Weekend


Sunday morning. Dropping off my bike special needs bag near the Capitol.


I love the smell of magic marker in the morning. With one of the 3,500 volunteers who make the weekend.


Margy and I waiting for sunrise over Lake Monona.


Cleaning my goggles before entering the water.


Good bye before the swim. The photo our attorney would have used to illustrate the value of careful estate planning.


Passing through Cross Plains, Wisconsin.


Along the shore of Lake Mendota. Head down.



Thank you to Margy, Katie, Mom, Lynn, Haley, Ann, Sarah, Rick, Adam, Tom, Davis, and Harper: Sunday and always. For Dad and WT.


Cloudy, cool.

Several weeks ago, I woke up for a four-hour training ride. I consulted a weather app on my phone. Fortunately, the app predicted a zero percent chance of precipitation.

I started early. The weather was cool and cloudy, humid. Not many people were up and about at that hour on a Saturday morning.

I had ridden about an hour and fifteen minutes when it began to rain, lightly at first. Then it rained softly but steadily. I rode to a sheltering overhang on a nearby auto dealership. The rain splattered in a straight line on the sidewalk beneath the edge of the roof above. I pulled out my phone to see how long the rain might last. Once again, the app promised a 0% chance of precipitation that morning. And for the next two hours and 30 minutes, the app proved to be 100% wrong.

The rain stopped for the last 15 minutes of my ride. Here is what my bike looked like after I arrived home.



Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are probably right.” Henry Ford

For 2015, the Afton Trail Run implemented a new system. A web page showed who had entered both the 50K and 25K races. The pages displayed each participant’s name, age, and city of residence. The page also projected finish times based on each participant’s prior race history. Perhaps because I had not run the race last year, the page omitted to project my finish time, though it noted that I was 56 years old in an age group ranging from 50 to infinity.

The page offered a projected finish time for a relative youngster in my age group, an experienced ultra marathon runner who had just turned 50. The website predicted that he would finish 11 minutes faster than my best ever time on the course and faster than any other member of our age group. I figured that this guy (let’s call him the “Inevitable”) had ample time to stop to read the morning paper and still beat me with plenty of time to spare.

While I always enjoyed Afton, it had always been very difficult. The course followed trails on the eastern border of Minnesota overlooking the St. Croix River. The course traced a series of climbs and descents. The Afton 50K website said that the course offered 4,670 vertical feet of climbing. And, just as hard and maybe harder, the course offered 4,670 vertical feet of descending.

Saturday morning, July 4th, race day.

I woke up at 4:00, grabbed a little breakfast and began my hourlong drive to Afton. The sun rose blood orange over the horizon. Apparently, forest fires up in Canada had spread smoke into the upper atmosphere and made the sunrises and sunsets gorgeously dramatic.

When I got out of the car, dew dampened my feet as I wandered through runners milling around nervously near the start. John Maas, a farmer from Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, had pressed me pretty hard during at least two of our races at Afton. John and I greeted one another and looked around to see if we could spot the Inevitable. We did. He wore nice gear and a confident expression. It looked like we wouldn’t see him again until the picnic following the race.

The race director stood on a stepladder and addressed the 200 or so runners gathered there. He didn’t need to use a microphone. He got down from the stepladder and told us to go. The race had started. John and I began the steep downhill right out of the start running side-by-side. The pace was stupid fast. John and I watched the Inevitable pull away even as we ran far faster than we thought wise. We eased back.

As John and I ran, the course provided vistas every now and then looking out over the St. Croix River valley. A humid Minnesota summer morning sky rested bright but heavy. At a few places, we saw a few runners dotting the course in front of us. The Inevitable was visible, at least for the first few miles. After that, though, he was much too far ahead. I told John that I thought that we had seen the last of him.

We had plenty of time so John told me a story. Four years ago, when he was 50, John ran a 100 mile race. With 40 miles to go, he was eighth. He began to overtake people. With less than seven miles to go, John was second. A fan encouraged him. “You can do it!” the fan said. John said that, at the time, this irritated him. He laughed and said that you get a little grouchy after running 93 miles. (I wouldn’t know. I hope I never do.) Anyway, John poured himself into it. With a mile to go, John caught up with the guy in first place, passed him and went on to win his first big race.

John said that the lesson was for us to just “play our own game.”

“You never know,” he said, “maybe he will just come back to us. 50K is not that long a race but plenty can happen.” (I form friendships easily with people exhibiting peculiar views of the term “long.”)

At mile 21, we descended a steep, rocky slope down to the St. Croix River. I had been running ahead of John as we visited but the downhill hurt my thighs. John seemed unaffected and ran ahead, a few yards at first, then 50, then 100, then he was gone.

I didn’t feel so bad. John had the legs that morning and I didn’t. Even so, I couldn’t help but feel discouraged. The Inevitable was probably at least 10 minutes ahead and on his way to a course record. John would beat me, too. So I took what wisdom I could from the morning’s chat and just played my own game. I ran the downhills as fast as I could but it was often no faster than a walk. I ran most of the uphills but allowed myself to walk several, too. This is no sin in trail running; sometimes it is more efficient to walk uphill briskly. Most trail runners develop a knack for feeling the slope of an uphill and break into a fast walk once the slope steepens to a certain pitch.

Alone, I was left to ruminate. In the past, I could have run those hills, both up and down. I scolded myself and felt the sun beat down when I emerged from the woods into a treeless field overlooking the river. I let negative thoughts take control. I slowed down.

After plunging back into the woods, a runner approached from behind. We chatted for a few minutes, then I pulled over to let him by. It had felt good to have company and I had picked up the pace, even if I ultimately needed to let him pass.

Just about a mile from the finish I began to climb the last big hill on the course, a hill called “Meat Grinder.” (I needn’t explain the name.) I lifted my chin and looked up. The Inevitable’s back appeared about 100 yards ahead. He was walking, slowly. I swallowed hard and dug in, though I knew that if I came up on someone that late in the race that I could pass him easily. And I did.

The last several hundred yards stretched along a ridge with tall grass lining a narrow dirt path. The sun shone brightly, hot but moderated by a light breeze. I saw the tent over the timer’s table and heard music playing faintly for the people gathered near the finish line at the post-race picnic.

I crossed the line and received a vigorous handshake from the race organizer. John greeted me, too. He held the framed picture that each age group winner receives. We shook hands and he offered me a shoulder to steady myself.

I lost but felt happy. It would be hard to find anyone nicer than John. He had worked me very hard, not just that morning but during several prior races. I’d like to think that I pushed him a little bit, too. Maybe I helped him get to the finish line. I think that we helped each other. He deserved to win and I felt genuinely happy for him.

The Inevitable crossed the line not long after I had. He did not look so good. His friends and family gathered around to help. I felt sorry for him. He hadn’t bragged. Rather, he fell victim to a prediction that he did not make. An algorithm announced that he would trounce both John and me. So far as the website was concerned, the Inevitable really needn’t have shown up. This was a coronation – at least so far as the algorithm was concerned. By the looks of him at the finish, he should have taken the opportunity to phone this one in if that chance had been offered.

It’s embarrassing to admit that after 73 marathons or ultra marathons, I had so easily conceded defeat to an electronic system that predicted winners and losers. I had reconciled to losing before I started. I had feared that it would be pointless for me to show up; the Inevitable was going to beat me badly. Just as erroneous, I thought that I was likely to beat John once again. Instead, I think that John and I helped one another through friendly rivalry. I also wonder if the Inevitable paid any attention to the time the algorithm had predicted. If so, it was way too fast and blew him out before the final miles.

I learned (again) that you never know how things will come out, at least with respect to running a 31 mile race over big hills on a warm weekend. You still need to show up. Maybe if I had paid less attention to the algorithm and more attention to my own pace – played my own game – I would have raced much better. To be fair, I still lost, just as the algorithm would have predicted, but I lost to someone whom I greatly respect and admire – and probably someone that the algorithm would have said that I would have beaten again. Last Saturday, though, both the algorithm and I were wrong: John had the legs and he ran away from all of us. In the end, I think that John just had a feeling deep inside his chest and he pushed hard when it got really tough. I doubt that there is an algorithm to reliably predict that.

Even at age 56, I’m still competitive. I want to win. But maybe it is an encouraging sign that I can feel so happy to see one of my competitors beat me. I might not have felt that way even just a year or two ago. I was OK with it on July 4th, though, and may need to adapt to that perspective more as time goes on. I want my good days of racing but I hope to be gracious in acknowledging others who are just better than I am that day. That’s racing. That’s life.

Maybe next year I won’t check to see who else enters Afton. That way I won’t have the opportunity to believe my own press one way or another. Instead, maybe I will just show up and hope to run with John Maas as long as I can – or as long as he can run with me. If that happens, it will be a good day no matter who wins. And I will believe what I feel inside my chest.

There are some things that you can look up using Google and feel confident in the answer. There are some things that you can’t. I’m not sure that there is a firm rule to distinguish when to believe Google and when not. Maybe if the result depends on somebody’s heart and determination, I had best exercise caution when consulting my phone or computer. So, you read it here first: Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Of course, here you are reading that on the internet.