"What's your reaction to Rodgers' two-hour and 10-minute finishing time?"
I responded that "anyone could fool around and run 26 miles in two hours or so, but it takes a real competitor to do it for almost seven hours."
For a full 10 minutes I was the darling of the press. I was the loser who'd finally hit it big. I was really having a good time. The score clocks had been taken down, and I would be known forever as the last-place finisher in the 1979 New York City Marathon. Arrangements were made by members of the press and television to contact me at home for further interviews and an in-depth feature.
And then, catastrophe.
I saw a female runner, gasping and panting, closing in on the finish line—and my newly exalted status. I fervently hoped that she had nothing to do with the marathon. When I saw her race number I moved sideways hoping that the remaining members of the press would fail to notice her. But they didn't. They dropped me like a hot potato and flocked around their new celeb. My glory became hers.
It turned out I wasn't even close to last; four other people finished behind me. As I walked disconsolately away, all I had to soften my disappointment was the old cry of "wait 'til next year."
I started training for the 1980 marathon early. I embarked upon a daily regimen of overeating that added 15 pounds of useless fat to my frame. On July 1,1980 I strategically chipped a bone and tore some ligaments in my left ankle while playing basketball. That lucky break enabled me to studiously avoid for weeks to come any exercise that might leave me in reasonably good condition.
For the '80 marathon I also had the advantage of a year's experience under my belt. I felt that the wisdom I'd gained would prove invaluable in the later, crucial stages of the marathon.
Not that I was leaving anything to chance. I carefully planned my race garb to ensure continual, progress-impeding conversation with the assembled multitudes along the course. I purchased a T shirt that bore a picture of King Kong (another famous loser) embracing the Empire State Building. And with the memory of my '79 fiasco firmly in mind, I had the words LAST PLACE OR BUST, AGAIN emblazoned on the lower portion of the shirt.
I was up about 5:30 a.m. on the day of the race and felt perfectly lousy. Things couldn't have looked better. On the bus ride from Lincoln Center to the starting point at the Staten Island end of the Verrazano Bridge, I was enveloped by a feeling of supreme confidence. I looked at the characteristic spindly legs and emaciated bodies of the dedicated runners around me, and it was easy to see that at least 95% of them could whip me even if I weren't trying to lose. I only had to worry about the 5% of slouches and goof-offs who might stumble across the finish line after me.