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Relying on the kindness of runners

05/24/03 12:00AM By Joe Deffner
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(Host) As commentator Joe Deffner prepares to participate in the Vermont City Marathon Sunday, he remembers his first days as a runner.

(Deffner) I was a FAT kid. Not chunky, big boned, or my mother's favorite euphemism, "husky," a word borrowed from Sears Roebuck. When picking my jeans off the rack, she always reached for a pair labeled husky. They came in regular and slim too, but fitting into a slim was beyond my wildest dreams. If I could only trim down to a regular, though, life would be good.

So in sixth grade, just like that, I cut out second helpings and between meal snacks. And I started running. That first morning at the local track, just reaching down to lace up my red Converse hi-tops gave my cardio-vascular system the best workout it had had in weeks. I watched my sister, a freshman in high school, and copied her every stretch.

I was amazed that someone so cool showed not the least embarrassment at running with her husky brother. I guess she had her own reasons for running. Maybe she had been swept up in the mid 1970s running craze. Maybe she liked to run. Maybe she felt sorry for her younger brother and wanted to give him some support as he tried to cut back on the Twinkies.

And so, in white tube socks, a Farrah Fawcett t-shirt, and blue polyester shorts, I began my running career. We started a slow jog around the six lane asphalt track, its crisscrossing lines and numbers a foreign language I had yet to study. Running on the public school track was a novelty for Catholic school kids like us, but what really mattered most was running with my big sister.

Twenty years later we're in Bushnell Park in Connecticut, waiting to run the Hartford Marathon. It's Saturday morning, five of eight. When the gun sounds Peggy can't contain her enthusiasm. She says over and over, "This is so great." She's caught it - the high of the first time marathoner.

My mood is mixed - happy to be running my third marathon, this time with my sister, but terrified that my training will come up short. It does and Peggy pulls me along to the finish. It seems that it's always been that way - I have always relied on the kindness of relatives - at least when it comes to running. My first date with my wife Sarah was a running date. Later, she taught me how to train and ran my first marathon with me.

But tomorrow is the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington and I'm a little scared. Because even though I'll be surrounded by thousands of people - that's the great thing about marathons - I'll be running alone. And though this middle of the packer has set modest goals for himself in the past, tomorrow I just want to finish.

So if you see a lonely looking guy in a John Deere hat standing around at the starting line, come over and introduce yourself. Because this time, I'll be relying on the kindness of strangers.

This is Joe Deffner in Union Village - just hoping to finish.

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