A GREAT RUNNER REACHES THE FINAL FINISH LINE

running feet.JPG

 

Once in a while you see a name on the obituary page and you say to yourself: That can't be right.

Which was my reaction the other day when I saw Don Ritchie's name, followed by two dates that say it all - 1944-2018.

I was thrilled when I was assigned to interview Don for the New York Post, back in 1979.  I was a training for a marathon and Don was a legendary ultra-marathoner, a balding and bearded Scotsman who'd come to New York to participate in a crazy event - a 100-mile race.

Which he won, in a time of 11 hours, 51 minutes and 11 seconds.

Don also excelled at an even nuttier event - the 24-hour run, in which participants run as many miles as they can in a full day.

He once covered 166 miles in such a race, and I'll never forget one particular detail about his long distance running style:

He didn't have to stop to urinate. He'd trained himself to pee on the run, to save time.

Time is what Don Richie ran out of, at age 73.  A funny, quirky, soft-spoken man who knew better than anyone that his passion for running ridiculous distances was beyond normal.

"It helps if you are a little crazy," he said.

The last time I saw Don was at the 1979 New York City Marathon, just a few months after his victory in that 100-mile race.

The big story that day was Norwegian sensation Grete Waitz, who became the first woman ever to run a marathon in under two and a half hours - two hours, 27 minutes and 33 seconds, to be exact.

I'd run that same race in a little over three hours, and while staggering across the lawn beyond the finish line in Central Park I saw Don Ritchie reclining on the grass, like a man at a picnic.  He'd completed the course in two hours, 36 minutes and 47 seconds.

He didn't look tired - after all, the 26.2 mile marathon distance was his idea of a warmup - but he looked sad.

"Hey, Don," I said, "are you okay?"

He sighed.  "Grete Waitz," he said, shaking his head.  "Never thought I'd see the day I'd lose to a woman."

(Oh for those pre-Internet days, when a man could say something like that without being buried in a social media avalanche!)

Grete Waitz went on to many more triumphs as a runner, but she was just 57 when she died in 2011.  Another person whose name shocked me when I saw it on the obituary page.

What can you say?  The Big Guy's roulette wheel stops in funny places.

Maybe that's what running is all about.  Trying to stay one step ahead of whatever's coming, for as long as you can.

Rest in peace, Don and Grete. I'll be thinking about you tomorrow on my morning run.