Even short fat guys can perform if they train for it!

I first started running in the mid 1980s. I had gained a lot of weight, and determined it was time to take action on that matter. I went to the track at the high school, and a few of my friends were there. They told me they were training for a marathon. I was impressed. I believe that was when the seed was planted for my personal marathon mania. (By the way, none of those friends ever made it to a marathon finish.)

Shortly after that, I met an amazing guy named Joe Muldowney. Joe owned a small local running shoe store. I went in, and I guess I had him chuckling as I was asking about racing flats. At any rate he sold me an appropriate pair of training shoes and I was off. I have always been something of a passionate athlete, but I also have certain passions about food and drink that require an extra level of training effort to overcome. Joe introduced me to the necessary commitment to compensate for this lifestyle weakness. (Don’t quote me on this, but I think I may have stopped drinking beer for a year after my first New York marathon as part of a training regimen which was overseen and supervised by Joe.)

Joe is a leader. When I bought that first pair of shoes, he was president of a local running club that gathered for weekend runs. Not long after, I had entered the fray. The run was a 9- or 10- miler around the mountain to the railroad tracks in Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, returning to Pottsville via the tracks. I never really had problems with my weight more experienced runners expected I should have. I considered my extra weight a momentum maintainer, I suppose. At any rate, I put in a respectable showing on that run and Joe was impressed. And, in his most generous way, he invited me to join him and his friends on their daily runs. Under his tutelage, I quickly shed the weight and started talking about marathons. He took me along to various 5k and 10k races and I did not do half badly. However, I was never one for speed. I could run ten miles at the same pace I could run 3.1 miles, which was unremarkable for 3.1 miles but not half bad for ten.

Joe is also a technician. He obviously knows the sport. Really knows it. He has meticulous running books from the 1980s which he has maintained ever since. To my observation, he has the perfect touch for knowing the balance of speed work, pace work and distance. We ran every day [because you knew every day the Kenyans were running], at least ten miles unless we were doing speed work. Joe and I always got along very well, so I was never a burden to him. We would start out running together and he would eventually dump me. I was always chasing the rabbit so the relationship was beneficial to me and my passionate training ways. I believe Joe also valued the slower ‘warmup’ miles running with me provided.

I eventually ran four marathons beginning in 1985. I began with the New York marathon. They did not issue timing chips in those days. I know it took me approximately eight minutes to get to the starting line. At any rate, subtracting the time required to get to the start, I had performed a sub-three hour run which some thought was not bad.

Here I am in a New York Times photo
going over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

I then ran the Newark marathon to qualify for Boston. I ran it in 2 hours and 55 minutes. This qualified me for the 1987 Boston Marathon. Joe was scheduled to run this one as well, but I think illness derailed that plan. My father flew to Boston with me. This was truly a bonding experience between me and my dad, who took great pride in my running achievements. Joe was at home watching the race on ESPN. Of course the technology was primitive compared with today’s capabilities. However, he was able to somehow track me at midway and he knew I was on the way to a good time, given the fact I had paced myself properly through the first half of the race.

Racing with Brian Tonitis (and my son Ryan)

I do not have any great stories from my Boston experience other than the Boston experience itself. I ran the race in 2 hours and 49 minutes (6:29 per mile – just about my 10K pace). In preparing for the race, I did train ferociously with 125 miles in my highest mileage week. Brian Tonitis, another of our running group, exclaimed to Joe after the race that even a short fat guy can perform if he trains for it! For me, the intense, high mileage training was a must. Also, our relentless northeastern Pennsylvania hills enabled me to climb the famed Newton Hills rather effortlessly. I wasn’t even sure which of them WAS actually Heartbreak Hill.

I wish I had a more grabbing story, but I do not. I do appreciate having the opportunity to pay tribute to Joe Muldowney, without whom I clearly would never have realized this personal achievement. He is a special person who has helped countless runners improve their lives through running. I am among that grateful group!

For the record, my fourth marathon was a re-run of New York. By this time they had open another level of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge with, I believe, in excess of 30,000 runners participating. Afterwards I had to give up the running game, as my knees deserted me. I then got heavily into roller blading, until my knees protested even that level of softer impact. I still do it, but have scaled back from ten rigorous miles a day to five flat and less gymnastic miles, and even that I occasionally abandon due to an arctic vortex or some other such disincentive. Unfortunately, this aging thing is for real.

Today, my son, Ryan is both a marathon runner as well as a triathlete. Perhaps we can continue the family tradition, as I hope he will also someday run the Boston Marathon.

Robert Crosswell
Pottsville, Pennsylvania
April 20, 1987