The Quest

Were you ever handed a gift that seemed a joy at first but eventually came to be a bully? Such is my quest. This quest can be boiled down to 259, one silly little insignificant number. Throw in a couple of dots, and yes, fellow runner, you know where I’m going, a 2:59 marathon.

Why this quest and who gave it to me? Ah, you see, it’s all in the past. But to understand the past one must look to the future. And in the future looms the NCR Trail Marathon. On 11/24 to be exact. Perhaps a 2:59 finish and an end to the quest also lurk there. Certainly this article is being written in the shadow of that future. But back to the past.


The quest was given to me by a stranger I never met. He wrote it down and I read it. Why it struck me so powerfully and completely is still a mystery. But strike me it did, becoming mine.

Basically the quest appeared very early in a book I read some 5 years ago. The book chronicled one man’s walk across Europe. As the author tried to explain what motivated him to undertake such a trek, he wrote that as middle age approached he realized that he was no longer going to change careers, build his own home, or break three hours in the marathon. My first thought was, “I could do that.” My second and much more ominous thought was, “I will do that.” A quest was born.

Okay, I cheated a little. I had already changed careers. Law wasn’t my bag. The second part was daunting, but after 3 years of sweat and toil, my wife and I could call the cabin in the mountains outside Tokyo home.

On to the third leg of the quest. Exhale. A 2:59:59:59 marathon. Maybe I should have examined my rather thin running resume before taking on this quest.

Running. I did run track and cross country in high school with modest success. A natural runner, who never really took to training, I quit as soon as college and beer came along. The years went by. In my early thirties I started joining my wife for the occasional run. And then the quest, or as Monty python might say, “An expedition to find something that’s really hard to get hold of.”

So at 35, I started seriously training. I read about tempo runs, Yasso 800’s, LSD, lactic acid and so on. Then I made a four month training schedule and tried to worship it. The first marathon was in Alaska. I felt good and strong. The quest was in the bag and I could return to the sofa. Alas, I was to learn many things that day. First and foremost, the second half of a marathon is longer than the first. Second, moose have the right of way. Third, Cliff bars are impossible to masticate in cold weather. Fourth, weather, specifically 70-mph gusts are the ally of an undying quest. Fifth, that a 3:11 is not a sub 3-hour marathon. And, finally, that a quest is never easy and can have the personality of a bully. Frankly, round one went to the bully.

More marathons followed and more rounds went to the bully. Tsukuba Marathon (3:21), Las Vegas (3:12) and most recently The Ocean Drive Marathon (3:06) with an unfortunate 20-mph headwind the entire course.

Which brings me to the present and a few thoughts. Subtly, the process of a quest can be more rewarding than the destination. It opens windows to other areas of existence that would otherwise go unexplored. Through running I have discovered yoga, pure freedom, eating for health, the superiority of endorphins over beer and life without sodas and television. That everyone should have a quest; it brings passion to life. And, finally, a bully becomes weaker as one grows stronger. I will take the final knockout. A 2:59 will be mine. Maybe on Saturday, maybe a thousand Saturdays from now, my quest will come to an end. Or not.


A 2:59 wasn’t to be that Saturday. The quest stayed in residence. On April 15, 2002, it was finally laid to rest at the Boston Marathon with a skin of the teeth 2:59:35. I never ran another marathon after that, nor did I stop running. Ultramarathons became my gig, but that my friends is another tale.
106th Boston Marathon finish_2002

Steve Halteman
San Diego, California
Hiking the PCT for the Kids of Escuela Verde

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