Week 34: The Scott Boliver Experience

With the long-awaited marathon just three days away I could spend this final pre-event blog in numerous ways.

I could continue my weeks-long whining about my punk knee, for which I got a cortisone shot this morning from a fine orthopedist named David B. Golden, whose very name rings with promise, and whose impressive credentials include a stint as assistant team physician for the 2001 World Champion New England Patriots.

Dr. Golden is an expert in sports-related injuries, and while he didn't write the book on knee pain he did co-write a chapter - in the second edition of the Manual of Pain Management (chapter 17, between scroiliitis and foot pain).

He was reluctant to give me the shot. He warned me that it probably won't be all that effective in staving off the debilitating pain in my illiotibial band that has been causing me so much woe.

But I explained that this is a one-time deal, that I've been training since September, for fool's sake, and that I can't throw all that away because of some dang-blasted last-minute knee flare-up.

In a word, I begged.

He relented and administered the five minute procedure (a simple prick of a needle --less painful than getting your ears pierced) and I have the Band-Aid on my right knee to prove it.

Whether it will do the trick or not, I don't know. But I'm not going to spend this last pre-marathon blog posting going on about that.

I could go on about last-minute jitters, which one reader calls PMS--pre-marathon stress. Symptoms include sleeplessness, over sleeping, loss of appetite, overeating, and a vague sense of dread. But why dwell on the negative?

I could wax poetic about my final pre-marathon run, on the trail around the Silver Lake Reservoir. I was up and out by 5:30 a.m. - my LA Times hadn't even arrived (or maybe, I worried, they've gone so broke they've discontinued home delivery?) -- and the air smelled strangely, delightfully, of citronella and graham crackers.

The morning was cool and overcast, my legs and lungs were cooperating and I had the trail all to myself. Runner's nirvana.

I've been feeling a sense of calm all week - a type of calm that has come over me only three times in my life, once before I was married and then again in the days before the births of my two children.

It's a calm you have to talk yourself into after talking yourself down from a heightened sense of anxiety and fear. The choice is either to stay fearful and anxious or to remind yourself that you're heading toward something absolutely marvelous and completely of your own choosing and embrace a detached bliss.

But why go on about me? None of this would have been remotely possible without the superlative guidance of one Coach Scott Boliver, who made the 80-mile round-trip trek from his home in Brea to the training site in Griffith Park every Saturday morning from October to nearly June.

Scott is a prison psychologist who seems to spend every non-working moment of his life training marathoner wannna-bes. Our start time was 8 a.m., but Scott would routinely arrive two hours early to stake out our route, setting up mile markers for us along the way to help keep us from getting lost. He'd try to vary the route as much as possible and he'd hand out both maps and written directions. On the week of the pre-marathon 26-mile run, he got to the park so early that police took him for a hustler and bore down on him with bright lights and amplified commands.

As the runs got longer, he organized games like the Amazing Race and Runner's Poker to keep the runners engaged. Sometimes runners would groan about the games or choose not to participate, but they'd come around when they saw Scott (who paid out of his own pocket) taking the winning groups out to breakfast or bringing them special treats like popsicles and ice (which, like all cold things, are highly coveted on long runs).

He kept our brains occupied while pushing our bodies to do what we thought they could not. He once sent us up a very steep hill without any advance warning, but he heaped on the praise after we'd accomplished the task.

Each week he brought his posse with him. That included son Alec, a competitive swimmer on his high school team who refilled the runner's water bottles on the course, and his mom and dad, Pat and Ray Boliver, who every week spent their own money to stock a snack table halfway through the run loaded with pickles, peanut butter-coated crackers, peanuts, pretzels, Gatorade and the occasional home-made banana bread. On Easter weekend they brought coconut macaroons and mini brownie cupcakes topped with Jordan almonds.

Coach Scott exudes empathy. When runners would ask him about every little pinch and blister he'd take it all as seriously as the questioner required. He never talked about his own aches and woes. When the wildfires last fall came within a few feet of his home, he didn't mention it to the group and didn't miss a training.

The training for the LA marathon was supposed to end in March (and then February). According to that schedule, Scott and the other APLA coaches would have had a month or two off before they started training a new group of runners for the Disney Half Marathon this summer and the Maui Marathon in the fall.

When the LA Marathon got put off until Memorial Day, Coach Scott stayed on as our trainer, even though it meant he would be training three separate groups of runners for three separate marathons at once -- hundreds of whining, high-injury non-athletes just like me -- which he's been doing and which would have driven any normal person out of his mind my now. That's where being a psychologist comes in handy.

Scott is in his mid-40's and came to marathoning less than ten years ago -- fairly late in life. When he first started running he was morbidly obese - it took him more than nine hours to complete his first marathon. After losing more than 100 pounds he ran it in under five hours, and decided to start coaching.

When I first started training - and blogging about it - last fall, I got numerous emails from readers who told me how lucky I was to have Scott as my coach. Yeah right, I thought. Like I really need somebody to tell me how to run.

I've never had a coach before. Not a sports coach anyway. I've had writing coaches, and a friend's wife worked for a while as a life coach.

I never had any kind of organized P.E. at my inner-city elementary school, and I got enough flak from my meager attempts to learn double-dutch that I had no interest in ever attempting to join a team of any kind. I taught myself to ride a bike, my mother taught me to water ski and a girl named Donna who lived down the street showed me how to hula-hoop.

I weaseled my way out of all physical exercise in high school by playing flute in the band. In college we were all encouraged to coach one another (pity anyone who might have relied on me) and after that I pursued exercise of the non-coached variety (swimming, bicycling, yoga).

Before the marathon training, the closest I'd come to the coach experience was having an editor. The relationship is somewhat similar. You have to trust your editor completely, to follow his or her guidance and advice, even when you can't see how it's going to work. You do it because you share a common goal and because-- if you're lucky -- you like them.

I've had many editors, most of them adequate, some of them awful, a very few of them great. The makings of a great editor include smarts, empathy, wisdom, good judgment and the ability to manage people. A great editor, like a great coach, extracts from you your best possible self and your best possible work.

In a thousand small ways, Coach Scott has managed to do that. When I signed up to train I was a little grumpy and a little skeptical, an outsider observing and commenting on the process. Somewhere along the way I became a booster, a pace group leader, a true believer in the method.

This is my one and only marathon, and, as I've said before, the closest I'll ever get to a team sport. Scott Boliver is the one and only coach I'll ever have. Lucky me, I got the best.

Sure I'm still grumpy --and of late also gimpy -- but I'm in it to the end. Thanks, Coach.

12:52 PM Friday, May 22 2009 • Link •  
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