To Run or Not to Run in the Pittsburgh Marathon

When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, my working-class South Side had four movie theaters, so I saw a lot of movies. I loved it all back then – the war movies, the romantic adventures, the musical comedies, the biblical epics, the baseball biographies, the hour-long oaters with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, but my favorites by far were the sci-fi thrillers, with those invading aliens from outer space and those giant insects and sea monsters spawned by radiation from atomic bomb tests.

There were so many “creature features” to choose from, but my favorite and by far the scariest was named The thing from another world. Released in the early 1950s, at the height of the Red Scare, the thing takes place at the North Pole, where members of a military outpost discover a saucer-shaped aircraft and a nearby body buried in the ice. They accidentally destroy the plane while attempting to melt the ice, but they managed to cut the body out of the ice and return it to their base.

the thing takes an ominous turn when the guard assigned to protect the block of ice containing the corpse covers the block with a blanket so he doesn’t have to see what’s inside. Unfortunately, the ceiling is electric and when the security guard wakes up, he discovers that the ice has melted and the body is gone.

For a good chunk of the movie, we know something’s out there, something that’s killing dogs and humans and draining their blood — but scene after scene it’s gone before we get a chance to see it — until eventually, when we least expect it, someone casually opens a door and The Thing pops out.

Those in the South Side’s Arcade, including this working-class teenager, reacted in horror, while some got up and ran from the theater. However, looking back at the film, The Thing really wasn’t that scary. Imagine the Jolly Green Giant reduced in size to a blood-sucking vegetable vampire in human form, played by James Arness, later gun smoke Fame and you will see what was waiting behind that door.

It wasn’t so much the creature that frightened us as it was the anticipation, the sense of fear that Steven Spielberg used to great effect Jaw, That’s what made the moment we finally see The Thing so terrifying. In Jaw, we were warned to stay out of the water; in the thing We were warned to watch the sky.

I’ve been living with my own feeling of fear lately, but it has nothing to do with vampires from outer space or great whites. When I turned 80 in 2019, I ran my tenth and chose to run my final Pittsburgh marathon. That hasn’t stopped the organizers from sending me weekly and sometimes daily updates about the upcoming marathon for the past three years. Every time I log on to my computer, I hear the throbbing music of John Williams Jaw as I stare at another email from the Pittsburgh Marathon organizers.

During the pandemic, organizers had to resort to a virtual marathon, but this past May, the marathon returned to the streets of Pittsburgh. While it was easy for two years to run a virtual marathon or half marathon in my living room, the Pittsburgh Marathon was back out there waiting for me.

I have to admit that last year when the 2022 Pittsburgh Marathon lurked just a drive away down the interstate, I upped my jog and even ran in a local 5K where I live in southern Illinois, but I did so badly that a local cop stopped in his squad car and asked if I needed a ride to the finish line. Despite the squad car actually stopping twice, I made it to the finish line, but the lesson I learned was to stay away from the looming Pittsburgh Marathon.

Although the next Pittsburgh Marathon isn’t until May, I’m already getting emails from its organizers almost daily and I know they’ll increase and intensify over the coming months. They even came up with a devilish way to lure me back by creating a walking section for those of us who doubt our aging and aching legs still have an enema. They also offered a discount on the entrance fee for people over 50.

I know that as the marathon gets ever closer I’ll be tempted to run or probably walk, but when I told my wife Anita about it, she just shrugged and said to let her know when I I decide to sign up for a final Pittsburgh marathon so she can call the Pittsburgh Police Department.

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