105 laps – A Tribute to RLP

» Posted by on Oct 13, 2011 in Blog | 16 comments

Very little is needed to make a happy life. Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
On July 26th 1981, my grandfather, Robert L. Payton, ran a marathon on a cinder track in Garden City, New York. He was a great storyteller and told me this particular one many times. Initially, he’d been planning to run Chicago in the fall with a couple of friends but work and other commitments had gotten in the way so he’d decided to challenge himself to the distance, alone. 105 laps with no support other than a brief stop half way when grandma, wondering what he was up to, had come over to the track to bring him some water.
Over the years, I have related to his account in different ways. As a kid, I found it awe-inspiring, bordering on the impossible. As I grew older and through my own practice in long distance running, I came to share in his experience, putting feelings to his words.
After he passed away last spring, I decided to  run a marathon in his memory. The opportune moment for doing so came last week, when I went to Indiana for a tribute to his life and work at the university. Sorting through his belongings at his home, I found the shirt from the Garden City Track Club he was a part of. I started the run early morning and spent the first hour distracted, wondering if I’d get kicked off the track. Soon thereafter, the high school football team came to practice. The coach didn’t oppose my running so I kept going trying to block out the noise and focus on my grandfather’s memory. I felt frustrated, drifting in and out of concentration, disappointed in myself that I wasn’t honoring him with the right attention. By the time they left, I was approaching the final laps. All of a sudden, everything became calm and quiet in my head. I let go of my expectation of how this needed to be and let the running settle in. I listened to my foot steps and heard his. The same sweat rolling down my face, the same grimace, the same burning in the legs, the same counting of the laps, the same anticipation of the finish, my throat tightened, blocking my wind pipe, my eyes welled up with tears, in that moment, under the same sun, we were one.


  1. Super great post! What great way to honor your grandfather. He would have been proud!

  2. Beautiful Joe. What a great way to honor and connect with your Grandfather.

  3. Wonderful, Joe. He would have loved that you did it in his honor and perhaps would have added it as a footnote to the story about his run. The picture is great!

  4. That is a beautiful way to honor your grandfather!

    I remember doing many long runs on the track (20 – 30 km) in the 80s. It takes a different kind of focus and mindset to go long on the track. I find that fewer runners these days will embrace this kind of running, although I believe it builds mental strength.

  5. Tracks reduce the activity of running down to its essence: pure, simple movement with no distractions.

    Love the shirt and it’s good to see the coyote making a re-emergence.

  6. That’s really a special connection and honor Joe…thanks for sharing.

  7. Joe – your stuff is just so simply elegant. Yet again, you find a way to capture an incredible moment with a few words, and pictures. I almost felt like I was there for a second …

  8. Lovely story and t-shirt!

    I wonder if my grandkids will do the same? (3rd on her way)!

    If so, if my old high school sweat suit is still around, it would steal the show. Our school was too poor to afford suits, so our coach got them for free from a neighboring school. So our team ran distance workouts on the roads around town wearing bright red sweatshirts emblazoned with “MICHIGAN SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND”

    • Buzz – the only difference is that your grandkids will have to run The Tour de Flatirons wearing the”MICHIGAN SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND” sweatshirt. I hope they can actually see where they’re going since it’s a bit trickier than running on the track…

  9. Special. I bet your grandfather appreciates you putting in the effort to connect with him and is probably wishing he would’ve taken his damn shirt with him too.
    Thanks for sharing the experience.

  10. Great story. I read some of your grandfather’s letters at the link and he seemed very… classical… in that people are basically reasonable and can and should be pursuaded, rather than forced. Wish there were more people like him.

    Was he at IU Indy or Bloomington? The latter was where I grew up; my dad taught there. I don’t think that’s my high school track, but then, it’s been quite a while… 🙂

    • Thanks. My grandfather taught in Indy but really liked the library in Bloomington. He’d got there on a weekly basis when he was teaching.

  11. A most fitting tribute, Joe, and related with true insight as ever.

    The Aurelius quotation is truly apposite, we can all take heed.


  12. Sincere condolences to begin. I lost my own grandmother in July and had it not been for her love of the outdoors I may never have had a real deep connection with the trails. I ran a solo 100k after she passed with just her spirit with me and I can appreciate the emotions you went through. A great tribute Joe.

  13. A very thoughtful post Joe. He was quite a wonderful person and his legacy is already carrying on with you and your focused intentions.

  14. He probably ran it with you…probably trying to get his shirt back. That was awesome Joe.


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