Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 30 Mar 2002 08:27:34 -0500

Running Home


Write almost anything, and someone else will question it. This happened when a Runner's World (print version) column of mine set off a debate in RW Online. In case you missed any part of that discussion, here's how it went:

My February magazine column told of Ed Whitlock, whose training before his record-setting marathons as a 69- and then 70-year-old was simply to run two hours a day at a "glorified shuffle." He did nearly all of it around a third-of-a-mile cemetery near his Ontario home.

Steve Till wrote to RW Online, saying he half-agreed with the column: "Simplicity is something to strive toward, at least in our leisure. But I fear that while two hours a day round and round a cemetery might work for Ed, it would have me yearning to join the less active residents of that plot! Surely Ed is missing the scenery, the variety, the camaraderie, the sights and sounds -- not to mention the different training benefits -- of running differently on different days."

This brought a pair of rebuttals. The first came from Bradley Pascoe: "Don't assume that runners like Ed Whitlock are empty vessels, tediously circling the same course. If his experience is anything like mine and numerous other runners, he is anything but.

"I can run more securely, more sure-footedly, over a familiar route. I can turn my eye inward and contemplate my life in a way I seldom can when I am not running. And when I do look outward at my surroundings, I find something new in them to contemplate every time."

Rich Englehart put his reply in more prosaic terms, like those I might have used: "For a longterm runner repetition is inevitable. If I have a different course to run for each day of the week, even if I'm out of town six weeks a year, in 10 years I'll have run each course roughly 460 times.

"After all that time those courses aren't going to seem much less repetitive than Ed Whitlock's graveyard loop. Sooner or later we all have to deal with having been down this road before."

And we do deal with it. Either that or stop running entirely because we've turned blind to the ever-changing look of seemingly familiar places.

Ed Whitlock himself gave the last and best answer in this debate. He laughed off the claims that strangers had made about him, then defended himself admirably.

He started by joking about "someone apart from my sons questioning my sanity." Then he wrote, "I would be the first to admit that my training regime does have its drawbacks.

"One should keep in mind that training plans should be individual. Unlike race T-shirts, one size does not fit all."

He told of finding a training plan that works for him, adding that he's not "slavish" about it. "I don't have any continuous-days streak going, I don't count or time the laps. Training logs are not my thing."

His favorite cemetery circuit also is a personal choice, "not an essential ingredient. It just suits me."

He wrote of running that day in a light snow, feeling safe because "I know every pothole on my lap. It wouldn't be like that on a single-loop course."

Other benefits: "No traffic, no dogs and no other macho runners to keep up with."

I have no single Whitlock-like home course. But my regular choices in Eugene have come down to four, meaning that each of them is traveled at least once a week.

My favorite: a former garbage dump converted into a riverside park I first ran there more than 30 years ago when a marathon passed through this park that later became home to Pre's Trail.

I've lived nearby since 1981 and probably averaged one run a week there ever since. That's more than 1000 repetitions, and I have yet to tire of this course.

We think and talk, and sometimes write, about the whats and hows (especially the how-fars and how-fasts) of running. But the wheres seldom come up, beyond where the next race might be.

The question of the day is: What are your home courses where you spend most of your running time?

They may not be the fastest, easiest or prettiest routes. But you run them them because they're convenient, familiar and safe. They must be good, or at least good enough, if you spend dozens to hundreds of hours a year on them.

Someone who doesn't know these courses as you do might think they would get boring after the 99th repetition. Not so.

No two runs on the same route are ever quite the same. You can change the direction run or switch the order that loops are run. But the different looks come mainly from the infinite combinations of weather, season, light, feelings and thoughts you find there.

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