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

Sat, 13 Apr 2002 14:33:16 -0400

Repeating Ourselves


A speech is a little like a race in that you never know at the start exactly how it will go. This talk went poorly.

The necessary introductions and instructions to runners had run long at the pre-race dinner for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. Runners had begun to fidget by the time I stood to speak.

I rushed my talk, dropping half of it and stumbling over much of what remained. This is what I meant to say:

WHO HEARD me speak here last year? (As hands go up around the room, I recoil in mock horror.) Now I'll have to come up with new stories.

Nelsen Petersen, who's filming your race and has heard me speak several times, asked earlier, "Which talk will it be this time, A or B?" I'll have to switch to Plan B.

I've also spoken this one many times before. But reruns aren't all bad. After all, isn't that what we do as runners -- keep repeating ourselves?

But no two races, or training runs, or talks or writings about running, are ever quite the same. That's one reason we keep coming back for more -- to see what will be different this time, and by how much.

Earlier Lenore Dolphin, the co-director of this race, introduced the marathoners who've raced in every state and the 100-marathon club members. Together you've gone this distances thousands of times, and individually as many as 490-something.

You know all about repeating yourselves in marathons. But you also know other truths of this event.

Those are: (1) Each marathon is unique; (2) the distance always can humble you, and (3) you never know when you start just how you'll end up.

There's another reason we run marathons, and rerun them. It's because they're hard.

If they weren't hard, everyone would run them. Maybe it seems like everyone already does, with American marathons combining for more than 400,000 finishes each year.

Notice that I say "finish-ES" and not "finish-ERS." Many of you are repeaters, going this distance multiple times. And other runners come from outside the U.S.

Let's say that one American in a thousand could or would finish a marathon. This puts you in pretty elite company.

I speak tonight with admiration and a little bit of envy to those of you who will add another number to your total tomorrow. My greatest envy goes out to those of you who are about to lose your virginity. You're about to make some of your greatest memories.

The veterans of this distance are about to do more of the same. But you're also starting over, because each new marathon story turns out a little or a lot differently from the last.

I won't even mention my marathon count here. It isn't impressive or important. I'll only say that April marks my 35th anniversary as a marathoner.

Boston was my first, in the pre-qualifying era when anyone could still run there. I won't talk about that race now, though, but about my second one and about someone besides myself.

Luckily I came back for a rerun, this time at the long-gone Santa Barbara Marathon. There I met Paul Reese, who was equally new to this distance.

Paul eventually repeated himself about 200 times as a marathoner and ultrarunner. He would fit right in with the crowd here tonight, and would make the perfect speaker for next year.

He wouldn't qualify for the 50-state club, not running official marathons in enough places for that. But you should consider making him an honorary member.

He once ran a marathon a day for 122 days in a row, four straight months without a rest day. This happened while crossing the United States at the age of 73, the oldest runner ever to make this journey.

Writing about that trip in the book Ten Million Steps, he ended by saying, "One of the secrets of aging gracefully is always to have something to look forward to." A plan, a goal, an agenda.

Paul's next mission was to go back and run across all the western states that he'd missed on the first trip. That done, he collected the remaining eastern states. No one else has crossed every state this way, and he finished his 50th as an 80-year-old.

He turns 85 this week. His step has slowed a bit, and his distance has shortened.

But Paul Reese still gets out for his runs. He's living and lively proof of the amazing lengths we can go to when we keep repeating ourselves.

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