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

Sat, 15 Jun 2002 08:16:43 -0400

Talking to Trainees


Such is the state of the sport today that most of the runners I talk to are marathoners. They are either training for, running in or recovering from a marathon.

Usually I talk to them one at a time, mostly by e-mail. But sometimes I meet with them in bunches, as happened recently at the Portland Marathon Clinic.

This is one of the country's oldest and best training groups, having fine-tuned its program since the mid-1980s. Hundreds of runners join the Oregon clinic each April, to train together for the October race.

I speak to this group every summer but avoid giving a training talk. Their own coaches supply those details.

Mine is a pep talk. I'm supposed to inspire these runners.

Yet what can I tell them? I'm an outsider here and seemingly in the minority of runners at large. My last marathon is more than two years past, and the next one is nowhere in sight.

What can I say to marathoners? Oh, I'll think of something. Such as...

1. You're lucky to be here now. Never have so many runners (and run-walkers, and walkers) of such widely ranging abilities been made to feel so welcome. Never have so many training groups (such as the one in Portland) given so much valuable technical support and the more-important emotional support. Now is the best time to be a marathoner.

2. I know you. Maybe your names and faces are unfamiliar. But I know you by the training you're doing, by how you will feel on raceday, and by the memories that you carry away. Maybe I haven't done any of this for awhile, but these are experiences you don't forget. Our sharing of them brings us into the same community of marathoners.

3. I admire you. I don't stand before you as an "expert," imported to impart wisdom. Instead I bow in respect for what you are doing and I'm not. You inspire me. I hope that what you're doing now can have the same effect on others who watch you do it. Marathoning can be contagious.

4. You can't fake a marathon. Maybe you can wake up one fine summer morning and decide to run a 5K or 10K that same day. Those distances aren't much different from what you'd run on your own. But few of us normally run far enough to jump into a marathon without special training. The long-term demands of marathons enhance their attraction and prolong the memories.

5. The marathon is brutally and beautifully honest. You get back on raceday almost exactly what you invested earlier. There's only one way you can buy a decent marathon -- not with your cash or credit cards, not with your fame or power, but only with proper preparation. If you don't pay in advance with training, you pay later in pain. (My last marathon, and the six months of rehab that followed, cured me of trying to cheat on the training. When marathoners ask me now if I'm running their race, the honest answer is: I'd love to, but I forgot to train.)

6. The marathon can humble you. No truer line has ever been written than that one by Bill Rodgers. He has broken 2:10, but also has broken down and dropped out. (I like to claim I've "beaten" Rodgers, in a race that I finished and he didn't. But I've also "lost" to eight-hour marathoners who finished long after I'd quit.) Even with the best of training, you're still not home free until the marathon ends as well as you hoped it would -- or better.

7. The marathon can make you proud. If the distance can humble the proudest of us, then the reverse is equally true. It can make proud the humblest of us. I'm bothered by marathoners who say, "I'm only a back-of-the-packer," or, "I'm only a run-walker." No apologies accepted. You are doing what most people won't or can't. Take pride in it, however long your marathon takes.

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