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

Sun, 12 Feb 2006 08:20:16 -0500

Once a Marathoner


Once upon a time I ran marathons. That was long ago, six years since the latest one. But the irony is that now I'm doing more talking to, coaching of and writing for marathoners than ever before.

It isn't coincidental that these other roles grew to fill a void left by not going this distance myself. I attended Jeff Galloway's and Dick Beardsley's camps with marathoners, formed a Marathon Team to train runners, signed on as a columnist for Marathon & Beyond magazine.

When asked to move my byline to M&B from another magazine, I quickly agreed, but then privately asked myself: Do I really belong there? Readers were justified in asking the same: "How well can you speak to our interests?"

What were my credentials, not as a writer but as a runner? They run marathons and, for some, beyond that distance. Did I?

Well, no, not lately. My life as a marathoner had sputtered to a halt after four dozen finishes spread over four decades. I wasn't ready to say that the last one has been run, but the passing years had turned a probably-soon into a maybe-someday.

I justified my new role in Marathon & Beyond by broadening the definition of "beyond." It doesn't only mean "longer than." The word can also imply "in addition to."

"Beyond" can include runs other than marathons and ultras, the shorter training and racing that isn't devalued by the long. "Beyond" can include what happens after the long races are finished, when the knowledge of and appreciation for marathoning and ultrarunning don't end at the final finish line.

My first column in M&B rationalized what a lapsed marathoner might offer to active ones. I wrote in 2004 that we who stand by in supporting roles also serve, and that we who once ran marathoners never really retire.

Paul Reese, the grandest old man of the roads I ever knew, once bristled when I referred to him as an "ex-Marine." Colonel Reese corrected me by saying firmly, "There's no such thing as an EX-Marine." He explained that once you've had the experience, and Paul had it in three wars from the 1940s to the '60s, it never leaves you.

Likewise there are no ex-marathoners or ex-ultrarunners. Once you join this club, you never really leave. The experience stays with you, to share with the runners who follow you on these courses.

The less distance I run, the more supporting I'm free to do. Yet I'd like to be an active marathoner just one more time. I wouldn't want my latest marathon, where little went as it can and should, to remain forever my last.

(to be continued in RC 611)


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