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

Sun, 9 Apr 2006 05:27:30 -0400

Long Time Coming


We runners think in numbers, talk in numbers, define ourselves and each other by numbers. The numbers I put up at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon weren't notable, yet they didn't go unnoticed.

There's nowhere to hide as a marathoner anymore. You could look up my time, anyone's time, on the web. So I'll save you the trouble. It was 5:01 at Yakima.

A friend asked at the finish line, "Does it embarrass you not to break five hours?" It wasn't a harsh question. He knew I'd once run more than two hours faster, he knew that I'm a little more visible than other five-hour marathoners, and he was concerned about my feelings at that moment.

No, I told him, this time carries no shame. If slowing down bothered me, I would have stopped running marathons after the first few. Or I would have chosen one now where no one knew me, then run in disguise under an assumed name.

A time goal wasn't what brought me to this marathon. The final time was the least of what I took away from it (though I confess relief at avoiding a PW -- personal-worst time -- by a single minute).

Running a race is not all about, or always about, a finish time. Other numbers meant far more to me at Yakima, and are why I chose this marathon on this date. Those numbers are six, 48 and 62.

We runners like giving special meaning to otherwise random numbers. My three marked times measured not in hours but in years:

-- Six years since my last marathon, Napa Valley 2000. Hints had dropped onto these pages for months that I might try another ("Once a Marathoner," 2/12/06; "My Last Marathon," 2/19/06; "Marathon Fever," 2/26/06; "Final Five," 3/26/06). I didn't want that latest one, which was unplanned and untrained-for, to be my last. But getting to the next starting line took a long time, after never running longer than 10K for 5-1/2 of those years.

-- Forty-eight years since my first race, on another April Fool's Day. This was my first chance to celebrate the anniversary with a marathon. It had to go better than that first race -- of just one mile -- when I'd started too fast and not finished. In my next April Fool's race I'd been knocked down, bloodied and forever scarred in the opening rush. I didn't view those as bad omens, but instead took comfort from sticking around long enough to wear race number 48 at Yakima.

-- Sixty-two years of age. Compared to the 50 States marathoners staging their quarterly reunion at Yakima, my lifetime marathon count is modest. It averages less than one per running year. But I'd run them in my 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. I joked during a brief talk at the pasta dinner, "After doing this first one in my 60s, I can re-retire until age 70."

My best reason for ending the recent "retirement" wasn't numerical. The Marathon Teams that I've coached the past two years inspired me to do it.

I wanted to show these runners that I believed enough in how they trained to do it myself. We followed the same program of long runs, peaking at 21 miles.

Greeting me at the Yakima hotel was a card signed by the Team members. It read, "Since we can't be here in body, we're here in spirit."

A column I posted on marathon day ("Advice to Advisers," 4/1/06) was addressed to coaches. It ended, "Teach by example. Ask them to do no training or racing that you wouldn't do (and haven't done, or are doing) yourself."

I did it and was back watching the latest Marathon Team train the next day. Now I understood these runners a little better, and respected them even more. After walking stiffly to their starting line, I told them, "I can teach you to walk this way the day after your marathon."
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