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

Sun, 18 Jun 2006 05:16:30 -0400



While casting about last year for the name of a new training group, we hooked onto Marathon Team. At first I thought the term "Team" might be too strong for one that met just once a week for a few months, then disbanded.

With four such groups behind us now and a fourth just formed, I know that "Team" works. "Friends" might have worked even better.

These runners aren't that close at first. A few married couples sign up, along with some pairs of running partners.

But most of the would-be marathoners begin as strangers to each other, and often to me as well. We grow closer as the weeks and miles add up. By marathon day we're almost a band of brothers and sisters.

Our latest Team happened to reach its big day on my birthday. I've never celebrated a happier one, with so many people I'd come to know so well.

Twenty-five of them ran the Newport, Oregon, Marathon. All finished (plus two of two the next day at Rock 'n' Roll in San Diego). Of the 13 marathoners with previous PRs, nine set new ones -- by as much as 55 minutes.

Those are just numbers. "What you'll remember the strongest and longest from this marathon isn't what you ran," I told the runners afterward. "It will be who you ran with in training and on raceday."

My training program and my coaching weren't the main reasons why these runners succeeded. Any number of programs might have worked as well, or better. Any coach, or none at all, might have led to the similar results.

The runners ran better than most of them could have alone because they teamed up. They asked for help, received it and gave it back. They paced, advised and cheered each other.

Years from now they'll look back at the DVD that we made from the Newport Marathon, a slideshow that wouldn't move anyone not in it, and smile or shed a tear at seeing these faces again. The Newport Team has parted but will remain linked forever by this common endeavor.

Most of the photos show our runners together, in pairs or greater numbers. They also grouped up a week before the marathon, at a dinner hosted by married couple Amanda and Matt, and at a post-race lunch arranged by Katie and Patricia. These meals came about without any urging from me.

Gregg could have been on a different team far from here. As a military reservist, he'd been called to service in Iraq this spring and then had those orders cancelled.

Rayna and Tod are professional teammates, she as a nurse and he a doctor in an emergency room. At 22 miles, a runner had the good timing to collapse beside Dr. Tod.

He put aside his athletic goal to do his medical duty, and Rayna later joined him. They helped until an ambulance arrived, then ran to the finish together.

Our second married couple, JoAnna and Chris, didn't intend run together. But after having troubles separately, they teamed up for the final miles.

Several sets of women trained every step together, then ran their marathon that way. Last of them to finish were Susan and Rachel.

Rachel said later, "I had a foot problem and had to walk more than planned. I told Susan not to slow down and wait for me."

Susan's response: "No way. We've come this far together, and I'm not about to leave you now."

At the end, these two set a Marathon Team record for tears. They weren't alone in their emotion.

Most of their teammates had stayed to greet them, some waiting for almost two hours. I hadn't asked them to do this, and didn't need to ask.

As the photos crossed the screen in our DVD, James Taylor sang in the background. His old song, "You've Got a Friend," might sound hokey to anyone who wasn't there, but it spoke perfectly to those who were:

"You just call out my name,
and you know wherever I am,
I'll come running
to see you again.

"Winter, spring, summer or fall,
all you got to do is call,
and I'll be there, yes I will.
You've got a friend."
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