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

Sat, 21 Oct 2006 10:27:11 -0400

Starting Here


We all had to start somewhere. Wherever that was, it's a place to remember fondly and to revisit frequently.

My birthplace as a marathoner was Des Moines, Iowa. The year was 1966, so I've now turned 40 in long-distance years.

Recently I had the good fortune of celebrating this anniversary at the Des Moines Marathon. There I saw how my past connected with these runners' present.

Two spots in that city figured most directly in my marathon genesis: Drake Stadium and Waterworks Park. I run at both places during every trip here, visiting my ghosts and celebrating all the miles that those early runs made possible. These usually are private celebrations, and they started that way again this time.

I ran almost alone at Drake, filling my quota of time with laps on the track. A grounds crew saw me only as an intruder, getting in their way as they cleaned up after a football game the night before. A lone woman, running the steps while ignoring one of the world's finest track surfaces, studiously avoided any eye contact.

This track was where I'd made the best move of my running life. One steamy summer afternoon I had dropped out of a speed session, flopped onto this infield and decided: I don't need this anymore.

What I needed was more distance at an easier pace. The search for it had led first to Waterworks Park and its many miles of little-used roads beside the Raccoon River. The miles of training there had led to the Boston Marathon the next spring, then to all that would follow.

Running in Waterworks this time, I saw only a few runners. They saw me only as someone who didn't know how to dress for a sub-freezing morning. I'd forgotten to bring long pants on this trip, and my bare legs now glowed bright red.

They couldn't have known who I am and wouldn't have cared what I'd done in this park some long-ago year. This isn't said with regret but as a healthy reminder that the world little notes nor long remembers who passed this way before. It's enough that we ourselves don't forget who we are and where we came from.

These runs through my past have always been by myself. But I've never been alone.

Even now I run with all the coaches, advisers, inspirers, teammates, competitors and supporters who were there before. Everyone has people who helped them to the starting line, and my team was bigger than I noticed at the time.

Nowadays I'm mostly part of the support crew at marathons. Never did this mean more -- to me, not to the passing runners -- than it did in Des Moines.

That Sunday, I stood in Drake Stadium, yards away from where I'd decided 40 years ago to run farther instead of faster. The marathoners took a ceremonial lap around that track in midrace, glimpsing themselves on the scoreboard screen.

Later I stood in Waterworks Park, a half-mile from where my longest training run before my first (and forever fastest) marathon had ended. I knew only a few of these runners by face or name, but knew them all by what they'd done to reach this point and by what they would take away from this race.

I felt honored to watch them as they made memories of their own, at the same places where I once made mine. I could tell them, if they asked, that these memories not only last but grow richer with time.
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