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

Sat, 15 Mar 2008 05:54:33 -0400

On the Road Again


(Rerun from September 2006 Marathon & Beyond)

Once upon a time I ran marathons regularly, twice most years, sometimes more often. Then suddenly I stopped trying them at all.

While I never used the R-word, retired, this looked more likely with each passing year. Those had stretched to six when 2006 began.

It's no coincidence that I found other roles grew to fill a void left by not going this distance myself. In those marathon-less years I did more talking to, coaching of and writing for marathoners than ever before. I attended Jeff Galloway's and Dick Beardsley's camps with marathoners, formed a Marathon Team to train runners, wrote a second edition of the book Marathon Training, and signed on as a columnist for Marathon & Beyond magazine.

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.

The less distance I ran, the more support I was free to give. Yet I never stopped wanting be an active marathoner at least one more time.

I didn't want my latest marathon -- Napa Valley 2000, which was unplanned and untrained-for -- to remain forever my last. I needed to run at least one more, no matter how long it took me to get to it and through it.

Napa Valley 2006 would have been the logical choice: the same race on the sixth anniversary of my trying to fake one there. But Napa wasn't available to me then. The Marathon Team that I coach was running there, and they expected me to cheer them along on their big day.

Instead I chose the Yakima River Canyon Marathon in Washington state and took 5:01 to finish there. A friend asked at the end, "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 most 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.

Running a race is not all about, or always about, a finish time. This one was about joining my own Marathon Team.

Checking into my Yakima hotel, I'd been handed an oversized greeting card. It read, "Since we can't be here in body, we're here in spirit." It was signed by runners from the Team.

A column I'd posted on my website at a dark hour of marathon morning was addressed to coaches. It ended, "Teach by example. Ask your runners to do no training or racing that you wouldn't do (and haven't done, or are doing) yourself."

I did that training, finished the race, and was back in Eugene the next morning, watching and handing drinks to and cheering for the latest Team as it reached 15 miles in training. Now I understood these runners -- and all marathoners -- a little better, and respected them even more. I was back with this Marathon Team in body as well as spirit.

UPDATE. At Napa Valley 2008, I celebrated my 50th running anniversary with another finish (pictured above in photo by Dave Michel; his wife Mary Coordt, left in red jacket, had qualified for the Olympic Trials that day). This marathon took longer to finish than Yakima 2006, longer than ever before at 5:11. Now more than ever, the race is not always or all about final time.
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