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

Sat, 27 Sep 2008 05:54:56 -0400

All Together Now


One of the delightful ironies of my life today is that I run alone early each morning, then most days of the week I herd runners into groups as their coach so they won't need to feel alone. First I run away from teammates, then I get my greatest kicks from team-building.

We call one of those groups a Marathon Team, with capital "M" and "T." When first fishing around for a name, "team" seemed to fit. It became even fitting than we first imagined.

I could talk here about our training, but there's nothing unusual about it. You can find similar schedules in dozens of books and on as many websites.

I could tell about our high finish rate -- of 99.8 percent. One reason it's so high is that the runners don't want to let anyone else down by not finishing. Another is that these runners look out for each other.

Most of them are strangers to each other and to me when they first join the Team. We become friends, almost family.

Every marathon from this Team leaves me with a favorite story. LynDee's stands out from our group that ran the Eugene race last May.

LynDee, then approaching 60, decided last year to turn her physical life around. She joined a so-called Fitness Boot Camp that met in the early mornings with a "drill sergeant" in charge. This training involved some running, which she'd never done before.

Last fall she decided to aim high, for the Eugene Marathon. When she approached me about joining our Team, I asked, "What has been your longest run?"

"About two miles," she said. I suggested that she add more miles, to six or so, before committing herself to this group.

I next saw her at a November 10K race. "It's both my longest run ever and my first race ever," she said at the finish. "Now can I join your Team?"

LynDee had met my recommended prerequisite. When our group training began last December, she soon saw how much slower she was than anyone else. She started all runs at least an hour early, which meant running apart from the rest of us.

"I never felt alone out there," she said. "I knew the others were on the same route and would give me a shout and a pat on the back when they passed. I knew you, yourself, would be waiting for me at the end. There were some days when those thoughts were all that kept me going."

In January she finished her first half-marathon. In May she trailed our next-slowest runner by an hour. But she finished, making her most-improved by far in the past year. Hers wasn't the only big turnaround.

I often say to these Teams, "Training for and completing the marathon will change you in ways you couldn't have imagined at the start. The endurance that you show here will help you to take on other big challenges."

One of our runners, Esther by name, did well in her marathons from the start. She also did well in school, earning her Ph.D. in chemistry.

But once these tests were passed, she looked for bigger ones. In September she completed in her first Iron(wo)man triathlon.

She also says, "I'd rather work with people than chemicals." She has applied to medical schools, which she won't complete until she's into her 40s.

A runner named Everett first thought that the marathon itself was a big enough challenge. He tackled it on his own last year and finished on the high side of 4-1/2 hours.

He wanted better and thought that the ways to do it were: (1) join our Team, and (2) lose some weight. We welcomed him, and over the next year he lost about 50 pounds.

That loss alone accounted for most of his hour-plus improvement in between the Eugene Marathons of 2007 and 2008. But this wasn't his biggest change.

Everett had worked for several years in a paint store, and now he felt ready for a bigger challenge. Last month he started law school at the University of Oregon.

Last year I watched the Portland Marathon start with Everett's wife Kim. This year she will RUN at Portland, her first. We often see such passing-along in our group.

In the past Kevin manned a drink station while his wife Laurel ran the marathons. This year she's the helper and Kevin the runner, training for his first marathon this fall.

Laurel, meanwhile, says her interest has shifted to "helping other runners." She volunteers to pace anyone who asks.

Courtney was on our original Team. Now she coaches her own women's group and his helping her boyfriend Jason train for his first marathon. Another alum, Jessica, is training with her partner Corey.

A former runner of ours named Kristi talked her mother Shana into joining us. Rachel convinced her father Steve, a state champion at 800 meters long ago, to run a marathon. This is reverse inheritance, with a child passing running along to a parent.

If each runner recruits one, the future of this sport is secure. If each inspires more than one, we're in great shape.

[Continued in RC 748]
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