Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Brief Beliefs

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one came from 2015.)

NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO doesn’t go with me on my runs. That’s when I still resist listening to anything but live sounds. But NPR’s morning news is the last voice I hear before running and the first afterward.

At those times I used to hear a segment in the ongoing series titled “This I Believe,” now discontinued. Hearing these five-minute highly personal essays, I thought: I could write a book on that subject.

Then I remembered: Already did that. It was titled Long Run Solution (first published in 1976). That book was an extended version of what I believed while writing the book in the 1970s.

Thirty years after Solution’s publication I wrote an updated and much-condensed version for Marathon & Beyond – everything I believe about running in 100 words or less. A hundred per topic, that is, while totaling a couple dozen of those.

Rereading those pieces another 10 years later made me think: What if space had been tighter or the assignment stricter? Could I state my most fondly held beliefs in 25 words or less? I’ll try here, while also limiting the number of topics to the original 25?

I write here as my journalism instructors urged: in simple declarative sentences. They also gave a warning too often ignored: avoid first-person pronouns; keep yourself and your opinions out of the story.

No I’s, me’s or my’s appear from here on, but they’re implied. These are my beliefs. Adopt them, edit them or reject them, but think about what yours are.

1. “If you run more than 15 miles a week, you’re running for reasons other than fitness.” Kenneth Cooper said that, and he’s right.

2. There’s more to running than fitness. Running only to train your heart, lungs and limbs is as incomplete as eating only to exercise your jaws.

3. Training to race, and running for relaxation and meditation, begin where the exerciser stops. The early miles are warmup steps leading to the best part.

4. Limit the running to one hour a day, on average. Beyond that time, this hobby starts to feel like a second job.

5. Limit the hard days to one a week. This is all that most of us can tolerate, or can fit into life’s schedule.

6. Life is complicated enough without adding to the complexity when you run. Take a break by keeping the training simple, low-tech and low-key.

7. Race training balances three needs: long enough for your longest race, fast enough for the shortest, easy enough to recover from the hard runs.

8. We must run less than our best most of the time. Nine miles in every 10, and most days each week, must feel easy.

9. The long run means the most, by far, in marathon training. Take it and nothing else but easy runs and rest days, and you’ll race fine.

10. You don’t need to “finish” a marathon in training. Leave the final miles unexplored until race day, when it earns you a medal and a shirt.

11. A little bit of speed training goes a long way. Too much of it leads to dead-ends of injury and disappointment.

12. Limit the interval-training sessions of a road racer to 5K fast running, total. Limit the pace to that of a 5K race.

13. The best type of speed “training” is regular racing. You can’t duplicate the race-day experience, effort or excitement as well with tempo runs or intervals.

14. Racing is an unnatural act. Do it, but treat it as a prescription item best taken in small, well-spaced doses.

15. Race day is magical. It can spur you to run as much as a minute per mile faster than you'd cover the same distance by yourself.

16. Start at a cautious pace, and let the impatient runners sail ahead. Catch them later, when it's better to be the passer than the passee.

17. Frank Shorter said, “You can't run another race until you forget how bad the last one felt.” Forgetting is the last stage of recovery.

18. A good guide for recovery is not to run another race (or even to train long or fast) until one day has passed for each mile of the race.

19. “Winning is doing the best you can with what you’re given.” George Sheehan said that. Also, “Winning is never having to say I quit.”

20. You are good. There are no “bad” runners, only slower ones. You’re always way ahead of those who dropped out or never started.

21. Everyone in a race is not automatically a winner. You risk a loss whenever you race, but the only one who can beat you is yourself.

22. No matter how fast you are, running can always humble you. No matter how slow you are, running can always make you proud.

23. You never run alone, even when you appear to be by yourself. There with you is everyone who ever advised, inspired or supported your running.

24. Running interests evolve. Runners typically begin with fitness goals, graduate to chasing racing goals, then finally advance to running as its own reward.

25. Speed eventually drops, PRs become permanent, medals tarnish. All you can really hold onto is today’s run. All that lasts in running is the lasting.


Photo: Frank Shorter believes, “You can’t run another race until you forget how bad the last one felt.”

 

[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]




Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Taking Walks

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 2014.)

AS THE YEARS have added up, my public roles in running have shrunk. At 60, I ran my last true race; at 61, I quit hitting the road once or twice a month as a speaker; at 64, I ran/walked my last marathon; at 68, I wrote my last column for a national running magazine.

I didn’t become anti-social or reclusive, exactly, and didn’t fully retire from running, writing or speaking. But I now enjoy relative anonymity after being too public a figure in this sport for too long.

I run (and increasingly, walk) alone. I write mainly for an audience of one (myself). I speak mostly to my training teams (and then only briefly).

If I’m known at all in my hometown beyond these small groups of runners, it’s for another role played in recent years. That’s as a local poster boy for a cause near to my heart (and points south): prostate cancer awareness.

At age 65, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I’ve put modesty and privacy aside and spoken out about my condition, in hopes of helping other men avoid or treat it.

Treatment sent my cancer was into deep remission, if not entirely cured. But I didn’t escape it without some cost, which I gladly paid.

Hormone suppression figured into the early treatment. It added pounds to my waistline and minutes to my miles. I’ve never lost the former or gained back the latter.

This combination gradually reduced my running range. I couldn’t run as far as I still wanted to go, so I evolved over the next few years from a runner taking a few walk breaks to a walker who ran a little.

For the first five years post-treatment, I joined a Relay for Life, the cancer fund-raiser usually held on a track. The first three were traditional run-walks.

I celebrated the fourth year differently. My first-ever hamstring tear (a “speed” injury at a time when I’d never been slower) temporarily ended all running. This happened right before the 2012 Relay, which led to another first: walking an organized event, the whole four hours.

Never had a walk lasted longer for me. I didn’t know exactly what my old walk-only high was, but only that this new one wouldn’t long remain my lifetime high.

That “PR” lasted only a year. The fifth cancer-versary (the traditional time for pronouncing a patient “cured”) brought a five-hour walk at the Relay… and a vow to extend to a marathon in the sixth year.

All previous celebrations had gone unpublicized and unaccompanied by anyone who knew what I was doing. The marathon was different.

At age 70, I entered an official one – the 2014 Yakima River Canyon Marathon in Washington, which offered a generous early start for slowpokes like me who mainly walked. And I accepted help from a few young runners on my training team.

Laurel Mathiesen, Sara Tepfer and Jesse Centeno made the 600-mile round trip on their own. Then they ran until they’d made up my two-hour head start.

From 22 miles on, we walked in together. We finished, in 6½ hours on the early-start clock, and my first written comments afterward still stand as the most accurate:

“Walking a marathon is very different from running one; much less intense, for one thing. But it isn't easy with its extra hours. Laurel, Sara and Jesse made the hard final miles go better, and they made my day four times more rewarding than it would have been as a private effort.”


THIS EXPERIENCE encouraged an encore the next year, my seventh post-diagnosis, this time at the 2015 Newport (Oregon) Marathon. Laurel Mathiesen and Rachel Walker from the team walked with me, and others waited at the finish. I thank them for this support – and their patience.

Fittingly for the personal anniversary being marked that week, this marathon took me nearly seven hours. But that clocking was incidental to another bigger, better number.

This event celebrated 10 years for my training team, whose first race also had been at Newport. I am quietly proud to have gone these miles, here and for the past decade. And I am loudly proud to have shared so much with so many teammates.


Photo: Two young runners – Laurel Mathiesen (left) and Sara Tepfer (right) – slowed down to help their 70-year-old coach finish at Yakima.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]



Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Boston 2013

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 2013.)

ONCE YOU run the Boston Marathon, you never really leave it. You come back each April, if only in powerful and enduring memory.

I hadn’t been in Boston on marathon weekend since 1990. The last of my four runs had come in 1979, the first of those had been way back in 1967.

But that doesn’t mean my connection to this place and race had weakened over the years. I go to Boston every Patriots Day, and never more so than in 2013.

As always, I’d jumped online early and from 3000 miles away to track the progress of a long list (longer each year) of friends running there. I had checked in many of them at the finish before leaving home for a lunch date with another Boston Marathon veteran.

Online results had stopped as runners with projected times in the low fours should have finished. This wasn’t unusual. Searches like mine often overwhelmed Boston’s Internet server on marathon day.

I met Neal Benson in a brew pub. He wore his T-shirt from the centennial race of 1996. As we sat down, he glanced at a silent TV screen nearby, then his eyes widened.

“Hey, that’s Boston,” he said. I turned around to see smoke in the picture.

Marathoners and spectators ran away from the finish line. Soon, police and medics raced toward the lingering smoke.

“It looks like there’s a fire,” said Neal. Then he checked his phone for bulletins.

“Oh, no! There have been two explosions. They’re saying many casualties.”

We didn’t eat that noon. Neal went to his home and I to mine to follow this grim news.

My greatest concern was for the same two dozen runners whose progress I’d tracked earlier. Only now it wasn’t about their times but about their safety.

Imagine the anguish of those who were closer to them, both in proximity and relationship, who couldn’t immediately see or hear from their loved ones. Cell and wifi services were jammed. Local transport was stalled.

Amazingly, we would learn later, that despite the power of these blasts and the carnage among spectators in the immediate area no runner in the entire field was seriously injured. This doesn’t mean, though, that anyone there was left unshaken by the too-near miss.

I heard about Leanne Mohr from her sister Laurel, who co-taught a running class with me that year. Leanne had finished but not yet left the recovery area when chaos struck. With no rides available, she had to walk the six miles to her housing.

Cathy Troisi reached me late that night, Boston time. She enters annually as a fund-raiser for cancer research, to honor her late daughter. Cathy was to meet her host at the finish but didn’t get there after the race was halted. Not knowing exactly where her friend lived, she took hours to find the place.

Facebook finally told me that several Eugene friends were safe. Rachel Modee had run her first marathon with our team (but had qualified on her own). Bella Richardson coached another team in our town, and she ran here along with husband Trae. All had finished, then endured hotel lockdowns.

Jacqueline Hansen was in Boston as an honored guest, on the 40th anniversary of her victory there. (I had finished editing her book, A Long Time Coming, earlier that spring.) An all-access pass let Jacqueline stand near the finish line, which she left shortly before the explosions.

I knew John Johnson and his son Paul from our yearly visits to Jeff Galloway’s running camp at Lake Tahoe. They lived in my old hometown of Los Altos, California. John was on the homestretch, mere yards from where the second bomb went off. He wasn’t hurt, but his worries turned to his boy – a fully qualified Boston marathoner who is mentally handicapped – not knowing for too long that Paul was safe.

My last time in Boston, 1990, I had stood at almost the exact spot where John Johnson experienced this blast. I’d waited there for my wife Barbara’s son, Chris Hazen, to finish in 4:10. That was almost exactly the time when the bombers would strike 23 years later. The distance between Boston and Oregon, and between 2013 and 1990, would never seem shorter.


A MONTH after the bombing, with the sport still shaken, Rich Benyo at Marathon & Beyond asked me and others to comment on his statement and question titled “The Aftermath.” He asked, “Can each of you comment on what long-term effect you feel this atrocity will have on the sport and lifestyle of marathon running?”

My contribution: This tragedy hit close to home for all of us, no matter how far from Boston we were on April 15th. Our first thought was, Are my friends there okay? Our second thought: I could have been there myself. Only later did we think how much and for how long the aftershocks might rattle the sport.

My hometown marathon in Eugene was one of the first post-Boston races. The local media went into a frenzy over potential risks here.

However, local organizers took reasonable and unfortunately now necessary precautions with security upgrades, but these were largely invisible to the runners. Few if any of them stayed away out of fear for their safety, nor did many volunteers or spectators abandon their posts. 

I trust this will remain true nationwide, as we remember Boston 2013 without overreacting to it. As in the running itself, we must not let the remote threat of something going terribly wrong keep us from taking part in all that will likely go wonderfully right on marathon day. 


Photo: Meb Keflezighi, an American by choice, responded to the 2013 attack on America by winning the 2014 race.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]







Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What Next?

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 2012.)

WHAT WILL YOU do as a runner after you’ve run almost everything? That’s a question I hope you don’t need to answer right now and won’t for quite awhile.

There’s much to do in running and a long time to do it. Whether you start at 15 or 50, you’re given a good 10 years to improve your PRs.

You can increase your distances just about infinitely. You can run from sprints to ultras… on roads flat to mountainous… on trails and cross-country courses… on tracks outdoors and in.

You can run alone, with partners, in crowds small to large and on relay teams. You can travel as far and as often to races as your budget allows.

I did most of that. I raced distances as short as 100 yards and dabbled in ultras as long as 70 miles… ran midpack at national cross-country and road championships… won races, finished last and didn’t finish at all… traveled to marathons coast to coast, and races in most states and outside U.S. borders… set PRs that now are all older than my eldest child.

So what am I doing now that I’ve run nearly everything? Still running, of course, but not as training for anything except life. The miles are fewer and easier.

Only as my last stay at a magazine was ending did I ask myself the “what next?” question. But I’d begun answering it unconsciously much earlier.

In 2001, I came to a fork in life’s path. Running had long since settled into its senior-adult role (which is to say short, slow and solo).

I thought I’d retired from marathons (though they would resurface occasionally in later years). I hadn’t truly raced a race (as opposed to running in one) in 20 years, and hadn’t tried another ultra in 30.

What next? Before I could ask that of myself, a new opportunity arose unsought.

The University of Oregon needed a teacher for its running classes in the P.E. department, and my name came up as a prospect. My wife Barbara said, “Take it. You’ll love it.”

And she was right. The one-term assignment grew to year-round teaching, every year, and later spawned coaching a training for marathons and halves.

Which again raises this column’s opening question: What will you do after you’ve done almost everything as a runner?

You couldn’t do much better than passing on what you know and love about this sport. This might become the most rewarding phase of your running life, as it has been mine.

There’s much you can do this way, short of the teaching and coaching I’ve lucked into. You can advise, assist, praise, pace, cajole, console in less formal ways.

Your own running is necessarily self-centered. You must focus on your own health and fitness, your distances and times. A support role can’t be all, or even much, about you. After taking care of our own biggest business, though, you can help others work on theirs.

These days with these runners I’m not someone who used to race fairly fast or a name from the bylines. They don’t know that or need to know more than who they see: a grizzled guy with a clipboard, a stopwatch and a proud smile. The time we spend together is about their running, not mine.

I don’t coach online but only in person. I limit the group in size (though never by ability) so I can get know every runner’s backstory and can call each one by name at least once each day.

We first come together as strangers, then become teammates, friends and finally a family of sorts. I gain more from these runners this way than I give to them in training and racing tips.


SUBSTITUTE THE WORD “write” for “run” in this chapter’s opening question and you see the related question that I’m addressing here: What will I do as a writer after I’ve written almost everything?

I’ve written for a small hometown newspaper, a college paper and a statewide daily... about news, all sports, my favorite sport and the distance-running branch of this sport... for the three other magazines before settling in at Marathon & Beyond... in booklets and books, of my own and in concert with other authors.

Other writers know their special area of running expertise better than I. But few, if any, have covered the sport in as many ways for as long.

I’ve written personal, practical, technical, historical, statistical, biographical, physiological, psychological and philosophical reports. I’ve said about all I have to say, to the point of repeating myself.

So after a seven-year run with Marathon & Beyond (and before that, 33 years with Runner’s World, and brief early stints with Track & Field News and Running magazine), this served as my farewell-to-magazine-writing column. I yielded the space to someone with a greater need to fill it, while I went further in the direction I already was headed: teaching and coaching runners who hadn’t read much of anything, and still had their best running experiences ahead of them.


Photo: Standing and supporting has replaced racing for me, including greeting Jean Cordova during the Eugene Marathon.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]