Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Oregon Calling

(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 1981.)

RETREAT ISN’T necessarily defeat. Instead of surrender, it can be a pullback to revise strategy. My plan for life as a gentleman writer was failing, and to revive it I had to retreat from the bucolic beachhead on the California coast.

Once the book royalties dried up, we couldn’t live in dreamland anymore. We didn’t want to leave Pebble Beach but couldn’t afford to stay.

We’d outgrown our house, where Sarah and Eric couldn’t share a bedroom much longer. We couldn’t add on here and couldn’t buy up in the bullish local real-estate market.

Paul Perry offered a solution. The editor of Running magazine called to say, “Our managing editor is leaving, going back to New York City. Would you like to move north and take her place? Nike can raise your pay and cover your moving costs, plus you’ll find bargains on houses here.”

The benefits would be professional and financial, even educational. As a gatekeeper on content for the magazine I could assign and edit my own articles, reclaiming a voice in the running world. Moving to Eugene, where half the money bought twice the home, would solve the housing squeeze.

Sarah was now in second grade at a school that wasn’t great. The older population of this area balked at spending tax money on schools.

Eric, at three, had started to school himself. Our boy was slow to start talking.

A pediatrician had tried to ease our concerns by saying, “Don’t worry. He’s a boy and a second child. That combination often leads to delayed speech.”

Finally we visited a specialist at Stanford University Hospital. She told us, “Your boy has been severely hearing impaired since birth. Without hearing aids, he essentially can’t hear anything.”

The doctor outlined a remedial program: hearing aids and an early start at a special pre-school. At age three he took an hour-long bus ride to Salinas and back each day.

The kids deserved better schools, or at least closer ones, than we could find on the Monterey Peninsula. So we headed north to Eugene, where a job awaited, where better housing was affordable, where the schools were first-rate in this college town.

Relocating here was a needed move out of the dream and back to reality, out of a theme park that guests paid to see and into a real town. We would remain in Eugene long after Running magazine’s short life ended. Eugene, where I came in retreat, would become my longest-time home.

WE DREAM, especially on days when being a runner wins no respect in our hometown, of moving where we could be understood and appreciated. I made that move in 1981, to the epicenter of the sport in this country.

Eugene was then known as the nation’s running capital, and would later trademark the title TrackTown USA. University of Oregon teams made the sport important here, Bill Bowerman coached here, Nike started here, one of the country’s best marathons, Nike-OTC, ran here. More runners per capita took to the streets, tracks and trails here than anywhere else in the country.

Ten years before the move north I wrote, “Eugene. There’s a tinge of magic in that name. The running press has created the impression that this is an oasis where the runner is king, where the streets are clogged with runners from sunup to sundown, where the stadium is packed with fans heaping praise on their running heroes, where the cool climate is as kind to the runner as the city’s populace is.”

Eugene wasn’t perfect, but I realized in several visits during the 1970s that it still ran far ahead of any competitor as the country’s number-one running city. I cheered when Running magazine located here in 1980, because I could visit more often.

Now I was in Eugene to live after accepting a new assignment as senior editor. In my first column as a resident I wrote, “Running has been a mass movement longer here than anywhere else in the U.S. To borrow a word from Jim Fixx (who contributed an article to the same issue of Running), this city has had a chance to ‘metabolize’ running, to make it a routine part of daily life and not a fad. I see here what the future of running may become in other places. That future works.”

Photo: Pre’s Trail, hallowed ground for runners of all abilities in Eugene.

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

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