(This is the 50th anniversary of my first article in Runner’s World magazine. All year I post excerpts from my book, This Runner’s World.)
October 2002 (retitled slightly in the magazine). The best runner in my family asks me without words but with his glances, Why are you so slow? We’re an odd couple. He’s tall, I’m small. He’s thin, I’m less so. He’s young, I’m not. He’s a sprinter, I’m a distance runner.
Our bond is our shared status as retired racers. Before joining my family, he had a brief professional career – on the greyhound track.
His name, Buzz, fits. He can buzz along at 40 miles an hour when his genetic memory moves him.
Buzz wasn’t just born to run; it’s his whole reason for being. His breed has been refined down to a single specialty – to run extremely fast for the pleasure and profit of dog-racing fans.
When instinct kicks in now, he bolts into high gear and dashes invisible laps for a minute or two before dropping back to my pace.
Since Buzz joined my runs, I too have run more laps – slower and bigger ones than he might otherwise do, but laps just the same.
For decades I plotted courses that never duplicated themselves. Some were out-and-backs, but a route looks different when you reverse directions. Usually I’d run a single big loop with new scenery every step of the way.
Buzz has reduced my range. Running safely with him means using fewer and shorter routes, with multiple laps per day or multiple returns there per week.
Neither of us minds repeating ourselves. This is what runners do.
Ours is a life of constant reruns. We’re always circling back to where we’d we started, then starting all over again. Even if we don’t run extra laps that day, we surely will come back for more of the same another day soon.
Anyone who thinks this sounds boring doesn’t have a runner’s mindset or hasn’t chosen the courses well. To a runner in just the right place, each repetition there has a comfortable sameness to it. And each run there also is a little different from any other.
If anyone should feel bored by his everyday runs, it’s Ed Whitlock. History’s fastest over-70 marathoner runs two or more hours a day at a “glorified shuffle,” nearly all of it around a third-of-a-mile cemetery near his Ontario home.
Some readers question this unvarying routine. Ed himself says that he feels safe in his on his everyday route because “I know every pothole on my lap. It wouldn’t be like that on a single-loop course.” Other benefits: “No traffic, no dogs and no other macho runners to keep up with.”
I have no single Whitlock-like home course. But my regular choices in Eugene have come down to a handful, meaning that Buzz and I run each of them at least once a week.
Our favorite: a former garbage dump converted into a riverside park. I first ran there more than 30 years ago when a marathon passed through this park that later became home to Pre’s Trail.
I’ve lived nearby since 1981 and probably have averaged one run a week there. That’s more than 1000 repetitions, and I have yet to tire of this course.
Where did you run today? Now there’s a question you don’t often hear.
We think and talk about the whats and hows (especially the how-fars and how-fasts) of running. But the wheres seldom come up, beyond where the next race might be.
Yet the home courses are where you spend dozens to hundreds of hours a year. You must choose them well.
Plot routes that start and finish in the same spot, that you can reach quickly and easily from home or office, and that are runnable in all weather and light conditions. These might not be the fastest, easiest or prettiest routes. But you run them because they’re convenient, familiar and safe.
Someone who doesn’t know these courses as you do might think they would get old after the 99th repetition. Not so.
A course never quite looks the same way twice. The combinations of weather, season, light, feelings and thoughts that you find there are ever-changing.
2018 Update. Buzz ran his last laps seven years ago. I continue using his favorite off-road courses.
[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, Next Steps, Pacesetters, Running with Class, 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.]