TITLE: Got To Begin Again AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: March 22, 2009 2:30 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I spent this morning with what seems like an old friend. When we first moved here in 1992, we heard a lot about the 60 miles of recreational trails in the area, and what they meant for the quality of life we could have here. The system now spans more than 80 miles, and I have spent a lot of hours on most of them. I've walked and biked with my family there, but I've spent far more hours on the trails alone, running. Sometimes, I'm training for a race. Then, the trail is a work partner. Other times, I'm simply running, and the trail is more like a friend I share the quiet time with. Many of my favorite routes, including a 12-miler north of town and a 16-miler south, are run partly or entirely on trails. My most frequent trail segment is a simple loop, 6.2 miles in length -- a cosmic accident of 10K for runners, to whom that distance has special significance. It was within a 1.5 miles of my old house, so I used it all the time. Being off my game since last May, though, I haven't had many opportunities to run it, because I either wasn't running or wasn't running enough to get me to the loop, around it, and back home. As I wrote last month, my mileage has been way down since November, while I struggled to get healthy. Not much call for a 6-mile loop when I was happy just to run three miles twice in a week! Well, a couple of weeks back, I worked my way up to a 17-mile week capped with a 5-mile "long run". After a hiccup last week, I finished off an 18-mile week with a 6-mile run around my old friend. The curves and trees and water all seemed old and new at the same time. It was cloudy and cool, with an occasional remnant of an icy winter. My senses drank it in. A good day. As much as I enjoyed running an old route today, over the last few weeks I have also been enjoying building new routes from our new house. One advantage of my recent bad health is that I have had to start with 3-mile and 3.5-mile runs. Were I in marathon shape, I wouldn't want to waste my time mapping out such short routes. Yet they are the foundation I need for my training. Even at the peak of preparing for a marathon, I like to do easy 3-milers on Monday, the day after my long runs. When I'm not training for a big race, I like to have a full complement of routes of all distances, so that I can run whatever I feel like on a given morning. Beginning again -- again -- is hard. It is different from starting the first time. When I began training for my first marathon, I didn't know what I was getting myself into, really. Each new long distance run was a challenge, but I just kept plugging away. This time, I know what it feels like to be in top shape, ready to run fast or long on demand. Ready to take on anything. To run a mere six easy miles and feel like I am working hard -- not struggling, yet not quite comfortable -- well, in a way the challenge seems all the more daunting. Having conquered it once, can I do it again? I think a lot about a couple of friends who are or were training for their first marathons. It is hard for them! They usually don't have the 10-15 miles/week foundation that I had when I started, so every step can feel like a chore. The fatigue and soreness are new and can feel insurmountable. When the first deep cold spell settled over us in December, one buddy set aside his ambition. He wasn't ready to face two opponents at once. All one can do is persevere. Eventually, everything comes together, and you feel like a runner. I know that I don't face their challenge, but having already been there... This gives me a glimpse of what it must be like for an accomplished athlete who has to return from a debilitating injury. I know it's just a glimpse; I've never accomplished much as a runner other than to finish a few races and have some fun. But it is an interesting new challenge to struggle on a 3-, 5-, or 6-mile run, knowing what it's like not to struggle at that distance, or at any distance. Do I have what it takes? I think so. Old friends and new will help me through. -----