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

Tue, 10 Apr 2001 08:46:57 -0400

Staying the Course

RUNNING COMMENTARY 351

Standing at the 23-mile mark of the Napa Valley Marathon, watching the runners pass by, I heard one of them spit out the S-word, then, "Here we go again."

A bend in the course had given him a break from the headwind, but now he faced it again. He put his head down and leaned into it because the day gave him no choice.

Napa's race seemed bedeviled this year, and I'm sorry for that. It's one of my best trips each year and one of my top-five favorite places to run.

Napa Valley had lost its title sponsor, the Sutter Home winery -- which gave more than a year's notice and still supported the race this final time. The host hotel, the Marriott, was undergoing a major remodel that cut back the expo and pre-race dinner.

Runners took little notice of all this as they obsessed about the weather. Will it rain? And if it does, what should I wear?

The speakers made light of the prospect. "You can blame me," I said at dinner. "I brought this with me from Oregon, where if we don't run in the winter rain we hardly run at all."

Rich Benyo, a co-director of the race, said, "Whatever happens, the race will go on. Marathons aren't canceled for anything less than a world war."

Dick Beardsley, holder of Napa's course record for 14 years, said conditions are relative. "I ran last week in 27-below weather. This is one factor in running that you can't control. You have to take the days as they come."

Dick has taken all that life has thrown at him, from sensational to terrible. He now takes his days one at a time, in the best recovering-addict tradition.

As the weekend's featured speaker, he wowed the crowd. First we laughed at his humble beginnings in running and the marathon, then we cheered his sub-2:10 and sub-2:09 marathons, then we hurt for him as he suffered accidents that drove him into prescription-drug problems, then finally we celebrated his recovery that is now into its fifth year.

Dick has written a book, Staying the Course, to be published this fall by the University of Minnesota Press. That's what he urged runners at Napa to do: stay the course.

I didn't even step onto the course, but this wasn't a surrender to the weather. I wasn't going to repeat last year's mistakes, when I'd forgotten to train for Napa, started anyway with the intention of going maybe halfway, then forgot to stop.

Watching others run isn't a bad substitute for running myself. I didn't know many of these runners by name or face, but knew them all by what they had to do to get to and through this race.

I not only cheered for them but felt for them, especially this day. It turned into one of the worst marathon days I've ever seen.

Rain turned heavy, with hail at times, and a high wind sucked away body heat along with enthusiasm. A point-to-point course like Napa's can giveth when the wind is right, but it tooketh away this time as an almost constant headwind gusted to 40 miles an hour.

Standing at 23 miles, this was one of the few times I've ever pitied the passing runners instead of envying them. But I admired even more than ever those who'd come this far and would stay the course in the face of these conditions. Doing this would serve them well on better days to come.

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