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

Sun, 16 Jul 2006 04:59:50 -0400

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RUNNING COMMENTARY 632

On a recent holiday I spent the morning searching a 10K race crowd for local friends and for runners in town that week at a Dick Beardsley Marathon Camp. That afternoon I stood before the campers to speak, in my own backyard.

This never would have happened before the year 2000. Back then my hometown of Eugene, Oregon, was a place to rest up between speaking trips. My home was a place to hide out and write for readers I'd seldom see.

I ran alone and never raced in Eugene. I joined no running club and volunteered at no local races.

Sometimes I'd meet runners in town. If they knew my name from some article or book, they'd ask, "Are you visiting here to work on a story?"

By 2000 I had lived in Eugene for almost 20 years and hardly knew anyone here. I was about to realize this wasn't any way to live.

How that happened was the subject of the recent talk in my backyard. Here is a condensed version.

THINKING LOCALLY, ACTING LOCALLY

Six years ago this summer I hit bottom. I date it from the Napa Valley Marathon.

This was my least-trained-for marathon. I hadn't planned to run it, did no special training, didn't think of finishing it until I'd gone almost 20 miles.

Raceday itself wasn't bad, but the effort was so draining that it opened the way to a flu-like illness that lasted for two months. By the end of it I'd lost 20 pounds and dozens of running days.

The weight wouldn't have been missed if I'd lost it the right way. The runs were sorely missed.

I was too weakened to travel anywhere or to write anything from home worth reading. For the first time ever, I felt truly alone and isolated, cut off from both the outer world and the one nearby.

That summer I stood watching Eugene's largest local race, the Butte to Butte 10K. From the river of faces passing by, I could name very few.

I thought then: You need to get out more often.

An occupational necessity and hazard of writers is that we must work alone. Writers also must spend long hours turning our gaze inward. We need to get out of OURSELVES more often.

I needed to see nearby faces, hear their voices, learn their names and know their stories. The incentive and chance to do all that came with the illness of 2000. Soon after it eased, a life-changing phone call came my way.

A graduate student was scheduled to teach a running class at the University of Oregon, but had to pull out. When that slot needed filling quickly, my name came up.

"Let me think about it for a day and then get back to you," I told the teacher doing the hiring. I was torn between a chance to teach and concern about how this extra duty might affect the writing and speaking.

My wife Barbara often knows my real wishes better than I do. She said, "You'd be making a big mistake if you didn't take this."

I took the assignment. This became my first real chance, ever, to think locally and act locally.

From the start, I loved it. Six years later, I love it even more because there's more to love. Now I teach these classes year-round, as many as three per term. Since 2005 I've coached Marathon Teams.

Finally I know Eugeneans and am known as one myself. This was never so obvious as on the morning of July 4th, 2006. I knew so many of the runners -- current and ex-students, Marathon Teamers past and present, Beardsley campers -- that they passed in too great a number for me to find all the faces.

Now, finally, I'm at home in my hometown. I still write and travel from here, but less than before and only if those jobs don't interfere with my main one now. That's the teaching-coaching.

There's no higher calling than passing on what you know, believe and love to the next generation. There's no better place to do this than in your own community, among the people who know each other best.

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