As you might guess from my photo, I'm more of a cyclist than a runner these days. But that wasn't always the case -- I hope to rediscover running later this summer, as soon as I compete in the National Senior Olympics in cycling in August. Until then, Coach Eric and I are working on a long-term build to deliver me to the starting line(s) in Palo Alto fit as a fiddle ...

There was a time, however, when running was my focus. Here's a running story from my running past (1994) ago that I hope y'all will enjoy:

When you spend fifteen weeks training for a marathon you've got to be flexible. A lot can happen in fifteen weeks: business travel can lead you to long runs into uncharted territory and speedwork on a hotel treadmill for lack of a track; a niggling pain begs decision -- when is it better to rest than run? After fourteen weeks of great training, what happens when work gets in the way?

All year long I looked forward to running the Berlin Marathon -- so much so that I talked a friend into running it as well. Never mind that he was trying to run sub-2:20 while I was hoping to complete my first "organized" marathon since 1982. We were both looking forward to the race, then spending a few days traveling through the "new" eastern part of Europe.

So what do you do when it becomes very apparent, on the day prior to your scheduled departure for Berlin, that it's not exactly the right time to take ten days off from work? First, you scour the running magazines for alternative races that weekend. Second, you call your friend (already in Berlin) to wish him luck in his quest of an Olympic Trials qualifying time. Third, you call the race director of the Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks, Alaska and beg your way into what he describes as THE toughest trail marathon in the United States -- tougher even than Pikes Peak. And fourth, you buy a last minute, very expensive round trip coach ticket to Fairbanks -- and hope Delta will re-deposit all those frequent flyer miles you cashed in for that free business class ticket to Berlin.

North to Alaska ... the rush is on. To the Fairbanks Princess and room service rather than the Grand Kempinsky and a few pils in the biergarten across the street from the hotel. To the parking lot of the Fairbanks Princess to chip heavy frost off your rental car's windshield, using your Hertz Gold card. To the start/finish area at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Patty Center rather than the Brandenburg Gate.

The Equinox Marathon is older than all but a handful of North American races, and on race day the weather is a brisk 28 degrees and overcast. (For the first time in three years, however, there'll be no snow on the trail.) Just prior to the start, race director Dave Bloom offers a few words to the wise: "Beware of Moose on the trail." Moose on the trail? "You'll cross train tracks at 7.8 and 24.7 miles and there's a train scheduled through at 9:30, so some people at the back of the pack may be delayed." Trains on the course? "If there's another train later in the race, the first runner to the crossing will be the winner."

With the blast of an air horn, the race begins. Three hundred and four runners lope a cross a soccer field and up the ski hill, onto better running trails than Wildwood Trail in Portland, Oregon. Hillier than Wildwood too! The course profile depicts a climb from 480' at the Patty Center to the 2400' summit of Ester Dome 12 miles away; then a diabolical out-and-back descent and climb (500' down, and up) over the middle miles of the race; followed by the steeeeepest 1/2 mile descent under power lines I've ever seen; which leaves you a very gradual, runnable last 6-8 miles back to the Patty Center -- for a grand total 4500' and 4500' down.

Maybe I never hit the wall because I was so busy walking down the powerline "chute" trying not to fall. It was that steep. And, the woman who passed me going down the chute was right. The turn at the bottom led to the most vibrant yellow, soft, Aspen leafed trail I've ever run. Who could find a wall amidst all that beauty.

The rigors of the course never really hit until that last, little, cruel uphill at 25 miles. Reduced to walking, I found time to reflect upon the adventure I was having, rather than the adventure I'd planned.

I'd planned to run about an hour longer than my friend in Berlin; about 1:10 longer than the race winner. Instead, I ran about fifty minutes longer than a friend I discovered on the starting line in Fairbanks; about 1:10 longer than the race winner. OK, alright, time to fess up -- I ran the very tough, hilly trails of the Equinox Marathon in 4:10. And loved every minute of it.

It wasn't what I visualized while training on the trails in Forest Park in Portland, or around Kelly, Wyoming. And it certainly wasn't what I had in mind when I talked my friend into planning his year around an assault on the Olympic Trials qualifying time (he dropped out just past 30k). But, it was just what the doctor ordered; a weekend running adventure -- away from the office.

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Comment by Eric Orton on May 24, 2009 at 2:16pm
I just had a guy from Philly start the 6 week program, who previously had knee trouble. He ran barefoot, knee pain free for the first time.
Comment by Keith Peters on May 23, 2009 at 4:44pm
Ha! I just hope to be able to enjoy running the trails out my back door again.
Comment by Eric Orton on May 22, 2009 at 9:34pm
Great story Keith. maybe after you try the FiveFingers out this fall around trails of the Rockefeller Center, you can head to Alaska for the Idita-bike/run!

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