BY BILL KOSSEN / SEATTLE TIMES STAFF
I’ve always loved to run, but now I’m running scared.
A couple of weeks ago, my newsroom colleague, Seattle Times Sports Editor Don Shelton, wrote in this Take 2 space about having to retire from running because of arthritis in his right hip.
In it, he asked for suggestions on how to fill the void, and I have one for Don. But first, I’d like to run through a couple of other things.
Don’s a tough, athletic guy who is a year older than me. Reading his story was kind of like listening to Lou Gehrig’s inspiring ”luckiest man on the face of the Earth” speech.
I know, not being able to run is hardly the life-or-death fate that Iron Horse Gehrig faced. But whenever an athlete, professional or recreational, has to hang it up because of age, injury or illness, it can be a sad moment. There is nothing like the pure, sheer joy of being able to participate in sports.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been running. Running around the house. Running to school. Running from trouble. And then running on the junior-varsity track team at old Lincoln High in Seattle as a sophomore.
At the end of that season, there was a big Metro League JV track meet and anyone and everyone could compete. You didn’t have to qualify; just be on the team. That’s how I made it.
I never was that fast, which is why I went for distance running. But even good distance runners have speed and I sure ran into a bunch of them that day during the two-mile race.
As I was finishing up the seventh of eight laps around the track, I got lapped by the winner. To one spectator, it appeared that I finished second and he came out onto the track and extended his hand to offer congratulations.
I waved at the hand as I ran past him and circled the track all by myself as I was badly trailing everyone.
By the time I finally got around to the finish line for good, there was no one to congratulate me, just someone setting up hurdles for the next race.
I vowed nothing like that would ever happen to me again. So I quit track.
But I never quit running and over the years I entered races, from 5Ks to marathons, but never really raced.
When someone would ask “What was your time?” I’d laugh and say some smart-alecky thing like “Good. It was a good time.”
And I was serious. The phrase “fun run” that is used to advertise some races seems redundant. Runs are fun. Especially the shorter ones when you run faster and don’t end up limping for a week after.
Plus I’m even winning some races, at least in my age and gender division. This summer I’m going to Chicago and try to fivepeat at the Antioch Run for Freedom on July 4.
A friend of mine who lives there and is a very competitive runner invited me to enter the race in 2010 when I was passing through on a trip to Ohio.
My only goal was to make sure he didn’t beat me, and in the process, I won my first ”gold” medal.
So I decided to go back the next year to defend my title and it has turned into an annual tradition and I’m looking at winning five in row. I’ll even be wearing the honorary No. 1 bib at a race that attracted more than 1,500 runners last year.
That’s a lot of pressure, but I told Don that his story would help inspire me to train even harder this year. I’ve found that it helps to dedicate my running to others who are facing physical and health challenges, and I come up with running mantras like “Fivepeat for Pete”. That makes it easier to run through the wall of fatigue when you hit it. It’s nothing compared to what they’re going through.
My strategy is pretty simple: Start fast, hang on through the middle and then finish strong and pass as many runners as possible as we near the finish line. It’s exciting, effective and easier said than done.
“Run like a Bulldog,” I call it. It is based on what I learned as a kid from my older brother, Mel, who learned it from the track coaches back in the day at Garfield High School, home of 14 state track titles.
But I have to be careful. I strained an Achilles tendon last week and thought, “Is this it? Am I going to do a Don?”
After a few days of rest and light stretching, the pain went away and I’m running again.
I once got to interview the late, great Buzz Fiorini, who operated in the Pacific Northwest what was believed to be the biggest private ski school in the nation.
His name was synonymous with skiing around here and he kept at it until he was 81. He also was a famed fishing guide. When I caught up to him, he was 91 and most of his time was spent indoors. I asked him if he missed the outdoor life. I expected a frown. Instead he smiled and said, ”I reminisce. It’s nice.”
So that’s my suggestion, Don. Reminisce about running.
You’re not missing all that much anyway. It can be boring, you know. And tiring. And painful. In fact, at times I can’t wait until I can retire from running and be just like you.
But not today. Gotta run!
At age 4, Seattle Times desk editor and writer Bill Kossen nearly ended his running career just as it was starting when he tripped and crashed headfirst into the dining-room radiator. Four stitches later, though, he was good to go and hasn’t hit a radiator since.
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