A Grateful Return

Standing at the starting line with 160 other runners, there were no high expectations.

But finishing times weren’t really the point.

For the first time in 15 months, I stood waiting to race without a searing pain in my abdomen. Surgically repaired, and fresh back to putting one foot in front of the other in my own personal journey, the chance to push my limits was a blessing in itself.

The canon blasted and most runners tore down the long straight away to the first bend, jockeying for position before the first hill. Someone had to win.

As I neared the hill, near the back of the long line of runners, I plodded away, feeling content.

Sunny, no wind, 45 degrees.

A perfect running day, especially one that marked the first time in 2 months that I had laced up the shoes and pushed myself.

Mostly, I was happy to just be outside and running again.

For the past 3 years, I’ve jumped on a charter bus to join the high school cross country teams from Grand Forks for their trip to Nike Cross Heartland Regionals in Sioux Falls, S.D., which serves as a qualifying meet for Nike’s national competition. During the competition, the meet offers a competitive 5K for the community. The trip serves as a highlight for me — the camaraderie, opportunities to learn and watch kids pursue their goals.

So I asked questions and observed.

Growing up, I was a baseball player and never really concerned myself with stretching. Now, in my mid 40s, my sights are set on a lifetime of running and staying healthy. More than ever, I need to adopt a wholistic approach to the sport and supplement my running with stretching, core exercises, strength training and sound nutritional practices.

It also gave me a chance to chat training principles with Richard Dafoe, a good friend and Red River High School cross country coach. When I lived in Grand Forks, he helped me craft a training program in the buildup to both the New York City and St. George marathons. Now, as I return to running and training for both the Utah Valley and Chicago marathons next year, the conversations are paramount to a successful return to racing.

Richard is a proponent of building mileage in 3-week training blocks. It’s a principle he uses to work with his athletes (and most of them set personal or season bests at the Nike meet after a long cross country season).

It’s a thoughtful and purposeful plan to adding mileage in which the first week provides a stimulus. The second week promotes adaptation. The third week builds fitness as the body grows accustomed to the change.  After those 3 weeks, it’s time to add more mileage.