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Keep running fun

This is an excerpt from Timeless Running Wisdom by Richard Benyo.

People who are critical of long-distance running often cite the fact that they see very few people smile as they run. It looks to outsiders as though running is painful and boring. The response of the runner, of course, is that once you get past the first two months, it is no longer boring. It is, in fact, invigorating and refreshing—whether it looks that way from the outside or not.

In actuality, for some runners, running can get boring. It all depends on the runner's personality. I know a woman who year after year ran the same 10-mile course five or six days a week. To her, repeatedly running the same course wasn't boring. To some of us, however, it might very well go in that direction.

To keep running from becoming boring, some people schedule at least one annual special run, often on a birthday. Some runners run the number of years old they are on that special day. Of course, once you get past a certain age, you're well into eating up most of your birthday by ultrarunning. But there's nothing wrong with that. Some runners invite their friends to come out to run some of the birthday miles with them and turn the event into a mobile party, capped off with a traditional birthday party afterward.

One tried-and-true way to add excitement to your running is to schedule an adventure run at least once a year. What's an adventure run? It's a specially tailored run in which you go somewhere significant or symbolic. You essentially depart on a road trip—but without the car. Think of Jack Kerouac's Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise from his novel On the Road doing it all with shoe leather rather than tire rubber.

Some runners cross their home states in adventure runs. In July of 1989 my friend Tom Crawford and I put together an adventure run from Badwater in Death Valley to the peak of Mt. Whitney and back. We referred to it as an adventure run because if we thought of it in terms of a huge physical challenge, we probably would have found we were not up to it. By referring to it as an adventure run, we could minimize the danger and challenge and think of it more in terms of going somewhere on foot.

Runners have fashioned adventure runs into transcontinental jaunts from Los Angeles to New York or from the West Coast of Sonoma County in Northern California to Hilton Head, South Carolina, as the elderly Paul Reese did. Dave McGillivray, the race director of the Boston Marathon, once ran from Medford, Oregon, to Medford, Massachusetts. There have even been runners who have attempted to run around the world—and at least one we know of who succeeded.

You don't need to go to that extreme, certainly, but scheduling an annual adventure run has a certain charm and provides a pivotal point to your year's worth of running. For those who are also fond of planning and organizing trips, vacations, and their lives in general, an adventure run is a huge bonus. And the more of your friends you can get involved in the process, the better. Turn it into a big annual party.

I'm personally not fond of birthday bashes in which runners go to a track for the day and run the number of miles that correspond to their age, because running around a track doesn't fit my concept of an adventure run. Although it is symbolic on many levels and is easy to organize, it doesn't go anywhere. Where's the adventure if all you see all day is the same thing?

I'm much more fond of the extremely creative adventure runs put together by folks such as Utah's Davy Crockett. (Yes, his name is actually Davy Crockett!) Ole Davy's deal is that, section by section, he is running the Pony Express Trail through the state of Utah. Because the trail has not been kept up well through most of the state, and because some folks have built housing developments over some of it, to run the trail accurately, Davy has to do a lot of research in advance of his runs. The research is half the fun because, as he reads up on various sections of the trail, Davy becomes an authority on the history of various way stations, specific Pony Express riders, and towns that were either built up along the trail or turned into ghost towns as soon as the trail was closed.

Kenneth Williams from Corinth, Mississippi, put together a run across the state of Mississippi that he fashioned as a fund-raiser for Boys' and Girls' Clubs of Mississippi. Along the way he stopped off at schools and gave talks about the importance of fitness for people of all ages. In all, he spoke to more than 10,000 kids.

Your adventure run doesn't have to be quite so grandiose—at least not the first year you fashion one. Start small, and see how it goes. Then, if you enjoy it, you can build on it in future years. You have the option of going off quietly and doing an adventure run on your own or going to the other extreme and turning it into a big show to which you invite all your friends to do some or all of it with you.

There are numerous rails-to-trails paths throughout the country—running, walking, and biking paths built on the abandoned rail beds of defunct railroads. You could research the defunct railroad that once owned the line and put together a run that follows the trail from one end to the other. Runners living in the Washington, D.C., area can run the old C&O Canal path.

Several runners have taken a couple of months and run the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Others have run the John Muir Trail along the backbone of the Sierra Nevada in California. Still others have run the length of historic Route 66 from Santa Monica in Southern California to Chicago.

My favorite adventure runner is Dean Karnazes, the author of Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner and an outstanding endurance runner. He once ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. He ran the string of all 22 missions in California that sit between Sonoma and San Diego. He also ran more than 300 miles without sleeping. He often runs the 100 miles from his home in the Bay Area to the start of the Napa Valley Marathon, runs the race, and then runs home. His whole life is an adventure run. He told me about his idea of a manageable adventure run any decent runner can construct. He calls it a runabout:

The legendary running coach Jeff Galloway has probably trained more marathoners than anyone on earth. Jeff teaches a unique training system that includes regular, brief walking periods. He's also among the few running coaches who encourage those athletes preparing for a marathon to do training runs exceeding 26.2 miles (including the walking segments). Those who follow this advice report that the inclusion of walking segments makes these “overdistance” workouts perfectly manageable. Going beyond the distance of the actual race is also a great confidence builder, especially for first-timers.

I recommend a slight modification to Jeff's approach that I simply call Runabout. Inspired by the Australian Aboriginal practice of Walkabout, it works like this: After you've put in some good training and built a fairly decent level of fitness, pick a weekend morning to set out from the front door of your house with a running pack, the contents of which should include some cash, a credit card, a cell phone, some fluid, and some snacks—maybe also a map or a GPS if you want to get really sophisticated. Choose a direction (e.g., north) and start running. Keep running until you feel like taking a break, but don't. Just slow down and jog or walk, but don't stop moving. The important thing is to keep upright and maintain forward progress. If you get really tired, run by Starbucks and grab a latte. Stick a straw in it and drink it as you shuffle along.

More Excerpts From Timeless Running Wisdom