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SEATTLE - I grew up in Eugene, Ore., back when, we used to say, you had to be either a logger, a hippie or a runner.
Practically everyone knows about the legends of Steve Prefontaine and his coach, Bill Bowerman. But their storied shadows obscure Eugene's real story of stamina. The ranks of hippies and loggers have thinned, but the runners are still chugging along.
Why run? I kept asking myself that as I raced up and down steep Skinner's Butte on the northern edge of downtown. I never quite got addicted, but I still smile when I recall striding along the Willamette River, feeling the air brush my face and locking into that zone where my feet didn't even seem to be hitting the ground. It became so easy, and I became so eager that during a college running class, my teacher let me run on my own for the term. I asked, "Will there be a test at the end?" She said, "I trust you'll run." I did.
So while I understand why 20 million North Americans run, I also understand, now that I'm older, about how work schedules interfere, how pavement tortures backs and knees, how dodging traffic around Seattle's Green Lake gets aggravating. So I thought it was time to check in with experts and offer some advice for starting and maintaining a running program. Among the keys:
-First, buy proper shoes. Go with a name brand, shop at a store where runners work and figure out what surface you're likely to be running on. Buy new shoes about every 500 miles. You might consider insoles. Superfeet, which began near Bellingham, Wash., in the `70s, offers a product with a heel "cup" and arch support designed to stabilize the foot. Allow a break-in period.
-Then, develop a program. Some suggest going about 30 minutes every other day until you've built a base, and only then consider working toward goals. Try to be as consistent as possible. Skipping a run can be very easy, so make it part of your schedule. Motivation tools and gimmicks help, but don't get carried away.
-Pay attention. Listen to pain. If it hurts, stop. Consider walking or a mix of walking and running. Think long-term.
-Other considerations. Nutrition, safety, flexibility, form.
Several good books on running are available, but one that might help folks exploring the sport is "The Beginning Runner's Handbook" (Greystone Books, $14.95). In it, Ian MacNeill and the Sports Medicine Council of British Columbia list three basic rules of training:
-Moderation. Being in shape doesn't mean a newbie runner is ready for a marathon, because running puts specific stress on the musculoskeletal system. So start slowly and challenge yourself in gradations.
-Consistency. It is a big mistake to run too hard right away, because you are more likely to stop. And repeating the mistake doesn't help. Running consistently - within your ability - gives your body time to adapt to the stress you're putting it through.
-Rest. Space training sessions out through the week so your body has time to recoup and regenerate. Many experts will tell you that rest is a key component of training, not acquiescence.
Always Running (www.alwaysrunning.com), a fitness center in Seattle, develops individual programs for runners and wanna-be's of all conditions. They are instructed on form, mechanics, nutrition and other aspects of running. It also hosts group runs on trails around the area. Starts are staggered so those less capable don't feel inadequate.
Corey Dyer, 35, had run a marathon by the time he joined Always Running less than two years ago, and now has knocked 30 minutes off his time.
"When I did the first one on my own, I stayed pretty focused," says Dyer, "but it always helps being accountable to someone. They are good about motivating you. On my own, I might wake up and tell myself I should do my run, but it is so easy to stall and put it off."
Others join to get in shape for their jobs.
Sally Bedlington, 47, was never a runner, but she wants to be a sheriff's deputy. The fitness test, required for admission, is her goal. Her program is geared to make sure she'll be ready.
Help for staying the course
Still have some tread life left? If so, you might find some ideas from, "Masters Running: A Guide to Running and Staying Fit After 40" (Rodale, $15.95).
Written by prolific runner and author Hal Higdon, the book offers age-specific advice for training and limiting the risk of injury. Higdon discusses ways to improve, eat better and run smarter. He devotes whole chapters to beginners, the aging, longevity and competition. The book is sprinkled with tales of his own running career, which includes more than 100 marathons since he turned 40.
Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine writer at The Seattle Times. Send questions on workouts, equipment or nutrition to him at: Pacific Northwest magazine, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111, or e-mail rseven(at)seattletimes.com. Past columns can be found at http://www.seattletimes.com/onfitness/
(c) 2005, The Seattle Times. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.