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home : sports : sports May 29, 2016

7/1/2014 12:49:00 PM
Running commentary
Parker Stinson gutting it out in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Championships in by Charlie Kanzig
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Parker Stinson gutting it out in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Championships in by Charlie Kanzig

By Charlie Kanzig

Just when I thought I had begun readjusting to being in the Pacific time zone after returning from South Korea, I flew to Florida for a conference focused on the International Baccalaureate program to which my school in Korea belongs. After four days in the Eastern time zone and at sea level in humidity, I headed to Fort Collins, Colorado, which is a mile high and in the mountain time zone.

Today I got back home and knew just what I needed to adjust to my normal time zone and elevation: A run through the forests near Sisters. As I left my back gate with my dog Raven pulling on his leash, I breathed in the sweetness of sage and juniper after night-time rain.

The long grasses bowing over the trail brushed my bare legs with water, waking me up a bit after the best night of sleep I had experienced in the past two weeks. Wildflowers of purple, white and yellow appeared vibrant in the morning light. Within minutes I felt better physically, mentally, and spiritually than I had felt in months.

Haruki Murukami's book "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" which I read earlier this year, is filled with observations and musings from his life as a runner. My favorite quote from Murukami is, "People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they'll go to any length to live longer. But don't think that's the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you're going to while away the years, it's far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life - and for me, for writing as whole. I believe many runners would agree."

I don't run every day anymore, but I would like to get closer to that goal. I do think it will help me live longer, but I know that it helps me feel more alive. What I love the most is that running allows me to think, so perhaps my book would be "What I Think About When I Think About Running."

I did some thinking this morning about running. Just before my trip to Florida and Colorado, I spent three days at the NCAA Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene. I witnessed remarkable performances by supremely conditioned athletes, but one race in particular stood out. The final event of day one: the men's 10,000 meters. Twenty-five laps around the 400-meter oval.

Oregon coaches and fans hoped the 10,000 would set the tone for the Ducks on their way to their first team championship since 1984. Proving their depth in the distance events, three Ducks toed the starting line, including the favorite, freshman Edward Cheserek, who won the cross-country title in the fall and the indoor 3,000 crown in the winter. His teammates, seniors Trevor Dunbar and Parker Stinson, had their sights on scoring points for the Ducks as well.

Watching these three individuals, each with his own strategy, doing whatever they could to contribute to the team goal, provided a lesson to me as a coach about the importance of recognizing the unique strengths and personalities of each runner on the team. It also provided a new metaphor about life.

The diversity of the three Duck runners appeared even as they lined up waiting for the gun. Cheserek is a willowy 20-year-old native of Kenya; Dunbar, a muscular, short-haired and serious young man from Kodiak, Alaska; and Stinson, a bushy-haired blond Texan with a thin, boyish-looking face.

Cheserek went right out with the leaders, running comfortably in the third position. Stinson found himself getting gapped by the lead group of four and made a tremendous surge in the fifth or sixth lap in order to keep contact with the pod of runners.

"Valiant," I thought, "but likely deadly."

Dunbar looked very uncomfortable in the opening laps, but by the two-mile mark had settled in among the second group of four runners, taking on the strategy of Cheserek in the group ahead.

Cheserek continued his "run in the park" through four miles, while Stinson flagged and dropped from the top group. Dunbar's group gobbled him up, but somehow Stinson found a way to hang with this bunch. I felt certain that Stinson's chance of scoring by finishing among the top eight had certainly vaporized.

Finally, in the final lap of the 6.2-mile race, Cheserek shot to the lead and found no challengers. Dunbar fought his way all the way up to fifth place, and Stinson battled up to seventh before getting nipped at the wire to place eighth.

The Ducks had scored 15 points on the first day of the meet on their way to a record-setting total of 88 points.

I watched the runners after crossing the line. Cheserek looked composed and happy. Dunbar appeared equally satisfied, though tested. Stinson, exhausted by his effort, lay prone on the track. He had done things the hard way and still held on to score a point for the Ducks.

Three races within one race. Life is like that. We are all running on our own in what we hope will work out the best for us. Some patches are smooth and almost effortless. Other stretches we have to bide our time and look for opportunities. And then there are those seasons when we are going as best we can, but it's not quite enough. We lose hope briefly, then regroup and push on. We fall into bed exhausted and dream of an easier time.

On this day, I identified with Stinson. Life requires courage and he showed it the most.

This is the sort of thing I think about when I think about running.

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