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Volume 1, Issue 4
Winter 2005:

Running the Race

Brian T. Maurer

Cell 2 Soul. 2005 Winter; 1(4):a25

Fence Bond
Photographer: Barry Penchansky
[Larger Image]

Dear Coach,

My mother remarked during our telephone conversation last week that she spoke to Lucille recently, and that Lucille told her that you had been diagnosed with renal carcinoma.

She also told me that you have a fourteen-year-old daughter who prefers sprints to long-distance running, and that you would rather have it the other way round, as you were a distance man yourself in your day.

I certainly understand your sentiments. I have two daughters (as well as two sons), one who dashes about like a gazelle on the soccer field, while the other plays basketball, runs the 200 meters, and long-jumps, and just finished her first cross country season this fall. My son had the potential to be a state class runner, perhaps even an all New England runner, but he took up smoking instead. Life fills with disappointments as we grow older. Sooner or later every child breaks his parent's heart in some way, I suppose.

Anyway, when my mother mentioned your name, I thought back to my running days, before I was in my prime, to one afternoon when you taught me the basics of form in running: Breathe in when your left foot strikes the ground, breathe out on the following strike. Swing your arms straight back, then forward, like you were putting your hand in your pocket. Lean forward slightly at the waist. Lean into the hills, pumping shorter strides; stretch out, let yourself go on the downhill straights. Pump your arms to drive the knees high to accelerate. Check your breathing: left foot in, left foot out. Above all, hold your form. The form is the basis for efficient running.

I practiced those skills every time I ran, so much so that my senior year when I swept the mile, the half-mile, and the anchor for the two-mile relay, I heard the opposing team's coach remark: "Boy, he sure does make it look easy!" Although others coached me in those later years when I was in my prime, I'll always be grateful to you for taking the time to teach me the fundamentals of form.

My knees give me too much pain to run regularly anymore. Several years ago I took up swimming. I work out in the pool with a local Masters' group. We usually swim three days a week, 3500 yards a session. I'm not as fast in the pool, but it's easier on the joints, and just as good for the cardiovascular system. And as in running, I have learned that form is everything.

I heard Sir Roger Bannister speak at a conference in Williamstown, Massachusetts, a few years ago, about breaking the four-minute mile. He autographed a copy of his book for me. He seemed to be a very down-to-earth man, not a quality commonly found among members of the medical profession.

I spent sometime this past August kicking a soccer ball around with my youngest daughter in a pre-season work-out. We ran around the soccer field together a few times. The grass was thick and green and spongy underfoot. Almost naturally, without even thinking about it, I found myself saying: "Always remember that in running, form is everything. When your left foot hits the ground, breathe in . . ."

I guess that's the way it is with runners. In every generation there are those of us who run, who pit their strength against the course and the clock, to learn what they can of themselves; and perhaps, if they are lucky, to pass along some of what they have learned.

As I think of those afternoons you spent with me running around the quadrangle at the old High School, I can recall what it was like to be young and green and a little unsure, and how good it was to have someone older and more experienced taking the time to show me how it's done.

My thoughts are with you now and in the days ahead. Fight the good fight, run the race, and hang on to the hope that keeps looking for tomorrow's sunrise.

Warmest regards,


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