News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Running commentary

My running career started on a bicycle.

On June 1, 1972, at the end of my sixth grade year in school, my mother drove me from our home in Sublimity, Oregon to Salem where Scott’s Cyclery did business on South Commercial Street. I had visited Scott’s a few weeks earlier to order the bike of my dreams: a 10-speed Schwinn Varsity. Even though I had to settle for my second choice in color — lemon yellow — I am not sure I had ever been more excited about a purchase.

The bike was a birthday present from my parents, but I had paid half of the $99.50 price. Delivery of the bike had been delayed, and the two weeks of waiting since my actual birthday had passed agonizingly slowly.

I couldn’t wait to get home. With its steel frame construction, chrome fenders, and 27- by 1.25-inch tires, the Varsity was not exactly designed to win the Tour de France, but its sturdiness (it weighed close to 40 pounds) was exactly what a 12-year-old boy with adventure on his mind needed.

With the additional purchase of a generator light headlight, I was ready for anything day or night, but it was the cable-operated analog speedometer/odometer I also bought that would play a key role in my development as a future runner.

I have always been goal-oriented and ready to challenge myself, so having a device that tracked mileage provided me with daily data and ultimately kindled a goal.

My world expanded on that day to as far as I was able to pedal. In the ensuing years I rode to school, took trips to the next town over that had a Dairy Queen, traversed miles of country roads surrounding Sublimity and commuted to summer jobs that included picking berries and green beans, harvesting hay, and shearing Douglas firs at a Christmas tree farm.

All the while the numbers on the odometer added up. By eighth grade I was well over 2,500 miles and counting. I was riding further afield and, that spring, convinced my mother to allow me to ride with three buddies 85 miles to the Oregon coast.

My how things have changed: We wore no helmets, sported no bright colored tops or chamois-padded shorts, and carried no cell phone. Instead of energy bars and sports drinks, we toted Shasta soda-pop, peanut-butter sandwiches, and potato chips in satchels on our racks. We wore Levi jeans and cotton T-shirts. If we had trouble we would find a payphone and call one of our parents “collect.”

And it was perfect. We were the champions of our own destiny.

By the time eighth grade was coming to a close and the start of high school loomed, I made a decision: I would ride 1,500 miles between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

I put pencil to paper and determined that this goal required averaging 13.5 miles a day. That doesn’t sound too bad until you miss a day for a family trip and another for a wedding. My solution was to stay on track immediately by riding 27 miles (or more) the next day. If I missed two days in a row, I would go 40. As I look back now, I discovered that my riding habits were mimicking what many distance runners do: hard days interspersed with moderate and easy days, with an occasional rest day.

I stayed on track all summer — even after long days of work or on those rare 100-degree days in August.

And I got stronger.

The bridge from cycling to running occurred when I joined the Stayton High School cross-country team in mid-August for pre-season training. I had never run more than half a mile non-stop in my life prior, and those first days of practice felt awkward since my legs were used to an entirely different motion and I was still riding 13-plus miles a day.

By Labor Day weekend my cycling goal was in reach right down to the mile, but Sunday I ended up not being able to ride. Monday morning I rode 20 miles, leaving me at a summer total of 1493 miles — just seven to go, which I planned to do after dinner as an easy victory ride.

Some family activities kept me away from the bike and when I got home at 9 p.m. I hopped on the trusty Schwinn and headed into the twilight for those final miles. When I pulled into the carport 30 minutes later where I could read the odometer it showed I had rolled over to exactly 1,500 miles.

I had done it. Reflecting back now, I can see that achieving that self-imposed goal gave me the confidence that I could do hard things, which has served me well.

School started, and with the biking goal accomplished, I could get out of the saddle and focus on running. Within a week of making this transition, this lowly freshman was keeping up with the varsity runners on long training runs. By the time we got to our first regular meet, I had the No. 5 spot on the team. Unwittingly, all that biking had paid off.

I became a runner and for many years my goals all centered on the sport. But, I continued to ride the Schwinn, which was showing plenty of wear and tear yet never failed me. I took it to college and used it around Eugene. Somewhere during my sophomore year, the odometer approached the 10,000-mile mark, which meant it would roll back to zero. I decided to let it get to 9999.9 miles and then I would disconnect it from the bike and keep it as a memory of all those miles that started at the end of sixth grade, included many great rides, and was highlighted by one epic summer that changed my life.

Running gets a lot tougher as you age and I have struggled with aches and pains I never had before. As I celebrated birthday number 60 last month, my daughter Erin provided me with a surprise opportunity that sort of brought things full circle.

Erin astonished me on my birthday by presenting me with a Specialized gravel bike — a gift equal to that yellow Schwinn back in 1972! It is black, it is sleek, and it immediately provided me with a new goal.

On Memorial Day, feeling like a kid again, I took my first ride toward a new 1,500-mile summer quest that will end on Labor Day.


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