A legacy of long distance wisdom

By Bryan Welch

Fit and Healthy Several years ago I had the good fortune to meet local resident and fitness enthusiast Rick Denmark.

I was preparing for my first half-marathon, and was looking around for a suitable mentor of sorts. Rick mentioned he was helping a couple of other people from his office accomplish the same goal. He seemed nice enough and had that charming everything-is-going-to-be-all-right attitude. I jumped in.

Rick and his wife Suzi have lived all over the world, and during these stays he had participated in marathons and half-marathons in a variety of extreme climates -- be it the hottest the tropics could offer or the wettest this area could bring.

My own focus had always been on shorter, faster events and thus my mind-set was geared toward speed training, or essentially a "how long was it going to take to run 13 miles?"

Not the right way to approach it, Mr. Patience told me. "It's an endurance event, and you'll need to adjust your thinking to be successful, and have fun with this." Fun? What was this guy thinking? What could possibly be fun about dragging my feet around town for 13 miles in the rain or sleet or snow? Our training began about 12 weeks out from the event, and consisted of one slower long run, and one shorter, faster run per week. The idea was to gradually increase the length of our long run each time, from say five miles initially to five-and-a-half and so on until we maxed out at about 10 miles a few days before the event. Our shorter, four-mile speed workout would remain the same throughout the regimen.

Rick firmly believed that over-training was the downfall of many prospective distance runners, and we were getting stronger each week without a lot of aches and pains or physical damage.

Not everyone in our training group was as enamored with the plan as I was.

Two of our training buddies began "sneaking" in extra days of training.

Since we were running in the Seattle wind and rain, and wearing the appropriate gear, it wasn't until a couple layers of clothes came off on race day that I noticed the knee braces or smelled the liniment on our "sneaky" folks. Mr. Patience had become Mr. Strategy, and we went over our race day plan early on the morning of the event. Forget about times or competing with anyone, and focus on steady, conservative splits for the first few miles.

Better to finish strong, with faster splits in the last half of the race than to take off too early and crash and burn at the end of the race.

Layered clothes, windbreakers, hats and sunglasses to ward off the impending rain and eliminate any discomfort and distraction had become common training tools. I thought maybe Mr. Strategy had become Mr. Kinky when he constantly reminded us to apply Vaseline to all potential chafing areas, including the inner thighs, arm pits, nipples and neck. If there was an area where clothing could rub us raw, we were covered. Pre-hydrate with a combination of Gatorade and water, hit all the water stops during the race and take in a little goo-like energy substance cleverly called, well, Goo, urged Mr.

Wisdom. Though I soaked up Rick's advice, our training buddies nodded absently and fidgeted with their watches. Aas the gun sounded, the training buddies took off like they had been shot out of a cannon, not to be seen again for many miles. Rick sensed my apprehension and shook his head as if to say "steady boy, steadyŠ" The skies opened up five minutes into the race. Soon we were drenched. It was the first time I've seen rain pelt people directly in the face and chest and thighs. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was raining parallel to the street for a full half-hour, leaving us in squishy shoes with many miles still to go. Once again, Rick looked over and shook his head as if to say "hang on." I quelled my urge to take off in a full sprint and just be done with this mess, and settled back into our soggy pace. As mile after mile ticked off, the skies began to clear, and my balance and energy actually seemed to improve. I felt a hand on my shoulder around mile 10, and Rick smiled and said, "Time to go." My turn to borrow the cannon, and off I went, hardly feeling the asphalt under my feet. It seemed as if other runners were standing still, and I actually looked forward to charging up any hills because it seemed as if people were backing up. Oh, the joy of running.

To my surprise, at mile 12 I blew past one limping training buddy, and 30 seconds later I smashed past the other one suffering from a severe case of thigh chafing, complete with bloody legs and all. Man, that's gotta' hurt.

The home stretch, and the sheer exhilaration and satisfaction of training the right way, of being healthy and strong and fast, caused me to burst out laughing. I'm sure the other runners must've thought I was nuts, but then again they were probably too tired to care much about anything except finishing. As I finished my first half-marathon, I reminded myself that it wasn't me that propelled me to this feeling, but the kindness and generosity of a very wise friend. All I had to do was close my mouth, listen, and get out of my own way. That's the most lasting impression from that day, and a legacy that we've tried to pass on many times since that day.

Bryan Welch is an Island resident and is co-owner of Club Emerald. He can be reached at

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