Eventually, competition and adventure wane, and I enter my ibuprofen phase. Tweaky hamstrings and achy knees restrict mileage, but I continue running for health, sanity, and the ritual of a Sunday trail run with like-minded buddies. We discuss the nagging injuries that bedevil us, and remember the good old days when we were kings.
A good teammate is someone willing to get outside of personal thoughts and emotions, a friend who tries to understand, appreciate, and encourage other members of the team.
Running at night used to frighten me. Part of it was simply safety, the question of whether level ground would truly appear under each tentative footstep, and whether the temporary but complete blindness suffered while running toward headlights was, in fact, concealing death.
When an athlete has relegated the persistent rumors of cheating to the back room of the mind, he hasn't really forgotten them. And when he glances back to where rumors hunker in the darkness, he hopes with a savage heart that somehow, some day, those cheaters will be brought to justice.
I've never owned an actual trail-running shoe myself, but maybe I should. My favorite paths are fraught with peril, much of it skulking at shoelace level. A rock, a root, an errant pine cone. Wham, and you're down, choking in dust and picking pebbles from wounds in your forearms and knees.
My introduction to dissociation had been at Kenneth Cooper's clinic in January of 1975. Cooper had assembled a gaggle of top American distance runners and a half dozen top researchers, the intent being to figure out what the difference was - physiologically, biomechanically, psychologically - between elite and subelite runners.
Beginning runners come in all shapes, sizes and pre-existing conditions, so there's no magic formula for determining exactly how much basic running is needed before you start speedwork. Most experts, though, recommend three or four months of preparation.
Cheer for your teammates, regardless of whether they're fast or slow, veteran or neophyte, varsity or JV. Or rally the spirits of someone who's had a bad performance. Also, encourage stragglers during tough workouts; jog back to 'pick up' a runner who's behind during a long run.
The body responds to a calorie deficit by slowing down the metabolism and burning muscle tissue. That leads to weakness, sluggishness, slow times. In girls, it can also result in cessation of menstrual periods, which in turn leads to loss of bone density and frequent stress fractures.
Sure, the first light snowfall may be a chance to dance giddily, leaving squeaky footprints through the neighborhood, marking the runner's right to the domain. But later drubbings of snow merely complicate running. Snow turns to ice, to slush, to ice again. Tire ruts twist ankles. New snow hides the hazards.
Cold is not without its risks to runners, of course, especially ones who don't head south when winter visits their neighborhood. Even pooh-pooh-ers of frozen lungs and lovers of dark jogs over permafrost have been known to be careful about certain hazards.
In those long, lonely miles you put in during the off-season, and in those knife-in-the-gut track repetitions and hill repeats that buckle your knees - at that moment in almost every race when you ask yourself how much you're willing to hurt to catch one more runner - you can draw strength and inspiration from your running mates.
Clearly, there are things a runner does, intentionally or not, that disrupt team cohesion. And there are also things a runner doesn't do that can cause problems: not trying, showing up late, skipping team-building activities, and ignoring the coach's instructions.
The toughest trail I ever ran was the Escarpment in the Catskills of New York State. This was an 18-mile race through Rip Van Winkle country, routed through boulder fields, across angular juttings of granite and along a path with an unrelenting barrage of roots, rocks and mud, all of it hidden under slick leaves and dangling nettles.
For most teenage runners, the right foods means a varied diet, decreasing the amount of fat found in the typical American diet and replacing those calories with carbohydrates. Avoid saturated fats, such as those found in fried foods, and eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
If an athlete takes a shortcut - literally, for example, by running a street that shortens the marathon route by a quarter mile - he or she doesn't have an insurmountable advantage. But it's an unfair advantage, and in a field of equally matched athletes, it's more than enough to make a difference.
Fartlek, or speed play, is variable-pace running that emphasizes creativity. During a 30-minute run, choose objects to run to - telephone poles, trees, buildings, other runners, whatever. Make choices that mark off different distances, so your pickups vary in length from 15 to 90 seconds, and modify your pace to match the distance.
Train at the same pace day after day, week after week, year after year, and that's the kind of running the body adapts to. But break out of that comfort zone with a little speedwork now and then, and the body will learn to deal with the new demands.
When I was in middle school, and teachers lectured about World War II, the conflict seemed impossibly distant and irrelevant. And it had only happened 15 years earlier.
New nemeses keep racing fresh, but I also find challenge in going longer, with only the distance as foe. I run my first 50-mile race, journey across the Grand Canyon and back, circumnavigate Mount St. Helens.