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Sports Spotlight

WS resident Peter Knowles takes on NYC, on foot

White Salmon residents Peter and Lori Knowles will be visiting the Big Apple of the East Coast this weekend.

While there they plan to do some sightseeing, maybe some shopping and, in Mr. Knowles's case, get in some running--as in running the famed New York City Marathon.

For Mr. Knowles, who teaches history and American Government at Columbia High School, and coaches CHS's boys soccer team, it will be his first NYC Marathon and eighth marathon overall.

At the request of The Enterprise, Mr. Knowles shared his thoughts about the joys and challenges of running, and how he came to be a marathon man.

Where did your motivation to take up running come from?

I decided I wanted to run a marathon in high school. For some reason I liked running distances (though I only ran track in Jr. High) and I started running 10Ks my senior year, then into college. My goal was to run a marathon then, but I ran a half-marathon with a bad hamstring, and sort of hung up that idea for about 20 years. Then, when I started running again as a middle-aged adult, that goal I'd set for myself in high school re-emerged.

How would you describe your training methods and what are they exactly?

They aren't very scientific or rigorous. I do a lot of miles, and I do use a training calendar to plan overall mileage, but don't do nearly enough of the speedwork that I should. I tend to run the same speed most days, instead of training the way most authorities recommend, which is to alternate hard/fast days with slow/recovery days. I do my longer runs on Sundays, and take a single day off a week, while I build up miles toward a marathon.

What have you done, i.e., other events you've run in, to prepare for the New York Marathon?

I have a few favorite races I like to do. The Skyline Foundation (Springfest) Run and the Trout Lake Run are the two local races I try to make each year. And the Shamrock Run around St. Patrick's Day and the Race for the Roses half-marathon, both in Portland, are also ones I've run a number of times. The Races for the Roses actually became my qualifying race for the NY.

Most of the 37,000 runners in the NY get in by applying, then having their names drawn at random. I was lucky enough to have run fast enough for a qualifying time in the Race for the Roses last April, so I knew I would get in when I applied. And this summer I ran a lot, always with my eye on the NY. (FYI: the NY allows you to qualify for the marathon by using a half-marathon time. I ran the Run for the Roses in 1:27:00, and needed a 1:30:00 to qualify. On paper, this makes me a sub 3:00 marathoner, but I've always had trouble in the second half of marathons, so I don't finish very close to that at all. Most of my marathon times have been between 3:13 and 3:30.)

A marathon is a marathon is a marathon in terms of length (aren't they all 26.2 miles long), but what makes the New York Marathon different from the Portland Marathon or the Boston Marathon?

Yes, they're all 26.2 miles.

I ran the Portland five years in a row, and after a while it seemed to get a little stale. So I started thinking about where else I might run for a little variety. Last Thanksgiving I ran the Seattle Marathon and in July the Seafair Marathon in Bellevue. Both routes ran along areas where I grew up, so it was fun to be so familiar with the scenery and neighborhoods and all, and I could stay with my family in the Seattle area so travel was easy.

The NY is definitely different. I think one of the things that makes it special is that it is in NY, and it's a world-class race. The fastest runners from around the world will be running (not that I'll get a chance to see them), and it draws people from all over. The fact it's so large, too, makes it unique. And the fact that it runs through five boroughs and ends in Central Park is exciting, too. I've visited NY a handful of times in my life, but this will be a new view of the city.

What's it like to run a marathon? What do you think about? How do you push yourself to finish? What toll does it take on your mind and body? What's the recovery like?

I've run seven marathons now, and every one is different. Some of them are tough all the way through, some are very comfortable, until you hit the wall. I don't think any has ever been "easy," but a few have been pleasant. Don't know if that's really the right word. Maybe comfortable is better.

At any rate, as far as recovery goes, most of them end with me feeling like I won't run again for a long time, but most also have me out running again in a few days. There's a soreness and fatigue, but it's never been enough to keep me from running again soon. (Going down stairs is one of the toughest things to deal with afterward, but I've learned that if it's really painful, going down backwards helps.)

As far as difficulties during the race, the physical stresses are definitely there, but the mental aspect is probably more challenging. It's easy to start listening to the little voice that gets louder and louder as the race goes on that says, `You might as well slow down and walk, or take a little break.' And once you do that, it's hard to get going again.

Where do you see your interest in running long distances taking you in the future?

I'd like to run the Boston someday. It's like the Grandaddy of them all, the Holy Grail, and you have to be pretty quick to qualify. And, since it's in April, it requires your heaviest training in the winter months of January and February. Maybe some day I'll do that, if I can qualify again and if my spring looks free. And I'd like to try different cities. Maybe Tucson, or San Diego, or Honolulu. Those sound pretty nice.

What is it you get from running that you couldn't get from another pursuit?

I love running in the morning. The Gorge is such a beautiful setting for sunrises and views of the hillsides, mountain and the river that it's energizing to be out there and to be part of it. And I love having the chance to think about things as I run. I don't listen to music or having a running partner that talks (I do have a loyal four-legged partner named Scooby who gets me out there on the colder, wetter days) so I have a lot of time to just think. It recharges my batteries, and helps me gain perspective on lots of things that could easily spin out of control without a chance to weigh them and evaluate them for myself. And I guess it keeps me in shape, too.

What advice do you have for others who might be interested in taking up running?

Start slow, start small, and keep going. I remember one of the first times I ran a few years ago (when I took up running again) and I set a goal to run about a mile from my home and back. I could barely do it, but I kept trying and adding distance, and just took what I could from each day's run.

I started with a small local race or two, and built my way up. I don't know when I decided that I really could do a marathon, but once I did, it helped me run more and more regularly, because I had a target in mind. Also, I tend to get a little obsessed with my race times, but I try to leave the watch at home most days and just enjoy the run. That's really what it's all about.

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