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Treading new ground

Destination races give you a reason to travel - and months of motivation.

One of my best motorcycling buddies, Larry, and I set out for Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, about 10 times over as many years. We were in the Army band, stationed in Virginia, and thought the name Sault Sainte Marie sounded cool. Neither of us had ever been there, and that seemed like reason enough to go. The funny thing is we never made it. Sometimes we rode only as far as Pennsylvania. Once, we even reached Montreal. But never Sault Sainte Marie.

Reaching Michigan wasn't the point. We wanted to get the maps, plan the route, figure out where to camp, what to wear, and what to carry on our bikes. Enjoying the months of preparing was the real reason for the ride. I think if we ever had gotten to Sault Sainte Marie, we wouldn't have known what to do next.

These days people travel thousands of miles to "destination races" to run with friends who live down the block. On the surface it doesn't make sense. Why go to San Diego, or Miami, or Bermuda to do what you can do at home? But I get it. It isn't just about the place. It's about dreaming and working toward getting there. It's about finding the motivation to get out the door in the middle of an Ohio winter because you know there's a postrace day at the beach or a beautiful trail run awaiting you. It doesn't really matter where you are if where you're going sounds better.

Of the 45 marathons I've run, 42 of them could be called destination races. I've run races in the Northeast when the leaves are changing and the hillsides are a kaleidoscope of colors. I've run a marathon on the coastal highway in California with the Pacific Ocean in view the whole time. I've run along South Beach in Florida and seen the beautiful - and not so beautiful - soaking up the sun and fun.

As scenic as these runs were, as beautiful as the courses were, as friendly as the participants were, I realized they were secondary to the satisfaction I felt from all the hard work I had put in to be there. This was never truer than at the Antarctica Marathon few years back. I trained for it through one of the worst Decembers in Chicago history. I dragged my butt out the door in below-freezing temperatures and ran in ice and snow with my Yak Tracks on. I stopped shaving for four months so I'd have that rough, explorer look, or at least keep my face warm.

On the day of the race, a storm blew in and prevented us from landing. That meant instead of running a marathon on a glacier, I was going to run 522 laps around the deck of our ship, and I had a great time doing it. I realized that running the race was more about celebrating what I had already accomplished, not what I was going to accomplish that day.

Find someplace you've always wanted to go and see when they have a race you're interested in. Italy or France, Timbuktu or Cleveland. Once you have that goal, every mile of training will take you just a little closer to it. Every step shortens the distance between you and your dream. You may find, as I did, that the joy of working toward that goal is its own reward.

Waddle on, friends.

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