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At the starting line 

Good Dirt

Two cigarettes and a cup of coffee. Tom Dinwoodie's mornings had begun the same way for 25 years.

But something was changing on a summer day in 2010. He crushed out his last smoke, gulped his coffee, and stepped to the starting line of the Hellacious Trail Challenge, a tough 9-mile footrace in Palmer Park.

He'd thought long about quitting the smokes. A co-worker who ran each Tuesday in the Jack Quinn's Running Club 5K chided him to give 'em up and start running. Dinwoodie made a big decision when a heart attack killed a friend who'd recently retired.

"I told myself I wasn't going to work, retire and die," he says.

He'd managed a few training runs, but the nine-miler, on rugged singletrack, stung. Wheezing and miserable, he finished the race determined to push on. And then he discovered something unexpected in running: community, support and acceptance.

"I'm a 50-year-old fat man," Dinwoodie says, "and there were world-class runners who had time for me. They inspired me, pushed me. They made me want to keep going."

Running helped Tami Clark negotiate some big life transitions. Overweight, divorcing, she felt lost.

"I remember thinking, 'Now what am I going to do?'" Clark says.

She had enjoyed plenty of dance classes, but her first running experience was nearly her last: "It was horrible. I hated it. I couldn't breathe."

Then, like Dinwoodie, she found friends and inspiration in the running community. There, she embraced something distinctly her own.

"I love to run now, and it's always available," Clark says. "If I'm upset, I put my shoes on and go. Running has taught me that I'm stronger than I thought. And I have this awesome balance in my life. My kids see me, and they're proud of me."

I've witnessed the transition. Years ago, as a bookish 16-year-old, my daughter skipped down the stairs. "I'm goin' for a run," she said. I was both hopeful and skeptical, but she came home walking tall, more grown up.

Throughout those teen years, the void between us often felt vast and barren. Running closed the gap and offered an old-fart-in-the-making an opportunity to connect with his young, hip, kid. And there were fringe benefits. With a half grin she tapped my credit card for cool, new running shoes.

She made discoveries that piqued her sense of wonder, and grew more confident. One day I asked about her music choice for running.

"I'm listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack."

"That's cool," I said. "You can pretend that Orcs are running after you."

"Actually, Dad, I think I'll be running at them."

She knows the sound of her heart working overtime. She is empowered by the challenge. As a longtime sportswriter and outdoors junkie myself, I know my daughter better because she runs.

As we inch toward spring, maybe you've been thinking about getting into running. If so, start by talking with your doctor.

"Nobody ever does this, but it's the smart thing to do," says Nicole Drummer, a coach at NEO Endurance Sports and Fitness in Colorado Springs. "Let your doctor know you're going to start an exercise program."

Next, just move. "I think a lot of people hate running because they run too hard in the beginning," she says. "It's OK to walk. People think it's cheating, but typically you can perform better with walk breaks."

Finally, examine your diet. Eliminate the processed crap and cut back on sugar, but just a little at first. Quick and drastic changes are a trap.

"The more real food you eat, the better you'll feel and the more energy you will have," Drummer says. "But those diet changes have to be worked in with exercise changes at a pace you can tolerate."

Want more? Google "running, Colorado Springs" and do some homework. There are organized social runs on weeknights, races on almost every weekend, and Facebook pages full of information. Stop by a specialty running store and ask questions. Go for a walk. Run a little, or a lot.

And, please, return to this column. Most weeks, we'll explore the outdoors through the experiences of area residents and their relationship with our beloved Western landscape. It's liable to be a great love story.

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