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STILL RUNNING ON EMPTY, 9 YEARS LATER

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When a golfer loses his swing, he heads to the driving range. When a pitcher hits a slump, he reports to the minors. When a quarterback throws interceptions, he visits the film room. But what does a runner do when he loses his energy and speed?

He waits. He starves. He hopes and prays. He visits doctors. He loses shoe contracts. He trains less. He trains more. He hopes and prays some more.Doug Padilla knows. Nine years ago he was one of the two best distance runners in the world, sharing the claim with Olympic champion Said Aouita of Morocco. He won the overall international Grand Prix, edging pole vault legend Sergey Bubka. It was the latest step in a career that had been climbing steadily for seven years, beginning at BYU. A year earlier he finished seventh in the Olympic Games 5,000-meter run. He set American records and annually collected national championships and world rankings. And he was only 28 years old. His best years were ahead of him.

Or they should have been. Plagued by allergies and persistent, mysterious illnesses and fatigue, Padilla has never been the same. He has never made the world rankings again. His performances spiraled downward, bottoming out with an 18th-place finish in the 1991 national championships. The magic, the gift, was gone, seemingly overnight.

Padilla hasn't run a serious race since July 4, 1992. Everytime he tries to resume training, he gets sick and fatigued again. He insists his career isn't finished, but at age 37 he is certainly running out of time.

Padilla waits and wonders. He started a marketing business in Orem last year, but he has no income. He's living off savings garnered from his racing heyday, and money is tight, but Padilla continues to resist getting a so-called real job in hopes of resuming his running career.

"I've always felt like there was more for me to do," he says.

Padilla is not the first world-class distance runner whose star burned out prematurely. Alberto Salazar, among others, ruled the distance races in the early 1980s, but quickly dropped from sight. Sherald James, Padilla's coach, believes coaches and doctors simply don't understand completely the effects of high-intensity training and its byproduct, extreme fatigue, on the body. Padilla has consulted more doctors than he can count, some by making regular drives to Colorado, but his problems remain a mystery.

"Eventually, I hope to compete again," he says. "Maybe this fall."

Padilla's attachment to running runs deeper than dollars. He has never forgotten that running gave him opportunity. In high school he was a tiny, sweet-natured kid who rode the bench - in church basketball. It doesn't get any lower than this. He still remembers the day he was named the school's top athlete during a senior year assembly, and the joy he had accepting it in front of those hulking, incredulous football players.

He's been looking for a way to pay back running ever since then, particularly of late when the sport is suffering on so many fronts. Track and field is dying a slow death and road racing is feeling the repercussions. Both sports have seen some of their marquee events canceled.

When Padilla was asked to be the race director for next month's Deseret News/Granite Furniture marathon and 10K road races, he saw it as a chance to pay back the sport. He has attacked the job with the fury of one of his homestretch kicks.

Padilla flew to Boulder, Colo., last month to observe the workings of the big Bolder Boulder 10,000-meter road race. A few days later, despite little training, he ran in the Salt Lake Classic (he finished only 12th) to experience the race as mass runners do. Afterward, he lingered in the finish-line area quizzing the runners. Why did they run the race? What did they like and dislike about it? And so on.

"They thought I was pretty strange," says Padilla. "But I wanted to discover why a race is successful."

Padilla is a veteran runner, but as an elite athlete he has hardly experienced road races as a Saturday afternoon jogger. "I don't have to register," he explains. "I have a spot reserved at the starting line. My sweats are taken care of for me. I have transportation to the race. It's a different experience for the elite athlete. I ran for a payday, but why does the average person run a race."

Race director seems a natural calling for Padilla, who, at the height of his competitive career, organized local track meets. During the competition, he passed out programs, assisted with the public address chores, organized events and competed in a race. Now he's directing another running event, but he won't be ready to compete.

Three weeks ago, Padilla, ever hopeful, resumed training once again, for the umpteenth time during his long slump. "I'm just starting to feel better again," he says. If only it will last.