Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Running For Your Life-Part 1

Starting is easy. Everybody can do it. All you have to do is show up. The gun goes off and away you go. In a running race, the start is particularly invigorating. You are surrounded by a mass of healthy bodies who are fresh and excited.

Almost everyone starts off too quickly. It usually only takes a few hundred yards to realize this fact. You are in good shape but the pace is beyond what you have trained for. Your heart rate powers up too quickly and you begin breathing hard.
In a short race, say a 5K, this is not too big of an issue. You planned on pushing it harder than your long runs anyway and expected to be out of breath. Anybody can suck gas for 20-25 minutes. So you push through.

But if your race is a marathon and you are out of breath at the half-mile mark, the thought can be daunting, even overwhelming. Slow down. Pace is key. But don’t sandbag. Run what you have trained for. You have got over three and half hours of running to go. So, catch your breath. Make it half way. It’s all down hill from there. Down hill. On the back side. Going home. These are things that help you make it through the pain of the harder part. Sometimes it is merely tricking yourself that the first part was hardest. Maybe it was. Probably it wasn’t. But now you know you can make it and every step brings you one step closer to home. So, you keep it up and you finish.

This book is not really about running. Of course, running is the theme. Running is the trainer. Running is a tool. Stay with me and you will see that this book is about life. As is running or whatever endeavor you have found that makes you, not only who you are, but enables you to press beyond the exigencies of every day living, to that something beyond which gives meaning and joy to the mundane.

I picked up endurance running almost by accident. In high school track, I was a sprinter. A hard workout for me was five three hundred meter sprints at top speed. Three quarters around the track in thirty-nine seconds. Repeat it five times. Puke your guts out. I thought it was hard then but now, as I look back, we had it pretty easy.

Even then, we sprinters always shuddered at the workouts of the one and two milers. Their speed days consisted of twelve four hundred meter sprints. Their sprints were not exactly the same as our sprints but they ran them hard and they ran a lot of them. On their distance days, they would go out and run six or seven miles. This seemed completely absurd to us sprinters.
We could not comprehend running that far. Not ever. Not under any circumstances.

In winter track, the coaches would haul us out to the country for a little conditioning. Our distance runners would do four miles and the sprinters would usually run fartleks. This consisted of walking from one telephone pole to the next, then jogging to the next one, then a full sprint to the next one. We never did this for more than two miles. Even when we did slow distance running, the sprinter’s distance was just two miles.

The first time I ran two miles without stopping, I thought I had accomplished a tremendous feat. It seemed a very long distance and I was surprised that I could do it. My brother, our top sprinter, was impressed. When it came to distance, he ran slowly, slowly, so impressing him that way was fairly easy. Alas, I had the curse of mediocrity. Too slow to compete in the 100. Too fast to compete in the mile. But I am not alone. Ninety-five percent of the athletes on our track team were in the same boat. They were not the fastest sprinters. They were not the great endurance runners. They were just filler, like me. Good for training and perhaps a relay team but would never be the excellent individual runner.

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