My distance-running story: the bridge from past to present, Part 3

Sometimes lessons have to be learned more than once, or in more than one context. Or they may be learned incompletely or only in retrospect. There may be many fallow years where little learning at all seems to take place. All of these played a role in my experiences across the years with longer, slower mileage-based running versus shorter, more intense training. Now things have come full circle with the chance to try again and tie it all together.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

I cannot now remember the exact reasons why my running began tailing off after college. It wasn’t any single thing, but a number of them. It wasn’t the fact that I was no longer competing, because I had continued running for another three or four years on my own after my first and only university cross-country season as a freshman.

Maybe in part it was the fact that, not long after graduating, I had embarked on my first serious love relationship. But beyond the overwhelming nature of the “new life experience” that the relationship represented for me, I was exploring other new things in-depth at the same time: Eastern philosophy and alternative consciousness, meditation, yoga, organic gardening, the idea of appropriate-scale “small is beautiful” technologies, and so forth. (This was the early 1980s just after the flowering of these movements in the 1960s and 70s.) All of this impacted my drive and motivation for other pursuits.

Then there was the new network of friends and acquaintances I was introduced to through the relationship. As well, without a clear career direction to pursue after college, despite a degree in business (for me, a fallback since I did not know what I wanted to do), I felt buffeted about. To make ends meet, I took a fairly physical job for a couple of summers and the intervening year working as a golf course greenskeeper, which siphoned off some of the physical energy required for a discipline like running.

After that, I got a job in computer operations that lasted the better part of a year, with a huge manufacturer in the area, running room-sized laser printers that spit out incessant financial, inventory, and other reports for the company bigwigs and other white-collar corporate drones, and that paid fairly well. However, it required working third shift, which played havoc with my schedule and put a damper on my energy levels. After a full week off from the job at one point, I felt so much better physically when back on a normal daily wake/sleep cycle that I realized third shift was detrimental to my health, and I needed to make a change.

Partway through this stint, then, I decided to go back to the university for classes in computer programming. The idea was to take advantage of my natural facility with computers — still a relatively new thing at the time — to springboard into a new career like a co-worker I was friendly with, who was avidly pursuing a burgeoning interest in programming. This way I would be able to lift myself up and out of the looming specter of what could otherwise become a future of corporate dronedom, just like that of the company hacks my stacks of laser-printer output fed.

Unfortunately, the added schedule of university courses loaded me down more, both physically and mentally, of course. After a single semester I couldn’t endure the grind any longer, and lost interest.

Read moreMy distance-running story: the bridge from past to present, Part 3

My distance-running story: the bridge from past to present, Part 2

The initial flush of success that I experienced my first, and only, season running competitively in college turned out not to be worth it, at least on my terms. I quit the team but kept running on my own, and explored longer runs for the exhilaration and satisfaction of it. I also got in great shape, though I had nothing to show for it outwardly. But that was okay by me.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

My freshman year in college, I managed to pull off an accomplishment that I was perhaps more proud of than anything I had achieved previously, competition-wise. Paralleling earlier events when I made the high school varsity cross-country team my freshman year (covered here), the same thing occurred when I made 7th and last man on the university varsity cross-country team. This time it was as a walk-on, beating out all the other college freshmen, most of whom had some kind of partial running scholarship.

But it wasn’t because I was any better than them, really. My inborn talent was decent, but except for two or three out of the eight freshmen — one of whom was a walk-on as well — based on our previous competitive results in high school, while fairly close to the others in ability, I was perhaps not quite at the same level.

Whereas on my high school team the previous year I was one of the unelected de facto workout leaders who tended to set the tone by example — unfortunately helping beat most of us into the ground on interval workouts — on the university team it was just the opposite. My body just couldn’t take all the hard-effort, collegiate-level training that the other runners could, even most of the freshmen, so I started sandbagging in workouts when needed just to survive.

By this time, I had learned enough to know when my body’s capacity to absorb punishment was being exceeded, and when to back off and take an easy day with a slow recovery run. But since that wasn’t fully possible in the university team situation, at least to the degree I really needed, some days I would just lag behind as much as I could, whatever the workout for the day might be.

Read moreMy distance-running story: the bridge from past to present, Part 2

My distance-running story: the bridge from past to present, Part 1

Most of my competitive years in high school and college were a time of learning how to train on my own. Simultaneously, I was coping with several different coaches along the way, most of whom did not have a very good idea of what they were doing. It made for a career of ups and downs and unfulfilled potential, yet also fun times and hard-won training wisdom learned along the way.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Despite always having loved running for its own sake (see The Earth at My Feet for the story), I was so motivated by achievement and competition when I was younger and competing in high school and college that it sometimes worked to my detriment. Often, I went into competitions having “left my race on the training track,” so to speak.

I was well aware of the value of longer, slower, “mileage”-based training (i.e., what is sometimes termed LSD or “long, slow distance”) to lay a distance base, to be complemented by faster interval-based workouts — either concurrently or later in the training cycle. However, once the competitive season got underway, I/we (my teammates as well) still often overdid the latter at the expense of the former.

This was not entirely of my own choosing, since too much hard track-interval work was thrust upon the distance runners by coaches who didn’t know any better. However, even had I been entirely on my own, I still would probably have overdone it to some degree.

In high school — this being the era of the 1970s when 100 miles per week for national and world-class runners became the holy grail of training — I put in as much mileage as I reasonably could, given my teenage, still-maturing body. At that time I was averaging about 50 miles per week over the course of the entire year, but the weekly mileage distribution was bimodal. I piled on more miles in the off-seasons when training on my own, at least 60 and sometimes 70 or 80 miles per week. But during the competitive seasons (about two and a half to three months each for cross-country in the fall, and track in the spring) I could only manage about 40 miles.

Read moreMy distance-running story: the bridge from past to present, Part 1

The Earth at my feet: why I ran back when — why I run now

Sometimes, after the spiral has turned many years later, you discover the things that motivated you in the beginning are still what motivate you in the end, after other things have fallen away.

The first day I decided to become a distance runner, when I was 14 years old, I went out and ran four miles around the local lake just outside my small hometown. This was without any prior training, to speak of. It was not an easy effort, but not terribly difficult either — somewhat challenging, but it came naturally.

I had no special experience related to running other than a very active childhood playing outside just about every day exploring the neighborhood, taking part in little league sports, and running short sprint races against friends in local grade school and middle school competitions, or during playground recesses from time to time.

When it came to running specifically, as with these short races, I did nothing much longer than sprinting probably 75 to 100 yards, or playing games like “tag” where one might be continually moving for some time but running or sprinting only for intermittent short bursts. As far as track and field went, I had been more into long-jumping and pole-vaulting in the preceding years during middle school. Golf was also a pursuit, affordable to a wide swath of the middle and lower-middle classes in those days, and all of us except some of the adults walked and carried our own clubs around the course, rather than riding in carts.

Prior to the day mentioned above, I had gotten my feet wet a few times in the preceding weeks, running solo time trials of perhaps a mile and a half around the local neighborhood streets, but no more than that, just to see what I could do.

The second day, I ran four miles around the lake again. And each day after that I continued to run four miles or so, trying out different routes for variety. But immediately I was running almost 30 miles a week.

Starting out with distance running like this did not seem that unusual to me. I had always had more endurance than the other kids, whatever the game we were playing. Others always wanted to quit before I did. I did not have a high energy level, but the ability to endure had seemingly always been there.

Read moreThe Earth at my feet: why I ran back when — why I run now

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