Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Once [Never] A Runner?

I come back to John Parker Jr's running classic about once a year, mostly to remind myself that athletic success often comes with a steep price tag. You only have to read the scene in which Bruce Denton puts Quenton Cassidy through the following workout to discover if you even want to try to pay the price (actually paying the price, well, that takes even more guts).

3x(20x400 m @ race pace (55 sec/quarter) w/100 m jog between quarters and 400 m jog after every five quarters).

That's a simple equation, but for a runner of Cassidy's caliber (that's Jim Ryun or Steve Prefontaine or Adam Goucher) you're talking 15 miles at sub 4:00/mile pace with only the barest of recoveries. The whole workout works out to 19.25 miles, a brutal amount of work to be done on the track.

The thing is, you must be willing to go that deep if you actually care about winning in your sport. As I came off the bike on Saturday I felt a lot of things, rust being the predominant sensation. But more unsettling than forgetting that, in a race, you have to be prepared to work hard (how did I lose sight of that one?) was the sense that I just didn't know how to run.

I've run a lot over the past ten years. I remember the run that may have kicked off Chris Bagg's modern era of running. I had on a pair of yellow New Balance 1026s, which felt like beautiful slippers. I was a senior in college, living in a bizarre house off campus above an actress and a poli sci major named Vindhyia. I cruised out for a run on Vassar's Farm and came back feeling cracked open, as if breathing for the first time (I'd run before, but not with the same sense of timeliness and freedom). The awful year in D.C. followed, and my first marathon, and then countless half-marathons, triathlons, cycling races, open water swims, etc, etc...

But I don't think I know how to run.

You've seen people who know how to run. They run the way the Flintstones characters ran: an upper body held motionless, while legs turn in a blur below. No matter the terrain they flow up and over it, their shoes making no more than light scuff, scuff, scuff, scuff on the ground. Looking at the pictures from St. George, I see someone deeply afflicted by gravity, earthbound and irrevocably attached to the pavement. My face has none of a true runner's serenity.

I neglect a lot of the things that might make me a better runner: drills, cadence, core strength. I'm embarking, though, on a quest to become a true runner. That means losing some weight and building some strength. Look to these pages in the coming weeks to see how it's going. I'll try to keep you updated on my process.

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