Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Message From a Runner

I spoke with a runner a few weeks back,I'll call him Joe. Joe is a runner I've known for quite a while.He was very competitive at one time and racked up some impressive pr's, a high 33 for the 10k,a very low 16 or 15:50 for the 5k and a 2:50 for his debut in the marathon.There were other excellent times at different distances but I can't recall them,however, I do remember thinking I wished I could have run those times.
Well,Joe was telling me how after a fairly minor injury he quit running for 3 months and was having alot of trouble getting back into it.When I asked why he took such a long period off he had this to say.Perhaps what Joe told me might be a help to some of you.
"You know me Dave,I was always a competitive guy.After college I kept playing basketball in the town leagues until recurring ankle injuries forced me to quit.Then I needed some type of physical outlet so I started working out at a gym regularly.My ankle healed and I got very fit.At the gym I ran into some people who were part of a local running club and they invited me to join them on their biweekly runs.I had done very little distance running in the past but I was fit and didn't have much trouble doing an easy run on one of their five mile courses. As I ran at this comfortable pace I kept thinking how good it felt,the pace was smooth and easy,the conversation between us was interesting.               After a month or so I saw there was a local 5k race that the people I trained with were going to do.I thought that sounded like it might be fun so I entered.Surprisingly to me,I finished really well in my age group.I think at that moment I became hooked on racing,like I said,I am a competitive person by nature,whether it's at work or playing a pick-up game at the house.
The one thing that is great about running is that early on you see great improvement in conditioning and performance if you do the work,and improve I did.Age groups and high finishes in the road races came fairly quickly.As they did,the type of people I trained with changed.I started training with guys who were younger and better than me,their workouts were consistently tough.There weren't too many of those easy runs with enjoyable conversation anymore.As I think back,myself and the guys I trained with had an unhealthy,'we're the elite runners they're not' attitude.
Well,as anyone who's been around running a long time knows,eventually improvements in performance sort of plateau.It's at that time when those who know distance running recognize that training and racing seasons, as well as proper rest become things you must pay attention to.I didn't.Although I still raced well I started having nagging little discomforts and injuries,I often had a kind of 'washed out' feeling.I felt anything but energetic.In the past where I looked forward to working out with my 'elite' training partners I now had a subtle sense of dread before a workout.I think this was not only due to the fact that I knew I'd probably be going all out in the training session but it had gotten to the point that these guys,at least most of them, were not that much fun to train with anymore.To them it was all about the race they just ran and the one they were about to do.
Also,I once looked forward to races with a kind of childish enthusiasm, now I fretted about whether or not I'd perform up to my,and even my training partners expectations. I was constantly checking my watch in the early part of the races and freaking if I wasn't hitting the checkpoints like I had planned.I'm sure my wife would want me to add how moody and irritable I could get before certain races,I won't mention how I was after bad ones.
So,after a few years of this nonsense,when I got a calf injury and had to lay off for a couple of weeks, I felt a sense of relief in being injured,like a burden had been lifted,like the pressure was off.Then one evening,I was sitting on the back deck of my house having a few beers when it suddenly hit me,what am I doing to myself ? It was at that point I took another few months off and worked out at the gym like I used to. Then one evening I went to this park I hadn't been to in at least a year and went for an easy 5 miler. It was great. A week later I hooked up with some others who joined me in these easy runs over varying distances and terrains.The conversation was great and I felt great when it was over.As far as competing in the future? I honestly doubt I ever will,maybe that's  because I recognize that I don't have the right perspective on racing,or maybe it's because I just love running too much."


  1. Nice post on getting the right perspective on running and racing.

    I've long since abandoned racing - though I usually run at least one low-key 5K a year. At this point in my life I wish I ran more, but even running 3 miles once or twice a week (and walking those other days) let's me call myself a "runner".

    Having run year round since age 15 (I'm now 50), I have no problems calling myself a runner - even if the miles ran are fewer, and the races almost non-existent.

    Keep up the good work - love the blog!

  2. Thanks for the kind words. Yeah,you are definitely a runner.I have discovered a few things during my many decades of running and coaching and one is that racing is not a necessary component to the running experience. The reality is,and this is not an exaggeration,I have seen more people's love for running harmed by the addition of racing in their lives.Be it in the varying forms of mental stress it brings and/or the injury it inevitably introduces. I am sure this sounds heretical to the hardcore racers out there but I am going by what I've seen observed over the decades.This is also coming from a person who started running AAU races in 1965 and has raced in every decade after until 2012. I've written about this before, that while people,myself included at times in the past,tend to get very fixated on performance,the big question is, why? It's not like any of these races are going to do anything but momentarily make us feel good.It's not as if we are going to qualify for a National Championships or something.I guess it all comes down to ego.
    I have said this in the past,if you offered me a choice between winning an Olympic gold medal at a distance event but having to stop running immediately after,OR,being able to run my whole life,I would take the latter of the two choices.I don't even have to take a minute to consider that one.
    Enjoy the run!