Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Wed, 7 Mar 2001 09:14:36 -0500

First Class


This was not the running circuit anymore. There the crowds are pre-sold on the sport, friends of mine, and I preach to the converted.

Here I knew no one and none of them knew me. They were students in a University of Oregon beginning running class. Their faces silently challenged me to prove that I had anything worth them hearing at nine o'clock on a Monday morning.

Facing the 30 new runners for the first time, I began by telling them, "We start as equals. This is your first class in running, and mine too."

I came with some experience -- both as a runner and as a teacher in other settings. But this was my first chance to instruct runners directly (which is the subject of my March Runner's World column).

The class began not with a run but with a get-acquainted session. The students heard a two-minute version of my story, then they filled out information sheets about themselves.

The oldest student is 30, but most are in their late teens to early 20s -- of young enough to be my children, if not grandchildren. Many have dabbled in running and wanted to know more, and a few have done more than dabble -- such as running the Bloomsday 12-K.

Students came dressed to run that first day and seemed disappointed to stay inside, sitting on a gym floor, to hear a lecture. They're talked at all day and wanted some action.

"From now on we'll meet at the track," I promised them. "You'll spend most of the time doing what you came here to do -- not to hear about running but to run."

Our first run was a test mile. "Don't race," I warned, "but run at a pace you feel you could hold for two or three times this distance."

Put two or more runners -- even new ones -- together and a race can break out. The leader started at five-minute pace and finished above six.

A mile at any pace was enough of a test for most of the students. The largest group crowded around nine minutes, with the last and oldest runner finishing at 11.

From these results I assigned the students to groups for the normal runs that started the next week. This wasn't meant to rank them as better and worse, but to point them to training they could handle.

Our standard training day was to be a 30-minute run or run-walk. Some students would run all the way, while others would go 10 or five minutes at a time with five-minute walking breaks.

The half-hour would be standard throughout the term. Only the portions of running and walking, and the overall pace, would change as fitness did.

Everyone completed the assigned 30 minutes the first day, and many asked for more running next time. Some called the five-minute walks, which most of them took, "interminable." (These are college students who like to use long words.)

The complaint meant they were ready to cut down their walk time. Anyone who needs five full minutes of walking savors every second.

Just three of the students ran all the way that first day. The lone woman is a 22-minute 5-K runner, and the men are a university cheerleader and a soccer player.

The soccer man, Jack, asked me afterward, "What should I do about my breathing?" I gave him a complex answer, talking about pace of the running and rhythm of the breaths.

"Yeah," he said when I finally finished. "But what I really want to know is should I be breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth?"

There was a lesson here for me: Even the most advanced runner in class needs the most basic answers.

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