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

Sat, 19 Aug 2006 04:18:54 -0400

Long Slow Discovery


I have the horrid humid heat of a Midwest August to thank for pointing my running in the direction that it has taken ever since. The change made then would turn me around as a runner.

This was August 1966. I spent it in Des Moines, working at my first full-time job, taking basic job-training for all that would follow. The work for a newspaper, taking sports scores by phone and processing them for print, was fine, but the hours were killing me.

I worked nights. It was worst possible fit for a day person who by nature rises with the sun, if not before. I fell into chronic sleep debt that summer.

Leaving work one August night, I groaned at the time-temperature sign reading "1:00" and "91." Another short and sweaty night (in an upstairs bedroom without air conditioning) lay ahead, followed by another hard and fast morning of running.

My schedule the next morning called for track intervals of 2-1/2 laps (about a kilometer). Never were they less appealing, but I had to obey the program.

I was just 23 years old then, a year out of college, two years away from my mile PR. But the job and the heat -- and the unyielding training schedule -- had left me feeling much older.

The summer's track meets had ended a few earlier, and ended badly. I'd run my slowest mile in four years, slower by almost a half-minute than my best time.

After that race I wasn't thinking about having nothing left to prove on the track. My thought was about having nothing left that I COULD prove.

My diary at the time was mainly a just-the-facts report of distances and times. Brief comments made that week were telling for being so rare, and so prophetic.

My "weekend" on the newspaper job began on Monday. I ran my longest then, which wasn't very long and certainly not slow.

For reasons unrecorded, I deviated from the sacred schedule the Monday of my fateful week. The run was almost twice as long as normal (at 10 miles) and almost a minute per mile slower (at seven-plus).

Afterward I wrote, "Ten miles seems like it'll never end, but it's just the start of a marathon. Still, I'm going to try the marathon once -- preferably next year's Boston."

This was my first mention of such a goal. The next day, I tried the scheduled 2-1/2-lap track intervals. I'd planned to run three but bailed out, overheated and exhausted, after just one.

The day's diary read, "This short running for time frustrates me. I'm tempted to switch to 100-percent distance and forget completely about speed."

Two more sluggish days passed before my day of decision. On August 19th, I ran seven relaxed miles and then wrote:

"Everyone's running marathons these days, so I've decided to make a big switch and try to get in on the act. No-talent runners are breaking three hours, 50-year-olds and even women are going this distance, so it must not be as tough as it's cracked up to be."

Ah, the naivete in those lines! Breaking three takes no talent? Fifty is old? EVEN the women? Marathon's not so tough?

The diary continued, "I'm switching to a slower and more relaxed type of running." The runs would be longer and slower, yes, but the entire schedule would also become simpler. No more intervals or time trials, no separate warmup, no strides, no hard running at all except in races."

I wasn't yet fully invested in this change. I wrote that August day, "Test it for a few months and see how it works out."

(continued in RC 638)

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