A Runner's Dilemma: Can a 41 Year-old Man Run a 20:00 5K?
What's that? My running blog. There was a day -- for many years -- I used to run a lot. Two times, most significantly. Now, I run again, a third time. So far, this one is the charm.
What do a broken soul, a broken heart and renewed spirit have to do with long-distance running?
The first time, I was in junior high school. Spindly, without the tall part, I was struggling in school, and terrible at every sport I attempted: Baseball? Awful. Football? Basketball? Too small. Soccer? Americans didn't care yet. Swimming? Not so much that I will drown, but not so much that I will win, or even finish better than behind the guy in second to last place.
So I joined track. I ran the distance all the leftovers were put into, the mile. My first race was something like 7:25. We had a guy who ran 5:10, so I was not going to do much there.
My brother ran in high school, and I looked up to him. As a 400 meter runner, or, 440 yards as it was then, before we used metrics, he was strong. Not so tall, but he had thighs that could pull an elephant. Since we had no elephants in Palos Heights, he did the next best thing, and that's where running the 440 came in.
Having realized there was no other sport for me, I gave running a go, but my 7:25 never amounted to much. However, I liked the correlation of distance and time, and the absoluteness of it. There was no one throwing a ball to me I had to depend on. It was me running. Just me. No matter how many other runners were there, I could still run better than I ever had. And I did.
(related: Clocks Never Lie: Why I Like Racing)
Sometime during my freshman year, as I ran in the middle of a crowd of much taller runners, at the 200 mark of the track, it occurred to me that I was not tired. So, I ran faster. For once in my life, I was somewhat good at something. It felt all right. Give me more of this fantastic feeling!
I ran a little faster each race. I ran cross-country, and step-by-step, finished the three mile races better and better.
Eventually, in high school, I whittled my mile time down to 4:44. I was then a junior, and would not run as a senior.
I wound up team captain, and winning a lot of dual meets (when two teams are matched up). I read running, ate running, ran all kinds of races in the summer, joined other teams, and ran, ran, ran. Sometimes, I ran until I collapsed at the end of the race. Rarely would I ever say I did not try hard enough.
A combination of a teacher strike cancelling the entire senior cross-country season, and recognizing I had let running consume me, caused my fire to dwindle.
The good side of running then was I believe my involvement kept me out of some of the usual high school challenges. I also got in great shape.
The downside was I let running become a god. God thought otherwise, and using the teachers' strike, and a few other events, stripped from me the fire to race. It stopped mattering. It was not long after this I took my faith seriously. There's more to that story, but this post is about running.
In college, I ran once in a while, and I even raced in some 5Ks and triathlons, but it was not the same. I did not care. I even managed a long distance running club which had dozens of runners, most of which were training for the Chicago Marathon. (picture: Bud Light Triathlon 1983. I was 16).
Later, in 1999, after an enormously difficult winter of losing my job, my apartment, my car broke down, I had bronchitis, and a serious girlfriend dumped me cold, my church, and many friends (fallout from both the church thing, and the girlfriend thing) I started to walk.
This was the beginning of the second time I ran.
Remember in Forrest Gump (see video below) when he just decides to run? That was my decision to walk. One night, in early March, in the pouring rain, I put on my headphones, popped in a CD of Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits, and just played 'Tusk' (second video) over and over. How far did I walk? At least two hours worth.
As things went on, I walked listening to John Michael Talbot's Quiet Side CD, working the outside lane at Wheaton College's track until I jogged.
Just a lap, then some more. I prayed through each lap. The release of my angst flowed like a dam broken at every brick.
Soon, I was running 10 miles a day, most days a week. No pace in mind. Whatever pace it was, it was. I did not wear real running shoes, or think about training. I just ran, exorcising the intense stress I felt. Had God left me? No, I never thought that, but I certainly did not understand His plan. I praised Him, singing aloud as I ran.
Then, as my apartment was no longer mine in late August, I moved. Unprepared financially, I found the worst apartment in town, a broken down basement of a broken down house owned by a landlord who never fixed things.
The only other economically suitable place was in the complex where said ex-girlfriend lived, so I chose elsewhere. Somehow, in the process of moving, the spring and summer of running was over. Whatever needed purging was satiated. I stopped.
Now, speeding up to January 2007, it was time to run again. I needed a purpose, and I needed drive. Just 40 years old, fitness was part of it. The other part of it was a desire to reclaim what I left behind, only this time, keep my senses about me: run hard, but don't make it a god.
As it turned out, I met through church a guy who I watched through high school, a running star as quick as Illinois ever knew, Jim Spivey, a three-time Olympian. Now retired from racing, he coaches a running club of runners who are more or less in my situation. I used his club to help me restart.
On Thursday, May 3, 2007, I showed up out of shape at the track for a Spivey club practice and had the best-worst workout I have ever known. My fitness level was terrible. I could not finish the plan (3 sets of 3x400). Though a bad workout there, running hard again felt beautiful.
From time-to-time, and increasingly more often, I am finding the good place when pace, attitude, distance and fitness as converge. These are the best runs, whether short or long.
Since then, I have been renewing my fitness, with an unplanned stalling in the winter. At it again, I am planning some hard races, and fully expecting to meet my time goals and beyond.
There you go. Something I do. I run. I have posted extensively at the Runner's Dilemma (over 250 posts and counting), complete with workouts, race results, pictures, reviews of running-related products, links to running sites, opinions about running issues.
If you run, I invite you to join us. Just see the link at the top of the page there.
What do you do?