(From my Silent Sports Piece in Aug 2004)
I must’ve followed my coffee cup around the house ten times one day this spring before I finally admitted defeat. There was no way I was going out in the pouring, 40-degree rain to get in my long run for the week. Even though I was registered to run in Grandma’s Marathon here in Duluth, MN, I couldn’t summon up the studliness to venture outside. Dejected, I tromped down into the basement and tried to salvage something by jumping on the treadmill for a half hour or so.
Fortunately, I’ve set up my little workout room to keep me fired up. Well, I turned on the old crappy VCR and plugged in an old tape that had Lance Armstrong interviews from a few years ago. And darned if I didn’t manage to push through the wall of boredom and get two hours of running in. Normally, I would rather shave my head with a cheese grater than run on a treadmill that long. We only really have the thing as a safety valve in case we get trapped: by darkness after a long workday or by a napping baby when you’re home alone. What was it about the video I was watching that kept me going? What fired me up?
I’m just a citizen racer. I’m in my late 30’s and have a job, wife, and two kids. I’ve got aspirations to ski my way into Wave One from Wave Two at the Birkie. Like they say, Skiers are Made in the Summer. I cash in a lot of chips to run around and ski race all winter. You’d think that summer would be “time off.” But I actually have to be more of a time manager. Because I’m putting in (or should be) more volume. And I have to balance that against things that I’d like to do with my whole family. The perennial battle.
I’m not going to make the U.S. team anytime soon. So, when I cut into family time, I feel like I’m stealing. This means I target weird times to put in my hours. Like really early. Ow. That hurts. Or it means wicked late on a treadmill in the basement. Ow. That hurts worse. I’ve actually started to watch what I eat. Super Ouch. But I keep swimming upstream to Wave One. Why?
Steve Prefontaine, well known distance runner from the 70’s supposedly said, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift.” This actually gets me out of bed at 6 AM. On a Saturday. But it won’t be the reason that I actually finish the 4 x 4 minute intervals later this year. The reason is in my gut, not in my head.
The cycling game has been pretty inspiring of late. I used to ride (don’t anymore) but I follow the sport like the mad Italian tifosi (cycling fans). A couple years ago, Tyler Hamilton, American cyclist, came in 2nd in the Tour of Italy after he’d wrecked earlier in the race. Afterwards, he figured out he had a broken shoulder. In the 2003 Tour de France, Tyler won a mountain stage …with a broken collarbone. The press figured that this collarbone thing was a publicity stunt because there is no way…impossible…for a guy to ride the whole Tour with a broken collarbone. He actually had a press conference to show the x-rays. Yup, broken. I’m infinitely curious as to whether this kind of strength is in me.
I remember when I was a Nordic ski racer in high school, we would go out and do intervals. I think we actually called them “repeats.” This was 1985 or so in Plymouth, NH and there was a guy from Middlebury College jumping into our workout with us. I think he was dating a girl that lived in town that used to be on our high school team before she graduated and went to Middlebury. We were going around a 1k loop as fast as we could and I seem to remember us doing about 10 of them. My coach was there with a clipboard and a watch. On just one of the 10 times around, I looked at the clipboard and I’d actually beaten the college guy. And he was from Sweden. And about 6 feet tall. Hey, man, I’d arrived and I couldn’t resist rubbing it in.
“Hey, Ebbe, I beat you on one of these laps,” I said.
“Yes, but I have a broken leg.”
Turns out, he’d been double poling the whole way each time due to a fracture in his lower leg that he was trying to work around. There’s some motivation.
Everybody knows Lance Armstrong’s story. He stared right into the maw of Mr. Death. Look what he’s like now. What did he see?
I found a couple passages that inspire me in my gut. One of them is from a Stoic philosopher, named Marcus Aurelius. Yeah, he was a Roman Emperor. Yeah, he was the one in that movie with Russell Crowe. I guess he took to writing things down when he wasn’t slaughtering barbarians. Maybe Lance is dancing on the pedals over the Alps because of this:
“Live not as though there were a thousand years ahead of you. Fate is at your elbow; make yourself good while life and power are still yours.”
–Book Four, Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
I rollerski because I’m some middle-aged guy fighting my mortality? Well, not only that. I guess when I’m out there shedding weight, lowering my resting heart rate, wearing out pole tips on the pavement, I’m actually creating something. I’m getting myself ready for competition. The Birkie? Some people smirk. Like I’m playing some kids game. Act your age, Chandler. I don’t see it that way. Hit it, Steve:
“A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways they’re capable of understanding.” –Steve Prefontaine
“Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run.” –Steve Prefontaine
So, maybe I’m not stealing. Later in the spring, I left the treadmill behind and ventured out into a different 40-degree drizzle. I was thinking about next year’s Birkie. It’s worth getting ready for. Two hours of wet and cold trail running isn’t so bad. I’m a muddy Michelangelo working for Wave One.