I’ve run 12414.8 miles. That’s what my Athlete’s Diary software tells me. Halfway around the world. That’s 33 years of running and, honestly, it’s really not that much while trying to claim that I’m a runner.
Here are some numbers for those of you that actually run. I was a 4:47 miler. I have a 36:04 10k. I have a 3:36 marathon. See? Kind of “meh.”
I went to college and thought I’d go out for the track team. I went to an informational meeting for non-recruited athletes trying to walk on. They had you fill out a little index card with your personal bests. Confident, I asked the guy sitting next to me what his event was.
“The mile,” he said.
“Me, too. What’s your best time?”
“4:10,” he said.
I threw my index card like a frisbee and walked out. The defeat of the average runner. And that was thirty years ago, when I was ahead of the bell-curve, but behind the winners. Now, I’ve started to slide back to the right, inside that one standard deviation, and am dangerously close to where the clapper attaches to the top of the bell.
So why did I just sign up for the Grandma’s Marathon in 2016? It’ll be my 11th Grandma’s and my 15th marathon/ultramarathon of my life. The answer, as always when Shmo is talking, is long-winded.
I set my personal record (PR) in the marathon at Grandma’s Marathon in 2002. It was my first Grandma’s and my second marathon ever. 3:36. In 2013, I decided to try to beat it. I treated it like a second job. I got down to 170 pounds (currently 185). I did more long runs and more speedwork than I had since I was a teenager. It was a perfect cold day with a tailwind from Two Harbors to Duluth. I missed the time by four minutes. 3:40. I think I actually heard something in my head snap.
I shouldn’t feel bad about it. I was 14 years older. If you believe that every cell in your body is replaced every 7 years, I was two whole human beings removed from the guy that ran the PR. My age graded time was 3:25. According to the tables, I kicked my own ass pretty hard. But I still felt broken.
The following year I went back to work for the airline after retiring from the service. I was in flight training in a hotel inside the airport terminal in Houston. It was a crappy two month scenario during the run-up to Grandma’s in 2014. Instead of racing, I ran the entire 300-mile Superior Hiking Trail with my dog over a 5-month period to raise money for charity. It was a blast. I ran one race all year (Bangin’ in the Brush at Korkki) and, tellingly, it was a trail race.
In 2015, my son decided to start racing with the high school mountain biking team. I decided to try something different as Grandma’s approached. Instead of running Grandma’s in June, I’d ride the Lutsen 39er with my son. His team starts off their year by riding the Lutsen races. It was fun. It was kind of interesting to go cold turkey on running and just ride. I raced road bikes in college. Early season MTB training involved a lot of gravel grinding since the single-track in town was wet. All riding, some rollerskiing and now summer’s over. I just figured I’d ride since Sam was riding or I wouldn’t see him very much. I have to say, I’ve enjoyed seeing Duluth from a whole new perspective. Especially fun since COGGS is building a couple miles of new trail every six hours or so.
I still feel like I lost an old friend. I didn’t quit running because I had to. My knees and feet are still good. I saw that next year is the 40th edition of Grandma’s. They’re giving out a cool jacket for entering. I’m all about the swag. But the real reason I signed up is that I missed running.
Also, I’m still adjusting to my new line of work, even after being back for a year and a half. I go on the road four days a week or so. So, no rollerskiing and mountain biking during more than half of each week. But I can certainly run. Either on a treadmill or on some nearby trail. Training while on the road devolves to running, regardless of what I claim to be training for at home. I tried training for cycling before Lutsen. The stationary gym bikes were like riding a Fisher Price toy compared to my mountain bike. It wasn’t cutting it.
I’ve decided I’m going to train for the road marathon next year by running on trails. There are several reasons for this. One is that I can take the dog. I never took the dog on the long runs along the North Shore or Park Point. I can take him into the woods. Two is that I like to run on trails. I don’t like to pound down a straight line of pavement with cars flicking cigarette butts out the window at me while they’re texting. Three, trail training will lead me into some trail races I’d still like to try. Maybe the full length Voyager or Wild Duluth (50 or 62 miles). Maybe. Big maybe. I know I can finish Grandma’s under four hours if I trail run a lot. Maybe I can even have a good time approaching my personal best. Primarily I want to enjoy the training AND the marathon. Instead of dreading the training and MAYBE reaching a time goal like in 2013.
I’ve also noticed people around town seem to manage to do all of the above. They run. They ride. They ski. A lot of the same names are at every race in every sport. I’m more interested in my fitness than I am in my times anymore. I still want my skiing times to be up there. But my interest in running fast is waning. I’d like to run trails a lot and see if the race times improve as a symptom of actually enjoying my training. In the back of my mind, I’d like to use the time post-Grandma’s, when the singletrack is dry, to ride a lot and maybe try the Heck of the North next year. (Regarding the races I still want to do, there are worse kinds of mid-life crises to have, thank you very much.) So, this will officially break the year into thirds: Four months skiing, four months running, four months riding. (With running the common thread all year while I’m at work.)
Running is an elemental thing for me. Ever since the pitcher could throw three curve balls and strike me out in 8th grade, I’ve been running. My pop took me along and we ran through the corn fields on dirt roads in Cadillac, Michigan. My first coach, Dave Foley, (who writes for Silent Sports Magazine like I have) was a great influence and got me to see the beauty of the sport. I ran for Coach John Sanborn in Plymouth, New Hampshire for four years and was on the first team from my school to go to New England’s in cross country running in 1983. I put the ideas of preparation and results together in my head. Running taught me that key principle in life, more so than academics did. It’s all I want my kids to learn. Train. Prepare. Race. More preparation = Better performance. In running. In life.
So, I’m still training right now to ski as fast as I can. (Make no mistake: Cross country skiing is my number one thing and more important to me than running.) I’m going to ride because it’s a blast and my kids are doing it. But when I’m by myself on the road, I’ll be lacing up the shoes and running. And when I’m home and need to do a long day, it’ll be me and the dog somewhere along the Superior Hiking Trail. At the end of September, I finally admitted to myself that I needed to run and that I was going to sign up for Grandma’s in June of 2016. I laced up and headed out to run along the Charles River in Boston. It was glorious.
After a year-long absence, it’s almost like I must run. Like I’m compelled to. Like I have no choice. It’s simple. It’s two shoes and you head out the door. I might not be the fastest, but when I run, it feels like meditation. I’m content. I wouldn’t say joyful, but I’m at peace.
I tried to deny it. But after a brief break-up, I have to admit it:
Hello. My name is Eric. And I’m a runner.