The Dude & what he makes me do

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Excerpt from Chapter 8: The Dude & what he makes me do


t was a typical hot Bakersfield summer morning and although it was not yet 10 AM, sweat dripped from all of the triathletes. Even still, Travis had trained for this moment. He parked his bike in the transition area, took off his helmet and headed to the run course. While not a sprinter, Travis attacked the course with the gusto of a competitive athlete, running on the edge of exhaustion. His training let him know that the pain of the switch from biking to running would soon be the pain of a solitary run in the heat. And so he ran all out around the cross-country course until he arrived at the finish line. Disappointed that other seven-year-olds had already crossed the line, he began to re-examine the race, wondering where gains could be made. While I knew that the likely answer was to choose his genetics better next time, I understood the process.
I am decidedly mid-packer. I have analyzed the results of races: if only I had run 3 seconds per mile faster, I might have finished 10th instead of 11th, or if I had run one age group older (or younger in many cases) I might have placed 6th. Maybe I can train more or harder or faster or taper more or taper less next time. Yes, I understood intuitively what this 7-year-old in a Speedo was thinking.  And it is that train of thought that not only reduces the sting of never winning, but that also helps provide the small victories that sustain a base level of motivation and enthusiasm over time.
About the same time as this, I read about mental philosophies for overcoming a challenge by becoming or merging with the challenge. The mantras were mockingly bandied about the house: “I am the road”. “I am the hill”.  While none of us converted to a new transcendental believer, we did come to appreciate the joy of recognizing a challenge, facing that challenge and enjoying the challenge – whether we conquered it or as occasionally happened, the challenge required another attempt on another day.
Every athletic endeavour by Travis was approached with that competitive spirit of overcoming the odds and tasting victory. And he projected that approach for his activities onto his interpretation of my activities. He wanted me to win. I held no illusions about winning overall, but I understood that winning was more than showing up. It was preparation. It was effort. It was taking risks (calculated, of course.) My success was internally measured on my ability and my performance relative to my ability rather than by unattainable plaques and trophies. But it was also judged by Travis’s perception of the events through his own prism. I wanted to fulfill my need and obligation to make him proud of my midpack accomplishments without validating mediocrity.
Flash forward through the years. Travis has long ago graduated from adolescent sports leagues and team sports, and has chosen running as the arrow in his quiver for staying fit and trim. This has been mainly a summer activity outside or treadmill-based during the frozen Boston winters. I joined in on these runs as often as possible to get one-on-one time with him. The topics varied from serious to silly to silent and the speed and distances varied, but by putting one foot in front of the other, we logged good mileage during his breaks.
This year was similar but different. I started out the year by running consistently and adding distance. I signed up for an April marathon and so training started not long after the ball fell at Time’s Square. I generally track my miles only when I am training for a marathon, but since training coincided with January 1st, I had embarked on a record-keeping adventure. I ran the first 5 days of the year, 3 of them with Travis, and recorded 40 miles by the end of the first week (6 days). The holidays were over and the runs with Travis gave me a chance to find out what Travis had planned. He had talked of taking a semester off, but I learned on one of the runs that he would be back at school. We talked about the pros and cons and I tried my best to be a listener. No doubt that this was my perception and that he viewed this as intruding and advice giving, but I took few firm stands. We ran on January 1st, but I only asked questions about the night before. In fact, we ran together almost every day and I only asked a few questions and the answer was simple enough: he would almost certainly be in school.
That first week was over 40 miles and I fell into a groove. Winter was mild and I exceeded 40 miles almost every week as my long runs stretched out. And my total mileage crept up, since we didn’t take any vacations that kept me from running, and I continued preparing for the marathon. But the real increase came after the marathon. Travis had indeed decided at the last minute to take a semester off to concentrate on his entrepreneur’s platform, and spent much of the month of May with us. So I took an entire week off after the marathon, but then I had a running buddy with limited time ready to make up for his time off in the frozen tundra. Rather than an easy glide back into running, he had me out there 5 or 6 days per week, even if it was only 2 miles running to and from the gym. Yes, he had me in the gym lifting weights again. I was competitive with him the first week, but after that he improved constantly and I remained level. Still, my body firmed a bit and the miles accumulated.
He left at the end of May and Maria and I had travel plans. She took me on a fantastic backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail for forty miles over four days with a four-ton pack. The company was fantastic, the scenery wonderful and the food sufficient (especially the espresso-bean-laced M&M trail mix). But there were no entries into my mileage log. I had never been concerned about that before and I wasn’t now. We followed up on that with a 6-day trip to the Caribbean. I hardly ever run on these type trips but Maria insisted on activity and so I ended up with twenty-some miles instead of a doughnut in the log. Back home I ran another more normal level - into the 20’s - for a few weeks. At the end of June, I had run 1,000 miles for the year. This was probably a record for me, but usually my annual mileage suffered later with a week at the beach, travel for work, a trip to see family or friends, or some extended period of inactivity. But Travis was back at the end of June and I made it back into the 40’s. Most of our runs were 7 or 8 miles with a 10 thrown in for good measure. Then the week of July 4th, I ran hard and Travis ran hard. My mileage pushed into the 50’s. This was an unusual level for me and particularly unusual for me in the heat of the summer and with no particular reason to be training. This was followed by a week at the beach where Travis would set his alarm at a surprisingly early hour (for him), and still the sun and humidity would have preceded us. On alternate days Maria joined in. I added a forty-plus week when I normally might have run once.
Travis pushed up his mileage to forty plus and I added a run a week with a friend and the miles piled on. I had never felt stronger or fitter. I could eat everything. I lacked a bit of speed but I had plenty of endurance.  Around Labor Day as Travis had reached peak mileage and packed his bags to head on back to school, I crossed the 1,400-mile threshold and it occurred to me that I might be looking at a big number for the year – 2,000 miles or more. This impressed me. I don’t set a lot of goals and I announce even fewer, but I told Travis that I planned to run 2008 miles for the year 2008. When you make an announcement like this, you get all sorts of questions, but runners really have one thing they want to know – what are the implications of that statement? That means, okay, Q. how many miles have you run? A. 1400. Implication 1: 1400 miles through Labor Day means that you have averaged about 175 miles per month or roughly 40 miles/week. Implication 2: You still need to run 608 miles. There are less than 4 months, so that means an average of a little less than 40 miles a week. – Wait. Forty miles a week is a lot – I usually average that only when training for a marathon. What if I travel or take a few days off or don’t run at Christmas?
I actually didn’t see it as that big of a challenge. I thought that it would be a big achievement for me, but well within my reach given my head start. In races, you can’t put time in the bank to borrow against later, but with mileage you can. I kept putting in just the right amount to keep me on schedule to make 2008 and there appeared little doubt. I convinced myself that I could rest the following year. Then came the Thanksgiving holidays and Travis was back. I ran an 8K race Thanksgiving morning followed by 6 miles with Travis. Eleven miles on Thanksgiving? It was obvious that the difference for me that year was running when I normally didn’t. It seems obvious that by running more often and longer that the total mileage will increase, but I felt as though the big difference came from not having gaps in training that normally sneak in and are unnoticed. I realized that many of those are when family or friends are around and I take time off. The biggest difference this year had been that Travis had been around and caused me to get out the door at the exact times that I would normally not run, plus the miles with Maria on vacation. They weren’t there all of the time and so I did most of the normal stuff on my own. That takes consistency as well.
On December 1st, with a full month of 31 days remaining, I had 1,911 miles and needed fewer than one hundred more. I ran 10 miles that day and started wondering how high the total would go. I was already in record territory so every mile set a new record. Would I ever get near this again? Should I lay off now so that the goal would be achievable in future years or should I go for the maximum or just let it happen? As I mentioned it to others, the most popular idea was to run exactly 2008 miles and to hit that magic mile just before midnight. I understood the drama and desire for pageantry, but no way was I risking that I might not accomplish that on New Year’s Eve, even though I lacked any concrete plans for the night and had no desire to skip a few weeks of running to hold the total down – particularly since the Christmas holidays would offer runs with both Travis and Maria.
Once I knew that I would exceed 2000 miles, that figure became the number to celebrate as well as what ever the final number would be. My running buddy Scott was perhaps more intrigued by the accomplishment than me and kept track of the remaining numbers. But then a car smashed into his car and injured his leg. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it took him off of his leg for a few weeks and he wasn’t going to be there to run the big mile with me. However, with only a little planning and adjusting of miles, I realized that I could be in front of his house exactly as the mile rolled over (particularly since with no GPS or watch, it was all an approximation). So on December 16th, I ran up to his door and he used a crutch or jumped or somehow covered the 10 yards that made the difference, and then I was back on the road.
It’s funny, but when you run a lot of miles, you just keep running a lot more miles, and I added on another 88 before the ball fell again at Time’s Square. I had a lot of great runs and conversations, but the only documentation of that is a small number in an Excel file. I took it easy at the end of the year and finished with a round number of 2,088. This meant that I had averaged about 40 miles/week for the year. So I rested at the end and started New Year’s Day with a 16-miler. I doubt that I make it there this year, but I am off to a good start. I am the road. I am the mileage log. Hopefully, I had passed the test of a 7-year-old athlete one more time.
Note: I’m not going to make it to 2,000 this year, but Scott is – exceeding his all-time yearly best by over 500 miles – and it shows in his runs!!!

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