Wiping the Slate Clean – January 2002

I never expected to have glory days as a runner. I certainly never expected that if I had glory days they would all be behind me. As I enter my second decade as a runner, it’s time to wipe the expectation slate clean and start from scratch. This year I’m going to retrace my steps as a runner. From 5K to Marathon, I’m going to have a brand new set of glory days.

I actually have a plan—to start with the 5K and work my way up the distance ladder as the year goes on. This time I want to take the time to prepare for each race distance. I want to have a goal and a strategy. I want to stand at the starting line and feel the nervousness that I felt when it was all-new.

I used to think of the 5K as a beginner’s distance. Many of us start our racing careers with 5K’s and move to longer races because we can. My opinion of the 5K changed after I watched a professional 5,000-meter race on a track. This was no group of beginners, but a group of warriors fighting for every inch of ground.

The truth is that I never got very good at running 5K’s. I either ran the first mile way too fast or way to slow, which meant the second mile was always run in a state of panic or recovery. The result of this lack of understanding was that the final mile of most of my 5Ks was when I spent quality time telling myself what a lousy a runner I was.

Since I couldn’t figure out the 5K, I moved up to the 10K. A well run 10K is a work of art. It’s too long to go for broke and too short to cruise. A 10K requires a solid training base, a thoughtful race strategy, the brains to stay inside your abilities, and the courage to hang in there in the final miles. The beauty of the 10K is that you can do all that and still walk normally an hour after the race.

I wasn’t anywhere close to competitive at the 10K, but I really liked the distance. My one flash of sheer ecstasy as a runner came at the end of a 10K. I don’t think I will ever be able to physically approach that day again, but I’m going to work as hard as I can to find that emotional moment. The effort will be well worth it.

Like the 5K, I’ve never really figured out how to run a half marathon, but this year I’m going to try. Most of the time I’ve run the half marathon as if it was a full marathon, then was pleasantly surprised to see the finish line so early in the race. (Actually, my half marathon time would be a pretty good full marathon time.)  Every now and then I’ve run a half as if it was a really long 10K. That didn’t work either. I usually burned up everything I had by mid race and then spent the rest of the time talking to the volunteers and cops.

Then there’s the marathon—26.2 miles of mystery. I’ve run 27 marathons and can say with complete confidence that I still don’t have the faintest idea how to run them. I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried breaking it up into small races, dividing it up into shorter distances, and taking it one mile at a time. I’ve tried eating and not eating. I’ve tried hydrating and not hydrating. I’ve tried little foil packets. I’ve even made the biggest mistake and pumped myself full of painkillers. The distance remains a mystery.

Later this year I’m going to take all the lessons I’ve learned in training for and racing the distances leading up to the marathon and apply them to the marathon itself. I’m going to try to be a little better prepared and a whole lot smarter.

This year I’m going to stop looking back over my shoulder at the runner I was and start squinting into the future to see the runner I’m going to be. I invite all of you to do the same. Who knows, we may all find out that there’s no truth to the saying, “The older I get, the better I used to be.”

Waddle on, friends.

One Comment

  • Catherine Rabel says:

    Dear John,
    I have read a lot of your articles over the years. I had a Total Left hip replacement in 4-2-2015. I have run many 5K’s and 3 half marathons. I had great PT for over 6 months. My ortho tells me no running. I am walking a lot and very briskly. I feel I can almost run. Pls give advice to m make another dream happen for me to finish the Chicago Marathon ere in Chicago come true with my disadvantage. I have no problem walking and very fast. Can you give me a plan to match my 1998 Chicago Marathon time of 4:38 or even beyond that, since I do not have a advantage of running full out. Pls let me know if this is possible. A long time reader and follower of the 2nd boom.

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