Hey there Coach,
I remember my dad telling me he ran into you at a football game last year. You were still coaching cross country, teaching, and all seemed good and normal in the city of beech trees.
The reason for this email is two-part: A brief catch-up and a short (read long) anecdote from this past weekend.
I moved to New York last August following a stint of unemployment typical to kids of my generation. I’m now a copywriter/marketing associate at a startup company, and family, work, life, etc. is generally good.
My girlfriend signed up for a 5k last week so I was forced to as well. I hadn’t run a race that distance since I was 17, or a race at all since I was 18. I figured sub-20 would be a good goal. I’m still in shape and work out daily, but my running is usually limited to 10 minutes on the treadmill before I lift or the occasional ‘Fartlek’ style sprint workout while dodging tattooed pedestrians, ruptured fire hydrants, and dinosauric rodents.
The day of the race I got up at 6 AM on 4 hours of sleep and made my way via bus and subway the hour-fifteen minutes to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I arrived 20 minutes before the start and didn’t have time to engage in my pre-race cleansing ritual from high school. Such is life. I’m talking about pooping by-the-way.
The race started and I was in a comfortable 4th place after the first mile. We reached the halfway-point, and two of the three guys ahead of me continued on to the 10k course (in retrospect, I should’ve done the longer distance). The one person still ahead of me was a lanky youngster with pretty decent form. I figured if I could stick with him until the end, I could probably dispatch of him with a finishing kick.
This would not be necessary.
I got a jolt of energy seeing my girlfriend on the way back and ground this poor high schooler’s face into the concrete (metaphorically) — I passed him and didn’t let up the rest of the way. I won the damn thing by a minute-and-a-half in a time of 17:41. (The 10k finishers were more competitive — two finishers in the 36 minute range, a few more under 40 min).
Anyway, the lanky kid’s mom walked up to me after the race and asked if I would talk to her son. He’s 15 and apparently can run in the low seventeens, but started out too fast. I didn’t have much good advice for him then, but after thinking about it, maybe I can share some wisdom with your up-and-coming runners — some things I wish I knew eight (!) years ago. Not that I’m an expert, but I’ve spend a lot of time dwelling on what could’ve been, and looking back, there are a lot of things I wish I would’ve done differently.
In order of importance.
1. Quality Workouts/Do the workout as it’s designed to be done. I was so consumed with being the no. 1 runner on the team, I wouldn’t let anyone finish before me in any workout (particularly Banchek). I realize now that these workouts were designed for particular purposes: Russian intervals, Fartleks, race-pace exercises, etc. If these workouts are done correctly, with proper pacing, effort, and rest, they’ll yield much better results.
2. Rest. Seriously, just rest. I don’t think I took a day off running from age 15 to 18. I was very strong, but my body never had time to catch up to the training. I know Sundays are supposed to be recovery runs, but sleeping in and just stretching would’ve been way better for me personally. I remember Wertheim took a lot of Sundays completely off, and he ended up being a better runner than me (so I hear). Weekdays can be taken off too. If your post-interval day workout is a slow run, jog that thing at 10 minute pace. See the above comment — don’t compete on off days.
3. Know your body. Everyone’s different. In high school athletics, you don’t have the luxury of a personalized workout regimen, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do your research and try to figure out what works best for you. I read this book in college titled “The Sports Gene” by David Epstein, and it’s amazing what tangible gains one can make from even a basic education on physiology. I highly recommend your runners get ahold of this book over the summer. It’s an easy read.
4. Come to race-day over prepared. This is simple. I didn’t advance in the state tournament my senior year of because I failed to bring warmups on an unexpectedly cold day. I wasn’t even tired during the race — my body simply wouldn’t move as fast as I was telling it to. So to your runners: bring more clothes than you think you’ll need. Bring water. Bring snacks. Bring moistened toilet wipes for your nervous craps. Bring whatever you think you’ll need, because the moment you need it but don’t have it, it’ll really suck.
5. Relax. Stay loose. Race day is nerve-racking, every time. Breathe like a horse, roll your shoulders a few times. Adrenaline is great for short distances, but anything over 200 meters and you’re going to burn out like a small gasoline fire.
6. There’s only one race, and it’s called Life. Yes, I went there. Now I’m getting sappy. Whenever anyone says they live without regrets, I think that person dumb. Everyone has regrets, and it’s healthy to acknowledge them. Leaving everything on the track hurts, but ‘what if?’ hurts worse.
And that’s all from me. I got to hang out with Evan in December, and that was really cool. I’m still in touch with Wertheim as well, even though he’s on the West Coast getting a PhD in something dumb like Math. He always was so very unintelligent, wasn’t he?
Track and Cross Country really meant something to me. The sport of competitive running was undoubtedly the most formative activity – both mentally and physically – of my teenage years. For that I’d like to thank you, James. You were a great, dedicated coach and a positive influence. Your runners and students really listen to what you say and internalize it – I know I did.
Maybe this is the year we knock off those d-bags from Woodside. Maple Falls still sux, ditto Bentley.