I’m easily distracted.
Eight months ago, I embarked on a journey, a quest if you will, to become a Babywater. Right, I know that sounds stupid. It’s the phonic rendition of an acronym I made up—BABWTR. At the time, I thought it sounded tough and edgy. Reminiscent of Jason Bourne’s Treadstone. No, I don’t see the resemblance anymore, either.
I planned to transform myself into a Bad-Ass Back-Woods Trail Runner. The sort of dude who can run off into the wilderness at a fast pace without concerns. The guy who always knows where he’s going as long as he has a map and compass. The first person they call when a seven-year-old gets kicked out of the family car as a punishment for littering, and then disappears without a trace. The dude who needs only a roll of duct tape and some fishing line to save a life. The guy who runs all day without getting winded… like Minho in the Maze Runner… except thirty-five years older… and not cool… and not good looking.
This was my latest attempt at reinventing myself. Me, trying to become someone more interesting than I really am. Before this, it was Parkour. At least until I saw enough You Tube clips of teenagers falling on their heads off of roofs and walls and fences. I did go out a few times to practice slipping over picnic tables, but I stopped doing that when I missed my footing and scraped half the skin off of my shin-bone. The final straw was when I sent an email to a nearby Parkour gym describing myself as a physically fit fifty-one-year-old wanting to learn some freerunning basics. I even promised to write some articles about my experience, maybe in exchange for a membership. They never wrote back. I’m guessing they must have gone out of business.
So how am I doing as a Babywater? Well, I haven’t bought a compass yet; I’ve learned nothing about wilderness first aid; no one would ever call me to find their lost child (they’d wind up searching for me as well); but I’ve put in gobs of mountainous miles this year, and I ran a trail marathon a couple of weeks ago—so I’d say I pretty much nailed it.
My problem is I’m now the slowest runner I’ve ever been in my life. I was almost the slowest guy on my high school cross country team. My twenty-two minute 5Ks brought me in minutes after most of the runners finished. A few times, I even got lost with the other back-of-the-packers: we didn’t see where the real runners turned off. Today? I’d cherish that seven-minute pace like a little girl with her Christmas puppy.
My seven-mile pace is long gone. The fitter I get, the slower I go. My relaxing Saturday morning trail run is now anywhere from ten to eighteen miles. And it’s all done at a jog, a slow jog—ten, eleven, sometimes twelve minutes per mile. Barely faster than a hike. My glacial pacing crept up on me without me noticing. As I slowly increased my distance, it never occurred to me that I was losing speed. Not until I ran that marathon. So now I’m trying to step it up.
Pretty much every decision I make in my life starts with a book. Each time I read a book (which is constantly) by the time I’m ready to return it to the library, I’ve created a new self-improvement goal. This time my book was The Way of the Runner by Adharanand Finn. The book is about the effect Ekiden has had on Japan’s ability to compete in international racing. Ekiden is a style of long-distance relay racing that has recently taken over Japanese running. The result Finn describes is a nation of many excellent distance runners but zero elites. No one is fast enough to compete competitively in the international arena. As I completed my book about Japanese distance running, my takeaway was “time to focus on speedwork.”
In the three weeks since I finished The Way of the Runner, I’ve done three speed drills. These represent 100% of the speedwork I’ve attempted over the past three years or so. My three workouts? Quarter-mile hill repeats, a five-mile time trial, and a five-pack of mile repeats. Next week, I was planning to run 20 X 400—modeled after Quentin Cassidy’s 60 X 400 effort in Once a Runner (I know, Quenton ran three times my distance, but I’m not Quenton Cassidy. I’m just an old trail runner with three speed drills under his belt. Suddenly, it occurred to me that 20 X 400 might be too hard. If the immortal (and fictional) Quenton Cassidy was stripped raw by his sixty reps, why did I think the very mortal (and very real) me could handle twenty? This is what Google is for.
What I learned is what I already suspected. I can’t handle this workout. Maybe I can gut through it, sort of, but it will leave me as cooked… in weeks of recovery… stall my training. This workout will derail my upcoming 10K. The race I do every Labor Day in the nearby Catoctin Mountains.
I was over my head, out of my depth—so yesterday, I sent out this email:
Hey <Name Deleted>
I’ve decided recently (today) to take my running more seriously. The last time I did any thoughtful training runs, I was in my invincible early-thirties. So, in truth there wasn’t much thought, I just ran hard and got results. That sort of training doesn’t work for me anymore. I’m interested in finding a coach that will work with me to improve my performance; give me some external goals; add some creativity; maybe some corrective instruction…
Are you (or anyone you know) qualified to provide this sort of arm-chair coaching to an aging runner? I’ve been injury prone in the past, but my recent diet changes (no more alcohol) seem to have fixed that.
Probably, I couldn’t pay anything, but I’d do my best to barter something of value (I’m married to a massage therapist, you know). Plus, I doubt I’m looking for much effort—I’m just looking for someone to gain an understanding of where I’ve been, where I am now, evaluate my goals, suggest weekly workouts, and of course track my progress. Left to my own devices, I’ll never get anywhere.
PS – Who ever coaches me is going to get written about. A lot. That may be an enticement, but more likely, it’s a warning.
Much like my Parkour email, I haven’t heard anything back (yet). But I will.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
FYI: This BABWTR of mine is a real thing. Here are my links to the series:
Symphony of Sounds: A BABWTR prequel—Running with Tourettes
Babywater, the Beginning: Looking for more out of my running
On Death and Living and Running: My realization that trail running includes risk
SPOT On: Trying to stay on the grid, while lost in the woods
Junk: Understanding that every run doesn’t need to be productive
Spinning, Running, Bikes, Bikes, Bikes: My tricky method of using Spin as a workout
Suffering: The“je ne sais quoi” of trail runners
Big Elk Marathon: A race report after a particularly tough day.