So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Runner? Or Athlete? Depends On The Definition

"I’m an emotional guy, and I’m in control of that emotion, turning it off and on like a faucet. But I’m an athlete above everything. I have to run and ride and move, move, move. I am…myself, not a story of my past." Tom Warren, 1979 Ironman world champion, quoted in 'The Old New Lore of Running' (Scott Tinley, published ca. 2009)

Every person who has aspired at one time or another to write has suffered from writer's block - NOTHING seems to come from the pen; the fingers should be dancing patterns on the keyboard but end up tapping the remote control. This week was one where the remote control felt more of my fingertips than did my keyboard. At least, until a friend posted a comment the other morning:

"I wonder if I'm on pace to even run 200 miles this year! After 21 years of competitive racing, running upwards of 110 miles per week, have I given up the "runner" title? The question is: What allows a person to call themself a runner? A certain amount of mileage per week? Something deeper? Honestly, the main reason why I'm not running is because I have no motivation to run alone. I miss having a group to run with here."

Unlike most of the guys and gals I've worked with in the past, Ryan is one of those "stud" runners many "sorta-fast" runners wish to emulate. He spent a year running with legendary running coach John McDonough at Arkansas, so it's a no-brainer: he's hard-pressed to recreate that kind of environment where he presently lives.

There are not many situations which can compare to scholastic running. The year I spent running at The University of Tampa (a Division II school) was probably the most fulfilling year of my life, not so much because I was running but because I was around a bunch of people who really loved running. I was ten years older than the rest of the team, save for two or three ex-military guys close(r) to my age, but there still was that common bond. The rest of the day was focused on teaching, but the best part was the first two hours of the day; stretching at the track, running on Davis Islands as the sun came up over the water, cool-down strides in the grass, bee-essing over breakfast, etc. After graduation, I ran with the team and the coaches as my work schedule permitted...and most of the time it did, until I moved north.

Ryan said he got into the best shape outside of his college fitness by making a pact with a friend: They agreed to meet for at least one threshhold workout a week. Sure, they did trail runs and long runs together five or six days a week, but there always was that one central workout they would do together. Ryan wasn't training for any specific race distance, but he loved the fact he was accountable to meet with at least one other person. Last summer he coached a youth cross-country program in St. Augustine, which gave him the opportunity to run with several runners at his ability level; being out there with them for the summer, doing the runs, workouts, and strength work kept him sharp, accountable and fit.

Since then, he's been trying to work, save money, get certifications and look for his next home. It naturally infringes on training, but is further limited by his lack of consistent training partners. Ryan lives near another college alumnus but their work schedules don't quite match up. So overall, being a pretty good athlete does have its limitations in training; it's either accept the limitations of training he told me, he could probably "just shut up and train."

To have runners at ones' ability level does make the prospect of running a workout little less boring. I was going to use the term "daunting," but boredom seems a greater negative influence to me than physical limitation or fatigue. And it's always great to have a Plan B workout in those cases. Ryan's probably going to need a moderately audacious goal, like "six-weeks-to-sub-16-5K-a'la Runners' World" to push him out the door. Ultimately, he says, he would love to get back into 800/1500 track-racing shape; one step at a time.

In John L. Parker's book "Again to Carthage," the follow-up to "Once A Runner," Olympic gold medalist Bruce Denton advises his friend Quenton Cassidy to "live like a clock." That counsel might be the thing Ryan needs while working, learning, earning...and looking for the next phase in his own journey. I told him to think about getting out, enjoying running - even training - without stressing a particular performance goal. Work, professional development, marriage, real world responsibilities; life often transforms that formerly-white-hot focus on running a little closer to gray. And Ryan's not the first top-shelf guy I've encountered who has dealt with the problem. I've seen guys not dropping out as much as scaling back; playing smarter, ensuring the time and mileage they DO invest is truly quality stuff.

It's tougher to recover at 28 than it was at 18. And when we reach 38, or 48, we learn quickly what runs are more damaging than beneficial.

Sometimes we all need a little recharge. It doesn't mean we're "no longer a runner," but at worst we're no longer a "serious athlete." Depends on your definition of serious.

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