Thursday, July 16, 2009

On the road again--running as a way of life (part 1)

After several weeks of personal speculation, I took the plunge and registered for my first half-marathon. I am working toward running a marathon in 2010 or 2011. We'll see how the 13.1 mile trek goes. This event is not a "bucket list" check off for me--I am training with purpose and wisdom using most of Jeff Galloway's training method. I plan on running for a long time. Recently I've been reflecting on how I arrived at my current relationship with running.

My running world began with a few factors:

1. My dad used to saunter up to the local junior high school track and run laps, donning knee high cotton-poly blend socks with a colorful athletic band, navy blue shorts with white piping, and one of his many penguin embroidered on the pocket golf shirts. Occasionally I walked with him to the track; he would run and I would kick my soccer ball on the infield. He ran anywhere from 3-6 miles. I liked the idea of running, but not necessarily running around a track.

2. Like any kid, I enjoyed a good running race--usually a sprint. These sprints help establish a playground pecking order of sorts. Winning races didn't necessarily make a kid Monarch of the Playground, but these races held currency for overall respect. If a bully was establishing a reign of terror, knowledge of speed provided a barrier to provocation. Though my body doesn't show it now, I once had speed currency. As a sprinter, I was in the top 3 in my grade throughout elementary school--I only knew this because in elementary school we had the Presidential Physical Fitness Test (PPFT) as a measurement of speed and other athleticism gauges--the school posted the best scores for the school to see. I was able to stay out of fights if only for the sheer fact that I could outrun almost any opponent.
In middle school, the Phys. Ed. teachers didn't make a point of posting the results of the PPFT, we had to go on our memories. One of my great memories of middle school (there were few, I loathed middle school for the most part) involved the 600-yard run for the PPFT. The 8th grade P.E. teacher was unpopular--old and cranky, but in amazing physical condition. He was also obsessed with showers after class, so much so that the male students often speculated on his sexual preference. He was military influenced--he had been teaching 8th grade P.E. for what seemed to be eons; he was my father's P.E. teacher. He was old school in that discipline was administered through physical activity. If you screwed around, you would have to go run a "Grand Tour" which was a lap around the campus athletic grounds, approximately 1/2 mile, give or take a few hundred yards. The 600-yard run for the PPFT was run on the "Grand Tour" track, though not a full lap. I had never run that distance before at a race pace, I didn't know what I was in for. I knew nothing of the pacing of track. I wasn't interested in running track--I was playing baseball while others competed in track and field. Besides, I wanted nothing to do with circle running.

We started the 600-yard run--most in the 7th grade seemed to look at this run like a marathon. My peers jogged out of the gate, though some of the track runners kept a strong early pace. I took off like a sprinter. I surprised myself that I could maintain the sprint pace. It was exhilarating, joyful with almost every step. I felt even more joy when I watched the surprise of my P.E. teacher, who wasn't expecting anyone to beat him to the finish line and had to sprint himself to meet me at the finish with his stop watch. I dusted the field and enjoyed that victory for weeks. If my memory serves me well, I ran that race in 1:32 (or was it 1:23?--doubtful). I felt like I was sticking it to that teacher and the track guys, but I also felt powerful that day, probably the only day I felt that way in middle school--and I attached it to running. It was probably my first runner's high.

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