Sunday, May 12, 2013

What ‘Running Renaissance’ Means to Me

My first post promised a prompt explanation of why I chose “Running Renaissance” as the name for this blog. Yeah, yeah, this isn’t very prompt, but I’ve been mulling it over, and I think I’ve figured out how to best explain myself. 

As I noted, I’ve been running for 17 years. This works out to more than half my life. That said, my running hasn't progressed on a continuum but, rather, has hit peaks and troughs, both of which are worth examining to fully understand why I feel like I'm in the midst of a running Renaissance. 

My running life can be roughly and briefly divided into four time frames. 

Fast Times: August 1995 - October 2001

This is when I grew the most as a runner, from the guy in basketball shoes to the guy who, if memory serves me right, ran a sub-30 5-mile cross-country race as a college sophomore. I fully identified myself as a runner, even though I was never the fastest on the team and sometimes to the chagrin of my college roommates, who had to smell my stinky running clothes. (I learned that hanging them out an open window only goes so far.) 

This era ended with the 2001 BayState Marathon. It was my first 26.2 miles. For 16 miles, I maintained a 7:10 pace, which was setting me up nicely to qualify for Boston. (This was when BQ for men under 35 was 3:10.) Coincidentally, 16 miles was also the length of my longest training run; after clinging to a telephone pole for dear life, I walk-jogged my way home. 

Strange Days: October 2001 - October 2007

I ran less during these years. This was an accident of my calendar -- first the last three semesters of college were busy as all hell, then I was working the wonky hours of a newspaper reporter and finally I had a 45-minute commute to my next job. I never stopped altogether, mind you, but let’s just say weekday runs were few and far between. 

Things picked up toward the end. I squeezed in my second marathon, the 2006 BayState, but a bout with runner’s knee during my taper led me to take things slow. Naturally, I took this personally and vowed to come back stronger. I recommitted to training, raced more and ran my marathon PR at 2007 Baystate -- 3:13:02. (Why BayState? It’s flat, it’s fast and it’s 15 minutes from my parents’ house.) 

The Wonder Years: October 2007 - November 2012

Missing a BQ by three minutes naturally had me dreaming of sprinting down Boylston Street and into the arms of an eagerly waiting throng of supporters. It never happened, of course. My BQ attempts all failed -- I fell short of distance goals during training, I neglected speed workouts, I spent an inordinate amount of time pulling weeds in my garden and, simply put, I didn’t take training seriously. The nadir was the 2012 Manchester Marathon, during which I bonked like I have never bonked before and ran a PW of 3:51 and change. 

The Renaissance: November 2012 - present

All runners wallow after a bad race. This is especially true for marathons, as we spend months preparing for a single race that can fall apart for any number of reasons. After Manchester, I brooded for several days and even went so far as to question whether I had even one more marathon in me. 

Then I stopped feeling sorry for myself. (Like all runners do when faced with disappointment.) I signed up for a Turkey Trot and surprised myself with a sub-7:00 pace over 5 miles. I committed to the Runner’s World Run Streak -- and, just as importantly, the Runner’s World Pun Streak. (I lasted about 12 days until my toe started to bother me and I opted not to push it, but it was still pretty fun.) I signed up for dailymile so I could join the 21st century and stop tracking my mileage in a day planner. I committed to a general yet flexible schedule that included at least one speed workout each week. 

Along the way, a funny thing happened: I started getting faster and feeling better. My 5K, 5 mile and 10K race times dropped. My training runs got faster. My thighs burned a little more after speed workouts. My flexibility improved (albeit from a fairly low baseline). Despite my Manchester debacle, I started to get excited about the prospect of running another marathon. 

"Renaissance" is French for "rebirth." Over the last few months I’ve undergone a running rebirth of sorts, to the point that I’m almost -- almost -- as fast as I was in high school. Age and amount of gray hair aside, the difference is that I’m not going to take this for granted. It took me more than a decade to get back to this point, and this time I’ll be damned if I let it slip away again.