Friday, January 30, 2015

Race Recap: ORRC Y2K Run

Two medals - One for finishing and one for winning my age group!
For so many reasons, I look forward to the Oregon Road Runners Club’s Y2K Run every year.  For starters, I have to love any race that starts a mile from my house and doesn’t require me to get up before dawn to run.

Add to that the fact that the 10K, which I have run each of the last three years and four of the last five, is on a course along the southwest corner of Forest Grove is one I run on a regular basis (albeit the opposite direction).  It has a reputation as a well-organized race and, as the first in the ORRC’s annual 10K Series, is well attended with over 600 entrants in both the 10K and the run’s longer distance (this year a full-distanced half marathon).

With both my wife, Melissa, and I entered in the 10K Series this year, the Y2K Run was again a no-brainer.  While she drove down to Tom McCall Upper Elementary for the race, I ran the mile as a warm-up.  The temperature was cool, around 45 degrees, and the skies were overcast, but no precipitation fell, which made for a pleasant morning to run.

With the new half marathon distance, adjustments were made to the start that had it curving around the school’s bus loop.  The change made for a narrow starting line, but that was not a problem as the race was chip timed.

While still coming off the Holiday Half less than a month ago, I wanted to come out and get a strong run in to start the year before I settle in to marathon training.  Like the Holiday Half, my goal was to try to be able to run at a consistent pace (6:45 per mile) and maintain that for six miles.  That would be a challenge considering the three hills on the second half of the course, including the long climb up Ritchey Rd., past Forest View Cemetery right at mile six.

The narrow starting line had me funneled back more in the crowd than I would have liked, but I managed to break free from the pack before making the turn onto Pacific Ave., into town.  I settled into a steady pace as we entered the Old Town neighborhood, but quickly figured out that I was faster than I would have liked.  I cruised through the first mile in 6:27, but figured I would see how well I could hold that pace.

As it worked out, not too well.  Despite running on flat surfaces, I went through the second mile at 6:39.  I settled in behind a woman with a Portland Running Company Race Team singlet for much of the third mile and came through at a 6:44 mile.  Well…at least I was back on the pace I was planning for.  Had their been a 5-kilometer mark, I would have come through in just under 20 minutes.

Not long after the third mile marker was the first hill on Stringtown Rd.  I went ahead and put a surge in so I could allow for some slowing on the hill.  I made it through the fourth in 6:47, charged again up the small second hill and made it through the fifth mile in 6:45 and 33:23 cumulative time.  I ran for the next third of a mile with a fellow racer who lamented that the last two miles had pulled him off his pace as well.  When the pace felt too slow, I went ahead and surged on, trying to hammer some of the flat on Ritchey before heading up the hill.

While I did a training run on the course the Tuesday before the race, nothing prepares you for that kind of climb in a race after six miles of giving it your all.  The hill was a challenge, but the good news is that once you reach the top it is only a quarter mile to the finish line.  I crossed the line in 41:38, slower than the year before, but still feeling like I put in a solid effort.

Then there was Melissa.  She had only been running again for two weeks after injuring her toe the night before Thanksgiving.  She was determined, especially with committing for the 10K Series, to make it out for the Y2K Run.  Not only did she make it out, but she cruised.  She finished in 59:49, running a 9:39 per mile pace and finishing in under an hour.  A great effort.  I am proud of her.

As we prepared to take off and get our girls to a birthday party, I talked for a few minutes with some of my colleagues from Oregon Distance Runner magazine.  Melissa came up to me and surprised me with the fact that I had placed 12th and won my age group!  I believed her, but I had to see it for myself.  Sure enough, I had won my age group for the first time in forever and convinced Melissa that I needed to stay behind and collect my age group award.  And it allowed me to enjoy a couple of the tasty post-race pancakes.

The Good: This race is always well-managed, and race director Barb Schimmel put on another great event.  There were plenty of volunteers to monitor the course, direct traffic at major intersections and man water stations.  The partnerships developed with the Forest Grove High School cross country team and Liberty Fit helped provide those volunteer bases.  The course is challenging, but not too challenging for a first race of the year.  Being the race’s 30th year, the race shirt commemorated the various incarnations of the event (the longer distance used to change to match the year.  Since 2000, it had been a 20K, 20.01K, 20.02K, etc.).  The post-race pancake breakfast is a long-standing tradition and there is always enough for anyone.

The Bad: There was one spot where course management could have been better.  On mile three, runners cross over from the Hwy. 47 bike path onto Stringtown Rd.  At that point, runners took it upon themselves to move to the right side of the road (running with traffic) and went a half-mile before moving back to the left side of the road (opposing traffic).  As it is an open course, it would be safer to have course monitors made sure runners stay on the side of the road opposing traffic.  As mentioned earlier, the starting line was a little too narrow for a race with 600-plus runners. 

Of Note: Not long after the race, Barb Shimmels and Bonny Benton announced that they were stepping down as the co-race directors for the Y2K Run after a six-year run. As this is the time I have run the race, I can't express my gratitude for their work in having put this race together year after year. Well done, ladies!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Race Recap: Foot Traffic Holiday Half

Signing up for a race in December in the Pacific Northwest is always a chancy proposition.  Not only is it in the middle of the holiday season, but also you never know what Mother Nature will throw at you.   It could be sunny, could be mild.  Chances are it will be rainy and cool, with a dose of east winds if you are in Portland.

I knew all of that when I signed up for the Foot Traffic Holiday Half, and thankfully Mother Nature was kind to me and the other 2,000-plus runners who gathered at the Adidas North America headquarters that morning.  There was a nip of cold in the air, but the fog burned off to reveal the sun just before the 8 a.m. start, making my choice of shorts and a short-sleeved shirt the right choice for attire.  The race announcer let the crowd know it was the best weather in the five years of the event. Lucky us!

Unlike my previous runs in 2014, this final run had tangible goals attached to it.  After my Achilles’ injury reprise last winter, I ran the Eugene Marathon half without any expectations and nothing more than base training.  I finished just 19 seconds off my half marathon PR (despite having spent the previous four days on my feet working at the IAAF World Junior Track & Field Championships).  There wasn’t much expectation for Hood To Coast either, except to have fun and enjoy the experience.

The Holiday Half was to serve as a litmus test, to see if I was ready to make another charge at a spring marathon in 2015 and to see how well I could hold a pace that would put me on track to qualify for the Boston Marathon

The course, an out-and-back along Willamette Blvd. past the University of Portland and into the St. John’s neighborhood, was flat for the most part.  The part from the St. John’s Bridge to the Adidas campus is part of the Portland Marathon course, which bred familiarity.  While the course set up well, I knew that the winter weather could make a race challenging.  I would give it my best shot anyway.

As part of my test, I planned to do keep mile splits on my watch.  During races I usually just glance down, note the time and figure my pace accordingly.  Somehow, at this race, keeping the splits seemed like a good idea.

Positioned well at the start, I got out well over the first half mile, but had to caution myself not go too fast.  I started into my pacing mantra, “If it feels too slow, it is probably about right.”  Through the first mile I was at 6:56.  Just about right.  The second mile was 6:54, a little faster, but not too bad.  The third mile, at University of Portland, was 6:56.  I slowed a bit on the fourth mile to 7:03, but made up in the fifth mile to go back to 6:54.

I was hitting my pace, but my body also felt right.  In the Thanksgiving 4-Miler I had run three weeks earlier, I felt winded when I tried to push to a 6:45 mile.  In this race, my body seemed to know that this is what it needed to do.

The next two miles were 6:47 and 6:55 before I finally slowed down to 7:03 in the eighth mile.  This mile included the race turnaround (longer out than in) and also saw me take in my race day fuel of gummy bears.  By the ninth mile I cruised back into the central part of St. John’s at 6:54.  While I needed some positive self talk to remember to hold my pace, miles 10 and 11 were right on target at 6:58 and 6:54.

In the 12th mile I could feel my body dragging a bit, but part of that was searching for the mile marker.  Either no mile 12 marker was put out or I missed it, so I spent the last 2.1 miles wondering if I was slowing or hitting my pace.  When we reached the split between Willamette Blvd. and Killingsworth, I knew that I had gone past the 12-mile mark. 

What I didn’t realize was how close to the finish I actually was.  Two more curves and suddenly I was on N. Greeley, with the finish line a quarter mile in front of me.  When I saw the time on the clock, I surged as fast as I could.  I crossed the finish line in 1:30:59…a PR by five minutes!  The fact that I went under 1 hour, 31 minutes, was an awesome bonus.  The fact that I ran 6:56 per mile pace proved that I am ready to tackle a spring marathon and a Boston qualifier.

I knew I was in shape to run well, but I had no idea the Holiday Half would be that successful for me.  The strategy of keeping splits worked well.  The clock kept me honest with myself and allowed me to more accurately gauge my speed and effort.  It may become a regular part of my racing strategy.

Outside of the missing 12-mile marker, the Foot Traffic and AA Sports crews put on a good race.  The start/finish area was well put together.  The aid stations were adequately staffed.  The indoor warm-up area in the Adidas gym is a major plus on a cold December morning.  The bus shuttle, allowing runners to park on Swan Island and take a “big yellow sleigh” up the hill to Adidas did a lot to keep the area around the start/finish uncluttered.  The shirt was one of the best I have gotten from a race in a while and the medal with the Abominable Snowman is awesome.  Both are quite fitting for a race during the Christmas season.

An Open Letter To John Bingham

While I do not fit the typical mold of the "Penguin Brigade," I have always been inspired by John Bingham's writing and journey.  His mantra, "The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start," has been one that I have held close to my heart for many years since In began running regularly again.

John retired from race announcing and regular writing in December.  In our December 2014 "Inspiration Issue" of The Oregon Distance Runner, I penned this farewell and thank you to The Penguin.

John Bingham & I in 2012
Dear John,

The typical Dear John letter is one where one person tells another they are leaving or already gone.  This is the opposite.  We know you are leaving and a running nation is left to cope.

By the time you see this letter your last column will have been penned.  You will have announced your last race and provided your last seminar to those waiting to hear your inspirational story.  Our running community will be lesser for that.

They call you the “Pied Piper of the Second Running Boom.”  Since your first “Penguin Chronicles: was published in 1996, thousands, perhaps millions, of long-time runners and newcomers have thrived on your message that it’s okay to be slow.  That getting out there is as much a win as crossing the finish line first (and maybe more so). That the miracle isn’t that we finished, but that we had the courage to start.

While I may not have ever fit the mold of the typical Penguin Nation citizen, I certainly identified with your message.  After years as a competitive runner through high school and college, I was forced to the sidelines for four years with an injury. For much of that time, a 10-mile week was a miracle.

Towards the end of the running asylum, I read “The Courage To Start.” The story of how you went from an overweight, chain-smoking music professor to a fit and trim minister of the two-foot gospel was inspirational. It is part of what gave me the courage to start again.  I am a better man for it.

I was blessed enough to meet and talk with you at a pair of Portland Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon expos.  The second of those, in 2013, began as a pre-seminar three-way conversation between you, myself and Frank Shorter.  Talk about being in the presence of running royalty. It’s an experience I will never forget.

I was impressed with how you identified by name some of the RNR roadies that make many of the series’ races.  You had time for them and every other bright-eyed runner who came in, including me. Your actions mirrored the words you had written and spoken for years, that every runner, every ability, is important.

So, on behalf of a running nation and millions of Penguins everywhere, thank you for your years of inspiration. There are many who are better people for having heard your message and our sport is better off for it.

We know you won’t stay completely away from running in your retirement.  You’re too hooked on it.  Hopefully, should the right idea or event lure you back, know that we welcome you back with open arms ... or wings as the case may be.

Waddle on, my friend.  And thank you.

— Blake Timm

Race Recap: Hood To Coast Relay

This is from the "Better Late Than Never Department." I wrote this recap not long after my Hood to Coast experience in August and it appeared on the Run Oregon Blog.  But I am now finally getting it posted to my blog.

The 20th edition of the"Kult Kervorkian" Hood To Coast Team on the beach at Seaside.
No matter how crazy it is, there is something special about a chance to run Hood to Coast, especially when you don’t get a chance to run it often.
When my daughter’s teacher asked if I wanted to join her Hood to Coast team this year, I couldn’t pass up the chance to jump back into “The Mother Of All Relays.” What I didn’t know was that I was becoming part of a legend.
The team that Leah is part of, and now I am too, is none other than Kult Kervorkian. Running for 20 years strong, the Kult was featured in the Hood To Coast movie, appeared in the German version of Runners’s World (with the feature writer embedded in the team) and has also been in the Portland Tribune.
Kult Kervorkian of the more unique and well known names in the history of the relay.  The captain of the team is the same.  Randy Gibbs has run 26 straight Hood to Coast Relays and his unique view on life and the race made it a fun for all.  He is one of those guys who the announcer picks on at the start and isn’t afraid to put on a little show.
In my return to the relay I was assigned leg six, which meant the privilege of being up at Timberline Lodge at the start.  Randy, clad in a tie dyed shirt the team’s name and skull & crossbones emblem, wasted little time in getting the race started right, taking off with matching tie dye flag a-flying when the countdown hit “two.”  Thankfully, that false start was not grounds for disqualification.
While early in the week temperatures had pushed well into the 80s, a marine layer kept the sun from warming things up past 75 all day Friday.  With a west wind coming across the mountain, a sweatshirt proved handy well into the noon hour.  The ideal conditions provided for some great times for everyone in our van.  The only notable exception was Quin, whose 65-year-old body kept him slowed down on the grueling fourth leg.
In pulling leg six, I knew that my first run would be the longest at 6.82 miles.  With the weather as it was and with net downhill coming into Sandy, I had a feeling I could push the pace and have a shot for a really good time.  Our leg five runner, Patty, turned in a good performance and the wait at the exchange zone was minimal.  I used the uphill over the first mile as a brisk warmup (the exchange zone had little room for more than stretching).

From there, it was on cruise as the hills rolled along Highway 26 towards Sandy.  As their are no mile markers for the legs, it was hard to determine what kind of pace I was running.  I tried to figure it out at point using the highway mile markers, which was thwarted by a missing mile 28 sign.  So it was run by feel, and I felt good.  The 4 p.m. climate was not bad at all…and picking up numerous “roadkills” (passing people) provided motivation.
There were two markers that I had committed to memory.  The first was Calamity Janes, a burger joint just east of Sandy, that put me with about 2.5 miles to go. The second was the turn onto Bluff St., which led to Sandy High School and the exchange zone.  The corner put me at a half mile to know and I knew then that I was home free.
My pace per mile time that was entered in the team entry was 7:34 per mile, and that nearly caused our second van to miss my arrival.  I pumped in at 47:57 for the 6.82 miles, which put me at a 7:01 per mile pace.  The teammate I handed off to made it to the exchange zone with 53 seconds to spare.  In all, a very successful first leg.
From Sandy it was back to Randy’s house where a hot tub, hot showers and hot chicken fettuccine awaited us.  It also provided a chance to check out the “Rogue’s Gallery” of Kult Kervorkian teams past.  The walls of the Gibb house are lined with photos of the family and their kids.  But the second floor hallway is dominated by Hood To Coast photos.  A storied history to say the least.
By 8 p.m. it was back in the van and off to downtown Portland to start it all again.
One of the unique parts of a relay race is the prospect of running in the middle of the night.  The night legs seemed to go well for all the members of van one.  Quin’s second leg went better than the first and Patty also ran a strong leg before handing off to me in St. Helens.  This exchange was the easiest of three.  The exchange was in the St. Helens High School parking lot and there was ample parking at the retail establishments around.

After a strong first leg, my plan was to run the second leg slower.  I was anticipating eight minute per mile pace.  The temperature cooled off thanks to a wind coming down the river, so I chose to run with a long sleeve shirt (as it ended up, it was 65 degrees and I could have worn short sleeves easily).
The route from St. Helens High School to the Columbia County Fairgrounds ran along Highway 30 for the first 1.25 miles before traversing neighborhood streets the rest of the way.  i just ran by feel and despite having sat in a van for four hours things felt good.  I picked up another 20 “roadkills” along the way and finished the 5.23 miles in 38:55, a 7:24 per mile pace.
This leg was a good lesson in not always trusting the elevation map in the race handbook.  The map was labeled as hard and showed steady and significant uphill climbs.  The course was far from hilly and I felt like I could cruise much of the way.
With our second legs over, it was quickly off in the van for the one hour trip to Mist and the next van exchange, where a well-deserved sleep awaited us.
The sleep that we hoped for never came.  Not long after getting past the No. 23 exchange, we hit a traffic jam that made the 405 in Los Angeles look easy.  For two-and-a-half hours, we crept along at a snail’s pace.  We didn’t reach the No. 24 exchange until 6 a.m.  What should have been a three hour sleep ended up being less than a hour.

When a jam like that happens, you know that something has gone wrong.  We heard a couple of different stories of what caused the backup.  One was that the parking lot at Mist had filled up and there was no place to put any more vans.  Another story had people pulling out their sleeping bags and sleeping on the road (or near the road) and ODOT shutting things down for a time.
Whatever happened, everyone suffered.  Our wait of two hours in traffic ended up being minimal.  We talked to some people who waited in the backup for at least three hours.  Randy likened the collection of runners at the exchange as “a bunch of orphans,” with some people waiting as long as an hour and a half for their next runner.  By the time Randy left, some people talked of the backup stretching back through the 22nd and 23rd exchange zones, a backup of some 12 miles.
It will be interesting to see how long Kenneth, our 12th leg runner, had to wait before our second van could pick him up.
Nobody I think was happier to get through that maelstrom as Randy.  He drove the entire way from St. Helens to Mist and was obviously frustrated by the backup.  His final proved strong, covering his 3.75 mile leg in 39:10.
And we were finally back on our way, but we never completely shook the traffic until we finished.

Patty crests the grueling hill on leg 29.
It was obvious that the traffic issues and the general wear and tear that a relay race can take had gotten to our van, but despite that all of our van one runners put together strong final runs.  Randy ran perhaps his best leg to start things off and Kathy was solid on a six-mile second leg where she got bogged down in the final two miles by heavy traffic.
Aaron proved strong despite some Achilles’ tendon soreness and Quin closed out with his best effort of the race.  Patty had the unenviable honor of leg 29, which started with a grueling three a half mile climb to the top of the coast range on Highway 202.  She walked a bit but persevered well.
When Patty started the two mile downhill run to end her leg, it became obvious that our van would not get to the exchange point on time.  At one point she passed the van back before the traffic allowed us to move about 150 yards back ahead.  At that point, Aaron and I jumped out of the van and made a 1 1/4 mile jog down to the exchange point.  I made it with about 75 seconds to spare.
Being the last leg, my plan was go let it all out.  After a gradual two-and-a-half mile climb, my leg finished with three miles of downhill.  I felt like I could let myself go in that final three miles and cruise into the finish for a good time.
I started the leg quite strong and immediately started piling up roadkills.  I started the climb up the hill before the van caught up with me on its way to our final exchange.  I was able to crest the hill and get about three-quarters of a mile down before it happened: the quads seized up a bit.  I also realized that I might not have fueled properly.  Despite the strong start, I needed three short walk breaks to get through the run.
I made it through the 5.35 mile segment in 39:50.  It was my slowest leg with an average of 7:24 per mile, but I was still satisfied by what I was able to accomplish.  I made it into the exchange before the fan, being picked up about 10 minutes later.  I was waiting in the exchange zone for about 30 seconds as the team had trouble hearing the volunteers announcing the numbers.
Our van greeted me with cold Gatorade, a chance to stretch out a bit and a one-way ticket to Broadway Middle School in Seaside, where a hot shower was in my future.
The finish at Seaside!
It was right around 6 p.m. before Kult Kervorkian crossed the finish line together n the beach at Seaside.  From years past, the act of crossing the finish line was anticlimatic.  We had to wait until Kenneth, our final runner, made it down the promenade, hand our bib number to a staging announcer before we were assigned a corral where we were called out to cross the line.

When we called our number up to the main announcer to cross the line, he replied, “I know who you are.” The Kult Kervorkian tradition was alive and well within Hood To Coast.
I remember fondly the finish procedure in 1999, where we were called forward to a holding area as our final runner made their way down the promenade.  We then joined him as we all truly finished the race together.  I like everyone finishing together with the final runner.
This year’s Hood to Coast also did not have any action photographers on the course, somewhat disappointing considering that they are great souvenirs of the experience.  A team photo was able to be taken, with a photographer charging $4 for a 4×6 print of the team against a background of the beach.  We opted as many teams did to take our own team photo in front of a whimsical course map.
All-in-all, my Hood to Coast experience was a positive one.  I enjoyed the company of Randy, Cathy, Quin, Aaron and Patty.  My times exceeded my own expectations and those of my teammates.  And despite the weariness, I finished the experience with energy and gratefulness.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Journey To Running's Mecca

Hayward Field at twilight during the 2008 Olympic Track & Field Trials. Photo Copyright Blake Timm.

My profession has provided me the blessing to be part of some of the biggest sporting events in the world.

In my 15 years as the sports information director at Pacific University, I have had the chance to work on the media staff at events like the 2002 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship and numerous professional sporting events in Portland.

Occasionally, it happens that my job allows me a front seat in some of my sport’s biggest events.  I worked at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials and the 2010 NCAA Division I Track and Field Championships, both great experiences at one of track and field’s most hallowed halls.

And it is happening again.  Beginning tomorrow, I head back down to Eugene, Ore., to work on the media support staff at the IAAF World Junior Track and Field Championships.  I will spend four days around some of the best young athletes in the world and the media that cover them.

The meet takes place at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field. For those not familiar with the sport or the venue, Hayward Field is to track and field what The Palestra is to college basketball or what Yankee Stadium is to baseball.  It is a place where magic happens.

For the running world, Eugene and Hayward Field is the sport’s Mesopotamia. It was Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman who started the first running boom in the United States thanks to his book Jogging, which was based on what he learned about Arthur Lydiard’s movement to make New Zealand fitter country.  It is where Nike got its start and where one of the sports most iconic figures, Steve Prefontaine, lived and died.

Any trip to Hayward is special, but to have a chance to be part of this particular event is very special.  This is only the second time the IAAF has held a world championship on American soil (the last was the World Cross Country Championships in Boston in 1992).  And it is no secret that the meet is partly set to help Eugene make a bid for the 2019 IAAF World Championships.

There are some who think that Eugene doesn’t have what it takes to host the World Championships and even challenge the city moniker as Track Town USA.  I hope they prove them wrong, and I feel proud to play a small part.

There is one more part of this trip that will make it special.  I finish the trip off by running the Eugene Half Marathon on Sunday.  This will be my first long race since my injury earlier this year and I am looking forward to get back to competition and see where my fitness level is at.

The race ends on the Hayward Field finish line.  As a high school student, I missed the chance to run the state championship meet on this track twice.  Each time, I placed third at the district meet.  The top two advanced to state.

I will finally get the chance to cross that finish line.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Running and finishing the 1985 Capitol Classic 5K in Boise, Idaho.
The movement on social media known as "Throwback Thursday" (or #tbt in the hashtag and texting vernacular) has given our generation a new way to learn more than we ever wanted to know about our personal histories.

Through the world of Facebook and Twitter, we are treated to long lost photos of college parties (some of which should be forgotten permanently), bad elementary school portraits and even glimpses of Olympian Kara Goucher in her youth, complete with curly hair and large 80s style glasses.

Throwback Thursdays give us pause to think about the past, relieve the memories and reflect on where we have been, perhaps on where we are going.  As I have continued to pursue this lifelong passion, I have strolled back into the recesses of my memory, remembering how I started as a runner and how it has been engrained in my being most of my life.

My life as a runner began nearly 30 years ago as a fourth grader at Valley View Elementary in Boise, Idaho.  Little did I know that my early introduction would lead to a lifelong passion.

In 1985 in the Boise School District, it was up to classroom teachers to teach their own physical education classes (an unfortunate foreshadowing of years to come in the teaching profession).  My teacher, Virginia Thompson, was a product of the first running boom and likely the first person I knew who was a regular runner. So that spring, Mrs. Thompson introduced us to running as fitness as opposed to something we did at recess, moving from one part of the playground to the other.

(It is worth noting that Mrs. Thompson was quite the renaissance woman. In addition to being a master teacher, she was a proud mother and the author of a number of Christian self-help books.  In many ways an incredible human being.)

I had previous introductions to running before Boise.  While living in Medford, Oregon, I was entranced by the annual Pear Blossom Run, whose out-and-back course went right by school (by the end of high school, I would compete in the 10-mile Pear four times).  The year before, I was hooked on watching the Olympic Games on television, and most notably by the track and field events.

But it was Mrs. Thompson that introduced me (and other students) to running as sport, pleasure and fun.  Our running lessons would take us on laps around the school field, building up slowly.  The eventual goal was run continuously for 30 minutes, which resulted in the first award I ever received in my running career: A handwritten certificate celebrating the achievement.

That introduction led its way to my first races.  The Boise area took the lead in providing running opportunities for kids.  The Capitol Classic provided a one-mile course through the heart of Boise's downtown, from the train depot up above downtown, down Capitol Blvd., to the steps of the state capitol.  Every child received a shirt and a finisher's medal.  I still have both.

We lived in Boise for only two years, but those years provided the foundation for a lifelong passion.  I ran in two Capitol Classics and the Harrison Classic (another one-mile kid's run in another part of town) and took part in my first 5k race as part of the annual Barber to Boise races.

Those races led to participation in elementary and junior high school track after moving to Klamath Falls, to high school and college cross country and track and to today.

All three events still exist.  The Capitol Classic and the Harrison Classic, through the sponsorship of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center and the Treasure Valley YMCA, respectively, continue to create new generations of runners in a setting where it is not about times, but the experience.  Barber to Boise endures as an annual staple of the Boise running schedule.

So to Mrs. Thompson, who took special care to work with a high-strung fourth grader in 1985 who had just escaped exile in Utah, you did many things to influence my life positively.  But the most important thing you may have done was instill in me a love for running.

Thank you.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Journey Or The Destination?

On a recent trip to church family camp, I had a conversation about workouts and training with one of the camp staffers.

Like many camp staff, Zarin was in college and still has his whole life ahead of him.  He was one of those high energy types, leading the campfire with enthusiasm and manning the swimming hole like everyone's big brother.

It was one of those trips to the swimming hole that sparked our conversation.  Dressed in a sweatshirt and long sweatpants, Zarin certainly seemed overdressed for a 70 degree afternoon at creekside.  I recognized the high school on his sweatshirt and started a conversation about his athletic career.

After completing a set of one-footed core exercises, Zarin told me he was a high school wrestler. A lightweight, he competed at 119 pounds.  He wasn't shy of speaking of cutting 15 to 20 pounds to make weight and then proceeding to be voraciously hungry the rest of the weekend.

But that's not the point of this story.  Zarin continued his workout as he lifeguard at creekside: More core work, strengthening stretches for his back and upper arms, runs up and down the adjacent trail.

Before diving into the swimming hole, Zarin stripped off his sweatshirt and pants to reveal a plastic sweatsuit underneath, the type wrestlers wear sometimes to speed up perspiration and weight loss.  He hadn't sweated enough, he said.  The idea was to get as much weight off as fast as possible, to get the workout done as soon as possible.  The goal of his workout was the destination.

Maybe it is a result of my older age, but working out solely for the destination, a means to an end, seems to be missing the point.

Granted, every time I head out for a run there is an end goal in mind.  It may be a distance, a time to run, a pace to hit in intervals or a tempo run.  In a race, certainly the end goal is to run faster than I did at that distance the time before.

As I headed out on my run later that afternoon, I pondered that point.  As I did, I could not help but breathe in the scent of the pine trees around and feel the dust of the camp road.  Even along the shoulder of the highway, my eyes trained to the sides, admiring the old farmhouses, the sheep grazing in the pasture, the family enjoying an afternoon on the lawn or the creek ambling below the old bridge.

There is an end goal to my runs, but the workout is so much more.  It is about my surroundings.  It is about recognizing a greater awareness of the world around me.  It is about being in within my own thoughts and developing a greater understanding for my life.  It is as much about the journey as it is the destination.

That is why many of my workouts take place over the noon hour.  It is a logical break to the day.  After a full morning of work and mental aerobics, hitting the roads gives me time to think, the sort out the questions of the day, to ponder my problems or even just sweat the frustration out.  It is a journey to make myself better, both physically and mentally.  Sitting out a couple of months with injury earlier this year hammered home that need.

Maybe the idea of the workout as a journey is only something understood as one gets older.  I am sure that in my high school and college days the point of the workout was purely to get better, to get faster, to be ready for the race that awaited that Saturday.  To be at the top of my running game to help the team.

But even adults don't completely embrace the journey.  They run to be able to eat more, to look good, to impress their friends.  At my Weight Watchers meetings, exercise is often spoken of as a vehicle to pick up more points, either to hasten along the weight loss process or to allow someone to eat more within the plan.  It is a means to an end.  It is about the destination, not the journey.

Maybe the idea of exercise as a journey is hard to grasp by the weight lifters, Jazzercisers and water aerobics faithful.  Short bursts of intense work don't lend much time for one to think.  Perhaps it is best experienced by those who must cover the miles for their sport, the runners, the cyclists, the climbers.  Those of us for which the experience is not about the finish line, but the time it takes to get there.

I will continue to pursue my running goals with vigor, but I am in no rush to reach the finish line.  The journey, the experience of what those daily workouts bring me, is as valuable as making it to the next race.