I am not and have never been gazelle-like. Like my youngest daughter’s, my legs are are almost tank-like: broad quads almost matched by the calves they sit atop, kneecaps that look like robust sewer covers embedded in muscle. If you see me in shorts, you’d probably think I’m a decayed running back, not a second-half-of-life -- or “SHOL” if you’re angling for brevity -- runner. Now imagine that person carrying an extra 40 lbs: less tank, more teddy bear, perhaps, or muffin.
To call that first summer “running” is kind of an insult to what I now call running. But, thousand miles, single step, etcetera. A friend of mine lived out of town, and I decided that he would be a good person to visit. Without a car, that left my feet, direct or attached to wheels. As I was uncomfortable with the prospect of riding my Huffy roundtrip, I decided to run. Or, rather, run-ish.
I would run one or two flagpole separations -- having been back there recently, I can firmly say this is about 120 meters, plus or minus 60 -- then walk the same or a little more, eventually getting a couple miles from my house. My friend drove me home, though I don’t know how that worked during sophomore year, when he surely wasn’t yet 16. Maybe I just did those early days as an out-and-back with a break.
Either way, I turned into a little lost puppy. Habitually.
In those near-200-pound months, what I had dubbed the “sprint-walk” was a great workout. Unlike walking (which also takes forever), it brought up my heart rate and made my body adapt to the burst-stop conditions of playing lacrosse. And driving was a year in my future at that point, which meant the sprint-walks were also functional, in the way that the mid-19th century Thames was functional to Londoners who needed a drink.
I was, it probably need not be said, also a newbie to training. My knowledge of the running scene and training methods reflected that.
One of my friends once came over to talk about a conversation he had with a coach on how to get in shape for playing. By this time we must have discovered Play It Again Sports (where they sometimes had spare lacrosse equipment) and Harry’s lacrosse shop, since he was chatting up coaches. Let’s just say the Pacific Northwest wasn’t exactly a lacrosse hot spot, and there aren’t spare coaches lying around with keen insights into the inner workings of training. The coach had scribbled some notes as a pseudo-calendar, including “sp wk”.
“Sprint walk? That’s what I’m doing,” I said.
As most of you have probably already figured out, that “wk” meant “work” or perhaps “workout”, and in context the "sp" was more likely "speed", making the coherent training note "speed work". You know, improving top-end speed and endurance -- running in bursts on with longer periods off, slowly increasing the interval on, decreasing the period off, or both, until a sort of stasis is reached, usually around 4-to-1 slow-to-fast. (There's little consensus on this, and the optimal ratio somewhat depends on training goals. Some coaches insist on 90 seconds off for 20 seconds at pace; others angle for 60 seconds off for 20 seconds at pace; but in general they agree that the sprint should not be longer than 20 seconds and should be followed by either straight-up walking or the sort of shuffle a grandparent manages while pushing a full shopping cart.) In a way, I was doing speed work, just far more informally in pretty much every dimension. Consider it close enough.
While speed work/sprint work/sprint-walk is a good way to go for getting faster, it doesn’t get you much endurance. On the other hand, if you want to drop 20 pounds pretty quickly, doing that in conjunction with a drastic dietary change will get you there, assuming you’re coming from an excess of body fat. And boy howdy was I.
By the start of my sophomore year, I was noticeably smaller. I must have cut that hideous mullet, too, which -- and I say this as an objective observer of those years shortly after Saved By the Bell left the air (the legit one, not that crappy The New Class thing) -- should have been done much earlier.
Running that first summer never felt like all those running books make the beginnings of a running habit sound, though. It wasn’t like I’d found some wacky mysticism or a new lease on life or zen or whatever. There was no rush of adrenaline attached to every step, no higher power pressing me onward. It was -- and I say this as an objective observer of teenage years during Beverly Hills 90210 (the legit one, not that crappy remake) -- entirely selfish.
And as awesome as I am at it now, god did I suck at running back then, even though I kept on doing it. I sucked and kept it up -- and I say this as an objective observer of those years after Full House (the legit one, not Fuller House) -- like Full House actually sucked but we all watched it anyway.
Next Up: Let's call it riding, because it wasn't cycling.
Mash out. Spin on.