Saturday, January 2, 2010

Marathon on the Rise

According to Marathon Guide:
There were approximately 463,000 marathon finishes in the USA in 2009—an increase of approximately 9.2% over 2008. That's the largest year-to-year growth in finisher numbers since the 9.8% year-to-year growth seen in the abnormal years of 2001/2002 when travel and finisher numbers were down in 2001 after 9/11, leading to the unrealistic growth percentage in 2002. As has been the trend, women continued to make up a higher percentage of the total finishers, reaching a record 40.7% of finishers in 2009. We'll have our full report available in early January.

Friday, January 1, 2010

My Decade of Going Long

There's a picture hanging in my parents' house of my siblings and me, with our cousins, taken soon after we moved to California from Minnesota. This was 1967, just before I entered kindergarten. The cousins and their parents, they'd moved out from Manitoba a year or two earlier, skipping the Minnesota interregnum.

We're all lined up in the sunshine beside the Plymouth station wagon that carried us west. (Or maybe it's Uncle Denny's wagon? Everyone was driving a wagon back then.) In the picture, I'm a chubby little guy. Tan round face below my shaved-short blond hair, paunch obvious under a T-shirt. As I grew up I became less soft in the middle but remained on the stocky side, with huge thighs and hindquarters. These came from my mother's side, from the Cheslock gene pool; one imagines such attributes being quite the asset through the centuries on the western Eurasian steppes.

Despite this less-than-svelte physique, I was a fast runner as a kid. I'm talking about sprinting, of course. In grade school you don't hit a long run every weekend, or ever, although you might ride your bike for hours to a reservoir over the hills, or walk several miles roundtrip to the bowling alley. But if you grow up on a block teeming with sports-crazed boys, where every day includes several hours playing pickup games, you find out how your speed stacks up. Billy Smith and Rick Martig were pretty fast but I think I was faster. In fact, I believe I was the fastest kid around until Marc Bernard moved to San Jose from Minnesota. He didn't live in our neighborhood but was in my fifth-grade class and I became friends with him because he was a huge Vikings fan like me. He and his dad had a super-cool model train set in their garage, too.

Running then was about gaining yards carrying the football, getting open deep, stealing second base or beating out a bunt—that kind of thing; there was never a consideration of participating in an organized race. I guess it just wasn't something that suburban California boys did in the late '60s and early '70s, before the running boom that swept the nation. Although, come to think of it, my dad was jogging then—that's what we called it, jogging, it was never running. He'd hit the local dirt track for four or five miles a few times a week, trying to keep his weight down. And my brother Phil, two grades ahead of me, ran a little track in junior high, placing in the Santa Clara County meet at the 660. A coach lured him into some longer distances, too, and he even did the Bay to Breakers one year. This was probably 1973, just before the race exploded into the huge carnival it would become. I vaguely recall him coming in the top 500 among a couple thousand runners.

But I'm getting sidetracked.

This is supposed to be about the fact that by nature I'm a sprinter, not a distance runner. I'm a fast-twitch guy. Nobody has dug into my muscle tissue, but the history bears it out. Nevertheless, here I find myself, at age 47, embarked on a quest to run a marathon under three hours. There's nothing fast-twitch about that. Yet it's that very contradiction that is at the heart of my motivation. On the list of the decade's Top 5 Profound Things that Happened in My Life—below Fatherhood and Abandonment but above Relocation and Professional Upheaval—was Becoming an Endurance Freak.

Not that hints of such a predilection weren't evident before the new millennium dawned. There was a ton of mountain biking in the '80s and '90s, including epic adventures such as that 70-mile race in the Flint Hills of Kansas. But getting out every day, not really for the health benefits, not to socialize, but getting out every day and gradually going farther, pushing the limits, going harder—that unfolded over the past 10 years and became an essential part of me. I was constantly baffled when friends would express their awe that I was able to stick with my "fitness stuff" for so long; but it was never a chore. Never. It always gave me more than I gave it. It made me happy.

Now, I'm actually hoping to dial it back. I'm hoping to become comfortable with an hour a day because I think—I think—there are other things I want to spend more time on. And I'm pretty sure that an hour a day gives me a better chance of continuing to do this stuff into my elder years than pounding the hell out of my body the way I do now. Maybe what I'll do is become the sprinter I was meant to be. But the three-hour marathon, it's just sitting out there, waiting to cap off the decade. Isn't the decade over? Not according to the pedants who argue that decades end at the conclusion of the "zero" year. So there's some flexibility there. For me, my decade, my decade of going long, ends with a dedicated, smart, intense effort to break three hours in the marathon. May 2? That's the plan. (And more on the plan in the days ahead.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Days Are Getting Longer

Thirty-two more seconds of daylight today than yesterday. Tomorrow, another 37 seconds, and on Wednesday we get 42 more. Baby steps, but I like the trend.