Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hanging up the flats & spikes

This decision is long in coming, as I have essentially have been tapering off for the past 12-18 months, or so, but I’ve decided to officially hang up the spikes and the flats and end my competitive running career. I say “competitive running career” with a bit of a chuckle, because it’s been over 2 years since I last set a personal best. In addition, I don’t think I’ve had a very good race in well over a year. I've had some fine efforts, but nothing to really write home about. However, PRs and performances aside, I just don’t seem to have that fire anymore and this is the main reason for my decision. I get the fact that I am getting older, and slower, and I’m fine with that (not really, but you get what I mean), but what I can’t force is that fire. It’s funny, because I’ve been healthy, and running consistently all summer long, but I have had trouble attempting to nail down a race schedule. I guess “trouble” isn’t the right word, because the harder I tried to think about a schedule, the more I decided I didn’t even want a schedule. A schedule meant getting back into serious shape, hammering workouts, doing the hard training and waking up early on the weekends to race. For some reason, for the first time since I was 14 years old, I simply wasn’t interested in going through those motions. Admittedly, it was a little strange. At first I thought there might be something wrong with me, and that this could be a passing phase. Someone even suggested that as we get older our hormones adjust and it’s natural for one to lose that “fire” that’s omnipresent during our youth. I’m not sure whether there is any truth to that, but it seems somewhat logical.

In any case, what this all means is that I’ll continue to run, just not nearly as much, but I won’t workout (unless I’m helping someone else during a long run) nor will I race, aside from the occasional Turkey Trot or Fun Run. I’ll aim to run 3 times during the work week and then on both Saturday and Sunday, because it gives me a chance to run in different places (i.e. – not outside my front door). I’ll also continue to run a weekly long run, when desirable, because it will keep me in shape, and because I've always enjoyed the long run. However, I can easily see myself not running during the weekend if there is something else that comes up. Perhaps, I will give it another go when I turn 40, in 4.5 years, but the fire will dictate whether I go that route or not. Until then, I will run for fun, because, truthfully, I do enjoy it.

Without trying to sound dramatic, I believe I’ve had a good run (pun intended), which is why this decision is easy for me. I graduated college in 2002 with PRs of 15:30, 32:45 and 25:30 (xc 8k). From 2002 to 2006, I continued to run, and race occasionally, but I rarely did workouts and, as a result, my race times were dismal (16:00 5ks, 27:00 8ks etc). In 2006, I decided to run the Army Ten Miler; a challenge, which required me to do some hard training. During that time, I began to run more with a number of similarly-minded post-collegiate runners who had coagulated on the towpath in Georgetown and in the trails of Rock Creek. Army went far better than I expected (53:20) and, shortly thereafter, I began to train with the Georgetown Running Company in earnest. The following spring, I shaved another 30 seconds off of my 10-mile time, and began to set PRs in races as short at 3k. It was basically rinse and repeat for the next 3 years. It was an incredibly rewarding experience to improve like that, and it was actually a lot of fun, because I had some great people to train with. I credit the team 100% with my improvement. Overall, I’m content with my career, though I do lament that I never ran a very good marathon (I started 3, finished 2). I also wish I had raced a fast half marathon while I was in top shape, but, for some reason, the timing never worked out. Aside from that, my personal bests seem to line up fairly evenly. Silly times over various distances aside, I made great friends (on the team), had great rivalries (off the team), and, at the end of the day, that’s what made racing (and training) so enjoyable for me. The team has grown, almost exponentially, over the past (nearly!) 10 years and I’ve had a chance to run and race with some incredibly talented and dedicated athletes. I won’t name everyone here, but I’d be careless to not give a shout out to the following folks who have positively influenced my competitive running over the past decade:

Patrick Reaves – one of the grittiest runners, and hardest workers, I know. Nary did he make me work in workouts and long runs.

Jason Dwyer – along with Reaves, Jason helped me get back into the weekly workout routine and was a constant during weekly long runs and fun runs.

Patrick Murphy - Boston in 2008 would have been a lot different had Patrick not been there. A friend, and another constant during weekend runs, he took the reins in 2010 and shepherded GRC from a local running team to an “official” club, now known on a national level.

Chris Bain – I thank Chris for teaching me about the marathon (sometimes without ever speaking!). Specifically, he taught me that strength and experience always wins the day. The marathon ain’t over until it’s over. 

Dirk de Heer – the "Beastman" and one of the greatest racers I’ve ever trained with. He might not have always been in top shape when he went to the line for GRC, but he was always able to give 100% when he raced. He was also great at working out – once dragging me to a 4-mile PR during a tempo run on cold, icy Beach Drive in the middle of Snowpacalypse. It’s impossible not to improve when you have talent like that around you.

Karl Dusen – while we were both training, because of his close proximity to where he lived, I probably ran more miles with Karl than anyone on the team. On paper, he was one of the best runners on the team and, as a result, a wealth of information. And, he was a hell of a training partner.

Dickson Mercer – similarly minded, I’m thankful Dix drove out to Middle of Nowhere, Maryland on numerous occasions to get in the hard training. Never a bad long run with Dickson and a great buddy off the roads as well. I believe he still owes me a Guinness, though.

Jerry Greenlaw – because of our mutual love for the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, Outlaw and I found ourselves on similar training plans each spring. We humbled each other on numerous occasions, at numerous workouts, but he always had a knack to make Hains Point hurt.

Sam Luff – in a way, Luff helped fill the vacuum, both in talent and daily training, left by Karl. Although we were never in great shape at the same time, we did have a bit of overlap. Chasing Sam around the track and course pulled me out of my post-injury rut back in 2011.

Bert Rodriguez – a rival runner, on a rival team, Bert eventually became a good friend, but, he was a rival first, and a hell of a competitor at that. It was great to have someone to race against (but also race with) so often and having that someone was a driving force behind my improvement each year.

Coach Jerry Alexander – there are, and always have been, far more talented people on the team than me, but Jerry always gave me his full attention, which leads me to believe he gives EVERYONE his full attention. My one regret is that he didn’t get involved with the team sooner, or that I stayed competitive longer, because I never felt as if I truly absorbed all of the tutelage from him that I could have.

There are countless others who positively influenced my running during the past 10 years, too. Too many.

I realize this post is sounding a bit too emo, and admittedly maybe it is, but this blog, The Red Fox, was started to chronicle my training and report on racing, and I’d be remiss to not post about this decision here. And, I can’t post about this decision without thanking those who helped me get here. I’ll still post on the blog, from time to time, about new places I’ve run, overnight hikes, and perhaps the occasional fun run, but I won’t do weekly updates anymore (to be honest, my updates haven’t been interesting in some time). 

See you on the roads and trails…

*Sidenote - after writing this post, I ran the Parks Half Marathon, essentially as a hard long run. Katie had signed up for it months ago, so I decided to run it, too. Remarkably, she ran 1:58:11 in her first race, let alone the fact it was a half.  I am very proud of her. Though, I hope she doesn't catch the racing bug...


Anonymous said...

It's been great reading the red fox and training with you Jake. Enjoy not scheduling life around running haha! GRC was the single reason I regained interest in running- really enjoyed the team training and racing. And indeed I'll always remember that beach drive workout! Looking forward to have another run at it at 40- (5.5 years for me). Come visit the grand canyon one of these days.

Anonymous said...

this was dirk by the way if you hadn't figured that out yet ;)

Anonymous said...

Congrats Jake on an amazing running career, there are many miles to enjoy during the next phase and of course many more wonderful things to fill your time with. Contact me the next time you're on the Cape.


Bert said...

It wouldn't have been the same without you.

Old Runningfox. said...

I decided to hang up my racing shoes this year too, but I'm coming up 84. Even at my end of the age scale it's nor easy. Already, I'm getting restless.
Have a wee rest and I'll almost guarantee that before very long that sleeping champion inside will wake up and start urging you to dig out those spikes or road shoes and start kicking butts. After all, that's what you do.....