Blogs tagged with "track"

It may get yellower, but not mellower, with age

It doesn't matter how many years separate me from my high school track-running roots, when I step foot on one of those quarter-mile ovals, I become the complete antithesis of an endurance athlete. It's like a wild animal, a kind of repressed urge for speed that I shove down into the depths of my soul and keep leashed up. Oh, it gets unleashed every now and then, like when I desperately want to chase down the leaders in an Olympic-distance triathlon. But for the most part, the speed demon stays locked up so I can embrace my marathon training and racing distances.

But yesterday, there was no controlled unleashing. Yesterday, it FOUND the key: the 400-meter track oval. I have always avoided track workouts for this very reason -- because I have absolutely NO control of the demon. My quarter-miler mentality turns every inch of a track into an all-out sprint.

What was I doing on a track, you ask? I was completing the Cleveland Metroparks' (my employer's) "Physical Fitness Standards Test" to get reimbursed for the cost of my health club membership. You may have heard of this -- organizations give their employees incentives to get healthier by paying for their gyms if they complete some kind of fitness assessment. The first time I heard about such a thing was at Ironman Mooseman 70.3 when a finisher was trying to retrieve concrete evidence of his time to take back to his employer to get reimbursed. I remember listening to his plea and saying to my husband Jim: "I wish Cleveland Metroparks did that!"

Be careful what you wish for. This year, Cleveland Metroparks Human Resources department has created a voluntary program for employees to meet physical fitness standards, the same standards required for the park rangers. The standards consist of sit-ups, push-ups and a 1.5-mile run, and requirements are age and gender based. Each standard yields a $100 health club reimbursement (up to $300 total for all three). And they're making it easier this year - participants only have to meet the requirements for the next-older age-group.

It's a no-brainer for someone like me, right? The phone calls and questions started: "are you doing the fitness test?" and "how fast do you think you can run a mile-and-a-half in?" Then came the first batch of results: "I ran mine in 9:30," and "I was running pretty fast and then this other guy went blowing by me and finished in 8:20." No one seemed to care about the sit-ups and push-ups. It was the run that mattered.

I wasn't worried about the run. I was worried about the push-ups. I never do push-ups or bench presses or anything resembling that motion (for the record, swimming doesn't resemble that motion).

I showed up for my fitness evaluation yesterday morning at Ranger Headquarters. This fitness test was an official gig. They made us sign forms. They lined us up. They looked at us sternly and showed us what was expected. No one smiled. I felt like I was about to enter boot camp.

Sit-ups were first and were no problem. I did 49 in a minute (the requirement was 17). Then came push-ups. For my age group, the requirement was 11 push-ups in a minute. But I only had to pass for the next-older age group, which was 13 modified (note: "girly") push-ups. I had to make a decision -- go for the sure thing and be a pansy or just go for it? The rangers egged me on: "GO FOR IT, JEANNE!" ... well maybe YOU can say no to that, but I'm a sucker. They even egged me on AFTER I reached 11, and to my utter surprise, I managed to get off 20 push-ups in about 35 seconds before collapsing. The other guy in the room did about 50. Today, my upper body is paying for my overzealousness.

Then came the run. We congregated in the hall beforehand. And that's when it happened. You KNEW it would. Someone HAD to go and make the statement: "the fastest time so far in the 1.5-mile run is 8:47 (note: not 8:20)." The animal stirred.

I got in my car and called Jim before I drove up to the track. "The fastest time is 8:47! Do you think I can beat that? what mile pace do I have to do?" I always ask Jim the math questions because my brain can't do calculations under pressure. We decided a 5:50 pace would do it. If it were 10 years ago, or I had been adequately "tapered," I would have said that was no problem. But at age 45 and many years of long slow Ironman training including running eight miles the day before... let's just say it was "not likely."

But something else happened to fire up the animal. When we got to the track, several of my female work cohorts asked me the question: "do you think you can beat that?" and followed it with "wouldn't it be great if a woman had the fastest time?" All of a sudden, I was part of a team again. I would give it my best shot. For us.

There were timers at each half lap (I told you it was "official-like"). We lined up... and we were off. Two guys took the first corner like bats out of hell. I could no longer hold back the animal. It was out of its cage and it chased them down. When I went through the first lap in 1:27, I felt like I had already blown this "race." My lungs were on fire and I was not sure I could hold the pace. It seemed slow, but I was obviously in no shape to be running this fast. I counted down..."can I do five (four, three) more laps at this pace?" At mile one, the timer shouted "5:53!" -- not fast enough. The "race" was over. I was maxed out, about to lose bladder control, and there was no way I would finish any faster than I had already gone. Until I got to the backstretch and thought: "hey, I only have a lap and a half to go.." The animal got angry. It went into "do or die" mode. I've been there before -- in October 2002, I spent 26.2 miles in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii in "do or die" mode.

With one half-lap to go, I heard the news: "8:05." To get that record, I had to run a 200 meters in about 40 seconds. Was that even possible? The animal saw the finish line.

I don't know exactly how I did it, and I still wonder if the timer pulled a George Hooper (George Hooper was my college swim coach we used to call the "wish timer" because he always hit the stop button before you hit the wall), but the results were in: "8:46." I don't even know the guy who previously held it, but I managed to get his "record" by one second. And I won't downplay how much it hurt or the role my fellow women played in making me want it. This was for "us."

The animal sleeps. For now.

Every endurance athlete has their own concept of "the perfect race." For me, I cannot begin the discussion without mentioning the person who made me believe there IS such a thing as a perfect race: my high school track coach, John Klarman. Mr. Klarman was more than just my track coach (and geometry teacher). He is the reason I'm an endurance athlete. He taught me how to run. He showed me how running long distances could clear my mind. He helped remove the mental component from my training and apply science in its place. But enough about me. Mr. Klarman was also one of the winningest coaches, ever, at Orville H. Platt High School in Meriden, Connecticut. And his winning records cover multiple sports. I still look back in amazement at how he took a roomfull of awkward, naive girls and created a track team from it. A track team that went 10-0 in its second season.

I often wondered how a man whose feet were so firmly planted in the ground inspired generations of high school athletes to perform at levels that could only be described as "stellar." Like all great coaches, he understood his athletes and knew exactly how to motivate them. And he fostered true team spirit, even in track -- a sport that is inherently individual. His coaching guides me even to this day. Upon qualifying for the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials, I was asked by my hometown newspaper who was most influential. I mentioned Mr. Klarman. Looking back, it's ironic to note that, in the article, HIS fondest memory of ME just happened to be my first athletic disaster. My very first high school race -- the 400 meters -- ended in a photo finish, which I won by diving into the tape and landing face-first on a cinder track, shredding the skin on my legs and hands. The perfect race? Far from it.
I recall the pearls of wisdom he rolled out to us during track practice, after school in his classroom, or while I walked beside him "pouring" the white lines on Platt's cinder track before a meet. I always asked questions. The most important one: "Mr. Klarman, how should I run the 400?" His answer: "Jeanne, you run the first 200 meters as FAST as you can... and then... run the second 200 meters... FASTER." He always said: "Practice doesn't make perfect. PERFECT practice makes perfect." His athletes were direct beneficiaries of this wisdom. Drills. Every day. And yes, it made us better athletes -- though we didn't realize it at the time. My favorite thing? Once a year, he would take the jumpers and throwers and sit us down to watch old black & white films of athletes with PERFECT form -- in high jump, javelin and discus. This was serious stuff. And yet, he wasn't beyond having fun. Afterwards, he would run the film reel backwards, declaring, dead-pan, "now we'll watch the javelin CATCHING." As though it were a real sport. It was the same joke. Every year. We laughed. Every year.
John Klarman passed away in 2001. I wonder what he would say to prepare me for a great race at Ironman Coeur d'Alene. I suspect it would be something simple, yet profound, and said in his calm matter-of-fact voice. He always made me WANT to have the perfect race. I think that's why I do triathlon. With three sports and two transitions, there is always something to learn, always something to improve on. I do it BECAUSE I'll never have the perfect race. And it's fun. And for me, that's what being an athlete is really all about.

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