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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Running Sub-20:00 in 131 Days?

Today is May 22. I want to run a 5K at 20:00 by September 30. This leaves just over four months. 131 days, to be exact, and on each of those days I need to run three seconds faster.

A seasoned runner would, and should scoff. Such improvement is not possible. I have had no such plateau physically or mentally, though regard fully my goal as a real challenge. It might not happen. Mentally, I can see it. I have run well under 20:00 before, but that was, physically, 19 years ago. I might hit that plateau, but that is a while off.

When I was in high school, I trained as hard as anyone. My high school coach for my sophomore and junior years was not a runner and had no sense of what a real workout was. Everyone from the 400 to 3200 ran the same each practice.

To compensate, after reading about the workouts of guys like Spivey, Craig Virgin, Steve Ovett, Seb Coe, and various high school standouts, I tried emulating them. Guys like Alberto Salazar and Carlos Lopez were tearing up the Chicago Marathon, and I watched each step trying to memorize something about their form.

As a short, thin guy, pretty useless at basketball, football and baseball, running became something huge to me, much bigger than it could ever really be. Where I lacked natural speed, I equalled them in desire. I ran two-a-days in the summer, with 5-7 miles in the morning, and 6-10 miles at night, with four days of speedwork and fartlek in Marquette Park. I race twice most weekends, often with a 5K on Saturday and a 10K on Sunday. At best, I took it easy on Fridays. Miles piled high, and, now, I can tell me knees took a battering.

I had an occasional running partner, Tony Hernandez. In Palos, he was famous. As a 7th grader, he ran a 2:01 800, and a 4:48 mile. Speedy stuff at age 13. As he grew older, though, his times slowed to merely super human.

A year old than me, he showed me a lot about drive, strategy within a race, and form.

After high school, I would run long, and occasionally race. General fitness kept me going for a few years, kicking out 5Ks in the 17-18s until the early 1990s. Then, grad school, jobs, relationships, marriage.

Now, so many years after living and breathing the singular desire to run a little faster than the race before, I look at how to do it again. I do not have the same fire or focus, as life has shown me more important things. Still, I want to find the joy that only comes with finding a relaxed stride, a good speed and a comfortable form in a long run.

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