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Also Ran – Part IV

By Rohit Grover

Is running marathons necessary?

In the time since I’ve started running, I have realized that the distance isn’t as important as the effort — even a 5k race can be a gut-buster if you run it with maximum effort. This wasn’t obvious to me in the beginning, with some fellow runners heaping scorn on 5k races as being beneath them. Although correlations on race paces suggest that I should be able to comfortably run a 5k under 20 min, the best I’ve managed is 20:16. So I no longer think longer distances are necessary for challenge, or fitness. I hope to run a lot more 5k and 10k races going forward, though the sub-20-min-5k appears to be a daunting task.

Long-distance relays are another way to get your running fix, and afford a way to spend time with friends and to make new friends. This year (2017, for archeologists from the distant future), in addition to running Hood-to-Coast, there was Hood-to-Coast-Washington (a 1-day relay in western Washington), where my team placed first in the Men’s Masters category, and the Cascade Lakes Relay, which snakes its way from Crater Lake to Bend, Oregon in the Oregon high desert, where my team placed 6th overall and also won the Men’s Masters category as the only Men’s Masters team.

The temperatures during CLR ranged from 38 C (100 F) during the day to 1 C (34 F) at night, adding to the challenge of running more than 4000 feet above sea level. We were hot and out of breath, but I took enormous pleasure in running the final leg in high heat to bring my team home.

But what do you think about while running?

Sometimes, nothing. At other times, I worry I’m not thinking enough, but get back to struggling to make it up a hill (or avoid falling flat on my face coming back down). It takes all my mental energy to concentrate on finding my footing on a trail or to complete the last few laps around the track during interval training. Races force you to do this and more — sometimes I distract myself by thinking rude thoughts about whoever is behind me with a sloshing water bottle. You can battle the voice inside you that’s telling you to stop and walk back to the car and switch on the climate control, or you can battle the young kid who just passed you.

Running has taught me to enjoy the adrenaline rush from retaking the lead from someone who passed me a few minutes before, or from finishing ahead of people younger than me. When I lose such battles, of course I mourn, but I also try to take inspiration from those who beat me and try to do better next time. Except the (at least) four occasions (Beat the Blerch Sacramento 2015, Eugene Half 2016, Best Dam Run 2016, Oregon Fall Half 2017), where I beat some guy near the finish only to have them finish ahead on chip time. There’s no inspiration to be had there.

Although a lot of runners find listening to music facilitates their running, after an initial period of needing music or a podcast, I started enjoying running without any music, using the time to catch up with friends (if running in a group), or to just relax by myself. In Portland, even solo runs become a social event if you frequent the same routes — fellow runners become a familiar sight, so there’s always a little bit of company on long runs. Possibly these people understand we are bound by a common insanity, because they are always ready to scream out “Good job!” or give a sweaty high-five or fist-bump.

A fist bump is usually safer than a high-five, because a lot of runners have sticky fingers from spilling Gu or Gatorade, and a squelchy high-five isn’t for the squeamish.

Where do I go from here?

I know I can probably keep improving for another year or two before I plateau, and I am happy with where I am even if I don’t improve. At some point I’ll start getting slower. And that’ll be okay too.

The many friends I’ve made during the past two years have kept me going with good-natured ribbing, training tips, and camaraderie. They have also been a source of inspiration — whether they’re mileage freaks (some average 2500+ miles a year, others run ultra-marathons), or speed freaks (many run half marathons well under 90 min, and 5k races anywhere from 15-19 min, with a range of ages from the 20s to the 70s).

The red sports car with a drop-top would’ve been a lovely diversion, but wildly impractical in a city where it rains as much as it does in Portland. Driving a car is also unlikely to provide an improvement in physical fitness. Obviously none of this would be possible without the indulgence of my family, who are willing to tolerate my many absences for training and racing. (Possibly a break from my “dad jokes” helps.)

About a year after starting running, I tried on my one formal suit, but now it was too loose. I have since bought a new suit, and have worn it to a cousin’s wedding, where my niece drooled on it. The bride and groom did not notice the suit, they seemed busy getting married. As a mark of rebellion against impractical formal shoes, I wore black Mizuno trainers at the wedding. I had red Mizuno trainers too, but while I’m a rebel, I’m also scared of my aunts.

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