When I first started running, I made every mistake you can think of, and then some. I ran every workout too fast. I never took rest days, leading to the inevitable injuries. I ate right before I ran. And, most memorably, I ran my first half-marathon in cotton socks that became saturated halfway through the race and delivered grotesque and hideously painful blood blisters to both feet.
I remedied some of these through trial-and-error, but I almost certainly would have given up on running out of frustration and impatience—like thousands of casual runners do every year—had I not had a couple of running mentors to keep me going.
I started running pretty late in life and really had no idea what I was doing, so the advice and encouragement of more experienced runners was vital for me. Most competitive runners who started out in junior high or high school get that guidance from their coaches and teammates. But wherever it comes from, that wisdom, passed from one runner to the next through the years, is a big part of what makes running great.
For me, it came from my older sister, Maureen, and my friend Steve. Maureen had been running for a few years before I got going, and she was the one who encouraged me to enter my first 5K and was there with my wife, our other sister and several of my friends when I staggered across the finish line at my first marathon a few months later. Maureen has had to cut back her running lately due to a bad knee, but she’s always asking about my training and races and never hesitates to tell me when I’m becoming obsessive or need to back off for a while.
Steve had already run more than a dozen marathons and God knows how many other races by the time we met, and he was full of stories and running philosophy. We used to run a 5K loop every day during lunch and it was Steve who introduced me to the pain and misery of fartleks and LT (lactate threshold) runs. When I moved to Boston from Virginia, he promised that if I ever got into the Boston Marathon, heíd come up and run it with me. I did, and he did, and despite injuring my hip 10 miles in and struggling hard the rest of the way, it was a race I’ll never forget.
Runners Are Generous
In most competitive sports, newcomers are seen simply as fresh meat, weaklings to be used as ego-boosters by the stronger, more experienced athletes. But most runners are competing mainly against themselves and the clock, and are more than happy to share whatever wisdom and tips they’ve accumulated over the years. I bet most of you reading this have had a similar experience along the way, whether it was with a teammate, a coach or just a training partner.
I got to experience the other side of this equation a few years ago when my friend Chris started running. Like me, in the beginning he was looking for a way to lose weight. We started running three or four miles at work every day, but it didn’t take long before Chris was itching to enter a race. I haven’t met too many people who are more competitive than Chris but at the time I figured I still had a leg up on him, given my vast two years of running experience. After running a couple 5Ks on his own, we both ran the Chase Corporate Challenge in Boston. We went out together at about a seven-minute pace, but within five minutes, Chris was gone and I was cramping like you read about. That was the end of that.
We’ve run probably two dozen races together since then, and Chris has dusted me in every one of them (save for Boston last year, which we finished together). He has a mantle full of trophies, and while I’ve won a few, I get more satisfaction out of seeing him win one than from taking home one of my own.