Posted on July 1st, 2011
In June Dan had logged forty five miles a week, not an unrealistic work load for a junior to be, but the division of labor was well out of proportion. Thirty percent of each weekly total had come in one long run at Magnolia Road or some other severe course on a squiggly road he had picked out on his topographical map.
On the morning of July 1st, Dan set out for a run on a loop through William F. Hayden Park. He liked to go early in the morning, before the rattlesnakes emerged from their hiding places to sun themselves on the trail. He had only seen a snake once or twice, but was sure that any day he would step on one, suffer a bite, and die a lonely death on the trail. It was all rather absurd, and he knew it, but strange things go through your head when running, the least of which are visions of serpents. At the apex of the trail Dan typically stopped for a moment or so to appreciate Denver’s grey skyscrapers standing starkly on the plain as if sentinels guarding the dramatic rise of the Rockies. Dan’s achilles heel was his achilles heel, and as he stood stretching his calf and foot on a rock, a lanky man with a thick head of silver blond hair jogged up the trail with a small terrier dog at his heels. The man stopped to appreciate the same view from the top that Dan was enjoying. The man huffed and puffed a bit from the ascent. He didn’t look to be particularly fit or unfit to Dan, perhaps a little extra at the gut, but he wore a good pair of trail shoes, proper running shorts and a black Pink Floyd t-shirt. The one with the light prism pyramid. Dark Side of the Moon, Dan thought to himself.
“Did you go to the show?”
The slightly impertinent, smartalecky tone of the comment was evident.
“Shows. Plural.” The man said.
“When, when did you go?”
“Donkey’s years ago. I lived in London as a teenager. My old man was in the foreign service and the London music scene was absolutely ripping in the mid 70’s.”
“Just a bit of slang. Long ears, rhymes with years, Bob’s your uncle.”
Dan looked thoroughly amused and confused.
“Who is Bob?”
“Another expression. Brits are full of them.”
Dan stooped to pet the dog that had come over to introduce himself.
“This is the mighty Wexford.”
“Smart looking dog – wiry coat. Do you and Wexford run here often?”
“I live just down the hill, so it’s an easy place to get out on the trail.”
“Me too.” Dan said.
“Are you training?” The man said.
“Yes, training, but not exactly sure for what. I play soccer in the fall and yet all I want to do is go for long runs and train, as if I’m running cross in the fall.”
“So why don’t you run cross in the fall?”
“Because I’m a soccer player.”
“And yet, you just said all you want to do is run.”
“That’s my dilemma. I want to do both. I’d be crazy not to play soccer. I love it and I had a great season last fall and a horrible track season this spring. I thought I was training so well and just fell apart.”
“What changed from frosh to sophomore year?”
“I’ve been asking myself that exact question. Coach Cip retiring is the major thing I can think of. And a football coach, Coach Walton became the head track coach. And the distance coach doesn’t know what he’s doing – and I ran like shit.”
“Coach Cip was pretty good?” The man said.
“He seemed to know what he was doing. I ran 4:29 my freshman year. And I liked him a lot. Everybody did.”
“4:29 is pretty heady stuff for a freshman. With the elevation adjustment, that’s 4:24, maybe 4:23 had you run at sea-level. Just a handful of freshman in the country run as well. Puts you in pretty good company. What happened Sophomore year?”
“I ran a 4:32 and failed to make the state finals.”
“Disappointing, huh?” The man said.
“The good news is, you have plenty of time. If running is something you’re keen for.”
“I love it, as painful as it’s been.”
“Running is like the rest of life. There’s a certain amount of pain, especially for the things you love.”
“Are you a coach or a psychologist or something?” Dan said.
“I don’t coach for a living, but I’ve been around track a long time.”
“Do you think I should play soccer or run cross in the fall?”
“Soccer is certainly a demanding sport that has all kinds of benefits for your speed and stamina, as relates to being a miler, but also comes with hazards, chief being lower leg injuries. From a physiological standpoint, if you want to maximize your training for the mile, assuming you have the proper coaching, you will simply run, without the impediment of kicking a ball around the soccer pitch. But this doesn’t take into consideration what you’d be happy doing. And what you’d be happy doing Dan, is not an incidental consideration. To perform at your peak, you need to be bought in. Mind, body, and soul. You’ll have to follow your heart Dan. No one can make the decision for you.”
With this parting word of advice, the man said goodbye and jogged down the trail, Wexford following closely on his heels.
There on the mountain top Dan decided to check his heart, as best he knew how. He found his heart was clear on the matter. The trick would be getting his mind to follow.