Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Joy and Pain of the Mile

Karen London and family at the Downtown Mile
with local Olympian Janet Cherobon-Bawcom

At the beginning of this month, a grim mood gripped many of the runners in Flagstaff. We had all signed up to race the inaugural Downtown Mile on the Fourth of July, and had come to realize what that meant: We were going to have to run a mile in a race situation.

There are very few runners in Flagstaff who like racing this distance. Most prefer much longer distances like 26.2, 50, 100, or at the very least 10 miles. It’s easy to think that if someone can run many miles that surely they can run one, and that’s true, but the issue is racing one mile. It hurts to go fast for a mile and everybody, from the elite runners to those who are brand new to the sport, feel a lot of pressure to run well and have a good finishing time. With longer races, there’s some sort of accomplishment associated with just finishing the race, but the mile doesn’t have that going for it.

I talked to many apprehensive runners before the Downtown Mile, including some people who, like me, had regrets about signing up in the first place. That’s why it’s so cool that everyone had such a positive experience in this new event. After all the racers had crossed the finish line, I just drank in the happiness around me.

I watched whole families who ran and were ecstatic to have shared the experience together. I saw Sara Wagner finish with a new at-altitude PR, and she says that racing against Trina Painter (one of the country’s best Masters runners) pushed her to that great time in the Masters Women race. I saw Olympian Diego Estrada race against seven other men who ran the mile in 4-something at 7000 feet. Where else but Flagstaff does that happen in a hometown-parade-day kind of race?

I saw a 70-year woman tackle the mile race and win her age class. (Okay, it wasn’t a big group since she was the only one, but she beat everyone that age who didn’t run at all, and that’s cool.) I saw people place in their age class who have never done so before and were thrilled. Janel Lanphere was pleased to finish second in the Open Women race. As Janel said, “How often do you get to say you finished second to [world-class elite runner] Stephanie Rothstein?”

TRF Assistant Coach Steph Rothstein wins
the Open Women's mile.
It was extra fun to watch Rob Hall and Gunter Ziwey kick it in at the finish in yet another friendly competition between them. When they weren’t racing, they were cheering other runners, along with many other competitors and everyone who was already lining the streets for the parade. There were particularly big cheers for the runner who ran the whole race with a full size US flag.

Eric Dieterle beat his recent mile time at the track by a considerable margin. This is especially noteworthy because he offered to volunteer at the race but Team Run Flagstaff Coach Mike Smith told him he’d rather see him race instead, so he did.

Spectators commented that it was fun to watch the races and that it was cool to have Olympians Abdi Abdirahman and Janet Cherobon-Bawcom watching and cheering. (It was also cool that Abdi was asked to fire the starting pistol for one of the races.) The kids enjoyed the starting antics of Mike Smith, who told the kids to start when he said, “Go!” but proceeded to fake then out with calls like “Go-rilla in the trees!”
TRF Coach Mike sends off the free kids' race.
Among the best parts of the race was seeing the kids, who are all young enough that running is still purely joyful to them. They came flying across the finish line, happy and proud, as runners should be, many of them with obvious signs of real talent and impressive form. Most of them probably have no idea that they live in such a great running town, and probably consider the talent around them to be normal. That talent is not confined to adults, either. I saw a 9-year old run a 7:48 mile, and I cheered for him so loudly that the person next to me actually held her ears.

As for me, I had my own good experience. I’m not in great shape right now and because of injury have been unable to do any speed work for ages. The only pacing plan I had was based on a single outing in which I tried to run faster than I have in ages and guess about whether I could hold it for somewhere near a mile. It was not much to go on, but I based my race pace on it, didn’t go out too fast, and had some energy left for a kick at the end. I may not have run well because of my current fitness, but I raced well. By that I mean I did the best I could have done with what I had that day. I ran a time that was better than I had any right to hope for, and that is strangely invigorating.

Much of the pain of the mile is psychological and ends when the race starts. Then there’s some pain during the race, and a lot of joy after.

Team Run Flagstaff board member Karen London loves a Fourth of July race. She plans to run the Downtown Mile every year, but will probably always be anxious about it beforehand.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rhode and His Lady Friends

Steve Rhode finishing
the Boston Marathon
For those who may only know me as an acquaintance, I could be described as “crazy,” “insane.” For those who do know me know that I have an energy that is pretty high, always on full throttle, and can’t sit still for very long.  I get this energy from my running and because I run constantly, I am always feeding the furnace (if you will).  This energy provides me with the moxie, bravado, and brashness that make me…well, me.  It is also this energy that may have contributed to me being unlucky in the world of love and romance, as I can be viewed as intimidating, high-maintenance, and over-the-top.  But I do have females in my life. Many of them! So many, that I have a hard time choosing which one to entertain. I am sure you know most of them; for they are the trails that Flagstaff and the surrounding areas provide.

These ladies are always there for me, never get jealous when I choose one over the other, never get upset when I don’t call on them for a few days, and never let me down no matter what time of the day I visit. My harem consists of the Flagstaff trails, the trails on Mount Elden and the Peaks.

The ladies at the lower elevations are always kind to me, as we have built much rapport over the years.  I usually can be found entertaining quite a few of them at least three times a week, if not four or five. They never give me a hard time and usually enjoy my visits.  They go easy on me as far as challenges one can incur during a run.  It’s the females up on Mount Elden where I can be challenged in the realm of technical skills, time, and energy. While they are still kind to me, they make me work a little harder to appreciate what they have to offer me, even though I may get a one-two punch from time to time.

But it is the fillies on the Peaks that welcome me with opened arms and call all the time.  You can hear their requests, which are just above a whisper, yet hanging just below the clouds. They smile upon my return but it is a devious smile, as if to say, “Welcome back.  It’s about time. You’re in trouble.” And that is when the beatings start.  While they love me and I in return, these gals are merciless upon me. Not only do I get the one-two punch, but it is an all-around beat down. They make me pay for the time spent away from them and expect a quicker return.  After a run on the Peaks, I am exhausted, beat up, and sore for a day or two. Yet I smile back at them for they may have won the battle but this war we have never ends…and we love each other unconditionally for it.

Someday, maybe, I will enter the world of love that couples have, but for now, I have my harem all over town and I will continue to entertain them for as long as I reside in Flagstaff, because in a weird sort of way, we are married.  We have a relationship, a connection, a bond, and a love on a different level.

Steve Rhode is a member of Team Run Flagstaff and usually can be found running solo on many of the Flagstaff trails.