Sunday, April 2, 2017


"You have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves and everything will fall into place."     - Paul "Mustang" Chelimo's Instagram account

Without a wristwatch, there are two ways of knowing intuitively how fast you’re going.  One way, combining a running pace’s affect on your body with past training experience, triangulates your speed feel-ologically.  Or you can gauge pace based on how fast things around you seem to be scrolling backwards into your periphery before they disappear in your wake.  

The latter is much less accurate, especially at night, when running always seems faster (and therefore more fun), or in the middle of a desert or something, when there isn’t much optical (or digestible, for that matter) fodder for your visual speedometer.  By the way, four minute mile pace (15 m.p.h.) looks disappointingly slow viewed from the cockpit of any semi sportsy car.  Forgo the eyes.  (Most) Well-trained athletes can easily and accurately run within five seconds per mile of a target pace, completely on feel.

Finishing the Gate River Run / US 15k Championship

I didn’t need my body to tell me I was running slowly up “Green Monster”, the sisyphusian bridge spanning the Saint James River in the final two miles of the Gate River 15k Run in Jacksonville, Florida.  The structure’s weathered green I-beams oozed viscously from Dali’s paintbrush into and out of my tunnel vision as we raced upward, hundreds of feet above the river.  The brackish waters below were replete with dolphins I would have given anything, (please, anything!) to be playing with instead of this.  The long curve of the bridge deck rolled over painfully, deliciously slowly, its false summit a tangential mirage that kept dancing away from the couple of others I was running with as we surged and yo-yo-ed to the top.

You needn’t be a mathematician to understand the calculus of that bridge’s curve.  In your legs you felt its concave belly inflect mercifully into its convex shoulder, a curvaceous spine transmitting hurt to its foolish pilgrims of pain.  Your best bet, a trick of the mind, was to celebrate inwardly when you reached the point of maximum incline, grateful for its rolling over, though there remained eons until you actually summited.  When you did, you had exactly one mile to go, all down hill.  

By the way, I was not running in the lead pack by the time Green Monster reared its head in the eighth mile of the race.  That maglev train of frictionless speed rolled through this elevated station minutes ago, roadside trash rollicking and concrete span joints groaning in the shockwave left by their hasty departure.  Race winner Leonard Korir ended up running the final, all-downhill mile in ‘only’ 4:08, finishing when I had about 900 meters (nine football fields + on your own 16 yard line) left to go.  

I extracted revenge on Korir when Gate’s athlete coordinator / benefactor in selfless deeds of U.S. distance running Richard Clark Fannin Jr. came up to me, ray banned, at the after-race pool-pizza-beer party (what other race has a scheduled, mandatory post-run pool party, not to mention after party w/ fried gator + after-after party?) and said “Joe, you’re a big guy, [thanks.] help me throw Lenny in the pool!”  After which, terrified, I chucked one of America’s greatest runners / Olympian, who can’t swim, into a four and a half foot deep pool, praying his legs cleared the ledge.

<——All that is to say, I survived (I type therefore I am) the first race back in a while, survived it and enjoyed it, even if it was a donkey-whipping.  On to the next one.

… In which, on North Carolina State’s track in Raleigh last weekend, I tithed Gate River’s 15,000 meter pain payment, stepping down to a mercifully bridgeless 1,500 meter race.  I was again beaten soundly, running 3:46 and experiencing what the industry calls booty lock: when your hamstrings and butt turn into rigor mortified slabs of round steak. 

Start of 1500m at Raleigh Relays

One of Pete’s Peteisms is that progress in distance running isn’t linear.  He’s right.  If you’re lucky, progress progresses sinusoidally, rising and falling across pretty snow capped peaks and lush river valleys in the off seasons.  More likely though, progress approximates some crazy thirteenth degree polynomial with random, remorseless asymptotic plunges to what seems like negative infinity, at the time.  Runners (like gamblers) live for those somewhat rare, glorious ascents to new maximums despite the powerful and totally obvious odds stacked against them.  And we love it. 

Given the comeback from injury in the fall, I have to be satisfied with getting to these start lines healthily and move on from losses quickly.  After a certain number of beatings, the legs figure out how to race again.  Neither of these first couple races were anything special by themselves, but they were good enough to serve as platforms for a great season.  Runners and humans should know that success can follow any sequential jumble of highs, lows, and failure.  You never  truly know when the next home run is: it could even come after your cat just died, you're sick, and your basement just flooded.  Or something.  

Just keep going and eventually it'll stick.  That's it.  Finding Nemo said it better than I did.

Upcoming Races:

DateRace NameLocationVenue / Distance
April 15B.A.A. 5kBoston, MARoad 5k
April 21Larry Ellis InvitePrinceton, NJTrack 1500
May 4Payton Jordan InvitationalPalo Alto, CATrack 5000
June 22-25USATF ChampionshipsSacramento, CATBA


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