Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 13 Mar 2001 08:48:01 -0500

What If's

RUNNING COMMENTARY 347

John Geer has reached a certain age, as I have and many of you have, when we've amassed running experience and expertise. Alas, we've also reached an age when we can no longer put to best use all that we know.

My writing about teaching a running class (RC 346) prompted John, who's now 54, to write, "If you could start your running career over (from day one), would you do anything differently? If I had my body of 1964 and also my knowledge of 2001, I would take more rest days and more easy days than I did in my 20s and 30s.

"I used to think that the more mileage and the harder I ran, the better I would be. I now know that this led to a lot of my injuries and illnesses."

This is an age-old lament of the aging athlete: If I'd only known then what I know now. By the time we learn how to do something right, it's often too late to do it well.

There's little I regret about the running of my youth. The worst mistakes taught some of the best lessons. Considering the minimal mileage of that era (mine rarely topped 20 a week in high season), the imbalance between speed (too much) and endurance (too little), and the quality of tracks and shoes, my results weren't bad.

If I could, I would change only one workout -- specifically the one for May 4th, 1964. This was meant to be the peak week of what would be my peak track year.

That Monday I ran three separate half-miles -- in 2:05, 2:04 and 2:03. The workout was quite a stretch for a 4:18 miler.

I felt bulletproof that day. I felt ready for at least a 4:15 mile that weekend, and maybe had a 4:12 in me.

That time-that-might-have-been never was. I wasted it in that too-fast workout.

Two days later a recent calf-muscle injury acted up again. That Saturday I ran my slowest mile all season.

What would I have done differently? Not run so many, if any, of those interval halves.

I had left my best race on the training track. This left me with a lifetime of what-ifs, as well as a lasting respect for well-placed easy days.

A postscript to this story: As an afterthought I ran another mile race three weeks later, after training lightly since the last one. Racing rested and relaxed, I came within a second of PRing.

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