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

Thu, 10 Oct 2002 08:02:26 -0400

Max Effort

RUNNING COMMENTARY 435

My favorite job right now is teaching running classes at the University of Oregon. This is my favorite story so far from these classes.

When I started teaching nearly two years ago, a student showed up carrying a motorcycle helmet and wearing a tough expression. The look seemed to say, Prove to me that you're any good as a teacher. If not, I'm out of here.

I didn't yet know that the look really said, Do I belong here? I felt somewhat the same way, wondering if I belonged in front of this class.

The roster listed her name as Angela Skorodinsky, a grad student who was 32 at the time. But when I asked what she preferred to be called, she wrote "Max." It fit -- short and strong, just like her.

The class began with a timed mile. Not an all-out mile race but a simple run to draw a fitness baseline.

Max lagged a half-lap behind anyone else, running (with some walking) 11-1/2 minutes. Afterward she complained about how hard it had been, how finishing so far back had embarrassed her, how she might look for a different fitness class. I wouldn't let her leave.

Max kept running. That term she improved her mile time by more than two minutes in little more than two months. She ran her first 5K race, then a 10K.

She came back for the next class, and all others since then. She now runs a single mile near eight minutes. Better yet, she beats me to the slowest runners to pat them on the back and say, "You're doing fine."

Last spring Max decided without any prodding from her teacher that she would run the Portland Marathon. She wrote her own training plan.

I only saw her a few times all summer, but she e-mailed me regularly with progress reports. She listed a pair of two-hour-plus runs, both on a riverside bike path at night.

Normally I'd warn a woman against running alone then and there, but not Max. She's a rugby player who knows just where to kick and how hard.

Her "midterm test" of marathon training was a local half-marathon race. It started a seven o'clock in the morning, which isn't her hour to shine, but she promised to be there.

Max often promised to join in the twice-a-week morning runs I'd arranged over the summer for holdovers from the class. Almost as often she hadn't appeared.

But she got to the half-marathon. And she averaged the same 11-plus pace that she could only carry for a single mile on her first day of class.

"Damn, that's a long way!" she said at the finish line. "Now I have to think about going twice this far."

I assured her she'd be okay if she did the needed training between July and October. She did, pushing the long runs on up while continuing to run them alone at night.

Last weekend's Portland Marathon was a first for me: the first time I've ever watched students finish a marathon that had started for them in my classes. I felt more nervous for them than I've ever felt for myself at marathons. I greeted them with more tears than I've shed at all my marathons combined.

The last of the students to arrive would be Max. I figured she would take about 5-1/2 hours. She ran 5:08, averaging her first-class's mile pace for 26 times the original distance.

Max is studying for a doctorate in computer science. I'd like to award her an honorary advanced degree in running for coming this far.

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