Monday, December 10, 2007

The Distance

Saint Ralph is an fantastic film for runners and non-runners alike. A great story line and a cool soundtrack, you should put this on your Netflix rental.

Back in 2004, I set my eyes on running the Omaha Corporate Cup 10K at the sub 40 minute mark. Having never been a runner -- no high school cross-country nor track -- I had no idea what this meant.

To my running resume credit, I had completed two 10Ks in my entire life, once after a night of drinking in college and another much later in life in 2001. Both were sub 50 minute efforts. How hard could it be to train and drop ten minutes over six miles? So I decided that I was going to do this one right. You know, with a proper training regimen and all. And with six weeks to gun time, I laced up and began training.

It was an impressive goal. I ran four days a week, three to six miles each time. I read an article on the benefits of interval workouts and managed to squeeze in two track sessions in the final couple of weeks before the race. I threw up after one of them.

On the morning of the race, I mentally recalled the vigors of my last six weeks and decided that I was indeed ready to go for the sub 40 minute mark. I managed to hold the pace for the first 5K, and then ... *BOOM* ... out of gas, I struggled in at 44:07. I was pissed.

It's such folly to look back upon it now.

But the dejection I felt from that let-down fueled the next step of my training. No longer a seasonal runner, I got the bug and started running as a habit.

A couple months after that race, another UP runner invited me to join his group in a nine mile outing in what was known locally as "The Distance."

At the time, all I heard were the words: distance and nine miles. Nine miles? You could have told me we were running to Wisconsin and back. Till that date, the furthest I'd gone in a single run was just over six miles. Somehow, nine seemed so incredibly far.

We went at a moderate pace and the miles ticked off with good company. The hill climb into Rosenblatt wasn't too bad. I then learned where the South Omaha bridge was before discovering the mysterious levee and its beer-toting hermits that lived alongside in shanties. Finally, the maddening steep grade of the Hickory hill was a preposterous way to end a nine mile run, but the sense of accomplishment upon its ascent was thrilling.

I'm sure I was tired afterwards, but just doing it simply unraveled the ball of mental knots that I preconceived it to be. Oh yeah, the endorphin rush of my first runners' high also did a lot in forgetting about the pains endured.

Running the Distance was an important milestone in my running life. What I saw previously unattainable was shattered and freed me to be no longer bound by my own limits. I began incorporating long distance runs into a weekly workout plan and sensibly added to the distance in small increments. I learned the paradox that to get faster sometimes meant to go slower. Most of all, running the distance converted me from a casual runner to an avid enthusiast in my own mind. I think that's what mattered most.

So what's your "distance"? Is it 5 miles? A 10K? A 7.42 mile run (and a 172 lb 36" TV being carried upstairs afterwards), 10 miles? A Marathon or an ultra? A particular race?

For me, it is defined as the distance you think that you would have never covered before. It the one that defines yourself as a runner.


  1. I ran the 2004 Corporate Cup. That was a hot, windy, nasty day. I ran a 37:06, which stood as a PR until about a year later, when I hit 36:06.

    I was close to my prime for the '04 race. A few weeks later, I had a 1:22 in the Des Moines half-marathon. And I think that's about as good as it got. 2004. Boston time, won a 5K in Iowa ... yeah. That was it.

    My distance is the half-marathon, I think. 5Ks hurt, and you have to be really fast. 10Ks are getting closer ... but I think it's the half. It was the first big race I ran when getting ready for my first marathon. It was cold, rainy and nasty. But I kicked to the finish and almost puked.

    I was hooked.

  2. Well first there was the time some of us fast guys got together and did a 5 hr century. 20 mph for 5 hrs. Good times. Then there was the time Jon Randall and I rode to Lincoln from West O. to do a training race at Branched Oak. So that was 140 miles with a crit in the middle. Then there was the time Randall and I rode from Council Bluffs down to the Missouri border and back on the Wabash Trace. 120-ish miles on crushed limestone with cross bikes. I wanted to do it again the next weekend.

    Oh, you mean running only? Yeah, it was the 7.42 miler then the TV moving thing. That nearly killed me.

    But seriously, all the above journeys were fun and I hope to have many more just like them.

  3. hmmm.... few thoughts here:

    1. Methings Brady needs to update his image taste from the young greek boy/toys/gods to images like this, or like that.

    2. I broke 40 minutes on my 4th 10k, 39:40. When I was 20. Never broke 40 minutes again. Something about focusing on distance instead of speed. (Read: comfort over pain.)

    3. I broke 4 hours in the marathon 3:43....also when I was 21. Recent attempts at 4:12 and 4:25.

    The difference between me and my brothers Brady/Brendan is I know how to have fun. Pictures in races are of me smiling, not grimacing.

    Besides, they have the girly runner builds, where my manly body is more built like this.

    Living vicariously through your family is fun because you can see what the Murphy genome properly applied is capable of.....

  4. Bryan: Although I've only done a 1/2 by finishing the full, it's probably the race I'd like the most. Also, my 10K PR is right near yours. Hmmm. Keep riding hard. I'd like to see what I am capable of doing if I went that route. Also, skip the dessert tonight.

    Mike: It's not about the bike, fella, although those are some big numbers. I'm looking to do my first century ride this summer. Payback's a bitch.

    John: It's not about the homo-eroticism, fella. And shame on you for posting such filth. That hairy back almost pulled the plug on this whole project. Anyway, this post is about distance, not speed. So was there a run that transformed you as a runner?

  5. When I can both post filth and be an off-target-topic-jumper, why not do it?

    Magic distance? Not sure. I'm not sprinter fast, 10k fast or Marathon fast....but at 135hr @ 11min/mile pace, I can go forever. Properly fed/hydrated, I bet I could do a 50 miler. Luckily for me I don't have the patience, desire or family support to attempt such a Forrest Gumpian idea.

    On the bike, hope to do a century this summer. I've done 120+ mile days in my touring trips in the 80's, but really those were really 6 different 20 mile sorties starting at 8am ending at 8pm, hanging out in the local towns eating HoHo's and Ding Dongs & resting whilst trying to pull chicks.

    My best bike speed/distance is the 1500 meters or so from Imo's Pizza to my house when my brother is chilly and has a full tummy.

  6. That's pretty neat. It's also pretty inspirational. I started weeping a little at some of it. Then at another part I laughed. I think it's safe to say we've all been there, brother. Keep it up.