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Running and doubt

May 15, 2012 - John Stack
I’ve been running competitively for over 30 years. Back when I started, I was a miler for Mohawk Junior High School. What is so hard about running? Throw on some shorts and some sneakers and run, right? Back then, my Jr High coach wouls send us long distance runners just out onto the streets of Mohawk for some 4-5 mile run. My races went something like this – sprint as fast as I can to keep or take the lead on the first lap, hang on for 2 laps (or in Mohawk we had a 6 lap/mile track) and then sprint the last lap. It worked for me. I did hold the Jr High record which was beaten a couple year slater by someone who actually knew how to run. Back then I had no doubt. I never thought someone would catch me in the last 200 meters – ever. Then, running cross country in high school, I had a good coach, but not one who really was a good tactician. (How I wish I had Mike Kilroy or Bill Peer as my coach back then). My buddy Billy Cusworth was our top runner. The rest of us were always ahead of him the first mile or 2. He would start very slowly, and pick off everyone on our team. I did beat him once at the RFA invitational (home of the RFA HILL) but he claims to not remember that race.I never learned how to run like that back then. Its how I always run today.

But doubt. I never thought I could run a marathon. I had a bad knee. 26 miles was just way too long. I was still running the 15K Boilermaker in Utica in college. I would train for 2 weeks, then run as hard as I could and about collapse at the finish. I still had no idea how to run. But I always doubted I could run a marathon. I continued to run some 5Ks and 10Ks and figured that was about my limit. Then I moved here in 2000. I ran a lot of small local races. Loved the Paul Smiths Duathlons (Thanks Jim Tucker) . I still hadn’t run more than 9 miles at once (the Boilermaker). Then I volunteered for my first Ironman . I’m standing out by the ski jumps watching the run. There were guys bigger, and heavier than me competing, and finishing. As well as WALKING! Ut there in front of thousands of people, these (In my mind up until then) athletic superheroes were walking unashamedly. They weren’t 5’9 135 lean pounds who run 2:20 marathons. They were guys who were 50 years old, and not lean as a gazelle. Then a local girl runs by. She was someone I raced closely with in the Duathlons. She is doing this? And I can keep up with her in the Duathlons? From having never run 10 miles, I can’t swim, and haven’t ridden 50 miles on my bike but once 15 years before, I decided I would do an Ironman.

I finished my first marathon in October 2003 under 4 hours. Had I dropped down to 140 lbs for this? No, I actually was 5’9” 185 lbs when I ran it (not exactly Bill Rogers). In other words, anyone can finish a marathon. I did finish the 2005 Ironman under 14 hours and became ridiculously overconfident in everything I did. I started at 172 and finished at 162. So what did I do? I gained over 50 pounds. I didn’t see a number on my scale that didn’t start with a 2 until last fall. I had been running for a couple years up to last fall. Did the new VIC 5K fun runs. Then my buddy Phil (yeah, he’s one of those 5’9” 128 lb 5 meal a day banana/oatmeal/vitamins kind of guy) on a suggestion from Sarah Keyes, decided we could do an Ultramarathon. Now Phil was a smoker, drinker, partier, carnivore up until he was about my age (45). He just turned 61. If he’s going to run an Ultramarathon (31 miles, including 2 miles UP Lyon mountain on the old trail) I’m in. being still over confident in my abilities from my Ironman of 6 years prior, of course we could train for it in 9 weeks. We did a 20 mile run 2 weeks ahead of time. It felt good – but ANOTHER 11 miles? Phil never seemed to waver (either he’s looney or lying to me) but we finished that. And if running a marathon at 185 was crazy? I finished weighing 200 lbs.

Since then, we have picked up Beth Donnelly into our Ultramarathon craziness. She had never run more than a half marathon until she met us. We plan on the Wakely Ultra July 14th. It is longer, and significantly harder (totally unsupported on the trail, more hills, worse trails). She doesn’t seem concerned either (ignorance? Overconfidence? God bless her believing heart). I have a moment of doubt each week that I have to overcome. Sunday I was running Woodhull Mountain Fire Tower. First 5 miles were flat, then 2 ½ to the top. After a half mile up the hill on trail, I was BEAT! Huffing, puffing, my heart at about 185 beats per minute. Doubt. If I cant run a hill at 6 miles, how am I gonna run 33 miles at Wakely? I’m still in the 190s and that’s TOO much for these hills! Will I be medevac’d off the trail in July? I press on because I don’t know any better. I take a break at the top. Climb the tower. Check the views. Take some pictures. Enjoy that I get to do this every single week up here in the Adirondack’s. I race down the mountain. Pick up the pace on the flats. I run back 10 minutes faster. My last mile is a minute faster than my 2nd best mile. I have overcome doubt for one more week…


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