Getting Back In Shape
by Weldon Johnson
October 5, 2000
Well, I'm on my way to Japan for the Izumo Ekiden. Every year
for the last 8 years, a team of Ivy Leaguers has been invited
to Japan for an Ekiden race. An Ekiden is a road relay race.
Ekidens are extremely popular in Japan. We ran in a longer
Ekiden 3 years ago when I last went on the trip. The race lasted
approximately 4 hours and was point to point for about 50 miles.
The entire course was packed with people on the sides of the
street, and was shown live on national tv (sorry NBC very few
up close and personals).
I've been taking the Fall a little bit
more low key than usual in the sense that I am not running a
marathon so there is not the one ultimate focus on the season.
Doing well in this Ekiden is really important to me, because
just out of college, this race was the biggest thing I did each
year. It gave me something to train for, as I barely made the
team my first year out of school. Plus, I have tremendous respect
for Japanese distance running, and I want to show them that Americans
(well our team actually isn't all Americans, as we have an Irishman
on it), uhh Ivy Leaguers, are not only smart, but an run fast
as well too. We have never done well in this race, and this
is the last year I am eligible.
So I've been home (where my parents
live) in Austin for the last month starting to gear up my training
again. The hardest thing has been battling the heat. It was
112 degrees on Labor Day and was 100 degrees last week. It's
impossible to get race sharp running in such heat because you
are limited in your workouts. But that has been ok for me because
I'm planning to peak this season in November.
Nonetheless, I have done 2 races in
the last month. 2 collegiate cross-country races. My first
two cross country races since I got out of college four years
I enjoy running cross-country even though
I hadn't done it in so long. I chose to do cross-country races
because if I'm going to race, generally I'm doing it to get in
the hardest effort possible which means I need to get with some
good competition (which is often hard to find at the local road
race - especially here in Texas where they hardly ever offer
prize money). The best races available by far were the cross-country
races. However, sometimes my coach is a bit impractical as I
had to drive 500 miles to Stillwater, Oklahoma for one of the
races because it was 8k (the proper distance)), while there was
a road race with some money in Austin the same weekend that was
10k which would have provided some decent competition.
The first one was the SMU Invitational. It was held at my high
school home course, Norbuck Park, in Dallas. It brought back
memories as both my high school coaches were present. I finished
6th in that one running 25:28, and last weekend (September 30th)
I went up to the Cowboy Jamboree in Stillwater, Oklahoma to finish
16th (I think) in 25:10. Times don't mean much in XC, but I've
been pleased with my progression so far.
I bet some of you are wondering how
I can be pleased because I have gotten it taken to me in two
straight races by a bunch of college kids. Well, let me start
of by saying, both of these races had some really good guys in
it. Abilene Christian, which defeated Arkansas, the #1 NCAA
team in the nation, was at both meets, and Arkansas was at the
second. (I would have been Arkansas' #6th man in Stillwater).
But most importantly, it shows my approach to running. My training
is based upon getting in shape and improving every time out to
peak for important races. The focus in the XC races was not
to place high, but to run hard. At the same time, I didn't totally
want to go to the well either time out because that should be
saved for races I am really focusing on (don't get me wrong I
ran hard). Either way, even if these races had been the Olympics,
I wouldn't have done much better because I am just getting back
In college I wasn't as good as a runner
as I am now, but I'm sure I would have busted my butt in both
races and been really critical of my performances if things didn't
go perfectly. Now, I can see how that is detrimental. Running
well in September/October is nice, but it means nothings if you're
not running well when it counts in November.
It's also funny how much I've progressed
the last year in my running. When talking to the Oklahoma State
coach about running his race, he mentioned to me Adam Goucher's
course record and how many guys had broken 24 minutes on the
course. I remember thinking,, "He must think I'm going
to try and win this race." Meanwhile, I would have been
pleased just to break 25 minutes. One part of me afterwards
said, "Maybe I'm not just confident enough in cross-country.
I've run 28:27 on the track, I should be killing these guys."
But then my rational side said, 'You are just getting into shape.
Let's see how things are going at the Ekiden and in the races
in November that you are concerned about." I guess I'm
trying to say that I'm still extremely confident in my abilities,
but like everyone else, I have to get in shape.
That's one of the best things about
running is that no matter how fast you've run in the past, running
fast in the future does not come easily or with any guarantees.
Even if you're the world record holder, if you don't put in
the work, within a few months you'll be an also ran. I think
this fact is one of the aspects that makes running so rewarding,
but also frustrating at the same time.
Getting back into shape is never really
enjoyable. Running fast in the past helps one get in shape in
the future, but it's still difficult. Even though I've run under
28:30 for 10k, I realize that a 30:00 10k is still in absolute
terms a very fast effort (you've still got to cover 4:50 a mile
for the entire distance), and something I've only done three
times in my life. We all need to keep a long term/seasonal approach
to our training and not expect instant results. If you are not
improving as the season progresses you are not training properly.
Having said all of this, I'm still hoping
to do really well in Japan. I'm not in pr shape by any means
or 29 minute shape, but things are progressing well every week
(I did a 4.5 mile hard aerobic run yesterday and it was 90 degrees-
I couldn't put it off for a few reasons, so I decided that I
wasn't going to fight it and just run whatever pace came. I
ended up running each mile faster than the one before, which
makes me confident heading to Japan (5:11, 5:07, 5:05, 5:04,
69, 64)) All we can ask when we race is that we have a strong
performance relative to the shape we are in. We can always strive
for this no matter what shape we are in. I feel I can do this,
but also am starting to get more confident about the absolute
level of my fitness.
So Sayonara! I'm not sure what my plans
are when I get back, but I am seriously looking for training
me an email if you're interested.
I'll be relocating so if you're in a nice location for running
seriously email me. And if the website is a little slow the
next couple weeks, my apologies, but I'll be in Japan and my
brother is teaching for the first time this year, so he's got
no time on his hands.
Weldon Johnson is a co-founder of LetsRun.com.
Read his bio
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