Where Your Dreams Become Reality
Employee #1 Kills Negative Thoughts With Fun Workout
August 5, 2009
This week I've read quite a bit about athletes taking drugs. I've read about the world's most powerful nation covering up their athletes' drug use a quarter century ago. I've read about two doctors taking the blame for 5 Brazilians testing positive for EPO, a few of whom were part of medal-winning Olympic relays. I've read about Dwain Chambers, a drug cheat who came clean and now talks to people about staying away from drugs. I tell you, drugs have been all over the place this week.
Today, however, I ran a workout that made me forget about the negative aspects of drugs in running. Part of the reason I had such a good workout was a conversation I had yesterday with my friend Neb. Neb, half Ethiopian and half Kenyan, just got back from a three week trip to Ethiopia. He trained there with Ethiopia's only true training group. He met Haile G, Bekele, Gelete Burka, their coaches, and many other well-known runners. Most of them he just met at the track or in parking lots or on runs.
Neb - 17 years old and a runner I coached about 2 years ago - told me so many stories that made me smile. Stories that inspired me on a day when I was feeling really down. He told me how the Ethiopian group trained. How they warmed up with a 200m walk, then a shuffle, then a jog, then within a mile or two they were flying. He told me of their Thursday workout that they do in the offseason. 6am game of handball/soccer/rugby/lacrosse that is absolutely intense, played on a field with holes in it and logs jutting out 20 yards into the field. He said these half marathoners are amazing athletes, like football players with speed and agility and moves. He told me of his pace-maker designated to him all week. 5:30 wake-up. 2 hour morning naps. 9pm bedtime without even trying. Calls from assistant coach to tell him it's important to rest. Lungs burning at 9,000 ft altitude.
He told me of showers from water in a bucket. Electricity that was on once in a while. Watching a regional championship race where 80 percent of the guys running on a dirt track (Ethiopia only has 2 synthetic tracks in the whole nation) weren't wearing shoes for a 5k. Stretching after a run with Gelete Burka, one of the world's best milers, after running into her in the woods. He told me of "Asphalt day" (that's Saturday, the one day in the week when everyone runs on pavement). You can watch a short video he made by clicking here.
After hearing all of this I was inspired to enjoy my own training. To make a workout the way I wanted to make it. To think creatively, to have fun while working hard. To not think in terms of 100 miles this week but 7 great days this week! The "soccer" story was great. He said the guys in the group couldn't stop talking about how sore "soccer" made them. Of all that they do, that might have been their hardest workout. It was so fun that they forgot they were working that hard. The team I used to coach said the exact same thing when I would make up a game for them to play. Fun and games, the universal language.
So this evening I went to the track and was determined to listen to my body. To find a rhythm. To run lightly. To keep going and suffer a little bit if it felt right. To stop if it was time to stop. To warm up gently. To cool down gently. To run on soft surfaces instead of roads. To pick my hard segments and recovery segments and believe that they're right. I realized I could do all these things every day. I could make the goal to make every run fun. I had learned this before, but why had I forgotten it!!??
The result? A great workout. I started out walking, then shuffling so slow. Then jogging, then by the end of the warm up I was moving. I didn't do some standard 20 minute warm-up. I ran until I was warm. The watch can't tell you if you're warm. I was really warm. Then some dynamic stretching and moving. Then a few (I nicknamed it "10 again", not sure why) laps of 100 fast, 100 jog, then I started the workout.
The workout was basically 2000m repeats. I decided almost immediately to run a grass loop instead of the track. The grass is more difficult (uneven and at times unpredictable) to run on, but if I don't think about the pace and just try to run efficiently and effortlessly then who cares? It was so fun. The rest would be 1:30-2:30 jog, then another 2000. I ended up doing 6. No pain, no stomach problems, no heat exhaustion. It was awesome! I ran one on the track and it was a 6:53. I don't really know or care what pace that is [that's not totally true as I think it's about 5:25 mile pace]. I do KNOW that it was the right effort. I do KNOW that it was fun, inspiring and productive.
All this talk of drugs this week reminds me to compare what I'm doing with my running to what some of these dopers are doing. I don't need money from running. I run because I like it [well, some days]. Many people who dope are doping because they want money from their running, and drugs, they think, give them a better chance at making more. It's a big difference, them and me.
Sometimes I think I want to be a professional runner. Like, I want to spend more and more waking hours trying to be the best. Sometimes I want to do things that are less selfish and actually contribute to society (sorry, professional athletes). Deep down I just want to have fulfilling experiences. Running and the pursuit of fast times and high-level wins can be very fulfilling because of all the work and discipline it takes. I happen to live in a place and be blessed with opportunities such that the fulfilling experiences I pursue will likely lead to me making enough money to remain alive under my own support.
Many people do not. To me, if somebody cheats and takes drugs because they literally have NOTHING and sports are their savior, that's a lot different from somebody who takes drugs to make a lot of money at sports when they could go work hard for minimum wage and get by.
Take, for example, a dirt poor, peasant girl from China like Zhou Chunxiu. If they're doping her, then I don't really know what to say about that. It makes me sad, but not mad at her, and not really mad at the Chinese. But Americans or Brits taking drugs, that's just deplorable when I think about it. These are the world's richest nations with opportunities so abundant that people from third-world countries would cry at the sight of such wealth.
Almost anyone from an industrialized country could walk out the door, search all day for an honest job, and find one. Especially someone physically gifted and mentally disciplined enough to consider being a professional athlete. Farming jobs would seem especially ideal. But just because you want to be a great athlete doesn't mean you can cheat to be one. Sure, we would all like to make lots of money for excellent athletic performances. But we can't cheat each other in sport. We can't cheat each other on Wall Street. We can't cheat each other, period. The world won't work that way!
Money. It's good and evil. Yadda yadda yadda. But money is about exchanging effort. I payed $26 to a man today for 15 pounds of hand-picked blueberries. That $26 was money I earned by putting in an honest effort doing something that helped society. I got it from updating LetsRun or winning a race or teaching a class or organizing a running camp. I gave it to a man who spends his time making sure the blueberries grow.
People who think it's ok to earn money thanks, in part, to taking substances they know are not allowed... they cheat the entire system. People who then refuse to admit it, they cheat the system even more. They rob themselves and others of the opportunity to learn from mistakes.
I'm rambling. The point of this is to give an honest effort at all you do. Have fun and be creative and don't take your opportunities for granted. There are people all over the world with NOTHING. No family. No hope. No education. No shoes to run with. No track to run on. And they run. They fight. Sometimes honestly, sometimes dishonestly.
But it's up to us, the people who have so much that we are right now taking for granted the high speed internet access and personal computer allowing us to read this article, it's up to us to set the standard. There are too many people out there who COULD be honorable who CHOOSE to be dishonorable. And when they are caught they AGAIN choose to be dishonorable and lie. And later when it's proven beyond a reasonable doubt that they are lying and are cheats, they choose AGAIN to do nothing. That's bad and dishonest and cheats the system. Those people pay for goods with money that they did not earn honestly.
But as Edwin Moses reminded us yesterday, the world is filled with much more good than bad, and in the end we get to choose which to pay attention to. Moses said, "I stand with all the athletes who believe in doing things right. The ones who win and the ones who lose while knowing they have been cheated out of their positions. There are thousands if not tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of those kinds of athletes out there. We have to remember them."
I'm one of those athletes who believes in doing things right. And today's workout reminded me why sports are great. Not because of money or fame, but because of fun, shared experiences, personal growth, and doing something better than you ever thought you could.
Employee #1 aka Emory Mort
To watch Neb Osman's first YouTube video from Ethiopia, click here.