Thursday, March 11, 2010

Elbow Room

It sure is getting crowded around here.

In 1977, Jim Fixx released his book, The Complete Book of Running, and helped usher in what has become known as the first great running boom. Millions of non-running Americans took to the streets with their running shoes, shaggy hair trapped under red, white, and blue headbands, and mustaches. It was the era of disco. And what better way to look groovy in the leisure suit than with a nice, svelte, runner’s physique. Also, considering the state of the economy and the gas shortages, it probably just seemed like a prudent idea at the time anyhow.

I remember those years. One of my first encounters with the sport of running was in the late 70’s as a wee elementary aged lad with the block’s best bowl cut and mischievous just-wait-til-Devils-Night smirk. (Kids don’t do “Devil’s Night” anymore, do they? Shame.) I watched my neighbor, a doctor, run circles around my block for seemingly hours on end. It looked so exhausting. And uninspiring the way he huffed and puffed around the corner and back out of view. We watched, ate popsicles on the porch, and mocked his perspiration levels and challenged each other to touch….no, wring out…no, drape his running shirt over your face. Ewwwww. You know, stuff like that. Double dog dares that usually ended with someone having to do something unsavory and humiliating with the runner’s perspiration.

Plus, he wore those unnerving split side running shorts. Even in the 70’s, those were uncool. I don’t know what he was the doctor of but it certainly wasn’t Fashion.

Looking back, I think this particular memory had a lasting impact on my running life. Or, more accurately, my lack of running in my early life. I was always a natural runner. On playgrounds and school races, I finished near or at the front. They always played me at forward in soccer so that I could run back and forth across the entire field, never tiring. My older brothers couldn’t catch up to me after I slugged them in the back for no reason and took off down the street until their angry footsteps faded away.

I played soccer, baseball, basketball, sandlot football but never considered track or cross country.

A few years after we moved away, the running doctor from my neighborhood had a heart attack and died while running. My parents shook their head and repeated What a shame several times. My dad theorized that he shouldn’t have run so much. His heart couldn’t take it and just gave out. When you’re nine years old, a comment like that can leave an impression. From the safety of our car window, I’d see other folks out running and wondered when their heart would give out. Running just to run, not to chase a ball or play a game? It seemed pointless.

Then Jim Fixx died of a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 52. While running.

You would think that would just about cinch it for me: Two dead runners, so close together in age and circumstances, and me at such an impressionable, youthful age. Nope, this kid wasn’t going to grow up to be a runner. I didn’t want my heart to give out. We only get so many beeps of the heart right? And yet now, nearly three decades later, here I am circling the neighborhood – heck, circling the town – and dripping with sweat. I run three or four days a week. I really don’t play much basketball anymore like I did a few years ago. That seems pointless.

So why do I run now? I can’t really explain it. It seems natural. In fact, I think I should have been doing it all along. I didn’t start running regularly until the age of thirty. There was a dormant runner within until then, repressed by unfounded fears and, probably, the omnipresent night terrors created by those side split shorts of Dr. Runner.

I’ve heard this era, the last several years or so, called the second great running boom. In 1984, at the time of Fixx’s death, there were approximately 170,000 finishers of an American marathon. Twenty five years later, that number has more than tripled with most of those gains occurring this past decade. More importantly though, the percentage of runner’s wearing side split running shorts has decreased. Thank God for that, at least.

Of course, there’s plenty of data out there dispelling the myth of the doomed heart of a runner. In fact, there’s enough evidence touting the benefits. But how many of us still hear about the ‘damage we are doing to our knees’?

With so many runners these days, the existing races can barely hold them all. New races, new marathons are popping up everywhere. Old races are expanding their field size. It takes careful advanced planning now to get registered for one of the well-publicized races. I missed out on Boston in 2010 simply because I figured registration would roughly follow the timeline it took in 2008. Wrong. It filled a few months quicker than just two years prior.

I had to jump on the Bayshore Marathon, a small town little-known marathon if there ever was one, as registration was going to fill within a month!

And now I received notification that the Chicago Marathon, which just opened registration a month ago and one I’ve been considering for this fall, is already across the 30,000 applicant threshold. A few years ago, that would have maxed the race out but recently they expanded to 40,000. I guess I’ll have to make my October plans now, before the snow even melts from this winter.

Races sure are getting crowded. Not as much elbow room these days. I’m okay with that though. I’m not one that thinks races should be confined to the truly dedicated. As we know, there are run snobs out there. The weekend warriors and the run-walkers are welcome too. It’s a great sport to be enjoyed by all.

Just not in the side split running shorts. Think of the children…and their double dog dares.

Happy trails.

After Tuesday's post, I thought I better make this one at least 90% taint free. I think I owed it. So, you're welcome for the lack of taint within!

Nice 5 miler on Tuesday with Garmin timed 2 x 1/2 mile repeats of 2:40, 2:47. Working my way up slowwwwllly after a harsh winter of limited speed work. Next week, 3 x 1/2mile (or 800m if I go to the track).

7.5 miles today.
4 x 400m track repeats on Saturday with warm-up/cool down miles.
14 miles on Sunday (cut back week!)


Jamoosh said...

Better the side splitting shorts than the mustaches. Unless of course it's Burt Reynolds. Seriously, is Burt Reynolds the only man that can pull off the 70's mustache without looking gay or like a serial killer?

Ian said...

I attribute the second great running boom to the existence of my blog, even though it's only been around for a couple of years.

Viper said...

I tried to rock the mustache a couple years ago. A friend told me I looked like a pervert. I shaved it off ... eventually. Now, I have a pair of side-split shorts.

Lisa said...

40,000 runners? that's huge!

chia said...

Everytime I try to rock the moustache people look at me funny.

You crack me up Nitmos. Miss you man!

David said...

Side split shorts are fine, just fine.

Vava said...

And lest we forget the Kevin McHale like sweaty, long, hair that seems to be trying to escape from the pit of your typical 70s stereotype runner. Now there's your taint...

Word verification is "pikingin". Too bad it wasn't "pikinhair". I'll take gin over sweaty pit hair any day.

Jess said...

Dang that is a huge race. I hate when fall races fill in the spring. Doesn't leave much time for getting your act together.

John at Hella Sound said...

Truth be told, runners like you never (or should never) come into contact with runners like me at races. If we started at the same time, you'd be yards ahead of me in minutes, and miles ahead of me not much long after.
As long as corrals are managed correctly, things work out great. For me, few things are more irritating than having to wade through roadblocking run/walkers; for front-of-the-pack folks, I'm sure runners my speed would be a pain in the butt. But as long as race organizers anticipate this and break people up well, it's all good. I run my race, you run yours, we both get teeshirts and the race organizer gets their skrill. Know what I mean?

Mike G said...

Cops can pull off the 70's mustache without gay.

Runner's World had a good article last year about how runners are 7 times as likely as nonrunners to have a heart attack while running - but half as likely to have one the other 95% of the time. So net result better for your health, possibly.

They also noted that Jim Fixx had a family heart condition and it's quite possible the large amount of running he did prolonged his life - that he would have died earlier of heart trouble if running had not strengthened it.

I like the split side running shorts - if you've got a decent set of quads they look hard core. I'd say the upper body hair exposing open arm shirts are the far greater fashion faux pas. Or knee socks.

EZEthan said...

The Chicago cut-off is actually 45,000!!! Even more crazy to me is that 45000 X 135$ registration fee = 6 million plus dollars!!! That's a lot of money to pay for the experience of collective suffering.

TCHusker - Nate said...

My college cross country team rocked the side split shorts. My legs felt really naked.

Adam said...

No smart ass'ed comment here... I agree with you 100%. I LOVE seeing all runners of shapes, sizes, ability, and speeds out there on the course.

Roisin said...

I don't have any snarky comments today either! Well...aside from the shorts. *Shudder* Great post! I'm planning on doing Chicago this year too, but need to wait to sign up until next weekend! You'd think it would be silly to fear that it would fill up before then, but I know better. Keep your fingers crossed!

lawmonkey13 said...

I want to say something witty and slightly smart-assed, but it's late and I can't think of anything. Plus I totally agree. So say we all.

misszippy said...

You said is very crowded out there. It's all good though...this overweight society needs it!

X-Country2 said...

I've been a runner my whole life, but I only started racing abotu 18 months ago. I guess that makes me part of the "new crop". So, thanks for letting me come play. :o)

Jess said...

Argh, the "damage to our knees" comments are so annoying. It doesn't help that mine is injured right now. My non-running associates think it proves their point.