A couple of weeks ago, my dad and I went to an event at the Carter Center with Al Gore. The former Vice President was promoting his new book, The Future. There were about 500 people there. It was fun for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the event was held in the same room where my wife and I got married five years ago. (It was my first time in the Cecil B. Day Chapel since then!) It was also cool because I got to hang out with Mr. Gore for about twenty minutes before the event. He gave me a signed copy of his book:
My dad was in Congress for eleven years, and by the time that Bill Clinton was elected President, my dad had some experience under his belt. Given that President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and my dad were all southern Democrats, they got to know each other well. This meant that I got to have some really cool experiences growing up, including running with the President when I was a sophomore in college. (This also meant that my dad was voted out of office in the "Republican Revolution" of 1994.) My dad has continued to be friends with former President Clinton and especially former Vice President Gore as all three of them have transitioned into life after public service.
Near the end of the program, Al Gore was asked about one of his other books, The Assault on Reason. In it, Gore basically argues that various things have led us as a country to prefer short-sighted, a priori explanations and solutions rather than thoughtful discourse and reasonable propositions. (I agree, but that's beside the point.) When asked why he thought that Americans seemed particularly susceptible to knee-jerk public policy, he responded that he thought that our passive digestion of media was partly to blame. "We watch, on average, five hours of television a day. That's bound to affect us!" he said. "Imagine if you did anything five hours a day. What if you played tennis five hours a day? Your body and mind would certainly change. What if you ran five hours a day? Well, George Darden probably does run five hours a day, but what if we all did?" [Emphasis added . . . because how cool was that???]
Despite what the former Vice President said, I haven't been running five hours a day. I have been focusing on my running a bit more lately, though. I'm convinced that I can run faster than I have in the last year or so. Thus, in addition to going to a masters swimming class three times a week--more on that in some other blog entry--I have been training for short-distance races. So far, I have competed in three of them, and they have gone well! I have lost a few steps, but I have done all right for a 38-year-old triathlete who until January hadn't run a straight-up road race in nearly ten years.
The first of the three races I ran in the past month was the Polar Bear 5K. It was my first event as a member of the Atlanta Tri Club team, as you can tell from the shirt I'm wearing in this race picture, taken by one of my new teammates, John:
It may look like I'm in the lead of the race. I'm not. I'm in second. Less than a quarter-mile into the race, a guy moved into first, I moved into second, and that's the way we finished. My time--16:29 according to my watch--was almost two minutes slower than the PR that I ran as a twenty-year-old collegiate runner, but I was nonetheless very happy about it. My goal had been 16:40.
My last 5K was in 2003 at the Crisman Memorial Road Race in Amherst, NH. I won that race in what I consider one of my finest moments in sports, but that's another story. Since 2003, I've ridden a bike far more than I've run, and when I have run, it's mostly been of the "find a comfortable pace off the bike and stay there" variety. In the first 200 yards of the Polar Bear run, I was screaming at myself to get out of my comfort zone. "Go, go, go!" I felt like I was sprinting nearly the entire time. I told Kacie afterwards that I felt like I had one fast gear. I got into it almost immediately and just stayed there. My first mile was my slowest mile. My final mile was my fastest. I'm clearly not accustomed to this anymore, which is precisely why I decided to do some shorter races this winter and spring!
A week later, I ran the Chattahoochee Challenge 10K. Here's a shot of the start from the race web site:
The race played out very similarly. In the first mile, two guys ran away--the guy in the middle of the photo with no shirt and the guy on the right with the yellow singlet--and I settled into a third place group with two other guys. Just past the one-mile mark, my companions dropped off, and I was left chasing the two guys who were twenty seconds up the road. They remained twenty seconds up the road for the remainder of the race, and I finished third overall in a time of 33:53. Of note, I won two Rubbermaid coolers for my run. That was a bit random, but certainly welcome! My goal had been 34:10, so I was even happier about this race.
Two weeks after that, I ran the Run the Reagan Half-Marathon. This race has a particular meaning for Team Darden because it was the first endurance event that Kacie ever did. It was five years ago, and we had been married for under a year. During that first year of marriage, she realized that being out of shape and non-competitive didn't really suit me. Thus, she suggested that we train for a duathlon together. We did this race as part of our buildup.
[For those of you who might be doing a double-take right now, let me be clear: Kacie did her first endurance race--the Run the Reagan 10K--in February of 2008. She did her first Half-Ironman in 2009, her first Ironman in 2010, and her first Double Ironman in 2012. In the summer of 2013, she's part of a two-woman team racing bikes across the United States. Kacie don't play.]
I was coming off a four-year hiatus from running in 2008, and I ran just under 1:27:00 for this half-marathon then. My goal this time this year was to run sub-1:16:00, but I felt like it might be a stretch on this out-and-back course. Why? Here's the profile, snipped from Strava:
On race day, it was cold and windy, with a pretty stiff headwind to the turn-around point at 6.5 miles. Then, as is clear from the profile, the way back was predominantly up, with a couple of real leg-breakers past the ten-mile mark.
The race started, and I settled into third place. (Malcolm Campbell, local bad-ass and two-time defending U.S. Masters cross-country champion moved into first. I had no expectations of being able to run with him. He consistently and very easily put 10 seconds per mile on me, and he ultimately won the race by a little over two minutes.) I soon passed the second place guy, and as had become the norm, I ran alone for the next long while. At the turnaround, I could see that the guy I passed was about 100 yards back, and then there was no one for a long way. Around mile nine, he caught up with me, went by, and put about twenty yards on me. He had a terrible habit, though, that kept me in contention: he constantly looked back. Hardly ten seconds would go by without a glance over his shoulder. Clearly, he was faster than me given that he had caught me, but he was so hung up on where I was that he lost focus on the road ahead of him. Let that be a lesson to all who run: if you focus on what's behind you, it will slow you down.
I could tell by the way he ran that he had more "pop" than I, but because I would close the gap to him every time the course went uphill--which was a lot--I could see that I was a bit stronger. Thus, I caught and passed him on the last hill, just before the thirteen-mile mark. Wouldn't you know, though, that the course ended on a downhill. He out-kicked me, and I finished third. I had run 1:13:24, though--more than two minutes faster than my goal and more than thirteen minutes faster than the last time I ran this course. I'll take it! I'll also take the $100 I won. Woo hoo!
So why all the running? Like I said above, I do feel as if I can go faster than I have been. Indeed, I made it to Kona largely on the strength of my run, but I feel as if I have more in my legs. And I believe, both as an athlete and as a coach, that the best way to improve one of the three individual disciplines in triathlon is to focus on it at the cost of the other two sports for some period of time during the "off-season." (The quotation marks are because there's no real off-season for endurance sports.) I'm doing two or three high-quality rides a week, but cycling is on the back burner for a little while right now. And even though I'm going to masters swimming classes and certainly improving in the pool, my main focus is running. It's coming along well. I'm hoping that this 1:13:24 on a hilly course in February will mean that I will be able to run closer to 2:50:00 on a rolling Ironman run course in September. There is a lot of work to do between now and then.
Moreover, I missed running. Running is what I did first, and it's where my roots are. I enjoy cycling, and I'm willing to spend a lot of time in the water in order to take part in triathlons. Running is where I come from, though. It's who I am.
The next couple of weekends are focused on Kacie's RAAM training, and then I'm heading to London with my mom for spring break. I'll return from London the day before the Publix Georgia Half-Marathon. I'm running that and looking forward to it, but there's no telling what effect the jet lag may have on me. We'll see.