I ran recreationally and mildly competitively for nine years before I met my first real coach and started training seriously. During those years, about ages 8-17, I had just a vague idea of how to improve as a runner. I remember watching the girls in the “elite” races at big cross country meets, french braids flying by, thinking “I’ll never be that good.” I thought they existed on some other planet where they were born that fast.
I’ve been training seriously for the last five years, so although I was that just-for-fun runner for much longer it’s hard to remember how I trained and raced during that time. I’m sure being a kid and young teen doesn’t aid memory; but mostly I think it’s that I just didn’t think about it that much. I didn’t put a whole lot of effort into running. It wasn’t this summation of my existence, an expression of my personality or part of my identity like it is now.
But when I was moving back in to my room at home in Austin today I found a training log from 2006. Gold. It goes from March to October, bridging the time between the end of basketball season sophomore year and the end of cross country in junior year. God knows why I bothered keeping a log at all, although I’ve always loved recording and writing stuff down.
During that summer in 2006, I ran with my brother John a good deal. John and I were pretty competitive times-wise, and I remember being jealous the firs time he broke 21 minutes in the 5k. It was a fast course, but I hadn’t gone to the meet because I was taking the PSAT. Of course now I realize that keeping up with John in training and racing was really a feat since he was a dude and two years older. Rather than conceding to him, though, I just wanted to beat him. Hmm, some things don’t change ;)
My log describes each run with just a few words – the area I did the run, who I went with and for how long. I estimated all my distances, but never computed pace. I think my mom had me run three times a week to earn my PE “credit” (yay for being homeschooled). The runs were all between 20-40 minutes, for a total of approximately 15 miles a week. Sometimes John and I would push the pace for fun, but we did mostly easy runs.
We had a homeschool team for cross country, and during our Tuesday night practices we ran loosely-structured intervals and maybe a light tempo or two (one effort completed on the track was three miles in 21:25! Wowee). Besides running, I went for the occasional walk (when I felt too lazy to run), rode the stationary bike, and played ultimate frisbee with friends.
I struggled with motivation in the summer heat, being bored with my routes, and the occasional sore calves. Sore calves, so cute, a little injury for young Cate. I didn’t know anything about prevention or treatment though so I just ran through it. I’m sure it wasn’t that painful.
I ran a few races that fall, and looking back on those is especially funny. My PR was 12:27 for two miles, which is pretty decent considering how little I trained. Come October though, it was time to get ready for basketball season. It’s here in early October that my log goes silent. I was probably running a lot less, since we had morning practices most days and I wasn’t an overachiever. Basketball turned out to be a joke, since I was so bad at it, but I didn’t know that at the time. I wanted something to do with friends and it fit the bill.
After that year I met my high school track coach. As soon as I met him and listened to him for half an hour, I knew things would be different. And they were! I started running six days a week (! a lot a the time) and morphed into a serious runner, got a college scholarship and started defining myself as an athlete. It’s amusing to look back and see how I thought about running for most of high school. The contrast is so bold between the before and after. And I had no idea what the future would hold. I’ve been so set on running these last few years (and still am) that it’s weird to remember a time when I wasn’t. It’s like I was almost a different person. Of course, in those five years I’ve also graduated high school, moved away from my family to college, made new friends, chose a college major, graduated college, etc, which all have a great formative effect on your personality.
You might think that running basically non-competitively would be more fun, freed from the pressure or sacrifice of serious training. But actually it was a lot less fun. I invested so little, and got little in return. Being competitive, despite its trials, is on the whole 1000x more fun than the type of running I did before. I recommend giving competing a shot!
Finally, one last “that was then, this is now” goodie.