NEOPHYTE RUNNER, HEAR MY WORDS
by Bob Schwartz
"A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary." Thomas Carruthers
"Act like a horse. Be dumb. Just run." Jumbo Elliot, legendary Villanova University Track and Field coach
I recall many years ago when I decided it was time to leave the solitary one-with-your thoughts aspect of running. A time to venture beyond the borders of my routine running courses. A time to sign one of those waivers and send in a race application.
It was also the time to experience the lovely togetherness and camaraderie of standing side by side with 20,000 strangers all of whom were nervously waiting for the start and contemplating whether one last trip to the port-a-john was feasible. Of course it's a monumental task to move six inches in any direction at that moment and I soon learned I'd be testing the endurance of my bladder as well as my legs on that race day.
As I moved from runner to racer, I first discovered I needed to learn certain racing wisdom, etiquette, and knowledge. It became time to receive The Ten Commandments of Racing. I found out that the commandments of racing were best presented through the omniscient words of the local running store marathon coach. The story unfold as follows:
In the fifth month of training, neophyte runners and local running store coach venture out to the wonderful, exciting world of mega entrant marathon. As their bus drops them off near the starting line of the 26.2-mile event, neophyte runners anxiously stretch on the grass while running store coach calls to them from the sidewalk.
Running store coach speaks, "I can only assume everyone has listened well to me these last five months. I have guided you, instructed you, brought you along from yes; I can say it, walkers and joggers to runners.
"Now, you are all embarking on a world that cannot be adequately described in words, but only through experience. You will be entering a land filled with new and enticing sports drinks and aid stations with enchanting treats. A land with a multitude of runners running a faster pace as well as a slight downhill grade for the first nine miles of the course.
"It will all be seen as the land of attraction. A land of easily bettering the goal time we have presently set for each of you. You must not be led into this straightaway of temptation. You must adhere to our strategy to achieve the best result possible. I am here to provide your foundation, to keep you true to our game plan."
The running coach went on, "If, within the marathon race, you stay true to your planned pace, if you replenish yourself with familiar liquids at the appropriate aid stations, if you take in the energy gels at the designated miles and stay focused on our agreed upon approach, then you shall enjoy this potentially grand experience. You will have pleased me and pleased yourself.
"However, if you do otherwise you will undoubtedly find yourself wandering mindlessly in the rigorous land of Marathon Mania at the painful Wall of Depletion. It will not be enjoyable."
The running store coach placed his hand upon my shoulder and then spoke, "These will be the final and most important words of guidance. For these will be the Ten Commandments of Racing. Observe my remarks, my athletes."
You shall have no coaches besides me. Do not be tempted by what others may tell you of rest walks, of combating blisters, of negative splits, of eliminating side stitches or new and tantalizing energy bars. I am your tutor in running shoes and you shall follow and observe only what I have taught you so that you may live to comfortably run today and on days to come.
You shall not look around you and covet another racer's multi-colored wick away moisture singlet, matching shorts, racing shoes, polycarbonate non slip nose piece sunglasses, running watch with ergonomically designed buttons, blister-free socks, nor perspiration wisking running hat.
You shall not wrongfully assume a place or position in the starting line area that is not reflective of your estimated and appropriate pace per mile. To do so would be to take a spot from your fellow runners, which they have rightfully earned, and literally place you in a position of failure.
You shall try to dispose of your drink cups, food wrappers, band-aid packaging and anti-inflammatory pill containers in the appropriate garbage can and do your best to avoid having to create an impromptu restroom.
You shall not lose your poise nor sight of your expected pace due to the excitement and adrenaline rush of the race nor the faster speed of other participants. For to do so, would be assure you a rendezvous in the unforgiving zone of depletion where darkness and discomfort will accompany you.
You shall never become overly discouraged by the feelings of your body at any particular point in time. You may experience a second wind and/or you may meet the wall, but do try and enthusiastically proceed with forward movement at all times.
You shall applaud and courage your fellow runners for they are your companions in commitment. Share your drink at the aid station, your space on the road, your post race refreshments - - and do not lie about your finish time.
You shall not elbow, push, poke, trip, cut in front of, jostle, run too close behind, shove or step on the foot of any other runner you encounter in the land of racing. Nor shall you spit, hurl, blow, throw up or toss any bodily product to anyplace other than a trash can or the side of the road.
You shall not use excuses for a race performance beneath your expectations including too much wind, the temperature, limited rest room facilities, hills on the course, chafing, inadequate carbo-loading, aid station lines or inaccurate split times. Most importantly, you will never, ever, ever, blame your coach.
You shall indeed finally cross the finish line in your land of racing. You will slowly move forward on shaky legs as you perform the lactic acid shuffle. At that moment do not be lost within yourself and forget to give appreciation to the race director, volunteers and sponsors for they are also your providers. Without them we are alone and without a t-shirt collection.
We neophyte runners, in unison, enthusiastically raised our water bottles in assent. We were acknowledging that we'd heard everything and would try to obey the commandments of racing.
And with that agreement neophyte runners and running coach walked slowly together to the starting line and into the exciting, thrilling and exhilarating land of racing.
This story and more in Bob Schwartz's New book: I Run, Therefore I Am - NUTS!